The Color of Money

Business-based racial inequality in this country is far from the distant memory it should be at this point in our social development. Legalization isn’t necessarily changing the demographics of people involved in corporate cannabis; the industry is still made up of predominantly white, middle-aged men who are the gatekeepers to inclusion. There are many examples of bias from cannabis stakeholders, which prevent post-legalization dreams of a cannabis utopia from being truly realized. No one knows this better than Ron Brandon.

“It’s gangster, but it’s clean. ’I thought it’d be more trappy. I’ve heard it all,” Brandon said, alluding to the type of ignorance and prejudice many experts face when entering the regulated cannabis market.

Impeccably dressed and frustratingly chivalrous, Brandon returns a knowing smirk. We’re sitting at a cafe discussing how the lack of education in the cannabis industry poses challenges for those trying to enter the legal marketplace. Brandon has big plans for the future of cannabis.

While he’s not yet a household name, Brandon is on his way. For more than a decade-and-a-half, he’s worked with at least 20 cannabis companies in an industry that is in many respects new, but also inherently old. He has partnered with the likes of Ball Family Farms and Headstash, bringing high-quality cannabis to the legal market directly from the people who created this corporate landscape before the governance caught up. Most are members of California’s Social Equity Program (SEP), which launched in 2018 with the passing of Senate Bill 1294, the Cannabis Collaboration and Inclusion Act.

Designed to repair the impacts of prohibition and the War on Drugs, the program offers a greater degree of government support as individuals with past cannabis convictions or arrests, or those who live in disproportionately impacted areas, attempt to start their legal cannabusinesses. The brainchild of a liberal playbook, the program’s priority access to applications and help in this journey rarely occur the way they’re pitched on city websites. Although details the technical and business assistance offered through the program, many believe it to be a complex process.

In recent years, the myriad problems facing social equity applicants have come to a head. “People run out of resources in a system that’s very difficult to navigate,” Brandon said. “Launching a social equity enterprise is so much more than qualifying for assistance. A serious barrier to entry is that cities grant licenses based on the organization already having a building lease, but so few of these applicants have the means of paying tens of thousands of dollars in rent on commercial space before finding out if they qualify to monetize their work.”

Clearly frustrated by such overtly impractical hurdles, Brandon goes on to note that these issues are only exacerbated by so-called “technical experts” at the city level who have little understanding of the industry— it’s a case of the blind leading the blind.“

Legalization in California just hasn’t worked like it was supposed to, and the SEPs aren’t effective in mitigating the issues faced by the Black community in all areas of business,” Brandon said, choosing his words carefully.

Kingston Royal founder Ron Brandon. PHOTO Brandon Almengo

Changing Course

After a career as a professional football player spanning six years, Brandon retired in 2007 due to a knee injury. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a lifelong passion for the arts. “I’d always been really into hand-sketching, but I missed my opportunity to follow that seriously,” he says.

Brandon is the last person to admit that he’s a multi-talented creative. He’s more than dabbled in music, and he started finding real success just as the 2008 financial crisis hit. “I love getting involved in anything that pushes the message of non-conformity with what society is dealing with,” Brandon said. “The failing economy disrupted my own existence, but because I was looking to connect cannabis and music, I started to supplement my income by brokering cannabis. Cannabis is used in music as a tool, and it was fulfilling to be on both sides of that journey.“

As the Green Rush hit California, Brandon was presented with an opportunity to become involved in corporate cannabis. Motivated to represent diversity and maintain the integrity of his cannabis work, Brandon moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where he entered cannabis politics. There, he co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Licensing Group, a subchapter of the California Growers Association. He was instrumental in shaping the group’s policy to fall in favor of the operators rather than policymakers.

While Brandon remained committed to removing the stigma around cannabis, he kept hitting the same walls: time and money.

The slow growth of distribution for cannabis products was getting in Brandon’sway, so he hacked the system. Killing two birds with one stone and avoiding the three-year wait for business licensing, Brandon’s new distribution company took SEP applicants to market in 30 days as brands. This gave them the clout and proof-of-concept to raise the same money as their non-SEP counterparts. The process also made the difference between a few million-dollar investment cap, to less than a $100,000, streamlining the journey to licensing. As a point of purpose, Brandon built a sense of community in all the operations he partnered with, which naturally led to the creation of his own flagship brand, Kingston Royal.

Ron Brandon
Ron Brandon’s Kingston Royal brand cannabis products. Photo courtesy of Kingston Royal

Kingston Royal’s Long Game

Kingston Royal was founded on a desire to enhance creativity through cannabis. Championing the notion that “you are the creator of all things,” the purpose-driven cannabis and lifestyle brand aims to inspire. Kingston Royal isn’t going for an instant money grab like many other mainstream brands; they’re aiming for longevity by embracing cannabis’ roots while supporting originality, innovation and unrestricted thinking in their team.

“Mainstream brands started earlier because that’s the SoCal system; people who have money could get in early, but their top-down approach has made their businesses irrelevant in less than half a decade,” Brandon says.

Colloquially known as “Hollywood” brands, these products are quickly fading from dispensaries. Brandon attributed their failure to a lack of understanding around the origins of cannabis, noting the exact pressure point these brands missed: the culture. Cannabis is no longer derived from Cheech and Chong stereotypes. The modern cannabis narrative is rooted in Black American history and the music that normalized consumption as a daily activity.

