Sonoma County Craft Cannabis Farm Hires French Laundry Alum to Run Cultivation

Sonoma County Craft Cannabis Farm Hires French Laundry Alum to Run Cultivation

Original Post: High Times: Sonoma County Craft Cannabis Farm Hires French Laundry Alum to Run Cultivation

[Canniseur: WOW! If you’ve ever eaten at or heard of the French Laundry, you’ll know that their dedication to quality … in everything … is supreme. The vegetables from the French Laundry garden are always stellar. If Mr. Keefer can cultivate cannabis with the same attention to quality as he did for the French Laundry, we’ll have a phenomenal grower in California.]

He is known for his succulent micro greens, but after 10 years at French Laundry, the restaurant’s head culinary gardener is moving on to — if not greener, then certainly danker — pastures. Aaron Keefer has been named Sonoma County craft cannabis endeavor Sonoma Hill Farms’ vice president of cannabis cultivation and operations.

You may remember Sonoma Hill Farms as the first cannabis cultivators to receive a business permit to grow weed in Sonoma County. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the company has the inside rail on getting its cultivation approval from the government. The company’s plan is to provide the kind of elite, locavore gourmet experience found in Sonoma’s most emblematic culinary and wine businesses.

As such, Keefer would appear to be just the person for the job. He comes from a farm-owning family and graduated from culinary school at 17. Keefer would go on to manage the gardening operations for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. The company has businesses in Las Vegas, Miami, and New York, in addition to the company’s five eatery mini-empire in Yountville (which includes French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, La Calenda, and Ad Hoc + Addendum.)

From Veg to Herb

Keefer spent much of his time at the company in the Yountville dirt. He came to raise some very pretty veggies — and even on occasion, some very tasty escargot — which became a key draw at French Laundry’s three Michelin star winning, farm-focused fine dining experience and the rest of the Keller holdings.

Now, he’ll be applying that green thumb and savvy for glamorously sustainable sustenance at Sonoma Hill, which announced in October that it had received a conditional use permit for a 28,560 foot outdoor marijuana garden and 15,000 feet of indoor grow facilities, and is now gearing up for its first harvest.

“Much like growing grapes for the finest wines, we plan to take an artisanal approach to cultivation through the cannabis we have been permitted to grow in this incredible terroir,” said a partner in Sonoma Hills Farms’ parent company Petaluma Hill Farms, Sam Magruder, in a press statement announcing the facility’s successful permitting.

A memo announcing Keefer’s hiring notes that the chef grew his first cannabis plants at age 15.

“Craft cannabis cultivation has long been on my radar as a dream job,” Keefer said in a press statement. “And with the plant becoming mainstream and more accepted, I know the time is right.”

“Done right, cannabis cultivation is a true connoisseurship not seen in many businesses other than wine, whisky, mescal, and cigars,” continued Keefer.

The project’s organizers may well be hoping that Sonoma County foodie and wino tourists are ready to include a finely grown toke on their next trip to the area. Part of Keefer’s workload will include giving visitors a chance to learn more about cannabis as a plant.

To that end, the French Laundry alum will be creating an on-site culinary garden “to showcase how cannabis is synergistic with traditional farming and can be integrated into a farm-to-table lifestyle,” as the press statement put it.

Sonoma County Craft Cannabis Farm Hires French Laundry Alum to Run Cultivation was posted on High Times.

Governor Of Illinois Grants Over 11,000 Pardons For Low-Level Cannabis Convictions

Governor Of Illinois Grants Over 11,000 Pardons For Low-Level Cannabis Convictions

Original Post: High Times: Governor Of Illinois Grants Over 11,000 Pardons For Low-Level Cannabis Convictions

[Canniseur: I love Illinois taking the lead on social justice and cannabis legalization and wish other States will follow their lead. It’s vital that our ‘elite’ reach out and give prioritization to cannabis entrepreneurs who come from areas with higher-than-average marijuana arrests.]

Officials believe that at least 116,000 convictions are eligible for pardons under the new law.

On the eve of cannabis legalization in Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker spoke at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s Far South Side. On New Year’s Eve, he took the opportunity to announce a kick-start to the lengthy drug war expungement process which awaits the state. Over 11,000 pardons for non-violent cannabis convictions, Pritzker said, were being sent to the attorney general’s office for expungement.

