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Ep. 411: Neal Levine, Cannabis Trade Federation

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep. 411: Neal Levine, Cannabis Trade Federation

Ep. 411: Neal Levine, Cannabis Trade Federation

Neal Levine joins us for the first time with a microphone, featuring a guest appearance by Andy Williams. Levine talks about the various legislative actions happening at the moment, including a primary focus on the STATES Act. As Canada fully legalizes and Mexico plans to follow suit, these legislative actions are the key to preventing the US from getting left behind in the industry. But the STATES Act is just incremental, and needs to be followed up by other actions in areas such as tax policy.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Neil Levine joins us. Welcome to Cannabis Economy. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on canneconomy.com: That's two N's in the word economy. First a word from MedMen, and then Neil Levine featuring a guest appearance by none other than Andy Williams. MedMen continues to expand its footprint on the cannabis landscape, opening new stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas in the iconic Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. They've also opened a 45,000 foot high tech cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Nevada. The company has reached a $1 billion valuation, making it the country's first cannabis unicorn and it's just the beginning. Learn how MedMen is building the future of cannabis today at MedMen.com. Myriad conversations with Neil Levine, never with microphones before.

Neil Levine: Never.

Speaker 1: Welcome for the first time.

Neil Levine: You finally got me.

Speaker 1: It feels like the first time.

Neil Levine: Yeah.

Speaker 1: So, this guy Chuck Smith, you know him?

Neil Levine: A little bit.

Speaker 1: Yeah, he starts-

Neil Levine: Chuck Smith is an amazing guy.

Speaker 1: I mean, for real though. That's like a real person who does good business. And he's actually interested in changing the world at least from, you know, one perspective.

Neil Levine: And one of our directors.

Speaker 1: On the?

Neil Levine: On the Cannabis Trade Federation: cannabistradefederation.com.

Speaker 1: What are we doing?

Neil Levine: What we're doing is, well, it's a couple of things, but the main thing is that we are building a real national federation association to represent the industry and our primary focus is passing the States Act into law. CTF has evolved out of the new Federalism Fund, which was a bunch of larger players in the space that came together to try and get a [2ADE 00:01:37] fix and some other stuff in federal legislation. Obviously, we didn't get that done. But when you read the States Act, it's essentially NFF's talking points in legislative form. And so, when we've got a bipartisan piece of legislation that the President said he will sign into law, it fixes banking 2ADE and the threat of civil asset forfeiture and having DOJ come and kick in our doors, we are putting the resources together to get that done or die trying. Our goal is to pass the States Act in the next Congress. And while we do that, we are setting up a real national association to represent our industry's interests.

Speaker 1: Sometime along-

Neil Levine: From business by the way.

Speaker 1: Understood. Sometime along the way between 2019 and 2020, the goal is to pass States Act.

Neil Levine: The goal is to pass the States Act into law in the next Congress, yes.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, I just spoke to Chris [Crane 00:02:28], and he says to me, "Think about it from our current president's perspective. Who wants the win? No matter what the win is, he wants to win." And so, if democrats are going to run on cannabis in 2020, well we got to have that win. And so, that Act passing whereas I thought, well, we didn't do anything in the Senate, and Mitch [McConnell 00:02:58] doesn't care, he cares about him, but he care about cannabis. Chuck Grassley still there, and what are we going to do? Well, we got to have a win.

Neil Levine: The President has said that he would sign States Act into law. Our lead Republican in the Senate is Corey Gardner who's just a head of the NRC, and lead the charge to hold the senate for the Republican Party. We have a very broad based lobbying team that covers both houses, both sides of the aisle on both houses, and reach into the administration, and we're going for it. Look when you have Canada up and going and roaring, Mexico's moving to create a legal market, we are about to cede an American industry for no other reason outside of outdated policy.

Speaker 1: You don't think that we already have ceded it?

Neil Levine: No.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Neil Levine: Canada's the size of California.

Speaker 1: Wonderful, fantastic. So, yes, G7 nation, and thanks for legalizing, but we haven't ceded anything yet?

Neil Levine: No.

Speaker 1: You ain't seen nothing yet?

Neil Levine: Now, the US is going to win this race, but not if Congress doesn't act within the next couple years. Then we're in trouble. Yeah.

Speaker 1: What are your thoughts on doing it [inaudible 00:04:01], if we don't immediately get uptake on the States Act, you know, going ahead and doing something with 2ADE, maybe having Steve Mnuchin-

Neil Levine: We will get behind and push on anything that can go, but the States Act is kind of incremental because it doesn't solve all of our problems as an industry, but the States Act does solve all of the main ... if you're actually in the industry and you're doing business-

Speaker 1: It does everything that you need it to do.

Neil Levine: In a short term for sure.

Speaker 1: Absolutely. So, 2ADE, I have this new idea that Mnuchin, reauthorizes FinCEN guidance from February 14 2014-

Neil Levine: He needs Congress to act because the FinCEN guidance is tied to-

Speaker 1: Cole Memo.

Neil Levine: Right.

Speaker 1: No. Cole Memo was rescinded, but FinCEN guidance was not.

