Laura Bianchi is a Partner with the Rose Law Group and Director of Cannabis practice. A multi-faceted, passionate and hardworking individual, Laura aims to promote the legalization of cannabis while educating consumers about the health and economic benefits. I had the pleasure of discussing some key topics in the current cannabis debate. Primarily, I wanted to learn from her perspective on issues concerning cannabis banking, taxation and diversity in the workforce.
On Cannabis Banking. . .
Richard: Given the federally illegal status of cannabis, do you believe it will be left to states to take a stand and set up access to financial institutions?
Laura: Until the necessary actions are taken to fully legalize cannabis from a federal perspective, states will continue to bear the burden of addressing and responding to the industry’s banking and financial service hurdles and complications.
Richard: In what ways would streamlining access to banks aid in the development of cannabis businesses? (e.g., growth of market and innovation decrease in black market activity, etc.)
Laura: Forcing cannabis-based businesses to operate with limited access to traditional financial services has created an incredible amount of additional costs, expenses, and burdens on the industry. By alleviating these issues and providing access to the same services that every other industry enjoys, the cannabusinesses will see greater transparency, certainty, security, and efficiency. This is beneficial to not only cannabis businesses and operators, but to the communities in which they operate and live.
By strengthening the cannabis industry and ensuring access to these essential financial services, we will have an even greater opportunity to continue to build and develop a strong, transparent, and positive industry. It will also allow the industry to continue to destabilize the grey and black markets, providing patients and consumers with safe and effective quality medicine and products.
Providing these services will open doors for a wide variety of professional services providers, increasing the depth, knowledge, and experience of individuals providing such services to the industry and its operators. This would benefit and strengthen the industry as a whole.
On Cannabis Tax Policy. . .
Richard: Do you think cannabis tax policy should go beyond simply adjusting existing sales tax bases to include the product? Should there be a special excise tax similar to that of tobacco and alcohol, which face excise taxes at the state and even local levels?
Laura: The businesses within the cannabis industry have been forced to bear an incredible tax burden, being unfairly prohibited from taking advantage of business tax exemptions and deductions, which businesses in other industries are afforded. So, while the balance is so unfairly tipped, I think any additional tax is inappropriate. Additionally, as we all know, excise taxes are also often referred to as the “sin tax” as they are assessed on things like tobacco and alcohol. The vast number of cannabis programs in the United States are medical cannabis programs. Medical cannabis programs for patients who have complied with the necessary rules and regulations, having been issued a certification for the medical consumption of cannabis for medical reasons.
However, despite a medical professional’s determination that the consumption of cannabis would be helpful in treating an applicable debilitating medical condition, health insurance does not cover the cost of medical cannabis, placing an undue financial burden on patients simply because their medical professional issued a certification for cannabis versus an opiate. I would offer that to force these individuals to then pay a “sin tax” or excise tax on their medicine as well is not only unfair, it’s discriminatory.
Cannabis Business Best Practices. . .
Richard: What are some recommendations you have for people who want to get involved in the cannabis space, whether directly or through auxiliary services?
Laura: It’s essential that anyone interested in getting involved in the cannabis industry first assess and determine what skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience they possess, which they could lend to the industry. This is a new industry that is constantly changing and evolving, but it requires the same professional services as any other traditional business. By identifying what you bring to the industry, you will be able to better design and develop a plan of action for entering the industry, allowing for much greater chances for success.
The term “green rush” comes to mind, as this industry, unlike any other industry, propels investors, business owners, and operators forward at an unrealistic and often risky pace. I strongly advise those entering the market to complete the appropriate due diligence, implement the necessary policies and procedures, and take the time to build a solid foundation that establishes strength and clarity for operations, compliance, and expansion.
Put together an executive team comprised of individuals who have skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as a commitment to working together for the benefit of the company, but, most importantly, are firm in their goals but flexible in the path to accomplishing those goals. This industry requires the ability to constantly assess, move, and, in some cases, modify the course of action in play.
Like any new and evolving industry, there are a great many unknowns, there is a certain level of uncertainty, there are hurdles and complications and issues completely unique to this industry. When designing, developing, and implementing a financial operating plan, consider these things and allow for the additional time, cost, and expense that is also likely to accompany.
On Diversity and Female Entrepreneurship. . .
Richard: With hefty taxes slowing the industry, how will the cannabis space overcome a lack of diversity in the industry? Financially speaking, cannabis business licenses are not cheap and require a lot of backing up front. As I have traveled and interviewed people, I have found the cannabis space to be unrepresentative of minorities. Do you see that as an issue for the cannabis community specifically, and if so, do you have any recommendations on how to steer the industry in the right direction?
Laura: Diversity is a significant issue in many different industries, and the cannabis industry isn’t immune to it. By shedding stigmas, creating safe spaces and new opportunities to bring a diverse array of employees and users into the fold, the industry can broaden its reach and actively engage new audiences.
Richard: Female entrepreneurship is growing rapidly. One of the most iconic individuals for female empowerment was Rosie the Riveter. Representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards, Rosie became a symbol for gender equality in the workplace and female empowerment. Can you comment on the cannabis industry and why it appeals to female entrepreneurs?
Laura: A vast majority of current cannabis programs are medical cannabis programs. Women statistically make 80% of household healthcare decisions and often lead towards natural healthcare remedies. So, intrinsically, we see an industry that is naturally geared towards women.
Additionally, given the fact it is a new and evolving industry, without many of the historically anchored sexist weights that affect so many women in other industries. The cannabis industry provides incredible opportunities for women to lead, own, and manage companies in this industry, sailing past glass ceilings and other inequalities.
We’re seeing more women from diverse backgrounds take leadership roles in the legal cannabis industry. These women are eager to close the gender gap in business and build up this new market. Female entrepreneurs are looking to build strategic partnerships and create more opportunities for women.
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Cannabis business will continue to face troublesome hurdles and vagueness when it comes to developing a business properly under current regulations. When doing so, it is important to consult with the experts currently in the field to avoid any setback to you developing business. To learn more about Laura Bianchi, the Rose Law Group and their work with cannabis law and how they can help your business, you can reach her here: Laura Bianchi: Cannabis Attorney.