[Canniseur: Racial and social inequities must be addressed as cannabis becomes more prevalent in our society. The war on drugs devastated many communities, and all based on racist trope. We, as united people, need to use our words, actions, and money to support societal change.]
We discuss some of the biggest challenges surrounding racial equity in the industry.
As the legal cannabis industry continues to evolve, activists and advocates around the country are working hard to ensure that the burgeoning industry is socially equitable.
It’s a struggle that unfolds along multiple intersecting lines, including race, gender, sexuality, class, and more. It’s also an important and increasingly urgent struggle.
As reported recently in Harvard Political Review, the “emerging cannabis market is abandoning the values of racial justice that in large part motivated those initial calls for legalization. White entrepreneurs are crowding out black and brown ones, with legislation in many parts of the country failing to provide for an inclusive, representative legal cannabis industry.”
According to that report, over 80 percent of legal marijuana companies are owned by white people. This trend both ignores and compounds the racially disparate harm caused by cannabis prohibition laws. Simply put, white folks are now making big money on weed, the exact same thing that landed–and continues to land—millions of black and brown people behind bars.
The Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA) is a New York City-based nonprofit organization working for racial equity in the cannabis industry. We recently caught up with Jake Plowden, Co-Founder and Deputy Director of CCA, to get some insight into the fight for racial equity in the marijuana industry.
High Times (HT): What are the primary mechanisms creating and driving inequity in the marijuana industry?
Jake Plowden (JP): The biggest mechanisms are access to capital, costly application fees, and the educational gap about the advancement of cannabis throughout the country. The selection process in states like California and Massachusetts, the vetting processes for equity applicants, still hasn’t been perfected.
HT: In your experience as an activist, what are the biggest barriers for people of color trying to enter the cannabis industry?
JP: Besides money, another large barrier is the cultural perceptions that come with being black in this space. The War on Dugs is still doing what it was created to do: spread misinformation, racial fear, and stigmatize perception into different communities. Black and brown communities were told for years that the “devil’s lettuce” would make us unproductive members of society.
The burden of being criminalized for cannabis is another barrier. The fact that Colorado banned the formerly incarcerated from entering the legal marijuana industry shows how legislators haven’t been going about this the right way.
I have black and brown people walking up to me during events and whispering “my family would be so ashamed if they knew I was here.” Meanwhile, the Martha Stewarts of marijuana can operate freely without judgment, whereas a black mother who is a cannabis patient has to live with the fear of losing her children due to Child Protective Services.
HT: Can you go into a bit more depth on some of these cultural and educational issues, and how these affect other aspects of racial inequity in the industry?
JP: One of the larger components where the industry is failing is that we are not understanding how the War on Drugs interacts with our lives. How communities of color have to pull ourselves out of that and reeducate ourselves while also trying to move into an industry that pretty much is telling us that if you don’t have enough money to operate the business you are not welcomed here.
So I think we need to have more critical conversations, discussions about how to better help and educate people about the industry. We need to be more realistic in saying that this is about human capital, not just paper capital. And then making sure that we can actually look at the long-term effects that all this has on people. There needs to be advocacy and education before companies think about their ROIs and everything else like that.
HT: What are some of the most urgent problems right now when it comes to racial equity in the industry?
JP: For us as an organization, we definitely have seen here in New York and elsewhere the conversation of equity has kind of become a back-burner topic. When Cuomo first brought it up, he was saying that legalization could be a potential way to really address racism and things like that.
But we definitely see now in places like Oakland and Massachusetts there is too much inconsistency with getting communities involved. And black and brown communities are being used as pawns or are only very lightly empowered in terms of positioning and how much they can actually gain.
Then there’s also a lack of capital. Not everyone has five million dollars to start a dispensary. And I think that’s one of the problems. So I think we are not really hitting the mark as we should be.
HT: Can you explain further what you mean when you say communities of color are being used as pawns?
JP: What you see is that too often there are rules set up that become tokens or just mouthpieces. And they aren’t really speaking truth to the communities they are trying to empower.
So it’s too often that companies are saying, “Oh, you know, our board is diverse because we have some females. The company is diverse.” But then that’s the full extent of it.
I think as you hire one or two black people, that does not speak to the entirety of you wanting to help a community, a black community or a Latinx community, because, you know, it just represents your company. It feels like you are patronizing people just because it makes a company look good but it does not make the whole industry equitable. Too often, I’ve seen people used as ad mouthpieces and only figure heads, instead of having the power to actually move things forward.
