Cannabis Among Us
By Kayla Ebner
There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the cannabis industry.
Despite the fact that medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2012, and recreational marijuana in 2016, the business community is juggling countless regulations and laws, whether looking to get into the cannabis industry themselves or just dealing with this new economy in general.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, many of these questions will be answered.
From 12:30 to 5 p.m. at the Springfield Sheraton, the Springfield Regional Chamber will host “The Buzz About Cannabis: Marijuana in the Marketplace and the Workplace,” a collection of business, legal, and medical marijuana professionals, distributors, and entrepreneurs, as well as state cannabis officials, who will give attendees all the information they need to know about cannabis.
Nancy Creed describes retail cannabis sales as just one spur on the wheel of an industry that has pushed its way to the forefront over the last several years, and the president of the Springfield Regional Chamber is making plans to prepare business folks for this rising economic driver.
“The cannabis industry is clearly a, no pun intended, budding industry,” Creed said. “When you look at the revenue associated with it and the taxes, it really is the next economic engine of its time.”
It was a meeting with Cannabis Control Commissioner Kay Doyle that inspired Creed to begin researching this topic.
“This, to me, was kind of a no-brainer,” Creed said. “We need to make sure that we are at the front of the industry and we are helping businesses either get into the industry or, on the flip side, deal with this new economy.”
“When you look at the revenue associated with it and the taxes, it really is the next economic engine of its time.”
The conference itself features an opening keynote from Doyle, breakout sessions focused on topics like “Business Structure and Banking in the Cannabis Industry” and “Cannabis in the Workplace,” and a closing keynote by Beth Waterfall, founder of Elevate Northeast, titled “Cannabis: What’s Next?”
Chamber leaders thought carefully about what their goals were for the cannabis conference — the first time a chamber in the region has hosted an event of its kind.
Creed said this first conference will take a general focus, building a solid foundation on the basics of the industry — and leaving room for a potential focus on hemp, CBD, or other spokes on the wheel, as she calls them, next year.
The main goal of the conference is to educate attendees on what cannabis is, what they need to know when getting into the industry, and how it affects the economy.
“It’s a place for business people to come and get educated,” she noted. “I think it’s also an opportunity to recognize the growth of the cannabis industry and how that will positively impact our economy and be able to shine a light on it, so people see it as the future of our region.”
In order to accomplish this, she knew they needed to bring in several experts and professionals from different parts of the industry — including someone from the commission, Doyle, to talk about the landscape of the industry and the regulations entrepreneurs need to grapple with.
Next, Creed wanted to ensure the conference featured someone who could help businesses figure out what they needed to know about not only getting into the industry, but also what type of business they would be classified as.
Perhaps most importantly, they needed an expert in the banking industry. Because marijuana is still federally illegal, almost no bank will deal with marijuana businesses — although that could eventually change. Tina Sbrega, CEO of GFA Credit Union, will accompany Scott Foster, partner at Bulkley Richardson, to talk about banking and business structure.
“I want to make sure that businesses understand that, so they are successful when they start out, and aren’t just starting out not thinking through all of the things you need to think through to be a successful business,” Creed said.
She added that this conference is not just for people looking to get into the business, but also for people who just need to understand how it works.
Joanne Berwald, vice president of HR at Mestek; Erica Flores, attorney at Skoler Abbott; and Pam Thornton, director of Strategic HR Services at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, will lead a breakout session about recruitment, retention, and employment law.
“There are a lot of complex laws that come into play,” Creed said. “We wanted to make sure, for the rest of the business world that isn’t interested in getting into the cannabis industry, that we had information about what is it like for the other folks working and hiring in a cannabis world.”
For the final breakout session, Creed explained that she wanted to bring in a panel comprised of a marijuana grower, a user, and a distributor, but did not have the internal resources to find people who fit the description. That’s when she reached out to Michael Kusek, cannabis journalist and publisher of Different Leaf magazine. He crafted a team — Noni Goldman, Leslie Laurie, Ezra Parzybok, Karima Rizk, and Payton Shubrick — to talk about their individual niches and how they navigate the cannabis industry in different ways.
Overall, Creed hopes to help as many people as possible navigate a still new and quickly growing industry.
Because it is the first event of its kind, she is unsure just how many people will register, but believes that, once people learn more about the event, they will see the benefits of attending.
“I really don’t know how much the business community is going to understand the conference and embrace the conference,” she said. “Our hope is that they will, but it’s new.”
What she does know is that the cannabis industry is evolving at a rapid rate, and keeping up with the high demand is a must for the chamber.
“It’s a place for business people to come and get educated,” she said. “I think it’s also an opportunity to recognize the growth of the cannabis industry and how that will positively impact our economy, and be able to shine a light on it so people see it as the future of our region — because it’s here.”