Unlike many cannabis business conferences, which cater towards the 3rd wave of the legal cannabis movement (cannabis investors), the Emerald Cup is a festival for the first two waves: outlaw growers and cannabis activists. As a conference by outlaws for outlaws, it should come as no surprise that rather than one token panel on equity issues, there was an entire conference track devoted to equality, prisoner re-entry and creating a more inclusive industry.
Throughout the 2018 Emerald Cup, which took place last weekend in Santa Rosa, California, speakers debated whether or not white legacy farmers should be included in state-mandated equity programs, whether or not those equity programs would successfully support victims of the War on Drugs and what are the best paths forward towards reparative justice.
The Origins of Inequality
Tim Blake, the founder of the Emerald Cup and someone who has been incarcerated for cannabis cultivation, got things started off sitting on a panel called “Equity, Inclusion, and Growing a Global Industry.” Blake was joined by Cat Packer, who oversees LA’s commercial cannabis program, and James Sweeney, chair of the California Cannabis Advisory Committee’s social equity and microbusiness subcommittees. Lindsay Robinson, Executive Director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, served as the panel’s moderator.
Sweeney traced the roots of the inequality we see today in the cannabis industry “back to the Constitution,” which did not mention women, mentioned indigenous Americans only to put them on reservations and codified slaves as property. Blake blamed our present-day inequalities on “the modern day coup when they created the Federal Reserve,” and called on activists to “break down all the barriers” through “peaceful revolution.”
Packer echoed the sentiment, saying “we have people in power who have done things to exacerbate disparities and we need to get rid of them.” Packer continued, “The reason why people like Jeff Sessions think they can say that ‘good people don’t smoke marijuana’ is because they think we don’t vote and we need to prove them wrong.”
However, the panel also noted that policies appear to be shifting in a more equitable direction, both in California and nationally. Sweeney brought up California’s recently passed SB 1294, which creates a statewide framework that local equity programs can build on.
“This is the first piece of statewide legislation signed into law by the governor that will establish an equity program at the state level,” said Sweeney. “Lindsay Robinson with the CCIA and Cat Packer with the [Drug Policy Alliance] were very helpful in getting that passed.”
Robinson added that she was “hopeful the bill will assist the city-wide programs already out there as well as ones yet to be developed.” Packer was “discouraged to see a lot of recent media reports criticizing the success of equity programs,” and added that “it is still too early to tell the effectiveness of equity programs.”
One major topic brought up by SB 1294 is the definition of equity and who is to be included in these programs. While the declaration by the legislature notes the “collateral consequences [of the drug war]… fell disproportionately on Black and Latinx people,” the definition of a local equity program does not include a racial requirement. As a small farmer himself, Blake brought up the plight of legacy farmers, many of who cannot participate in the legal industry they helped create due to the obscenely high costs of compliance and the unfortunate loss of the one-acre cap on cannabis cultivation. Sweeney posed the question to the audience: “When we talk about equity do we include small farmers and legacy farmers who have also been marginalized and forced out of the industry?”
For Adam Vine, one of the founders of Cage-Free Cannabis (CFC), told me later that he didn’t believe white legacy farmers should be included in racial equity discussions.
Vine said that “those smaller farmers are victims of legalization rather than prohibition,” and they are being stifled by regulations, not by racially discriminatory policy. Vine feels California should “set up a new program for them and reconstitute the acreage cap,” but “our focus needs to be repairing the damage of past policies,” and through reparative justice “we will find everyone will be included.”
Freeing Cannabis From The Cage
Not even two hours after Blake left the stage, Vine was joined by a former judge and an attorney for a panel on “Legalization and the Forgotten Victims of Prohibition.” Vine has a lengthy career of activism at the intersection of media, politics and social justice, including producing media and participatory direct actions in support of voting rights, sentencing reform, juvenile justice and immigration reform. CFC is a pair of organizations (Cage-Free Cannabis and Cage-Free Repair) working together, using a hybrid non-profit model. CFC has four main goals: provide recommendations to cities who want to create equity programs, provide reparative justice to communities around the U.S., help brands develop and execute social responsibility plans and help organize National Expungement Week.
Vine says their equity recommendations “were written when only Oakland’s program had begun” and were a useful tool for “advocacy in Los Angeles both with the city and the county.” While equity programs have spread around the state and the country, Vine says they remain “underfunded and under-resourced and until they are adequately supported I doubt they will be effective.”
Complicating matters, Vine says that “so much of equity in cannabis comes down to things that are outside of cannabis, like real estate.” Some suggestions he had for cities who want to support equity applicants is to provide “help with rent, banking and legal support.”
In October, CFC worked with a “coalition of grassroots cannabis justice organizations” to put on the first ever National Expungement Week, providing free legal relief in fifteen cities, nine states and Washington, D.C. While they did have some adult-use states like California and Colorado, they also were in Michigan (which was just about to vote to become an adult-use state), Illinois (which has a medical program but also is heading towards adult use), and even Georgia (which has a barely functional CBD-only program). What made the National Expungement Week unique was that, according to Vine, “it was focused on more than simply cannabis convictions, whatever people had that was eligible we helped them with.”
One of the big benefits to come from the National Expungement Week was the creation of CFC’s expungement toolkit, which helps guide people through the process of hosting their own expungement event. Vine says they were able to expand that toolkit and translate it into Spanish, with funding support from the Emerald Cup. As it is widely known that the impacts of the War on Drugs have been felt disproportionately by communities of color, Vine feels that “getting this out there in Spanish was a huge priority.”
Their brand consulting work is their newest endeavor, but Vine says they have already “worked with a number of different brands.” Their biggest partnership is a pilot project CFC launched in Seattle a couple of months ago, which Vine says is “a collaboration with a cultivator, a dispensary and a band.” A local cultivator, Fine Detail Greenway (FDG), grew a strain they named after a band, which got the CFC seal of approval, and was sold at a dispensary who then gave 100 percent of the proceeds back to CFC to “establish a reparative justice program in Seattle.”
TELL US, are you working to make sure the legal cannabis industry is equitable?