Dennis Peron and his legacy of legalizing cannabis in California

In light of Remembrance Day earlier this month, we want to tell the story of Dennis Peron, a Vietnam War veteran and a cannabis activist who helped legalize cannabis in California.  The early years of activism  Beginning in the 1970s, Dennis spent more than 40 years campaigning for the legalization of cannabis. His career began […]

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Explaining Cannabis to Kids as a Parent and Smoker

Let’s just get it out of the way, times they are a’changing and parenting is like trying to build IKEA furniture without the instructions. How do you have one of the hardest conversations with your kids ever – without lying or being a hypocrite?

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Power to the People: Kern County Measure D Will Give Voters Control of Medical Cannabis

Last week, I presented oral argument to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in support of the people’s right of referendum. Long story short, the Kern County Board of Supervisors banned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011, the people protested via referendum petition, and to this day the County has refused to comply with the legal mandate to submit the ban to voters before giving it effect. The County contends that they may reenact a protested ordinance after the passage of time; however, neither the California Constitution nor the Elections Code allow for such limitation on the people’s right to referendum.

The Court of Appeal granted our motion for calendar preference in light of the upcoming March election, at which the people and the Board of Supervisors have submitted competing ballot measures on medical marijuana for consideration by the voters.

Measure D is a people’s initiative measure, meaning it originated with the people, and will be submitted to a vote of the people. If and when the people adopt this measure (it would need to get more votes than Measure E), the Kern County Board of Supervisors will not have the ability to amend or repeal it. In other words, the Kern County electorate would gain control over the issue.

Enter Measure E. The County Board has demonstrated over the past decade that it is unwilling to relinquish control over the issue of medical marijuana, and has persistently interferes with the will of the voters. Upon the qualification of Measure D for the ballot, the County Board cooked up Measure E, which would give the Board full control over the issue. If the voters approve Measure E, the Board could amend or repeal it at any time in the future.

The Board’s agenda, as shown through its actions over the past decade, is to continue to ban medical cannabis in Kern County. The Board’s proposal of Measure E is yet another maneuver to silence the voices of the electorate and maintain control over the issue.

The initiative and referendum are powerful direct democratic tools reserved to Californians to use when their institutions are unresponsive. Measure D is the people’s way of taking control on this issue and giving power their voices. We believe the voters in Kern County are smart enough to see through the County’s intentions with Measure E, and expect it to be rejected in March.

A Guide to Legalizing Weed in New York

According to a 2018 NBC News story, more than 77 tons of weed is consumed in New York City per year, making New York City and the Greater New York area among the biggest cannabis markets in the world — this is despite not having legal retail outlets. 

While New Yorkers seem to largely support adult-use legalization and the state government wants in on the potential profits, the effort to legalize stalled out in June 2019 over disagreements on how revenue would be allocated and is currently fixed on social equity. Since, citizens, advocates, lobbyists, and legislators have been trying earnestly to come to an agreement. 

Currently, only 55 thousand New York patients who qualify for the existing medical program can use cannabis, and the qualifications are very restrictive. Many thought New York would see legalization by June 2019, but the ground dropped out when the democratic majority legislature did not pass either of the two legalization bills on the table. Some speculated that a last minute push from law enforcement lobbies and concerned parents were to blame, while others mark the lack of actionable social equity blueprints as why it didn’t get enough support. Either way, millions of dollars worth of sales happen just outside New York’s legal doors. 

Weed in New York, a brief history in under 200 words 

In 1934, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned the first in-depth study into the effects of smoking cannabis in the United States. Released in 1944 and called The LaGuardia Report, the study found that cannabis use was not dangerous as prohibitionists claimed it was.  

Despite this, the legacy of cannabis in New York is one of severe injustice — in 2018, nearly 90% of arrestees were Black or Latinx despite total cannabis arrests decreasing by 42% from the previous year. 

In New York, cannabis was legalized for medical use in 2014 and possessing less than 25 grams of flower was decriminalized to a $100 fine in 1977, the rest of the state expanded decriminalization in 2019. But as far as adult use without medical permission goes, weed is still illegal. Regardless of the law’s directive to fine citizens rather than arrest them, law enforcement hasn’t completely stopped detaining people for cannabis possession, smoking, or sale, even when many District Attorneys stop pursuing cases.

We asked some voters what they think

Although the efforts to legalize adult use cannabis is happening at the legislative level, the wants and opinions of New York voters matters. We asked some NYC voters their thoughts on legalization. 

  • Marcy Ayres, senior photo editor at The Culture Trip thinks: “[What’s wrong with cannabis legalization in New York is] it still is not fully legalized. Decriminalization is a great start but we need to also remedy all of the incarcerated people from low level drug offenses, and then legalize recreational use and have the tax revenue from this go to help infrastructure within cities and towns all over New York state … As much as I want legalization, I want it to be fair and just. Look at the lives that have been forever changed by broken policing — release those who have been imprisoned for the same thing we are fighting for.” 
  • Denzel Thompson, artist says: I want to see less people of color being locked up. I want to be able to grow my own plants. Make licenses easy for people of color to obtain and help neighborhoods in the city that need it the most. Allocate tax money to those negatively impacted on the war on drugs!

Current state of play

Advocates march at the annual NYC Cannabis Parade in New York, NY – May 6, 2017

The hope of the state’s policy makers and advocates is that a bill will pass this spring to not only finally fully legalize but also address the harm done to the more than 800 thousand people who, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, dealt with the criminal justice system for possessing, selling, or consuming cannabis in the last 20 years.

