California Controversies Over ‘Social Equity’ Licenses

More localities in California are putting in place “equity license” programs for cannabis dispensaries, prioritizing applicants from those communities that had been most gravely affected by cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs. Such programs are now officially encouraged under state law.

But the continuing conflict over the equity program in Los Angeles casts a harsh light on the challenges of implementation and the social stakes involved.

Last month, prospective cannabis entrepreneurs agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging Los Angeles’s contentious process for granting licenses, after the city government agreed to increase the number of applicants. The suit was brought by the Social Equity Owners & Workers Association (SEOWA), who argued that, even with equity measures officially in place, the process was designed in a way that still effectively excluded the prohibition-impacted communities.

Gaming the System

As the Los Angeles Times reports, principally at issue was the first-come-first-serve aspect of the application process. SEOWA asserted that more than 200 applicants who accessed the online platform before 10 a.m. — the official opening time—got an unfair advantage. Mere seconds could make the difference between getting a license or not. Those with the time and resources could essentially game the system, filling out the application beforehand and hitting “submit” at the precise stroke of 10.

SEOWA, which called on the city to halt new licenses while the suit was pending, contended that “it is fundamental to any fair race that the competitors must start at the same time or, at the very least, be given accurate information about when the race will begin.”

Under the settlement agreement reached July 8, the city agreed to changes in the program, including a prompt review of the next 100 applications that were in line. This could double the number of licenses granted to the current round of applicants. Those changes were voted up by the City Council and received the approval of Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

SEOWA co-founder Kika Keith, called the settlement “a great victory for us.” In her statement, she also said, “Social equity applicants banded together and raised the money for legal fees to fight the injustice of the application process.”

Keith is one of the next 100 applicants in line. But, as the LA Times notes, hundreds more will still be left waiting. Which is why another SEOWA co-founder, Madison Shockley III, characterized the settlement as a compromise. “We made the decision to settle because we don’t see any way to make what happened fair—it’s kind of too late for that,” Shockley said. “So we felt it was for the greater good to accept the settlement that included 200 licenses.”

New Rules for LA Licensing 

The new rules approved by the City Council will also narrow the criteria for applicants who qualify for the equity program, limiting it to those with a cannabis arrest record in the state of California. The new rules also reconfigure the method for identifying areas with disproportionate arrests for cannabis offenses. 

Lynne Lyman, who led the Drug Policy Action campaign for legalization in California, welcomed the changes. According to the LA Times, she commented on the changes at a city meeting where she said, “We all know social equity has been a failure, here in LA and across most jurisdictions. Too many loopholes… This is the first real hope for social equity to succeed.”  
 
The program had previously designated the areas to be prioritized by ZIP codes – but this often meant that wealthier and whiter areas got lumped in with poorer ones that suffered higher levels of cannabis arrests. As the LA Times noted, one of the eligible ZIP codes was 90027, which covers affluent stretches of Los Feliz neighborhood. Under the new system, equity-prioritized areas will correspond to police reporting districts. 

“We agree that this process needs improvement,” admitted Cat Packer, head of the city Department of Cannabis Regulation.  

But plans to replace the first-come-first-serve system with a lottery are raising questions about whether this will really be any more equal. The California Minority Alliance, which also advocates for greater representation by Black and Latino business operators in the cannabis industry, warned that exclusive reliance on a lottery emphasized chance to the exclusion of merit. 
 
SEOWA launched its suit in April, weeks after release of an official audit giving the old system a clean bill of health. It found that although some applicants made it into the system ahead of time, the Department of Cannabis Regulation took “reasonable and appropriate” measures to correct for any unfair advantage.

Unequal Access Means Unequal Arrest Rates

Los Angeles announced its Social Equity Program a year ago, with its stated aim to “decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities and to address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs.” A California state law passed the previous year, the Cannabis Equity Act, created incentives for such programs.

But those disproportionate impacts persist in Los Angeles. Cannabis arrests continue to disproportionately target Blacks (as in New York City, even after a new policy de-emphasizing pot enforcement). In Los Angeles, arrest figures for Blacks have actually increased in absolute terms since cannabis legalization – certainly a perverse irony. An urban affairs website Crosstown cites the official figures, and they are staggering. In 2017, when adult-use cannabis was still illegal in California, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested 173 Black people for cannabis-related offenses. The next year, after legalization took effect, the LAPD arrested 239 Black people for cannabis offenses. In 2019, the number leapt again, to 261. 

