Social justice and the modern cannabis industry, equity programs helping women affected by the War on Drugs, and why voting with your dollars matters.
After listening to this episode you will have a better understanding of…
Raeven Duckett: Welcome to my office. If you guys want to sign in, we can do that. And then I will show you all to my-
Raeven Duckett: So we’re here at Cannaplex. Cannaplex is a warehouse. It houses, I would say, more than 10 cannabis businesses. We’re all separated by our own little [inaudible 00:00:32], like a little trailer. We’ve been here since-
April Pride: Oakland is a pioneer responsible cannabis policy from permitting structures like the Cannaplex to its social equity program. And what is a social equity program in cannabis? It’s a municipal program designed to create pathways to participate and succeed in the cannabis industry as a way to reverse the damage caused by federal cannabis prohibition, the war on drugs, which continues to disproportionately affect minority communities. Oakland social equity program was the first in the country. And other cities, as well as state legislatures, are following their lead, trying to make sure that the benefits of legalization go to people and neighborhoods harmed the most in previous decades by drug policy and enforcement.
Raeven Duckett: So what the Oakland Equity Program did was it gave priority licensing to people who were from the city of Oakland or had been arrested for a marijuana crime in the city of Oakland. My team qualified because of where my husband grew up, it was actually around here a little bit, and this is a lot of the areas that were affected, and so how the Equity Program decided the areas to take a step back, they did an equity analysis. So the city ran a study and saw that people in certain areas were 10 times as likely to get arrested for a marijuana crime, so they pick those areas, and if you were from those areas, you were able to get priority licensing. And so what they said on the other end was that people who want to incubate these teams can also get a license in Oakland. And that is the only way that a non-equity person, company, whoever can get a license in Oakland, is to incubate an equity team.
Raeven Duckett: What the Oakland Equity Program is really trying to do and what equity programs are trying to do is redistribute wealth and really create generational wealth for people who have been part of a system that has been, until now, created to destroy them.
April Pride: Can you tell us a little bit about what those city council meetings were like leading up to legalization?
Raeven Duckett: Yeah, they’re emotional. I mean, honestly I look at it like that because it’s people coming up to testify about how cannabis helps them, how they support cannabis in the area and all of this, and then you have some people who come up and are like, not in my neighborhood kind of feeling, and they were like… Because you have stories of people being like, “Well, my brother was thrown in jail because he smoked. He had an ounce on him. So I’ll never touch that cannabis plant in my whole entire. It’s like the worst thing you could do,” kind of feeling, which is that’s a real emotion and that’s a real experience that you had, but it doesn’t have anything to do with weed and it has a lot to do with the system that we live in and things were set up, but it’s people associate a lot of that. A lot of all the fears and trauma of the whole war on drugs is directly associated with weed particularly, and so that was very apparent.
April Pride: Do you feel like the numbers of people of color who are getting licenses, who are part of the Equity Program, is that going to move the needle?
Raeven Duckett: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it’s hard to tell. I think that as it is right now, I would say probably not because I don’t think that the people who are in the Oakland Equity Program have the amount of support, and have the amount of funds, and have the network that is necessary to really dominate in what is going to be national, if not global, within the next five to 10 years or something like that. I think that there needs to be some sort of reform in the sense that applicants need to be supported better. And I also think that the focus, especially as new equity programs come about, should be more about community reinvestment. I think the assumption that everyone who was affected by the war on drugs can only benefit from cannabis legalization by becoming a part of the industry is very narrow. And I understand if people don’t want to be a part of the industry, but I think that there are a lot of people who are affected by the war on drugs who deserve to be rectified for that.
Raeven Duckett: And so I hope that communities get some investment. I hope that job programs come out of this that have nothing to do with cannabis, like training, those kinds of things, parks and schools and things like that. I hope that communities get rebuilt. What if we could take these dollars and invest it in the streets that we were just driving around that need it?
April Pride: Welcome back to How To Do The Pot. I’m April Pride and I do the pot. In 2016, I founded Van der Pop, a cannabis company for and by women. Now with my new venture of like minds in this podcast, we’re exploring everything women want and need to know in this new era of legal cannabis.
April Pride: We’ve talked about pain and pregnancy, now we’re going to go back in time a little bit to understand where the modern cannabis industry came from and the long shadow cast by the war on drugs. We’re also going to talk about the ways in which our cannabis consumption today, yours and mine, can help work to undo the harms created by the war on drugs.