“We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” said Pritzker. “We are restoring rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

But it’s only the beginning of what needs to be done in Illinois to expunge convictions for cannabis-related crimes that are no longer crimes. State officials have estimated that some 116,000 cannabis-related convictions that involved less than 30 grams of marijuana are eligible for automatic pardons. An additional 34,000 estimated cases involving more than 30 grams may be eligible for clearing by filing a court petition.

The state has also committed to expunging all arrests of underage people related to marijuana charges that did not result in a conviction and did not involve an act of violence. A full 572,000 Illinois arrests are estimated to meet that description.

State Sees Continuing Expungement Efforts

Pritzker’s announcement was not the first movement that has been taken on the expungement front in Illinois. In December, Cook County state attorney Kim Foxx filed a motion to expunge over 1,000 cases.

Illinois means to take the lead when it comes to social justice and cannabis legalization. The bill that made the state the 11th to legalize recreational marijuana included an emphasis on building equity practices within the new industry. These include the prioritization of cannabis entrepreneurs who come from areas that saw higher-than-average marijuana arrests, or those who have been subject to cannabis-related policing themselves. Such programs have seen varying amounts of success where implemented in other parts of the country.

Illinois, led by Pritzker, also looks to apply its emphasis on retroactive justice to the expungement of past cannabis-related convictions, which can make it hard for individuals to apply for employment and housing.

Many states have opted for systems that involve action by individuals with such marks on their record, often a time-intensive, costly process for the people involved. Instead, Illinois has implemented a system in which the state police search records for eligible arrests and convictions, then send them to Illinois’ prisoner review board. The board refers approved cases to the governor, and the attorney general files a petition to update the record.

Cook County officials have been working with the tech nonprofit Code For America to expedite the process by using the group’s program. CFA’s technology assist has previously been utilized in California cities.

For all its emphasis on retroactive drug war justice, however, the state has run into other challenges. The Chicago Housing Authority made it clear that legalization on the state level does not change the fact that it is illegal for residents in the 20,000 households in its system to consume marijuana while living in federally subsidized public housing.

Governor Of Illinois Grants Over 11,000 Pardons For Low-Level Cannabis Convictions was posted on High Times.

San Francisco’s First Black-Owned Dispensary To Open This Month

San Francisco’s First Black-Owned Dispensary To Open This Month

Original Post: High Times: San Francisco’s First Black-Owned Dispensary To Open This Month

[Canniseur: Given all the talk about creating chances for equality in the cannabis market, it’s kind of surprising it took this long to get a black-owned dispensary in San Francisco. In an ironic twist, it’s opening in The Haight, as in Haight Ashbury, ground-zero for the hippies in the 1960s and 1970s.]

Growing up, San Francisco’s first Black dispensary owner Shawn Richard sold marijuana on the streets of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. He was far from the first person to do so. The Haight gave birth to the 1960s hippie movement and cannabis has long been a cornerstone of the area’s culture.

But now, on December 21, Richard will open the doors of Berner on Haight, the neighborhood’s very first legal marijuana dispensary.

Speaking of pioneer moves, Richard is also the city’s first business owner to emerge from its cannabis equity program. His success is an encouraging sign that San Francisco is taking some action to reverse the long-running injustices of the Drug War, and in so doing, support a Black community that has dwindled dramatically over the last decade.

“This is going to be a store like no other store,” Richard told High Times in a phone interview. “It’s going to be real up to date, real modern, but it gives you that Haight Street feeling when you walk in.”

Richard is partnering with San Francisco-born rapper Cookies a.k.a. Gilbert Milam, already a cannabis industry pro who opened his fifth eponymous marijuana store earlier this month in Oakland. But the two hit a snag when they went to name their Haight Street location. San Francisco regulations prohibit dispensaries from marketing themselves with kid-friendly language, and apparently “Cookies” didn’t cut it as an appropriate cannabis store name in the eyes of the authorities. The two opted to dub the project Berner’s, after Cookies’ alias.

That’s not to say that city bureaucracy hasn’t assisted the project in other ways. Richard is the first graduate of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis’ equity program, which prioritizes and gives financial support to businesses led by entrepreneurs who have been previously impacted by the War on Drugs; low income would-be business owners; longtime city residents; and those who live in low income neighborhoods.

The city also requires all prospective cannabis business owners to demonstrate how they will support equity partners to take part in the industry. But the equity program remains largely undefined, notwithstanding a series of six-week educational workshops that have been offered for potential entrepreneurs.

