Article15 Is the Future of Cannabis Big Tobacco & Alcohol? - ICC Interview: Shanita Penny - Budding Solutions
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As the world looks on, the U.S. slowly makes its way towards legalizing cannabis at the federal level. But has the stalling just been because politicians were waiting for the bigger pocket books of tobacco and alcohol to pay their way to federal legalization and industry control? Shanita Penny, Founder of Budding Solutions, former President of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and well know industry advocate for Corporate Social Responsibility and sound ESG practices serves on the “Center for Excellence” advisory group meant to help guide the recently formed Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation. With companies like Constellation Brands, Altria, Molson Coors, and the National Association of Convenience Stores at the helm, why the need for a new organization when many others exist has been often speculated on by cannabis industry veterans.
In this episode of the International Cannabis Conversation recorded on 04/14/2021, Chris Day and Shanita Penny discuss the pros, cons, and hopes the “Center for Excellence” has for the future of cannabis and companies that could change the global landscape.
Hosted by Chris Day and Jill Reddish of The Global Cannabis Network Collective (GCNC), The International Cannabis Conversation takes a look into what's driving the global business landscape of cannabis. They discuss international cannabis challenges & solutions, and trials & lessons.
Music - "Plantains and Bananas" by Noah Peterson
Chris: Hello and welcome everybody to this week's edition of The International Cannabis Conversation. My name is Chris Day, your host in this virtual travel around the world visiting legalized cannabis markets everywhere. Over the last couple of weeks we've had great opportunities to see what's happening in places like Israel and South Africa the most recent edition was coming out of the UK but today we're traveling back to the home base of the ICC the United States as there's been some really interesting formations in the legalization discussion at the federal level in recent months and I have the pleasure of bringing on someone who I consider a friend certainly a professional colleague in the cannabis landscape here in the United States and a person that I originally the chance to work with when she was the President of the Minority Cannabis Business Association here. She is the founder of a boutique strategy and policy advisory company in Baltimore, Maryland called Budding Solutions. Just sort of up the street from the hub of chaos in the US, Washington DC helping to try and make some sense of what's going on the legalization discussion. So Shanita Penny I want to welcome you to The International Cannabis Conversation. I believe you are our first US based guest in this journey, so welcome.
Shanita: Thank you for having me. It's great to be here and absolutely great to be connected.
Chris: Yeah for sure. The Global Campus Network Collective which I formed with my business partner Jillian Reddish just over a year ago now we just celebrated our one year anniversary of the GCNC. We built it to try to bring countries and continents together to help establish a socially responsible and ethical cannabis industry worldwide and we weren't quite sure when that happened, when we would be able to have sort of a foundational discussion about federal legalization in the US that made any sense. But there seems to be some progress in that direction with the change of administrations and some really big corporate players entering the market. There's been some new formations of some coalition's here. One of which is the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Education and Regulation has an advisory group called the Center of Excellence which you sit on and I've been getting a lot of questions not only domestically but internationally about this particular coalition because it's somewhat unique from the others. I was wondering if you might be able to tell the audience a little bit about it and why you're involved?
Shanita: Yeah, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Education and Regulation launched last month. This is a Coalition of non cannabis companies that have an interest in influencing federal policy as it relates to cannabis. They see legalization happening, the momentum from each of the states that have legalized this year alone and the commitment from our federal policymakers in the first 100 days they would be taking this up. These are all the reasons why we're here. It's time to really have this conversation with every stakeholder and every potential stakeholder and for years I've been working on this and it's time to not sit in our silos, not compete but figure out a way to collaborate and get the ball further down the field than we ever have before.
Chris: Yeah, I think having your name attached to something like Center Of Excellence seems appropriate. Everything that I've seen you involved with and touched in the cannabis space has been better for it. When I saw this news break about some of the folks on this Coalition I have to admit I was a bit skeptical because when you see a lot of the tobacco companies and the liquor companies starting to get involved history would tell us to be a bit suspect right? But then I saw your name on the advisory group and I thought okay maybe there's hope because I haven't really seen them state publicly much over the years and certainly dumped a lot of money into the industry both in Canada and across the US. What is the role of the Center Of Excellence? What are you hoping to achieve with that? And then how do you think it's going to affect some of the policy recommendations that this organization puts forth because they certainly only have a ton of lobbying dollars available?
Shanita: Chris you are not alone with your reaction, it's probably right in line with most of the reactions that I received when the Coalition was announced. I think it's fair, it's certainly fair to be skeptical and I appreciate the support and trust that folks like you have in me and the work that I've done. What’s important is that the Center Of Excellence reflects expertise in the areas of public safety, public health, criminal justice reform, social justice and economic development. All of those things that we should be thinking about holistically as we regulate especially at the federal level. We dropped the ball in a number of states on a lot of these issues and so where we can leverage the federal government to educate our policymakers first and foremost and then allow us to make responsible and practical policy decisions that don't leave anyone behind is really our opportunity. It's not me there are people who I've looked up to, read their books and their work on the history of the War on Drugs on substance abuse and prevention of youth use. I personally have been a 20 plus year case study of my own in this. So it's being able to look at this through a lens of equitable policymaking.
