03/11/18 Dan Pabon

The New Jersey Legislature is considering whether, and how, to decriminalize and legally regulate the adult social use marijuana market. On this edition of Century of Lies, we hear from Shaleen Title, a Commissioner with the Massachusetts State Cannabis Control Commission; Shanel Lindsay, an attorney, activist, and business owner based in Boston; and CO State Representative Dan Pabon.

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MARCH 11, 2018


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The state of New Jersey is considering whether to decriminalize and legally regulate the adult social use marijuana market. The New Jersey General Assembly’s Committee on Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations held a hearing on marijuana law reform on March Fifth. We’re going to hear from a few of the people who were invited to testify.

The loyal listener will recall that last week we took a look at the first sixty days of California’s decriminalized and legally regulated adult social use marijuana market. This week, thanks to that New Jersey Assembly Committee hearing, we’ll be taking a look at the state of legal marijuana in the states of Colorado and Massachusetts.

First up, we hear from Shaleen Title. Shaleen is a member of the state of Massachusetts’s Cannabis Control Commission. She’s co-founder of THC Staffing Group, a cannabis recruiting firm focused on equality and inclusion. Shaleen’s also an attorney specializing in marijuana regulations who co-authored the Massachusetts marijuana legalization referendum, and a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

SHALEEN TITLE: The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is an independent state agency charged with regulating our newly legal marijuana industry. I am one of its five commissioners, jointly appointed by the governor, treasurer, and attorney general.

Together we have broad and extensive experience in elected office, government regulation, business and finance, public health, public safety, and in my case, policy and social justice.

Before my appointment, I co-authored the Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Referendum, passed in 2016, and consulted on state and local marijuana policy around the country. For me, the campaign was the culmination of 16 years of work as an activist, attorney, and business owner.

Previously, as a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, I led the drafting of a model bill designed to help states create equitable and just marijuana industries, with rules that acknowledge how the baseless drug laws of the past disproportionately harmed communities of color and other marginalized people.

Today, I'm proud to say that Massachusetts is just weeks away from implementing the country's first statewide cannabis equity program, which is based in part on that model bill.

The program is a series of benefits we will provide to marginalized communities, and which together will help ensure the industry we regulate is diverse and fair, with ample room for small businesses to thrive and contribute.

I have traveled here from Boston to speak with you as one government official charged with regulating cannabis, and as a longtime activist. I want to offer to work with you and share any and all of the resources I've developed toward the implementation of this law.

First, I want to commend Assemblywoman Quijano for introducing bills that I read about, to be introduced today, focused on social justice and economic opportunities in legal cannabis. Creating a path to prosperity for people with past marijuana convictions by expunging their records and explicitly allowing them to own and work for cannabis companies is one of the most important steps we can take toward justice and economic empowerment for the communities that have been harmed.

The other important step, in my opinion, is to follow the example of Massachusetts, and insert a provision into the law requiring the regulating agency to promote and encourage the full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.

The commission has put this plan into action. There are two major programs, and there's a set of principles that guide and are interwoven into every policy decision the commission makes.

I understand that even for people who agree with these principles in theory, it can be difficult to translate these concepts into concrete policies. Therefore, I would like to spend the remainder of my time outlining the specific policies related to equity that can be found in the regulations which will be finalized March Fifteenth.

The first major program is to provide priority review, called economic empowerment priority review, to promote more participation from disproportionately harmed communities when we start accepting applications for marijuana business licenses next month.

This is essentially a head start to provide to applicants that demonstrate a combination of ownership or employment of people from disproportionately harmed communities, or who have drug convictions. Applicants can demonstrate that they have past experience promoting economic empowerment in these communities to also qualify.

The second major program is a social equity program to provide training and technical assistance to certain applicants and licensees, namely those who have lived in areas of disproportionate impact, or who have drug convictions, or a parent or spouse with a drug conviction, and are under a certain income limit.

Massachusetts will help those who qualify to draft business plans, raise funding, comply with legal and regulatory requirements, and learn how to manage their own companies.

Further, in a decision we just made last week, when licenses are issued for delivery businesses and onsite marijuana consumption, also known as social consumption licenses, those will initially be reserved for equity applicants and certain small businesses.

On top of that, the commission has opted not to establish capitalization requirements for applicants, recognizing that it's extremely difficult to secure capital through traditional sources, especially in light of the current federal uncertainty. A specific threshold could close the door on the very business owners the law intends to encourage to get involved.

The application fees proposed, which range from one hundred dollars to six hundred dollars, depending on the license type, would be waived for equity applicants. Our fees are substantially lower than those in many other states with legal marijuana, where they can range in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We did this intentionally, charging enough to cover our costs while keeping barriers to entry as low as possible as we seek to build an inclusive industry.