With his history of activism in the community, Richard was a natural choice for the program’s first equity partner. He started a 501(c)3 named Brothers Against Violence over 25 years ago.

He also spent three years at Folsom State Prison for selling cocaine. He first started dealing at 13, and found it hard to leave the illegal industry. He returned to selling drugs after his incarceration, and really only got out of the game in 1995 when his little brother died as a result of gun violence.

Since founding Brothers Against Violence, Richard has been working to keep his community members safe. But when the opportunity arose to open a cannabis dispensary with assistance from the city government, Richard knew he had to take it.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m not getting any younger,’” he remembers. “I need to start chapters in my life. Now, not only can I put together a retirement plan for myself, I can put together money for my family, and this could rekindle multi-generational wealth.”

And the chance to become the Haight’s first legal dispensary owner, after all the world famous neighborhood’s decades of smoke-filled street corners, seemed too good to be true.

“When the opportunity came and I heard that everybody was trying to get up on Haight — me and my dude, we just work smarter,” says Richard. “Just put it into play.”

Richard’s family has lived in the nearby Fillmore neighborhood for generations — his grandfather ran a Mexican restaurant on Haight Street back in the day. The entrepreneur moved to the Bayview neighborhood after his mother passed away.

Richard is far from the only Black San Franciscan who has moved out of the central neighborhoods. In a city where the average house now sells for $1.4 million, communities of color have been largely displaced. In 1970, 13 percent of San Franciscans identified as Black. Today, that number stands at only five percent.

City Has History Of Targeting Black Individuals

In 2018, a report was published that found that San Francisco’s law enforcement was targeting its Black residents in the policing of drug-related offenses. The investigation was released two years after the city’s police chief was forced to resign after a string of fatal shootings by law enforcement of San Franciscans of color.

Given this backdrop, the city’s previously slow-moving cannabis social equity program seems crucial. A handful of equity partners have been approved, though Richard’s Cole Ashbury Group was the first, and will be the first to open their business.

Local politicians hailed Berner’s on Haight as an overdue sign of social justice.

“Cannabis legalization isn’t coming to the Haight-Ashbury; no, the laws are finally coming to the Haight-Ashbury’s way of thinking, of valuing healing, freedom of expression, and social equity,” said member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Vallie Brown. “It’s exciting and fitting that San Francisco’s first social equity cannabis store will be right here in the Haight, and that it will be led by a man like Shawn Richard who has spent decades in selfless service to our community.”

Richard says SF’s cannabis equity program has a long way to go. In his experience, the Office of Cannabis is understaffed and greater financial assistance would be helpful for those hoping to open their own marijuana brand.

But hopefully, entrepreneurs like himself will soon play their own role in supporting their peers in the cannabis business. “That’s my goal,” says Richard. “To generate enough income to be able to put it in play for them, for other equity partners who are coming after me.”

San Francisco’s First Black-Owned Dispensary To Open This Month was posted on High Times.

Joe Biden Thinks That Marijuana Could Be A ‘Gateway Drug’

Joe Biden Thinks That Marijuana Could Be A ‘Gateway Drug’

Original Post: High Times: Joe Biden Thinks That Marijuana Could Be A ‘Gateway Drug’

[Canniseur: What is Joe Biden thinking? The excuse of “We need more research…” while true for certain things around cannabis is absolutely not true when it comes to believing that cannabis is a gateway drug. Come on Joe, get your act together. If you win the nomination, I’ll vote for you, but in the meantime, I’ll do everything I can do to keep you from getting that nomination.]

Former Vice President Joe Biden has not been swayed by the fact every other Democratic presidential candidate front-runner has declared their support for federal marijuana legalization. On Saturday at a Las Vegas town hall, the politician said that he still didn’t feel he had “nearly enough evidence” to figure out whether marijuana was a “gateway drug” that leads to the consumption of harder illicit substances.

That’s actually a softening of his stance from earlier eras. Biden is known by many as one of history’s primary architects of the United States’ War on Drugs. Over a 40-year Senate career, he promoted draconian criminal justice policies that targeted nonviolent drug users and contributed to the U.S. having the world’s largest prison population.

In July, the candidate published his criminal justice platform, which many saw as an attempt at atonement for a past spent raising incarceration levels. It included plans to abolish the death penalty, private prisons, cash bail, and certain kinds of juvenile incarceration.

But he’s still not willing to let go of some of his Reefer Madness-like views of cannabis.