Neil Levine: Right, exactly. I didn't mean rollback [inaudible 00:04:47].

Speaker 1: No, of course, not. But rollback Blumenauer is the most important thing that there is [inaudible 00:04:53] loses but since we have a democratic congress that's okay, right? We just have to attach who? David Joyce probably you might know something about him.

Neil Levine: David Joyce is the lead sponsor of the States Act and we'll be on stage together tomorrow at three o'clock.

Speaker 1: There we go.

Neil Levine: ... and then we're having a fundraiser for him at the Marriott, by the way, at 4:30, it's only 100 bucks to get in.

Speaker 1: So, podcast land knows no time, this does not go out live, but we are at MJBizCon, and if you were there you, you remember it, and if you don't, you know, you-

Neil Levine: Yeah, so if you're going back to listening to this ... yeah and you're going back yeah exactly. You had a chance to meet our lead Republican in the house and you blew it, what's going on?

Speaker 1: So, David Joyce a lead republican why wouldn't you say Matt Gaetz is, right? He's doing all right for us.

Neil Levine: We love Matt Gaetz. Matt Gaetz is on the States Act. It's not a competition, David Joyce is the lead.

Speaker 1: I gotcha, I gotcha.

Neil Levine: Dave Joyce, republican congressman from Ohio, former 25 year prosecutor. He's a great sponsor.

Speaker 1: As we're in this conversation Carlos Curbelo losing, you know, that was a proponent for the industry. What does that make you think when someone like Carlos Curbelo loses? We lose a guy from that side we could use.

Neil Levine: The election went very well for us overall. We did lose a champion in Carlos and that was personally and professionally a little painful, but that's what happens in Congress, right? Congress is evergreen: people come, people go. So, this is really about the policy and the issue and effecting the change that we need to effect.

Speaker 1: Neil Levine joins us. Welcome to Cannabis Economy. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on canneconomy.com: That's two N's in the word economy. First a word from MedMen, and then Neil Levine featuring a guest appearance by none other than Andy Williams. MedMen continues to expand its footprint on the cannabis landscape, opening new stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas in the iconic Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. They've also opened a 45,000 foot high tech cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Nevada. The company has reached a $1 billion valuation, making it the country's first cannabis unicorn and it's just the beginning. Learn how MedMen is building the future of cannabis today at MedMen.com. Myriad conversations with Neil Levine, never with microphones before.

Neil Levine: Never.

Speaker 1: Welcome for the first time.

Neil Levine: You finally got me.

Speaker 1: It feels like the first time.

Neil Levine: Yeah.

Speaker 1: So, this guy Chuck Smith, you know him?

Neil Levine: A little bit.

Speaker 1: Yeah, he starts-

Neil Levine: Chuck Smith is an amazing guy.

Speaker 1: I mean, for real though. That's like a real person who does good business. And he's actually interested in changing the world at least from, you know, one perspective.

Neil Levine: And one of our directors.

Speaker 1: On the?

Neil Levine: On the Cannabis Trade Federation: cannabistradefederation.com.

Speaker 1: What are we doing?

Neil Levine: What we're doing is, well, it's a couple of things, but the main thing is that we are building a real national federation association to represent the industry and our primary focus is passing the States Act into law. CTF has evolved out of the new Federalism Fund, which was a bunch of larger players in the space that came together to try and get a [2ADE 00:01:37] fix and some other stuff in federal legislation. Obviously, we didn't get that done. But when you read the States Act, it's essentially NFF's talking points in legislative form. And so, when we've got a bipartisan piece of legislation that the President said he will sign into law, it fixes banking 2ADE and the threat of civil asset forfeiture and having DOJ come and kick in our doors, we are putting the resources together to get that done or die trying. Our goal is to pass the States Act in the next Congress. And while we do that, we are setting up a real national association to represent our industry's interests.

Speaker 1: Sometime along-

Neil Levine: From business by the way.

Speaker 1: Understood. Sometime along the way between 2019 and 2020, the goal is to pass States Act.

Neil Levine: The goal is to pass the States Act into law in the next Congress, yes.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, I just spoke to Chris [Crane 00:02:28], and he says to me, "Think about it from our current president's perspective. Who wants the win? No matter what the win is, he wants to win." And so, if democrats are going to run on cannabis in 2020, well we got to have that win. And so, that Act passing whereas I thought, well, we didn't do anything in the Senate, and Mitch [McConnell 00:02:58] doesn't care, he cares about him, but he care about cannabis. Chuck Grassley still there, and what are we going to do? Well, we got to have a win.

Neil Levine: The President has said that he would sign States Act into law. Our lead Republican in the Senate is Corey Gardner who's just a head of the NRC, and lead the charge to hold the senate for the Republican Party. We have a very broad based lobbying team that covers both houses, both sides of the aisle on both houses, and reach into the administration, and we're going for it. Look when you have Canada up and going and roaring, Mexico's moving to create a legal market, we are about to cede an American industry for no other reason outside of outdated policy.

Speaker 1: You don't think that we already have ceded it?

Neil Levine: No.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Neil Levine: Canada's the size of California.

Speaker 1: Wonderful, fantastic. So, yes, G7 nation, and thanks for legalizing, but we haven't ceded anything yet?

