San Francisco Strengthens Cannabis Social Equity Program

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently voted to approve a measure designed to strengthen the city’s cannabis social equity efforts. The legislation, which was proposed by San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed in April, builds on the city’s cannabis social equity program, which was launched in 2018 to lower barriers to cannabis licensing and provide employment opportunities for members of communities most impacted by the War on Drugs.

In a statement from the mayor’s office, Broad said that the new provisions of the social equity program approved by the board will help the city in its recovery from the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“As San Francisco works to recover from COVID-19, it’s important that we support small businesses, including our cannabis industry,” Breed said. “This legislation helps us make sure the program continues to achieve its goals and ensure that cannabis business owners are supported and have the resources they need to be successful in San Francisco.”

Measure Supports San Francisco’s Cannabis Social Equity Program

The measure, which was passed by a unanimous vote of the board on October 5, modifies the permit process for cannabis businesses and creates new priorities for the city’s Office of Cannabis to increase opportunities for prospective social equity applicants. The legislation also provides greater ownership flexibility for approved social equity businesses while preserving original commitments of the program, according to the mayor’s office.

“Thank you to Mayor Breed for strengthening social equity and creating more economic opportunities for those hurt by the War on Drugs,” Marisa Rodriguez, the director of the Office of Cannabis, said in a statement. “Mayor Breed’s legislation ensures that there will continue to be a legacy of equity in the city for years to come.”

The legislation adds new provisions to ensure that San Francisco’s cannabis industry supports communities that have suffered the brunt of the impact from the War on Drugs. Under the program, cannabis equity applicants who are sole proprietors will be prioritized during the permitting process. Owners of non-equity businesses that support cannabis equity applicants by offering shared manufacturing opportunities will also receive heightened priority by city regulators.

Additionally, the measure shortens the time period to transfer more than a 50 percent ownership stake in a cannabis equity business from the current 10 years to five years, giving equity owners more flexibility to take on new investors and grow their companies. The legislation also requires cannabis businesses to make additional social equity contributions if they wish to reduce an equity applicant’s ownership interest by 20 percent or more. Such commitments could include opportunities to provide hiring, training and mentorship, as well as other support to cannabis social equity businesses or local community organizations.

State Grants Support Social Equity Applicants

Since San Francisco launched its cannabis social equity program in 2018, 94 social equity applicants have applied for permits to operate cannabis businesses in the city. The Office of Cannabis has so far issued a total of 36 permits to social equity applicants, including temporary and permanent permits.

City cannabis regulators also administer grants funded by state programs for individuals that meet criteria based on residency, income, criminal justice involvement and housing insecurity. 

To date, San Francisco has received $6.3 million dollars in grants from the California Department of Cannabis Control and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, which can be used for business start-up and operating costs. City officials have so far awarded approximately $3 million in grants ranging from $50,000 to $100,00 each to 45 social equity applicants.

“I’m grateful to the city and the state for this opportunity,” said Ali Jamalian, founder and CEO of Kiffen LLC and a social equity permit holder. “Thank you to the Office of Cannabis for standing up this Pilot Program. The money is incredibly helpful and allows me to scale my business during a difficult time. I’m hopeful that all eligible equity applicants will take advantage of the opportunity.”

Cindy De La Vega, an equity permit holder and the CEO of STIIIZY Union Square, said that being the owner of the first Latina-owned cannabis dispensary “feels surreal.”

“My grand opening was October 9, 2020, during a very difficult time for all of us, and especially for areas like Union Square. I am grateful for the San Francisco Equity Program and proud to be permit number eleven. I look forward to using my opportunity to show others that the San Francisco Equity Program does work and should be the blueprint for others to bring to their cities.”

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Unhappy Croptober: Sungrown Prices Crash to Historic Lows

The mood was somber at this year’s Hall of Flowers, the annual early fall trade show in Santa Rosa, California that’s become a de-facto preview of the yearly sungrown cannabis harvest.

For years prior to legalization and the opening of California’s adult-use cannabis market in January 2018, even if indoor-grown buds glistening with trichomes commanded higher prices, outdoor farmers still enjoyed reliably healthy appetites for their lower-THC, distinctly aromatic cuts. A pound of trimmed outdoor could fetch thousands of dollars; trimmers could expect $100 and $150 for every pound they prepared for market.

Not anymore. Since the opening of legal markets, outdoor prices have fallen, but fluctuated just enough to keep people in business. But this year, with the early light-deprivation harvest competing with enormous auto-flowering hauls from the airliner-hangar-sized greenhouses in the Salinas Valley and Santa Barbara County, as well as the usual indoor supply, things were different.

As one outdoor entrepreneur grimly joked, someone could wear a t-shirt offering “$50 packs,” and instead of eliciting knowing, sad laughs, they would probably entertain serious offers.

