September 9, 2021
Interstate Commerce & Cannabis Courier Delivery Services
Today, we'll be speaking with Tim Conder, the President of Blackbird about how the federal cannabis policy reform bill recently unveiled by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would affect cannabis, interstate commerce and taxes will also discuss the variations in approaches when it comes to incremental versus comprehensive policy change and more.
Without further ado, let's hash it out.
Hash it Out features conversations about trending cannabis topics. We also bring in industry insiders and influencers to discuss their point of view. To reach the show: email@example.com
RJ: Hey, everybody, it's your host and welcome to hash it out in this episode, I'll be speaking with Tim Conder of Blackbird about how the federal cannabis policy reform bill recently unveiled by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would affect cannabis, interstate commerce and taxes will also discuss the variations in approaches when it comes to incremental versus comprehensive policy change and more. Without further ado, let's hash it out.
RJ: My guest today is the co-founder and CEO of the cannabis software solutions company Blackbird. Welcome to the show, Tim Conder. Hello, sir.
Tim: Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate being here.
RJ: Hey, man, thank you so much for for being here. I'm very appreciative for you to take the time and offer your perspective as to all you've got going on over a Blackbird. And then, of course, in the wider cannabis conversation, at least here in the U.S. for now. Before we get started here. Where are you joining us virtually from today?
Tim: So our blackbird's headquarters is in Reno, Nevada. So I'm joining you from my home in Reno.
RJ: OK, cool, cool, cool, right on, I have a family over in Henderson, so all night, pretty south of you, but yeah, I was just just there recently visiting some family, so. Right on, right on. Love Nevada. Love Nevada. Great steaks. Yeah, absolutely. Again, I'm excited to to sort of pick your brain a little bit during our conversation here regarding what you've got going on over at Blackbird and then into the bigger conversation. So just to dove right in and familiarize our viewers and our listeners a little bit about what y'all do. I understand that you personally started your first bike messenger delivery service , Bootleg Courier Company in Reno, Nevada, which is two bikes, and then went on to combine that business idea with your knowledge and connections in cannabis to launch the cannabis delivery company Blackbird. So, again, for those who aren't familiar, just tell me more about your company and what exactly you specialize in, both when it comes to delivery and then also in software, technology and marketing.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, my co-founder and I started a bicycle messenger service in Reno, Nevada in 2009 called Bootleg Courier Company, and we had worked as messengers and other large cities, New York, San Francisco, Seattle. But we're both from Nevada and saw an opportunity to bring sort of our sort of special knowledge of the bicycle messenger, of a bicycle messenger service to our home state of Nevada. And so we did that in 2009 where, like you said, we started with the two of us on our bikes and ultimately went on to employ, you know, roughly 15 people and service regionally the sort of Reno, Nevada, area with a little over 100 clients. But, you know, a very specific kind of small scale delivery service that we ultimately pivoted into cannabis in 2015 to form Blackbird.
RJ: Right on, right on, and so you had mentioned that you started it in 2015, so you're about a little over five years into it, would you have expected if you could go back in time and tell your 2015 self that in just half a decade you would be facing the most unprecedented circumstances in the course of your business? Would you have believed yourself? And what advice would you have given yourself in that case?
Tim: Man, that's a great question. I mean, if we could if I could have had a crystal ball to look into the future from 2015 to where we are today in cannabis, I don't think I would have believed what I saw. I think we got into regulating cannabis because we saw an enormous opportunity. But the rate at which the industry has progressed has been really just kind of wild. Right. So, I mean, if for those who either weren't part of the industry in 2015 or maybe in a different part of the country in 2015, Nevada legalized cannabis for medical use, but didn't legalize for adult use until 2017. So we were still dealing with a very small sort of medical industry in 2015, mostly way on the spot, maybe a handful of dispensaries. And, you know, today, Blackbird's services, over 400 brands of retailers and twenty three US states and several Canadian provinces. And so, you know, the explosive growth has been I mean, it's just been really wild. And I would say if I could give myself one piece of advice when we started the company, it would be, you know, prepare yourself for that kind of growth. And that means lots of things. One resta, right. Get a few Naprosyn in before before going.
RJ: And maybe they come back to you between after a while.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. To like, build build a company for scale. Right. And that means everything from internal policies to technology to sales strategy. I mean everything that we did in those early days when we did it, planning for the for enormous scale, it worked. And when we did something, planning for sort of the size of the industry in that moment, it broke. And so, you know, that's the piece of advice I would give myself.
RJ: And you had mentioned in a recent interview that you see parallels between the bike messenger culture and the cannabis culture. You say they're both very closely aligned. How do you mean?
Tim: Yeah, I mean, for the bicycle messenger community is a really tight knit community of individuals that spans the country and even the globe, right. Like there aren't that many bicycle messengers in the world. They're all it's sort of one degree of separation across those communities. And it's a community that is really passionate about one another, really passionate about what they do every day. And that passion and that sense of community is something that I've found in spades and in cannabis as well.