Brandon says that just as hip hop was birthed from backyards and community centers, so, too, was the shared experience of peace, relaxation and creativity from cannabis. America has the likes of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to thank for the current state of legalization, but corporate brands and dispensaries ignore their forefathers at their own peril.

Ron Brandon
Ron Brandon has big plans for social equity. PHOTO Brandon Almengo

The Struggle Is Real

This leads Brandon to the core component of social equity that’s ignored in the governance: Many dispensaries aren’t carrying enough social equity products.

“There’s supposed to be 20-25% of shelf space dedicated to SEPs. Dispensary owners aren’t being held accountable,” he said. While this isn’t a law, dispensaries must dedicate 20-40% of shelf space to equity brands to qualify for Equity Trade Certification by OEG, the first federally recognized social equity certification program for cannabis and other goods.

According to Brandon, this is due to a concern over aesthetics, as well as the uphill battle to market that most social equity applicants are facing. He says the largely white-owned dispensaries don’t want edgier items taking center stage on their carefully curated shelves and that these biases are based on a common misconception that white-washing cannabis will draw new customers.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth. A new consumer is almost always introduced to cannabis through a friend or family member who partakes rather than seeking out products themselves. No question about it. The branding is important in a general sales way, but customer loyalty trumps the conversion metrics every time.

Most social equity products boast significant customer loyalty and could expand the market appeal of many dispensaries, but they’re not given a seat at the table. This occurs while brands and business owners cozy up to musicians, producers, rappers and artists who are far more closely aligned with the root of cannabis in America — a root defined by social equity applicants.

“Black social equity applicants make up the majority of in-fluence of this industry, and we’re asked to show up at the events, but there’s always a guest list we miss when it comes to shelf space,” Brandon said.

It’s a bizarre picture that Brandon’s painting: Social equity products and brands are more likely to be consumer-friendly in terms of cost, quality and consistency. Consequently, because these products are more aligned with the reality of the consumer, they’re more likely to garner customer loyalty and drive sales. More than that, because of the macro psycho-social nature of cannabis use, SEPs are also more likely to be the first brand used by new consumers, and therefore generate longevity.

A true gentleman, Brandon doesn’t dismiss his peers in any pointed fashion, but simply picks up on a consistent psycho-logical failure of leadership.

“Hollywood brands may find it easier to get into retail space, get into parties,” he said. “It’s easier to duplicate, it’s easier grow, but when you can’t maintain your consumers, and more importantly can’t maintain your in-house talent, then you’re a pointless brand, and you’re only in cannabis to look cool. If you’re not looking to achieve anything else, you’re going to fail. That’s what we’re seeing now.”

When corporate businesses ignore the people who historically drove primo product from Canada to California — who grew in the hills of NorCal, and who sat in cells for smoking a joint — they seem to flounder and fade from sight. Put simply: People who never grew up in the real cannabis culture are trying and failing to make a profit, while the people who know cannabis best still largely sit inside of the American prison system.

Though the true metric likely won’t be realized for a few decades, it appears that a key to longevity in cannabis is association with the traditional market and the people who brought cannabis to the forefront of our legal, adult-use activities.

“Success streams from developing brands and operations like your developing artists,” Brandon says. “The mainstream industry is too busy trying to rethink cannabis.”

Ron Brandon
Ron Brandon is a true trailblazer. PHOTO Brandon Almengo

What Now?

Brandon’s next big undertaking in the cannabis industry as Chief Business Analyst at NatureTrak transcends his supply chain expertise. “A very close friend in tech asked if there was a play in cannabis, and it took until the passage of Prop 64 for us to pivot our concepts to focus on banking,” Brandon said.

The first Black-owned FinTech SAS company, NatureTrak is changing the global business landscape by making it possible for cannabusinesses to operate with financial institutions. The tech company’s free track-and-trace software can follow the complete lifecycle of a product—from seed to bank—giving banks an easy way to ensure their cannabis clients are legally compliant. Brandon is a consultant on the operations side, offering guidance on how the software speaks to social equity operators and the government.

“We help social equity operators get compliant banking so they can have some stake in the game, “he said. “We really built the airplane in the air. Had it not been for my life-long history in this business, I’d never have understood the needs of all the key stakeholders.“

With a finger on the pulse of change, Brandon is a true trailblazer. He understands the importance of cannabis’ place in history while still being able to identify future opportunities and take advantage of the present moment.

“My personal belief is that it exists today, but it’s not a promise it will exist tomorrow,” said Brandon, speaking to the state of California’s Social Equity Program. “We need to utilize funds while the government is being supportive. Let’s get these people to the finish line.”

This story was originally published in issue 42 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

The post The Color of Money appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Washington Social Equity Application Nears Deadline

The state of Washington is set to dole out more than 40 new cannabis retail licenses this month to so-called social equity applicants––but the deadline is fast approaching. 

With the application period kicking off on March 1, qualified prospective license holders have until March 30 to apply. 

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, a state regulatory agency overseeing the two industries, is handling the social equity applications. 

According to the agency, more than 40 licenses that “were forfeited, cancelled, revoked or never issued will be available in specific jurisdictions across the state” as part of the program.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board says that, in order to qualify for the social equity cannabis program, applicants must meet the following criteria:

“At least a 51 percent majority, or controlling interest, in the applicant, must be held by a person(s), who has or have resided in Washington state for six months prior to the application date, and meets at least two of the following qualifications: lived in a disproportionately impacted area (DIA) in Washington state for a minimum of five years between 1980 and 2010 … OR applicant or a family member has been arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense; OR household income was less than the median household income within the state of Washington ($82,400).” 

