08.02.2016
policy

What's Wrong With Weed? 99 Problems as Told by People Behind the Plant

Working in weed is harder than it seems.

Few consumable products are as problematic as cannabis. No other leafy green substance is as simultaneously divisive and capable of uniting people; as misunderstood and as widely embraced. Some view the herb as a true blue, all natural, wonder drug. Others just want the freedom to pair it with a gourmet meal without ending up in jail; or the basic human right of lighting up after a long day at work, without having their children taken away from them.  

Weed is complicated.

To gain insight into a landscape that, county-by-county, state-by-state, and day-by-day, only gets more muddled––the term "quasi-legal" barely scratches the surface––The KIND reached out to all corners of the contemporary cannabis space. We asked a group of entrepreneurs, researchers, policy advocates, parents, lawyers, former teachers––mostly criminals by federal standards––to share what they feel are the most pressing issues in pot today. 

Jazmin Hupp, Co-Founder, Women Grow

"Banking is a right, not a privilege. In a world where credit and checking accounts are required, we have to allow everyone to bank. Beyond the business issues of conducting millions of dollars in sales in cash (as is for most dispensaries) we're creating a huge safety issue. When you can use your credit card to purchase anything from porn to pharmaceuticals, you should also be able to purchase pot. Financial institutions are not serving their purpose if they can't serve all businesses."

Cy Scott, Co-Founder Headset; Co-Founder Leafly

"In other industries, things like payments are just taken for granted. In cannabis, you have to get creative, and it unnecessarily slows down very basic tasks. With Leafly, we lost a number of banks and payment processors. Headset is in Washington, where the state has taken in more than $114M in excise tax for 2015; yet these businesses struggle to keep their bank accounts."

Alison Ettel, Founder and CEO, TreatWell 

"By law in California, we have to be a not-for-profit entity. This means we need multiple companies to work around the laws, which will change any day, just to function. It's all very complicated. So are the tax laws surrounding [the industry,] which further makes investors leery."

Holly Alberti, CEO, Healthy Headie

"Unfortunately, the credit card companies don't like what we do. In order to accept credit cards, and play their game, we can't use all of the great press we have received...At least for now."

"Be comfortable being uncomfortable."

Brittany Confer, Director of Marketing, FORIA

"Banking is a struggle for every brand in this space, from the top to the bottom. And it shouldn’t be so difficult. It makes it hard to establish trust among consumers. When we first started FORIA, retail orders on our website would be redirected to pay for the product by using Venmo. This process was in place for several months. Our account––which we listed as a sexual wellness brand, which we truthfully are––was eventually shut down by Venmo when they realized that we’re also a cannabis brand."

Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder, Trees 

"I spoke with the president of a smaller, but still very major, progressive bank in the United States. He told me that he would love to invest in my cannabis startup, but he would never allow us to open an account with his bank."

Tracy Ryan, CEO and Lead Consultant, Cannakids

"Not being allowed to have a bank account comes with its own set of issues, as well. There's always the fear that because we are working with kids, we could have a target on our backs, but I'm in too deep to let that slow me down. I have seen too much, and too many children have gotten their lives back, to stop us now. It can be scary, but the rewards way outlive the fears."

David Hua, CEO and co-founder, Meadow

"Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Working in cannabis, we've encountered challenges that range from following legislative changes to banking issues."

Amanda Chicago Lewis, National Reporter, BuzzFeed

"Every problem [in the cannabis industry] comes back to banking." 

Image via The Star

Alan Gertner, Founder, Tokyo Smoke

"Not everyone has woken up to the cannabis revolution."

Leah Heise, CEO, Women Grow

"Some states have better programs than others, but all have holes. You can be a medical cannabis patient in one state, but you cannot travel with your medication over state lines; nor can you purchase medication in most other states."

Mark Hadfield, CEO, HelloMD

"Fragmentation limits the impact in investments in marketing or branding, and causes frustration for consumers who want access to products they might have heard about, but find are not available locally. The industry is plagued by small participants that have distribution that is either very regionalized (NorCal only, or S-Cal only). Where it is statewide, its typically constrained to one state specifically with no immediate plans for expansion. The most developed participants might have distribution in three-to-five states, but that is the maximum and that is very rare.  This limits the number of partners HelloMD can invest time with, or forces us to focus efforts on smaller geographies that don’t make full use of the power of our national reach."

Ellen Komp, Deputy Director, California NORML

"The ancillary issues around being quasi-legal: Loss of employment rights, parental rights, and housing rights by marijuana users."

Kayvan S.T. Khalatbari, Founder Cresco Labs; Founder Denver Relief Consulting

"The massively failed war on drugs has hindered communities of color for decades, and now those folks don't even have the opportunity to participate in the [legalized] business."

