Late in 2020, the new national organization Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) was formed. While not much has been publicized about the organization’s work or efforts since it officially launched, its formation represents a major step towards unifying cannabis regulations and policies on a national level by organizing participating legalized states (medical, recreational, or both) into a formal group. The organization will consider approaches to common issues in regulating legalized systems among the states, and provides states with various resources as they adopt regulatory schemes. Given the recent announcement of a senate proposal to legalize cannabis on a national level, paying attention to CANNRA is going to be of increasing importance.
What is CANNRA?
CANNRA is a formal association of regulators from 19 legalized states across the country, including Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Utah. These are all states that have legalized cannabis in some fashion. The goal of the organization is to “create and promote harmony and standardization across jurisdictions which choose to legalize and regulate cannabis," and to work to ensure "federal officials benefit from the vast regulatory and implementation experiences of states across the nation to ensure any changes to federal law adequately address states’ needs and priorities.”
Can cannabis industry members participate and join this organization?
No, currently CANNRA membership is only open to regulatory bodies and not industry participants or advocates. However, if such associations in other regulated industries (such as NABCA, for alcohol regulators) are any indication, at some point CANNRA will likely open up membership and/or sponsorship opportunities to non-regulators, which will present unique opportunities for insight into regulatory developments, trends, and issues throughout the country.
What benefits does CANNRA bring to the industry?
Although cannabis businesses cannot join CANNRA, the organization’s existence is a great step forward for the cannabis industry as a whole. Because cannabis is and has been federally illegal, each state that has legalized cannabis (and developed corresponding regulations) has done so in very different ways. Getting regulatory bodies from different states to talk to each other, share best practices, and work to formulate more uniform requirements will make it easier for cannabis businesses to open up in other states, with less obstacles and more consistent compliance requirements on a state-by-state level.
CANNRA has the potential to help facilitate any future changes to federal law as well, and has already taken steps to enter the discussions by providing comment on the pending federal legislation. Legalized states (particularly Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, who first adopted legal systems years ago) have spent years developing and honing regulatory processes that work well for both the cannabis industry and the public health and safety missions of state regulators. The collective knowledge and experience of cannabis-legal states could aid federal regulatory development in many ways and help avoid massive disruption and confusion for industry participants.
Of course, the laws in every state remain very different and legalized cannabis at the federal level is still an open question. It is critical to consult with your legal counsel if you are contemplating opening up cannabis operations in other legalized states, to ensure you are compliant within individual state requirements and do not run afoul of federal restrictions.