In 2016, Blacks accounted for 32.2% of cannabis arrests in the city. Last year, that share rose to 42.3%, LAPD data indicates. Black folk make up 8.9% of the city’s population. 

And by Crosstown’s analysis, this is due to Blacks basically being forced into the illicit market by the continuing death of dispensaries in their neighborhoods: “Wealthier and predominantly white areas, such as Studio City, North Hollywood, Fairfax and Westwood are home to dozens of dispensaries. Meanwhile, the entire south part of Los Angeles, including areas with larger Black populations, such as Hyde Park and Watts, has fewer than 10 dispensaries registered with the city.”

Equity’s Catch-22 

The neighboring city of Long Beach is grappling with similar dilemmas. According to a recent report in Long Beach Business Journal, since the inception of the city’s Cannabis Equity Program two years ago, just one of 50 qualifying applicants has entered the industry as a business owner. 

Some frustrated aspiring entrepreneurs are protesting that the program has done little more than help with paperwork. “There wasn’t really anything more than showing us how to apply,” said Brian Delahoussaye, 35, who has several years of experience in the cannabis trade. “I’m sure that’s great if you have funds to apply.”

Establishing a cannabis enterprise can cost upward of $1 million for construction, rent, building modifications and equipment. This results in a kind of Catch-22 for equity applicants.

“It’s a strange crux because you’re not supposed to have any money to be in the program, but you need money to make it work,” said Delahoussaye, referring to the income and asset limitations set forth as qualification requirements. 

This contradiction was addressed in an open letter to Mayor Robert Garcia and the Long Beach City Council sent in February by acting City Manager Tom Modica. According to Modica’s letter, the equity program was set up to make “legal cannabis business ownership and employment opportunities more accessible to low-income individuals and communities negatively impacted by the prior criminalization of cannabis.” Yet, “in speaking with prospective applicants, the primary reason for the discrepancy between interest in the program and actual business license applications received, is the substantial amount of capital necessary to start a cannabis business.”

Delahoussaye told the Business Journal that by working in the medical marijuana industry before full adult-use legalization, he had been able to pay for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But with full legalization, the costs of licensing, owning or renting property in areas zoned for cannabis jumped (a phenomenon elsewhere described as “cannabis gentrification.”) Delahoussaye said that he and his partners were priced out.  

And, once again, this process disproportionately affected Black entrepreneurs, Delahoussaye said. “We’re locked out of this industry in a major, major way,” he soberly concluded.  

TELL US, how do you feel about cannabis “equity” programs?

The post California Controversies Over ‘Social Equity’ Licenses appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Thursday, January 23, 2020 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Thursday, January 23, 2020 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// ‘Cruel and unusual’: Kansas resident faces decades in prison for medical marijuana use (Leafly)

// 40% of All US Drug Arrests in 2018 Were For Weed Possession (Merry Jane)

// Marijuana Legalization Will Advance In Connecticut This Year, Top Lawmakers Say (Marijuana Moment)


These headlines are brought to you by Curaleaf, one of the leading vertically-integrated cannabis operators in the U.S. With legal medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation sites, and processing facilities all over the United States, Curaleaf has served more than 165,000 medical cannabis patients and looks forward to helping many more long into the future. Swing over to Curaleaf.com to learn more about this very cool company!


// Oregon’s Cannabis Sales Continue To Climb (Green Market Report)

// New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom (Marijuana Moment)

// Is Constellation Brands Making a Big Mistake? (Nasdaq (Motley Fool))

// Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign (Marijuana Moment)

// Mexican Lawmakers Plan To Pass Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill Before End Of April (Marijuana Moment)

// Illinois adult-use cannabis stores might face more shortages (Marijuana Business Daily)

// OLCC’s Drawn Out Application Process A Burden To The Industry (Bend Source)


Check out our other projects:
Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement.
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Wednesday, January 22, 2020 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Rumors Are That MedMen Is Unable To Pay Vendors (Green Market Report)

// New Mexico Governor Says It’s ‘High Time’ To Legalize Marijuana (Marijuana Moment)

// Arizona climate blamed for ‘off the charts’ THC failure in first hemp crops (Marijuana Business Daily)


These headlines are brought to you by Curaleaf, one of the leading vertically-integrated cannabis operators in the U.S. With legal medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation sites, and processing facilities all over the United States, Curaleaf has served more than 165,000 medical cannabis patients and looks forward to helping many more long into the future. Swing over to Curaleaf.com to learn more about this very cool company!