Neil Levine: No.

Speaker 1: You ain't seen nothing yet?

Neil Levine: Now, the US is going to win this race, but not if Congress doesn't act within the next couple years. Then we're in trouble. Yeah.

Speaker 1: What are your thoughts on doing it [inaudible 00:04:01], if we don't immediately get uptake on the States Act, you know, going ahead and doing something with 2ADE, maybe having Steve Mnuchin-

Neil Levine: We will get behind and push on anything that can go, but the States Act is kind of incremental because it doesn't solve all of our problems as an industry, but the States Act does solve all of the main ... if you're actually in the industry and you're doing business-

Speaker 1: It does everything that you need it to do.

Neil Levine: In a short term for sure.

Speaker 1: Absolutely. So, 2ADE, I have this new idea that Mnuchin, reauthorizes FinCEN guidance from February 14 2014-

Neil Levine: He needs Congress to act because the FinCEN guidance is tied to-

Speaker 1: Cole Memo.

Neil Levine: Right.

Speaker 1: No. Cole Memo was rescinded, but FinCEN guidance was not.

Neil Levine: Right, exactly. I didn't mean rollback [inaudible 00:04:47].

Speaker 1: No, of course, not. But rollback Blumenauer is the most important thing that there is [inaudible 00:04:53] loses but since we have a democratic congress that's okay, right? We just have to attach who? David Joyce probably you might know something about him.

Neil Levine: David Joyce is the lead sponsor of the States Act and we'll be on stage together tomorrow at three o'clock.

Speaker 1: There we go.

Neil Levine: ... and then we're having a fundraiser for him at the Marriott, by the way, at 4:30, it's only 100 bucks to get in.

Speaker 1: So, podcast land knows no time, this does not go out live, but we are at MJBizCon, and if you were there you, you remember it, and if you don't, you know, you-

Neil Levine: Yeah, so if you're going back to listening to this ... yeah and you're going back yeah exactly. You had a chance to meet our lead Republican in the house and you blew it, what's going on?

Speaker 1: So, David Joyce a lead republican why wouldn't you say Matt Gaetz is, right? He's doing all right for us.

Neil Levine: We love Matt Gaetz. Matt Gaetz is on the States Act. It's not a competition, David Joyce is the lead.

Speaker 1: I gotcha, I gotcha.

Neil Levine: Dave Joyce, republican congressman from Ohio, former 25 year prosecutor. He's a great sponsor.

Speaker 1: As we're in this conversation Carlos Curbelo losing, you know, that was a proponent for the industry. What does that make you think when someone like Carlos Curbelo loses? We lose a guy from that side we could use.

Neil Levine: The election went very well for us overall. We did lose a champion in Carlos and that was personally and professionally a little painful, but that's what happens in Congress, right? Congress is evergreen: people come, people go. So, this is really about the policy and the issue and effecting the change that we need to effect.

Speaker 1: And so, just finally on the house, Pete Sessions loses. And that's all we have to say about that. That means that he is not going to be, well he was not going to be the head of the Rules Committee with the democrats winning, but who knew that would happen?

Neil Levine: He wasn't gonna be the head of rules even if the Republicans took the house because he was termed out.

Speaker 1: Interesting.

Neil Levine: So, Pete Sessions was leaving-

Speaker 1: That was gonna be gone anyway?

Neil Levine: Yes. Regardless, Pete Sessions losing is a wonderful thing.

Speaker 1: Let me say ... So, now here's the deal, we usually do, at least, for the first interview, the whole bio thing, so we got to do that with you.

Neil Levine: Okay.

Speaker 1: All right. So, Neil Levine is from where?

Neil Levine: Originally?

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Neil Levine: I was born and raised in New York.

Speaker 1: Okay, so anybody that is from New York already knew that based on the ... there's only hints, but there is an accent there.

Neil Levine: I've been gone for a while.

Speaker 1: Yeah, but there's say the all, I think you said once. You said good.

Neil Levine: Long island.

Speaker 1: Long Island, of course. Yeah. Like minded individuals. Two peas from the same pod. Did you care about politics all the way back when you were a kid?

Neil Levine: I was gonna be a rock star.

Speaker 1: Okay. All right.

Neil Levine: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Base? Did you play bass?

Neil Levine: No, no. I was a singer/songwriter.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Neil Levine: I got involved in politics because I stumbled upon a rally for a guy who was running for Governor as a third party candidate in Minnesota by the name of Jesse Ventura-

Speaker 1: Oh, my God.

Neil Levine: ... I got wrapped up in his campaign, and he won. And then I was this 24 year old kid who got elected to be The Chair of the Fifth Congressional District for a third party that controlled the Governor's Mansion. So, that was kind of my start in politics.

Speaker 1: He has been on this program. I very much appreciate the fact that he is a free thinker, what was it like working for a free thinker?

Neil Levine: My love for Jesse knows no bounds. He can do no harm ... He was my introduction, whether you agree with him, or disagree with him, he's always coming from a good place.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, and he's coming from, "I care about this, I really, really care about this so this is what my opinion is."

Neil Levine: He's a wonderful man.