According to Axios, applicants “who have served time in prison for a cannabis offense will get higher priority when it comes to distributing the social equity licenses,” as will those applicants who “make less than the state’s median income, and who have lived in areas with high rates of drug convictions, poverty, and unemployment.”

Social equity provisions have become the norm in states that legalize recreational cannabis for adults, as advocates have stressed the importance of remedying harms inflicted on individuals and communities in the era of prohibition. 

But in Washington, which became one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2012, those social equity provisions did not come until later. 

The ballot measure approved by voters there more than a decade ago, Initiative 502, “did not include provisions or create programs to acknowledge the disproportionate harms the enforcement of cannabis laws had on certain populations and communities,” the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board explained earlier this year, when it announced the more than 40 social equity applications that would be made available

The state created the social equity cannabis program in 2020, when the state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, signed a bill into law that provided “the opportunity to provide a limited number of cannabis retail licenses to individuals disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.”

“The LCB recognizes that cannabis prohibition laws were disproportionately enforced for decades and that the cumulative harms from this enforcement remain today,” the agency explains on its website. “In 2020, in response to a policy priority identified by the Board, the LCB developed agency-request legislation created the state Social Equity program, the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force and the opportunity to provide a limited number of cannabis retail licenses to individuals disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.”

But the state clearly still has a lot of work to do; as Axios noted, more than 10 years after the voters there made history, Washington’s cannabis industry “remains dominated by white entrepreneurs.”

The State Liquor and Cannabis Board reported in January 2020 that 82% of cannabis retailers in Washington were owned by white individuals. Only 3% were owned by Black residents, and 2% were Hispanic-owned. 

The post Washington Social Equity Application Nears Deadline appeared first on High Times.

The Gap Between Advocacy and Execution

No pun intended, it’s one of the haziest problems in cannabis. Why? Because it’s hard to tell who is who. And even worse, the opposite of the foolish people that wanted to pretend they contributed to this moment are cunning-ass sharks that understand the game at every level from why pheno hunting is important, to walking the halls of Congress and the only legacy they’re worried about saving is their family office, a mechanism big money families use to create even more wealth and evade taxes. It’s truly proper ruling-class shit. 

Those scariest of fuckers are not who we’re highlighting here. They don’t even want you to know they exist. There are probably less than 20. Some of them are nicer than others. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the guys we might confuse with the worst because of their bad ideas. Many are in fact far more terrifying than any C-list trust-funder, those who have no idea what they’re doing because the level of access they gain just by showing up for years, maybe even decades. In the best case scenario, they came into the game when it was still more of a criminal justice issue and stuck around. 

But in sticking around they watched the conversation change from getting out of cages to how long until we can ship packs internationally? This is a real question at this point.

Sometimes that turned into a quest for cannabis participation trophies on top of their attendance records, while not technically nefarious, it led to a lot of headaches across America from people pretending they knew what they were talking about when it came to growing, shipping, or selling cannabis at an industrial scale. And then when you try and raise a point about the headaches being created by their idea that doesn’t come from a place of experience and you get hit with a “you should google me” by someone who has never flipped a pack, harvested, made sure they didn’t screw up a cure or pawned something to make payroll. 

Why should people without any experience dictate policy? How did we get here?

The biggest problem was how hard it was to organize cultivators in Northern California between Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee’s Prop 19 in 2010 which failed by a few points and Prop 64 in 2016 which won. And that’s California, it’s even harder to organize people in other states; it’s still extra sketchy. One of the things that compounded the problem was the more experience you had cultivating, the more likely you were to keep your head down. 

And I’m not talking shit about those people that had to keep their head down, I get it. Since my move to California in 2009 I’ve had employers and friends deal with the perils of the United States Department of Justice and its affiliates on many occasions. Most of the worst incidents were in that critical time frame for organizing. As people watched their peers and the few industry faces of the moment that went public deal with their headaches, they understandably went further up the hill or deeper into the woods. 

In that void of experience, the people got into the game to get people out of cages and started getting more involved with what cannabis legalization should look like. Some would even build their own tables to sit at and groups to populate with their personal comrades, and then attempt to speak for all growers. It was fucking madness. 

And while those deep in the game would be able to cut through the participation bullshit quickly, the policymakers those people got into the ears of were clueless or really didn’t care. A couple of fundraisers with the right politician and your 501c4 was now a player in local or federal cannabis! But these groups of pretenders would clash over money and resources. Most of the people that did the most damage in California burnt every bridge they had; they won’t be a factor in the national conversation. 

But the growers still haven’t emerged as a truly organized entity to push that goal. Most of the cultivation organizations in the industry are extremely localized. There have been statewide growers organizations in California, but much like the early social equity struggles, people felt like they were being figureheaded. 

Essentially, small farmers felt their struggles were being used to get people in the room to push their own issues. This happened so many times in California. It became very hard to organize producers leaving a void of knowledge for policymakers that might actually want to talk to someone who knows how they’re doing. 

Another side effect of these popup cannabis industry organizations is how they diluted what little voices there are, and then normalize just starting random trade groups. As I’ve noted before, these days any letter to congress looks like it was signed by all 32 NFL teams because there are so many pot organizations signing the bottom. 

The only way to solve this gap between advocacy and execution is to challenge the people trying to dictate the future. We can’t let bad policies get pushed on us by people that literally just want their voices to be heard. 