For a pound of outdoor cannabis in 2021 in early October, before the annual “Croptober” harvest, a pound of outdoor is demanding around $500 on the market. But most are asking for even less.

“The average is probably $500, but the drop from $500 to $150 is super quick,” said Nicholas Smilgys, who owns a Mendocino County-based distribution company.

His estimates were confirmed with other outdoor growers and distributors contacted by Cannabis Now. If someone has the most gorgeous outdoor anyone has ever seen—truly flawless AAA-grade weed—that might fetch $800. But that would be for what most growers, just a few years ago, would have reserved for their private head stash. And that’s still a price so low as to make outdoor cannabis farming a losing value proposition, as Tina Gordon, the founder and CEO of southern Humboldt County-based Moonmade Farms said.

While the flooded market means wholesale buyers can be outrageously selective, for producers, production costs have increased. There’s state excise taxes to pay before a single gram has been sold to consumers as well as state and county licensing and permit fees. With all that, combined with prices this low, how does anyone using the sun to produce cannabis make money?

“You can’t,” Gordon said.

Though this is an economic disaster, none of this should come as a surprise. The slow-motion demise of California’s small craft cannabis growers has been documented in excruciating detail over the past few years.

In addition to market competition and regulatory burdens, a litany of natural disasters like wildfires and drought, added to farmers’ woes—though at least fires offered a mixed blessing: if one farmers’ crop was ruined by smoke damage, that meant less competition for the farmer on the next ridge over whose crop was untouched.

But with more and more large-scale greenhouses entering the market—a single 87-acre grow was approved in Santa Barbara County earlier this summer, and county authorities reported more than 1,575 total acres in unincorporated Santa Barbara devoted to cannabis production or cultivation—California may produce three times as much cannabis as it can consume, industry observers and experts have said.

Exactly how much legal cannabis California produces remains a literal state secret; state law allows industry regulators to keep those numbers known only to themselves and select others, including law enforcement.

That might not matter if small farmers could sell directly to consumers or market their crops across state lines—neither of which is legal under state and federal law.

Small farmers, then, have two options. They can return to the illicit market, chasing higher prices along with increased risk. After all, the high prices that some fondly remember from a decade ago were in a way artificial, inflated by the risk of prohibition. Or they can offer only a few drops into an onrushing river that’s threatening to carry away their mode of production, as well as their way of life.

“These big swings are tough for a smaller company,” Smilgys observed. “You have to scramble to make up that lost revenue somewhere else.” That might be cutting wages for workers (or releasing staffs entirely). That might be cutting corners on supplies like fertilizers. Or it might mean giving up entirely on trying to satisfy a market that, to date, simply hasn’t been efficient in the way a small, bootstrapped producer using the sun needs.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom Vetoes Cannabis Billboard Bill

On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 1302, which would have allowed cannabis billboard advertisements on most California highways and interstates, and issued a veto message explaining his reasoning. The governor explained that California’s adult-use cannabis bill had built-in protections to prevent youth from being exposed to cannabis-related advertising, and that he didn’t want to change that.

“When the voters passed Proposition 64, they enacted robust protections shielding youth from exposure to cannabis and cannabis advertising,” Newsom wrote. “Among other things, voters completely prohibited billboard-based cannabis advertising on all Interstate Highways, and on all State Highways that cross the California border. Allowing advertising on these high-traffic thoroughfares could expose young passengers to cannabis advertising.”

The governor went on to explain that allowing billboards visible to drivers and underage passengers would not align with the original intentions behind Proposition 64.

“AB 1302 would weaken the protections passed in Proposition 64. California can refine and advance its regulation of cannabis while also remaining faithful to the will of the voters, and I will continue to work with the author to strike this balance. For these reasons, I am returning AB 1302 without my signature.” 

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who represents Union City, said the bill was needed to help the state’s legal cannabis industry that is burdened by high taxes and bans on cannabis shops in many California cities.

“We have not done enough to help the legal cannabis industry thrive,” Quirk said, as reported by the Associated Press. “The legal cannabis industry has a very limited and narrow set of marketing avenues available to them. Removing their ability to promote their legitimate business along hundreds of miles of roadway does nothing but help the illicit market.”

California’s Battle Over Cannabis Billboards

The battle over cannabis-related billboards has been in a state of flux since the beginning of the year—concerning how close billboards can be to state highways or interstates. Lawmakers clarified rules in 2019 to identify where cannabis billboards are allowed, banning them within a 15-mile radius of California’s borders.

On January 11, 2021, in the case of Farmer v. Bureau of Cannabis Control (Bureau) & Lori Ajax, the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court ruled that Section 5040(b)(3) of the Bureau of Cannabis Controls’s regulations is invalid, saying that the legislation didn’t have the authority to do so. 

Section 5040(b)(3), which only prohibited billboard advertising within a 15-mile radius of the California border on an interstate or state highway that crosses the California border, was overturned by the January ruling. Since then, a licensee may not place advertising or marketing on a billboard, or similar advertising device, anywhere on an interstate or state highway that crosses the California border, according to Business and Professions Code section 26152(d).