But we didn't stop there. Recognizing the moral imperative that a 21st century industry include people of color, women, veterans, small farmers, and individuals with disabilities, our regulations require all applicants to submit and adhere to a diversity plan as well as a plan for how the business will positively effect communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for drug offenses.

In summary, marijuana legalization offers our respective states a once in a lifetime opportunity to be honest and intentional in addressing the past harm conducted by our respective states in the name of the war on drugs.

According to the ACLU, black people in Massachusetts are 3.9 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. As you are no doubt aware, that same report shows that in New Jersey, black people are 2.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, and that New Jersey was one of the twelve states with the most marijuana possession arrests, and one of the highest per capita fiscal expenditures enforcing those laws.

While decriminalization is a wise and important step towards justice, experience tells us it is not enough. After Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana in 2008, the number of arrests of course went down significantly, but racial disparities among those arrests, I'm sorry to say, have only increased.

Removing the penalties for marijuana without taking intentional steps toward social justice is a half measure. It is simply not enough. Our collective marginalized communities deserve more.

And the bottom line is this: In Massachusetts, we want everyone, everyone, to have a chance to thrive in this business, and we cannot accomplish that by closing our eyes and covering our ears when confronted with longstanding inequities.

We know we must acknowledge that systemic injustices have left some far better positioned to profit from this potentially lucrative industry than others, and in government, as in activism, it is those others with whom we must concern ourselves first.

Thank you for your time today. I hope you will join me in creating the future that a clear majority of Americans want, an equitable, safe industry with new jobs and tax revenue, and please know I'll be here for you as a resource as you move forward. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Shaleen Title, she’s a member of the Massachusetts state government’s Cannabis Control Commission. She was testifying before a New Jersey State Assembly committee regarding marijuana legalization, which the state of New Jersey is considering.

You’re listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay.

Next up, we hear from Shanel Lindsay. She’s an attorney, executive, and medical marijuana advocate from Boston, and she's founder and President of Ardent Cannabis.

SHANEL LINDSAY: Thank you for bearing with me today, because I'm here from a redeye flight from California. I cut a business trip short to be here today because it was that important to come here and talk to you about our experiences in Massachusetts.

So, I applaud you for looking at the perspectives of other states, because that really is the best way to determine how to move forward, and I think Massachusetts provides a particularly relevant example for us, being on the east coast.

I know that when we were legalizing in Massachusetts, when we were looking at other states out west, sometimes we would get a concern about kind of the culture, and the nature, and I think that if you, as Jersey, look at Massachusetts, and look at not only the way that we are on the east coast, but also at the way that we have legalized marijuana, it has come very slowly as you have in Massachusetts -- I mean, as you have in New Jersey, with medical programs that were very restrictive, and then moving into thinking about adult use.

So again, I think that's very relevant, as we're talking here, because we absolutely dealt with identical issues that you've had, and will have, and consider, as you're moving forward towards legalization.

In my opinion, legalization in New Jersey is not about if you will legalize, but how you will legalize and when you will legalize. We know that the reasons for legalization, and I'm sure that you will hear more about that from the folks that are testifying today, but the reasons for moving forward with legalization become more and more clear each day, as states move forward and progress out of these archaic laws that we have here.

We know that cannabis is a non-toxic substance, as compared to other substances. We know that it has medical benefits. But unfortunately with cannabis this isn't just about legalizing a new substance, or thinking about bringing a product to market. And that's because cannabis prohibition is inextricably linked to race.

And, we know that this is frankly a disgrace, and that needs to be corrected immediately. The issues of disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition in and of itself is a reason to legalize. And that would be even if cannabis was as dangerous as people claimed it is, which we know that it is not.

So besides the medical reasons, the tax revenue, the gross drain on resources that cannabis prohibition represents, the capricious and arbitrary nature of the prohibition does become more apparent each day.

When we're looking at these important issues and we're moving forward, what I would urge you to do is really carefully think about the right way to legalize. In Massachusetts, as Shaleen mentioned, and in other states, we saw that legalization done the wrong way can actually exacerbate both the criminal justice disparities and then also create economic disparities.

And so I urge you to look towards models that incorporate small businesses, local people, models that create pathways for people that are currently engaged in what's considered criminal activity, which will not be criminal activity after you legalize.

Too often we see, as we saw in our own medical program, that creating very high barriers to entry to this industry is a surefire way to ensure that economic disparities are layered on top of criminal justice disparities.

