Taxes. Regulations. The illicit market.
It’s the three-headed monster menacing California’s legal adult-use cannabis market—separately daunting but fully integrated challenges the industry is grappling with, all while keeping one eye trained on its social impacts and equality issues.
No one’s sugarcoating it: The infancy of legal cannabis has been tougher than anyone expected. Survival will require teamwork. And doing it the right way will be worth it.
Those themes reverberated through the “Dawn of Cannabis” summit, a day of networking, speakers and panels at Eaze’s new Los Angeles outpost, where the cannabis delivery company also officially announced its entry into the LA market Wednesday.
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Dozens of cannabis industry VIPs gathered for the midday series, kicked off by a fireside chat with Cat Packer, the first-ever Director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation (LADCR). Packer’s frank thoughts on her first months in the post were a powerful reminder that the industry is chugging up a steeper hill than anyone anticipated.Including her answer when moderator Andrea Lobato, Eaze SVP of Compliance and Government Affairs, asked what she does for fun.
“Well, I’m the director of a department of four,” she deadpanned. “I guess I work casually.”
There’s so much left to do. Packer said the industry and LADCR are about 5% of the way done with the work they need “for us to do this responsibly,” and shared the frustrations of many: that politics at every level is holding up common-sense solutions.
“There is policy, and there is politics,” Packer said. “It is very true that sometimes we let politics get in the way of good policy. When you have the right folks as part of the conversation—and have a sane conversation?—then we can have good policy.”
Change will come. The community will bring it.
“Every advancement in our industry since 1996 has been community-driven and community-led—and I’ve seen that community grow even stronger,” said Ray Landgraf, CEO and founder of ISLAND, during a midday panel moderated by Eaze Director of Compliance Jeremy Siegel that included Perennial Holistic Wellness Center founder Craig Wald and Zarian Hadley, an Eaze-platform driver for the Studio City dispensary.
Wald said the sticker-shock of taxes after Jan. 1 has undoubtedly driven business to the illicit market, a reality that is “killing us, and killing the business.” But he believes in the power of industry unity: “If everyone in the cannabis industry bands together and never lets up the pressure, things will get better,” he said, chuckling. “Several years from now.”Earlier, Packer had praised compliant businesses struggling into a headwind, calling its people “completely innovative. They’ll come up with things I would never have thought of. And that’s important.”
And she reinforced their call to action.
“It’s not enough to have good will and good intentions,” she said. “People have to show up and demand things … it’s that constant commitment of folks showing up.”
A chance to shape the world.
In her remarks on social equity in cannabis, Packer urged the industry to take the lead.
“First, we cannot have this conversation and move this industry forward without acknowledging and recognizing the harms that were associated with [the war on drugs],” she said. “It’s in the DNA of this industry to own this issue. And second, we can’t have this conversation without connecting and engaging with those folks who have been impacted, and hearing from them.”
After a short lunch break, we did.The afternoon Dawn of Cannabis panel on social equity included James Anthony, co-founding director of the Oakland-based nonprofit The Hood Incubator; Bonita Money, founder of National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA); and Anthony Robles, leading organizer for Youth Justice Coalition, moderated by Eaze Social Impact Director Jennifer Lujan.
Anthony, a longtime cannabis advocate and attorney, said he sees signs of hope in the developing infrastructure.
“I feel almost sorry for the cannabis regulators, who have the job of figuring out how to do this,” he said. “The places where I’ve worked, their hearts are really in the right place. They’re trying to find a way to make it work, to make participation possible for as wide a variety of people as possible.”Robles said he would like to see part of the city’s marijuana tax go to city development programs for youth, a segment that has almost no current services but “has been devastated by the war on drugs.”
And Money cautioned that beginning to right the wrongs of prohibition requires the inclusion of those most impacted by it—and to do that, you have to go to them.“We’re in those communities. We’re listing to what those people really need,” she said, adding later that “it’s important that we all manage our expectations. Legalizing cannabis isn’t going to cure 500 years of racism in America. But cannabis can be part of the solution.”