This comes after Governor Newsom approved a bill that expands the hemp industry in California by legalizing smokable hemp and hemp-infused products. He also approved a bill that requires hospitals and other health care facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana.

Other states have taken various approaches to controlling cannabis billboards, in some cases, banning images or banning them from certain areas.

A bill that would ban cannabis ads on billboards within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, public parks and churches failed to be approved in Arizona. In that case, lawmakers were concerned about passing a bill that would give an indirect advantage to the alcohol industry.

In Michigan, cannabis billboards go through strict regulations and must be approved by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. 

Back in 2018, a billboard in Utah urged voters to approve medical marijuana by quoting Mormon scripture, appealing to some voters in the state.

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California Legalizes Smokable Hemp and Food Sales in Historic Bill

Today California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 45, establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework for the manufacture and sale of hemp-derived products in the state, including smokable hemp as well as hemp-infused food and drink sales. As an emergency statute, the bill goes into effect immediately.

While CBD products are freely found in stores, they are considered “adulterated” under existing California law, which is defined under the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law. What AB-45 will do is provide clarity for the hemp industry—more importantly, reassuring hemp consumers that products are independently tested and labeled properly.

EcoGen BioSciences, recently acquired by Kadenwood Brands, is the “largest supplier of raw hemp ingredients in the business,” and is heavily impacted by the new regulations. “AB-45 provides a model for hemp framework across the United States that we believe is necessary to move the industry forward,” Garrett Bain, President of EcoGen BioSciences told High Times. “As California takes the lead on clarifying the requirements for hemp to be included in food products and dietary supplements, we anticipate seeing other states adopt this model as well. These requirements that span labeling, serving size, testing regulations, and sourcing will allow hemp products to gain mainstream legitimacy and increased safety. Only through regulatory consistency will we see this industry grow to eliminate unlicensed and potentially harmful products from non-compliant manufacturers.”

Other leaders in hemp celebrated the bill as well. “California has been an industry leader in both cannabis and hemp throughout the years but not without its shortcomings and challenges,” Blake Schroeder, CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc. told High Times. “As pioneers of California’s legal hemp industry, we have witnessed the many back and forth debates with respect to hemp and CBD, even after its Federal legality was outlined by the 2018 Farm Bill. We welcome the new focus on safety and consistency set by AB-45. Our company created many of the testing standards that most major players in the industry still use today. We hope that this bill helps weed out the companies that are selling fake or inaccurately labeled products.”Medical Marijuana, Inc. is a holding company with subsidiaries making a wide range of hemp-based products.

The California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) issued a breaking update, early this morning—alerting hemp business owners who will inevitably be impacted by the news. Assembly Bill 45 explicitly allows the sale of hemp-derived extracts that comply with testing and labeling standards—notably CBD.

“We cannot thank the author enough for her tireless and unparalleled work to get comprehensive hemp regulations passed,” said CCIA Executive Director Assemblymember Lindsay Robinson. “Aguiar-Curry has been steadfast in her approach to create a level playing field between cannabis and hemp while protecting the health and safety of all Californians.”

Robinson continued, “AB 45 establishes a long overdue, comprehensive framework for the manufacture and sale of hemp products in California, but our work is not over. We look forward to working with the author on future legislation to establish a pathway for the incorporation of hemp into the cannabis supply chain.”

Politico described the momentum of the bill as the end of the “Wild West era” of CBD. Here’s why it matters: California’s CBD market hit $730 million in sales in 2019—two and a half times more than any other state. 

The bill was authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, representing the 4th California Assembly District. “The product is everywhere. You can walk into a World Market, a health food store, a pet store, and you’ll see CBD there,” said Aguiar-Curry. “There’s no labeling, it doesn’t tell you if it’s safe. So, I want to make sure that people know what they’re purchasing.”

A series of mishaps of mislabeled CBD products in various states—some with alarming findings—highlighted the urgent need for better regulations. A sampling from the Minnesota Hemp Farmers and Manufacturers Association (MHFMA), for instance, found over two-thirds of CBD products deviated from what the labels claimed. If a product has more than 20 percent deviation of CBD content from what the label stated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can deem it “misbranded.”

JD Supra reports that hemp manufacturers must register with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and adhere with good manufacturing practices (GMP); test extracts to ensure total THC does not exceed 0.3 percent and maximum contaminant levels; link product labels to lab testing results for THC, avoiding unproven health-related claims; demonstrate their hemp is grown in a state or country that has an established industrial hemp program.

Last but not least—hemp manufacturers must avoid marketing to children or pregnant women.

Hemp-infused food and dietary supplements must demonstrate proper sourcing, and can’t be included alongside alcohol, tobacco or nicotine.