HT: What are some of the ways that legislation falls short when it comes to the goal of racial equity?
JP: As an organization, we definitely understand that there is no such thing as perfect legislation. But there are ways to make sure it’s comprehensive enough to benefit the community.
I think too often that politicians get a little overzealous and think, “oh, we know how this works, we enact laws, so this is pretty simple to us.” But too often the problem is that they are not going to get all the intersecting issues that come with the legalization of marijuana.
You are talking about housing, you are talking about prisoners, you are talking about healthcare. So all these different things are intersecting and politicians aren’t really active in making sure they they understand that if we do legalize, how is this going to affect housing? If we do legalize, how is this going to affect someone getting actual healthcare? If we do legalize, do we have resources and programs where people get out of jail for a drug offenses, and will they get actual priority in the industry? Legislation still is not looking at everything that is so super connected.
Courtesy of Jake Plowden
HT: What are some of the solutions or practices that seem most effective at this point?
JP: Well for us, it’s direct action. First, we are doing community-oriented events, constantly focusing on being able to frame our own stories and making cannabis a stronger point in those stories.
We are now developing a documentary about my business partner’s grandfather and other families that use cannabis as a medical tool, and the cultural aspects of how we heal ourselves. So for us it’s about trying to make the story surrounding cannabis as prevalent and realistic as possible by trying to make a lot of this easy to talk about.
De-stigmatizing the conversation starts at home. If you can talk about this with your mother, your father, your sister, whoever, you can talk about it with your neighbors, your community. You can talk about it with your local leaders and help convince them to say, “you know what, the laws that we’ve set in place, we got it wrong.”
We have to be able to take a step back and realize what we did wrong, so we can adjust for the different traumas before opening the gate to legaliztion.
So unless companies and politicians are really willing to take that step forward and really address the cultural trauma [of the War on Drugs] then I don’t know what to say, because we have to make sure that communities of color are there right from the start, to plant the seed and help people grow in the industry.
HT: In 2017, CCA was part of a lawsuit against the DEA and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Can you tell us about that?
JP: Our federal lawsuit to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act is still under review in the Second Circuit if I am not mistaken.
Basically, our case was technically thrown out. But we were given a review with three federal judges. And what happened was—and what’s amazing—was that we have three judges, two of them were there in person, openly stating that based upon the fact that our case had so much merit, and the fact that we did our own research on medical cannabis, our case has room to come back to court.
So hearing that was a moment of vindication to realize that our case was not dead and that it could be revitalized—and the fact that we have multiple judges on record talking about the medical benefit of cannabis.
For us, this lawsuit is a major way to strip the federal mandate away so that we can look at things like industry, housing, medical benefits, being able to travel without repercussion if you’re using medical cannabis. This lawsuit is the next step in how we actually approach legalization.
HT: So what’s the next step? Where do you want to see the industry go from here?
JP: We have to be realistic about how this industry has to be built on ethics and collective economics. Because I don’t want this to be an industry that’s built on just, you know, making money.
This could be something that addresses a lot of critical pains and errors throughout history. Legalization could be the start of that.
I feel that on the equity portion, we could be a lot more cohesive with our legislative process. Making sure that once we do post a bill it’s including things like reinvestment into the community, making sure that no one company gets all the licenses. So for me, I definitely see the industry evolving, or hopefully evolving, in a way that grows in an ethical direction in terms of how we operate business.
I definitely want to see bigger steps being taken from the cannabis industry to really be receptive and step up in spaces where they aren’t normally in and to be able to talk to people.
People of color are not just consumers. We are here to be conveyers of truth and to really ensure that these laws are written correctly. We want to make sure there are more bridges being built in the urban communities so that people understand and are no longer afraid of this anymore.
We all need to understand how the world really works. This is not just a chance to get high and party and make massive amounts of money. You are stepping into hallowed ground where you are addressing things like economic dysfunction, intergenerational trauma, and the fact that the War on Drugs continues to harm black and brown folks. Be wary of the way you are stepping into this and be prepared to do this work.
NYC Activists Working to Bring Racial Equity to Cannabis Industry was posted on High Times.
