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Mac Murray & Shuster's Greg May on Evolving Cannabis Law and Compliance

The long road ahead for an industry beset by regulatory challenges

Equal parts attorney and entrepreneur, Greg May is Of Counsel to the Cannabis, CBD and Hemp group at Mac Murray & Shuster in Columbus, Ohio, where he leans on his diverse professional background to deliver practical legal advice to cannabis operators and ancillary businesses.

Greg likes to say he doesn't know if he found the cannabis industry or if it found him, but either way, it was meant to be. After starting out as a big firm attorney, he spread his entrepreneurial wings as a multi-unit restaurant franchisee and later as co-founder of a craft beer distributorship. It was in 2016, when Ohio legalized medical marijuana, that he had a lightbulb moment and realized he had always been on a path to practicing cannabis law.

Today, Greg provides both small businesses and multistate operators with a broad range of services, including license applications, site selection, mergers and acquisitions, and regulatory compliance.

We spoke with Greg for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Greg, tell us….

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in a small town called DuBois, Pennsylvania. My mom and dad moved to Columbus, Ohio, when I was a toddler and it's been home ever since.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Recently, my elderly mother approached me and said her medical doctor recommended she try medical marijuana to help alleviate pain related to sciatica. She had tried a lot of other medications, all with untenable side effects. I helped her get her medical marijuana card, and after trying a few different products, we found a topical patch that has truly changed her life, not to mention her perception of cannabis. I can't think of a more validating and motivating experience that I could ever have (but I'm open to it)!

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

I've started a couple of businesses myself, and I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of craft brewers in the past, so I naturally gravitate to the smaller "craft" growers in the Ohio program. Farkas Farms, Ohio Clean Leaf and Ancient Roots are all producing great flower. On the processing side, I'm a fan of what Beneleaves and Lighthouse Sciences are doing as independent processors. Two of my favorite Ohio-grown brands are Klutch and Firelands Scientific. I predict we will see those among the brands that emerge out of the Ohio market to represent the Buckeye State.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

In Ohio, the biggest challenge cannabis marketers face is marketing cannabis, period. Our medical program has very strict limitations on what operators can do with respect to marketing and advertising. For instance, retailers are forbidden to sell branded merchandise. Signage is very restricted. Any form of print advertising must be pre-approved by the state. Social media marketing and telemarketing are subject to a complex array of state and federal regulations. When we speak to clients about the many challenges they face operating a cannabis business, marketing and advertising is at the top of the list. We will be advocating to change these restrictions as our program grows and, hopefully, legalize adult-use here, but as it stands operators must be extremely cautious in their promotional endeavors or face regulatory discipline, and it has had a chilling effect on all forms of advertising and marketing.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

The industry has such a long way to go in so many ways. When you consider how far we must go before we see any form of meaningful interstate commerce, and you combine that with other industry realities like the lack of banking access, the marketing restrictions, and the fact that there is a stigma about cannabis that is far from quashed, you begin to realize just how much opportunity there is ahead for the cannabis branding and marketing segments of the industry. With adult-use cannabis now legal in 21 states, the green wave is getting better to surf for marketers every day!

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

Our law firm is a proud member of the National Cannabis Industry Association and the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association. I'm also a big fan of what Last Prisoner Project is doing. No person should be in jail for simple possession of a plant. 

A recent project you're proud of.

For the past year and a half, I've been involved as an advisory board member for ProCanna, a startup SAAS-based compliance platform for the cannabis industry. It has enabled me to draw upon both my entrepreneurial experience, and my legal experience and passion for cannabis law and compliance. To me, the only significant differences between legal market cannabis and legacy market cannabis are testing, compliance and taxes. And without testing and compliance, why will people want to pay the taxes? The vast majority of cannabis customers may not look at it through that lens yet. It's still new and shiny. But I predict they will. Why wouldn't we want our cannabis to be any less safe and reliable than the lettuce and tomatoes we purchase?  

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I've become friends with the folks behind Black Buddha, an environmentally conscious cannabis brand for women by women that was founded by Roz McCarthy, founder/CEO of Minorities for Medical Marijuana. I've worked closely with some of the key members of that team over the past few years and it's been a lot of fun to cheer them on as they start to roll out in multiple states. 

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

There are so many amazing people I have met along my journey in the cannabis industry who I could name here. But at the top of the list is Dr. Bridget Williams, the physician who made the recommendation for my mother to obtain her medical marijuana card. It was a video consultation, and I was with my mom for it. Watching that interaction was truly enlightening. My mom had lots of questions, and Dr. Bridget handled each one with ease and professionalism. I realized that I could have told her many of the things that Dr. Bridget did, but it would have had a fraction of the impact. We don't need more cannabis doctors, we need more doctors that know about cannabis, doctors like Dr. Bridget who not only accept and embrace that cannabis truly is medicine but commit to educating themselves and their patients about it. She is also the author of Courage in Cannabis, a best-selling collection of inspiring stories written by cannabis heroes, and a frequent speaker about medical marijuana.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

I honestly don't know. I'm in it for life at this point. The only way I can imagine myself not being in the cannabis industry would be if I were retired, in which case I would be the starter at the first hole at The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island.

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