06/07/18 Jodie James

Jodie James of Florida Cannabis Action Network, Shaleen Title Commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission & Matt Elrod re Canada's forthcoming legalization of cannabis + DTN Editorial

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Guest: 
Jodie James
Shaleen Title
Organization: 
Florida Cannabis Action Network
Patients Out of Time
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

JUNE 7, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, this is Dean Becker, in studio once again. Thank you for being with us. I have an editorial, Drug Truth Network editorial:

For nearly five hundred years, colonialist powers like England, Spain, and later the United States made it their business to impose their will on lesser countries, to force new religions and morals on all the heathen cultures of this earth.

In the process, they vilified and demonized the use of such drugs as marijuana, coca, and opium, which previously had been a recognized part of many religions, many cultures, for thousands of years.

Today, the United States, through its drug convention treaties, forces its ideas of Judeo-Christianity and all the attendant drug laws and morals on the whole world. US media now ignores the ongoing drug reform in England, France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, and much of the rest of the world.

Research, experience, and common sense have shown these enlightened countries that the medieval drug laws are a -- simply a mechanism that if left unchecked would someday devour the meaning, the very fabric, of liberty.

I ask all government leaders, all citizens, to please develop a rational approach to ending this drug war. Help rid the earth of this monster, spawned from a cesspool of hypocrisy. And now this.

Got some big news to announce. Just today, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner announce the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States, or the STATES Act, the Senate's first ever bipartisan bill that would protect states that legalize marijuana. A companion bill in the House of Representatives, cosponsored by David Joyce and Earl Blumenauer, was also announced today.

The bills would protect states that legalize marijuana from federal interference, allowing individuals and business acting in compliance with state marijuana laws to operate without the threat of federal prosecution.

We'll have more on this on next week's show, but for now, this is Senator Elizabeth Warren:

US SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: I think it's the attorney general who gave us the impetus to bring our colleagues together. When the attorney general said that he was going to start enforcing federal laws in places like Massachusetts that had just overturned the prohibition on marijuana, it spurred us to more immediate action, and to start to at least try to build the bridge, not between those who don't believe in legalization and those who do believe in legalization, but to say, let's take a practical step right now that we can take that reflects the will of the people of our home states.

And, it's gotten a lot of people engaged in a way that they weren't six months ago. Thanks to the attorney general, more people feel the urgency of the moment in changing federal law on marijuana. Go Jeff Sessions.

DEAN BECKER: You know, news is breaking all around the country, at the federal level, certainly, but on the state level, there are groups and associates, organizations, trying to legalize cannabis in one fashion or another, as they say, recreationally, more certainly for medical purposes.

There's legislators passing bills, there's voter referendums, and there's even judges rulings that are in effect, and here to talk about that from the Florida Cannabis Action Network, we have Ms. Jodi James. Hello, Jodi.

JODI JAMES: Hi, Dean, thanks for having me on your show again today.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, Jodi, it's -- there's just so much happening in regards to cannabis laws, interpretations, and votes, am I right?

JODI JAMES: It is an exciting time to be involved in this.

DEAN BECKER: Now, what's going on in Florida? There's a judge's ruling that's having an impact, right?

JODI JAMES: Well, certainly, it's got everybody at Florida Cannabis Action Network talking. Listeners who have been paying attention to Florida will remember that we passed an initiative two years ago. Now, that initiative gave people the right, if you were a qualified patient, to use cannabis under certain conditions.

One of those conditions is that you could only get cannabis from one of -- a licensed dispenser. Further, you could only get oils. So these were going to be processed products, tinctures, oils, vape cartridges, and obviously the cannabis community that I represent wanted no part of that.

One of our key members and past president, Cathy Jordan, who is a woman who's been living with Lou Gehrig's Disease since 1986, ended up being the lead plaintiff in a challenge to allow patients to use cannabis, the plant, however they needed to.

Still medical marijuana, so you still have to have a doctor that you're consulting with, but this breaks the program and will allow patients like Cathy or any other patient, for that matter, who believes that smoked cannabis, whole plant cannabis, is better for them than something that is processed.

Once this runs its appeals, we should see smoked cannabis in Florida.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, I'm proud to say that I've interviewed Ms. Cathy Jordan over the years, that I've had the opportunity to meet with her and her husband Bob, and to witness, truly, the astounding benefit that this has for Cathy Jordan, and I think the judges have recognized this. Anyone who has investigated her situation at all recognizes that fact immediately. Correct?