This hope rests in one of two bills: the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), and Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), both of which aim to achieve key measures:

  • Create a regulated cannabis market in the state 
  • Change the criminal code regarding cannabis use, possession, or sale
  • Resentence and reclassify incarcerated people with cannabis charges

While they share similarities, the differences are complicated. New York politics tend to be painfully slow moving and details are revised during negotiations between policy makers. The simplest way to view the differences: the CRTA is Governor Cuomo’s proposal that is viewed as tightly regulated and the MRTA comes from state senators Liz Krueger and Andrea Stewart-Cousins and believed to have more direct language about the distribution of cannabis tax revenue to social equity programs. Amendments are expected to be made over the coming weeks and months.    

Who are the major players? 

Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York. Photo: Shutterstock. Illustration: David Lozada/Weedmaps

How to take action 

What can you, the New York voter, do to help the cause? Here are some easy ways to help legalization: 

  • Get in contact with state officials. Phone calls and emails to legislators are crucial — staffers tally opinions for review all the time, and by using direct communication, you can speak your mind. Find your assembly member here and find your senator here
  • Join lobby days and legislative link ups. To get more hands on, attend organized by groups like Women Of Color in Cannabis, Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana, and Women Grow — many bring signs or come with statements ready, like a town hall-meets-protest. 
    • Feb. 12: SMART NY is organizing a lobby day in Albany with free transportation from NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse
  • Try using social media. Whether you’re flexing your opinion or sharing your story, a tipping point can only occur when indifference and opposition is converted to support. Tell everyone you follow know that you back the bud. Let your voice be heard from everyone from the ancient acquaintances to new colleagues.

Take it from some activists

Humble Bloom co founders Solonje Burnett and Danniel Swatosh, are two legalization luminaries who are setting cannabis intentions in New York with regular educational and community building events and programming. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Solonje Burnett. Photo: Michael Yeshion. Illustration: David Lozada/Weedmaps

WM News: Why did you become an activist for cannabis legalization? 

Solonje Burnett: “I’ve always been a humanist, generally concerned about the welfare of all people and working toward equal treatment, respect and justice for each individual no matter what economic, gender, racial, ethnic, religious or immigration circumstance you were born into. Cannabis is a part of that activism for [the] human equity equation. As a black woman who is privileged enough to never have been entangled in our so-called criminal justice system, I believe it is my duty to advocate for those who look like me, as well as the voiceless, and disenfranchised.”

WM News: What would a typical day for an activist look like? 

Danniel Swatosh. Photo: Michael Yeshion. Illustration: David Lozada/Weedmaps

Danniel Swatosh: “Every day is different. My activism isn’t centered around cannabis, it’s centered around humanity. At Humble Bloom we use cannabis as a conduit for larger conversations around the environment, racism, sexuality, stigma, systematic oppression, conscious consumerism, vulnerability and so on. So whether I’m marching for human rights and a vital planet — or simply informing myself, spreading the word, holding events and sparking difficult conversations — I’m always thinking of ways to push this world into regenerative, fair and equitable direction. Currently, it’s comparing and contrasting Cuomo’s CRTA bill and the Kreuger and Peoples-Stokes MRTA bill, then disseminating that information to my community and beyond  through strategic partnerships and calls to action. Also, I’m a mother so teaching my children how to be happier, healthier and more human is of the utmost importance.”

WM News: Any advice for New Yorkers?

Burnett: “Get educated, involved, and active. From medicinal to recreational, CBD to THC, luxury and beauty, to everyday necessity, the time is now to make a change in how the legal cannabis landscape will affect you, your loved ones, and the New York economic ecosystem.”

Swatosh: “I want New Yorkers to use the momentum of the cannabis movement to educate and empower themselves. There’s always going to be a new leader and new order. It’s time for people to use their voice, to show up in Albany, to write letters and to make those phone calls. We are all connected and part of a sensitive ecosystem that is not sustainable unless everyone is included. Privilege will not protect forever.”


This guide is a collaboration between Weedmaps News and WM Policy, the advocacy and government relations arm of Weedmaps. WM Policy staff, armed with decades of legislative, regulatory and public policy experience, works with lawmakers, advocates, industry groups and others to forge safe, fair and accessible cannabis policy across the country and around the world.  Weedmaps News is an editorial product that provides the most useful information and tips to navigate the cannabis commerce landscape. 

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Social Media Bans on CBD Ads Make No Sense

Last month, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen delivered a now widely shared keynote speech at an Anti Defamation League event in New York, in which he spared no harsh words for social media companies who he claims provide a platform for hate speech and the proliferation of fake news. In his speech, Cohen offered sharp criticisms for social media executives’ weak justifications for allowing this to occur, and offered suggestions on how to clean up the mess he claims they created. Cohen’s criticisms aren’t new: Facebook reportedly announced that it would not fact check political ads, and Twitter has reportedly not banned certain forms of hate speech because such bans would allegedly end up blocking some political accounts.

Given all of the misconduct that social media companies allegedly let fly under the radar (mostly on the excuse that doing anything about it would infringe free speech), it may shock many readers to learn where many social media companies actually draw a line in the sand: hemp-derived CBD advertisements.