April Pride: So how did we get here? Let’s look at US of the last century, and sadly not much has changed. An influx of immigrants to the US fleeing a post 1910 Mexican revolution sparked nationalist ideals. Sound familiar? Everything foreign was painted as bad, thus began a rebrand of cannabis to marijuana, the Spanish spelling for the phonetic pronunciation of the Chinese word for cannabis. So it was in this climate that the temperance movement successfully led the federal ban on alcohol in 1919. The change in regulation included pharmacy reform to reduce opioid dependence. Sound familiar? Since cannabis was known to be used recreationally, it was painted as an abused medication. In fact, when cannabis was effectively made illegal with the marijuana tax act of 1937, the plant was the third most prescribed ingredient to pharmacists who distributed cannabis as medicine in compounds, salvages, tinctures, tinctures you may recall from our episode on pharma.
April Pride: The war on drugs is not the first time the government has used prohibition as a means of social control. Alcohol prohibition, which spanned 13 years from 1920 to 1933, makes a sound case for government overstepping reach with disastrous results. There was the rise of the mob. The mob came into existence because they were protecting their distribution of bootlegged alcohol and, state’s attorneys, at the time of prohibition, 44% of all of the cases that they were trying were alcohol-related so it completely overwhelmed the justice system.
April Pride: And here we are today, we’ve seen mass incarceration brought about by, honestly, petty drug offenses. 50% of all drug arrests are cannabis, and 80% of those arrests are for simple possession, and people go to jail for this. The war on cannabis started before the war on drugs, but even with legalization gaining steam in the 2000s, arrests and prosecutions keep going up.
Higher arrests and incarceration rates for these communities are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use, but rather of law enforcement’s focus on urban areas, lower income communities, and communities of color. White and Black people smoke weed at the same rate, period. Even so Black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.
April Pride: According to the ACLU, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and in Washington DC, Blacks are seven and a half to eight and a half times likely to be arrested for having weed. And I want to focus on Washington DC because the laws there say it all. Currently, the laws make selling weed an enforceable crime, but possessing weed is not a crime. And you may say, April, arrests are falling, decriminalization has really taken hold across the US, and you’re right, the numbers are looking better, but it’s the disparities, those have not changed. And that’s what’s disturbing and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. We wanted to get into the mindset of the people who are arresting others, law enforcement.
Lee Maddix: My name is Lee Maddix. So I began my career as a very naive 20-year-old when I joined the Maryland state police. And I worked with that organization for almost 20 years, worked my way up through the ranks and eventually retired in 2007 at the rank of captain.
April Pride: Lee Maddix loved her career in law enforcement. Her father was a Marine Lieutenant Colonel and expected her to serve her community. When she was 19, a good friend of hers was murdered and Lee took issue with how local law enforcement handled the investigation so she decided to become a state trooper and she dove into police work, working patrol investigations. But it was the death of another friend, close to the end of her career, that completely changed how she thought about police work and the war on drugs.
Lee Maddix: His name was Ed Toatley and he was a very dear friend of mine. He had been working a undercover investigation in Washington DC, and this occurred back in the early 2000s, and the bad guy took his money and went to go in to purchase the drug for him, but then doubled back around and shot him in the head. And that guy’s in jail now for life for doing that. But when that happened, it really rocked me because you know you’re doing dangerous work, but you don’t really realize how close you walk to that line of death until you lose someone close to you. And when Ed died, I immediately thought to myself, “Why are we putting people of that caliber in harm’s way? Why are we doing business that way? Why do we care that much about this brick of cocaine that we’re going to sacrifice this father of three kids?” It really made me stop and hit pause on my career and think more deeply about what we are doing in our communities and what we are doing, not only to the communities that were being policed, but also to the community of police officers that were doing the policing.
Lee Maddix: Well, I think as a police officer you saw that we were arresting people over and over again for the same thing, and drug use was not going down. In fact, drug use was going up. So there was no correlation between our arrest and reduced crime. It was having the opposite effect. And then once I retired and went into the communities and worked as a lawyer one-on-one with folks who are living through the consequences, the collateral consequences of these failed policies, and particularly criminalization of their lives, being forced to pay over and over again for what is seemingly innocuous offense like possession of marijuana, and 10 years later they still can’t get a decent apartment because they’re coming up dirty on the criminal history check. And it took a while after that for me to, because I stayed on the job for a while and oversaw some pretty big operations, but once I retired and got down on the streets of Baltimore city, that’s when I realized we needed to end the war on drugs, that it had just failed miserably.
April Pride: In June of 1971, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse to be public enemy number one.
Richard Nixon: America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all out offensive.
April Pride: And two years later, the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency was created. In that Nixon speech, you can see Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, onstage with the president. Years later, Ehrlichman told Harper’s magazine, he said, “The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies, the antiwar left and Black people.