JODI JAMES: Absolutely. And, you know, one of the things that the state was arguing is that it is just too dangerous to use as a smoked product. And one of the things that they were arguing was that it wasn't necessary. And, as compelling as Cathy's testimony was, there was a woman by the name of Ms. Dobson, who had been part of a pain study, and she talked about being burned with a hot iron, and then using cannabis as part of a trial to find out if cannabis was effective for pain.

You know, when you start looking at what people have gone through over the years, to study this, to bring out the benefits of it, to overcome the rhetoric, I just think it's a great time. We win, we win, we win.

Bob Jordan sent me a text message when the judge's ruling came down. Bob and Cathy and I have been working together for more than 22 years, and the message was: we won, we won, we expletive won.

I told Bobby my problem with winning is that it means that we're still fighting, and I'm so sad that we still have battle after battle after battle. But at least I'm glad to be winning.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and you know, you've probably heard my thought over the years, incrementalism is a killer, and it certainly is, but it beats the hell out of nothing happening. And, I guess we should be happy in that regard.

And I look at it this way, Jodi, that the example that Cathy and Bob have set, with - through their courage, their commitment, their willingness to delve deep and get to the truth, is what will win it for all of us across this country, is being willing to admit that we use cannabis, that it benefits us, and that we're unafraid to speak about that benefit. I think that's where total success lies. Your thought there, Jodi James.

JODI JAMES: Absolutely. But you know what incrementalism has brought us, and you and I are on the same page with this, Dean, I just can't stand being an incrementalist and suddenly I find myself one. But, every step we take, there are more people who understand the beautiful value of this plant.

And they start becoming incrementalists, and suddenly you have the patient who had never tried cannabis six months ago, and now they're a firm believer and they're like, everybody should be using this.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I was going to ask, the details on -- you mentioned that prior to this judge's ruling, that oils were the preferred method of the legislature. You know, I don't know the details, but I know that much of the black market cannabis oils is made incorrectly, is made with ingredients, is made with the possibility of further damaging the health of those making use of it. Your thought there, please.

JODI JAMES: You are so right, Dean, I'm always concerned about extracts. Certainly there are healthy ways to create extracts, and these concentrates are necessary to treat certain disorders, but we don't know about pesticides.

Florida Cannabis Action Network had our regular team meeting today, and one of the things that we're moving forward with in Florida is studies with the Department of Agriculture, whose job it is to approve pesticides, and the Florida Department of Agriculture understands that a pesticide that might be okeh processed in the liver, when you eat it on lettuce, is certainly not the same as concentrating it, putting it in a pen, and then vaporizing it through your lungs.

So, I'm very concerned about that, but you know, anybody who lives in a legal market should be concerned about pesticides in their medicine.

DEAN BECKER: Well, what you brought forward there is certainly overlooked, that you take a fairly huge amount of cannabis and you run it through the process to extract the oil, and take it down to grams, take ounces, turn it into grams, it's multiplied thirty, fifty, maybe a hundred times, the effect of that pesticide.

JODI JAMES: Correct.

DEAN BECKER: Well, --

JODI JAMES: Then again, you know, what a compromised immune system can handle compared to what my immune system, in a perfect world, can handle is very different.

I understand the attraction of the oils, the idea that you can get a measured dose, the idea that you can get a consistent dose, but you know magic is science that we don't understand, and there's an awful lot of magic to cannabis.

DEAN BECKER: Yes there is, for so many different maladies, everything from constipation to headaches and beyond, it's quite, quite a medicine.

Well, I'll tell you what folks, we've been speaking with Ms. Jodi James with the Cannabis Action Network, based in Florida, and Jodi, closing thoughts, your website?

JODI JAMES: Well, thank you Dean. Certainly, our website is www.FLCAN.org. You can find a place real easy to sign up so that you can get our regular alerts. We have been blessed, but you know, it's a persistent force, and it's that persistent force that has just worn things down.

One of our senators said to us, I don't know, ten or twelve years ago, you want to legalize drugs? Keep showing up. And so that's what we've done. We just keep showing up, and we have found where cannabis and drug policy in general are relevant to other issues that are important to lawmakers, and as a result we have made cannabis more important every year.

And now we're seeing things like rights restoration and mandatory minimums, and, you know, I think that when you start by having a force like ours, Cannabis Action Network, in there, talking about the harms associated with prohibition policy, it opens the door for more people to have conversations, and as a result we are just really seeing a real uprising of people here in Florida who want to talk about justice.

DEAN BECKER: Last month, Drug Truth Network reporter Doug McVay was up in New Jersey attending the Patients Out of Time conference. While there, he captured a speech given by Shaleen Title. She's a Commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission, an attorney and long time drug policy reformer. Shaleen Title.

