NCA’s John Downs on cannabis: ‘Things are happening so fast’
President of the National Confectioners Association says cannabis is one of the largest disruptions to the food and beverage industry in modern day.
Will CBD confections be on the show floor at the next Sweets and Snacks Expo?
“We’re not sure yet. We're working on it. We’re working on a game plan. Things are happening so fast.”
That’s NCA President John Downs’ response to the question on everybody’s mind these days.
Overall, the National Confectioners Association's position on cannabis continues to rapidly evolve — just as the cannabis marketplace continues to do the same thing.
“One of the things I'm proud of is that this organization [the NCA] is now nimble and we're agile, so we can respond to accelerated changes in the environment and the landscape,” Downs said. “And this is one of those issues that we've been nimble, we've been proactive in trying to look at all this since everything happened in December with the Farm Bill.”
He’s referring to the 2018 Farm Bill, which opened the door to legal hemp. A lot of food manufactures have taken that as a greenlight to create CBD-infused products, including CBD confections such as gummies. Regulations around those CBD products still remain extremely unclear, though, and technically they are still illegal at the federal level.
“We know that chocolate, and candy are popular vehicles for delivering CBD products. And we also know... that this is going to be one of the largest disruptions to the food and beverage industry, and our industry, that we've seen in our modern day,” Downs said. “So we have got to get prepared for that. And we're doing that.”
CBD also is different from THC. Specifically, CBD doesn’t give users a high feeling that THC is known for. And while many states have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational use, most strains of cannabis are still illegal at a federal level. That can cause major issues with interstate commerce and banking. In fact, Downs said it’s the main reason why more mainstream confectionery companies haven’t entered the cannabis marketplace yet.
“Our companies are being fairly prudent in terms of taking a wait-and-see approach because of the complexity and murkiness as it relates to the federal regulatory framework,” he explained.
For its part, the NCA provided an educational session about cannabis at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in May 2019. Downs said they also spent hours discussing cannabis at the NCA’s most recent Leadership Summit in California, as well as at the NCA’s board meeting during the Washington Forum.
The NCA also has put together a working group to study the issue.
“I've asked a diverse collection of industry thought leaders to serve on that and everybody that I've asked, they've agreed to do it,” Downs said. “And so, we'll be digging in to all this in terms of trying to figure out our way, our path forward from a strategic standpoint on all this. And that will include implications for Sweets and Snacks as it relates to this.”
However, the NCA continues to put cannabis confections in a separate category from traditional confections. And the organization’s official stance is that it views CBD edibles as a completely separate occasion wholly separate from the treating occasion and traditional chocolate and candy.
“I see this as a separate-use occasion. I see it as a separate category. A completely different sector and category and I'm not sure how it's all going to play out. I don't know yet, it's still so early,” Downs explained. “Because if you look at the supply chain around all these, there's lots of things that have to happen around that as well.”
Right now, Downs is hard at work to give the NCA’s members, and the confectionery industry as a whole, some clarity on how to proceed into the sector.
“There's just a lot of pieces to it,” Downs said. “I don't think anybody knows right now how it's all going to end up, how it's all going to work out.”