And this isn’t to hate on the real OGs. I know this awesome gay couple from San Francisco that helped Dennis Peron pass medical marijuana in 1996. They’ve been at everything since: NORML meetings, conferences, court support for farmers, the whole nine. While not experts in industrial cannabis, they played a big factor in helping get us to this day where 14,000 less Californians a year have to deal with a cannabis arrest. And I’ve never heard them once try to convince people they were experts in anything. I love that. And I never want to discourage real advocates because there are still so many people that need our help in getting out of cages. 

Just don’t pretend you know what you’re talking about.

The post The Gap Between Advocacy and Execution appeared first on High Times.

Pennsylvania Governor Proposes Taxes on Pot—But No Legalization Bill

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on Tuesday unveiled his proposed budget for the state, which included a plan to levy a tax on marijuana sales.

The sale of cannabis is, notably, still illegal in Pennsylvania. 

But Shapiro’s proposal is a nod toward a weed-friendly feature in the Keystone State.

The first-term governor’s budget “proposes an adult use cannabis tax that would be imposed on the wholesale price of products sold through the regulated framework of the production and sales system, once legalized.” 

“The proposed rate is 20 percent of the wholesale price of cannabis products sold through the regulated framework,” the budget reads.

The proposal includes an estimate that “sales would commence January 1, 2025, with initial revenue collections realized in 2024-25.”

But as the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, Shapiro’s budget “does not include any proposed policy changes in the budget.”

According to the Inquirer, Shapiro’s “proposal includes estimates that assume adult-use sales would begin in January 2025 and bring in about $16 million in tax revenue that year … [and] tax revenue [would] increase to $64.1 million in 2026, $132.6 million in 2027, and $188.8 million in 2028.”

Shaprio, who was elected as governor last year, and other Pennsylvania Democrats have made it known that they want to legalize marijuana in the state.

“Legalize marijuana. Regulate it. Tax it,” Shapiro said on Twitter in 2021.

He also emphasized the importance of any new cannabis law to include social equity provisions to right previous wrongs of the Drug War.

“But let me be clear: legalization must include expungement for those in jail or who have served time for possessing small amounts of marijuana,” Shapiro continued in the tweet. “Our Black & brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by this for far too long.” 

A pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers filed a memo earlier this year stating their desire to pass a cannabis legalization bill this year.

“It’s time to regulate and tax this major crop product in service of the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians,” state House Reps. Dan Frankel and Donna Bullock, both Democrats, said in the memo, which was released in January. “Soon we will be introducing legislation to do just that.”

Frankel and Bullock highlighted the ubiquity of cannabis use in Pennsylvania––both through the state’s established medical marijuana program, and the illicit market.

“Pennsylvanians are using cannabis,” they wrote in the memo. “Some of that cannabis is sold legally to patients through the medical cannabis program. Those products are regulated for safety and producers pay for the costs of managing the program.”

Cannabis is also sold illegally in Pennsylvania,” the lawmakers continued. “We have no idea what’s in it, how it was produced or where it comes from. We do know that it gets into the hands of young people, and we get no tax benefit to support our communities; meanwhile, the enforcement of our cannabis laws has not affected all communities equally – far from it. Although white people and people of color use cannabis about equally, black Pennsylvanians are about 3.5 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis use as their white counterparts, according to Pennsylvania State Police data compiled by NORML.”

They said that their proposal “will create a legal and regulatory framework structured to control and regulate the cultivation, processing, transportation, distribution, delivery and sale at retail of cannabis and cannabis products with the following central goals in mind: Consumer Safety; Social Justice; Economic Equity; Prevention of Substance Use Disorder; Revenue.” 

But the prospects for legalization in Pennsylvania remain unclear. 

“Since late last year, several lawmakers have filed memos about legalization proposals that give an idea of what an adult-use market could look like — though it’s unclear if or when a legalization bill will be passed,” the Inquirer reported.

The post Pennsylvania Governor Proposes Taxes on Pot—But No Legalization Bill appeared first on High Times.

San Diego Receives Cannabis Equity Grant To Boost Local Weed Industry

At long last, San Diego is receiving grant money from the state as part of a program designed to help cities bolster their local cannabis industries.

The southern California city announced last month that it is receiving $880,000 from the Governor of California’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) as part of a statewide grant program aimed at promoting equity in the regulated marijuana market.

Under the initiative, California provided millions of dollars to cities throughout the state with their own cannabis equity grant programs.

Major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland all got in on the grant program. Last spring, officials in San Francisco announced that they had received $4.5 million from the state of California to fund its cannabis equity grant program.

But the $880,000 gift last month was the first such grant money to be awarded to San Diego. 

That is because San Diego didn’t establish its own grant program until last year, which, as the San Diego Union-Tribune noted, was “several years after other large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Long Beach.”

“Receiving this critical funding source is vital to jump-starting our Cannabis Equity Program,” Lara Gates, the deputy director of San Diego’s Cannabis Business Division, said in the city’s announcement. “These dollars will provide a solid foundation for our initial cannabis equity applicants to get a strong foothold in the legal cannabis market.”

In its announcement of the grant last month, the city said the the “money will support residents seeking to enter the legal cannabis industry in San Diego through funding grants to cover permit and license fees and associated start-up property costs while providing access to the cannabis industry workforce.” 

Those funds “will be dispersed locally, supporting the state’s effort to advance economic justice for populations and communities harmed by cannabis prohibition,” the city said in the announcement, adding that the grants “will help potential business owners pay for permitting and licensing fees, access education and training, and receive property rental assistance for entrepreneurship in various sectors that support local cannabis businesses,” which include “finance, marketing, advertising and legal services, among others.”