Chris: Yeah, I did also notice I should do a shout-out to my friend Derek Smith of the Resource Innovation Institute because I've followed his work very closely also and for those out there who are interested in people who are really forwarding the discussion around responsible energy use and water conservation things that are really critical to responsible cultivation. I think RAI and Derick have been very good stewards of the industry discussion there as well. So with the two of you and another really strong list of participants at the Center Of Excellence. I'm hopeful that we can see some great positive movement out of the lobbying dollars that I know will be used by companies that make up the Coalition. Do you have any insight into what the timing agenda is because everybody always wants to know the crystal ball. When is the US going to legalize at the federal level and I know the executive director of the Coalition Andrew Friedman was quoted as saying, “hey, it's not really a conversation about whether it's going to legalize, it’s about when because the states have decided” and I think we all mostly agree with that. But do you have any insight into what the Coalition is trying to accomplish and timing around that?
Shanita: More than anything we want to put out education and recommendations around what an equitable framework looks like. I'll tell you the reception that I've gotten as it relates to the Coalition and its members is that oh. “they're here to take over the industry”. Well they're not, there here in this particular capacity in the Coalition to influence policy for what will be a national cannabis industry at some point. But our first priority is getting our members consensus on our policy priorities. We absolutely have to be ready to react and engage and collaborate with our federal law maker. They've committed to in the first hundred days we've only got a couple more weeks before that first hundred days is up. So we're hoping to see something that looks like a comprehensive bill if we don't see that we've already seen safe banking reintroduced. So there are again opportunities for incremental progress and continued incremental progress as well as the opportunity for a big show if you will, which would in my opinion be comprehensive legalization?
Chris: Yeah. I know something very dear to your heart is controlling or helping to let's not say control. Let's say helping to formulate socially responsible and equitable legalization frameworks. Since we first talked about you coming on to the show, the 19.4 million people of New York State now live in a legalized market, that's a pretty big deal. I know that at least in the talking points around that law they have made an effort to discuss social equity. How are you feeling about some of these more recent states and sort of the frameworks of these laws that are being established in the areas of social equity?
Shanita: More hopeful than I have ever been especially when we talk about New York. The New York legislators and Governor had for the last few years not been in agreement on the way they should legalize adult use in New York and one of the biggest issues of contention was around social equity and not just who's going to be a part of the industry, right? Who's going to benefit from the cannabis tax revenue. How are we going to reconcile the communities that we know were impacted and are still impacting to this day. So to see the compromise in New York with the assembly and senate and the governor gives me a lot of hope that this is how we've now raised the bar on what adult youth looks like. That we committed to not just accepting legalization for the sake of legalization that it has to be done right. I think It lit a fire under other states like Virginia who several weeks ago passed adult legalization with this crazy timeline into the future where people wouldn't have access to this product for years and worse than that people were still going to be impacted from a criminal justice standpoint. To see New York influence Virginia in a way that says let's revisit this, let's not just one and done it, let's not put half and effort into this, let's get it right and and let's make the best attempt we can so I am thoroughly excited with what's happening on the east coast, the eastern seaboard.
Chris: Yeah, well you're right there in the heart of it all. I think it's nice to be able to have a conversation internationally when I talk to companies now about yes, California is and has been for a long time a critically important huge market. But New York is no joke either and the entire east coast has made a huge amount of progress recently and that's nice to see. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to one of the CEOs of a very large consulting company based in London and I asked him when you are looking at all the different markets around the world this year and you're looking for where you're going to put your focus for your clients what markets are you most intently watching and his response was New York and New Jersey. So, if you think about how that discussion has shifted across the global landscape New York legalizing is an earthquake around the world in terms of indicating the possibilities that really could happen here. It changes this shift of balance for the entire global marketplace. So I think it's good and it sets an example for a lot of places. I always tell people you need to look at multiple things when you look at ROI, it needs to be ROI squared right return on investment and impact because if you can build it from the ground up or the social impact in mind then then everybody wins and it's a much better world to live in when we build businesses that way in my opinion.
Shanita: I love that return on investment squared. I'll give you credit for it, the first two times I use it.
Chris: There you go. Thank you. And I can't remember I gotta admit, I heard it somewhere in some paper once before I hijacked it. So it's going to be we can make it one of those quotes that you just attribute to whoever you spoke to last and it's fine.
Shanita: There you go.
Chris: That's good. So, getting into a little bit more on the Coalition and circling back to next steps for the education and regulation part of that discussion. I am curious about what types of education initiatives or programs are under discussion and particularly within the context of another quote I saw from Andrew Friedman, where he was saying to craft a responsible federal framework for a legalized cannabis marketplace in order to do that, right we need all voices at the table. So who are all the voices and because there's a whole bunch of groups and coalition's out there and sort of how do you see this group working with all of them to help further education initiatives both here and abroad?