Please avoid situations that create monopolies, and not only is it important to have provisions in the law, but it is incredibly important to understand and have the right people on your body or on your commission. Within our law, there was a specific requirement that somebody with experience in social justice in these incredibly important and -- in these incredibly important and incredibly pervasive issue of equity and race, when you come to legalizing.

You need to make sure that somebody is that voice. And in our case, we are so incredibly lucky to have Shaleen as that voice of the commission to ensure that this is happening, and again, that's part of the initial piece of drafting, those are not things that you can wait to consider after you're already moving forward with legalization.

So again, we have an opportunity here to create a vehicle of economic and social change for the state that also will benefit everyone economically.

And, just as you are watching us here in Massachusetts, others, especially the south, will be watching you here in New Jersey. So please, do continue to push that torch forward, of equity, of social justice, and improving our communities.

And again, as Shaleen mentioned, I'm also here as a resource, as you move forward, because again, there will be so many different issues that you need to address, and I thank you for inviting me here today.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Shanel Lindsay, she’s an attorney and medical marijuana advocate from Boston, Massachusetts, and Founder and President of Ardent Cannabis. She testified on March Fifth before the New Jersey Assembly's Committee on Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations. The state of New Jersey is considering whether, and how, to legally regulate the adult social use marijuana market.

You’re listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.Net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now, let’s hear from Colorado State Representative Dan Pabon.

COLORADO STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAN PABON: I serve as a state representative in the Colorado General Assembly, so I understand the shoes that you're sitting in very well.

I currently chair the House Finance Committee in Colorado, and relevant here, I served on the Governor's Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, as well as chaired the Joint Select Committee on the Implementation of Amendment 64 in Colorado. Amendment 64 was the historic measure that created legalization in the state of Colorado.

And so I've been asked today to come here to tell you how are things in Colorado. And I'll tell you this: we have a 2.3 percent unemployment rate, we have the healthiest state in the nation. We have the most educated cities in the nation, the fastest growing cities, largest rising property values, and tourism is at record levels.

I'm proud of my state of Colorado, and just thought I'd throw that out there for the, if anybody wants to take a visit to Colorado.

But relevant here, you want to know how legalization is going on in Colorado, which is why I was called here. But all those statistics are still true. So in 2012, voters passed Amendment 64, setting the beginning of an epic journey of legalization of cannabis, and just so you understand, for the record, I actually voted against that measure.

I voted against that measure because at the time, unlike New Jersey and many other states, there was no one really actively pushing drug legalization, cannabis legalization, in the country, and so this was a sort of unique opportunity for many to have Colorado be the first. And I was very wary of being this -- the country and the world's guinea pig.

I voted no, but was outvoted by my constituents and by 55 percent of Coloradans. Amendment 64 obtained more votes than Barack Obama did in 2012. That's a true story.

So -- and, a couple of folks here were involved in that campaign. So when you're endeavoring on an epic journey, as I've described, where you have really no previous templates, or really previous regulatory framework, you look for a north star. And the north star that we sought out was keeping cannabis out of the hands of children, criminals, and cartels.

And that is what the bedrock of our regulations in the state of Colorado have started out as, and have continued for the last three and a quarter years. So, voters adopted this measure in two thousand -- November 2012. The first legal sale of cannabis happened January First, 2014. So we have had three years of recreational sales in Colorado, and corollary data with that, regarding public safety statistics, public health statistics, youth usage rates, substance abuse rates, as well as, can tell you lots about where the half a billion dollars in tax revenue that we have generated has gone to.

A couple of things I'd like to touch on. As we -- first, let me just say I wish I had me available to ask questions about how things went, with some history and some data behind the experience of cannabis legalization. Again, we had nothing.

And so I'm happy to serve as an expert in this area. As chairman of the House Finance Committee, I oversee the Department of Revenue and the Marijuana Enforcement Division, and so we've introduced almost 50 to 60 bills since those initial three bills we introduced, turning on this system, and so I'm very familiar with the ups and downs, the lessons learned, and the nuances of this industry.

A couple of things that we did at the outset was we required -- we required, in order to have a license, a Colorado residency requirement. You had to be a Colorado resident in order to have the license, and the idea behind that was, we wanted to be conservative in our approach to cannabis regulation, having folks who were tied to the state, connected to the state, not out of state folks coming in, but, rather, Colorado homegrown businesses, men and women who were interested in staying in and fostering the industry in our state. So that was step one.

Step two, we allowed legacy medical cannabis companies to essentially have the first crack at licensure for a specified period of time. And the idea there was that, because this was a brand new industry, we did have a medical system, sort of similar to yours, yours is a little bit more conservative than ours was.

