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Cannabis Legalization IS a Civil Rights Issue

Social equity is important to help people of color move on from the racist inquisition of cannabis prohibition. It’s a Civil Rights issue.

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Civil Rights
PHOTO | Alex Brandon
Rocket Seeds

Americans have the right to political and social freedom and equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution. But reflecting on how this country was founded, there is no doubt the reason the U.S. is a superpower today is because the colonists and subsequent immigrants who became the industrialists had free labor through ownership of slaves to build their homesteads, ranches, companies and corporations.

The country would never have the infrastructure it does in terms of roads, buildings and power supplies if it was not for slave labor of people of color. This incomprehensible display of racism has attributed to the empires of American families with names like Rockefeller, Forbes, Vanderbilt and Griswold, to name only a few. The freedom of slaves and later the civil rights movement were pivotal moments of liberty for American people of color, who were not given the same rights to political and social freedom and equality that the Constitution guaranteed.

The legalization of cannabis can also create a huge shift in the Civil Rights of Americans.

Cannabis, Civil Rights and Reefer Madness

After the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws enacted racial segregation and the legal principle “separate but equal.” This carried into schooling, transportation and public facilities. Not until 1954, when the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down, did segregation become unconstitutional. Though it took years to implement the decisions, the Supreme Court continued to hand down rulings against the Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the last laws to help overturn the institutional discrimination.

However, during this period, in 1942, the Japanese Internment took place and people were suspected of committing crimes against the country during WWII solely because of their Japanese ancestry. The abusive move by the American government to substitute race and national origin for evidence is today recognized as shameful and a horrific event in our country’s history. The admission a sign that times are changing.

While laws and policy remove these intolerable acts of American racism on paper, the psychology and education for reform within people is taking longer to change. Decades after the Civil Rights Act was passed, many are still being targeted for the color of their skin, often being stopped at airports, pulled over in traffic and experiencing Constitutional violations of the 4th Amendment, for search and seizure. Official denials and insufficient proof have upheld these behaviors.

Again, in a country not above using skin color as evidence, the prohibition of cannabis in the mid-1930s started a wave of incarceration for people of color who use, grow, or sell marijuana. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, made it his mission to seek out jazz musicians who used ‘marihuana.’ His internal memos berated jazz, reading, “It sounded like the jungles in the dead of night.” A different memo cautioned, “Unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected.” And that the lives of jazz players “reek of filth.” He hoped to round up all-black jazz musicians and famously went after singer Billy Holiday for her heroin use — while helping white actress Judy Garland with her “troubled addiction” to heroin and wouldn’t dare arrest her.

“Prohibition was always used to eliminate people from this society and make it harder for them. It was part of the greater effort to continue what our country was unfortunately built on, slavery,” shared Allison Margolin, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense and cannabis attorney who has been heavily involved with California cannabis licensing and criminal drug cases.

Systemic racism leftover from the founders of this country gave way to modern racial profiling by law enforcement and the judiciary courts. The drug war greenlit in the 1980s increased the Jim Crow hysteria for cannabis tenfold, as rogue policy led to training DEA agents to look for people of color to pull over, especially if they’re black and driving expensive cars.

Cannabis was villainized by ‘reefer madness’ and in its own Jim Crow nightmare — no matter the American right to control our body and mind, covered in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Freedom of thought is also guaranteed by the first amendment. The prohibition of cannabis was unconstitutional from the get-go.

But, evolution pushes at humanity and while today humans are under attack by their own species, many people are choosing a higher consciousness over slavery. Prohibition can’t be justified on moral or legal ground. The American Medical Association and the Federal Drug Administration have denied the truth about drugs when they come in conflict with government policies and corporate agendas, but thanks to democracy, cannabis is being freed from illegality and stigma, one state at a time. In a groundbreaking national effort, on November 19th, 2019, The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10 to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). If passed by Congress, the U.S. is looking at ending federal cannabis prohibition completely.

The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, authorize the provision of resources, funded by an excise tax on marijuana products, to address the needs of communities that have been most seriously impacted by the war on drugs and provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.

First Nations people, the Native Americans who lived in North America before the Europeans invaded, have begun to open dispensaries and cultivation businesses on their reservations. With sovereign immunity from the U.S., the MORE Act will only change things slightly. Josh Grant, IIPAY Tribe member and Chairman of the Santa Ysabel Tribal Development Corporation, explained, “Let’s say the Fed pass the MORE Act and they put regulations in place, now do we want to give up our sovereign immunity and start operating on federal regulations? Do we want to waive our sovereign immunity and start functioning on state regulation? Probably not. Do we want to make our own regulations that fold these other ones in? Yes, we do.”

