SPS student Miles Tuttle turns online learning into legislative action
March 20, 2020 By Kathryne Sonnett
A resident of Honolulu, Hawaii, he owns Kush Bottles Hawaii, which provides certified child-resistant packaging, accessories, and supplies for all eight of the state’s licensed cannabis dispensaries. He was looking for more effective ways to expand his ability to impact and alter the policy landscape in the industry, so he enrolled in Clark’s online Certificate in Regulatory Affairs for Cannabis Control program offered by the School of Professional Studies.
“In only eight weeks of online program work with Professor Zachary Dyer, I learned how to get my policy language into legislation,” he says. “Clark’s program is led by instructors who are deeply involved in the day-to-day industry and have firsthand experience. They stress the importance of not being oblivious to the negative views about cannabis — but to recognize them and provide viable solutions.”
Tuttle has worked as a legal regulatory compliance consultant in the cannabis industry for more than 10 years, and he knows that its largest obstacles are misinformation and misconception about the drug and the industry. While trying to find practical responses, he realized that Clark’s regulatory program focused on science and offered specialized electives that would help him shift the legislative agenda in the industry’s favor.
The Hawaii Cannabis Industry Association asked Tuttle to help create new product legislation. Using what he learned at Clark, he drafted recommendations for a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) addressing possible regulatory issues. The Association took his language and inserted it verbatim into its proposed legislation, which would authorize licensed dispensaries to sell edible cannabis products that include child-resistant packaging and proper labeling.
The bill has been granted preliminary approval by the Hawaii State Senate, although final approval has been deferred by the state legislature.
As the cannabis industry in Hawaii continues to expand and the laws change, Tuttle says the concepts he learned from Clark’s certificate program will help him navigate the policy waters. Having his instructors available for guidance is also extremely important. “It’s great that I can go back to my Clark professors and ask them how they would handle a specific situation,” he says.
One faculty member who has been of particular assistance is Edward Denmark, chief of police in Harvard, Mass. Police departments in Hawaii have opposed the legalization of cannabis, so getting advice from a law enforcement officer with authority and credibility is beneficial, Tuttle explains. Rather than having to debate an armed officer, he can instead provide information, statistics, and facts.
Only medical cannabis is legal in Hawaii; the industry is regulated by the state’s Department of Health, whose views on the industry are less than positive. The Clark certificate program taught Tuttle about the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission, how it came about, and the measures it has enacted for the recreational use of cannabis. He believes Hawaii would benefit from a similar centralized regulatory group as its relationship with the industry continues to evolve.
Hawaii has granted licenses to only eight dispensaries for the entire state. All are “vertically integrated,” which means they manage everything, from seed to sale. “The department of health decided it would be easier to keep track of eight armored trucks in business as opposed to thousands of Honda Civics,” Tuttle says.
Tuttle knows that one of the last things the industry thinks about is packaging, so his company provides this service for all eight locations. Tuttle worked with the Hawaii health department to research cannabis packaging and certification regulations and to ensure compliance with the state’s strict requirements.
“Everyone wants to be the chef or the gardener,” Tuttle notes. “I have separated myself from the actual plant-touching, which seems to be a more risk-tolerant environment for me and my family.” The packaging side is a more workable business model because it requires substantially less upfront capital and can be cash-flow positive from day one.
Also, since he only deals with plastic, air, and glass, and not the plants, he can have a bank account — most banks will not associate with cannabis businesses because of the cash nature of the industry.
Tuttle was so impressed by the certificate program and Clark’s educational model that he plans to enroll in this fall’s Master of Public Administration Senior Leadership program. The flexibility of the program’s online format, coupled with residency sessions, was a strong draw; he will have to fly to Worcester once a month, but he says it will be worth it.