The National Cannabis Industry Association’s Seed-to-Sale Show at the Denver Convention Center on Feb. 7-8 attracted more than 3,000 registrants and hundreds of vendors to the Mile High City. In addition to the large turnout, the event was marked by debate over criticisms of the NCIA’s personnel policies and operations published by Cannabis Business Executive (CBE) in January that singled out executive director Aaron Smith (pictured above).
CBE’s first NCIA article, posted Jan. 9, focused on the resignation of NCIA board member Kayvan Khalatbari. The second article, posted Jan. 16, asked why the NCIA had fired chief of staff Genifer Murray.
Writer Rob Meagher—CBE’s founder, president and editor-in-chief—published leaked internal emails about employees and board members getting fired or resigning. These reports created an ominous cloud of uncertainty as the NCIA prepared for its expo.
Smith responded to CBE’s charges in an exclusive interview with Freedom Leaf during the Seed-to-Sale Show. “CBE is a third-rate event company that’s probably not too happy that we’re having this successful event right now,” he stated. “There is really no story here. CBE is editorializing on their blog. It’s a First Amendment right to express their opinion. It’s an opinion based on very biased and incomplete information that’s been taken out of context.”
Smith was referring to CBE’s failure to produce a three-day cannabis business conference scheduled for mid-January in Washington, D.C. (Freedom Leaf vice president Allen St. Pierre has written several articles for CBE.)
The CBE articles also alleged possible sexual misconduct by Smith, who’s dated at least one NCIA staffer in the past. Former NCIA board member and treasurer Rob Kampia was removed from his positions on Feb. 1, due to sexual-harassment charges by workers at the Marijuana Policy Project dating back to 2009. Kampia, the MPP’s cofounder and longtime executive director, left that group in December amid rumors that further allegations would emerge.
“There are no sexual misconduct allegations against me or anybody else on the staff or on the board that I know of,” Smith contended. Kampia, he said, is “no longer on the board.”
The CBE articles raised questions about financial mismanagement inside the NCIA, which has more than 1,500 members, and the organization’s slow growth. “How can anybody actually look inside NCIA’s books or budget and think there’s mismanagement?” Smith wondered. “We’ve grown the organization at twice the rate of the industry in general. NCIA grew at about 70% since last year. We had 22 new members join last week, and the same the week before.”
During his opening remarks at the expo, Smith said the NCIA has significantly expanded its lobbying efforts in Washington in recent months, increasing the number of full-time lobbyists on its staff by 68%. “NCIA now maintains the largest full-time staff of cannabis reform lobbyists in D.C.,” he added.
While explaining that some of the group’s structure and personnel issues are growing pains that any developing organization goes through, Smith admitted that the NCIA board recognizes it has had problems, and is working on governance changes and bylaws amendments that will bring more control of its operations.
“What our members care about is the work we’re doing in Washington, D.C. to protect the industry and the member services,” he remarked. “Not the opinion of a random outsider who clearly has an axe to grind because he’s a failed events company who thinks he has the power of the pen because he has a blog.”
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