Shantia: From my experience in this space there are organizations that pick their horse and that's what they focus on. What's interesting is that I just learned that a lot of us weren't collaborating in a real way that would afford us the opportunity to see comprehensive legislation, right? These lawmakers want to tackle one issue at a time because they have so many stakeholder groups educating them about that particular topic or miss educating them about a particular topic. What's important is that we remember that it's not enough to give policy and afterthought as it relates to something like criminal justice reform or social justice, social equity even. It's important that we have all of the stakeholder groups, every stakeholder that should be involved in this conversation isn't interested in the industry. What they are interested in is protecting their communities from predatory players in the community, non-value-added and worse than that players that come in and actually do harm. Historically we have some members that have reputations that have demonstrated this in the past and so we have to say day one “hey, here's what you got right, here's where you have experience and here's what you bring to the conversation”. Now be open to write hearing and being advised by someone who has no skin in the game except public health or public safety and the good of the public hear what they have to say about drugs or under the driving under the influence of cannabis. Hear what law enforcement has to say about what's really happened in communities after legalization. Again, you can't take away the decades and even more than that in some cases of regulatory experience and navigating an emerging industry in some cases or the transition of an industry if you will. All of the voices are necessary, there isn't a group that exist today that I would not advise the Coalition to understand what they're working on, what their position is and how we can at least not hinder the work that they're doing and where we can amplify it, where we can boost it. it's a win-win for everyone. So, every stakeholder at the table is the black community leaders who have been against cannabis legalization because there's no community reinvestment because there's no addressing criminal justice reform in addition to creating this business opportunity that only a few have truly benefited from so far. Andrews quote I think I'm saying it every day, folks ask me about the Coalition, the first thing I'm thinking about is what are they working on that we can lend, learn or uplift.
Chris: Yeah. Well, I'm hoping that as ,it continues to move along that groups like The GCNC that I run, can also benefit from some of the what hopefully becomes consistent messaging and fact-based education programs because I can tell you for a fact the world, literally the world all is waiting to see what happens in the US markets and they're really confused about what are we doing. And I think from the outside looking in it can be confusing because the complexities that exist within the American cultural framework are tough to navigate and even tougher to understand just like any other country. We just happened to be potentially the largest consumer market of cannabis and so people are obviously curious to see how all that navigates. As you were talking about trying to create consistent messaging it triggered a webinar that I sat on that was hosted by the Ad Agency in Texas that represents the Texas Department of Transportation. We all sort of know Texas's position on cannabis has not been particularly friendly nor does it seem to be shifting anytime soon sadly. Although, I have a lot of friends who would claim they are making progress, I'm not sure. When I listened to the representatives they had on there it was terrible and was just blatantly wrong. I understood the individuals goals and what he was trying to say, but he wasn't even informed accurately on sort of the facts and what's happening. I do think if we can bring together groups that say yes, there is nothing that's perfect in the old and so there's pros and cons to everything and we can have that discussion but let's at least come from a common set of facts based on what has actually happened post legalization in states because we actually have a lot of examples now and the sky didn't fall and good things did happen and where mistakes were made we now have a lot of lessons that we can say we've learned. So I do hope that we can find a way to convey consistent messaging based on facts that are realistic both on the business side, the social equity side looking at responsible energy use all of those topics and and filter those in because frankly if we can do it right here in the United States we can proactively apply that in a lot of other parts of the world as well and provide some of that expertise and hopefully take expertise from other regions of the world and bring it here because there's been a lot of really interesting things happening in a lot of places where frankly we've ignored it right in research and business development and cultivation everything else. So I have my fingers crossed and my brain continues to be cautiously optimistic that we can get there. When you look at sort of your next steps and where you think things are going to play out over the next 6, 12 and 18 months, what do you see? What do you see happening for the Coalition and and also for you personally where do you see yourself putting your efforts and in the coming months?
Shanita: Well, I'll tell you I didn't walk into a fully baked situation. We are still actively recruiting both coalition members as well as members of the Center of Excellence. That's why I'm going to be focusing the majority of my time is engaging that Center of Excellence to produce content that does those two things educate our lawmakers, unify the truth and amplifies that and pushing forward and being ready for whatever comes our way again in terms of either incremental narrowly focused legislation or something more comprehensive like Booker, Biden and Schumer have committed to in the first 100 days. In addition to that we have got to pay attention to what's happening at the state level because that's making our cases as well, right? What the states are getting wrong is what we should be looking at and saying hey federal government don't get in the way or make this even stronger and what they're not getting right we need to come in and have some accountability for our state markets and again that return on impact to the communities.
Chris: Yeah, I love that and as always Shanita every time I talk to you I learn more and I feel like with folks like yourself and others at the Center of Excellence advising groups like the Coalition it does give me hope for for positive momentum in the US market and hope that we can in some way at some point, start setting a good example for what a strong national framework can look like because we've sort of fallen short for a while. Hopefully that will begin to change. So thanks again Shanita for joining me, it's always a pleasure and thanks to everybody. out there in the virtual world for listening in and watching The International Cannabis Conversation each week. If you haven't subscribed yet, I don't know what you're waiting for, hit that little button, subscribe, share it with your friends and let's continue to build a great and growing international cannabis marketplace. Thanks all and we'll talk to you next time.