// New York Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization In New Budget Plan (Marijuana Moment)

// Colorado Tries to Beckon Tourists With Buy-and-Try Pot Lounges (Bloomberg Government)

// 1 in 13 Oklahoma Adults Are Now Using Medical Marijuana Legally (Merry Jane)

// New Zealand to overturn cannabis vaporizer ban, clearing the way for imports (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Free Weed: Sicily Is No Longer Charging Patients for Medical Cannabis (Merry Jane)

// Pete Buttigieg wants to end the war on weed- but not in South Bend (Leafly)

// Chart: Florida sales of smokable marijuana topped 22,000 pounds in less than six months (Marijuana Business Daily)


Check out our other projects:
Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement.
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Photo: Chris Goldberg/Flickr

Sister Somayah Kambui: An Early Visionary of Cannabis Equity

Today, “equity” is a watchword in the cannabis legalization movement, as state and local governments try to craft models for an adult-use market designed to correct the social harms of prohibition and the War on Drugs. But this public consciousness is due to the work of many who pushed the issue long before doing so was entirely socially acceptable.

Sister Somayah Kambui, a veteran Black Panther turned cannabis advocate, was one of those who brought issues of racial justice to the forefront of the cannabis movement. And before her untimely death, she won a groundbreaking “jury nullification” victory, upholding her right to provide cannabis to treat sickle-cell anemia.

Sister Somayah, as she was ubiquitously known (she was born Renee Moore), used cannabis to treat sickle-cell anemia, under the terms of California’s Proposition 215 medical marijuana measure after its passage in 1996. But her vocal advocacy made her a target of the authorities — resulting in her unprecedented legal victory. 

Sickle-cell anemia is a genetic blood anomaly that occurs in one in every 70,000 Americans, particularly those of African descent. It can cause debilitating pain, fatigue and swelling of the hands and feet. It took Kambui a while to figure out that cannabis was the most effective treatment for her.

Kambui was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, where she served several years during the Vietnam era. At VA and public hospitals, she was given morphine for her pain from the disease. 

“I couldn’t do anything on the morph,” she told High Times reporter Peter Gorman. “And neither can a million other people. That’s why you see so many middle aged and older black folk sitting on stoops looking like junkies. They are junkies. They’re U.S. government junkies.”

After finding that cannabis helped, and after the passage of Prop 215, she founded the Crescent Alliance Self Help for Sickle Cell collective, or “buyers’ club.” With a doctor’s recommendation, she began cultivating in her South Los Angeles backyard.

But the police raided her garden in October 2001 and confiscated, by their estimate, 200 pounds of cannabis plants. 

The LAPD brought in a helicopter for the raid, menacing the block of single-family homes.

“I was sitting having a cup of coffee with a little hemp oil when they broke down the door,” Kambui told the Los Angeles Times. “I said, ‘I’m legal, I have a doctor’s note and I’m compliant with the law.’”

She said the officers told her she had too much for her personal use. “I said ‘OK, why don’t you take what you think I don’t need and leave me the rest?’” she recalled to the LA Times. “They took it all.” 

She also disputed the police estimate of the haul. “That is 200 pounds wet, with dirt and stalks,” she said.

Kambui was arrested, spent 60 days in jail and was charged with multiple felonies including cultivation, sale and shipping marijuana out of state. Worse still, she was facing a life prison term under California’s “Three Strikes” law. Her two prior convictions, involving illegal firearms possession and explosives, stemmed from her work with the Black Panthers in the early 1970s. During her time as a legendary Panther, she was known as “Peaches,” and was a leader of the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party, alongside Geronimo Pratt.

