Since it was a Trans-Atlantic video call there might be some connection quality interruptions, apologies for that. For your convenience, the full interview transcript is available below.
Kate Leaman: Hello and welcome to Leafreport.com. We hope you’re having a great day. Welcome to this interview with the National Cannabis Industry Association. I’m joined by Morgan Fox, who is the spokesperson there. Hello, how are you?
Morgan Fox: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me.
Kate Leaman: Good. So, can you tell us a little bit about the NCIA to start off with?
Morgan Fox: Well, the National Cannabis Industry Association was formed in 2010 and exists to promote the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and work for favorable social and economic and legal environment for the industry in the US. We’re the oldest and largest and most broadly representative cannabis trade association. We focused primarily on federal lobbying to change national law in the United States, but we also develop resources for both our members, regulators, and law makers, and host a trade shows and networking events around the country.
Kate Leaman: So I mean in brief, what is the current law for people that don’t know?
Morgan Fox: Oh, well that gets pretty complex. It really depends on whether you’re looking at the state or the federal level, and whether you’re talking about individual cannabinoids or considering marijuana. So right now marijuana is considered a schedule one controlled substance, which means that under federal law, it is illegal and has no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. This is obviously the incorrect definition of this plant and of its derived cannabinoids.
So, we’re working to change that by removing cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances, and then regulating it through existing agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But because of current federal law, there is conflict with the state laws so that even businesses that are legal under state law are still considered illegal under federal law, and face a lot of financial burdens because of those policies, including lack of access to banking services and the inability to deduct business expenses on their federal taxes.
Kate Leaman: So what would the NCIA consider to be appropriate regulation of the cannabis industry then? Would it resemble more like a drug or more like a supplement regulation in both scope and practice?
Morgan Fox: Well in October we released a set of recommendations that divide cannabis products into four lanes being products that are inhalable but then had less than 0.3% THC, which would encompass a lot of CBD and hemp derived products. There would be inhalable products that have more than 0.3% THC, which would be cannabis flower and anything else with higher THC contents. Then we have edibles and then things like topicals, and so we want those to be broken down into those four lanes, based on their intents and on their relative qualities and then be controlled by existing organizations.
As I mentioned, the Food and Drug Administration would control things like cannabis derived pharmaceutical drugs. They would also control things like topicals and food and beverage additives, very similarly to the way that they do for supplements and other products that already fit into those veins and legal. And then the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would control products that are inhalable and have a higher percentage of THC then the CBD only and other hemp-derived products.
And we feel that that structure would be the best to utilize existing experience and expertise that is in functioning in these these agencies already, as well as be able to streamline the process from once cannabis is de-scheduled so that we’re not grappling for years over exactly who should be regulating this product. Those organizations would then be tasked with determining the exact regulations that would govern those individual lanes or products, hopefully with the input of as many experts and stakeholders as possible.
Kate Leaman: So as an organization, what do you actually do to kind of further the cause of cannabinoids, generally?
Morgan Fox: Well, we’re primarily a federal lobbying organization, so we’re constantly talking to lawmakers in order to get them to either introduce our co-sponsor bills related to cannabis in Congress. We also work to develop resources that can help educate lawmakers. We run a PAC that we use to help promote the candidacies of lawmakers that are champions of this issue. But we also develop a lot of resources for people in the industry, for regulators and for just the general public to help educate them about some of the issues that are involved within this industry.
And it gets pretty complex. There are a lot of different moving pieces. So I think it’s necessary for anybody that’s interested in getting involved or that has to do with it from a policymaking basis, learn about as much as possible about these various nuances.
Kate Leaman: So who would your subscribers be then? Would they be CBD companies or manufacturers or?
Morgan Fox: Well, we have over 2000 members right now and climbing. About 70% of those are non plant touching businesses. So basically ancillary businesses that provide services for the cannabis industry. And then the other 30% are decent mix of cannabis for either adult use or medical cannabis companies, processors, manufacturers, cultivators, and among, those we have a number of CBD and hemp companies as well.
Kate Leaman: And so your members, what do they get for their membership? Do they get to use your name in their marketing collateral or what’s the benefit to them of being a member?
Morgan Fox: Well, I think that the primary benefit is knowing that they get represent or they’re helping representation for their industry in Congress. Beyond that, they get access to the resources that we can provide for them to help them institute best practices in whatever facet of the industry that they happen to be operating in, as well as a significant discounts and additional perks related to our trade shows and networking events so that they can connect with other people in the industry and have access to the people that are really leaders in this space.