For some reason, if you are a politician who wants to run attack ads on a competitor using completely fake information, you will probably be able to find some platform that allows you to do it, if you pay enough. But if you are a small business that sells a hemp CBD bath bomb, you run the risk of having your entire social media account deleted without any repercussion or remedy. This makes no sense.

Over the past few months, there have been many reports detailing how social media companies have banned user accounts for advertising CBD products (see here, for example). Many social media companies, like Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), do not even have a public term and condition or policy that states that CBD advertisements are prohibited anywhere on their website. Apparently, Facebook’s bans have been justified by language on its website that says: “Ads must not promote the sale or use of unsafe supplements, as determined by Facebook in its sole discretion.” But right below that language, the policy lists a series of examples, and does not include CBD, which Facebook could easily include to promote transparency.  Nevertheless, according to many articles published this year, many small businesses have lost their accounts for advertising CBD products.

Despite that Facebook doesn’t publish any terms or conditions relative to CBD, according to the Verge, Facebook’s ban is really meant to target ingestible products. According to Digiday, Facebook apparently won’t ban advertisements regarding topical hemp products. When the Digiday post came out, I attempted to verify whether Facebook had published any information that would give CBD advertisers guidance on what they can and cannot publish, but from what I can tell, the Facebook terms have not changed. All that we have are a few statements from various third-party journalists who are not affiliated with Facebook or other social media companies, and whose statements are not binding on the social media companies. Nothing is stopping Facebook from continuing to ban people who advertise any kind of CBD products.

For any small business that sells CBD products, reliance on these posts can be dangerous. Any small business owner knows that getting social media followers takes time, and often, lots of money. With the potential to have an account shut down, and to lose all the good will associated with that account, social media advertising can be a serious gamble for many businesses. There is no clear appeal right for these denials and the idea of taking a social media giant to court (or forced arbitration) is just unfathomable for almost any small business.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. Twitter, for example, has express (though overly restrictive) rules regarding CBD advertising in the United States, which I’ve copied below:

       We permit approved CBD topical advertisers to target the United States, subject to the following restrictions:

  • Advertisers must be licensed by the appropriate authorities and pre-authorized by Twitter
  • Advertisers may only promote non-ingestible, legally derived CBD topical products
  • Advertisers may only target jurisdictions in which they are licensed to promote these products or services online
  • Advertisers may not target Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia
  • Advertisers are responsible for complying with all laws and regulations
  • Advertisers may not target users under the age of 21
  • Contact Twitter if you are interested in this option.

 

There is no clear appeal right for these denials and the idea of taking a social media giant to court (or forced arbitration) is just unfathomable for almost any small business.These are extremely restrictive and paternalistic regulations. Ironically, Twitter’s advertising policy places more restrictions on CBD advertisers than many states do on CBD companies. These terms are so broad that it is likely that many companies currently advertising CBD on Twitter are not in compliance with them, and are therefore risking their accounts.

All of this is compounded by the fact that many CBD companies may not use their own accounts for CBD advertisements and instead use brand ambassadors or influencers to advertise for them. Earlier this year, I wrote about many of the dangers that can come with using social media influencers to advertise cannabis products, but a lot of those risks are the same for hemp-derived CBD advertisements. There are strict Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) guidelines covering what endorsers can and can’t say and requiring them to disclose the fact that they are paid for their endorsements in the advertisements, which raise three distinct problems for CBD companies.

First, brand ambassadors or influencers can’t do things that an actual CBD company can’t do. The FTC has played a fairly active role in sending warning letters with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to companies that the two agencies believe are engaged in unlawful advertising online. As the FTC recently told Vice, companies can be held accountable for any unsubstantiated claims made by influencers on the companies’ behalf (and obviously, so can the influencers). But when it comes to social media companies, it is irrelevant who is making a prohibited advertisement. Whoever violates a social media company’s policies (apparently even the undisclosed ones) risks being banned.

Second, if an influencer is banned after making claims paid for by a CBD company, this will likely lead to disputes. Like small businesses, influencers work very hard to build followers. If they lose accounts based on ads requested by companies, that is like losing business. They may sue the CBD companies for some kind of compensation. It is critical for CBD companies who are willing to risk advertising on social media to have actual contracts with their advertisers.

Finally, CBD companies cannot use influencers to hide the fact that they are advertising. I have heard many times that some social media companies won’t take action against people for just discussing CBD products (though I have never been able to verify that claim since social media companies generally do not publish anything in their terms and conditions on CBD). If that claim is true, it may seem advantageous to just pay an influencer to say things about a company’s CBD products that the company would be prohibited from advertising itself. This is flatly prohibited under FTC rules. Any paid relationship must be prominently disclosed. In fact, earlier this year, the FTC released guidelines for social media influencers to help them make the proper disclosures. This follows on the heels of earlier FTC guidance that is highly particularized, for example:

“When people view Instagram streams on most smartphones, longer descriptions (currently more than two lines) are truncated, with only the beginning lines displayed. To see the rest, you have to click ‘more.’ If an Instagram post makes an endorsement through the picture or the beginning lines of the description, any required disclosure should be presented without having to click ‘more.’”

The point is, there is no hiding the ball when it comes to influencer advertising. Companies have to be honest, and this can lead to trouble for them if they don’t follow the rules.

One area where there are actually clear rules is cannabis. Facebook and Instagram, for example, ban cannabis advertisements. These bans actually make sense given that federal law still prohibits cannabis, and because the bans are actually published on viewable terms and conditions for people to comply with.

