Editor’s Note: There is no denying that the cannabis industry is rapidly growing and evolving, leaving many in the industry to have to continuously adapt to the ever-changing landscape. I interviewed three professionals with a well-built background in cannabis, who share their experiences, lessons learned, insights and tips on working in the cannabis industry.
Tips from Crystal Oliver, executive director for the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association (WSIA) and co-founder and former owner of Washington’s Finest Cannabis. Oliver shares her personal experiences and lessons learned as a small business owner in the cannabis industry with Cannabis Business Times.
I wish I knew..
The value of hiring a professional lobbyist compared to the price you pay for bad policy. The saying, "If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu," comes to mind when I reflect on the evolution of cannabis policy in Washington. Early on, other farmers and I focused on community organizing and advocating for ourselves. What we lacked in experience, we made up for in passion, but this did not always translate to policy wins. We often knew why a policy proposal would hurt our businesses but getting legislators and regulators to listen to us and modify their approach was incredibly challenging.
Washington’s independent cannabis farmers suffered through several legislative sessions, where bills passed damaged our business prospects before the WISA held its first Sun Cup competition/fundraiser in 2018 and hired contract lobbyist Bryan McConaughy. The difference in having a professional, experienced lobbyist made our ability to block bad bills from becoming law and favorably amend other bills cannot be overstated.
Had I fully understood how impactful being represented by a professional would be, I would have done whatever it took to fund a lobbyist immediately. I would have considered it a cost of doing business rather than a nice-to-have. As an emerging industry, the winners and losers are often decided in government agency meeting rooms and state capitals. You must be effectively represented in those spaces if you want to secure your future.
The reluctance of policymakers to address inequities in the marketplace.For example, allowing direct farm sales would better distribute the industry’s economic benefits throughout the supply chain by empowering small independent craft producers. Still, policymakers hesitate to distribute power away from those who already hold it. On more than one occasion, I have been advised that I need to get buy-in from those who benefit from the existing inequities in the marketplace to secure policy reform.
It is impossible to reach those who benefit most from an unfair system to agree to changes that would help others. In Washington, we have been fighting for direct farm sales for several years now <https://www.cannabisbusinesstimes.com/article/washington-cannabis-growers-direct-sales-customers/> without much progress due to our legislators’ fear of disrupting the status quo. I naively believed that legislators would place greater value on fairness and thought we would secure farm-direct sales after a few years. I remain hopeful that direct farm emphasis on equity for BIPOC communities may lead to reassessments