In charge of regulations, CDPH could do anything from regulating maximum serving doses to mandating tracking standards. The bill also directs CDPH to study the introduction of hemp-derived cannabinoids into the cannabis supply chain.

The regulations apply to hemp-derived food, beverages, dietary supplements, cosmetics, pet food, inhalable products. Interestingly, inhalable hemp products can be manufactured and sold outside of California, but may not be sold within California until a tax is implemented.

Once federal law regarding hemp-derived products is clarified, new regulations will likely be adopted as it would be necessary to comply with federal law. 

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REVIEW: Puffco’s Inaugural Puffcon

Disclosure: I’m Terp fam and I’m going to throw them some real love here. Call it bias, but they’re dope and I love it.

It’s hard to throw a consumption event in California, but building a site within the city limits of Los Angeles since Prop. 64 events has been mostly impossible. With the exception of private residences and consumption lounges, no one has been able to pull off a full fledged open-air festival quite like what we remember from the Prop 215 days. That is, until this past weekend’s inaugural Puffcon event.

Taking over approximately four blocks of Downtown Los Angeles right off the 110 this past Saturday, Puffcon was the first-ever block party thrown by its namesake organization, Puffco. Sporting performances from Flatbush Zombies, Action Bronson, and Buddy, the event also featured an all-star line up of vendors ranging from Talking Terps (who released the first-ever special edition Budsy at the event) to Trove SF. Puffcon was free to any vaccinated consumer over 21 who owned a Puffco Peak Pro (or Peak OG)— or who bought one before the registration closed.

@kcb_la

Friends of Puffco

While this was clearly a friends and family event for Puffco, the experience was evolved not only by the performances, but by the well-curated line-up of product and food vendors. From All My Hats Are Dead to Elbo, the event’s ‘shakedown street’ was ALIVE with unique merch and creative wares. I’ve been following many of these guys on IG for ages, so the chance to get to chat in person was a special treat. You don’t always get to meet the brains behind the gear! And as a founder’s character can make all the difference about where I put my support, I’m happy to report all these creatives were just as excellent as people as they are as artists.

While both the above mentioned had plenty of fire on display, cannabis brands like Alien Labs and Fidel’s were also on site serving merchandise to their hungry fans, despite not being able to actually sell weed at the event. Lot Comedy held down the community in a big way, and as someone who always appreciated the lot more than the show, the energy was real.

Puffcon
Photo: John Troxell (IG: @Troxphotos)

I will say that I didn’t miss the surge pricing from food vendors as the day got busier (word to Burger She Wrote, who jacked up prices for water and soda once other vendors started running low, and was happy to own taking advantage of the thirsty, captive audience), but there was a great selection of unique and delicious treats available. From massive cotton candy javelins to some of the hottest hot chicken many of these wooks have ever tried, it wasn’t hard to keep things delicious at Puffcon. I was hoping we’d see a surprise pop up from Bronsolino like he’s been doing as of late, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that’ll pop at the next one.

The Brand of the Day

Puffco of course had plenty of spots where you could service or buy new parts for your device as well. On sale was some of their more exclusive accessories, merch, as well as a limited number of their new 3D Peak chambers pre-launch—which I have to say is an exciting development for the device, which was already a massive improvement from its predecessor. The new chamber heats all sides of the bucket, instead of just the bottom, allowing for a much more consistent heating across the entire surface area of your concentrates. The 3D chamber, plus their ball cap attachment, will really take your device to new heights.

Although this event was free, the bigger ask made in exchange for entry was that all the owners register their device, and bring it to the event with them. While this was (in my opinion) the single greatest serial registration campaign of all time, I couldn’t help but worry there’d be more than a few smashed units before the day’s end. I’m happy to report I didn’t see a single device fatality the entire day, and I even saw several attendees walking around with more than one in their hands.

@kcb_la

The Terp Love System at Puffcon

If I had to choose a favorite detail, I wouldn’t even need a second to think about it. Without question, the thing that gave me the warmest, happiest feeling of the event was the absolute takeover of the space by Talking Terps. While they for sure had the coolest set up of the event, with a cottage-type clubhouse showing off their various creative projects, perhaps the most surprising to me was the sheer volume of their gear that people wore to the event.

Before even entering the premises it was clear just how deep their market penetration goes—I was stopped by three people (also wearing Terps gear) commenting on my shirt before getting to the line. Once inside the TT@Puffcon laminates were everywhere, including on the types of people who would normally never wear those things—they didn’t grant you any special access, after all. But from the line, to the amount of people taking pictures of their space, to the conversations I heard about them while leaving the event, it was clear they won the weekend.

Puffcon
Photo: John Troxell (IG: @Troxphotos)

Hashing out the Details

Overall, as far as first shots go, I’m not sure Puffcon could have gone any better. The performances were excellent, their vendors made money, and the fans had a fun day that is worth remembering. While I’m sure they have lessons for next time—like more water stations—it was clear that just like at Hall of Flowers, the community is eager to get back out there and reconnect, and they’ll jump at the opportunity to do so—even if it means walking around with their expensive pieces out in DTLA. 