In determining the qualifications for the grant program, the city of San Diego “found the biggest hurdles to entering the industry are lack of capital, lack of training, problems finding suitable sites and complex government regulations,” according to the Union-Tribune.

“The historical enforcement of drug laws produced profound disparities in business ownership, wage earnings and mass incarceration within the criminal justice system for African American/Black, Latino and Native American/Indigenous communities,” Kim Desmond, the San Diego Chief of Race and Equity, said in last month’s announcement. “An acknowledgment of historic institutional racism and systemic inequity is key to understanding disparities in the cannabis industry.”

The money awarded to San Diego represented the “the seventh-largest grant, after Oakland and Los Angeles with nearly $2 million each, as well as Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach at $1.5 million each and Humboldt County with $1.2 million,” according to the Union-Tribune.

The city of San Diego said that it “was among 16 cities and counties across the state to receive a combined $15 million in grants, funded through tax revenue generated from statewide recreational cannabis sales.”

In its cannabis equity assessment last year, the city of San Diego found that Black and Latino residents accounted for roughly 50% of total cannabis arrests since 2015, although they comprise only 29% of the city’s population.

The assessment also found that nearly 70% of cannabis business license holders are white.

The post San Diego Receives Cannabis Equity Grant To Boost Local Weed Industry appeared first on High Times.

Black History Month: Meet the Cannabis Changemakers

Established in 1976, Black History Month provides a welcome, vital opportunity to engage with the story of our nation through the eyes of Black Americans.

Offering us a chance to uplift the heroes and leaders who have paved the way for progress, Black History Month also calls upon us to grapple with the centuries of systemic racism that necessitated such bravery.

Predating the criminalization of cannabis itself, the first commercially cultivated hemp in the US was grown by enslaved African people for the benefit of white colonists. In time, an increasing series of ever-stricter laws would use cannabis—and later, crack cocaine—as a straw man to oppress Mexican immigrants and Black Americans.

Culminating in America’s infamous War on Drugs campaign, the past 50 years has seen skyrocketing incarceration rates headlined by disproportionate detainment, arrest and conviction rates for minorities. However, in the wake of a legalization revolution for cannabis—kicked off in 1996 when California’s landmark Prop 215 was approved by voters, legalizing medical marijuana—a renewed focus on restorative justice has dovetailed with the arrival of cannabis a major new industry.

Let’s celebrate this welcome change by looking at five Black cannabis industry leaders working to create a more equitable industry from within.

Troy Datcher. Photo courtesy of The Parent Company.

Troy Datcher

CEO & Chairman of The Board, The Parent Company

It doesn’t get much more high profile than serving as CEO of California’s leading consumer-focused, vertically integrated cannabis company, but Troy Datcher thrives in the spotlight. He sees plenty of it as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of The Parent Company, which boasts big brands including Jay-Z’s Monogram and Caliva Dispensary and Delivery within its robust portfolio. Datcher also supports The Parent Company’s mission to “disrupt a sector that has disproportionately impacted communities of color” with a social equity ventures fund established with $10 million of initial funding.

Black History Month Darius Kemp
Darius Kemp. Photo courtesy of Curaleaf.

Darius Kemp

National Director of Social Equity, Curaleaf

A native of Birmingham, AL, Darius Kemp’s career trek includes a stint as a Peace Corps volunteer, work in labor union organizing and his current role as national director of social equity for Curaleaf. Kemp’s accomplishments also include developing 14 social equity brands that have collectively sold more than $15 million worth of BIPOC and women-owned cannabis products to date. In his work with Curaleaf, Kemp remains focused on creating a cannabis industry able and willing to rectify the problems created by America’s failed war on drugs. To that end, Curaleaf has amassed an enviable reach as a leading medical and recreational dispensary brand serving 350k+ registered patients across 23 states.

Black History Month Mary Pryor
Mary Pryor. Photo courtesy of Mary Pryor.

Mary Pryor

Co-Founder, Cannaclusive

Disappointed by the diversity issues she observed taking root in mainstream cannabis culture, Mary Pryor co-founded Cannaclusive in 2017 to facilitate fair representation of minority cannabis consumers by offering free resources including a stock photography gallery dedicated to diversity. Another resource, InclusiveBase, provides a directory of BIPOC-owned and operated cannabis companies across the globe. In 2020, Pryor spearheaded The Accountability List and founded Cannabis For Black Lives (CfBL). In 2021, Pryor was the recipient of the CLIO Cannabis Impact Award and presently counts a role as advisor to The Parent Company among her myriad duties and projects.

Black History Month Amber E Senter
Amber E. Senter. Photo courtesy of Amber E. Senter.

Amber E Senter


Chairman of the Board & Executive Director of Supernova Women

At the rate Amber E. Senter is going, she’s going to need a full-length book to list all her accomplishments. As of now, Senter’s impressive credentials include more than two decades of marketing and project management experience. She’s also the founder and CEO of MAKR House, a distribution and infused cannabis products company, where she heads fundraising, supply chain management, government relations, strategy, product development and marketing. Senter is also co-founder, chair and executive director of Supernova Women, formed in 2015 to empower people of color to become self-sufficient cannabis industry shareholders. Furthermore, during her tenure as the former chief operations officer of a Bay Area dispensary, she obtained the first onsite consumption permit issued by the City of Oakland.

Black History Month Everett Smith
Everett Smith. Photo courtesy of Presidential Cannabis Co.

