June 30th, is a date that everyone involved in cannabis will remember as the day that changed our industry forever. With new legislation forcing companies into compliance most cities that allowed the sale of both medical and recreational cannabis saw storefronts full of empty shelves and unhappy customers. As store owners struggled to find compliant brands cultivators experienced a “traffic jam” of their own as the few available labs that test for cannabis saw their work load skyrocket almost overnight. The question many consumers and distributors are asking themselves is “what’s next?”
Well for cities like Long Beach, who’s newest ballots allow the sale of cannabis to anyone over the age of 21, we get to see a governing body working with local business owners and cannabis activists in a way that few cities have done. The social equity program is a plan to help bridge the divide between low income communities and lawmakers by requiring 40 percent of all annual hours worked in dispensaries operating in Long Beach will be completed by an individual who has had a marijuana conviction and has been a resident of the community for at least three years. Mayor Robert Garcia believes that these measures will ultimately put Long Beach and their laws into the forefront of California’s cannabis market as well as rectify some of the cities previous cannabis convictions and the damaging effects on their families and businesses.
California is the 5th largest economy in the world and the largest to legalize cannabis. The first quarter of 2018 saw taxes on the sale of this now legal medicine bring in nearly 61 million to the state and is expected to raise to over half a billion by the end of the year, making California a model for other states to follow. Other officials, like California state assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer view the war on drugs as a battle that is still being fought and until the state gives proper funding and begins moving at a faster pace California may see a rise in illegal businesses profiting due to undercutting legal dispensaries and flooding the market with inexpensive products.
David Bienenstock, who’s worked as a cannabis journalist for almost two decades believes “whats happened to farmers and small business for the last fifty years is happening to the cannabis industry right now and there is no clear path in sight.” With over sixty thousand cannabis farmers in the state without proper representation the industry appears to be at a crossroad between a plant and corporate greed. “Unless the community works together to shift the narrative and remove the us vs. them mentality we will allow bigger corporations with larger backing continue to reap bigger profits and leave smaller businesses struggling to make ends meet.”
There is some light at the end of the tunnel despite apprehensions from both sides however. State bill 1294, otherwise known as the California Cannabis Equity Act is scheduled to be seen by Governor Jerry Brown and aims at “providing legitimate pathways for individuals to operate lawfully – increasing public safety and public health within communities statewide” said Senator Steven Bradford, who wrote the, first of its kind bill. The act, which will allow the state to help individuals who were previously viewed as “criminals” by our justice system, will provide assistance for business loans, regulatory compliance, licensing costs, as well as setup administrations for communities that have been negatively impacted by the disproportionate enforcement and punishment of disadvantaged people in the decades long war on drugs.
“The biggest thing we can do is get out and vote in local elections” said Senator Sawyer. “Until we change the narrative and remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic the cannabis industry will not continue to grow or stabilize.”
Others, mainly the lawmakers and lobbyists who jailed and condemned cannabis advocates for years, stand to make a lot of money off what many in the industry are calling, an unfair tax system. Could it be that Democrats who voted strongly in favor of recreational cannabis tax now sound more like their Republican counterparts when faced with the realities of owning a business? Or will we see the “Walmart” effect strongarm smaller businesses into bankruptcy until something is done? Sometimes you should be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and it just might be a convoluted mess with no end in sight.