It’s worth noting that while there’s a clear space in the market for extracts and dabbing, I haven’t seen a real hash appreciation event on a scale such as this yet, and it’s clear the market responded well to it. While of course plenty of people were still smoking (and smoking GOOD—word to Khash TreeMason!), the massive amount of support from extractors was clear. I saw some of the best Rosin I’ve seen in my life on Saturday, bar none, and everyone wanted to share (safely, as we all had our own devices). Despite not being vendors, I also didn’t see the same level of ‘dealing’ I normally do at these types of events—it was a much more communal, ‘Here’s some of what I’ve got’ gifting than anything else, which I’m sure we can all appreciate given how expensive high end rosins have become.

I’m hearing rumors they may announce another event in the coming months, maybe even in a different part of the country, so keep an eye out for more on that soon. You’ll definitely want to be at the next one.

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100,000 Cannabis Plants Seized In Historic San Francisco Bay Area Bust

Law enforcement officials in the San Francisco Bay Area seized more than 100,000 cannabis plants from more than a dozen unlicensed cultivation sites last week, taking down a “modern day bootlegging” operation in a series of raids that spanned two days. The massive bust carried out by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office across the East Bay resulted in the confiscation of millions of dollars in cash and cannabis plants representing tens of millions in potential illicit marijuana sales, according to law enforcement estimates.

“This is an organization operating outside the law and the protocols of governance of marijuana in California, unsanctioned and making millions in profits,” said Ray Kelly, public information officer for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

Kelly said that the illicit cultivation operations, which he described as “high tech” and “very sophisticated,” were “motivated by extreme profit and greed. It was a pure cash grab by the organizers of this enterprise.” Several suspects have been arrested during the raids, although officials have not released the names of those individuals taken into custody.

18-Month Investigation Led To Bay Area Raids

More than 100 sheriff’s office personnel and agents with the Alameda County Narcotics Task Force were involved in an 18-month investigation that culminated in last week’s raids, which saw search warrants served at 18 sites in East Oakland, Hayward, Castro Valley and San Leandro. The investigation was begun by narcotics detectives with the sheriff’s department after they received a tip about an illegal marijuana cultivation operation. The raids yielded about six tons of pot as well as Rolex watches and other jewelry.

“We’ve seized 12,000 pounds of processed, harvested marijuana product ready to go to sale,” Kelly said.

At one raided cultivation site in an Oakland warehouse, deputies seized as much as $10 million in cash along with evidence of a money-laundering operation. Kelly noted that the Bay Area cultivators could have avoided police action if it had been licensed by the state. 

“What’s crazy about this is had they applied for proper permits and fees and paid all their licenses and tax fees, we wouldn’t be here,” he said at a press conference at the Oakland warehouse on Thursday, where he displayed a bag he said contained $1 million in seized cash. “This is one of the largest grows we’ve ever seen in recent memory. It’s a massive operation.”

“These people are not doing that,” Kelly told Newsweek, referring to gaining the necessary permits to cultivate cannabis legally. “They’re operating similar to 1920s bootlegging operation. They’re very sophisticated, very organized. They’ve invested millions of dollars in their infrastructure. We estimate they have somewhere near half a million square feet of real estate grow space that they use.”

Kelly said that the operators of the illicit cannabis cultivation sites would purchase warehouses and other buildings, outfitting them with sophisticated growing equipment including computers and timers. The suspects would pay plumbers and electricians inder the table to install the equipment, and hired cultivators, trimmers, and transporters to produce and distribute the cannabis.

12 Truckloads of Pot Up In Smoke

The sheriff’s spokesperson said that 12 tractor-trailer loads of cannabis had been transported to a site in California’s Central Valley to be incinerated. He added that required taxes had not been paid on cannabis sales and that forensic accountants would be involved in the ongoing investigation. In a social media post on Wednesday, the sheriff’s office wrote that it would take several days to process the search warrant sites and haul away the contraband. 

“This organized and sophisticated network of individuals were making tens of millions of dollars in profit and avoiding California [marijuana regulations],” the sheriff’s office wrote on Facebook. “We estimate at this time that we have seized over 100,000 plants and upwards of $10,000,000 in cash. In addition, there are millions of dollars in infrastructure, equipment, lighting, generators and supplies used to facilitate the grows.”

Kelly said that at least seven people have been arrested in the operation so far, and more arrests could be forthcoming. In addition to offenses involving illegal marijuana cultivation and money laundering, detectives are investigating if any environmental laws have be broken by the operation.

“The environmental impact that these locations cause is concerning,” he said. “We’re talking about fertilizers, chemicals, chemicals known to cause cancer.”

