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When Regulators and Stakeholders Gather


Thank goodness the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) gave a last-minute scoop to Marijuana Moment about a closed-door no-press meeting between regulators and industry stakeholders held Monday and Tuesday of this week in Seattle. Had the story not been published, the meeting might have gone largely unnoticed, raising the age-old question: if state regulators meet with industry stakeholders alone in a forest, did it really happen?

According to the article, the purpose of the meeting was to “help chart a path forward as the state-by-state legalization movement continues to grow amid relative federal stagnation,” which sounds reasonable enough, and judging from the subject-matter discussed during the two full days of panel sessions, the meeting focused on issues that are both important and directly relevant to cannabis businesses, consumers, and patients as well as the states. The lineup of participants was likewise impressive, composed of people exceptionally knowledgeable about the issues at hand, many having worked on them for years.

From my perspective, it had all the makings of a productive gathering at which a range of issues could be hashed out in the name of an ongoing process. As CANNRA Executive Director Gillian Schauer put it during a phone interview for the MM article, “We felt like this was an opportunity for us to more formally introduce ourselves to stakeholders and formalize some of those relationships and hear a wide range of perspectives in person, to be able to hear different views.”

Of course, one could quibble slightly with that description by pointing out that the regulators were hearing from the representatives of stakeholders and not the stakeholders themselves, a small operator might ask who was there for them, and a consumer/patient could certainly argue that few entities in that room truly represent their interests, but that aside, a meeting of this breadth and depth demands attention. And more to the point, the takeaways from the panel sessions, the ideas being offered, discussed, and formulated, many of which will one day be promulgated, are the very definition of “in the public interest.”

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So, why no press? The reason given was that “because we are an organization of government officials, there are some parameters around who we invited,” but I prefer to think of that answer as an unfortunate misstatement. It should state, “Because we are an organization of government officials, there are no parameters around who we invited.” Turning that inside out is what other governments do. If you don’t want crowds, stream it live. If sensitive subjects are on the table, hold closed sessions if you absolutely must. But shutting everyone out except for the chosen few only raises red flags in an industry where regulatory issues are top of the list of challenges faced by CEOs in this industry. I know because they tell me about it during interviews, of which I’ve done many. My job is to try to get answers or clarity from the regulators on those very issues.

Needless to say, being at or being able to watch this week’s meeting would have helped in that regard even if I could not report on everything. Now, however, instead of knowing what took place at the meeting, I and other reporters will have to get it second-hand from either CANNRA or the chosen few, if we can. I will be nice in saying how far from ideal that is for people who work in this industry, people who use its products, and society at large. It’s actually much worse than that, but the optimist in me chooses to believe that this all-but-secret meeting of regulators and stakeholders was an aberration, a one-off, and transparency will prevail going forward.

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