Everett Smith

Co-Founder & CEO, Presidential Cannabis Co.

Everett Smith had hoops dreams that blossomed into a thriving career in the cannabis industry. After finishing his basketball career in Europe, Smith launched Los Angeles-based Presidential RX in 2012. Today, he oversees one of the largest infused flower cannabis companies—as well as the third largest pre-roll brand—in California, with products available in some 400 stores across the state. Now proudly shelved at powerhouse dispensaries such as MedMen and Sherbinskis, Smith’s Presidential is a success story to overshadow even the most impressive of half-court heaves.

The post Black History Month: Meet the Cannabis Changemakers appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Illinois Announces Launch of Cannabis Disparity Study

The Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Office (CROO) announced on Feb. 7 that it launched its Cannabis Disparity and Availability Study, which tasks a contract group to find examples of discrimination within the local cannabis industry.

According to CROO, the study “will collect and analyze data and report on whether discrimination exists in the Illinois cannabis industry,” CROO states on its website. “If there is a finding that discrimination exists, the Disparity Study will evaluate the impact of the discrimination on the State and its residents regarding entering and participating in the State’s cannabis industry. The Disparity Study will include recommendations for reducing or eliminating any identified barriers to entry.“

The study will examine laws and court cases that involve cannabis and cannabis and disparity studies, conduct interviews and create focus groups for public input, and compile data in relation to the state’s cannabis application process and business information.

A final report is required to be sent to the General Assembly and governor within 12 months, including any “potential remedies” to amend current cannabis regulation. “This effort is a vital assessment of the state’s cannabis social equity licensing system,” said Acting CROO Officer Erin Johnson. “We look forward to seeing a final report that truly incorporates the voices of Illinois social equity applicants and our new cannabis businesses.”

This comes nearly one year since the state issued a request to find someone to conduct the Disparity Study in Feb. 2022. This led to the hiring of the Nerevu Group, which is a minority- and women-owned contractor group based throughout Illinois, as well as some out-of-state locations.

“Along with our partners, Nerevu is honored to support CROO, IDFPR and IDOA in building an even more inclusive and equitable cannabis industry,” said Nerevu Group Founder and President Reuben Cummings. “This study is essential in identifying potential disparities and suitable remedies. We are excited to initiate this project and look forward to connecting with the greater cannabis community.”

Legal adult-use cannabis sales began in 2020, and in July 2022, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that 149 condition state licenses would be issued and available for social equity applicants. “Illinois is leading the way in addressing the War on Drugs as no state has before, and dispensary ownership that reflects our state’s diversity is a product of that commitment,” said Pritzker. “These licenses represent a significant step toward accountability for the decades of injustice preceding cannabis legalization. Illinois will continue to deliver on the promises of putting equity at the forefront of this process.”

Just a few months later, two of the state’s first social equity cannabis dispensaries, Ivy Hall Damen and Green Rose Dispensary, opened in November 2022 in Chicago.

According to Nigel Dandridge, the co-founder of Ivy Hall Damen, it’s taken a long time for his business to open up. “We’ve been working to get a seat at the table for a while now, and we’re finally able to do that,” said Dandridge. “When this industry first opened up, we didn’t see anyone in our community benefiting, or even being able to participate. So it was kind of hypocritical. I think it’s important that we can show you what we’re doing. We want everyone to benefit. Our staff’s been working hard, and we’re just excited to share it with everyone.”

Falling in line with other states in the U.S., Illinois Rep. La Shawn Ford recently introduced House Bill 1 to legalize psychedelics in January. Ford’s bill would allow residents 18 years and older to seek out supervised psychedelic therapy. “I want to be clear that this is a health measure. My proposal does not allow retail sales of psilocybin outside of a regulated therapeutic setting and ensures that medicines purchased for therapeutic use at a service center must be used under medical supervision, and cannot be taken home,” Ford said. “Only licensed facilitators will be allowed to provide treatment at closely regulated and licensed healing centers, approved health care facilities, in hospice, or at a pre-approved patient residence.”

The post Illinois Announces Launch of Cannabis Disparity Study appeared first on High Times.

Higher Profile: Anthony Winston III, Engineer

The first time engineer Anthony Winston III, PE, consulted on an indoor agricultural farm in California, he was told it was a “tomato” operation.

“I took a look at the building on Google Maps, because it just didn’t sound right – and when I noted the equipment on the roof I knew something was off,” he explained. “When I got there and realized they were a fully licensed and legal cannabis operation under the newly regulated market in California, I told them they could have told me the truth and I wouldn’t have minded.”

The experience gave him a new perspective on just what it was like working within the cannabis industry. Even though the plant is legal in the state, Federal laws stand, with licensed farmers and manufacturers in the space afraid to let an engineer know what they were doing upfront – fearful he’d say no.

Aside from the secrecy of it all, Winston realized the very building housing this major operation, requiring a serious electrical installation and all that implies, was in disrepair in a sketchy neighborhood, at best. This legal, licensed company couldn’t find a better location or building due to the very nature of the business and the stigma involved.

“The first time I was handed a stack of cash as payment for work I realized just what a travesty it is,” he added. “Imagine trying to do business like that – with large sums of money. It’s just not right.”

Courtesy Anthony Winston III

Discrimination: Black, Brown & Green

Discrimination is nothing new to Winston, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago. It’s a part of the city that’s historically gotten a bad rap for crime, with the Black population targeted.