Social media companies have largely remained outside the scope of federal regulations to date, though that may change in the future. From their standpoint, it makes sense to ban a product that is still classified as a Schedule I narcotic. But hemp-derived CBD is not a Schedule I narcotic. The only real federal policy on point is the policy of the FDA, which only claims that a few classes of CBD goods are prohibited.

Notwithstanding that the FDA has publicly acknowledged that there may be a regulatory pathway to marketing certain products containing Hemp CBD, such as cosmetics, some social media companies have apparently taken it upon themselves to step into the shoes of regulators and ban all kinds of hemp-derived CBD products. Though that has allegedly changed recently, as noted above, many social media companies have yet to publish formal guidance here, though they certainly can. One thing is clear, unfortunately: those whose accounts were banned may never get them back, even if social media companies do change their positions.

My advice to social media companies is to make a choice: step out of the shoes of the government and let people advertise products that are not unlawful, or ban whatever you decide to ban but make clear what the rules are.

The point of all of this is that when it comes to CBD advertising, things are very unclear. Social media companies are apparently dead set on allowing all kinds of posts and advertisements that many people find reprehensible. But when it comes to advertising CBD bath bombs, you better be prepared to bet your business’ account.

California Cannabis Litigation: We Argue the Kern County Appeal in February

 

As we have written about previously, we represent a property owner and retailer in an appeal against Kern County pending in the Fifth Appellate District (County of Kern v. Alta Sierra Holistic Exchange Service, Case No. F077887). The legal landscape for cannabis regulation in Kern County has been in flux since 2009, when the County enacted an ordinance allowing medical cannabis dispensaries to operate in unincorporated areas of the County. Since then, there has been a constant battle between cannabis dispensary operators, Kern County voters, the County Board of Supervisors, and the courts regarding how to regulate cannabis dispensary activity in the County. Many cannabis dispensaries opened during this decade of legal uncertainty and wound up facing criminal and civil enforcement actions.

Last month, we filed a motion for calendar preference to have oral argument heard prior to the March 2020 election, at which two new cannabis dispensary regulation measures will be put before the voters. Within six days of filing, the Court of Appeal granted our motion. Oral argument will be heard in this case in February 2020.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

In March of 2009, the County passed an ordinance that permitted medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the County as long as they were not located within 1,000 feet of a school.

In 2011, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance banning all dispensaries throughout the County. Before the effective date of the dispensary ban ordinance, however, the County received a referendum petition from voters protesting the dispensary ban ordinance.

The referendum petition triggered certain obligations under the Elections Code, including that the County was required to either (1) put the ban before the voters at an election, or (2) entirely repeal the ban and refrain from taking any further action that would have the effect of implementing an essential feature of the protested ordinance.

The County failed to do either, and the issue went before the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the case of T.C.E.F. v. County of Kern, where the Court of Appeal determined that the County’s actions violated the Elections Code and held the 2009 ordinance to be of full force and effect. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 301.

The Court of Appeal concluded that once the voters speak on an issue like they did with the referendum petition, a legislative body (the Board of Supervisors here) is prohibited from taking any action that would have the effect of implementing the essential feature of what the voters protested.

Despite this, a month after the Court of Appeal issued its decision in T.C.E.F., the County issued a new moratorium against dispensaries, extended that moratorium, and then ultimately imposed a new permanent ban against all dispensaries. These actions violated the Elections Code and the express directive from the Court of Appeal in T.C.E.F.

Our client established a dispensary in the wake of the T.C.E.F. decision, resulting in the prosecution of our client by the County. We appealed the trial court’s decision in that case. While the appeal was pending, two new two new cannabis measures were placed on the ballot for the County’s March 2020 election.

MARCH 2020 BALLOT MEASURES

Two competing cannabis ballot measures have qualified for the March 2020 election.

The first ballot measure, drafted by the Central Valley Cannabis Association, would authorize any medicinal cannabis dispensary that had ever operated on or before January 1, 2018 to re-open in any location where pharmacies may operate, except within 1,000 feet of a school. The Central Valley measure, if passed, would effectively repeal the County’s illegal New Ban Ordinance, and largely reinstate the 2009 ordinance that the Court of Appeal declared to be operative in T.C.E.F.

The County Board of Supervisors placed a competing measure, which is substantially similar to, though more restrictive than, the industrial zone ordinance that this Court invalidated on CEQA grounds in April 2016.

MOTION FOR CALENDAR PREFERENCE GRANTED

In light of these competing measures, we filed a motion for calendar preference to have the matter heard as soon as possible, before the March 2020 election. Within six days of filing, the Court of Appeal granted our motion. The Court of Appeal will hear oral argument in this case in February.

We are hopeful that however the Court of Appeal rules in this matter, it will finally provide some certainty for Kern County voters as well as investors and operators in the cannabis industry.

Cannabis Advocacy Groups Bring 51-foot Inflated Joint To Congress

Some cannabis advocates are so eager to see the SAFE Banking Act pass the Senate that they’re willing to go large—namely, in the form of a fake 51-foot joint. As Evan Sully reported for Bloomberg, the inflatable protest tool made its way to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, emblazoned with the message, “Congress, Pass the Joint.”

Beyond the delicious optics of a fat marijuana cigarette parading its way around the nation’s capital, the legislation in question would protect the cannabis industry from discriminatory business practices on behalf of banks. The SAFE Act would prevent financial institutions from labeling state legal marijuana-related transactions as unlawful activity.

