The following article was originally published on LiftCannabis.ca
Attending the 2016 Cannabis Science and Policy Summit as a delegate was an intellectual validation of the immediate need for legalization and regulation of cannabis in North America.
This sentiment was universal among attendees.
The social costs articulated by both the Liberal government’s platform for legalization and the United States’ Cole Memo policy statement were thoroughly explored throughout the weekend by some of the most fascinating minds in drug policy today. Some of these minds also believe that the private sector has little to contribute to this discussion.
The academic perception of social impact associated with cannabis revolves around key themes: keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors, preventing untaxed revenues flowing to cartels, and mitigating the risk of drugged driving. These concepts stood out as the pillars of progressive cannabis policy, and in the minds of a nuclear concentration of the smartest people I have ever met, they are only effectively achieved through well regulated legalization.
The timing of the Summit as a frontrunner to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drug Policy was not a coincidence. Many of the international delegates stayed in NYC to attend and contribute, and the theme of cannabis legalization as the driver of risk mitigation was echoed in both caucuses. This level of progressive language around legalization and regulation is, by my estimate, historically unprecedented.
It is important to report my perception that the core policy objectives at no point in the discussion were to appease the cannabis consumer. Nor were they to facilitate industry, enhance access, or celebrate the cannabis plant. The impetus to regulate the consumption of cannabis was born of its thoroughly analyzed social cost.
This cost was best typified by Jonathan P. Caulkins’ well cited bombshell statement that, “More than half of the marijuana consumed in the US is consumed by people who spend more than half of their waking hours under the influence.” In the lens of policy academics, cannabis abuse is a scourge.
This scourge is to be mitigated through policy, and the policy of prohibition has not done an effective job. Through the lens of drug policy academia, legalization is a counter-intuitively restrictive mechanism. The job of any future policy is not to celebrate the bright future of a historically subverted marketplace, but rather to impose upon that marketplace the obligation to control risk.
Several speakers went on to argue that the economic incentive to market to minors, fund large lobby platforms, and centralize revenues in national brands could pry the conversation away from risk control.
The scars from alcohol and tobacco lobbying over the last century have driven a wedge between academia and commerce. I may run a cannabis startup, but I too fear the looming potential for multimillion dollar lobbying efforts to prioritize financial gains above balanced regulation and fair competition.
We have witnessed runaway profit motive throughout the industrial age, most recently in the recklessly unshepherded finance industry. Some of those same actors have already turned their focus to the frothing investment fervour of the green rush. More will come.
However, I believe that successful cannabis companies will not be built by those solely motivated by profit. Our industry is too slow, too lumbering, and too sophisticated to keep the attention of the fair weather speculator. We see evidence for this in the MMPR, in the grossly unbalanced ratio of speculative applicants to bankable firms.
To paint the entrepreneurs fighting on the front lines of this social paradigm shift as faceless, monolithic, and solely profit-motivated is disparaging and inaccurate. We have much to contribute, and at our best we demand transparent values from the brands we support.
In my experience, the future cannabis entrepreneur is one who anchors herself in social progress, sustainability, and reason. My team aspires to balance the drive of fostering successful enterprise with consideration of the goals of a diversity of stakeholders. We abhor anticompetitive lobbying with the same passion that I saw coming from the best minds in drug policy academia.
The power of collaboration between academia and commerce in this nascent industry could be the lynchpin of effective policy. Let’s build bridges, not walls.