When she went before the judge at Los Angeles County Court in January 2002, Kambui said the cannabis was not for her use alone, but was to be shared with some dozen sickle-cell sufferers in her club. “They’re all mine,” she said, taking full responsibility for all the uprooted plants. She also admitted shipping to sufferers who were too far away to come see her. 

And she asserted that her advocacy had made her a target, noting that she’d been similarly raided in 1998 — although the charges were dropped after she spent two weeks in jail.  

Making a medical necessity defense, Kambui spoke to the court of the long centuries of medicinal cannabis use in African traditional healing. Using her own idiosyncratic lingo, she referred to the African continent as “Nigretia,” and to her cannabis as “Nigretian Kif.”  

Sister Somayah Kambui

The trial ended in an outcome that The Leaf Online website hailed as a “jury revolt or jury nullification,” in which a defendant is acquitted on moral or ethical grounds, in spite of uncontested evidence that she or he acted as charged. On March 18, 2002, Sister Somayah Kambui was found “not guilty” of all charges.

In addition to being a rare victory for the doctrine of nullification, Kambui’s legal battle also anticipated a change in California law. It was the following year that the “medical marijuana collective defense” was enshrined in the Medical Marijuana Program Act, the notorious Senate Bill 420. 

Pushing Racial Justice in the Cannabis Community 

By the time of her court case, Kambui was already a leading figure in Southern California’s cannabis activist scene. She was the key mover behind the first Los Angeles Global Marijuana March in 1999, and all the subsequent ones until her death. And she was particularly aggressive in calling out the cannabis community one what she saw as its internal racism — for instance, in failing to emphasize sickle-cell anemia in medical marijuana advocacy, and failing to make the link between prohibition and militarized policing of black and brown communities.

But she bridged a cultural divide in 1997, when she teamed up with B.E. Smith, a brazen and police-defying cannabis grower of white redneck roots in the backwoods of Northern California’s Trinity Alps. Smith became “designated caregiver” for Kambui, among a handful of other medical users around the state. Alas, she never got to use B.E.’s bud, as his cultivation site was raided by federal agents that harvest season—resulting in his own landmark legal battle. Smith died earlier this year.

Unfortunately, Kambui’s run-ins with the law were not over after her court victory. In October 2003, her garden was again raided — this time by the DEA. A dozen plants were uprooted, although no charges were filed. 

California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer decried the raid as a “mean-spirited, gratuitous attack on a seriously ill woman who has been judged guiltless by her peers under California law. Like other victims of DEA’s medical marijuana raids, Somayah was targeted because she was a vocal, legal patient activist who was a thorn in the side of the law enforcement establishment.” 

Like many front-line activists who put a commitment to community ahead of personal gain, Kambui received little material reward for her efforts. When she died on Thanksgiving 2008, at the age of 57, the website Time4Hemp wrote that economic hard times likely contributed to her demise: “Many close to her believe she died of a broken heart based on lack of financial support. All those dispensaries in Los Angeles and not one would help her save her home from foreclosure.” 

Twelve years after her passing, Sister Somayah Kambui reminds us of the need to preserve the memory of those who sacrificed for such freedom and consciousness as we have now achieved. And more poignantly, of the need to honor and support our freedom fighters while they still walk among us. 

TELL US, what did you learn from Sister Somayah?

The post Sister Somayah Kambui: An Early Visionary of Cannabis Equity appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Peddler’s Licenses & Co-Ops: Chicago Brainstorms Ways to Make Cannabis More Equitable

Cannabis became legal in Illinois on New Year’s Day, and now Chicago’s administration and community leaders are brainstorming ways to implement a model for the industry that addresses the social harms of prohibition.

Chicago is one of the cities that has been most impacted by the drug war dystopia, so it is fitting that some unorthodox and cutting-edge ideas are being broached in the Windy City. The current unique cannabis ideas the city is considering include a city-owned cultivation co-op which residents could join and earn a stake in and a “peddler’s license” for individuals to sell cannabis themselves.

“Ensuring this emerging industry brings unprecedented economic and social benefits to our communities has been at the heart of our efforts since day one,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times.

With some Illinois municipalities already experimenting with alternative models like cannabis-tax funded “reparations,” Chicago is still in the phase of weighing proposals.