[Canniseur: While home delivery of cannabis for medical patients might sound like a good idea, there are a few big caveats. First, the regulations are a bit draconian. Second, have the regulators thought this all the way through? The rules around home delivery seem to be designed to keep the cannabis out of the illegal market and make sure it only gets delivered to medical patients in real need. GPS? Can a cell phone with location tracking work? The rules don’t specify what constitutes GPS tracking. The second caveat appears to be concern about movement of legal cannabis into the black market. Guess what? The cannabis that’s in the black market in Michigan is better and (probably) cheaper than what is getting delivered in the legal market. Perhaps robbery might be the problem in the regulators were thinking about. However, I don’t think robbery would be an issue. It’s cannabis and there’s lots to go around…and it’s pretty cheap.]
Medical marijuana patients in Michigan are about to see improved access. Thanks to new rules approved and put into place by the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency, medical marijuana providers can now legally deliver to patients. The change is the latest development in several key changes to Michigan’s medical marijuana program.
Home Delivery in Michigan
Last week, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the state’s first three home delivery licenses.
One license went to a dispensary called Lake Effect, which serves patients in Kalamazoo County. And the other two home delivery licenses went to BotaniQ and Utopia Gardens. Both are located in Detroit.
Under the new rules, these and any other dispensaries to receive licenses in the future will now be able to deliver orders directly to patients’ homes.
Not surprisingly, the new home delivery program will be heavily regulated by the state. Here’s home delivery will work:
- To complete home deliveries legally, dispensaries with a license must hire their own delivery drivers.
- Dispensaries licensed for home delivery must document and track all delivery inventory.
- All delivery vehicles must be tracked with a GPS system.
- Dispensaries will have to get a copy of the patient’s identification card and medical marijuana card before doing deliveries.
- The delivery address must match the patient’s address as listed on both their identification card and their medical marijuana card.
- Patients can order up to the daily maximum, which is 2.5 ounces of flower.
Above and beyond those rules, many dispensaries plan to implement their own additional guidelines. For example, local news source MLive reported that some shops plan to install dashcams in delivery vehicles.
Similarly, some dispensaries will take additional security measures. This could include giving delivery people body cameras.
“It’s the first time it’s ever been done in the state of Michigan legally,” Jevin Weyenberg, general manager of Lake Effect, told MLive. “We want to make sure everything is secure. We want to make sure we’re a hard target for any criminal that might try anything.”
The new rule is being hailed as an effective way to improve patient access. In one key provision, home deliveries will be available even in places that have not yet allowed any dispensaries to open.
As a result, patients who live in a city or town that has banned dispensaries, or that has not yet joined the state’s medical marijuana program, can get deliveries from elsewhere.
Of course, each dispensary will have different rules for how far they will deliver. At this point, Lake Effect plans to take phone orders. Additionally, the dispensary will deliver to patients throughout Kalamazoo County.
Meanwhile, Utopia Gardens will deliver to patients within a 20-mile radius of the shop. For now, this shop will take online or phone orders.
At this point, many in the state hope that home delivery will make it easier for a broader range of patients to access the medicine they need.
“We know a lot of the patients we’re going to be delivering to,” Weyenberg told MLive. “A lot of them are in wheelchairs. Convenient access to medicine—you can never put a price on that. It’s life-saving for some people.”
Michigan Issues First Medical Marijuana Home Delivery Licenses was posted on High Times.
[Canniseur: This is getting old. With a legal cannabis market, this wouldn’t be an issue. When it comes to cannabis use, Alabama is a pretty regressive state. Legislators and the police need to put their heads in the right place when it comes to legalizing.]
Synthetic marijuana is back in the headlines. And this time it’s hitting northern Alabama. Specifically, public health and law enforcement agencies are reporting a sharp uptick in overdoses related to synthetic marijuana. Now, officials are trying to warn the public of the dangers of smoking synthetic weed.
Synthetic Cannabis Use is Spiking in Northern Alabama
As reported by local news source Al.com, multiple public agencies are warning the public to watch out for and avoid synthetic cannabis.
The warnings come as health officials and law enforcement in Alabama have begun noticing an increase in the number of people experiencing medical problems after smoking the drug.
For now, exact numbers have not been made public. But according to local reports, there is a distinct uptick in the number of overdoses and hospitalizations linked to synthetic cannabis. Currently, the spike is being seen primarily in the northern part of Alabama.
Responding to the trend, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Clay Morris, and Northern District U.S. Attorney, Jay Town, issued a statement yesterday.