During former South Side resident and first Black President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, Chicago was wrongly named the top city for murders. The political smear was corrected, however, as the city ranked tenth on the list at the time. Crime data pulled from the FBI, city police officials, and the U.S. Census Bureau in 2019, put St. Louis, Missouri in the number one slot of 65 cities, with Chicago at 28.

In actuality, the region south of the city is diversified, with upper, middle, and lower class neighborhoods.

The misinformation on crime and the fear that ensues on this and other cities boasting higher populations of people of color can be readily traced back to political propaganda. Eerily similar to the way cannabis has been politicized and demonized.

In fact, the plant has been used systematically to discriminate against Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and even women, over the decades. Look no further than the 1936 propagandist film, Reefer Madness, and see that just one puff of “the marihuana” turns women into whores.

Winston, who considers himself a lifelong student of Black history, said while he understands the pain of discrimination within many groups of minorities, he can’t compare his own experience.

“I try not to compare struggles,” he shared. “My struggle as a Black man is different than that of, say, an LGBTQ+ person. You can’t equate it. You can equate the absolute absurdity of someone trying to get plant medicine and assistance, without having to buy expensive pharmaceuticals. In that respect, both are absurd. No one wants or should be treated unfairly – especially when it equates to the safety and well-being of their own bodies.”

Courtesy Anthony Winston III

Engineered for the Plant

Winston was educated at Arizona State University, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Power Transmission and Distribution. He later earned his Professional Engineering (PE) certification.

His company, Winston Engineering Inc., established in 2015, is the only Black-owned MEP and civil engineering firm in California, operating in multiple states and Canada. 

“After working on that first warehouse in Los Angeles, everything snowballed. Because of the discrimination in the cannabis industry, when they find a professional willing to work, introductions by word-of-mouth are common. We were working on another warehouse in Long Beach and a neighbor stopped in that was doing extractions, so we worked on his facility. He was the first license holder in Long Beach for extractions.”

Winston’s company employs 10, providing mechanical (HVAC), electrical, plumbing (MEP), and civil engineering for a wide variety of cannabis related buildings, including cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.

Courtesy Anthony Winston III

Helping Himself, Helping Grandma

When California legalized, Winston tried an edible for the first time.

“I’ve always been an athlete, and still have knee pain from playing basketball. Instead of reaching for a painkiller, I take edibles, and it’s been amazing for taking care of the pain. I’m lucky, I’m healthy and only use an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma.”

Helping himself with the plant was one thing, but helping Grandma was everything.

“My grandmother has a lot of medical conditions, and at one point she was taking well over a dozen medications that left her in an almost sleepy, zombie state,” he shared. “I convinced her to try cannabis, and gave her a five milligram gummy to start with. So far, she’s cut her medications down by half and she’s back to being herself again.”

Aside from his cannabis use as medicine, he’s also changed his diet over the years to vegetarian, leaning to vegan, after his daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including dairy.

In a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), it was found that increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet for just two weeks, raises endorphins and creates dopamine in the brain, successfully treating depression.

We in the cannabis caregiving space know that adding superfoods or super plants, like cannabis, also raises endorphins and creates dopamine, while addressing all our biological systems, creating homeostasis or a place where illness cannot dwell.

“I do my best to stay as natural as possible, and I love the cannabis plant and all its possibilities,” he added.

Courtesy Anthony Winston III

Social Equity in Real Time

“When dispensaries start looking like Apple stores, it’s time to let Black and Brown people out of jail.” – Anthony Winston III

Social equity in the cannabis space means bridging the gap between the once illicit market, into the regulated market, for those who might have been marginalized within the failed War on Drugs.

In other words, if you were part of the cog in the wheel of meeting supply and demand of the world’s most beloved and illicit plant, chances are you might not have the wherewithal to come into compliance in a legal market, with all that implies.

“What the end result of helping people in the social equity space should be is setting people up to start-up and run a business, simply put,” he said. “What that looks like in real time is, we volunteer our time with various social equity groups around the country, teaching them about avoiding pitfalls when designing a facility.”

How they find people to mentor varies. Quite often Winston meets social equity organizers at various cannabis conferences.

“I’ll talk to them about everything I know about starting up and business, engineering, and everything else in between,” he said.

One big inspiration came when he heard Tracy Ryan, founder of CannaKids and mother of Sophie Ryan who has been using cannabis oil in tandem with traditional therapies to treat a brain tumor since she was nine months old.

“When I first [started] working in the cannabis industry, I thought of it as a money making opportunity,” he admitted. “Then, I heard Tracy Ryan speak and met her daughter, Sophie, and that really pulled at my heartstrings. When you begin to hear the stories of cannabis patents dealing with real illness, it changes everything.”

Winston said he’s seen the impacts of the War on Drugs firsthand, with numerous family members locked up over the years.

“Recently, a cousin was released from prison after spending the better part of his twenties in jail,” he said. “He missed out on the years … where he might have developed his own business. This is a common tale within the Drug War.”

The feeling is that those in the industry with the ability to lead in this way, have an obligation to help those coming up. It doesn’t just mean writing a check or adding a logo in support to your website. The victims of the failed War on Drugs, and the inequities that ensue with people of color, add another layer to the wrongs that need to be righted now.

For more information on Winston Engineering Inc visit:

The post Higher Profile: Anthony Winston III, Engineer appeared first on High Times.

Delaware Lawmakers Renew Effort To Legalize Pot

Democratic lawmakers in Delaware last week performed what has become an annual legislative ritual by introducing measures that would legalize recreational marijuana.