Kate Leaman: Now in your mission statement, which I’ve got in front of me, you say that the NCIA promotes the responsible and legitimate cannabis industry, so what do you currently define as legitimate uses of cannabis at the moment?
Morgan Fox: Well, we don’t necessarily weigh in too much on usage, but in terms of the industry itself, we view the responsible and legitimate cannabis industry as people that are actually licensed in their individual states and are working to make the federal environment more conducive to a safety responsibility as well as for the survivability and viability of the industry itself. People that are following all of the applicable regulations and are really working with patients, public safety and efficacy in mind. That’s really what we look at as the a legitimate and responsible cannabis industry. In terms of consumption, I think that legitimacy is pretty easily defined by any legitimate medical usage as well as any non-problematic adult consumption.
Kate Leaman: Okay. And so what about vaping, because that’s been in quite a bit in the news recently? So I’d like to know the NCIA views generally on vaping but also on counterfeit vaping.
Morgan Fox: Well cannabis vaping has been around for decades and in states with a legal adult use and medical programs, these products have been available for years, in some cases more than a decade. And with millions of units sold without any sort of real adverse health effects until very recently. And all of these adverse health effects have really been associated with illicit market products or products that are meant to look like as if they’re regulated, but in fact are not.
So, and unfortunately because of a lot of the adverse financial burdens placed on legal and regulated businesses, it’s very hard for these businesses to be able to compete with the illicit market, which can offer much lower prices to consumers and for a significant number of consumers price really use the bottom line. But luckily we’re starting to learn a lot more about the root causes of some these illness outbreaks, and states are taking steps to limit any sort of exposure to these products in the legal market.
Not only that, but the industry is, or the legal industry at least, has been moving away from any sort of additives for years now. And there’s a tremendous amount of both education as well as self-driven concern about the safety of their consumers that is really making sure that people in this industry are avoiding the usage of any products that could have potentially been tied to any illness spaces. So, I think that states reevaluating their testing requirements and their additive allowance policies is already happening and we’re absolutely in favor of that.
We’re definitely in favor of individual producers really going the extra mile to limit the usage of any sort of non cannabinoid products in their production methods. But what we don’t want to see are things like total bans of cannabis vaping products, which will only push people into the illicit market and probably incentivize illicit producers to cut more corners and ramp up production, which would then even more greatly increase the danger.
Kate Leaman: And what about youth safety then with the use of cannabis products? How do you kind of, I mean, do you actually get involved in safeguarding youth from using it improperly? Are there things like age gates?
Morgan Fox: Well, we certainly support our individual members doing whatever they can to make sure to limit exposure to youth. Primarily the best method is checking IDs. And so far the legal cannabis industry has done a great job of that. It’s not going to be possible to eliminate every straw man and sale. But by taking the substance out of the illicit market and putting it behind the counter where the people that are operating those stores have a legitimate incentive to prevent underage sales, we’re going to see a lot less exposure to those products, and we already have.
In addition, we provide, our platform for any sort of innovation in terms of developing better childproof packaging, better methods for age checks, anything that could possibly help us deal with this issue and make sure that in the adult use market, these products are as limited as possible to being sold to adults and maintaining adult control over these products.
Kate Leaman: Now in states like Idaho, where use is completely banned in every respect, so medical cannabis, recreational, and also CBD. They’re illegal. What kind of lobbying or educational support do you offer to those states?
Morgan Fox: Well, we’re primarily a federal lobbying organization, so we don’t get too directly involved with state level lobbying. But we do have an allied associations program by which we work with local trade associations and advocacy groups to help provide them with the resources and education that they can then use at the state level to help change laws there.
Kate Leaman: And in terms of medical and scientific research, are you supporting that generally in terms of THC and CBD?
Morgan Fox: We’re certainly in support of it.
Kate Leaman: Do you get involved?
Morgan Fox: As a trade association, we don’t necessarily have the resources to be able to support individual research initiatives, but as new research becomes available, we certainly try to promote it as much as possible.
Kate Leaman: And are there any differences in the way you approach hemp versus marijuana regulation?