Despite the arrests and seizures, Kelly said that the potential profits from illicit cannabis are so high he doubted the operation would serve as much of a deterrent.

“There is nothing to stop them from doing it again,” he said. “It’s such a lucrative business.”

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LA County To Dismiss Nearly 60,000 Past Cannabis Convictions

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced the dismissal of almost 60,000 past cannabis convictions. The expungements, announced Monday, continue the work of the district attorney’s office to clear past convictions for cannabis offenses as authorized by Proposition 64, the landmark recreational marijuana legalization initiative approved by California voters in 2016.

Gascón said that expunging past cannabis convictions can free those living with the burden of a criminal record and the difficulties they face as they try to negotiate everyday life.

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing, and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

Provisions of Proposition 64 allowed for the expungement of past convictions for activities that were no longer illegal with the passage of the initiative. Under a state law passed in 2018, prosecutors in California were required to review past marijuana convictions and decide if the dismissal of any cases should be challenged.

While serving as district attorney of San Francisco, Gascón moved for the dismissal of approximately 9,000 past marijuana convictions that had been adjudicated prior to the passage of Proposition 64. That work was done through a partnership with the tech nonprofit Code for America, which developed an algorithm to analyze court records for cases eligible for expungement under the legalization initiative.

Last year, the Los Angeles County prosecutor’s office, under then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey, moved to expunge about 66,000 past convictions for marijuana offenses, which were also identified using the Code for America algorithm. However, that list of convictions was created using data solely from the California Department of Justice. When Gascón’s office used the technology to analyze county court records as well, prosecutors were able to identify the additional 60,000 cases eligible for expungement announced this week.

Reform Advocates Hail Expungements

Lynne Lyman, former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the expungements would help address the profound negative impact of cannabis prohibition, which has been disproportionately borne by communities of color.

“This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64,” Lyman said. “We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen. Proposition 64 was always about more than legal weed, it was an intentional effort to repair the past harms of the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, which disproportionately targeted people of color. I applaud District Attorney Gascón for taking this action to help nearly 60,000 Angelenos have their records fully sealed.”

Jean Guccione, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, told reporters that approximately 20,000 of the convictions to be expunged were for felony possession or cultivation of marijuana. The remaining expungements will be issued for misdemeanor convictions filed in jurisdictions that do not have their own city attorney’s office.

In addition to dismissing the 60,000 convictions, Gascón said that county prosecutors will coordinate with the offices of Public Defender Ricardo García and Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui to seek a blanket court order to seal the records of the dismissed cases, noting that “Over 100,000 Angelenos have been impacted by this war on marijuana after the voters told us they overwhelmingly wanted to stop this. … We want to basically erase the harm.”

Felicia Carbajal, executive director and community leader of The Social Impact Center, said that her organization notified the district attorney’s office of the shortcomings of relying only on California Department of Justice conviction records, leading to the analysis of county data and the identification of the additional 60,000 dismissals announced this week.

“I have made it my life mission to help and support people who have been impacted by the ‘War on Drugs,’” Carbajal said. “Giving people with cannabis convictions a new lease on life by expunging the records is something I have worked on for years and I am grateful that we can now make it happen.”

Carbajal said that it can be frustrating to see the legal cannabis industry make millions of dollars while those convicted of similar activities before the passage of Proposition 64 still suffer the consequences.

“My goal with all of this was really to try to put myself out of work,” Carbajal told the Los Angeles Times. “We do expungement work once a month, I’m looking around across the city and how long this is taking and how much money we continue to see raked in by the cannabis industry, and it still doesn’t sit well with me until those records are actually expunged.”

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Gavin Newsom Gave the Cannabis Industry Its Mask-Off Moment

You could say that Gov. Gavin Newsom saved the California cannabis industry.

Way back in March 2020, with the mysterious but deadly novel coronavirus spreading like an out-of-control and invisible late-fall wildfire, the governor declared all cannabis dispensaries essential businesses. This meant they could keep their doors open during the strict California stay-at-home order while bars, restaurants, and most other retail shut down. As public-health professionals clutched at pearls, the result was the biggest buying spree in marijuana legalization’s history, a 57 percent increase from the prior year.

You could also say that Gavin Newsom—one of the first prominent politicians with a national profile to come out for weed, who endorsed legalizing cannabis way back in 2012—is responsible for wrecking the state’s marijuana industry we knew it.

Though the state’s legalization ballot measure, 2016’s Prop. 64, promised small growers a head start, rules released in late 2017 allowed Big Weed’s immediate entry. More rules, passed by local governments, shut out most of the state to legal cannabis retail, gifting the traditional illicit market a prime opportunity.

True, that happened when Newsom was still lieutenant governor, with then-Gov. Jerry Brown still handling the reins of state. But since then, Newsom has done little to lower taxes or ease regulatory burdens like steep permit fees.