And, as per recent tradition, their biggest obstacle remains the most senior member of their own state party. 

The Delaware News Journal reports that members of the state House of Representatives introduced a pair of bills on Friday “to legalize and create a recreational marijuana industry in Delaware, setting up a likely fight within the Democratic Party this legislative session.” 

The anticipated intra-party feud centers around Democratic Gov. John Carney, who has long been opposed to marijuana legalization and has stymied efforts by Democrats in the legislature to end the prohibition on pot. 

Last year, Carney vetoed a bill that would have legalized recreational pot in the state. 

Despite holding a majority in each chamber of the state General Assembly, Democratic lawmakers were unable to override Carney’s veto.

“[The legalization bill] would, among other things, remove all penalties for possession by a person 21 years of age or older of one ounce or less of marijuana and ensure that there are no criminal or civil penalties for transfers without remuneration of one ounce or less of marijuana between persons who are 21 years of age or older,” Carney said in a statement following his veto.

“I recognize the positive effect marijuana can have for people with certain health conditions, and for that reason, I continue to support the medical marijuana industry in Delaware,” he continued. “I supported decriminalization of marijuana because I agree that individuals should not be imprisoned solely for the possession and private use of a small amount of marijuana—and today, thanks to Delaware’s decriminalization law, they are not.”

“That said, I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people,” Carney added. “Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.”

Democrats who are backing the two bills introduced in the state House last week are hopeful that Carney will eventually come around.

“My hope is that with continued open dialogue with the governor’s office, that will help alleviate a veto,” Democratic state House Rep. Ed Osienski, one of the sponsors of the legislation, told the Delaware News Journal. “I have more support from my members … for a veto override, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.”

According to the outlet, a “Carney spokeswoman said Friday that the governor’s views on marijuana have not changed.”

According to the Delaware News Journal, the bill dedicated to removing all penalties for possession would “require a simple majority or 21 votes.”

The other bill “would create a framework to regulate the growth, sale and possession of weed,” essentially treating pot like alcohol, and would require “a three-fifths vote because it deals with revenue and taxation,” the Delaware News Journal reports.

The measures also include social equity provisions aimed at enhancing opportunities in the new marijuana industry to individuals from communities who have been historically targeted by anti-drug policies.

The News Journal has more details on the two proposals:

“Delawareans would buy marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store. The bill would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be distributed within 16 months of the legislation going into effect. The process will be competitive, with prospective retailers being rewarded for providing good salaries and benefits and hiring a diverse workforce.”

The post Delaware Lawmakers Renew Effort To Legalize Pot appeared first on High Times.

Washington State Announces Social Equity Applications for March 1

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has officially announced that it will open up social equity applications on March 1. The window for applications will only last 30 days, ending by 5 p.m. on the deadline.

Only 44 licenses that were previously “forfeited, canceled, revoked, or never issued” are being made available to those who qualify. Applicants must have been living in a disproportionately impacted area (DIA), which is defined as having a high poverty rate, participation in “income-based federal programs,” unemployment, and rate of convictions, between 1980 to 2010. Applicants must have been convicted of a cannabis-related offense themselves, or know a family member who was convicted as well. Finally, the applicant’s income must be less than the state average, which is $82,400.

The LCB has set up webinars for Jan. 24 and 28 in order to assist potential applicants through the licensing process.

While social equity has become a standard in the industry, especially in states that have only recently legalized adult-use cannabis, Washington State’s initial legalization did not include these provisions. 

“The 2012 ballot measure Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use of cannabis by adults, did not include provisions or create programs to acknowledge the disproportionate harms the enforcement of cannabis laws had on certain populations and communities,” the LCB stated. “The LCB recognizes that cannabis prohibition laws were disproportionately enforced for decades and that the cumulative harms from this enforcement remain today.”

In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2870 (which was introduced to the legislature by Rep. Eric Pettigrew), which took effect on June 12, 2020. This created a state social equity program, a Social Equity Task Force, “…and the opportunity to provide a limited number of cannabis retail licenses to individuals disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.”

Currently, there is a new bill being proposed that aims to improve upon the original social equity bill. Senate Bill 5080’s first hearing was held on Jan. 10 with the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, Washington CannaBusiness Association, and Craft Cannabis Coalition. Many who were present discussed their concerns with market oversaturation, asking that the number of social equity licenses be reduced.

In December 2022, a Headset report found that annual cannabis sales in Washington State were in decline by about $120 million in comparison to data from the previous year. “From March 2020 to March 2021, legacy cannabis markets saw drastic increases in growth,” wrote Headset about the decrease. “In the beginning months of the pandemic for example, Colorado’s total adult-use sales grew by 63% from February to July 2020.” However, the increase of sales during the pandemic prompted an unusual meteoric rise. “What you’re seeing as a ‘dip’ is really sales returning to normal growth as more people returned to in-person work,” said LCB spokesperson Brian Smith. He added that this downward trend isn’t isolated to just Washington state, but is being seen across the country in other legal states as well.

Washington State also made strides in 2022 to work on other outdated laws. In April 2022, Gov. Inslee signed House Bill 1210, which replaced all references of “marijuana” in state legislation with “cannabis.” According to bill sponsor Rep. Melanie Morgan, the connotations behind marijuana needed to be removed. “The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” Morgan said. “As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants. Even though it seems simple because it’s just one word, the reality is, we’re healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis.”

The post Washington State Announces Social Equity Applications for March 1 appeared first on High Times.