Morgan Fox: Absolutely. I mean because of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is available to be defacto legalized at the state level if states get programs approved by the USDA. Whereas with cannabis at the federal level, we still have to work on removing it from the schedule of controlled substances and then regulating it, hopefully according to the recommendations that we’ve laid out, but regulating it some fashions. And it’s clear because of the intended uses and the differences in the effects of these products that hemp and marijuana are going to have to be regulated differently.
That being said, I think that there’s still a lot of issues involving the stigma of both products that have to be dealt with in order for us to really get a truly beneficial business environment created for either lane. So in that fashion, I think there are a lot of similarities. But we already have a lot of really vibrant and robust hemp production going on in this country. And I think there’s a lot of confusion about exactly what was made legal under the Farm Bill and what the USDA has permitted in terms of how it can be processed and how it can be used.
So that sort of work, I think is happening primarily at the USDA level. Whereas for products with higher THC content right now, the primary battle is happening in Congress.
Kate Leaman: Do you still feel like this is an uphill battle or does it seem to be getting a little bit easier as time goes by?
Morgan Fox: Well, no momentous change like this is ever easy, but it has been getting a little bit better over the last few years. And particularly with this Congress where we’ve seen more bills introduced, more hearings on marijuana related bills actually taking place. We saw a House Judiciary Committee approve a bill that would make cannabis legal federally, as well as containing a bunch of social justice provisions that actually help undo some of the harms caused by the War on Drugs, particularly to marginalized communities.
And then we saw the House passage of the Safe Banking Act, which would open up capital for small businesses and significantly reduced the costs associated with running a cannabis business by providing banking services. And so I think we’ve seen a lot of progress this year and momentum is definitely building. But with that being said, this fight is long from over and anything that is going to be rolling back nearly a century of established policy and miseducation is not going to be easy.
Kate Leaman: And what about you yourself then? How long have you been working there and was there something that you particularly focused on a fight even before you’ve started representing the NCIA?
Morgan Fox: Well, I’ve been with the NCIA for a about a year and a half now, and I’ve been working professionally in cannabis policy reform for over a decade.
Kate Leaman: Okay. All right. And in terms of the future, what are your greatest challenges then as an organization?
Morgan Fox: Well, I mean, right now I think our biggest challenge is that there are so many other issues happening in Congress that it can be difficult to get attention to cannabis and hemp related and CBD related legislation. But I think that overall, our biggest challenge is really just re-educating people and trying to chip away at decades of misinformation about the relative harms of cannabis and about the uses of hemp and CBD products.
Kate Leaman: What should people do who are interested to join you, join the battle?
Morgan Fox: Well, they can visit us thecannabisindustry.org, and we’re also available on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But I think it’s important to realize that there’s still a lot of work left to do and even after cannabis becomes legal at the federal level, which is going to take a lot of work on behalf of advocates and lobbyists. But after that, there are still going to be a number of challenges at the state level in order to convince the state legislatures to enact a sensible and moderate cannabis hemp and CBD laws.
And there will probably still be a lot of work left to do when it comes to effectively regulating this product similarly to alcohol and other consumables. So I highly recommend that anybody that’s interested in this space, get involved in the advocacy work as well.
Kate Leaman: To those visitors of ours who do buy CBD products, what kind of advice would you give them? What should they be looking for?
Morgan Fox: Well, I think that it’s important to limit your consumption to products that have been regulated and tested and in order to do that, you really have to limit yourself to products that have been regulated under applicable state laws, because there are no current regulations at the federal level of governing these products. So if you want to be a truly safe and know exactly where your products are coming from, you need to educate yourself about the sources of these products and make sure that whoever’s producing them and whoever’s selling them has been regulated and licensed by whatever state you happen to be in. Unfortunately, there are a lot of states that still don’t have those products available, but that number is shrinking every day.
Kate Leaman: As you can probably tell, we’re based, well I’m based out of the UK, so we do quite a few interviews with CBD producers. What, in terms of associations here in the UK, I’m sure there must be associations. Do you work together in terms of messaging and marketing initiatives?
Morgan Fox: Yeah, I don’t think we actually work with any UK associations, unfortunately. We focus primarily on a United States federal policy, but as the global cannabis market starts to evolve and US policy gets to a place where the United States actors can actually be involved in the international market, our focus will likely expand.
Kate Leaman: So Morgan Fox, thank you ever so much for joining us today. And thank you guys for watching another interview from Leafreport.com. We’ll see you next time. Bye for now.