Speaker 1: There we go, all right. Third party candidacies, what are your thoughts on those as we move forward, just because, you know, you've been in politics for so long? What I'm saying is, sure, we had a binary choice in 2016, is that a good idea? Or maybe, you know.

Neil Levine: That's the system. That's a whole different thing. So, yeah, before cannabis, trying to break the two party duopoly was kind of what I was doing in politic. So, I got hired by Marijuana Policy Project again in 2002 to oversee all of their statewide lobbying, and statewide ballot initiative stuff which got me here, so I've been doing this for a little bit. I've had the privilege of leading the teams, a chunk of the teams that have passed a bunch of these laws, I've assisted on bunch of others, and this is my life's work and ending prohibition once and for all is my life's work, and States Act is going to get us there.

Speaker 1: Going State by State and having their medical or adult use legalization happen State by State, that's the NPP by the way working for you folks. So, Neil thank you for that work in your past. What's the biggest thing that you learned within that time frame?

Neil Levine: I was a member of a team that got it done, but thank you very much.

Speaker 1: Oh, no, no, of course. Of course. Of course.

Neil Levine: If I was getting raised up is on the shoulders of others.

Speaker 1: Yeah, of course, of course. But what's that key lesson from that time, both for the industry and for you?

Neil Levine: Well, I mean, we live in dog years as an industry, and so, we're entering this kind of new phase, right? So, back then NPP was coming in bringing resources into States that didn't have, sort of, those resources, that professionalism to try, and get to effect the change and get it done. And we're acting like real professional operatives: we were doing polls, we were drafting legislation that could pass because we knew they were lying and we were telling the truth, we knew that the more people that were exposed to people using cannabis, the more that their lives will start to get penetrated and the more the polling would come our way.

Speaker 1: Yeah, marijuana is safer?

Neil Levine: It is. And look, the opposition, kind of, they had one thing right. I don't like the analogy, but medical, kind of, was the camels nose under the tent because we could pass it, but it wasn't that in nefarious way, it was because we knew that the more people were exposed to cannabis, the more people know that they're lying, right? And you go on Sam's website today, they're saying the same old stuff-

Speaker 1: Yeah sure. But also the nose under the camel or the camel's nose under the tent, has one believe that there actually are no medical benefits from the plant, and, of course, we know that that's not true [crosstalk 00:11:03] much more research needs to be done.

Neil Levine: So, to answer your question, what did we learn though, right?

Speaker 1: Yeah. there you go.

Neil Levine: So, when we drafted the first wave of these laws, when you're effecting that sort of change, you have to be very conservative if you want it passed. So, there were all these restrictions to keep "bad actors" the system that has led to a bunch of laws that are actually ... it tapped into a system that targets communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war, excluded from the industry, that was never the intent, the intent was just to pass a law. But now that's one big thing that we've learned. We need to fix that, and that's a really important thing for our industry. So, it wasn't by design, but by structure, we do not have a very diverse industry, and that's something we absolutely have to address.

Speaker 1: Excellent. Alright, so that is a key lesson. Just to go back, just for the minute, and on my little thing there with breaking down the duopoly, what did you learn from your work? How viable is that goal?

Neil Levine: What I learned, was when a third party gets big enough, it's just like one of the other two parties.

Speaker 1: Oh, that's not positive.

Neil Levine: No.

Speaker 1: Okay. Interesting. Interesting. What do we do there then? I mean, again, this is kind off topic-

Neil Levine: Do you want to lobby for a Parliamentary System? Because the American system of government does not lend itself well to more than two parties, unfortunately.

Speaker 1: So, when you say "that's the system" it literally is the system-

Neil Levine: It literally is the system.

Speaker 1: ... But our founding fathers did not see that as the case, they-

Neil Levine: George Washington didn't want parties to begin with.

Speaker 1: That's my point. So, how could it be the system, if it wasn't the system?

Neil Levine: Well, it's been the system, I mean, his secretary of treasury and his secretary of state formed the first two parties. So, it's in the system from the beginning.

Speaker 1: Right? You're talking about Hamilton and Jefferson if I'm not mistaken?

Neil Levine: Yeah, Washington had no party, but he was a federalist if there ever was one.

Speaker 1: Right. Exactly. All right. So, more work needs to be done there, I guess. When I look at you, and you look out over the next two years, the main thing, get the States Act passed?

Neil Levine: Absolutely.

Speaker 1: Of course it is. What else are you going to be doing?

Neil Levine: Well, we're going to build a Federation. So, part of, the reason I'm not saying Association, like I said, there's a lot of groups out there doing a lot of good work, but they don't have professional nonprofit management: they don't have communications arms, they don't have fundraising. So, we're building that out, and we're going to inboard some organizations, and we're going to offer those services on spec. And the idea here is that, we've got all aspects of the industry represented and strong. And so, we're going to invest in that work, and then that's how ... you know you don't build a coalition, you don't build an organization as audacious and big as we're trying to build it, by not being inclusive, by not being collaborative. There's a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good work and they're all looking for money. So, what we can do is, we don't have a fish to give them, but we can teach people how to fish.