It has seen unprecedented movement in Washington, compared to a passel of other legalization and decriminalization measures. The SAFE Act a.k.a. HR 1595 passed the House of Representatives last month with a vote of 321 to 103, and is now awaiting consideration from the Senate—admittedly a higher hurdle, given Republican reluctance to push forward pro-cannabis laws.

Currently, activists are awaiting Idaho Republican and Senate Banking Committee Chairperson Mike Crapo, who needs to schedule a vote for HR 1595 to ensure its further movement. Some think it’s likely that the bill will be attached to other legislation, because despite his support for the hemp industry and the sale of CBD products, there is doubt that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will go for a floor vote on the issue.

At the mega joint demonstration, which was organized by District of Columbia Marijuana Justice and other groups from Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado, activists said the bill could open the door to other kinds of laws to widen access to cannabis.

The SAFE Act is “like the first domino for federal legalization,” founder of District of Columbia Marijuana Justice, Adam Eidinger, told Bloomberg. “We need federal regulations for that. We need to come up with a tax system for interstate commerce, but the Banking Act is the first step.”

But the SAFE Act has also faced criticism as an opening act for federal cannabis legalization. Critics say that its focus on protecting industry, in a country where there are still people serving lifelong sentences for cannabis-related offenses, is inappropriate. A coalition of human rights groups including the ACLU sent a letter explaining that viewpoint to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last month. The communication urged her to table the bill and instead prioritize measures that would “address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively,” seeking retroactive justice for communities of color that were negatively impacted by the war on drugs.

For their part, Tuesday’s protesters were also showing support for the Marijuana Justice Act, which has a more multi-lateral focus not just to protect businesses, but people who have been unfairly targeted by prohibition.

The rally featured a speech by Eleanor Holmes Norton, a House representative from Washington, D.C. who has pushed to remove bans on marijuana use in federally-subsidized housing. “Credit unions have already been handling banking for marijuana. But your big banks, your traditional banks have not been,” she said. “It is important that those who are involved in marijuana trade not be carrying around socks of money against their own safety and public safety.”

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Advocates Stress Need for Equity in Cannabis During Museum of Weed Panel

Members of the diverse communities that were savaged by the war on drugs are working together to be sure that they will not be cast aside in today’s cannabis industry. 

Whether they’re politicians, pastors, entrepreneurs or activists, social equity advocates are united in ensuring that the predicted economic boon of legalized marijuana will not leave them behind.

That was the consensus of panelists and a crowd of 200 gathered Sept. 26, 2019 at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed in Hollywood, California, for Social Equity Day. The free event at the museum featured two panel discussions on advocacy and social equity to raise awareness on social justice efforts in the marijuana legalization process.

Cannabis industry insiders and outsiders alike are engaged in intense grass-roots efforts to secure a foothold in the cannabis industry, particularly among people of color who were disportionately targeted by cannabis prohibition.

Social equity isn’t just just a noble idea; it was part of the intent behind Proposition 64, which California voters approved in 2016. The law calls for regulating cannabis to reduce barriers to entry into the legal, regulated market by offering technical, financial, regulatory and other forms of support to those who were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. 

Democratic California state Sen. Steven Bradford, a panel participant, wrote the California Cannabis Equity Act of 2018, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed, thus allowing distribution of grant money to cities with local equity programs.

(Anthony Brown/Weedmaps)
Maria Cordona, left, a political consultant and CNN commentator, moderates a social equity panel featuring speakers Frank Louie of the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce, Armando Gudiño of the Drug Policy Alliance, cannabis law consultant Yvette McDowell, and California state Sen. Steven Bradford on Sept. 26, 2019 at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed in Hollywood, California.

Part of the Weedmaps Museum of Weed‘s mission is to spotlight the history of cannabis and shed light on the most damning moments throughout the last century. In addition, Weedmaps recently launched a program to accelerate more inclusive minority participation in the cannabis industry. The initiative will help entrepreneurs as they apply for and obtain licenses and receive professional development training and compliance resources. Minority entrepreneurs also will receive free advertising for their licensed businesses. 

“We want to make sure the people who drove the industry to where it is today have a chance to succeed in the industry,” said Weedmaps Chief Marketing Officer Juanjo Feijoo in a pre-conference discussion about the company’s support of social equity initiatives.

The panelists noted that it also will take personal and organized efforts to work together so that independent business owners from the diverse communities that were savaged by the war on drugs will not be cast aside. Several mentioned the need for creating political will and policy to keep Big Tobacco and Big Pharma from moving in to co-opt the market and reap all the rewards.

It will also take education, funding, and well-crafted legislation to make social equity and social justice foundational in the coming cannabis revolution.

In recent years, as the cannabis industry has grown and prospered along with legalization, many advocates have called for a focus on social equity and justice.

And that all starts on home turf, organizers said.

“You must get involved. You have to start locally because all politics start locally,” said Yvette McDowell, a cannabis law consultant and co-chair of the California Cannabis Industry Association’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity Committee.

“Know your council members. That’s where you have to start. You have to start educating them,” McDowell said.

Sen. Bradford agreed and urged attendees to engage with and educate local lawmakers.

Kika Keith, a social equity advocate and founder and CEO of Gorilla Life Beverage Company, said people need to read and understand the law, which provides the foundation and guiding principles of social equity.