SHALEEN TITLE: First I just want to say how much I appreciate the invitation to speak here, and how much respect I have for Patients Out of Time. I really love talking to the organizations that have been doing this from the beginning, since before there was an industry, and the organizations that are in this really for the right reasons, so, appreciate the opportunity.

So, I was asked to speak about fairness and cannabis business licensing, and I really appreciate that, because I'm usually asked to speak about our equity program in Massachusetts, and my specific focus, which has been on racial justice, and that gets a lot of attention, but there's no point in having an equity program if you're licensing scheme isn't fair to begin with.

If you were to have some of these barriers to entry, like $500,000 capital requirements, or a tiny number of licenses, and then make an equity program, that's akin to like a big company making a diversity plan that doesn't actually do anything.

So, if you're in a state, you're trying to be fair, you're trying to address social justice and the harms of the war on drugs, the first thing you have to start with is fairness.

So, first to just orient my perspective, so, I've been an activist in this area for about 15 years, and was particularly inspired by people like Deb Small and Michelle Alexander. When we started talking about business licenses and there was a movement in Massachusetts that, basically, legalization was not going to happen unless we did it in a way that was fair and equitable.

So, long story short, to their credit, Massachusetts legislators really took that to heart, and so they created a brand new cannabis commission, to be the regulating agency. There are five people on it, and each of them has a different area of expertise. There's public safety, public health, business, government regulation, and then the last seat is for someone with social justice experience.

And to my great surprise, because I -- normally activist millennials don't get appointed to high level government office. I got put in that seat. So they were basically like, if you care this much about racial justice, like, here's the keys and do it.

So, I've been doing that for eight to nine months now, and so we spent the first two, three months really looking in detail at other licensing schemes, what other states were doing with their medical programs, to try to make them fair and more diverse, and localities in California, like Oakland, to begin with, but also LA, Sacramento, several other cities that have been leading the way in equity.

So I would like to share a few lessons with you that I think are the most important, as we've had this focus. And let me say first, also, that I am in no way doing a victory lap here, because Massachusetts has yet to issue its first license. Under state law, we can't do that until June First, so we're very much in the beginning, so I'm sharing with you as a team effort where we're at, but, you know, if you would invite me back next year I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about the lessons learned as well.

So first, the most important thing, in my view, is, there should be no caps on the number of state licenses. And we learned this the hard way in Massachusetts. When our medical program passed in 2012, the idea was, let's start out slow and make this palatable, so we're going to start with 35 licenses, and people were referring to them as "golden tickets." Just like, red flag number one. This is not how you want to start out.

And, you know, and I've been a marijuana business lawyer, like, there's nothing wrong with people acting in their rational self interest, but when you set up a scheme like that, you are making incentives for people to do the sketchiest things they could possibly do to get one of these 35 licenses.

So, there are no caps at the state level in Massachusetts. The number of licenses that will be issued are the number of applicants that come to us that meet the suitability requirements.

Some people have asked, well, what do you do about preventing diversion? We don't want stores on every single street corner. So we have a limit that no person or business can own or control more than three licenses. There's also a hundred thousand square foot cap per licensee.

So there's other ways that you can, if you want to, you know, keep it small to begin with, it doesn't have to be by a small number of huge licenses.

The second part of that is, local approval, and bear with me because this is going to sound a little bit insider baseball-y, but to me, it's been the biggest challenge in Massachusetts, and if I had a time machine and I could go back and address it, this is the thing I would address.

So, I really want to impart this knowledge unto people. So in Massachusetts, at the state level, there are no caps. There's an equity program. However, in order to get a business license, you have to get local approval, at the city or town level. So, under state law, there was an effort to try to make this fair, so that you couldn't just go into a city or town and kind of like offer to give the most money back to that city or town, and then get their approval.

So, some cities and towns in Massachusetts have been wonderful, they've approached us about how to do their own equity program. Some have had very robust application processes. Others have had a lot of public scrutiny placed on them because they're trying to, it looks like, go outside of the limits in the law.

So here's the main limit in the law, when it comes to local approval. When a city or town decides that they can only have a certain number in their locality, let's say, four. The business and the community have to put together an agreement of how they will work together, and submit that to the state. So once the state sees that, okeh, you're good, you can go to the next step.

So in that agreement, you can put in how much money that community is going to give to the city or town to make up for the costs that are coming to the city or town. And they have to be the number, and the costs have to be reasonably related and documented. And there's a limit in Massachusetts of three percent of revenue.

So the city or town would get three percent of revenue of the business, and a three percent tax. Now, what we've seen in some of these agreements is a limit of three percent, but also a donation to the city or town of tens of thousands of dollars.