Speaker 1: There we go. Yeah. So, I guess, I'll stay away from any biblical analogy that I immediately want to offer.

Neil Levine: Okay.

Speaker 1: Fair enough. So, you're going to be bringing folks together, you're going to be bringing, whoever it is, a collection a collaboration,. If I'm running a business, if I'm part of the business, what should I expect from you, other than, "They are trying to pass the States Act, they're bringing together a bunch of folks that are working on really good issues." What else can I expect from you?

Neil Levine: Well you can expect is we're building an A list team to effect this change and get it done. We're building an association that's going to represent our interests in D.C., not pass the States Act with eventually they're going to be talking about an excise tax, there's gonna be a lot of-

Speaker 1: Federal excise tax?

Neil Levine: That's the next thing that's coming.

Speaker 1: When you guys ... Right. So, I've heard this before. And we have excise taxes that are very high in some states, which is hurting, it's allowing the gray market to remain.

Neil Levine: There is another lesson from the State by State is that high taxes help to get the initiatives passed. And now, when you combine them with 2ADE they are greatly hindering businesses.

Speaker 1: Right. So okay, finally passed your 2ADE but the excise tax is still so high, that is the consumer that we're talking about, which allows the gray market to stay. So number one, what do we do on excise taxes from the States? And if we're going to have a federal excise tax, oh my god, how are we going to do that? If we're already taxed through the roof, meaning the the consumer is taxed through the roof on their products, and we'll just go to the guy instead of legal cannabis.

Neil Levine: Well, so I'm trying to give a simple answer to a very complicated question.

Speaker 1: Trying not to tell me to GFY.

Neil Levine: As we drift into tax policy. So, to answer your question-

Speaker 1: A high five for Andy Williams just while we're here.

Neil Levine: Anybody who thinks ... Hey Andy. One of our directors.

Speaker 1: Yeah, that's it.

Neil Levine: Well, anyone who thinks that we're getting out of federal prohibition without an excise tax, hasn't been paying attention to America.

Speaker 1: No, of course we-

Neil Levine: So, what I'm talking about is that we're building the federal coalition that actually can represent our interests, so we're part of that conversation, so we don't just get steamrolled. As far as what goes on by State by State, we're building a federal coalition, we're not getting involved in the State by State laws. One of our ambitions are that to defend the industry from attack because there's not really any national organization that does that. When this coalition, and Andy was part of this initial coalition, this all came together when the prohibitionists tried to cap potency in Colorado through constitutional amendment. And we came together, and we pulled resources, and we formed this Coalition, and this Coalition has evolved into what CTF is today. If we don't all pull together, if we don't unify, if we don't pull resources, if we don't have a seat at the table, we're going to be on the menu. And we're too small and we're too young to hold our weight with some of these other folks that are in D.C. and well established. So, it's our goal, it's our responsibility to punch above our weight while we hold that ground because States Act's just the beginning, after States Act we are going to see a flood of regulation. And that's just inevitable, and you can look at any industry and that's how it works.

Speaker 1: Andy Williams, I just gave you a microphone.

Andy Williams: You sure did.

Speaker 1: Yeah. One of the few moments where there's not an entire circle of humanity around you.

Andy Williams: Absolutely. I had a breath and I ran to lunch.

Speaker 1: Run to lunch, you gotta do it.

Andy Williams: Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1: All right. So, and Neil-

Neil Levine: I haven't eaten anything today.

Speaker 1: Who eats? Who can eat? Andy. And for those who know him, know that, right? That's a fair statement yeah.

Andy Williams: They don't call me bear for nothing.

Speaker 1: That's it. Yeah. That's your nickname, that is not our nickname. If you look at the two of us, and then right. So, let's go back-

Neil Levine: An part of that is because Andy's one of the most wonderful humans that you've ever met in your life.

Andy Williams: Oh, you're too nice.

Neil Levine: That's exactly right. Size is only one reason, the bear hug is like the love.

Andy Williams: That's true. I do love. I love to love.

Neil Levine: And he's hairy.

Speaker 1: Yeah, on the hairy side.

Andy Williams: Yeah. And I like honey. What do you do?

Speaker 1: A lot of reasons it turns out. So, Neil was bringing us back to the potency issue coming on to the ... but they were going to do this, and that was the way that we were going to, kind of, mess with these guys in this industry. You know, who cares what kind of work they're trying to do, we're going to put a kibosh on this thing. So, bring us back to that. What year was that? 20-

Andy Williams: 2016?

Speaker 1: All right. So, bring us back from an operator perspective, how did that occur? And then that's what started this whole thing up here.

