June 20th, 2022 | Sterling

8 Ways to Help Create a Comprehensive Cannabis Drug Policy For Your Company

When it comes to cannabis legality, there is a lot of information circulating on- and offline. Unfortunately, much of it is outdated, incomplete, or inaccurate. In a recent conversation with David Bloom, cannabis industry panelists Kara Bradford and Andrew Schriever help demystify the state of cannabis affairs in America. Together they outlined 9 ways in which compliance teams can help create a comprehensive cannabis drug policy for their organizations. The following discussion is based on Sterling’s recent webinar conversation, now available on-demand, featuring:

David Bloom, Head of Global Product Strategy, former General Manager, Gig, Consumers, and Volunteers at Sterling

Kara Bradford, MBA, MM, CEO & Chief Talent Officer at Viridian Staffing, Co-Founder & Chair of HR Committee, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)

Andrew Schriever, Chair, Cannabis Law Practice at Cuddy & Feder, LLP, President & Co-Founder of the Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry Association, Co-Founder & Director of the New York City Cannabis Industry Association.

1. Review the Current State of Cannabis Legality

Cannabis legislation has been passed through the House of Representatives and hung up in the Senate. While extremely slow-moving and cumbersome, the US is moving toward uniformity in terms of cannabis legality and commercialization.

The MORE Act, if it passes the Senate, is the most comprehensive national legislation designed to deal with cannabis decriminalization. It has many facets: to remove slang terms, establish a trust fund to support communities and individuals impacted by the War on Drugs, protect against ICE using cannabis as a pretext for immigration issues, and allow for expungement in order to give people a “reset.”

Legislation, like the MORE Act, helps to drive change and shift the ideas of cannabis to push other states who have not passed laws. This type of drive will help regulate laws on a national level which minimizes the confusion of compliance on a state-by-state level, and hopefully contributes to a more streamlined understanding. For instance, if any legislation is passed on a national level, states like Arizona will have similar laws to Maryland which allows bicoastal businesses to have the same operating procedures across the board.

2. Look to the “New States” Regulating Cannabis Use

A leading expert on cannabis employment recruiting and CEO & Chief Talent Officer at Viridian Staffing, Kara Bradford advises cannabis employers to prioritize the consideration of “new state” regulations. She explains that there were many issues with implementing regulations among the “old states,” or the first states to explore cannabis legality, such as Washington and Oregon. “New states” learned from those mistakes, which helped inform their own regulations.

Schriever directs businesses to refer to New York’s laws, the most progressive to address cannabis use at this time. Essentially, New York is taking many important steps to stay on top of social inequity in the realm of cannabis-based businesses.

3. Understand the Particulars of Staffing

In 2021 alone, 107,000 jobs were added to the cannabis industry, making recruitment especially critical, and Bradford remarks on the significance of attracting and retaining the right talent. What’s special about cannabis employment in particular is that its newness means that for employers, vertical mobility is essentially expedited. According to Bradford, opportunities for a fast-paced career trajectory and to maximize impact in the workplace are attracting people from a wide spectrum of industries to the cannabis business.

4. Manage Expectations

Many people who consume cannabis recreationally also seek to work in the cannabis industry, but many don’t realize how physically difficult jobs in the industry can be. Bradford mentions that some days workers are standing for 8-10 hours a day cutting down plants in 85-degree heat, a reminder that the cannabis industry is in essence agricultural.

Bradford drives home that cannabis businesses are expensive to start, so there’s not much room for anything but the most stringent operations. If employers fall out of compliance, they can easily lose their license, so compliance often starts with hiring a professional staff and by remaining alert to developing issues before they can worsen.

5. Navigating and Adapting to Laws to Mitigate Risk.

If employers create policies which are restrictive to other states, they may be in danger of violating interstate commerce. Schriever advises potential cannabis businesses to first look at the draft legislation that’s been proposed and passed through the House to gain insights on what the federal government will propose in future. This forecasting measure also helps employers when budget planning in anticipation of extra taxation on both the federal and state levels. In the same vein, look at the overlap in regulations among different states, which will give you a good idea of what’s coming federally.

Another idea is to consider the agencies which are starting to regulate the cannabis industry. Banking is an obvious one, but the FDA is also likely to get involved since cannabis is also an edible plant used for food infusion, etc. Therefore, it can be effective to prepare beforehand by examining what the FDA has done to regulate similar types of products.

Schriever admits this kind of forecasting is a bit of “crystal ball work,” since cannabis is a unique drug. However there are comparable consumable substances, such as alcohol, which have federal standards in terms of what information the labels need to include. He advises businesses to look into these predecessor industries which may present some kind of overlap when searching for clues about possible upcoming regulations. There are also trade associations and conventions working on drafting regulations across state lines, as substance abuse regulations are not a matter of competitiveness, but a matter of workplace health.

6. Familiarize Yourself With the Politics Surrounding Cannabis Legality.

According to Schriever, Pew Research’s latest poll shows that more than 90% of the nation favors cannabis legalization, either for medical purposes or adult-use; yet it remains federally illegal and classified as a drug more dangerous than cocaine.

Schriever says that cannabis legalization is a great uniting issue between conservatives and progressives alike. For example, Bradford hopes that the banking industry will soon pass legislation to create a safer environment for workers. Find more information on the SAFE Banking Act of 2021 here.

7. Stay Up-to-Date on Compliance and Regulation

Each state will have its head office on cannabis policy, and many will also have specific websites dedicated to cannabis legality. For example: the New York State Office of Cannabis Management stays current on the draft regulations that are now being proposed, as well as those that have been proposed and are now codified. The best way to keep up with compliance is to simply go directly to the state. Bradford recommends following both state and national organizations, like the National Cannabis Industry Association who are doing phenomenal work in terms of lobbying, information-gathering and dissemination.

8. Plan Policy Decisions Early

If you’re an employer interested in entering the industry, start putting together your checklist now. Include initial concerns such as raising money, exploring municipalities, registering a trademark, creating a brand, etc. Become more methodical over time. The more you plan, the faster and further you’ll be able to go. For cannabis legal counsel needs, Andrew Shriever is a top lawyer in the country in this realm. Meanwhile, when it comes to hiring staff for cannabis employers, Kara Bradford specializes in putting together dream-teams. And, of course, Sterling has robust offerings in the realm of background checks.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.