Andrew Schrot, CEO, BlueKudu

"The impact that the possible rescheduling of cannabis will have on the current industry is an issue we expect to face. It appears there are few options on the table, depending on a reschedule or down-schedule."

Hugh Hempel, co-founder and CEO, Strainz

"Shipping of products across state lines is strictly prohibited. And because each state has its own set of laws on matters like packaging, dosing, and even advertising, trying to replicate a business from Colorado in Washington, for example, is very challenging. Because scaling is a huge challenge,the price to the consumer becomes inflated. Making cannabis a schedule II drug would likely not solve these issues as schedule II substances are also highly regulated, i.e. cocaine, methadone, OxyContin."

Leah Heisse, CEO, Women Grow

"Even in states where cannabis use is legal––women still face losing their children because child welfare laws have not caught up with legalization. This disparity and inconsistent application of cannabis policy across the board, generates burdensome costs to both the Government prosecuting these cases, the social service system and the mothers from whom the children are taken. Additionally, what does this do to the mental health of the children?" 

"Decades of stigmatization of cannabis as a harmful drug has created a strong bias against the industry that remains. "

Ellen Komp, Deputy Director, NORML California

"Law enforcement officials protect their own interests at the state and local levels."

Josh Lyon, Head of Marketing and Partnerships, Tokyo Smoke

"The Canadian marketplace, while extremely exciting, poses a huge challenge when planning. While federal legalization is coming, no one really knows how the retailing will work, supply chain or any of the further regulations. Trying to formulate a plan and allocate dollars when there is a lack of clarity is never easy."

Kevin McKernan, Founder and CEO, Medicinal Genomics

"Publishing peer reviewed articles can be challenging when you have to perform illegal experiments in order for the paper to publish. We performed the initial sequencing of the [cannabis] genomes in a hotel room in Holland. In 2011, we were still afraid to ‘touch the bud’ inside the United States."

Tsion ‘Sunshine’ Lencho, co-founder, Supernova Women, Activist, Attorney

"There are many barriers to entry. Licensing fees and real estate is expensive. It’s not easy for anyone to get a commercial lease. In San Francisco, to open a dispensary, hopeful entrepreneurs must be willing to pay rent on a location before the city even has a planning commission meeting for the proposed location. I know someone that has been paying for a commercial space for more than a year, and their license is still pending. "

Liz Blaz Fitch, Co-Founder, Green Delta Consulting

"Many of us are navigating multiple worlds, cultures and verticals, and it’s all changing each day. A 'budtender' in one state is a 'patient care rep' in another state, is a 'handler' in another. Fifty state policies, and no federal guide contribute to this.

Image via Twitter

Mark Hadfield, CEO, HelloMD

"The fragmentation is a result of: a complex and changing regulatory landscape from state to state and even county to county, the relative immaturity of entrepreneurial businesses, and the tight capital markets."

Cy Scott, Co-Founder Headset; Co-Founder Leafly

"Fragmentation of the market, working across state lines and updating our services to handle the myriad of nuanced differences in each market makes it more difficult to scale seamlessly. Even just finding an accounting firm that will work with you being in the industry [is difficult.]" 

Cathie Bennett Warner, Director, Public Relations, Steep Hill Labs, Inc.

"The lack of quality standards from state to state is equally appalling. No state has gotten it completely right yet. We are hopeful California will enact the toughest standards yet, and lead other states to a standard that the federal government can adopt when they fully legalize."

Hugh Hempel, co-founder and CEO, Strainz

"Very few labs are equipped to do a full pesticide panel, so in some states products wait for weeks (increasing costs) to be tested… It is imperative that businesses, retailers, and consumers be 100 percent confident that product is free of pesticides, toxins, and molds. This critical capability needs to be expanded and improved (and overseen by the States)."

"A lot of misinformation in the market has become common wisdom." 

Andrew Schrot, CEO, BlueKudu

"Beginning on October 1, all of our medical and adult-use products must be stamped with the universal [Colorado] symbol. We believe this is a positive change for the industry overall and accomplishes the goal of identifying cannabis edibles outside of its packaging. These requirements have pushed back the launch of new products."

Mark Hadfield, CEO, HelloMD

"A lot of misinformation in the market has become common wisdom. For example, the mistaken belief that in order to purchase cannabis in California, one needs to have documentation of permanent residence status. There is in fact nothing in California law that requires this."

Brittany Confer, Director of Marketing, FORIA

"Even the language [FORIA] uses on social media has to be different if we’re trying to reach consumers in different states."

Liz Blaz Fitch, Co-Founder, Green Delta Consulting

"The spotlight on the industry is potentially intoxicating, and the addition of social media gives people a platform to express themselves."