RJ: Hmm, certainly, certainly you got to it's you know, I've learned personally in my experience with being in the cannabis community and in the cannabis space that it is distinctive from other industries, other markets, other communities, in that the sense of community really is the foundation of it. And my hope is that, you know, with continued policy change in the United States, both on the state level and hopefully eventually on the federal level, we don't lose that. We don't lose that. And I hope the voice for the importance of community stays loud as we hopefully again experience federal cannabis policy reform in this country. So so speaking of that, I want to dove in here to the one of the biggest pieces of federal cannabis news here in the United States, and that is the recently unveiled cannabis d scheduling bill from the U.S. Senate, from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. That bill has since been open for public comment. And since then, several national cannabis trade organizations and activist groups have submitted written comments about the draft, mostly highlighting the need for lower taxes and facilitating interstate commerce, which I imagine is something that you are particularly vested in the global cannabis or the Global Alliance of Cannabis. Commerce, rather, wrote in a 29 page letter that it hopes the final bill will, quote, expressly authorize interstate commerce for existing state legal cannabis companies, as well as further amend cannabis law to facilitate interstate commerce and throw more federal funding behind programs that provide capital and technical assistance to small companies and disadvantage entrepreneurs. So I'm just curious what your thoughts are on that and then what you would like to see eventually come out of the final iteration of this bill, which will be put up for consideration.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, I think everybody in the cannabis industry, at least from my perspective, is working towards what we ultimately believe will be federal legalization. And, you know, by working towards that, I mean, like working within our own state's regulatory structures to operate the best possible and most compliant cannabis businesses we can while servicing customers, you know, to the best of our ability. And I think like the opportunity that is presented to the cannabis industry and to consumers through federal legalization is huge. Right. And I think, you know, that's always been that's always been the goal. But it's really important that federal legalization is done right in that when we legalize cannabis, we take things into account, not least of which you just mentioned. Right. So how do we empower and give back to the communities that created the industry in the first place and where most disadvantaged by the war on drugs, but then also more technical things around traceability, taxes, you know, all of those kinds of policies that keep our communities safe and keep bad actors out of the regulated cannabis market. And so I think that the first thing that I would say is the a priority from our standpoint is banking reform, cannabis operators. Don't have access to banking in many cases, or at least normalize banking when they do have access to banking, it's incredibly complex, can be very expensive, and it can be a really arduous for new businesses. Right. To actually access that banking and leverage it appropriately. So I would say that's like the most important thing from my perspective, that that federal legalization tackles his banking reform and that actually speaks to issues of social justice. For example, like you as a small business owner, you can't get a loan Tech In Cannabis. And so. Cannabis licenses or operations can be relegated to individuals who have access to capital in other sources, whether it be family money or, you know, the willingness of investors to invest in their vision, and that is a very small subset of the population. So I think those are some those are things that are really important to us as federal legalization moves forward as it relates to interstate commerce. I think that, you know. What's important to Blackbird and to us is access access for businesses, access for customers and consumers, and so federal legalization creates. Widespread access to cannabis for medical reasons, for recreational purposes, and that is that's exciting, right, to be able to proliferate the best brands for whatever reason in the world across the United States is something that we would be really excited about embarking upon, but with the huge caveat that there are lots of very, very important things that we have to take into consideration as we move towards that goal.
RJ: Certainly, and you had mentioned the importance of banking access for cannabis companies, which has been in the works even before this recently unveiled federal cannabis scheduling bill from the Senate, you know, safe banking has been moving, I guess, through the legislature. I mean, it's moved and stopped. It's moved and stopped. And, you know, I don't know what to make of it in that sense. But Senator Cory Booker recently made headlines. You know, he's been one of the biggest proponents of federal cannabis policy reform in this country, as well as a large advocate for implementing social justice reforms, not only in regards to cannabis, but in other aspects of of our nation's laws. However, he did make waves lately in saying that he doesn't really see a need for first passing safe banking before the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. And some people disagree. And so I'm just curious what your thoughts are on the the the benefits of either a comprehensive cannabis policy reform change or an incremental approach?
Tim: Yeah, it's like like I said a few minutes ago, I think that banking reform is a part of the social justice and advocacy work that needs to be part and parcel with federal legalization. And there's a lot of reasons for that. First of all, it's a public safety concern, right? The cannabis industry is still in huge part a cash industry. And you know that that comes with all its own set of issues and problems. But, you know, again, access to banking is imperative for any small business to be able to, you know, get off the ground and remain operational. So I think, you know. I think that there are ways to move forward incrementally. I think it's a really tall order to do sort of a global federal legalization policy that gets everything right the first the first time in the first pass. But I think, you know. What we have today is a little bit of analysis paralysis, right, instead of moving forward to your point, like we're sort of stuck in limbo and that's not helping anybody. So I think, you know, if we can get some incremental reform, yes, my preference would be to start at banking. But as a part of policy that's put in place to recognize, you know, those that came before us, I think it's no secret that cannabis operators today are standing on the shoulders of of those that came before them and, you know, able to make a living, in some cases a substantial living by selling a product that a few years ago was illegal and that people are sitting in jail or prison today for doing the same exact activity. And so that reform and and and that the attention to those policies are also a top top priority when it comes to federal legalization.