We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
April Pride: In 1986, I was 10 years old, and as a fifth grader at such failed elementary school in Newport News, Virginia, I vividly remember being in the auditorium/cafeteria, standing and listening to three words that would define a generation’s attitudes around drugs and alcohol, just say no. Just say no was the pet project of first lady Nancy Reagan. It was an anti-drug campaign that was very effective. And president Ronald Reagan’s expansion of the war on drugs was, in many ways, driven by increased media coverage of an resulting public nervousness over the crack epidemic that arose in the early 1980s. This concern over crack use helps drive political support for Reagan’s hard line stance on illegal, including cannabis, and the intense prosecution of anyone caught using or selling drugs. That meant increased enforcement and harsher punishments and sentences. And for Liz Mora, a young single mother pregnant with her daughter, Nicole, this policy would impact the rest of her life and that of her family.
Liz Mora: My name is Maria Mora. I go by Liz. I am mother to this wonderful person over here, Esteban.
Esteban: My name is Esteban [Araya 00:15:22].
April Pride: So why don’t we start with that, Liz, why don’t you tell us why we’re here, why telling your story and sharing your story will be significant for so many listeners?
Liz Mora: Yes. So I was mid twenties, pregnant, I made an unwise decision to transport weed, marijuana. I, unfortunately, or fortunately, I didn’t make it very far. My first one, I got caught, possession, transportation, with the intent to sell, which of course I was just literally what they call a mule.
April Pride: After serving her time, Liz was turned down for jobs. She wasn’t able to obtain a student loan to go back to school, so she had to work long hours in low wage jobs, more time spent away from her children.
Liz Mora: Over a year in federal custody, two years probation, but losing my kids to… I mean, thank God I was able to put them with a family that I trusted, but the whole having to be away from them for so long, when my daughter was seven months, Esteban was nine years old, it was pretty hard. It happened in 1988, I was pregnant with her, and then I went through the court thing still pregnant, then I had her. Nicole was a few months old when I got sentenced. So-
Esteban: I mean, that literally just triggered everything in our life from there.
Liz Mora: From there.
Esteban: Financially. I mean, I’m now 29 years old, so one of the things that I realized when my mom I didn’t understand, because I was also angry with my mom, you know what I mean? Because growing up it made a lot of tension between us because she had to be away and she couldn’t really help… You know what I mean? I mean, she couldn’t… There was just a lot that I didn’t understand at the moment. And so that created more of a resentment for me because I didn’t understand, you know what I mean? I didn’t understand why we didn’t have this or we didn’t have that or why we didn’t spend enough time together. But I was angry at her because I was like, why are you not doing what you’re supposed to be doing-
Liz Mora: Having a better job, because I had had one before.
Liz Mora: But I understood… Now I understand. It’s like, wow, it really is something when you have those felonies, especially federal drug dealing crimes. I mean, you can’t get into banking, you can’t get into any type of real industry where you can even move up. You can’t even support yourself without living in neighborhoods where obviously my mom didn’t want to raise us. And thank God she actually got us out of these neighborhoods.
April Pride: Today, in many places, including Los Angeles, where Liz and Esteban live, local governments are writing social equity into cannabis law. That is special programs for people who’ve been directly harmed by the war on drugs. People like Liz Mora and her son Esteban, whose lives for the last 20 years have been impacted by cannabis criminalization, and now they have an opportunity to open a legal cannabis business.
Esteban: We first learned about it… We went to the city, one of the city council members here in the city hall, they were having a a meeting in regards to the cannabis regulation and they were going to be getting all the feedback from the community stakeholders, and part of that was the social equity. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had already heard in the city that it was something to do with giving back in communities. I never really imagined exactly what it could be, but I was like, “Hey, I know I’m from certain communities that were affected by the war on drugs,” I mean, half of my family went to prison, other ones are dead because of the war on drugs, which is very sad to say, but it’s the reality.
Esteban: And so we were going to this a meeting just to try to get information and I mean, everybody was shocked that walked in there because most of the people that were chasing this industry were not necessarily from these communities. They’re investors. They’ve been following the industry or they maybe already have some type of positions in the industry, but they weren’t from these communities.
April Pride: Liz Mora is hoping to be one of those people who get some investment.
Liz Mora: I want to be able to, first of all, impact the community in a good way. Me, with my chronic pain, having to come down from being on painkillers that have all these other side effects for your body, I can see that health wise it’s better for me to take these other alternative. And I want to make that available and give the information to all these other people, especially in the Hispanic community where we’re going to have our location, that they don’t really know. They still look at it as, “Oh, you just want to get high,” and it’s not about that. It’s about educating our older people and younger people into the good that this can do.
