Women In the Cannabis Industry Fight Back At Federal Government's Threat To Legalization
Just a few days ago, Raeven Duckett and her partners marked a milestone: the first day of expanding their marijuana delivery service to recreational users. The company, Community Gardens Oakland Dispensary, was the first adult-use business in the city of Oakland and the third in the entire state of California to obtain a license to dispense edibles, tinctures and cannabis buds to people over 21. This week, California became the sixth state in the U.S. to decriminalize recreational marijuana and Duckett says she and her cofounders were working hard to "cross the t's and dot the i's" to comply with the state and the city's tough regulations on license holders. As news broke that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed all U.S. Attorneys to strictly enforce existing drug laws, Duckett vowed to keep moving ahead.
"I am nervous about it," Duckett said by telephone a couple of hours after the headlines began to show up in her social media feeds. "But honestly I went into this business knowing what it was. I have anxiety but I am ready to keep going. Let's do it."
Four days after prohibition on recreational marijuana ended in California, Sessions stepped up the federal threat to the industry, stating that current laws "reflect Congress's determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity a serious crime." Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum, Obama Administration rules that had allowed legal marijuana businesses to thrive in states where citizens approved its sale. Although the timing was surprising for some given California's roll out on January 1st as the country's largest legal market, the Attorney General's stance on marijuana was not. Sessions has expressed anti-marijuana sentiments in the past.
The new guidance for federal prosecutors could potentially slow down the momentum in states considering legalizing cannabis; create more headaches around banking and finance for weed businesses; and spur caution among investors, according to industry analyst Chris Walsh, vice president of the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily. "This type of move was meant to create a chilling effect and try to slow down this train," he said.
As players across the cannabis ecosystem raced to interpret the impact of the new memo, several female investors in the space expressed outrage.
"The era of 'fake news' is still upon us. There is a great lack of understanding and there is no willingness to understand the facts related to this plant," said venture capitalist Jeanne Sullivan, who has zealously advocated for the industry and has compared its economic potential to the tech boom. Sullivan pointed to powerful special interests who view legal cannabis as "detrimental to their businesses," such as the pharmaceutical, alcohol and private prison industries as responsible for this latest potential hurdle for legal cannabis. Angel investor Joanne Wilson of Gotham Gal Ventures, who has personally backed two cannabis startups, including Beboe and Octavia Wellness, predicted the federal stance would be widely unpopular.
"There are a lot of pot smoking Republicans out there who don't like paying taxes and read Breitbart," Wilson said in an email. "Sessions isn't putting this genie back in the bottle. The ship has sailed. If anything, his backward thinking without any data and his super right pious conservative views are only costing the Republicans votes."
As word of the change spread throughout cannabis circles, many entrepreneurs resolved not to let it rattle them. Paige Kazazian is about to launch Faro Kitchen, a Colorado-based allergen free edibles business and says while the developments are alarming and disappointing, she won't slow down.
"As the owner of a cannabis company that is just about to launch, this could have serious ramifications for us and our investors," Kazazian said. "Still, I think the industry is far too advanced to turn back now. All of us working in cannabis are used to the scare tactics and we have always prevailed and we will continue to do so."
For Duckett and Community Gardens, the Attorney General's memo ignites her interest in becoming more politically active. She and her cofounders all grew up in Oakland and witnessed the devastating impact of the War on Drugs firsthand.
"You see your friends and family going to jail for small possessions. You see families being torn apart based on police targeting," Duckett recalled of her childhood. "I was never arrested but I know a lot of people who were profiled." Because she and her partners were raised in the city, they qualified for the Oakland Equity Program which grants permits, loans and technical assistance to longtime residents of neighborhoods with the highest number of weed-related arrests and also to those convicted of marijuana offenses.
"Being politically active didn't seem as important before. But now being at the forefront [of the industry] it could be a missed opportunity to make some measurable change. I see cannabis as the next thing that will change my city and I feel that it is important people from my city are at the table," she said.
Source: Forbes - Heather Cabot