RJ: Hmm, certainly, certainly the you know, the longer we have this this deadlock and this this, you know, tiny drip of of progress, you know, the more people continue to to face the ramifications of the failed war on drugs of discriminatory enforcement practices. And, you know, there again, like you mentioned, they're sitting in jail right now. And, you know, and in the meantime, where I don't know where we're arguing over whether we should have a filibuster or not. Clearly, I don't you know, I think, you know, the the time to to do something is certainly upon us. And I feel like there has been a change in that. We at least all see that we at least I'll see that now that we can't afford another moment to to to sit and deliberate the science of whether, you know, cannabis has any benefits medically or recreationally or therapeutically, because, you know, it's all there already. And, you know, it's now just time for action for sure. Yeah. I want to go back to the federal decriminalization bill and the public comments regarding it, because another association came out and offered their comments to the National Cannabis Industry Association. They asserted that the proposed taxes in the draft bill would increase taxes overall in the industry and additionally would kill the option for small businesses to grow through vertical integration. It would create barriers to interstate commerce. It would increase compliance costs, and it doesn't include any tax provisions for existing medical marijuana patients or businesses, thus, quote, increasing cannabis based health care costs. So what are your thoughts are on that? And also, how do you think we can ensure that small businesses continue to have a place in this industry?
Tim: Yeah, I mean, that's a big question. I think. There's a lot that goes into that, right, because one would assume that with federal legalization or federal decriminalization comes the, you know, reform of 280, which is the cannabis tax code or the striking of that cut altogether. Today, cannabis businesses are subject to local and state taxes, usually at a pretty high level, like, for example, in the city of Oakland, California. There's a 10 percent gross revenue, gross receipts tax for all cannabis operators. Right. So the city of Oakland takes 10 percent off the top of everything that you make. Combine that with state taxes, licensing costs. It can be really cumbersome for any business, not not least of which small businesses. They're also, as a cannabis business, not able to deduct normal business expenses. Because of the 280 tax code, so I think that, like, again, it's not as simple as saying no additional tax write, it's trying to understand one, if you pay a three percent gross tax to the federal government, where is that money going? Is it going to programs that help, you know, social equity license holders, those, you know, negatively impacted by the war on drugs or or where is it going or is it going to pay regulators? And what savings will cannabis businesses achieve through a revision or striking of the 280 tax code? So it's really, I think, a complex issue, but at like a high level. Cannabis businesses today are sort of disadvantaged by the high tax rate that they pay. That's really far and above what other other businesses pay, whether it be alcohol or pharmaceuticals, et cetera. And so I think there's, for obvious reasons, a push to reduce tax rates at the federal level, which is understandable.
RJ: Certainly, certainly. And before I let you go hear my final question to you, as you know, we we talked about, of course, how Blackbird came to be. We've talked a little bit about the federal cannabis policy reform pending here in the United States and the different approaches to it. So with all that being said, what has Blackbird got in the works for the rest of the year? We're now already into September. I can't even believe it. Yeah, I just had to relook at that the date and believe it again, because I couldn't believe it. We're in September already. What do you have planned for the rest of the year and what are you looking forward to the most? I know for one, Blackbird recently underwent an acquisition through HERBL. So there was that. And so what are you hoping for that?
Tim: Yeah, absolutely, we're I mean, we love HERBL, we were super excited to be able to merge with them, be acquired by them in the beginning of June and really trying to understand, you know, and create actual actionable plans for both companies. Post acquisition. Right. And so Blackbird is most excited about continuing to proliferate our e-commerce software offering and support that offering with the physical act of of making of completing the delivery from retailers to consumers. And so today, you know, we have a a we're the largest delivery, third party delivery service in the state of Nevada. But like I said earlier on the program, we have, you know, many other location, brand and retail clients across the US that we're looking forward to providing delivery services to both this year and then on obviously into next year. So looking to really expand that offering nationally. And I think it'll be you know, it'll be really well received as it has been here in Nevada and in other markets.
RJ: I dig it, I dig it, and we will certainly be keeping an eye out for all you've got going on over at blackbird next time I'm in the Nevada area. Look, you guys up for sure. And before we go here, where can our viewers and our listeners keep up with all that you've got going on over at blackbird throughout the the World Wide Web?
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Check us out at blackbirdgo.com, go there, order some product for pick up or delivery and and keep up with what's going on at blackbird. So thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
RJ: Of course. Oh, absolutely, absolutely, any time and we will leave the information for Blackbird in the description of this episode down below. And Tim, thank you so much, man, for sharing your perspective and sharing your information. Best of luck with all you've got going on and continue to be well and stay safe out there in this wild world.
Tim: Men will do. Thanks so much.
RJ: Absolutely, Tim Conder, everybody, that is it for Hash it out y'all, I am your host, RJ Balde, thank you so much for watching, liking, commenting and subscribing and I'll catch you all in the next one piece out.
Source: Hash It Out Podcast.