Andy Williams: It is. As an industry we had a couple groups in Colorado and I'd participated in those groups. And we're always on the defensive. Every year we were waiting at the one yard line on defense, waiting for this all star team to come up and try to slam the ball into the end zone, and we had to pull everything out of the hat to keep them out of the end zone. Well, up to that point, really, the offense wasn't the all star team, they were, you know, fumbling along just like us, but they're real intent was to put us out of business: they hated cannabis, and they wanted to find a way to do it. Well, in 2016, they actually caught on to something, they said, "Wow, if we word this legislative [crosstalk 00:19:41] like this, then, you know, it poled really high for them. I mean, the way they worded it, it was really scary for us.
We did our own polling on it, and pretty much we were told, "Wow if this makes the ballot, you guys are going to lose. And it doesn't matter how far or hard you fight it, you're probably still going to lose." And so, we had to find a way to keep it from even getting on the ballot. And so, we went to Allhands and Neil was leading that effort as well. And we really had to find a way to stop that because these people said, "We're going to shut this industry down, we're going to talk about potency as it being evil and bad for kids, and we could just limit it a little bit. Well, that would have killed the businesses and we would have been out. Well, we found a way to keep it off the ballot. And that's when we decided, we're not going to be in this position anymore. We need to go on the offense.

Speaker 1: Go on the offense. And before we go to go on the offense, because that's really the kind of inflection point for Neil and for this work, explain what we're talking about as far as potency and what they were talking about, and maybe what reality might be?

Andy Williams: Yeah, right now there's no limit on potency and you know, some of the plants that we make are over 30% THC, and you're not going to get it much more than that quite honestly, it's physically impossible in the plant.

Speaker 1: So far.

Andy Williams: Yeah. So far. And, you know, a lot of our products are [inaudible 00:21:11] concentrates or by definition much higher than what's in a plant. And what this coalition want to do was limit THC, I think it was 16.1% or something like that. And we did an analysis at the time, and 80% of our products that are sold in our store are over 16.1% THC. In essence, you're limiting a liquor market from, spirits and everything that's out there, to 3.2 beer, that's what they wanted to do. Well, consumers aren't going to say, "Oh, we can't have Vodka anymore? We'll just have 3.2 beer and be happy with that. They're going to go back to the black market: It will kill the industry. And that's what they intended.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Neil Levine: Absolutely. And the way ... Andy was talking about the drafting that they did that was so tricky, was they took existing regulations for child resistant packaging and that sort of thing, and they cut and paste it into the initiative to put it into the constitution like those things didn't already exist. So, when you looked at the existing regulations, people went, "Oh, this is very sensible." And they downplayed the whole potency thing. It was really, really a dirty initiative.

Speaker 1: And nefarious, absolutely. Thank you for the analogy of, here's what you buy as far as alcohol is concerned, and here's what you would be able to buy because, again, the language is such that it's you wouldn't know that unless you know. And for most of society, we're in a different place now than we were in 2016 as far as number of consumers, the mindset of consumers-

Neil Levine: Legalization in Colorado is more popular today than when it passed, and they were trying to dupe the voters at Colorado to undo a policy that they actually wanted.

Speaker 1: All right. So, NFF was born, right?

Neil Levine: NFF was born in the following ... so we did-

Speaker 1: We just did that off the record type of thing, right?

Neil Levine: Oh, no. So, coming out of the potency fight, they put something on the ballot down in Pueblo-

Speaker 1: Bye Andy.

Andy Williams: Bye.

Neil Levine: Bye Andy. So, they put some they put a ban on the industry on the ballot down in Pueblo. So, we took this coalition and we pulled it together, and we grew it. And we worked and we defeated them at the ballot down in Pueblo. And then that was Election Day November 2016. So, I was head of GR at Live Well at the time, and John Lord the CEO of Live Well and Dean Heiser General Counsel and Mike Lord said, "What does this mean for us?" And I said, "I have no idea. I've never seen anything like this. But I know how to find out, go to D.C., talk to a bunch of Republicans." Those conversations, we became very concerned because we heard the name Chris Christie, and Rudolph Giuliani which became Jeff Sessions, and we saw an opportunity because they were talking about comprehensive tax reform. And when I started talking to republicans about, "Okay, so if we were to say we're the man behind the tree, exchange 2ADE for a reasonable excise tax, could we get it as part of a tax reform? And all of a sudden they start taking the conversation seriously.

Speaker 1: It was the federal excise tax that brought us into the conversation?

Neil Levine: Yes. But the States Act doesn't have a federal excise tax component. And so, the States Act just it's a fix of 2ADE, it's a fix of banking. What the States Act actually does, we should talk about this, we haven't talked about this.

Speaker 1: Yeah, let's do it.

Neil Levine: It actually amends the controlled substance act, to bring it into closer alignment with the 10th amendment. So, what it says is, if you are not violating state law, as it comes to cannabis, you are not in the CSA. So, if you are a license compliant business in Colorado or what have you, it's no longer schedule one. That's how it fixes it. And the reason that we can pass this, well we think we have a really good chance of passing it, is the people of Alabama shouldn't be telling the people of California and Colorado how to regulate cannabis, and the people of California and Colorado shouldn't be telling the people of Alabama how to regulate cannabis.

Speaker 1: And Chuck Smith knows that because he's from Alabama.

Neil Levine: Yes he is.

Speaker 1: We spent a bunch of time there, right?