Not All Social Equity is Created Equal

Racial profiling is responsible for putting many people of color behind bars for cannabis. Expungement may be a huge win for America but what about reparations? While 40 acres and a mule was a Civil War promise never realized, Native Americans have long suffered in displacement and Mexicans completely shunned in the face of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, cannabis legalization in many states has promised to develop and implement policies that seek to center equity in cannabis policy reform.

Grant shares how deep these reforms are needed for First Nations people.

“What about tribal sovereignty and our ability and our inherent right to provide for our people by any means necessary? When we have elders without power and their houses are falling apart, when we have children without housing, without heat, without running water, when we have third-world conditions on our reservation, shouldn’t we be allowed under our tribal sovereignty to provide an economic plan to try to help these people with the proper dispersal of profit or income to cover the tribe? There’s a major civil right.

“What they’re violating is our tribal sovereignty by restricting us from having a free market to develop our resources to provide for our people. That’s first and foremost here. We’re talking first nations here; we’re talking first people. We’ve been pushed into a corner of worthless land, while the bulk of our territory has been taken and government entities are collecting taxes on that land without remitting a portion of those taxes back to the original people.”

Social equity programs hope to repair the damage done by the war on drugs and assist equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry to decrease disparities in low-income and marginalized communities.

Margolin explained the importance of social equity within the legalization framework, “I think that it’s one of the first times that any of the governmental bodies in the United States has chosen attempt at reparations in any kind of way shape or form. I think there’s obviously a lot that could be done to try to increase the power of social equity applicants. Most of those have to do with access to banking, not having to rely upon individuals or potential conglomerates who might make deals that aren’t like the best, but its better than nothing. It’s definitely a good beginning.”

But is social equity working? While all legal states do not have the same social equity programs, at the local level, cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are trying to set up stronger programs to combat the barriers to enter the cannabis business and offer employment and business ownership opportunities.

Allison Margolin commented on the effectiveness of Los Angeles Social Equity Program,

“There’s social equity issues that will arrive, like we had this whole thing with the electronic first come, first serve, that became a situation and had levels of unfairness. But I think that if we fairly increase the number of dispensaries allowed, there’s no cap and we relax in the sensitive use requirements and if the state has certain requirements for the social equity on the local level that’d be great. Also, if the state-mandated there wouldn’t be a dry county, we could fix this huge disparity between the philosophy of before — the philosophy that’s supposed to be underpinning all of this and going on in these local governments, which is like reefer madness.

“Without the local governments being on board right now we don’t have too much access and that affects the whole market. We need to have more retail. We need to have more state-mandated social equity ownership requirements. But even with those things, yes, people can make money but there are a lot of control issues and the ability to control the market. Otherwise social equity can have benefits.”

States like Illinois and Massachusetts made social equity an integral part of their cannabis legalization. In states that didn’t, like Oregon, the city of Portland stepped up and granted eligibility for reduced license fees to businesses whose owners or staff had previous marijuana convictions; and in 2016, they enacted a city marijuana sales tax to generate funds for economic and education programs in communities where drug laws were disproportionately enforced.

Finding a happy medium for reparations can make sure who is supposed to benefit does, but there are many ways to create categories that were maybe not defined outright. For example, in Los Angeles, there is a three-tier social equity program with many different qualifications and benefits. A workforce requirement has a good faith effort to employ 50% of the weekly hourly workforce from the residents living within a three-mile radius of the cannabis business premises, with 20% social equity workers and 10% transitional workers. There are ways to make opportunities for everyone.

The Importance of Social Equity

Just as vital to understanding that legalization is a civil rights issue, is to be aware of the campaign of disinformation by the government. America is a nation with so many elephants in the room. It’s a zoo. Conscious evolution aside, changes can be made through policy and social equity is a good start.

“Reparations need to happen in the country in order for the United States to survive. Basically, this can be a good beginning to how we start it,” Margolin said. The people who have gone to prison for cannabis had to hire attorneys, had to be bailed out and they lost their jobs. “There should be a way for those people to benefit first economically. In addition to all these laws, the financing needs to be opened up, so passing state and federal banking is part of the effort because then you can have government-mandated funds and specialty programs. But now, you’re basically on your own unless you’re part of a bigger conglomerate, which might be like a big management company or otherwise you’re just in not of good positioning power,” she added.

Social equity is important to help people of color move on from the racist inquisition of cannabis prohibition. Margolin expressed that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors and received reparations from the Germans during her entire life. “They weren’t bitter towards Germans. They had no issues with Germans. Actually they’re both from Poland and they never went back there because they said there was so much anti-Semitism, but they went to Germany.”

