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Cannabis Went from Lazy Stoners & Lockup to Essential Commerce Real Quick

By Jack Riordan
Cannabis Went from Lazy Stoners & Lockup to Essential Commerce Real Quick
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90% of mainstream media coverage is about COVID-19 these days and cannabis news coverage is, for the most part, following suit. You have probably heard by now of cities and/or entire states deeming cannabis commerce an “essential” service to society and boy that sure got me thinking and feeling all types of ways.

You may have also seen a meme/Twitter screenshot of celebrity actress and comedian Chelsea Handler posing the thought, “Imagine being incarcerated for a marijuana-related offense and then seeing it deemed ‘essential business’.” Again, half of me is like, “Hell yeah, Handler!” but the other half of me is thinking “Imagine being incarcerated for a marijuana-related offense and then seeing Chelsea Handler legally invest in a marijuana-related brand…”

I’ve seen Ms. Handler speak on the subject and I truly feel that she is in it for the right reasons, having found wellness benefits in cannabis both personally and in the people she cares about, so that second emotion should not outweigh the first, and it does not for me.

However, this example highlights the fine line that some states and the federal government are trying to walk between hypocrisy and helpfulness when it comes to cannabis. If cannabis is “essential”, I have a few bones to pick.

SHE’S RIGHT YA KNOW

Chelsea Handler hits the nail on the head when she points out that state lawmakers are attempting to whitewash their own role in the imprisonment of thousands of Americans who did nothing more than deal with a plant that is now being categorized as one of the few essential services allowed to operate after states shutter most other businesses to stop the spread of the pandemic Coronavirus.

It doesn’t take a global catastrophe to see that cannabis is essential for millions of people worldwide but the very fact that these legal markets exist at all while anyone still sits in jail or prison for a non-violent cannabis crime is where the hypocrisy begins.

Expungement and social equity efforts are gaining strength by the day, powered by grassroots activists like you, but they cannot possibly “level the playing field” when that field has been tilted so hard for so long.

We have seen our state and federal governments make some sweeping and unprecedented announcements and moves in the past week or two, and more are almost sure to come. It’s way past time that we “social distance” a whole lot of current prisoners back to their families and their freedom.

THAT WEED DOLLAR

Does anyone believe that California Governor Gavin Newsom, or any other governor who has allowed cannabis companies to continue to operate through these shutdowns, really cares about the average cannabis consumer finding relief in a blunt, bowl, dab, or edible? I don’t.

They want the money. They know that, historically, society turns to self-numbing in times like these. While booze has traditionally filled that role, cannabis has been steadily creeping up in popularity polling as more people finally feel safe admitting their use as the stigma surrounding the plant fades. It’s not just polling, though, Big Alcohol is feeling a little queasy when it looks at sales trends which explains why they keep probing the cannabis industry for a way in.

We want our weed and everyone knows it. The powers that be also know that we’re going to get our weed pretty much no matter what they do. If we get it from the streets, they don’t see a dime of tax revenue. If they keep the legal side flowing, they can at least adhere to their disaster capitalist roots and profit from the state shutdown somehow.

So, yes, we are now “essential”… as long as the payments are made on time.

On the Federal level, it reeks of hypocrisy surrounding cannabis and taxation (and banking, and insurance, and…). While EVERY OTHER INDUSTRY is waiting in line for their fat check from Uncle Sam to reimburse them for the Paid Time Off that they are being forced to provide their home-sheltered employees, state-legal cannabis companies will not be afforded those payments or any other federal financial assistance.

In a state like California, even though these cannabis companies are deemed “essential” and can remain open for business, the actual COVID-19 virus is just beginning to wreak havoc on the health of our communities and many cannabis workers are being affected. Many others have kids now home all day who must be cared for. Our stories are just like the stories from any other industry except cannabis companies already struggling to tread water in the best of times will now be saddled with these unforeseen and astronomical expenses if states don’t step up.

Adding insult, and crippling debt, to injury, I learned last night that these cannabis companies will not only NOT be reimbursed for the sick pay that they lay out during this national crisis, but that they will be expected to PAY TAXES ON THAT SICK PAY AS THOUGH IT IS PROFIT.

This is unAmerican.

Hell of a way to treat an “essential” segment of your society.

ESSENTIAL… EXCLUSIVE… POTAYTO… POTAHTO

Ok, ok, we’re ESSENTIAL, right? So why is it so hard for the people who laid the groundwork for this essential industry – the ones who know best how to run it – to actually get into it? If cannabis is “essential”, why are there so few retail dispensary licenses issued in California?

While hobbyists, seamstresses, and empaths across the country bust out sewing machines to make better-than-nothing masks for our frontline healthcare professionals who are being given NOTHING by the government during a pandemic, I can’t help but think about how the model of Big Business always fails the people in a time of need. The same goes for cannabis and because cannabis licensing is so exclusive in most regulated markets we wind up with bottlenecks, boof, and bullshit pricing.

COVID-19 will one day be a meme’d memory for those that make it through but some other dark day looms on the horizon and if cannabis is essential now, surely it will be then as well, so let’s open up the markets, relax some of the most hated regulations, and allow the industry to naturally grow.

Dispensary, delivery, and cultivation licenses should be much easier to acquire, and the free market will weed out the ones that can’t hack it for whatever reason.

When you tell Californians that legal cannabis is an “essential” good, but legal shelves are 75% full of mids or worse, you just ran a highly effective ad for the street market. There are countless headlines these days of dispensaries with lines around the block. Without a doubt, the “traditional” market is dwarfing those numbers daily as people stick to their roots in these strange days.

HOMEGROW HYPOCRISY

Clearly the labeling of commercial cannabis as an “essential” service has nothing to do with the plant, or the people who find personal wellness benefits from it. If that were the case, everyone would be allowed to grow just as much weed as they are allowed to grow tomatoes. Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse, it shouldn’t matter. Neighbor doesn’t like the aroma when the breeze carries it just right? It shouldn’t matter. Plant counts should not apply, at all. There should be strategic reserves of seeds and full-spectrum oils precisely for times like these, for those in need.

Hemp-based hospital gowns, masks, gloves, and other high demand PPE gear could literally begin in our backyards.

Personally, my end goal is to become so self-sufficient that everything I eat or smoke is something that I grew and harvested (or caught on a hook!). I am the government’s worst fear.

Maybe I have too much time on my hands for thinking these days, and maybe the writer in me has too much appreciation for vocabulary, but every time I read or hear the word “essential” being tacked onto cannabis, I’m reminded of the famous line from the film The Princess Bride – “You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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