For these reasons, there was plenty of angst, anger, and fear to propel as much as half of the California weed industry to either support the Sept. 14 recall effort, or at least chime in with their own critiques of the governor ahead of the crucial vote.

A Sacramento-area cannabis lobbyist even went as far as to run as a replacement candidate (while somewhat incoherently also encouraging voters to keep the governor in place).

Weed Power

“I think he completely dropped the ball and overlooked this massive gold mine sitting in his pocket,” said Mark Ponticelli, CEO and founder of The People’s Remedy, a dispensary chain in Modesto, Calif., in the state’s conservative Central Valley.

That said, when Ponticelli faced the choice of kicking the governor out and selecting a replacement—most likely Larry Elder, the ultra-right, Trump-endorsed, anti-vaxxing talk radio host—he found there was no choice at all.

“Really,” he said, “the choices were just the bad and the ugly. There was no real hope, it seemed like.”

Ultimately, the cannabis industry’s complains were irrelevant. Despite some early scares, Newsom easily brushed aside the recall effort by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. As a result, his political career is riding higher than ever.

He has tens of millions of dollars in campaign cash ready to brush aside whomever might try to run against him in 2022. He’s a near-lock to be governor until Jan. 2027 (unless he tries to run for president first).

This means the cannabis industry in California will have to live with the governor—and after their summer of harsh words and support for the recall, some awkward conversations when they ask for the tax relief and other help they say they desperately need might ensue.

Fringe Candidate

Whether the cannabis industry’s boiled-over frustrations with the governor will cause a problem isn’t clear. Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reached Friday, officials from the Department of Cannabis Control said they were busy meeting with small cannabis business owners and were unavailable to discuss (though whom they were meeting with, they did not say).

But not everyone in weed wanted Newsom out. Ryan Bacchas is a Los Angeles-based campaign consultant and lobbyist. A self-described “fiscal conservative” who leans Republican, Bacchas is also president of the California Cannabis Coalition, active in trying to influence statewide drug policy. He estimates “about half” of the state industry wanted Newsom out—and he counted himself firmly in the pro-Newsom camp.

“Everybody else was out of their damn minds,” he said. “I know a lot of folks were putting out false information about the governor and some of the things he’s done as far as cannabis is concerned.”

“He didn’t have to declare the cannabis industry essential,” Bacchas added. “I understand some peoples’ frustration… but if people aren’t so happy with Gavin, we weren’t going to get anything done with a Republican governor.”

“I told people, the only sensible logic is, either we lose him, and we get someone new, or we keep him, and we keep going to work. And if he loses, all the progress is dead.”

“The people who wanted him gone, it was for very frivolous reasons,” he said, adding that some cannabis industry players’ behavior during the recall “made a mockery out of the industry.”

Lines Drawn, (Metaphorical) Masks Off

The real lasting impact of the Newsom recall—and California cannabis’s inability to affect the outcome one way or the other—may be internal. The uncertainty of the recall revealed the schisms and splits within the cannabis movement and industry.

“There’s been a lot said in the last year, about a lot of the racism, bigotry, and homophobia in the cannabis industry,” Bacchas said.

And the recall, “that’s who you saw, not just coming out, but making themselves known,” he added.

The post Gavin Newsom Gave the Cannabis Industry Its Mask-Off Moment appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Los Angeles County to Dismiss 60,000 Cannabis Convictions

It was recently announced that 60,000 cannabis convictions will be dismissed in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and The Social Impact Center, which is a nonprofit organization with ties to government, grassroots organizations and people in underserved communities, are behind the dismissals. 

The decision follows the passing of Assembly Bill 1793, which dismissed around 66,000 cannabis convictions in 2020. The latest dismissals were announced during “Week of Action and Awareness (WOAA),” once known as National Expungement Week. Now, around 125,000 dismissals in total have been granted. 

In 2016, Gascón co-authored Proposition 64, known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It legalized the possession, transport, purchase, consumption and sharing of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of marijuana concentrates for adults aged 21 and older. 

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

Gascón made the announcement with Felicia Carbajal, who’s the executive director and community leader of The Social Impact Center. “I have made it my life mission to help and support people who have been impacted by the ‘war on drugs,’” Carbajal said. “Giving people with cannabis convictions a new lease on life by expunging the records is something I have worked on for years, and I am grateful that we can now make it happen.”

Cannabis prohibition largely affects the Black and Latino communities, notably in Los Angeles. It remained a problem after the passing of Proposition 64. Lynne Lyman, who’s the former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, believes past mistakes are now being corrected. 

“This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64,” Lyman said. “We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen. Proposition 64 was always about more than legal weed; it was an intentional effort to repair the past harms of the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, which disproportionately targeted people of color.”

