By Lewis Koski, COO, Metrc
During my tenure as Colorado’s first Director of the Marijuana Enforcement Division, I had the pleasure of working with Christian Sederberg. Christian is a fellow pioneer in the cannabis industry, founding what Rolling Stone magazine calls “the country’s first powerhouse marijuana law firm” Vicente Sederberg LLP in Colorado in 2010. He played an integral role in the passage and implementation of Colorado’s cannabis legalization initiative in 2012, and was nominated by then Governor John Hickenlooper to serve on the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force.
Since Colorado’s legal cannabis market successfully launched, he’s added more national campaigns to his resume, working as the board chair and interim CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation and leading the helm as board chair for federal legalization at the newly formed U.S. Cannabis Council. As more states and countries open legal cannabis markets, Christian offers a unique view on the viability of nationwide legalization and its impacts on existing state markets. I had the chance to catch up with Christian and discuss renewed federal momentum under the Biden administration.
What are your thoughts on the hyper partisan climate in D.C.?
It depends on if they get rid of the filibuster rule. If you follow the banking bill, about a third of the Senate are co-sponsors. A bunch of Republicans in both the House and Senate were jumping in. Representative Stivers, on the Republican side, is a prime co-sponsor in the House.
Slowly, I think, there is going to be more movement on the Republican side partly because there are real impacts for the 2022 election. There are likely going to be legalization initiatives on the ballot in the Ohio and Missouri U.S. Senate races. real impacts for the 2022 election. How will those Senate candidates approach legalization? How will they frame this? I think Martha McSally, who lost her race in Arizona where legalization passed, probably has some regrets about her approach on cannabis and where she could have done better work with the cannabis community. In Montana, legalization got fewer votes than Trump by about 2,000, but got more votes than Senator Daines – who was elected – by about 7,000. You have these dynamics where either they need to learn to talk about it better or try to get out in front of this – if they’re smart – and get involved with reform.
But if you look at age, it’s starker. If you’re older, regardless of party, you’re more likely to oppose. It’s really an age divide. There are a lot of young Republicans that are about state’s rights and not anti-cannabis.
My biggest concern is the impact of federal legalization on states. And that might be due to my thinking on how states are better equipped to handle the complexities. What are some drawbacks to federal legalization and what do you think some of the best things are for us?
We really need to be thoughtful. Think about what happened with hemp. All of a sudden, it’s legal under the Farm Bill, but then people are getting arrested for driving trucks of hemp through Idaho. The debate is largely around CBD, delta-8, delta-10, and delta-14. Delta-8 gets you high, but not quite as high as THC, and it’s being sold over the counter and online in Texas and other states with big blowback. What role should the FDA have?
Potency is another specific issue that needs thought. I’m of the opinion we should tax it – similar to alcohol – at a higher rate and put that money back into mental health treatment and prevention, as opposed to banning products over a certain potency. When I lived in California, I could walk into 7/11 and get whiskey off the shelf behind the counter, but you can’t get Everclear anywhere. Whereas in Colorado, you can get any of these products, but liquor is sold at liquor stores. The states have the ability to say, “we want to have products of this potency” or “we want to address our health issues in a way that we think is smart.”
You mentioned this in your article, but if they don’t keep the tax structure in place for the states or start to whack at that through a high excise tax, that concerns me, especially if you don’t give states flexibility on what kind of products they allow. It’s funny how many people in the industry are going to go from being Democrats to Republicans, in short order, when they start to see some of this happening at the federal level.
Do you think Republicans have pinned themselves in a corner? We kept seeing in these COVID bills that Democrats were prioritizing cannabis over jobs.
“It says ‘marijuana’ 4o more times than it says jobs,’” was a good political talking point, but we have to make sure that doesn’t repeat itself. The biggest divide, in my opinion, is that certain advocates believe it needs to be comprehensive reform or nothing and were against giving anything to the industry on banking. The thought was keeping criminal justice reform and cannabis legalization together motivates industry to stay in line. I believe some of these advocates are becoming more realistic because smaller companies and startup equity businesses – represented by organizations such as the Minority Cannabis Business Associations – also need banking. Holding up something big like banking is not hurting the bigger, more established players, it’s really hurting the small startup companies – like those in equity programs – to not have access to banking or loans.
When it comes to federal priorities, you mentioned banking as the most commonsense one that would get the most bipartisan support. But what about interstate transfer?
In a recent conversation with one of the Senators working on the new comprehensive legislation, disruption of the existing industry came up, and interstate commerce is a huge part of that. For instance, New Jersey is going to have all these equity applicants that are small cultivators. Think about how interstate commerce would impact state programs if there was a mandate where large producers in Oregon or California can immediately ship cannabis to other states. It will make the market very difficult for those startups.
Senator Wyden is from Oregon, where they have had a huge overcultivation problem in terms of serving the Oregon market. Eventually, when they can ship it domestically and internationally, they’re in a great position. The infused product companies want it to happen because their products are shelf-stable, versus cannabis flower that gets old and stale.
Congress has the power to regulate commerce between states and could implement a law that limits interstate commerce for a period of time, but they can’t prevent interstate commerce forever. That leads to consumer issues and trafficking, like we’ve seen with cigarettes.
It seems like industry – either cannabis industry or other big players that want to get into it – are really driving the conversation, rather than the government itself. Is there any room for a government-led, government-run workgroup to investigate this? There is research that suggests the workgroups in Colorado were very effective.
I give former Colorado Governor, now Senator, Hickenlooper a lot of credit for the task force model and stakeholder process that worked so well. I think it could work really well on a national level if you bring the right people. You could bring the other side to the table, too, and hash some of these things out. We need to have smart people at the table and a pathway for opponents to be heard without being overweighed in terms of their influence. For example, what the responsibility.org folks are doing with alcohol and drunk driving. That kind of program could really help. And obviously social equity is such a huge piece that you could see this task force becoming 1,000 people.
We’ve got to be respectful of other states, but I still think, by far, Colorado thinks about this stuff so much differently and much more forward-thinking than the rest of the country. But maybe that’s my Colorado bias.
I have the same bias, so you’re OK.
To learn more about Christian and his work with USCC, visit uscannabiscouncil.org.