The emotional and psychological trauma of racism is a scar this entire nation will carry until it can become completely transparent and make amends. Cannabis legalization is a gigantic step towards equality for all.

Margolin adds, “Basically the drug war and the war with cannabis has always been about taking things that are basic human needs and basic human impulses, which are the right to alter our consciousness on a level that’s pretty nuanced and not bad for you and punishing people for something most everyone does or that many people do.”

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5 Tips for Owning and Operating Successful Cannabis Dispensaries

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Cannabis Dispensaries
PHOTOS | Shiny Bud

The cannabis retail landscape has changed. Once regarded as somewhat of a novelty, legalization has allowed cannabis dispensaries to evolve into modern and innovative retail storefronts more akin to an Apple Store than the dark, secretive spaces they used to be. Some, like Shiny Bud, are proving to be leaders in the space, setting an exemplary standard of a contemporary cannabis retail experience.

Shiny Bud is one of Canada’s most successful dispensary chains. They pride themselves on offering customers a premium experience from the moment they enter, from a contemporary and inviting store design to highly trained staff, and of course, premium products.

Co-founder Alex Ledesma joined the cannabis industry when the Canadian government passed the Cannabis Act in 2018. She comes from a forward-thinking family of entrepreneurs, so the move to cannabis was an obvious next step.

“I saw an opportunity to be part of something big in Canada’s history, so we started following the industry, and applied for an application,” said Ledesma. 

Shiny Bud opened its first dispensary in Toronto on February 14. Fast forward only a few months, and the company has opened the doors to its fifth location in a small town called Orleans, just outside of Ottawa.

“We have a pretty aggressive rollout,” said Ledesma. “Coming from a quick-service industry, we’re quite comfortable with builds and finding locations. We took our expertise from that and put it into cannabis. And it’s all completely within the family.”

Shiny Bud was awarded 75 dispensary licenses by the Canadian government. The company’s expansion plans include two more Ontario store openings this year, bringing the total number of store openings to seven. And they have no plans to slow down.

“We should be hitting 30 stores by the end of 2021. And we’re planning on maxing out to 75 stores allocated. When we stop to think about it, it can take our breath away.”

The constant march forward of legalization has created an ever-growing interest in dispensary ownership. Below, Ledesma offers up five pieces of advice for those looking to enter the cannabis game.

1. Have a Well-Trained Team That’s Focused on Customer Experience 

As the industry is still so young, formal education in cannabis is still relatively scarce amongst prospective employees. For Shiny Bud, this presents an opportunity to reinforce one of their most important business objectives: provide cannabis education and training for their budtenders to pass on to their customers.

“Education is everything because the industry’s so new,” Ledesma said. “We truly believe that we’re an industry where we need to listen to our guests. This is one of the first things we teach our budtenders, along with providing a safe and educational experience for our customers in-store.” 

For many customers, the biggest value in going to a dispensary is learning which products are best suited for a specific condition or effect, whether they’re seasoned cannabis consumers or newly curious. 

“The goal for budtenders at Shiny Bud is to ensure customers are choosing the right product for them to provide a safe experience both in-store and at home,” Ledesma said.

2. Create a Guest Centric Environment 

This goes without saying, but customer service is critical to the success of any retail operation. Ledesma attributes Shiny Bud’s success to the brand’s core vision of providing a “fast and friendly cannabis retail destination.”

“We strive to offer our customers a unique and memorable experience — this has stayed with us since day one,” Ledesma said. “When you walk into any of our Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries, they’re bright, they’re big, and there’s a lot of education. The budtenders are dressed uniformly, and there’s personality — it’s not what people expect.”

Watching the change in customer demographic has been encouraging to Ledesma, who notes the increase in the 60+ demographic looking to add cannabis to their health and wellness, whether it be recreational, or to aid with a specific ailment.

“As a disclaimer, we always have to tell them that we’re not doctors and we can’t give them medical advice, so to start low and go slow,” Ledesma said. “It’s nice to see people like my mom, my dad, and grandparents come through the door, because you also know you’re helping break down the stigma.”

Cannabis Dispensaries
Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries are bright and clean, with plenty of quality products and customer education opportunities.

3. Stock the Best Inventory 

With so many quality products now available, choosing which ones to bring to Shiny Bud is quite a lengthy process. 

“We carry out a lot of research in terms of what’s new or trending, and what our customers are looking for in each location,” Ledesma said. “I wish I knew consumers’ buying preferences before our initial order was placed. We ended up buying too much!”

“We also use recommendations from our team members, our budtenders, and our customers. A lot of times we bring in representatives of the licensed producers to educate our budtenders about the products we’re selling.”

