CACannaBizCon 2019: Five questions with NCIA's Executive Director, Aaron Smith
The National Cannabis Industry Association’s annual California Cannabis Business Conference 2019 took place this week in Long Beach, CA, and The Elegant Stoner was in attendance, covering the show as it happened. The show expo featured lots of different businesses involved in the cannabis space, including many that don’t really sell consumer products — they offer help to growing cannabis businesses, or support the industry in other ways. Even though we mostly focus on cool stuff consumers can buy, we still wanted to highlight some of the people and businesses at the show, and so we’re going to be posting a series of quick interviews from around the CACannaBizCon 2019 show floor, asking people at the show what they’re up to, and what they’re thinking about in the cannabis industry.
This interview is with the NCIA’s Executive Director — he took time out of his busy schedule overseeing the show to chat with us for a few minutes.
What's your name, title, and what do you do?
My name is Aaron Smith, and I'm the Executive Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. We are here at our third annual California Cannabis Business Conference. We're here to bring together cannabis professionals, regulators, policy makers from across the state of California and the country to discuss best practices, regulatory trends, policy trends, and help the industry better prepare for the future here in California and beyond.
How did you get involved in cannabis?
I've been working in the cannabis reform arena for almost my entire adult life -- 15 plus years professionally. I started here in California as an advocate for medical marijuana in the 2000s, working for the Marijuana Policy Project. Over time, we started seeing that a real industry was emerging here, where you had not just the storefronts but also the ancillary businesses. And then legalization came to Colorado, and there were sort of unique needs that the traditional advocacy organizations weren't really suited for, and so it was kind of an empty parking lot space for a trade association. So we started the NCIA, and that was in 2010.
What do you like about the industry?
I like that this is a new frontier every day. Every day we're doing something that nobody has done before, in a way. It's less than once in a lifetime experiences all the time in this industry. And also to be able to know that we're not just creating an industry, we're creating an industry that's changing popular culture around cannabis and wellness, and ultimately letting people be freer to make their own adult decisions. This is a movement, as Troy said at the keynote this morning, as long as anybody is in jail for this plant, this is still a social movement. That's really what gets me up in the morning.
What do you foresee as the biggest obstacle to the industry, pre or post legislation?
Right now the biggest obstacle to the industry's ability to grow is, I think obviously, federal prohibition. The biggest obstacle at this point to reforming these prohibition laws is no longer public opinion, but general congressional gridlock. Congress doesn't really get much done of anything, but we're now starting to see on both Republican and the Democratic side, we're starting to see some movement. First, it's going to be in the banking arena, and then I think we'll see broader reforms. In some ways, having looked at this for so long, it's kind of a great place to be, where it's not that this is a third rail political issue that nobody wants to touch, but it's just that we're dealing with the general dysfunction of our system of government. I think within a matter of three to five years we'll have a good shot at having cannabis legal from coast to coast.
Anything you've seen that's cool lately or that you want to recommend?
What's really great is being able to see these new institutional businesses that have been around for decades entering the cannabis space and coming to events like this. And actually joining that movement -- they join for their own self interest but they end up being part of NCIA and part of our events, and actually helping to reform our outdated drug laws. And being able to see that the profit motive is also driving social change!
Thanks for reading! You can see all of our NCIA CACannaBizCon 2019 interviews all in one place with our CACannaBizCon2019 tag. Stay tuned for more interviews with cannabis business owners and professionals, straight from the show floor.