Taking a Cautious Stance

“It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally,” Biden told the Nevada crowd. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

Biden has stated that he is in favor of marijuana decriminalization and that he would re-schedule cannabis,but would put it in the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine—Schedule II—which includes strictly-regulated pharmaceuticals and requires a years-long FDA clinical trial process. Cannabis industry representatives say such a plan could be the end of the weed business as we know it in the United States, and that it would prioritize large-scale drug companies. He is also in support of automatic expungement for past cannabis possession-related offenses.

Though the former vice president believes that U.S. residents should have access to medical cannabis, when it comes to recreational use, he is less than convinced.

“It is not irrational to do more scientific investigation to determine, which we have not done significantly enough, whether or not there are any things that relate to whether it’s a gateway drug or not,” the candidate said.

Biden finds himself in the minority in his reluctance to support cannabis legalization. Fellow Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have all voiced full-throated support of regulation.

Being pro-legalization, in fact, seems to be the will of the people of the United States as well. The latest data from Pew Research Center found that a shocking 91 percent of U.S. residents support legalizing either medicinal or recreational cannabis, while 59 percent of respondents want recreational marijuana legalized. Perhaps the most crucial variable when it comes to people’s views on the issue boil down to age: 48 percent of people 65 years or older support recreational legalization, compared to 69 percent of those 18 to 29.

Joe Biden Thinks That Marijuana Could Be A ‘Gateway Drug’ was posted on High Times.

Portland City Council Approves Over $630k In Cannabis Equity Grants

Portland City Council Approves Over $630k In Cannabis Equity Grants

Original Post: High Times: Portland City Council Approves Over $630k In Cannabis Equity Grants

[Canniseur: This is what we love to see! Cannabis equity. The emerging cannabis market is a perfect opportunity to make right the multitude of wrongs that our government has perpetrated on people of color. This is a great but small step to right the wrongs of the past. Our society needs lots more of these steps.]

Portland, Oregon took a big step towards properly funding its social equity in cannabis program on Wednesday. Its city council earmarked $631,000 in grants to go to the grant program that has been established to ensure that people who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs have a place in the marijuana industry.

The decision comes in the midst of a growing cannabis tax revenue windfall for Oregon. During the 2019 fiscal year, the state’s Department of Revenue took in over $102 million. That money comes from a 17 percent tax on marijuana sales, with cities and counties permitted to add an extra three percent should they see fit. It’s expected to amount to $284.2 million during 2021-2023.

Typically, 40 percent of that money goes to schools, 25 percent to various mental health and addiction services, and 35 percent to different law enforcement agencies. But a report by the Portland city auditor found that in the state’s largest city, 79 percent of cannabis tax revenue was being channeled into transportation and law enforcement.

The People’s Voice Has Been Heard

The city council members’ vote on Wednesday was an attempt to redistribute funds according to Oregon voters’ wishes. In 2016, cannabis tax measure 26-180 was passed, declaring that a three percent tax on cannabis sales could go to supporting social equity measures within the marijuana industry. Voters approved the measure, which included support for women and persons of color-owned businesses, safety measures against unsafe drivers, and addiction services.

One of the qualifying factors for the entry of small businesses into the program is that people with a prior cannabis conviction comprise either at least 25 percent of ownership or 20 percent of staff hours.

The recently approved $631,000 will go to support retroactive justice for the negative effects of cannabis prohibition. Similar funding has been used to help level the cannabis industry playing field in a variety of ways.

“You already have hundreds of Portlanders who have been directly benefiting from this tax funding,” said Brandon Goldner, who is a supervisor of the city’s Cannabis Program. “Whether it’s people getting workforce development, help getting education in the construction field, or whether it’s people who are helping – getting help clearing their records and expunging their records.”

Given Portland’s history of racially biased cannabis-related policing, the programs seem particularly crucial.

“Many studies have shown that adults across races use cannabis at similar rates,” POC cannabis advocate Jeanette Ward Horton shared with the attendees of the council meeting on Wednesday. “However, we can see […] the disproportionate targeting first of African American communities. Second, native American communities.”

Horton’s organization the NuLeaf Project was established to support cannabis business owners of color, and runs a mentoring program, gives out grants, and runs a business accelerator program that aims to build technical skills in future entrepreneurs.

Portland City Council Approves Over $630k In Cannabis Equity Grants was posted on High Times.

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