Cannabis buyers spent nearly $40 million in the first month days of the adult-use market, according to numbers reported by the Chicago Tribune on Feb. 4. This was despite widespread supply shortages, long lines and a limited number of licensed outlets across the state.

“Illinois had a far more successful launch of cannabis than many of the other states that have legalized, but this is about more than money, it’s about starting a new industry in a way that includes communities left behind for far too long,” Toi Hutchinson, the governor’s senior adviser for cannabis control, told the Evanston Patch.

Some 40 new dispensaries have opened already this year across Illinois, adding to the approximately 30 pre-existing medical marijuana dispensaries that have been grandfathered into the adult-use market.

But Chicago may be trying something very different — indeed, unprecedented in the nation.

A City-Owned Cannabis Co-Op?

In December, Mayor Lightfoot said her office has plans for a city-owned cannabis cultivation co-op would especially offer residents, especially those from black and brown communities, an opportunity to buy in with a “modest cash investment,” or, for those who can’t afford it, with “sweat equity” — labor in lieu of money.

Lightfoot portrayed the “cooperative cultivation center” idea as a means of assuring that Chicago’s cannabis market will not be dominated by big capital, or the city’s most privileged.

“This is a very, very expensive business to get involved with,” she told the Sun-Times in announcing the idea. “The basics to be a cultivator requires about a $13 million to $15 million investment. There are not a lot of people that have that, particularly in a market that a lot of banks and traditional lenders won’t touch. I think the only way to really crack this nut is for the city to invest its own resources to get engaged, get diverse entrepreneurs involved in the most lucrative part of the business, which is cultivation.”

Alderman Jason Ervin of Chicago’s 28th ward expressed outrage that African Americans have “zero representation” among the 11 grandfathered medicinal dispensaries that offered the city’s first adult-use sales on New Year’s Day.

Gov. JB Pritzker’s office voiced tentative support for Lightfoot’s proposal — but said it would have to wait until next year, when the new law allows the Illinois Department of Agriculture to decide whether to increase the number of large-scale cultivators in the state.  

“The administration is excited that people are discussing new and innovative approaches to equity and we look forward to exploring those options when the application for cultivation centers begins in 2021,” a Pritzker representative said in a statement.

But the Department of Agriculture, contacted by the Sun-Times, hedged on whether the new law allows issuance of cultivation licenses to a public entity.  

“The rules are still being written on that,” said department media rep Krista Lisser. “We really haven’t been posed with that question as of right now.”

A ‘Peddler’s License’ for Pot Dealers?

Another proposal, likely to be more controversial still with state authorities, has emerged from community activists led by Tio Hardiman, a longtime anti-violence campaigner with the group CeasefireChicago. Hardiman on Jan. 22 issued his call for the creation of a “peddler’s license” that would allow a retailer to sell cannabis at farmer’s markets or out of the backs of trucks. Hardiman said the idea could help “ease some of the conflict with the illegal drug trade,” and help ease the city’s crisis of gun violence.

“This way you can take the criminal element out of [selling cannabis] and allow these young guys to make some legal money. And then you can help reduce unemployment in the African American community,” Hardiman said at a press conference outside the Herbal Care Center, one of the city’s grandfathered medical dispensaries.

According to the Sun-Times, Hardiman said these small retailers would be required to keep a “paper trail,” and drew a parallel to operations such as Grubhub or Uber that use mobile apps and log transactions.

Contacted by the Sun-Times, the offices of Gov. Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot issued statements that “didn’t directly address” Hardiman’s proposal. Pritzker media rep Jordan Abudayyeh noted that legal cannabis is currently only sold by licensed dispensaries “to ensure that products are regulated and safe.” But she added that as new licenses are handed out, priority will be given to “social equity candidates,” who have cannabis offenses on their records or live in areas hit hard by the drug war.

Pat Mullane of Lightfoot’s office similarly said the mayor is committed to ensuring that all Chicagoans, but especially those from “disadvantaged communities,” will be able to “benefit from jobs and economic opportunity created by the newly legalized cannabis industry.”

Chicago over the past decade has suffered from blatantly racist police practices in drug enforcement, and what can only be called human rights abuses. In 2015, grim revelations emerged of “black site” or clandestine prison run by the city police force — completely outside the law or any public oversight.

