Was employment a hot-button issue for anyone, like from cannabis farming?
So at the fundraising dinner I attended, the President gave a speech, and one of the things he talked about was that he wants American farmers to do well, he wants them to get a win. He’s talking about the coal industry; how in some of these towns, that’s all they’ve got, is the mine. Some of the politicians that I had a chance to network with before the dinner started — ‘cause we waited around for hours, while people were going through the secret service check-in and waiting for the President and family to arrive, so there was a lot of mingling and waiting around.
As soon as he was done, the dinner kind of even fell apart — people were more interested in talking about what the President had said and continuing to mingle. That’s when I started approaching these guys on the fence and saying listen, it’s important to this administration to see the average Joe, the farmer, do well. I’m telling them this is the biggest cash crop these guys will ever see, what they can make on a per-acre basis is more with cannabis than anything else. It can virtually be grown anywhere, and to deprive these farmers that the President wants to see get a win of being part of the cannabis community, it’s a crime.
“To deprive these farmers, that the President wants to see get a win, of being part of the cannabis community, it’s a crime.”
Another term I that I use is, this is like the next Industrial Revolution. I feel like as soon as cannabis is legalized nationwide, we’ll see a leapfrog boom forward with everything, finance, technology, business — it’s gonna press fast-forward, because there’s going to be so much opportunity and so much money between all the applications cannabis and industrial hemp have.
We haven’t even scratched the surface yet …
There was also a lot of — you know, the rebuttals. Like, we don’t want kids to get it, we don’t want it near our schools. So what I’d start leading with was [that] there are things we can all agree on. That way we’d start with all the things we could agree on — really sick people should have it, kid’s shouldn’t; it should be regulated and taxed; we should know what’s inside of the plant. So I’d find stuff we could agree on and I’d push a little bit farther until it got to the point where every single person agreed sick should have access. But some lawmakers would say, like, only really sick people, not just Oh,I’m stressed or My back hurts or I’m anxious. I was like, Congressman, sir, stress is the number-one killer. When it comes to anxiety, stress, depression, veterans with PTSD, do you want to tell them to keep taking barbiturates and painkillers and alcohol, or try something different, because obviously those other things don’t work.
Some other arguments were like, what’s gonna kill more people this year, cigarettes or cannabis? Then why is our product under more scrutiny? Or alcohol? Everybody was pretty cooperative. There were a few — one congressman said, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna block it every single time, no matter what.’ My argument to him was that it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures out you’re the one blocking things in Congress, and if you think the cannabis community is not politically organized, you’re in for a big surprise. Stoners don’t vote? Then why did the governor of New Jersey run on a pure legalization platform? And Trudeau’s big promise to Canada was that like, “I’ll legalize recreational cannabis at some point during my term.” Cannabis is a huge issue in a lot of races.
So you got a lot of experience in just being an advocate, speaking to so many skeptical people.
Yeah, absolutely. There were a few times where these lawmakers would kind of just shout over each other. I just felt like that wasn’t the best approach. I’d kind of sneak in and chip away at whatever their concerns were until they’d agree with me. Basically everybody was on board with medical cannabis, and that’s kind of been the White House’s position.
But everybody’s hot-button fear is that they’re going to reschedule it and the FDA is gonna take control of cannabis. That’s something Jason and I brought up to let them know, that’s a non-starter — if you want to alienate people and piss them off, do that, because you’ll have a million-plus members of the cannabis company not happy real quick. There may be these shadow groups around these lawmakers, around the President who would try to push that, but they know that would alienate too many people, and these guys are whores who just want votes. Honestly, they want donations and they want to keep their jobs. And there are already groups and cannabis PACs designed to educate people about which lawmakers are cannabis-friendly. And it’s not just an easy bipartisan split.
When we got back, the people were friendly enough, but I didn’t know how our time there was received — I didn’t get like a Jerry Springer final thought from anybody, I just got, “Thank you, you gave us a lot to think about.” I didn’t know how effective I was until a week or so later when Dana got word back from the White House, which was his quote in all the press releases, commenting that the current administration wants to do something regarding medical cannabis as soon as spring 2019. To me, it’s somewhat of a win, though people are worried they’re just pandering for votes in a midterm. I’m hoping it’s true, because, I told them, “If you guys are being deceptive or just trying to pacify us, I’m going to respond in kind.”
And [sighs] it sucks, because I don’t necessarily want to be in politics. I don’t want to piss off some of the most powerful people in the world, but if I don’t, who will? I didn’t ask for this assignment, but now I kinda don’t want it, but I feel like I have to see it through. We have plans to go back once more this month.
Banking was a big issue that other people in the cannabis industry that I talked to before going wanted me to address — the fact that we can’t get bank accounts. We did our own research and found out that through executive order, the President could make it so banks would be able to bank with legal cannabis businesses. When we told them that could be done through executive order and it doesn’t need to go through Congress and this huge long approval process — that was interesting to them. I think some politicians are just as frustrated as maybe the general population about how slow this stuff moves, the backroom deals, and the extra pork they put on bills or whatever.