But, we essentially said that since the legacy cannabis, medical cannabis operators have some experience in this area, and because we weren't exactly sure how this was going to go, we wanted to make sure that those who were most experienced in the area had the first bite at the apple. That was another specific endeavor that we took on.

And then last but not least, we were very concerned about diversion into other states. We are bordered by four other states, in Colorado: Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, a little bit of Oklahoma, and we wanted to make -- and Nebraska. And we wanted to make sure that folks weren't coming into our state, purchasing cannabis, and then leaving and diverting that into the black market. That would, in our view, defeat the whole idea of taking the black market out with the free market, which was another monster that we had.

So, we limited sales to out-of-state purchasers to a quarter ounce, and allowed in-state sales, if you're a Colorado resident, to one ounce. And again, that was a conservative approach back in 2013, when we were putting together these regulations.

Come to 2017, we -- turns out that most states did not take that same conservative approach and did not have the diversion -- diversionary concerns that we had, and there was no basis for making that distinction, so we got rid of that distinction in 2012 [sic: 2016], just to be clear, some of the lessons that we learned in Colorado, we got rid of that requirement.

One of the things I often recommend to legislators around the country is, regardless of whether you have a medical system, or a recreational system, or no system at all, something that's extremely useful for your state, and any state, is a baseline data analysis of where you're at right now.

So, I don't know if the -- if you know this in New Jersey. We don't know it in Colorado, except for the last year, about the number of impaired drivers on our roads, that were specifically pulled over for cannabis related incidents. We never broke that information out. We always had it under the auspices of driving under the influence, and that included alcohol, prescription drugs, cannabis, everything else.

So, when people make statements about what happened in Colorado and where it's going as regards to impaired driving, the short answer is, no data really exists on that topic, because we've only started breaking out into specific categories as of late. I would recommend you start doing that tomorrow in New Jersey, if you don't already do so.

Same thing with emergency room visits related to cannabis. Same thing related to substance abuse disorder, that you've already measured in Colorado -- I'm sorry, New Jersey, that would help you to understand what baseline you are at, so that when the legalization, if it takes place, took place, you could point to a baseline and then you could say the trend is either up, down, or indifferent.

We do have some data like that in Colorado, specific to youth usage. So we've seen no increase, no statistically significant increase in youth usage in Colorado, and we've also seen a decline in opioid use in Colorado, both tied to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

But, these types of statistics are extremely valuable and important for your state, because at the end of the day, and I'll conclude with this, because I know that time is short, but if you'd like me to speak to other topics I'm happy to do, depending on the committee's interest.

The folks that you really have to convince about a medical system, or cannabis system, aren't either the patients or the users, but it's the rest of the taxpayers. You've got to convince them that this is a good use of their taxpayer dollars, to spend money to both regulate the industry as well as collect taxes, and most folks that, in Colorado, are not users in Colorado. They are professionals, they're moms and dads, they're just like the people of New Jersey, productive citizens in the state of Colorado.

They just want to know where the taxes are going, you know? Maybe they believe, because of social justice reasons, that the war on drugs has failed, and decided to decriminalize and allow the sale and possession of marijuana in low amounts. Maybe that's one reason. They supported it, but at the end of the day, they still don't use.

Maybe another reason they supported its legalization, and again I'm talking about the 55 percent of people in Colorado, that number's gone up since 2012, who support cannabis legalization. Maybe they supported it because public safety resources directed towards cannabis use are dramatically down, allowing our law enforcement to really work on the cartel and criminal element in Colorado, and focusing on epidemics like methamphetamine use and heroin use and other very dangerous drug use, and frankly including opioid use.

There are many different reasons that folks supported legalization in Colorado. Most of them have nothing to do with a need or desire to use cannabis. But they felt, for whatever reason or another, the substance should be regulated, lawfully regulated, and taxed, and what we did with the first forty million dollars of our excise tax is we dedicated that to school construction in Colorado, all over the state, mostly rural schools, have an increase in capital construction budgets that they didn't have previously.

We spent more money on substance abuse treatment and prevention than we ever have, which is a direct correlation to why our youth usage is down. These are programs that are very difficult to find funding for, and because we have a marijuana tax revenue stream, we have found ample money to support these programs.

So with that, Mister Chair, committee, I'll turn it back to you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was State Representative Dan Pabon, he’s an attorney and a member of the Colorado State General Assembly. He was testifying before a New Jersey State Assembly committee that was looking into whether, and how, New Jersey should decriminalize and legally regulate adult social use of marijuana.

And that’s all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DOUG MCVAY: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

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