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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
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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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New Odor-Proof Bags Will Keep Your Stash Safe & Stylish

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Higher Standards x Revelry

Cannabis carryalls have come a long way. Continued advancement in smell-prevention technology has created a new breed of odor-proof bags. Just in time for 420, two of the cool kid brands have just launched a collection of form-meets-function travel bags to keep your stash safe.

The Higher Standards x Revelry collection fuses East Coast style with the West Coast spirit of adventure. Each odor-proof bag in the collection is made with Revelry’s signature three-layered carbon filtration system of activated charcoal and synthetic filters that soak up all unwanted smells.

The collab showcases minimalist design with maximum technicality across four odor-proof bags — a fanny pack; zip pouch; dopp kit and backpack. Additionally, the bags are waterproof, made from lightweight fabrics with heavy-duty rubber backing, and seal shut with double-lined zippers.

Higher Standards x Revelry collection is available now in stores and online.

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The Highly Anticipated Collab Between Bllrdr x G Pen Has Dropped

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Bllrdr x G Pen
Noah “40” Shebib with the new G Pen Dash | PHOTO Mark Blinch

G Pen has partnered with Bllrdr to introduce a new collaboration, an exclusive co-branded global line of G Pen advanced technology vaporizers, starting with the Bllrdr x G Pen Dash.

This collab integrates new cannabis products from Bllrdr with G Pen’s proprietary innovative technologies and hardware, to make for even more brand diversity of the popular G Pen vaporizers.

Helping to both elevate and advance the cannabis experience, the two companies have a shared history of innovation, something that is set to continue with each brand to bring sought-after collaborations to the market.

Bllrdr x G Pen
Noah “40” Shebib grinds his iconic Afghani BullriderPhoto by Mark Blinch

Bllrdr is a Toronto-based cannabis brand founded by Noah “40” Shebib, a Grammy award-winning producer, and Jef Tek, a legendary cultivator. The brand is known for its extensive market-leading cannabis genetics and small-batch production, developing rare and special cut strains.

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Shebib discovered the benefits of using the Afghani Bullrider cultivar. Tek’s late wife, medical marijuana activist Michelle Rainey, who suffered from Crohn’s disease and cancer, also found the strain offered relief from her symptoms.

G Pen, known for championing and celebrating the connection between consumption and art, is thrilled to partner with Bllrdr, Canada’s best new lifestyle cannabis brand, supporting its people and their mission.

“I’ve known Noah since the early stages of G Pen,” says G Pen CEO and founder Chris Folkerts, “and this partnership brings it full circle.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of the launch of the most highly-anticipated and unique genetics in the Ontario market.”

Bllrdr x G Pen
Noah “40” Shebib at his studio in Toronto with the new G Pen Dash | PHOTO Mark Blinch

Now, the two brands plan to bring sought-after collaborations to the market increasing the brand diversity of the popular G Pen vaporizers by integrating new cannabis products from Bllrdr with G Pen’s proprietary innovative technologies and hardware.

This first release from the G Pen x Bllrdr Collection is well-timed, with the launch of Bllrdr’s highly anticipated Afghani Bullrider strain — considered as one of the rarest genetics on the market — now officially available on the Ontario Cannabis Store. And just like Afghani Bullrider, the Bllrdr x G Pen Dash delivers satisfying and flavorful results.

The Bllrdr x G Pen Dash is now available in select Ontario retailers and on bllrdrco.co.

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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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