Another thing we touched on too was, if you guys do something about medical cannabis on the federal level, you’re going to have to do something with people in federal prisons for non-violent, cannabis-related crimes. You guys gotta make that right, because it’s going to be important to the cannabis community and the general public. I think a lot of these issues they’re almost trying to think about how it would work. On stuff like that, I wouldn’t even begin to know, but with lawmakers for states that aren’t online yet, one of the big things I’d tell them is there’s a playbook already. We know what’s worked in Colorado, Washington, California … A lot of these questions have already been answered. Now you’re out of excuses.
Some of the comments Jason and I got were like, lawmakers felt we were being sincere, and when I talked to them about possibilities for the future, I made pretty bold predictions but I feel like we can back them up. If you legalize cannabis, you know, nationwide, I feel like the cannabis community could probably save the world in five years. Just growing industrial hemp even — you could feed the world, clothe it, take toxins out of the soil, carbon out of the air. They’re probably not accustomed to dealing with deals where money and special interest aren’t involved, so I was like, “Why don’t you just do the right thing, because everybody wants it.” It made it a much simpler argument.
What ideas did they throw out, if any, regarding legalization?
They wanted the farmers to be able to benefit. They asked me what problems we had with the cannabis industry, and I said there’s a disproportionate lack of females and minorities in legal cannabis. They asked me why and I didn’t have an answer for them. They asked what are ideas that would maybe help with that, so I was saying if they de-scheduled it at the federal level, so we can do some research grants and small business loans with women and minorities getting extra consideration … I think it could help the industry, more companies hiring women, minorities and veterans as well. Or inspiring them to start their own.
“Even people that already think it’s awesome, I don’t feel like they’re going to be as powerful of allies as someone that wanted to hate you when you walked into the room, but when you left, they admit they were wrong.”
Honestly, it was like overcoming some of their natural tendencies not to have this discussion. Once I overcame that and talked about all the good stuff and all the opportunities that can come from cannabis, there were a lot of “aha” moments where we did educate people. I’m proud of that, because especially some of the lawmakers who were negative towards us initially or weren’t at least open-minded, once we flipped them, I feel like they almost became bigger advocates because we changed them. Even people that already think it’s awesome, I don’t feel like they’re going to be as powerful of allies as someone that wanted to hate you when you walked into the room, but when you left, they admit they were wrong. There’s something about flipping that reluctant or negative lawmaker.
What are your expectations for the trip back?
We kind of left off on what we thought [legalization] should look like, and what are we going to be about commuting federal sentences on cannabis crimes. That was one of the last issues to touch on, and then … I think when I go back, I’m going to push on trying to get an answer before the election rather than after, because … it’s not fair. It’s not fair to the community, it’s not fair to voters. Especially after we’ve gone and the talks went well. Maybe it’s just my impatience, but the perfect ending of this story would be a commitment that this is going to happen before the election. I’d like to come home after I go back at the end of the month with concrete answers.
And given how the administration has been hostile towards cannabis in the past — particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who you’ve spoken out against before — why do you think this is happening now? Do you think it’s just the midterm, or is there more to it? If you feel comfortable speculating.
Here’s my speculation: I don’t think Jeff Sessions is very popular in Washington D.C. right now. I don’t have any evidence to support this, but the sense I got was it has to do with him pushing his own agenda and not the will of the people or of the White House. That may be some of the frustration his peers have with him, I’d speculate.
The President has said — some people don’t want to say it’s a promise, but he calls it a promise — during the campaign, he made a stop in 2016 and said he’s for medical if people can get relief, and when it comes to recreational, he said the states should decide. Something along those lines. He’s mentioned to Congressman Rohrabacher that that was a promise he made and indicated that his administration’s feeling on it is that they just want to get out of the way. I kind of think it’s something he wants to just check off his list and move on from, but it seems to me he doesn’t have a problem with cannabis and he doesn’t care. Every president has a few issues that they’re focused on getting done, and I think for him, cannabis isn’t one of them.
It’s like, we did it right, and we’ve proved that our industry is grown up and that we’re real businessmen, not just hippie potheads. I think there’s at least a respect from these lawmakers, and I just reminded them how big our industry is going to be, how organized we’re becoming. When I started hitting all those stats and talking points home, they realized that we’re here to stay, and they need to start working with us and having more of a dialogue. What we learned and the information we’ve gathered in the past two days might be more than what we’ve gathered in the past 10 years.
One of my questions when I got home to California from D.C. to other cannabis business owners and consultants was, who’s making the decisions on the other end? Who are the people we need to go talk to on the state level, because them not knowing what frustrations we’re experiencing or what our needs are and not being able to communicate and work together is probably the biggest problem our industry is having in California. This is going to be way easier for everyone involved if we’re talking, and this poker game of like, they can’t see our hand, has to end.
My last Jerry Springer final thought is that there’s the old school for cannabis, where when you’re operating, it was sketchy and the rules were different — you could end up in jail. They had to operate like they were protecting nuclear secrets or something, and God bless them for it, but things are changing now. These lawmakers are our partners now, and I told them that in D.C. and in California. You may not like our business model or our product, but like it or not, this is legal now, and you have to work with us. We have to have an open line of communication, and it can’t be a lobbyist that tries to catch some politician outside the elevator — which I learned was a real thing while in D.C … that’s why they call them lobbyists — I guess I’m stupid for not knowing that — but there’s gotta be a better way to communicate with elected officials.