Lauren Gibbs, Founder, Rise Above Social Strategies

"Paid advertising on [mainstream social media] platforms is completely unavailable to cannabis businesses."

Kayvan S.T. Khalatbari, Founder Cresco Labs; Founder Denver Relief Consulting

"City Council and communities in Denver are pushing back because of the lack of care by corporate behemoths and some are now unable to get licenses renewed in the city because of it."  

""We're all somewhat on the island of misfit toys, in cannabis, and we need to encourage community instead of promoting isolation. "

Andrew Schrot, CEO, BlueKudu

"We have purchased and remodeled a new facility to include a grow operation now that we’ve outgrown our current space, but due to the massive expansion of the industry here, the Denver building department has fallen behind in processing construction permits. We hoped to be in our new facility by the end of spring, but now it is looking like the end of this summer."

Alison Ettel, Founder/CEO, TreatWell

"Education [is an issue]. Everything from educating the patient on what and how to use products, to the ‘budtenders,’ medical professionals, general public, and even politicians. We're dealing with very ingrained biases about the cannabis plant."

Shauntel Ludwig, Vice President of Operations, Da Vinci Vaporizers 

"There is a general lack of knowledge on how different strains have different effects on ailments or for that matter different effects on people. There is a huge amount of information scatter. At least we’re getting to the point where people are thinking sativa = awake and indica = sleepy, but there is so much more to share."

Image via Oaksterdam

Leah Heise, CEO, Women Grow

"Universities, medical schools, nursing schools, and law schools need to start adding cannabis to their educational curriculums. We face an uphill battle in educating people on the benefits of cannabis use, and the opportunities available for employment in the industry. It is time for the education community to get on board."

Cathie Bennett Warner, Director, Public Relations, Steep Hill Labs, Inc.

"The biggest problem is the lack of understanding about the importance of testing cannabis for purity, potency, and safety, especially for cancer patients, children with specific diseases, or immune-suppressed patients."

Branden Hall, Founding partner; CEO, Releaf app 

"We’re not only selling the idea of medical cannabis, which is enough of a hard sell to a certain extent, we’re selling the idea of mindfulness. It’s almost like selling meditation. We’re telling people to think about themselves and how they feel."

Mark Hadfield, CEO, HelloMD

"Decades of stigmatization of cannabis as a harmful drug has created a strong bias against the industry that remains. Despite mounting anecdotal evidence of the huge potential benefits to society, many are still either reluctant to admit their own use, reluctant to invest in the industry, or continue to view the industry though a negative lens of recreational ‘stoners.’ This is slowly subsiding, but has a long way to go before it’s no longer an issue."

Kevin McKernan, Founder and CEO, Medicinal Genomics

"Prepare to spend a lot of money on attorneys. And don’t be surprised when there is no clear answer."

Tracy Ryan, CEO and Lead Consultant, Cannakids

"I talk to my attorneys multiple times a week to ensure we are doing everything above board. It's arduous!"

Josh Lyon, Head of Marketing and Partnerships, Tokyo Smoke

"We are still, for the most part, working in an industry that is highly taboo and heavily stigmatized. We all push, as a whole, to move cannabis legislation and legalization forward. Cannabis has been so heavily vilified over the past 75 years that the ingrained ill-will is often tough to overcome."

Cy Scott, Co-Founder, Headset; Co-Founder, Leafly

"Fundraising can be tough, a bit easier now that we have recreational markets, but there is still a bit of stigma and reluctance for traditional venture capital-based investment."

Liz Blaz Fitch, Co-Founder, Green Delta Consulting

"We're all somewhat on the island of misfit toys, in cannabis, and we need to encourage community instead of promoting isolation. The contemporary cannabis industry is the convergence of so many viewpoints and skill-sets, that there is no common understanding of how to get things done."'

Amanda Chicago Lewis, National Reporter, BuzzFeed

"Mainstream media reports of women dominating the cannabis industry are overblown. Which speaks to the divide between the people that actually work in the industry, and those that are just talking around it. It’s definitely not a female-dominated space. And there is still a lot of sexism."

Image via The Growing Kitchen

Shauntel Ludwig, Vice President of Operations, Da Vinci Vaporizers

"Cannabis is still not widely adopted as a replacement means for just about anything in your medicine cabinet. Nausea, insomnia, low appetite, headaches, joint pain..."

Cathie Bennett Warner, Director, Public Relations, Steep Hill Labs, Inc.

"For the public who believe that marijuana is for stoners only, they have not yet seen the potential for treatment for numerous health conditions that could derive enormous benefit from legalization, clinical trials, and giving access to medicine that people need."