Correcting this legacy will clearly be one of the biggest challenges for legal cannabis in the nation. Advocates coast to coast would do well to watch how things unfold in this heartland metropolis.

TELL US, would you want a license to sell pot at a farmers market?

The post Peddler’s Licenses & Co-Ops: Chicago Brainstorms Ways to Make Cannabis More Equitable appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Cuomo Pledges Legal Cannabis for New York in 2020, But Where’s the Equity?

New York state cannabis advocates were bitterly disappointed last year, when two rival legalization measures both failed to pass at the end of the state’s legislative session in June. One of those measures — pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and generally disfavored by activists — has just been revised and reintroduced. 

The state’s cannabis community is still parsing the details. But there is some skepticism as to whether the bill lives up to Cuomo’s promises on crafting a legalization model with a sense of social equity.

Cuomo’s Proposal: The Big Print 


For the second year in a row, Cuomo has introduced a cannabis legalization measure in the state budget. In a budget outline released on Jan. 21, Cuomo calls for a “comprehensive regulatory approach to legalize cannabis.” The move follows through on a pledge the governor made just two weeks earlier in his annual State of the State address, in which he openly said: “Let’s legalize adult use of marijuana.” 

Cuomo’s budget calls for creating a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee “medical, adult-use and hemp programs.” In other words, all aspects of the cannabis plant would be regulated by one agency. Under the adult-use system, those over 21 will be able to legally purchase from licensed retailers. The state will also establish a “Global Cannabis & Hemp Center for Science, Research and Education” within the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

The outline explicitly addresses the question of equity: “The proposal will also correct past harms to individuals and communities that have disproportionately been impacted by prohibition.”

This likewise echoes rhetoric from Cuomo’s State of the State speech, when he said: “For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws.”

And the budget outline reiterates Cuomo’s call last year for a regional bloc of Northeast states that embrace legalization and work together to have similar laws. In his plan, Cuomo notes he wants to work with Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania on cannabis laws. 

press statement plugging the budget plan touted it as a “nation-leading regulatory structure to regulate and control adult-use marijuana to ensure displacement of the illicit market, safeguard public health and safety, and encourage participation by communities and stakeholders that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.”


The Chances of Success for New York Pot in 2020

Some cannabis boosters are optimistic about Cuomo’s proposal.

“It’ll really be a gigantic market,” Morgan Fox of the National Cannabis Industry Association told CNN Business, noting New York’s large population, huge tourist draw and financial hub status. New York legalizing would “have ripples in global policy when it comes to cannabis,” he said.

But there is potential for another political logjam. The alternative measure that failed to pass last year was the Marijuana Taxation & Regulation Act (MRTA), and because New York runs on a two-year legislative cycle, it is officially still pending. And, again, Cuomo is hoping his measure will be ushered in along with the rest of the budget (although last year it was excised before the budget passed). In announcing the new measure in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, he was fairly explicit about this aim. 

“I believe it is best done in the budget,” he told reporters. “I believe the budget is the opportunity frankly to make some tough decisions and work through tough issues that without the budget can often languish.”

So there is a sense of deja vu here. The Democrats taking the state Senate for the first time in years in the 2018 midterm elections resulted in a flurry of progressive legislation. But with cannabis legalization still stalled, there are now ominous forebodings of backlash in the Empire State.

The New York Times notes that Cuomo and his fellow Democrats are facing political fallout from a new law that sharply reduces the use of cash bail in favor of releasing arrestees on their “own recognizance,” in an effort to reduce jail populations. The law took effect on New Year’s Day — and was immediately followed by concerns over a rash of anti-Semitic attacks, some said to have been committed by perps released under the new law. Even Cuomo himself has already broached a tightening of the law.

Meanwhile, the MRTA advocates — who had viewed Cuomo’s 2019 legalization measure as too restrictive, and lacking sufficient equity measures — are weighing whether his new measure is worth supporting. 

Some measures in the MRTA did get spun off into separate legislation that was passed last year. These include the expungement of thousands of low-level cannabis convictions, and closing the “public view loophole,” which allowed police to keep making marijuana arrests despite the decriminalization that has been in place in the state since 1977 — either for public smoking, or if suspects can be intimidated into showing cops their stash during a street stop. Under the reform package passed last June (kind of a consolation prize to activists in lieu of legalization), public use of pot has been dropped from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

But advocates insist there is much more to be done.

