By Andrea Perrault
On Wednesday, April 24th, Civic Series Boston presented two dynamic innovators in the cannabis industry to a packed house at Hostel International (HI) Boston.Civic Series organizer Kristin Sippl introduced Emma Chasen and Kim Napoli, who shared their professional expertise on two crucial topics for positive growth in a new industry: the need for educational standards for staff, and the need to address social justice issues. Educational standards within the industry will professionalize staff and empower customers to be in control of integrating cannabis into their lifestyle, and to find what works best for them. Social justice in the industry aims to redress the harm past cannabis laws caused to minority communities.
Emma Chasen relocated to Oregon after graduating in 2014 from Brown University with a degree in Medicinal Plant Research, and having spent time as a Coordinator of Clinical Trials at Brown University’s Oncology Research Group. The visionary status of the industry on the West Coast led her to the position of Manager of Education at Farma to develop curriculum focused on cannabis science, product knowledge, and empathetic patient care. She currently is co-owner and operator of Eminent Consulting, Inc., an entrepreneurial company to inform the industry and the public of the pressing need for educational standards within the industry. Emma develops and offers curriculum through her company both in on-line and in-person formats, and she is a tireless advocate for professionalizing personnel (budtenders/advisors/patient care specialists) in the cannabis industry. Her message is clear: there is an immediate need to raise educational standards regarding cannabis in the United States; not doing so risks a health care emergency within the industry.
Kim Napoli is a practicing attorney in Roxbury MA who focuses on labor and employment law. In 2006, she co-founded The Hempest in Harvard Square, a hemp-based retail boutique with a mission to educate the public about hemp and cannabis (the company has since expanded to two additional locations in Massachusetts). Currently, she is director of Diversity, Programs, and Market Specialization at New England Treatment Access, Inc. (NETA). Kim was appointed by Governor Baker to the MA Cannabis Advisory Board. Her commitment to both the industry and to people of color who have been most adversely affected by laws governing cannabis use and distribution are guiding principles of her work. Kim was involved in the campaign to legalize marijuana in MA since 2008. The stark statistics on the rates of minority people persecuted for marijuana offences motivate her activism: Minority group members are twice as likely to be arrested for using marijuana, and eight times more likely to be arrested for selling marijuana.
Emma Chasen presented an overview of the industry nation-wide: the estimated demand for recreational cannabis in the U.S. will top that of beer (#1) and cigarettes (#2) in the future. In 2017, the demand was at $5.8B to $6.6B behind video games, firearms and ammunition, McDonald’s and Netflix (2018 Marijuana Business Daily). The projected growth in the industry is cited as going from $5.8B – $6.6B in 2017 to $18.0 to $22.1 total in 2022.
Issues that currently exist in the landscape of dispensing cannabis include:
- Physician inability to consult with patients about cannabis
- Patient Care Specialists (PCS/budtenders) at dispensaries are largely responsible for interacting with consumers with health issues to guide them to cannabis products.
- No standardized comprehensive training exists for this role
Emma sees this reality as unacceptable and advocates for standards and appropriate curricula to professionalize the industry and ensure safety and confidence for consumers, and stability and sustainable growth within the industry. If consumers have a bad first experience, they are unlikely to return. Chasen cited the importance of staff in creating a positive cannabis company culture. While brand, interior design, and workflow operations are the machine of businesses, staff make up the heart of an enterprise. Treating staff like family and empowering them to thrive through education promises to lower employee turnover and generate customer retention and loyalty.
Cannabis organizations taking this approach empower consumers with scientific information they need. Educated consumers will reject the indica/sativa binary, understand chemotype to better predict experience, know about microdosing for novice consumers, learn about the endocannabinoid system in the body, and keep track of cannabis experiences.
Chasen emphasized that cannabis research is solid and growing. This, coupled with retail staff and consumer education, will help avert what she sees as a looming public health crisis.
Kim Napoli, Esquire, presented on another issue of civic concern– the need for social justice in the cannabis industry. Napoli first described that legislative mandates in MA state law that specify the following:
- Equity program for applicants – the Commission must adopt procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionally harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively affect those communities.
- Economic Empowerment Priority Review for Applicants – the Commission must prioritize review and licensing decisions for applicants for retail, manufacture, or cultivation licenses who “demonstrate experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in communities disproportionally impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for offenses under [the Controlled Substances Act].”
Napoli explained legislatives mandates related to tax revenue from the industry as emphasizing “programming for restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development, industry-specific technical assistance, and mentoring services for economically disadvantaged persons in communities disproportionally affected by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses.”
Kim identified important aspects of the mission of the Cannabis Control Commission:
- The industry will be characterized by participation by small and larger participants and with full and robust participation by minorities, women, and veterans.
- Policies and practices will encourage and enable full participation in the marijuana industry by people from previously harmed communities and will positively impact those communities.
Inclusion is safeguarded by several factors, including a citizens’ review committee, a market participation committee (part of the Cannabis Advisory Board and which Napoli now chairs), public scrutiny, appointment of a community outreach director, and the fact that the commission will be graded on its ability to provide such opportunities within the industry. In addition, if a required study determines evidence of discrimination or barriers to entering the industry, the commission shall adopt diversity licensing goals and training programs to achieve meaningful participation by minority persons, women, and veterans.
Social justice leadership is evaluated at the time of license renewal, and is rated according to specific goals, the applicant is a social justice leader by demonstrating the following success measures:
- 1% of the marijuana establishment’s gross revenue is donated to the technical assistance fund, and
- The licensee has conducted 50 hours of educational seminars targeted to residents of areas of disproportionate impact
*Areas of disproportionate impact: Abington, Amherst, Boston, Braintree, Brockton, Chelsea, Fall River, Fitchburg, Greenfield, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lowell, Lynn, Mansfield, Monson, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Quincy, Randolph, Revere, Southbridge, Taunton, Walpole, Wareham, West Springfield, and Worcester.
The lively question and answer session demonstrated an interest in the topic that was wide-ranging, from those who are interested in learning about its promise for both medical and recreational use to those ready to jump into the industry with entrepreneurial zeal. Some wondered about the proper terminology for the plant and substance, to which speakers commented that they tend to use ‘cannabis’ when talking about science, tend to use ‘weed’ when they consume it with friends, and that there are mixed views on the term ‘marijuana,’ since it was once used negatively against migrants, but has since then been re-appropriated. Long story short: they say we can call it whatever we want. One audience member expressed awareness of controversy about the engagement of venture capitalists in the industry, and Napoli discussed efforts to ensure a diverse marketplace rather than an industry dominated by one or two players. Chasen answered questions on the slow progression of research into cannabinoids (THC, CBD, and others), noting it will likely expand as the industry grows stronger. She highlighted the fact that Dr. Sue Sissly in Israel is a leader in the field. The audience was enthusiastic and many commented on the importance and relevance of the new information they received, and all were favorably impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the presenters.