“Then we have to show up,” she said. “We have to show up at our neighborhood councils and tell them why it’s important. There’s a whole community reinvestment. Social equity isn’t just about racism, it’s about job creation. Also about equity in the communities that were affected by drugs.”

Keith and her colleagues travel to Sacramento, California’s capital, to be heard as well.

“You’ve got to go to these meetings and get on the mic and be part of the record,” she said. “Then all of a sudden you see the tone start to change. And that’s the only way we can effectively make our way all the way to the state.”

An executive for a tech company specializing in cannabis urged participants to act quickly.

“The faster we buckle up, the better off we’ll all be and be able to not just rally as a community, but rally as a community that’s educated that can play the game,” said David Hua, CEO and co-founder of Meadow, a software company specializing in California cannabis. “That when we need new legislation, we can create the bill that we can all get behind.

“If we need to rally to get someone in office or go to a board of supervisors meeting we can do that and speak the language,” Hua said.

(Anthony Brown/Weedmaps)
Frank Louie, center, Chief Operating Officer of the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce, addresses the audience Sept. 26, 2019, during the Weedmaps Museum of Weed’s social equity forum in Hollywood, California. Political strategist and CNN commentator Maria Cardona, left, was the moderator, and Armando Gudiño, Policy Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, was also a speaker.

In response to calls for equity, a number of California cities, including Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco have created social equity programs, “to acknowledge and repair the harm caused by the War on Drugs and the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” according to the Los Angeles Social Equity Program website.

However, the legislative clock is ticking, said Armando Gudiño, Policy Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. He said in 2023, California is set to open its cannabis markets to major tobacco and pharmacology companies. When that happens, equity partners that are not in business and running may find themselves out of luck trying to compete with the corporations. In addition, he noted that more than 75% of the cities in California have yet to set out regulations for cannabis operations, which is problematic for potential equity partners.

Gudiño advocates for a law that would add a five-year moratorium before the corporations can move in. 

Several equity partner applicants from Northern California engaged at a round table before the panel discussions and talked about the struggles they face. These included finding adequate funding for fees, legal help, and rents. They also discussed the need to be educated in business and law, the better to navigate unscrupulous lenders, endless red tape, and delays in the licensing process.

Many have been waiting for more than a year for their licenses.

“Equity was never meant for us to succeed,” said Alphonso “Tucky” Blunt Jr., who was the first equity partner to successfully open a dispensary in Oakland. “It was meant to be a bone.”

The war on drugs tore many communities apart, incarcerated generations of men of color, and set the stage for systemic inequity.

The numbers are staggering and show how deleterious the drug war has been on communities of color. Marijuana prohibition enforcement is predominantly targeted against the most vulnerable, low-level users, the majority of whom are people of color. According to DPA statistics:

  • The United States still spends $47 billion annually on a still-active war on drugs, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) In 2017, 85.% of drug arrests were for possession, not selling or manufacturing. 
  • There were 659,700 arrests for marijuana violations and 90.8% of those were for possession only.
  • In 2016, 456,000 people were incarcerated in the U.S. for a drug law violation.
  • Blacks and Latinos make up nearly 47% of the people arrested for drug law violations, though they make up just 31.5% of the U.S. population.

There have been no credible studies showing higher usage among people of color. Jay King, president of the California Black Chamber of Commerce, said the war on drugs is another chapter in ongoing suppression of the black community throughout American history that must be addressed.

“We need more honest conversations that are uncomfortable,” he said, adding that those are the conversations that often produce real results.

“You have to understand what led us here and it’s a very layered conversation,” said Andrea Drummer, Head Chef at Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, which opened the first cannabis cafe in the U.S. in West Hollywood in October 2019.

(Anthony Brown/Weedmaps)
Guests of the Weedmaps Museum of Weed listen to experts in business and law describe the barriers people of color face in establishing enterprises and careers in the fast-growing cannabis industry. The social justice forum was part of the educational and advocacy efforts of the Weedmaps Museum of Weed in Hollywood, California.

“You have to talk about racism, you have to talk about the disproportionate economics in terms of income,” Drummer said. “We have to have the hard conversations and unearth the layers.”

The Rev. James K. McKnight, senior pastor of the Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles, saw the dual-edged future of cannabis in his community.

On one end is coming to grips with “the pain we’ve all experienced,” McKnight said, adding, “if we can figure out a way to do this right, we can right some wrongs. If it’s done right, there’s promise.”

The audience applauded a suggestion from Hua to right the wrongs: “Anyone currently serving time in jail should be released,” said the tech entrepreneur. He also urged those in the audience to know that their efforts to support California social equity have larger ramifications. “Everyone wants this to succeed because the world is watching.”

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Veterans Call for Legal Marijuana Access During Policy Summit at Weedmaps Museum of Weed

Against the backdrop of the Weedmaps Museum of Weed, on Sept. 14, 2019, representatives of three leading veterans advocacy groups, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, and Weedmaps Chief Operating Officer Steven Jung, discussed the benefits of medical cannabis for veterans and the barriers that make it difficult for veterans to access it.

Along with Ma and Jung, an Army veteran, the panel participants at the Hollywood, California, event included, Aaron Augustis, founder of Veterans Cannabis Group (VCG); Sean Kiernan, chief executive officer of Weed for Warriors Project; and Ryan Miller, founder of Operation E.V.A.C. (Educating Veterans About Cannabis). 