The Racial Disparities in New York Pot Policing

The racial disparity in cannabis arrests survived decriminalization, and has survived the new policy in New York City of de-emphasizing pot arrests. Will it also survive legalization?

New York City Health Department report released in September of last year revealed that in the city, white folks use marijuana at a significantly higher rate than black folks—and at a rate twice as high as Latinos. However, based on police stats filed with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, black and Latin New Yorkers accounted for a staggering 94% of all low-level cannabis arrests in New York City during the first six months of 2019. The NYPD arrested 1,436 people for possession or sale from January to June — with 1,349 identified as black or Hispanic.

And this was despite a “commitment to fair and equitable cannabis legalization” announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in December 2018, when the Mayor’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization turned in its recommendations.

Six months later, the city had still not closed the racial gap in cannabis busts.

The Start Smart NY website, which was launched to promote the MRTA, states: “Marijuana possession is one of the top misdemeanor arrests in New York State — and has been for the last twenty years. As a result, nearly one million New Yorkers have had contact with the criminal justice system — the overwhelming majority of whom, more than 80 percent — are Black and Latino, despite similar rates of consumption across racial and ethnic groups.”

In 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney joined the Brooklyn DA in announcing that his office would no longer prosecute low-level pot busts. With the election of Melinda Katz as Queens DA last year, another of New York City’s five boroughs has joined this policy. Katz promised she will “refuse to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests within Queens and will instead urge the legislature to legalize adult recreational cannabis and expunge all convictions for past arrests,” according to her campaign website

But Melissa Moore, deputy state director for New York with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told Cannabis Now that these policies have still failed to close the racial gap.

“There have been 800,000 cannabis arrests in New York state over the past 20 years, despite the 1977 law. With the new policies, arrest numbers have come down but the disparity has gotten worse,” Moore said. “It just shows the urgency of cannabis legalization in New York — it is clear that decrim has never been enough.”

Cuomo’s Proposal: The Small Print 


But will even legalization be enough?

Upon release of Cuomo’s new proposal, DPA policy director Kassandra Frederique issued a statement applauding the progress — but finding that the equity measures are insufficient.

“We are pleased to see Governor Cuomo’s commitment to passing comprehensive marijuana legalization in the state budget this year, and to see him include social equity and small business incubator programs,” Frederique wrote. “We are disappointed Governor Cuomo doesn’t clearly guarantee that a portion of funds from marijuana sales will be reinvested into the communities most harmed by New York’s marijuana arrest crusade. Without this necessary component, the Governor’s proposal will not truly right the wrongs done to communities of color by disproportionate enforcement of marijuana.” 

The continuance of disproportionate arrests, however, will be contingent on continued loopholes in the law. Still processing the text of Cuomo’s proposed legislation is David Holland, a New York City criminal defense attorney who is both president of the NYC Cannabis Industry Association and executive director of Empire State NORML. Speaking to Cannabis Now, Holland noted one loophole from existing law that survives in Cuomo’s new proposal: cannabis concentrates, presumably including hashish as well as oils and extracts, do not appear to be covered in the legalization.

Under New York State law, “marijuana” (now renamed “cannabis” under Cuomo’s proposal) falls under Penal Law 221, and has been decriminalized since 1977. But extracts and concentrates fall under Penal Law 220, for general “controlled substances,” with much harsher penalties.

“You can get busted for a concentrate and get booked on a ‘controlled substance’ offense,” Holland says. “That’s how they’ve been getting around this problem, and the new bill does not appear to change that.”

Holland adds that “the ‘public nuisance’ loophole will always remain” — although the new bill seems vague on how that is defined. 

As long as loopholes in any legalization law persist, it’s a pretty good bet that racist enforcement will persist too. In the coming weeks, New York activists will have to decide whether Cuomo’s proposal sufficiently closes the loopholes, and sufficiently addresses equity concerns — or whether they will stick with the MRTA, at risk of the Legislature remaining divided over rival legalization bills.

