The uncertainty of today’s political climate is creating a friendly disagreement among cannabis entrepreneurs. There seem to be two camps emerging: those who prefer to exercise caution and wait to see how the Trump administration acts, and those who are calling for an immediate full court press.
The dynamics played out recently in Nevada and Florida, two newly legalized states.
“We had a lot of interest, but there were concerns.”
On November 8, Floridians approved a statewide constitutional amendment with 71.3 percent of the vote – that’s 6.5 million votes. Neither President-elect Trump nor Florida State Senator Marco Rubio received that many votes, according to Florida for Care’s analysis.
The message from Floridians was clear: They like medical marijuana more than their own politicians. The approval of Amendment 2 has entrepreneurs from every corner of America flocking to Florida.
To capitalize on that interest, the Colorado-based cannabis consulting firm Strainwise planned to host an “ask the experts” cannabis conference in Florida this month.
But they found that excitement about Florida was tempered by the “overwhelming sense of uncertainty in America,” which is a tactful way of saying anxiety about the Trump administration’s cannabis policy. In the end, Strainwise had to cancel the event. Too many would-be ticket buyers were in the “wait and see” camp.
Meanwhile, the previous month in Nevada, the annual MJ Biz Conference attracted a sold-out crowd of 10,000 cannabis entrepreneurs, investors, and wannabe industry members. Of course, MJ Biz happened just before Trump named Jeff Sessions as his choice for Attorney General.
In their cancellation notice for the Florida conference, Strainwise officials wrote:
“Our government affairs officials are currently working to ascertain the direction of the incoming administration and once we have a clearer understanding, we will be further exploring future conference events in Florida and around the United States.”
In a phone interview, Strainwise Marketing and Branding Director AJ Obando told Leafly that the event “had a lot of interest, but there were concerns.”
“It was our main focus for months,” Obando lamented; “we are sad to see it go this way.” Ultimately Strainwise offered a webinar titled “The Future of the Cannabis Industry,” held online. Streaming online, Strainwise Vice President of Business Development Sean Eubanks urged listeners to relax and take a less aggressive approach.
“It’s a time to be quiet and work on our businesses,” Eubanks said during the webinar. There was also talk of ‘unfounded media hysteria’ on the Trump administration’s policies on legalization.
Are Other States as Skittish?
It’s a mixed bag. Leslie Bocskor, founder and president of Electrum Partners, is a Nevada-based expert cannabis consultant and investor.
“Those who wait and see will be left behind.”
Bocskor thinks the time to act is now.
“Those who wait and see will be left behind,” Bocskor told Leafly. He sees today’s uncertainty as a call to action. “This is the time to push forward with even more strength, commitment and diligence.”
Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, a leader in cannabis application consulting, agrees that it’s good to worry – but he thinks the “wait and see” approach is dangerous.
“We need proactive outreach,” Krane told Leafly. “The ‘wait and see’ is wrong – the cannabis industry needs well thought out messaging. We need to extend an olive branch.”
He sees a need for cannabis allies to be in Trump’s ear right now.
Everyone who’s jumped into the cannabis space in the last four years—since Colorado and Washington state legalized—only know the relatively good times under President Obama.
Leaders of groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, who have much longer memories, are pointing out that Trump’s appointees are longtime drug warriors. But that’s not alarmist, said Krane. It’s realistic. Trump will likely have cabinet members advocating for a crackdown. “If we aren’t pushing for our businesses, we do so at our own peril,” Krane said.
If confirmed, Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, and Homeland Security candidate John Kelly are all openly hostile to cannabis legalization.
Pushing against that viewpoint are Republicans like California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. He’s in Trump’s ear and he’s on legalization’s side, said Krane. There’s also PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel. Thiel is a hedge fund manager, venture capitalist, and philanthropist who has invested millions in cannabis companies such as Privateer Holdings (Leafly’s parent company) through his Founders Fund.
Those pro-legalization guys are also members of Trump’s inner circle.
“We have a window of opportunity to pressure the administration to respect states’ rights.”
“I’m worried about folks saying everything will be just fine, not to worry – that’s more worrisome because it breeds complacency,” added Krane. “We have a window of opportunity before the inauguration and Sessions’ confirmation, to use our tools to pressure the administration to respect states’ rights.”
The Strainwise “Future of Cannabis” webinar advised cannabis entrepreneurs to take a reasonable, calm approach, and focus on working with advocacy and state governments to build a framework that will be difficult for the federal government to reverse.
Their self-described “less aggressive approach” is one way to navigate the current environment. Kris Krane said that it’s beneficial to build an industry with best business practices.
Krane isn’t overly alarmed at the cancelled conference in Florida. But he said it’s time for pro-legalization friends of Trump to speak up. “There have been many cannabis conferences over the past four years,” he said. “MJBiz just had ten thousand people at their Las Vegas conference right after the election.”
“I’m not in favor of over alarmist rhetoric,” he said. “If the Trump administration sees us as adversarial they will be more likely to crack down on us.”
The other side, the ‘go get ‘em’ camp, sees it differently.
“Get in or go home,” said Bocskor.
“We now will discover who the advocates and entrepreneurs are that have the knowledge, experience, and vision to both understand where we are and, more importantly, shape where we are going,” Bocskor added.