Ma began the wide-ranging discussion by pointing out the hurdles that face anyone trying to open and operate a legal cannabis business. Federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which places it in the same category as heroin and ecstasy and categorizes it as having no medical benefits and a high potential for abuse and addiction. Subsequently, banks, payroll companies, accounting firms, bookkeepers, and lawyers often refuse to service cannabis businesses. 

“Since dispensaries and other cannabis businesses can’t open bank accounts, they’re forced to handle transactions in cash, including paying their taxes, their rent and their employees,” Ma said, “That’s a huge barrier to success in this industry.”  

High taxes are another hurdle. In California, for example, taxes in dispensaries are close to 40%.

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma tells an audience at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed how she has worked to address veterans’ concerns about difficult access to legal medical marijuana. (Anthony Brown/Weedmaps)

“When people have to pay that extra 40% in a dispensary, they often choose to go down the street or make a phone call and purchase illegal marijuana instead,” Ma said. 

She noted several actions that would address these concerns on a state level, including the establishment of a state-backed financial institution devoted exclusively to the cannabis industry, and legislation that would allow cannabis companies to deduct the same business expenses as any other business.

With a father-in-law who’s a Navy veteran and a brother-in-law currently serving in the Navy, Ma is aware of the challenges veterans face accessing medical cannabis to treat chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Along with Augustis and the Veterans Cannabis Group, she’s promoting a bill in the California Legislature, AB 1569, that would give veterans an exemption from sales taxes on medical cannabis products.

Getting any legislation passed, federal, state or local, requires mobilizing veterans and their advocates to make the issue a pressing one for politicians. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Ma said. “If legislators don’t see a lot of people walking the halls, emailing them, texting, and phoning, showing up day after day on an issue, they’re not going to feel it’s a priority.”

At a panel at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, left, joins Weedmaps Chief Operating Officer Steven Jung, second from left, and representatives of U.S. veterans groups to address how veterans can access medical cannabis. (Anthony Brown/Weedmaps)

But, as others on the panel pointed out, open advocacy on cannabis issues poses risks for veterans. 

“Many veterans are afraid that they’ll lose their veterans medical benefits if they testify in public,” Augustis said. “Right now, the policy of the VA toward cannabis use can be summed up at its best as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Kiernan said. He’d found relief in cannabis from PTSD so severe it led him to attempt suicide.

Augustis agreed. After returning home from serving in an Iraqi war zone, he found himself reliving the stress and trauma of active combat.

“Cannabis would calm me down,” he said. “It helped bring me back to the present.” 

Today, when he tells a VA counselor about his cannabis use, he said, “They’ll ask ‘Is it helping you?’ I tell them yes. ‘Is it hurting you?’ I say no, and they’ll say, well, then, continue to do it.”

This ambiguous stance is reflected on the VA’s website. As long as marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the website states, “VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist Veterans to obtain it.” But, “VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with Veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.”  In addition, “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use,” however, the use will be noted in medical records. What’s more, VA clinicians cannot write a recommendation for medical marijuana and VA pharmacies will not fill prescriptions for medical cannabis and “will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.” 

“That’s why the black market is thriving among vets,” Kiernan said. “Many people have no choice if they don’t want the opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs that the VA willing to pay for.”   

Miller is hoping that might change. “If the VA could distribute cannabis,” he said, “the three of us on this panel would be out of jobs. I’m looking forward to that. That’s my exit strategy.”


Veterans fought for liberty and we should have liberty of choice when it comes to cannabis use.
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With more than 18 million veterans in the U.S., “you’re not going to find a homogenous voice on the issue of cannabis,” Kiernan noted. “But we can find common ground. Whether conservative, liberal, libertarian, or whatever, we can all agree that cannabis works and that it’s a good subtitle for addictive opioids. Veterans fought for liberty and we should have liberty of choice when it comes to cannabis use.” 


Featured Image: Representatives of military veterans’ groups discuss legal access to medical marijuana at a panel at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed Sept. 14, 2019. From left, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma Aaron Augustis of Veterans Cannabis Group, Sean Kiernan of Weed for Warriors Project, and Ryan Miller of Operation E.V.A.C.. (Anthony Brown/Weedmaps)

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Vets, First Responders Receive Free Entry to Policy Summit at Museum of Weed This Weekend

The Weedmaps Museum of Weed is extending an invitation to all U.S. service members, veterans, and first responders to experience the museum for free this weekend, Sept. 14 and 15. Millions of veterans suffer from chronic pain, mental health diagnoses, and other conditions stemming from their time spent in service. Medical cannabis is increasingly seen as a viable option to help treat health challenges and prevent crises among veterans. 

Weedmaps will play host to advocacy groups, medical professionals, and policymakers to discuss medical cannabis and policy barriers that are restricting its access, particularly for veterans. The event, in partnership with Weed for Warriors, the Veterans Cannabis Group, and Operation EVAC (Educating Veterans About Cannabis) at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed in Hollywood, California. The festivities kick off at noon and the panel, “Unlocking Benefits of Cannabis for Veterans and Policy Solutions to Remove Barriers to Access,” will take place at 3 p.m. 

Panelists include:

  • Aaron Augustis, Founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Group;
  • Sean Kiernan, CEO of Weed for Warriors;
  • Ryan Miller, Founder of Operation EVAC, and;
  • California State Treasurer Fiona Ma

Veterans, service members and first responders who wish to receive free entry should visit themuseumofweed.com, select the desired time on Sept. 14 or 15 and click the Veterans/First Responders button on the right.