TELL US, do you think New York will legalize pot in 2020?

The post Cuomo Pledges Legal Cannabis for New York in 2020, But Where’s the Equity? appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Thursday, January 23, 2020 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Thursday, January 23, 2020 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// ‘Cruel and unusual’: Kansas resident faces decades in prison for medical marijuana use (Leafly)

// 40% of All US Drug Arrests in 2018 Were For Weed Possession (Merry Jane)

// Marijuana Legalization Will Advance In Connecticut This Year, Top Lawmakers Say (Marijuana Moment)


These headlines are brought to you by Curaleaf, one of the leading vertically-integrated cannabis operators in the U.S. With legal medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation sites, and processing facilities all over the United States, Curaleaf has served more than 165,000 medical cannabis patients and looks forward to helping many more long into the future. Swing over to Curaleaf.com to learn more about this very cool company!


// Oregon’s Cannabis Sales Continue To Climb (Green Market Report)

// New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom (Marijuana Moment)

// Is Constellation Brands Making a Big Mistake? (Nasdaq (Motley Fool))

// Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign (Marijuana Moment)

// Mexican Lawmakers Plan To Pass Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill Before End Of April (Marijuana Moment)

// Illinois adult-use cannabis stores might face more shortages (Marijuana Business Daily)

// OLCC’s Drawn Out Application Process A Burden To The Industry (Bend Source)


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Wednesday, January 22, 2020 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Rumors Are That MedMen Is Unable To Pay Vendors (Green Market Report)

// New Mexico Governor Says It’s ‘High Time’ To Legalize Marijuana (Marijuana Moment)

// Arizona climate blamed for ‘off the charts’ THC failure in first hemp crops (Marijuana Business Daily)


These headlines are brought to you by Curaleaf, one of the leading vertically-integrated cannabis operators in the U.S. With legal medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation sites, and processing facilities all over the United States, Curaleaf has served more than 165,000 medical cannabis patients and looks forward to helping many more long into the future. Swing over to Curaleaf.com to learn more about this very cool company!


// New York Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization In New Budget Plan (Marijuana Moment)

// Colorado Tries to Beckon Tourists With Buy-and-Try Pot Lounges (Bloomberg Government)

// 1 in 13 Oklahoma Adults Are Now Using Medical Marijuana Legally (Merry Jane)

// New Zealand to overturn cannabis vaporizer ban, clearing the way for imports (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Free Weed: Sicily Is No Longer Charging Patients for Medical Cannabis (Merry Jane)

// Pete Buttigieg wants to end the war on weed- but not in South Bend (Leafly)

// Chart: Florida sales of smokable marijuana topped 22,000 pounds in less than six months (Marijuana Business Daily)


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Photo: Chris Goldberg/Flickr

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Tuesday, November 26, 2019 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// ‘CBD has the potential to harm you,’ FDA warns consumers (Market Watch)

// FDA Warns 15 Companies For Selling CBD Products That Violate FD&C Act (Green Market Report)

// Joe Biden Walks Back Marijuana ‘Gateway Drug’ Comment After Week Of Criticism (Marijuana Moment)


These headlines are brought to you by Green Worx Consults, a company specializing in project management, workflow mapping and design, and Lean & 6 Sigma process. If you could use help making your business better at business, get in touch with Green Worx Consults.


// Planet 13 Generates $16.7 Million Revenue in Nevada Cannabis Market in Q3 (New Cannabis Ventures)

// Organigram Sales Drop Sequentially In Fourth Quarter (Green Market Report)

// Full Legalization Is Estimated to Bring Florida $190 Million Annually (Merry Jane)

// Trinidad And Tobago Government Introduces Marijuana Reform Bills (Marijuana Moment)

// Aurora Cannabis Completes Convertible Debenture Early Conversion with 99% Participation (New Cannabis Ventures)

// Gov. Kim Reynolds visits medical marijuana manufacturing facility in Des Moine (Des Moines Register)

// Pot-Smoking ‘Weedman’ Says Rich Will Crush N.J.’s Black Market (Bloomberg)


Check out our other projects:
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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.”

The post Advocates Stress Need for Equity in Cannabis During Museum of Weed Panel appeared first on Weedmaps News.