Assembly Bill 1739 led to prosecutors reviewing past convictions. Unfortunately, the review only focused on cases from state Department of Justice data. Once the Los Angeles County court records were read, three decades worth of misdemeanor cases were discovered. There were 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cases remaining after 2020. Prisoners were unaware they were eligible for dismissal or resentencing. Now, their records have been sealed, as well, in hopes it won’t affect their immigrant status, educational and job opportunities. 

After the passing of Proposition 64, communities of color continued to face injustice over cannabis in California’s most populated county. In 2021 alone, Black and Latino people accounted for over 75 percent of cannabis arrests in Los Angeles. Marijuana prohibition didn’t stop in Los Angeles County after legalization, although it didn’t largely affect white people. In 2019, whites only accounted for 10 percent of cannabis arrests. From 2004 to 2008 in Los Angeles, black people were arrested for cannabis at a rate seven times greater than white people. 

Roadblocks were still in place after Proposition 64 and Assembly Bill 1793, which Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui believes are now being taken down. 

“The dismissal of 60,000 marijuana-related cases by DA Gascón is a pivotal step in reforming our criminal justice system,” Anzoategui said. “This sends the right signal to the community that the nation was wrong in its ‘war on marijuana’ and that criminal convictions for marijuana offenses have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color. We join DA Gascón in removing roadblocks to employment, housing and education through the dismissal and sealing of these convictions.” 

The post Los Angeles County to Dismiss 60,000 Cannabis Convictions appeared first on High Times.

Judge Rules County Can’t Stop Water Deliveries to Hmong Weed Farmers

A Northern California federal judge ruled this month that Siskiyou County officials cannot stop trucks delivering water to Hmong unlicensed cannabis growers, writing that the ban raises “serious questions” about their right to be free of racial discrimination. 

In a decision handed down earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller wrote that preventing the deliveries to the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision in the Big Springs area of inland Northern California also leaves the families living there without a source of water for drinking, cooking and bathing. To enforce her order, Mueller issued a temporary injunction against the county’s ban on water deliveries trucked into the community.

“Without an injunction, the plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community will likely go without water for their basic needs and will likely lose more plants and livestock,” she wrote. “Fires may burn more homes. People may be forced to leave their homes and land behind without compensation.

“The plaintiffs have also raised serious questions about their constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination,” Mueller added.

Thousands of Illicit Greenhouses

Officials estimate that there are 5,000 to 6,000 greenhouses growing unlicensed marijuana in the Big Springs area, many of them in the Shasta Vista subdivision operated by Hmong and Chinese immigrants and their families who have moved to the community over the last five years. Officials say the illicit grow sites have led to a rise in crime in the area and complaints from residents who say the cannabis cultivation operations are causing their wells to run dry.

To address the issue, Siskiyou County officials approved ordinances this spring to prohibit selling well water without a permit and to ban water trucks on roads leading to Shasta Vista. County deputies enforced the ordinances by aggressively pulling over people they believed were hauling water illegally, according to reporting by the Sacramento Bee.

Attorneys for a group of Hmong farmers filed suit in federal court in Sacramento to block the ordinances, arguing that they were racially motivated and left the families without water for their homes, gardens and livestock. They also noted that the ban left the community without water to fight wildfires, such as the Lava Fire that burned through parts of Shasta Vista in June after a nearby lightning strike.

Suit Alleges Ordinances Were Racially Motivated

Mueller wrote in her September 3 ruling that the growers have a case to allege “the ordinances are motivated by racial animus,” but acknowledged that Siskiyou County attorneys had presented a compelling case that crime was on the upswing in the area.

“Violent crime in Shasta Vista has also spiked in recent years,” she wrote. “The Sheriff’s Office has responded to reports of armed robbery, assault and murder. In just one recent week, a man was pistol-whipped and robbed; another was the target of gunshots fired by a neighbor, and six people were bound and robbed by gunmen wielding AK-47s. Few similar crimes were reported in Shasta Vista before illegal cannabis cultivation took hold.”

Mueller let stand a county ordinance that specifically banned selling water for illegal cannabis cultivation. The injunction only applies to water sales and deliveries to the community intended for needs including bathing and gardening. Mueller rejected county arguments that the prohibition on water deliveries was needed to protect residents of Shasta Vista, many of whom live in unpermitted residences and are subject to unsafe living conditions. The judge ruled that the county has other laws including zoning ordinances to address those issues.

“Shasta Vista residents might drink and bathe in unpotable water trucked into Shasta Vista from nearby agricultural wells, but the alternative is very little water or no water at all,” she wrote. “If potable water is in fact ready available, as the county claims… this order in no way prohibits officials from helping the people in Shasta Vista find and use that potable water.”

Raza Lawrence, an attorney for the Hmong growers, said that he hopes that Mueller’s injunction becomes permanent in order to avert a “humanitarian crisis” in the area.

“Now they can finally get back to living their lives like normal on their land,” he said.

The post Judge Rules County Can’t Stop Water Deliveries to Hmong Weed Farmers appeared first on High Times.