“We have begun to notice a disturbing trend through our crime intelligence networks of overdoses related to synthetic marijuana in our district,” Town said. “Today we are joining together with our law enforcement partners to warn the public that the use of any synthetic illicit narcotic, such as synthetic marijuana, fentanyl, and other opioids, could result in fatal overdose by the user.”
In particular, officials in Alabama are trying to avoid a crisis like the one the state experienced in 2015. That year, synthetic cannabis swept through the state.
In fact, in a roughly two month period that year, more than 900 people showed up in the emergency room after consuming synthetic weed. And out of those patients, 196 were hospitalized. Even worse, five of them died.
“Clearly the public has forgotten about that,” DEA Agent Morris told Al.com. “We can’t go back there.”
Now, to avoid a similar epidemic, authorities are trying to spread the word. In particular, they are trying to reach out to young people to educate them about the dangers of synthetic cannabis.
Synthetic Cannabis is Dangerous
Typically, synthetic cannabis goes by a number of names. Specifically, these include names like spice, K2, Black Mamba, Smoke, Genie, and others.
And to be clear, synthetic cannabis is not weed. Instead, it’s essentially a cocktail of synthetically-manufactured cannabinoids.
Usually, these chemicals are sprayed onto some sort of shredded plant material. And in many cases, other chemicals are added to the mix. This can even include things like pesticides and rat poison.
On the surface, synthetic cannabinoids have been designed to activate the same parts of the brain that real cannabis stimulates. But the chemicals in synthetic cannabis can often lead to a number of negative side effects.
Specifically, these harmful side effects can include severe agitation, hyperactive behavior, very lethargic behavior, extreme anxiety, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, muscle spasms, seizures or tremors, hallucinations, psychotic episodes, and more.
Additionally, severe side effects can lead to coma or death. Over the past few years, there have been periodic waves of overdoses from synthetic weed in different locations around the world.
Alabama Health Officials Report Spike in Synthetic Cannabis Overdoses was posted on High Times.
[Canniseur: The Federal government needs to butt out of the legal cannabis industry. The STATES Act needs to pass, and soon. But this isn’t really about pot, it’s about this anti-immigration administration’s horrific policies.]
Is the Trump administration using the legal weed industry to target immigrants?
After federal agents denied citizenship to two immigrants who worked in the legal marijuana industry, the mayor of Denver, Colorado is speaking out.
In a new letter addressed to mayors of pro-cannabis cities around the country, Mayor Michael B. Hancock called on local governments to protect immigrants from federal prosecution.
Mayor Hancock Speaks Out
Last week, Hancock sent a letter to mayors around the country who are part of the Government for Responsible U.S. Cannabis Policy Coalition. Specifically, he sent the letter to the mayors of:
- Oakland, CA
- West Hollywood, CA
- Portland, OR
- San Francisco, CA
- Thornton, CO
- Everett, WA
- Seattle, WA
In the letter, he spoke out against the recent decision by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to deny citizenship to two immigrants who worked in Colorado’s legal marijuana industry.
Hancock also called on mayors in the coalition to protect immigrants who work or have worked in the legal cannabis industry.
The letter comes in the wake of a controversial decision by USCIS. The agency, which oversees the naturalization process, recently denied citizenship to two legal immigrants who live in Denver.
In both instances, USCIS agents based their decision solely on the fact that the immigrants had at one point worked in the marijuana industry.
More specifically, the agency said that employment in the legal marijuana industry was a violation of federal law. And as a result, the agency claimed, both immigrants failed to prove “good moral character.”
Both immigrants now face heightened risk of future prosecution, including detention and possible deportation.
Earlier this month, Hancock wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. In it, the mayor asked for greater federal clarity and consistency in how it approaches state and local cannabis laws.
And in an April 19 response, federal agents doubled down on their position.
Specifically, USCIS said that immigrants working in the legal marijuana industry will not be considered people of “good moral character,” and are therefore likely to be denied citizenship.
Hancock Urges Mayors to Protect Immigrants
In light of USCIS’s statement, Mayor Hancock’s newest letter calls on mayors to protect immigrants who may be involved in the legal marijuana industry.
“We fundamentally disagree with today’s guidance from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” Hancock wrote.
“This is a matter [of] equity and social justice, and working in the legal cannabis industry does not mean someone is a bad person.”
He added: “Everyone should have a right to work in this burgeoning industry regardless of where they came from, what language they speak or the color of their skin.”
The Trump Administration’s “Second Wall”
Hancock and immigrant rights workers in Denver have voiced alarm over USCIS’s recent actions.