April Pride: So what could be a way to the needle and propel more women, more people of color, and those affected by the war on drugs into the cannabis industry? One way might be related to programs like the initiative in Portland. Full disclosure, I was a board member of the program. Its intent is to provide tools, mentoring, training, and access to funding that female entrepreneurs need to succeed in the cannabis industry. And Raven Duckett, who we met at the Cannaplex in Oakland, she was a recent inaugural participant. It really picks up where the Oakland Equity Program left off.
Raeven Duckett: It was really focused on raising investment dollars, which was something that was really missing from the Oakland Equity Program, I think, because while they did give us a clear path to licensing, it wasn’t really a lot of help and support in how we could raise the funds to really make our business, a scalable business. Especially in California, one of the largest economies in the world and one of the largest regulated market in the United States right now.
April Pride: Social equity programs, incubators, access to capital, and those with the capital having an open mind in terms of who they invest in. We need all of this in order to build an equitable cannabis industry moving forward.
April Pride: Like so many issues of sustainability, we need to acknowledge the harm that’s been done and work as founders and consumers of cannabis to make the best possible choices. So for today’s High Five, our tips for How To Do The Pot, five ways that consumers of cannabis can be part of making sure the industry is equitable going forward.
April Pride: Number one, know where your elected officials stand on cannabis policy. If you don’t live in a legal state, has cannabis been decriminalized in your community? Get to know your local officials, that’s where these decisions are made. Number two, know your farmer. I asked Raeven, “If you wanted to create a supply chain that at every step touched a person of color, would you be able to do that?” And she really struggled when it came to a farmer or a Black-owned farm. And there was one that she mentioned that’s in LA, outside of LA, called Blackstar. So do your research and find out who’s growing plants in your state.
April Pride: Number three, know who you’re buying your weed from. Who owns the local dispensary? Who owns the delivery service that you call? And who are they hiring? Do you feel like when you approach a counter, that the person looking back at you reflects you and your values and perhaps knows a little bit about where you came from?
Number four, know the founder of businesses that you buy cannabis from. My business partner, Ellen, and I have tried to bring brands into the High Five that are women-owned, women-founded, that we feel have a place in this industry and are leaders, and we want to continue to see their success and to make sure that they thrive in this industry. We encourage you to go back to each episode, listen to the High Five, visit our website of course, and find brands founded and run by women that you can purchase products from. And again, have a role and participate in their success.
April Pride: So number five is an example of a brand that I’ve loved for years. 2016 is when I found the Apothecarry case. Apothecarry brands was founded by Whitney Beatty. She is a Black woman who has left a very successful career in the entertainment industry after finding that an idea that she had, a locked storage box for cannabis, was something that everybody wanted. She has a son and she wanted to protect her kid from her stash, what mom doesn’t… I know that’s why I purchased my first Apothecarry box. I wanted something that would keep my cannabis fresh, I can lock it and leave it under my desk. I don’t worry about it at all. And there’s four jars, so I pick up strains and I can make sure that I’ve got a good assortment for people when I’m entertaining. There’s also a grinder that’s available with it. I mean, it really is the most beautiful starter kit for a cannabis collection that I can imagine.
April Pride: And let me give you a quick stat. Women only receive 2% of all venture funding, and Black women receive, I mean a small fraction of that, 0.0006%. So she has built this business in spite of a lot of challenges, to say the least. It’s been self-funded, at least for the first three years. We here at How To Do The Pot are firm believers that supporting brands led by amazing women like Whitney helped to make this cannabis industry better for us all. I mean, I have not seen anything come out that touches Whitney’s storage box, that’s locked and safe. She has my number, for sure.
April Pride: Thank goodness this time of year when we’re all looking to buy ourselves something, you can get 15% off of her Apothecarry case, the classic Apothecarry case. And it is a really, really great gift. No one will be disappointed. So how do you get your hands on one of these? Visit theapothecarrycase.com. And that’s Apothecarry spelled carry, like you’re carrying your bag of weed. And you can find their Instagram, @theapothecarry. And remember to enter, do the pot, D-O-T-H-E-P-O-T, at checkout for 15% off.
April Pride: Thanks everyone for listening today. If you liked this episode, please share it with someone and please rate and review us on Apple podcasts. It helps more people find the show. Still curious about How To Do The Pot? If you live in one of the legal US States and are over 21, join our private Facebook group to connect with other listeners and see how others are in fact, doing the pot. You can find more info and past episodes at dothepot.com. Thanks to my co founder, Ellen Scanlon, Allie Mussolino, our marketing manager, producer Gina Delvac, and the team at Western Sound, including Steven Hoffman, Ben Adair, and Haley Fox. I’m April pride, and we’ll be back soon with more of How To Do The Pot.