And right now in Massachusetts, there is no clear way to enforce what seems to a lot of people, what looks like to be going outside of the law. So, my suggestion to anyone who is worried about fairness in their state, in a cannabis licensing scheme, is to ensure that there is some sort of mechanism to enforce that, because it sounds like a small detail, it's not something you necessarily think of in the beginning, but that is what is happening in Massachusetts.

Second item is access to small businesses throughout every part of the regulatory process. And this is something I'm really proud of. All five of the people on the commission have been supportive of making sure that we're thinking about small businesses in every decision.

So for example, fees are waived for equity applicants, the application fees. The fees for seed to sale software are waived for equity applicants, microbusinesses, and co-ops. We set an environmental standard of the efficiency of the lights that you use, and the wattage rate was a bit -- a bit greater to allow for more flexibility for the smaller businesses.

So these types of decisions, they really add up to make it possible for small businesses to be able to be part of the industry, and to make it more fair. So no caps, access to small businesses, and then the third item I would mention is priority. I think it's been a trend that, when a medical program moves to an adult use program in a state, that those medical facilities often get priority, because they're already in the business of producing and selling marijuana to be the first to open in the adult use as well.

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DEAN BECKER: Well, we heard how things are panning out, slowly, down there in Florida, but today we're also going to go up to British Columbia, Canada, going to see what's going on up there. I keep seeing news articles that the senators are fine tuning the new law that's due to go into effect in the next couple of weeks, I suppose, and here to talk about it is my good friend from up that way, in British Columbia, Mister Matt Elrod. How are you doing, Matt?

MATT ELROD: I'm good, Dean, thanks.

DEAN BECKER: You know, I see it as a long unfolding of this new marijuana law up there, and it is still being fine tuned by the senators, it will -- by your parliament, or your house, I guess it is, and it's also going to be fine tuned by the provinces and the cities as well, as it unfolds. Is that right?

MATT ELROD: Yeah, it's -- some would argue that it's been hasty in fact, critics of the legalization have criticized the government for being hasty, but you're right, it's been a long time coming.

And you're also right that when the federal government relinquishes criminal control over all these aspects of cannabis, it will be relegated to the provinces to do the on the ground regulation.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and we have the big folks, Tweed and a couple of other major corporations, that have massive warehouses already growing cannabis, and probably going to take major control of the industry. Would you agree?

MATT ELROD: Yeah, they got a head start in that Canada legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2001, and shortly thereafter started allowing so-called licensed producers to set up shop to meet that demand, and they have long anticipated that we might legalize for broader purposes, and so they have a first starter advantage, for sure.

The legislation does allow for various grades, or sizes, or licensed producers, from what they call micro to a sort of medium sized player to the large players, but, yes, we can anticipate consolidation and the big fish eating the little fish, I think. Expect, you know, I've heard in Oregon the wholesale price has dropped through the floor, and I would expect the same thing to happen here.

So, yeah, I'm leery of investing in the industry, for that reason, because, you know, one of the provisions of the Canadian bill C-45 is to allow for personal cultivation. Now one of the last minute senate amendments was that they were going to grant the provinces the authority to prohibit personal cultivation individually. Now, so far, two provinces, I think Manitoba and Quebec, have opted to do that, to prohibit personal cultivation.

But, everywhere else, consumers will be able to grow up to four plants. I don't know how many will do that, but that's also likely to depress the street value of cannabis, and so, yeah, the profits that big companies are anticipating may not be so big. You know, it's a mixed bag, and as you often say, we don't know what's in that bag.

They say it's going to be a process, not an event, and I expect some of the provisions will be challenged in court. You know, our medical marijuana laws were challenged numerous times, and struck down as unconstitutional different provisions of them, so you're quite right. It will be fine tuned over a long period of time, I'm sure.

DEAN BECKER: And, Matt, a website you might want to share?

MATT ELROD: Oh, well, your listeners might want to check out drugsense.org, which is sort of my primary website, and links to the Media Awareness Project, which has news clippings from all around the English world, including Canada.

DEAN BECKER: Again, I want to thank Matt Elrod and the other good folks. You know, the senators who are putting forward that bill to basically legalize marijuana at the federal level, I urge you to contact your representatives, you can get some good links at MPP.org, Marijuana Policy Project, and at NORML, NORML.org.

Until we end this war on drugs, we'll be forever subject to an increasing escalation of the violence, disease, corruption, death, and destruction that comes not from drugs but from drug prohibition. I consider all drug laws to be racist, bigoted, and a violation of our civil rights, and as always, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, and I urge you to please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.