Neil Levine: Yes. So, we can have conversations with people who are adamantly opposed to legalizing cannabis, but you know, are you a constitutionalist, or are you not? Our beliefs are not challenged on the easy things. If you're a Republican, it's very easy to say that you're a pro states rights when it comes to education and abortion, so are you a federalist or are you not? Are [inaudible 00:25:35] are you not? If you are then yes, cannabis should absolutely ... the federal government should step out, the states are a laboratories of democracy. More than 30 states have gone forward, opted out of federal prohibition in some form, there's no getting this tooth paste back in the tube, we've got to get this done. All's we're doing right now is putting people who are hardworking in an emerging industry, their jobs and their incomes at risk, they have to fight over bank accounts. We have employees of our businesses who get their personal bank accounts taken away and shut down just because they're working their ass off to build an industry: it's wrong.

Speaker 1: Or it's just because [crosstalk 00:26:09] a job.

Neil Levine: It's un-American.

Speaker 1: There we go. That is completely un-American.

Neil Levine: And that's what the States Act would fix.

Speaker 1: I love the States Act. The way that you talked about it reminded me of my conversation with Congressman McClintock. We brought up Polis McClintock. Polis is or it was, I guess, Rohrabacher Blumenauer for adult use.

Neil Levine: Yes.

Speaker 1: And McClintock very big, concealed carry across state lines guy which also doesn't make sense if you're a states rights guy.

Neil Levine: Well, Second Amendment is you know-

Speaker 1: It supersedes it.

Neil Levine: Yeah.

Speaker 1: And so, I asked him well, what if we just do concealed carry across state lines with cannabis, and his eyes just got very big.

Neil Levine: And cannabis isn't in the Constitution.

Speaker 1: Right. Yeah, I mean, it's a false premise, but is still a good question.

Neil Levine: So, so you're telling me that you seeded a piece of legislation, we're gonna have to keep a lookout for?

Speaker 1: I'll go back, and I'll talk to him again. We'll see-

Neil Levine: What power did to him.

Speaker 1: Yeah exactly.

Neil Levine: I don't think there's any constitutional basis for it.

Speaker 1: My point was, your point which is kind of consistency of mindset, if you think this, then you also think this, or do you think that?

Neil Levine: Yeah is that just rhetoric because you're going after an issue you personally disagree with.

Speaker 1: There we go.

Neil Levine: And most, believe it or not, most members of Congress that I've interacted with are actually principled people. And when they talk about constitutionalism ... I mean, Ken buck. Ken buck, was the chair on the [Nolan 00:27:40] legalization campaign in Colorado. Ken buck is a co sponsor of the States Act because he's a true constitutionalist, he's a true federalist, he's a member of the Freedom Caucus. Cannabis is in the Colorado constitution, and he walks the walk and he talks the talk.

Speaker 1: We brought up Matt Gaetz, that's all we're looking to do. Is have a conversation and let's add some consistency. That's what Ro Khanna says too. Let's just add the consistency here to any conversation that we have while we're having a conversation, not shouting at each other.

Neil Levine: Well, what's amazing to me is when you listen to Sam, which is you know, the folks on the other side of this, their policy prescription is to give carte blanche to drug cartels. Let's not have any industry, let's just decriminalize it, and have it be a free for all.

Speaker 1: Do you like the Sinaloa Cartel? Because we can give you more it.

Neil Levine: And they're lying because see they all came from Office of National Drug Control Policy, they're all drug warriors, Kevin Sabet comes from ONDCP. It's just all BS.

Speaker 1: It's not consistent.

Neil Levine: They're consistent with what they say. But they're-

Speaker 1: It's not consistent with what they believe though.

Neil Levine: Well, what was really funny to me, and going back to what we said about potency, the other side takes this mantle of being moral, and they just lie all the time about everything they're trying to do, and they're always trying to dupe people into voting against their best interest, and all we're doing is laying out the facts.

Speaker 1: You reminded me of other stuff, which probably means we should bring this thing in for a landing. I will ask you the three final questions, I'll tell you what they are, I'll ask you them in order.

Neil Levine: Okay.

Speaker 1: What's most surprised you in cannabis? Because you've been in for a while. What's most surprised you in life? And on the soundtrack of your life: one track, one song that's got to be on there. But first things first.

Neil Levine: Oh, geez.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Neil Levine: Its might be just what's most surprised you at work, but what's most surprised you in cannabis?

Neil Levine: What is most surprised me in cannabis? And that's a really good question. What has most surprised me in cannabis is that we have folks who when we have a state of play, where we're federally legal, and we have to fix this, there are some folks that are more interested in trying to effect change in D.C. to fit their business model, then to actually grow a healthy national, eventually, global industry that can benefit everybody: where all boats rise. That's been surprising to me.

Speaker 1: Isn't that just capitalism Neil?

Neil Levine: It's so surprising to me that in the situation that we're all in, that folks actually would be advocating for something that could hurt the vast majority of businesses that fit their particular business model.

Speaker 1: Isn't that just capitalism?

Neil Levine: It's just wrong is what it is, right? So, we have a shot here to to essentially strike the fatal blow to prohibition. What capitalism is, is in a free market, let businesses compete.

Speaker 1: Indeed.

Neil Levine: Structuring the regulation and the laws to benefit your business model at the expense of the majority of the industry, and the consumers, and the people being disproportionately impacted by the drug war, is just wrong.

Speaker 1: But isn't that how capitalism works now?