The three most popular purchases across three Shiny Bud locations are dried flower, vapes, and pre-rolls. “Our most frequently asked question is, ‘what is your highest THC or CBD?’” Ledesma said.

4. Have a Great Location  

The age-old proverb of “location, location, location” rings true in the cannabis industry, too. Finding the right real estate is arguably the most important part of retail success. Plus, because of the industry’s prohibition history and the nature of the products being sold, it’s important to find understanding landlords.

“Initially, landlords have said to us, ‘absolutely not, we will not entertain the idea of having a cannabis retailer here,’ so I invite them to take a look at one of our dispensaries so they can see the vision of what and who we are as a company and as an industry.”

5. Ensure Your Cannabis Dispensaries Connect with the Community 

Dispensaries are already major focal points in their communities. For Ledesma, giving back and helping break down old stigmas related to cannabis is a top priority. 

Shiny Bud is in the process of launching a collaboration with Tsaichedelic to create a line of tie-dyed tees and other merchandise. The proceeds will go towards supporting Cannabis Amnesty projects, like providing legal counsel to get those with criminal records over minor cannabis charges expunged. 

“Being a woman and a person of color in the cannabis space, I really believe in the fact that it needs to be the same playing fields for everybody,” Ledesma said. “Teaming up with Cannabis Amnesty just felt right.”

With the regulated cannabis market still so new, it’s important that business owners are able to adapt to changes and weather the ever-changing landscape of cannabis and the regulations.  

“It’s ever-changing, so we’re constantly learning and growing from it,” Ledesma said. “Regulations are always changing, so being fluid helps a lot.”

Look for Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries in Canada and keep an eye out for their expansion into America in 2021.

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Gwyneth Paltrow and a Slew of Celebs Invest in ‘Social Tonic’ Brand, Cann

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Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow is one of several high-profile celebrities investing in cannabis-infused beverage company, Cann.

Rebel Wilson, Ruby Rose, Darren Criss, Tove Lo, Casey Neistat, former NBA star Baron Davis and Bre-Z have also invested in the company.

The actress and Goop CEO and founder calls cannabis a “hero ingredient of the future” for wellness and says she was drawn to Cann’s drinks, which are infused with small doses of THC and CBD, as an appealing alternative to alcohol.

“There’s a whole sober-curious movement that’s going on and the cannabis-curious movement that’s going on, this is kind of at the intersection of those things in a way,” said Paltrow.

Cann is not the health and wellness moguls’ first cannabis investment. Paltrow admitted that while she’s not a big cannabis user personally, she acknowledges its “amazing medicinal qualities.”

“There’s no reason why alcohol should be so much easier to purchase than Cann, and I’m confident the founders will lead the charge in finding ways to integrate it into the same purchasing channels and drinking environments,” she said via a news release.

Photo credit

Cann founder Luke Anderson called the comments made by Gwyneth Paltrow “a sign that Cann (and microdose beverages more broadly) are a viable answer to that very common consumer pain point.”

He added that when people think of Paltrow, “they don’t think of ‘weed’ – they think of cutting-edge solutions for today’s health and wellness needs.”

Cann has positioned itself as a “healthy” and hangover-free alternative to alcohol. Most of Cann’s “social tonics” contain roughly 30 calories and are “microdosed” with 2 milligrams of THC and 4 milligrams of CBD. A recently introduced Pineapple Jalapeño flavor contains 50 calories and 5 milligrams of THC.

Earlier this year, Cann secured $5 million in funding as part of the company’s 2020 production and distribution expansion plans for 2020.

According to TechCrunch, the beverage startup has sold 150,000 cans, which retail for $4 each, since last May. Cann products are available at just 60 dispensaries in California, and online via the Eaze cannabis marketplace, making the $600,000 in revenue the company generated in less than a year even more impressive.

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Miss Marijuana: Canadian Beauty Queen Alyssa Boston Is on a Mission to End Stigmas

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Alyssa Boston
PHOTO | Miss Universe Organization

Alyssa Boston is a woman on a mission. The 24-year-old Canadian beauty queen is using her platform to start a conversation on ending stigmas around mental illness, competing in pageants — and cannabis.

While she doesn’t actually smoke weed, Canada’s crowned Miss Universe caused a media uproar when she wore a sparkling cannabis-inspired look during the 2019 Miss Universe competition in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cannabis Aficionado spoke to her about breaking stigmas, social media and of course, that costume.

CA: How was your Miss Universe experience?

Alyssa Boston: It was an amazing 10 days in Atlanta. My roommate was Miss Israel. She was amazing, we had a really good time.