Veterans have become a vocal, visible source of advocacy for medical marijuana research and legalization. Their glaring needs have reached crisis proportions with soaring rates of suicide, opioid abuse, and untreated mental health issues.

Yet the barriers to providing medical marijuana to active-duty members of the military, veterans, and first responders are daunting. Veterans are able to discuss using cannabis with their doctors, but clinicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are not able to discuss cannabis use, or write a recommendation for medical marijuana in accordance with state law where medical or adult-use cannabis is legal. Veterans also fear repercussions as severe as losing VA benefits entirely.

“Cannabis legalization is still a hotly debated issue across state lines. Many congressional bills come and go without securing solutions that directly address some of the most pressing health issues that servicemen and women face,” said Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a medical adviser to Weedmaps and Medical Director for Canna-Centers Wellness & Education in California. “However, the efficacy of medical cannabis as a form of treatment continues to be realized, and it is through initiatives like these that Weedmaps is able to further educate individuals on cannabis’ potential and ultimately work towards moving legislation forward.”

The VA has taken a stance that it is “required to follow all federal laws, including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I [substance], VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it.”

Cannabis is categorized as a Schedule 1 drug within the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which defines it as a substance with no currently accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, as dangerous as heroin, and more dangerous than opium, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That categorization puts VA doctors — and their patients — firmly between a rock and a hard place.

But it’s the veterans who are suffering.

“One of the great tragedies of our time is the failure to adequately address the needs of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said in Stars and Stripes. Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Blumenauer added that for some veterans, marijuana and cannabis derivatives are lifesavers that keep them from using addictive pain medications such as opioids.

Recently, three bipartisan bills were introduced that would protect veterans who use cannabis from losing their benefits. The bills also would allow VA doctors to not only discuss cannabis as a treatment option, but also offer the necessary recommendations to obtain medical marijuana.

The physical and mental health of active-duty service members, veterans, and first responders is a rising concern. Common health issues faced by those who serve include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, and anxiety. Suicide rates are also twice that of the civilian population. Each day, about 22 veterans take their own lives..

Research Solutions

In Massachusetts, researchers have mounted a national survey that seeks to help educate elected officials, government department heads, and the public about the health benefits of cannabis use by those who served in the military. 

In March 2019, a coalition of academic, medical and veterans’ groups launched the Veterans Health and Medical Cannabis Research Study to understand veterans health statuses, treatments, medications, cannabis use, access to insurance, and quality of life. 

The researchers are seeking to expand their participant pool nationwide to collect enough data to convince officials that cannabis has medicinal value.

Preliminary data from the anonymous study already has shown that veterans are reducing the need for over-the-counter prescriptions for pain and stomach ailments, as well as reducing or eliminating the use of opioids for chronic pain.

To help plead the cause of research on cannabis, a range of veterans groups have testified on Capitol Hill about their urgent need for cannabis reform that would allow federal agencies to embrace research on medical marijuana.

Legislative Solutions

Veterans groups that support medicinal cannabis have seen many congressional bills and resolutions come and go without ever solving their pressing medical issues. High rates of traumatic brain injury, PTSD, chronic pain, and other ailments add to veterans’ alarming suicide rates.

“Time and again, we’ve seen very similar efforts, and time and again, they’ve been canceled or Congress decides not to vote on them or allow them to get to the floor for debate,” said Robert Kowalski, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served for five years as a security forces member and completed two combat tours in Iraq. 

Legislators nationwide have repeatedly introduced bills to help veterans access cannabis as an effective alternative treatment for physical and psychological wounds.

In a recent interview with HelloMD, Augustis said the Veterans Cannabis Group aims to “ultimately make it so veterans have the ability to access cannabis through the VA. The VA is where most veterans get their medication from, so they really should be able to get their doctors’ recommendation and medical cannabis through the VA.”

As awareness grows about the usefulness and need for medical marijuana research, veterans’ groups nationwide find that they now have other advocacy groups, individuals, and businesses adding to their ranks. 

Bolstering this effort on behalf of veterans in California is State Treasurer Ma. “That’s why I am honored to be supporting this valuable forum to help raise awareness to the obstacles these heroes face in accessing medical cannabis but also to find workable policy solutions to bring relief to the nearly two million veterans living in this great state,” she said.

New Outlets for Advocacy 

With the debut of the Weedmaps Museum of Weed in August 2019, visitors can learn for themselves how policies shaped and reshaped marijuana for decades. Weedmaps is at the forefront of the effort to inform policymakers, reveal truths surrounding cannabis, and with the Weedmaps Museum of Weed, bring to life the tortuous history of cannabis around the world. Veterans and their issues are highlighted within the museum. 

“At Weedmaps, we recognize that many veterans depend on cannabis for their medicinal needs. However, the current policies in place for medical cannabis are simply not enough to ensure safe and reliable access for vets,” said Steven Jung, Chief Operating Officer at Weedmaps and a U.S. Army veteran. “From implementing social equity programs to driving awareness around policies or impeding issues that directly impact them, we will continue to support and advocate for military veterans.”

 

For military members, veterans, and first responders, Weedmaps aims to make cannabis legal, safe, and accessible. The Weedmaps Museum of Weed tells the story of the advocates who’ve kept the legalization movement alive in order to offer a dose of compassion to those in need. Discounted tickets for military and first responders are on sale now. (Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash)

This content is sponsored by Weedmaps.

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