“Compliance” is a term that is thrown around – often without a clear definition of what it means, and how it matters.
I initially worked with “compliance” matters in my first job as a healthcare consultant. Compliance plans are ubiquitous in healthcare, largely developing after audit and anti-fraud initiatives of the federal government in the 1990’s. Today – most industries have ongoing compliance activities, compliance officers, and compliance plans. Compliance can simply be a catch-all position to reduce risk for a company, and often uses employees without specialized compliance experience. I am particularly partial to “How to get a job in compliance with little or no experience.” At least they’re being transparent about it.
But true compliance needs are growing. The Wall Street Journal thinks a Compliance Officer is one of the hottest jobs in America. I’ll take WSJ’s word for it, but the topic itself tends to be boring and fall on deaf ears.
The truth is, compliance matters and should be taken seriously – especially in the developing cannabis industry with the variety of security, laboratory testing, packaging, record keeping, product tracking, and other regulatory requirements. Compliance services are an increasing trend in the industry – most recently leading two of the country’s better known cannabis-focused law firms to jointly create their own compliance software for businesses.
While we’re at it, compliance matters not only for those being regulated, but for the regulators themselves.
Think of it as akin to the issue of “who is policing the police?”
When we were developing the Illinois medical cannabis program, there were dozens of issues to address every day of the week. We dealt with the crises, but we were left with precious little time to consider how the implementation was going.
How would we establish benchmarks for success of the Illinois medical cannabis program? How would we improve and modify the program moving forward? How would cannabis businesses be able to share valid suggestions without the government disregarding them as self-serving? How could Illinois learn from best practices of other states, and fix unanticipated problems, in the face of constant political, fiscal, and bureaucratic pressures?
“Compliance,” you say? Indeed.
Some common compliance elements include effective communication, clear policies and procedures, monitoring program success and failures, appropriately responding to unforeseen or negative incidents, and general good management principles. Of course these aspects are beneficial to a private cannabis business.
I would go so far as to say these elements are even more critical, and less common for government regulators and programs enforcing cannabis laws. Government regulators don’t often have the time or training to implement successful compliance tools – that’s what outside consultants and compliance experts are for (here’s lookin’ at you, Wall Street Journal!).
Some states are already diligently tracking compliance markers for their medical and adult-use cannabis programs. Washington and Colorado have produced annual reports measuring a variety of benchmarks for their programs. Arizona went a step further with their medical program and hired a compliance consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of strengths and weaknesses of their medical marijuana system:
“The [Beacon-ID consulting] report recommends a state inventory tracking system, expanding patient registry systems to include faster and better sharing between physicians, regulators and dispensaries, standardized rules for packaging including child-proofing and increased inspections including unannounced ones.”
All state cannabis regulators should ensure a rational review of the successes and failings of their respective programs – especially those like Illinois where the program automatically sunsets January 1, 2018 without legislative renewal or expansion. We can all benefit from taking into account extensive data about the business, health, security, and quality of the state’s cannabis industry. The various state agencies must incorporate the tenets of compliance for us all to effectively evaluate next steps – we can’t just wing it and make emotional decisions about the future of these programs. A compliance plan is just one way for the regulators to track the successes and failures, and I hope such preparation and self-analysis paves the way for the continuation and expansion of the Illinois medical cannabis program.