In particular, many are worried that federal agencies could begin using the legal marijuana industry to target immigrants.
In his most recent letter to other mayors, Hancock described USCIS’s actions as consistent with anti-immigrant moves coming from the Trump administration.
“At every turn, this administration is erecting barriers to legal paths to citizenship for our immigrant community,” he wrote.
Denver-based immigrant rights activist and Communications Director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Cristian Solano-Córdova agrees.
Specifically, he told High Times that USCIS’s recent actions are part of what some call “the second wall.”
According to Solano-Córdova, the second wall refers to a growing list of federal policies and decisions designed to make it harder for people to immigrate to the U.S.
“To us, this seems like a continuation of that second wall. They’re looking for any and all possible ways to limit legal immigration,” he told High Times.
“The wait times for naturalization have skyrocketed since the end of the Obama administration. Approvals for visas have gone down dramatically. And they’ve started a denaturalization campaign combing through millions of naturalized citizen applications that might be slightly off and using it as an excuse to take away citizenship and deport people.”
Now, Solano-Córdova and others fear that employment in the legal marijuana industry could become the newest brick in the Trump administration’s “second wall.”
“This isn’t an anti-cannabis move,” Solano-Cordóva told High Times. “It’s an anti-immigrant move.”
Denver Mayor Urges Cities to Protect Immigrants in Legal Weed Industry was posted on High Times.
[Canniseur: I would never think of Alabama as a state that would make voluntary reforms to their draconian cannabis laws. The birthplace of Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions is surprising us with this new reform bill. Keep going Alabama! Maybe Alabama could become the Humboldt County of the South and the South shall rise again. Or at least get high.]
When people think of weed-friendly states, Alabama is probably not one of the states that comes to mind. But now, a new bill could introduce some important changes to Alabama’s cannabis laws.
While the new bill will not legalize cannabis, it could go a long way toward reducing the penalties for those caught with weed. And many in the state see that as a positive step forward.
Alabama’s New Marijuana Bill
Yesterday, Alabama’s new marijuana bill cleared its first major hurdle. Specifically, it was approved by the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. In fact, the bill didn’t just pass, it passed by a unanimous 11-0 vote.
Now that it’s cleared that Committee, the bill is now in line to move on to the Senate.
If the bill eventually passes into law, it will introduce a number of potentially important changes to Alabama’s cannabis laws.
For starters, it will revise how the state defines marijuana-related offenses. These revisions dramatically alter current laws.
For example, under current laws a person caught with cannabis for purposes other than personal use, or a person with a previous cannabis conviction who gets caught with weed, can be charged with first-degree possession.
This is currently classified as a felony charge, carrying relatively severe penalties.
But under the new bill, first-degree possession will only apply to a person caught with two ounces of weed or more.
And a first conviction would only be a misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $250. From there, a second conviction would also be a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, and all convictions after that will become Class D felonies.
Similarly, the new bill will redefine second-degree possession. Currently, this category is for people caught with weed for personal use.
This charge is currently a Class A misdemeanor, which is the most serious level of misdemeanor.
But the new bill would change that. Second-degree possession would apply only to people caught with less than two ounces of pot. And it would be a minor violation, carrying a fine of up to $250.
Addressing Problems With Alabama’s Criminal System
On top of these changes, the new bill also calls for a potentially important change for folks who already have cannabis charges on their records.
Specifically, the new bill will make it possible for cannabis charges to be expunged. Under the terms of the new bill, people convicted of first- or second-degree possession could have those charges expunged if they don’t have any other arrests for five years.
For many of the lawmakers supporting the bill, these changes are about addressing the harm caused by current laws.
Speaking to local media source AL.com, Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier said that upper class people are rarely punished for so-called marijuana crimes.
“It’s the low-income people, people who are impoverished,” Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier said. “And they pay a different kind of penalty, and I think that’s unfair. So, to me it’s a matter of mercy.”
Along with class, race is another primary source of inequity in Alabama’s current marijuana laws. Just last year, a study found that Alabama cannabis laws disproportionately harm black cannabis consumers.
This bill isn’t the first time Alabama lawmakers have tried to revise the state’s cannabis laws. Last year, a similar bill aimed at reducing the penalties for weed was brought before the Legislature. That bill failed to materialize.
Alabama Senate Committee Unanimously Approves Major Marijuana Law Reform Bill was posted on High Times.