Tsion ‘Sunshine’ Lencho, co-founder, Supernova Women, Activist, Attorney

"Suddenly, everyone is discovering that [the cannabis industry] is not nearly as diverse as we’re often led to believe. We need to focus on all levels of business, and not only the people on the lowest point of the organization chart." 

Ophelia Chong, Founder, StockPot Images

"My main challenge was my 'newness' in the cannabis industry. It was a steep learning curve that went from 'what is indica and sativa' to smoking my first joint since high school. I joined the first Women Grow meeting in Los Angeles. From there, I networked with women who worked with me, to educate and to support what I was determined to do."

Jazmin Hupp, Co-founder, Women Grow

"The cannabis industry is so new that there is so much left to create. The hard part of being in cannabis, is to stop creating, to work on one core product. Many teams have trouble keeping focused when so much creativity and opportunity exist side by side. "

Josh Lyon, Director of Partnerships and Marketing, Tokyo Smoke

"This is definitely a positive challenge. With so much excitement around the industry and thoughtful people getting involved, brands like ours have countless opportunities to create and partner. Often, we don't find ourselves struggling to figure out what to do next but, rather, what not to do next. Choosing between so many exciting avenues and partners is never easy!"

David Hua, Co-founder and CEO, Meadow

"Another issue we’ve faced is making sure we are working with quality partners."

"Having to constantly 'explain yourself' and justify what you do can be a challenge."

Alison Ettel, Founder and CEO, TreatWell 

"I come from a very traditional background and hiring people who have a passion for this plant and also have a professional background, who can accept a non-profit pay, is extremely challenging! This is probably my biggest challenge to date."

Mark Hadfield, CEO, HelloMD

"Many in the industry are emerging from participating in the black (illegal) market to the gray (somewhat legal locally, but not federally) market. With a possible crackdown by federal agents around every corner, this causes people to operate under assumed identities or different names, or just omit this information from their business profiles entirely. Additionally, many new business introductions are viewed with some degree of suspicion."

Shauntel Ludwig, Vice President of Operations, Da Vinci Vaporizers

"It’s still difficult to tell your parents, and people, that you are a regular user, and functioning. Parlay this to a ‘coming out of the closet’ stoner, and we’re missing out on spreading the knowledge that a lot of us use cannabis to experience things like enlightenment, to foster creativity, or to bring focus."

Brittany Confer, Director of Marketing, FORIA

"My mother is a pediatrician. She’s totally against cannabis, to-this-day. She hates my job. And to not have her support can be frustrating. But all of the different challenges and scares and excitements I’ve faced, have been amazing learning experiences. I have a part in empowering women and advancing female wellness."

Image via Flickr

Hugh Hempel, Co-Founder and CEO, Strainz

"The reality remains that the industry has a handful of operators that are putting the rest of the industry at risk by cutting corners. This problem extends from the lack of consistent and reliable dosing, vague ingredient listings on packaging, and consumer skepticism that they are actually purchasing the products represented on the labels. In the absence of any oversight from within, there will be demands from the public to over-regulate the industry."

Josh Lyon, Head of Marketing and Partnerships, Tokyo Smoke

"On top of that, as people working in the industry, there is often the view that we lack motivation, aren't necessarily contributing, don't have a 'real' job. Having to constantly 'explain yourself' and justify what you do can be a challenge."

Shauntel Ludwig, Vice President of Operations, Da Vinci Vaporizers

"As adoption spreads, this will subside, but in the current state, we all still get put into that bucket. Granted I do own some tie dye."

Liz Blaz Fitch, Co-Founder, Green Delta Consulting

"People are sun-birding standards and expectations from other roles and jobs and learning as they go along. Folks that are used to bootstrapping, wearing ten hats and doing everything solo, are learning how to delegate and pay for services that were previously undocumented."

"There will always be work to be done."

Amanda Chicago Lewis, National Reporter, BuzzFeed

"Since a lot of business in this industry is still based on close personal relationships, and because white men tend to want to help other white men, this is a system that can be very difficult to change. Traditional power structures will continue to exist based on 'who knows who.' "

Liz Blaz Fitch, Co-Founder, Green Delta Consulting

"With everyone trying to make their mark in this immense time of change and opportunity, we seem to forget we all have a common interest: cannabis."

Jazmin Hupp, Co-Founder, Women Grow

"We brag about spending 80-plus hours a week working. We don't often post about spending the night in and enjoying journaling, with a joint. This might lead you to believe that everyone around you is working constantly and never taking any time for themselves. In this context, cannabis is selfish and lazy when there's work to be done. Just now we are starting to understand the importance of balancing work and play for a satisfying life. There will always be work to be done."

The KIND launched just under one year ago. Some of these responses have been previously published. Most were gathered specifically for this post. 

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