Hundreds of people trying to get into the business of marijuana crowded numerous presentations at the third annual Marijuana Business and Conference Expo took place May 16-19 at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel & Conference Center.
Dozens of speakers shared insights on the medical marijuana and legal cannabis industries.
The perils of changing marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug was among the topics of interest. Currently, marijuana is in the same category as heroin, LSD and quaaludes. A change to Schedule II would put marijuana in the category of cocaine and oxycodone, which the Food and Drug Administration recognize as having some medicinal purposes.
Emily Leongini, an associate with Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arent Fox, said she specializes in products regulated by the FDA.
Leongini explained that if classifications changed, so would the level of scrutiny marijuana-based products received. Under Schedule I, she said, the FDA finds marijuana has no medical benefit according to the FDA. If it were to be rescheduled, she said, the medical marijuana products on the market could be subject to a lengthy testing period.
Andrew Perraut, Radiant Strategies principal and former member of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said testing would cause a major disruption in the medical marijuana industry.
The FDA is not set up for quick approval, he said, adding there could be a decade of development and put an end to the boutique pharmaceuticals that currently exist in the cannabis industry.
Perraut said the only path forward is a legislative remedy that would put marijuana in a similar category as tobacco. He said it’s imperative the cannabis industry comes together and forms a coherent set of realistic regulations.
Leongini said one positive factor about FDA regulation is the agency has no new resources to regulate a new item.
Perraut agreed with this idea, but he said, institutionally, the FDA doesn’t want to have a drug unregulated, which would always leave cannabis in an untenable situation. All the FDA would have to do is enforce sporadically, he said, and that would cause huge issues because of the already sensitive nature of the market place.
New medical marijuana users
How to communicate with medical marijuana users – specifically seniors and people who recently got their cards – was a popular session.
Kimberly Cargile, CEO of A Therapeutic Alternative of California, said it’s key for bud tenders to use proper terminology and come across as professional.
“You want to be as professional as possible,” she said. “A lot of the new clients are going to have been told marijuana is a bad thing.”
Cargile said new users want items that are discreet, come in low doses and have packaging that show products have been lab-tested.
“Start low and go slow,” she said. “Everybody wants to make an educated decision.”
Hillary Peckham, COO of New York-based Etain Health, spoke on how to advise seniors, who she called a growing population of medical marijuana users nationwide. She said age-related problems – osteoporosis, arthritis, sleep deprivation, chronic pain – continue to be added to lists of qualifying conditions.
Peckham said seniors can be a rewarding group to work with because medical marijuana can provide pain relief as a patient nears the end of life. But, she said, there’s also a stigma associated with the medicine.
Peckham said providers of medical marijuana are going to have to reach out to the senior population by targeting physicians, nursing homes and retirement communities. Working with doctors is the most effective marketing tool, she said.
Small grow-room operations
Presenter Rick Fisher, executive vice president of California-based grower Canndescent, discussed developing, maintaining and maximizing small grow rooms.
Fisher said industry people are approaching growing marijuana different ways – large grow rooms that have a lower initial investment or smaller grow rooms that have a larger initial investment but offer more control over the product. He said his company has focused on small grow rooms because it allows for different strains, a higher quality product, and a year-round work environment.
Fisher said crop risk is something to take into account. Smaller grow rooms allow for a company to respond to a mold or bug infestation without destroying all the product. The cost to operate is higher, he said, but there’s more control.
Fisher said the key to running a multiroom growing operation is to have standard operating procedures in place. He said their facility has a 220-page operations guide.
“There’s a standard operating procedure for changing the standard operating procedure,” he joked.
He ended the presentation by saying a company always needs to be testing its product and cleaning its grow rooms. Test everything and record everything, he said.
“Data drives all our decisions,” Fisher said.
SHOULD MARIJUANA BE LEGAL?
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