Neil Levine: Well, we're trying to build a new industry, and we're going to try and do it the right way.

Speaker 1: A better industry. That's exactly it. That's the whole key.

Neil Levine: Yeah.

Speaker 1: What's most surprised you in life?

Neil Levine: What's most surprised me in life? What's most surprised me in life is that when I took this job at MPP back in 2002 when everybody told me I was ending my career,

Speaker 1: What are you doing men?

Neil Levine: .. cannabis in the dark ages, that it's turned into that I'm this national expert in this exploding emerging industry. I feel like, I don't think I hit a triple, I definitely feel like, as far as cannabis goes, I was born on third base.

Speaker 1: Oh, my God, yes. Oh my God.

Neil Levine: No. Not that I haven't worked my ass off for the last 15 years to help us all get here, but it wasn't the plan. The fact that this is all become ... I was just out there, I was a gunslinger just trying to do work on fun campaigns, and do the right thing, and it's turned into all this. And now that I actually get ... I'm just some idiot kid from lower middle class track housing in New York. The fact that I'm actually in a position where I can be instrumental in building this industry going forward, is the most shocking thing ever.

Speaker 1: Yeah, it's surprising and at the same time, it's wonderful.

Neil Levine: It's a Amazing.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Neil Levine: It's amazing. I'm blessed.

Speaker 1: On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there.

Neil Levine: One track, one song that's got to be on there?

Speaker 1: Yeah, I mean, you can give us more if you'd like, but I'm only asking for one.

Neil Levine: Yeah. Well, it's either got to be something from Elliott Smith or The Beatles.

Speaker 1: Okay. Wow. We'll do the Elliott Smith thing. What would be like one that I should listen to because I don't.

Neil Levine: One Elliott Smith song? It's hard to pick one Elliott Smith song.

Speaker 1: One album then that I should kind of listen to maybe?

Neil Levine: So, one album ... Okay. Elliott Smith, are you familiar with-

Speaker 1: No.

Neil Levine: He was actually ... he did a large part of the soundtrack for Good Will Hunting. He got nominated for an Oscar against Titanic. So, that song Miss misery, it obviously loss to the Titanic. But very, very tragic figure, Portland musician, eventually moved to LA, depressed person, ended up committing suicide and released, I think, like six solo albums that are almost like suicide notes.

Speaker 1: Wow.

Neil Levine: But the most amazing songwriter, the most intense lyrics, just so genuine. I mean, he sang for all the sad [inaudible 00:33:15].

Speaker 1: I got you. I got you. So he hit you?

Neil Levine: Yeah. You can't you can't listen to him and nod. SO, albums that I would recommend: Basement on the Hill is they released posthumously, that he was finishing up when he died. That is a really, really great album. But if you're looking for a great studio album, I'd go with Figure 8, and probably the best song on there is Son of Sam.

Speaker 1: Okay. It's so interesting.

Neil Levine: Yeah. And for earlier stuff if you're more like Lo-fi 4-track recordings-

Speaker 1: Sure.

Neil Levine: I would go-

Speaker 1: If it's good it's good, right?

Neil Levine: ... Either/Or or XO.

Speaker 1: Now, that you have given us just a lesson here in Elliot Smith, so I appreciate that. What would you do if it were the Beatles? I wonder-

Neil Levine: Album or song?

Speaker 1: Either one.

Neil Levine: You can't pick one Beatles song or even one Beatles album. But one Beatles album would be Abbey Road.

Speaker 1: Okay. So, that's yours, mine is Let It Be. I understand everything's falling apart, but I still I'm into it. And I also understand-

Neil Levine: Have you listened to Let It Be... Naked?

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, I have. And here's the thing, everything's still good, Of course, it is. But Phil Spector as a music producer, not very good at his job. And I know that they were like not ... yeah and I know that they were not thrilled with it, but that's just so good. And I will-

Neil Levine: Well, John was thrilled with it.

Speaker 1: What's that?

Neil Levine: John was thrilled with it. He brought Spector back in to do Imagine.

Speaker 1: Yeah, right. So, Paul McCartney?

Neil Levine: Right.

Speaker 1: I think George Harrison didn't also ... it also didn't say great there or whatever it was, and then also Don't Let Me Down.

Neil Levine: Yeah. No, great song. The B side of Abbey Road is probably Beatles in perfection.

Speaker 1: Right. So, the last 20 minutes, I think, it is or 24 minutes if you include Her Majesty, its ridiculous.

Neil Levine: Yeah, it's amazing. And Obviously you know the story about that is Abbey Road gets released first, but recorded last. So, they shelved Let It Be project, and then Paul McCartney's like, "We can't end like this." So, they came back and he did Abbey Road, so it was meant to be their swan song, and then they went back in and released Let It Be after after The Fact.

Speaker 1: I mean, I don't know. It was a very good band The Beatles, right?

Neil Levine: They did okay.

Speaker 1: Neil Levine thank you so much. We will absolutely be checking in with you down the line.

Neil Levine: Awesome.

Speaker 1: And there you have Neil Levine. Special thanks to Andy Williams. Very much appreciate their time, very much appreciate your time. Stay tuned.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.