You caused a media frenzy with your national costume; a shimmery, glittery, beautiful cannabis leaf. Tell me more about that. 

Canada doesn’t have a set national costume, so we had to think of something that I wanted to do. We’ve had a Canadian maple tree, a snow angel and a hockey player. When we were deciding on the costume, we wanted it to be more than just 30 seconds on stage — we wanted it to be the whole movement behind it. It’s a huge representation of what’s going on right now in Canada. I thought it was perfect to shine a light on it at Miss Universe.

No one in the history of Miss Universe has ever done anything that controversial. One day, six of us girls were sitting at the dinner table at Miss Universe, all talking about my costume — it was the talk of the town! Everyone had an opinion on it. Miss Columbia loved it. Miss Uruguay was jealous she didn’t think of it first.

Alyssa Boston onstage during Miss Universe. PHOTO | Miss Universe Organization

I bet!

Miss Indonesia was like, ‘Don’t come near me with that costume!’ Because her country would not be OK with it. It’s kind of cool to have that conversation.

Definitely. That’s funny, though. Miss Uruguay…

She was so mad.

Did the people of Canada support it?

For sure the cannabis industry was very supportive of it. We thought the public would be 50/50 about it. But, actually, we saw about 95 percent of people supported it. I had a lot of positive comments, a lot of people thanked me for touching base on it. More people are accepting of cannabis now and were very happy that I was using my voice to spread the message about ending the stigma that surrounds it

How did you come to working with designer Neftali Espinoza?

Neftali is pretty well known in the pageant industry; he’s actually made Canada’s costume for Miss Universe for a couple of years. He does Miss Nicaragua, too. My director is also a good friend of his. The design changed a couple of times, as we wanted to work together with my team and the designer to create something we all liked. I thought it was a good finished product.

You focused your Miss Universe campaign on ending stigmas including mental illness and cannabis. Why is it important that you use your platform to highlight difficult conversations? 

I think it’s important to talk about these issues and use my platform for these conversations — especially since Miss Universe is such a high-profile, international pageant. I’ve been competing in pageants for seven years and during that time, I’ve learned what I’m passionate about.

My uncle suffers from schizophrenia, so ever since I was a kid, I’ve been surrounded by mental illness. I always thought it was important to talk about it — especially with social media being so prominent today.

Alyssa Boston repping Canada and cannabis. PHOTO | Miss Universe Organization

You started the #TalkAboutMe movement on social media to spark discussion around mental health. Can you tell me a little more about that?

When I hang out with my uncle in public, a lot of people are really rude to him because they don’t understand that he suffers from mental illness. I don’t think people are understanding and they are not open to accepting that. If someone had a physical disability, they’d be more lenient to help them. But a mental disability is not as apparent to some people and they don’t treat them properly.

It sparked my interested in creating a movement about just talking about what’s going on in your life, especially using social media. Lots of celebrities use hashtags in their movements that open people’s eyes. Competing in Miss Universe means I could reach a greater scale of people to talk about mental illness. With the #TalkAboutMe hashtag, a lot of people have been like messaging me, telling me about their experiences with mental illness and how they want to talk to somebody about it. I wanted to shine a light on the fact it’s OK to not be OK — and that it’s OK to talk about what’s going on here in your life. That is definitely a rising issue that I wanted to use my platform to talk about.

Speaking of celebrities… Some of the biggest celebrity stoners are Canadian; Tommy Chong, Seth Rogen and the Trailer Park Boys. Have any of them reached out to you about cannabis?

I haven’t talked to any of them. But I’m going to an event at a cannabis company in a month and Tommy Chong is going to be there. So I’ll definitely get to meet him there and hopefully, we can talk about some cannabis. David Spade mentioned the costume on his talk show. And Steve Harvey liked it when we were at Miss Universe and he saw my costume.

Alyssa Boston, Miss Canada 2019. PHOTO | Supplied

You recently toured Aphria, Canada’s largest grow facility. How did it happen? Did anything on the tour surprise you?

I want to learn a lot more about the largest cannabis firms operating here in Canada. A friend of mine knew somebody that worked there, so I talked to my team and pitched the idea to Aphria to do a video tour. So, the CEO took us on a tour. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe how many people worked there. And the smell when you walk in is so strong!

You hold a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Do you have any plans to launch your own line of cannabis?

I’m very interested in being an entrepreneur. I have a business background, so I’m very interested to learn more about how the cannabis industry went from being illegal to legal. I’m feeling out the industry right now but it’s definitely something I want to look into in the future. For now, I’m just doing as many events as possible, public speaking as much as I can. And hopefully, I meet the right people and create my own line.

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