02/14/16 Doug McVay

This week we talk medical marijuana with Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director for American for Safe Access, plus we talk with Chip Lazenby and James Morris about diversity in the cannabis industry.

Century of Lies
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL021416_0.mp3



FEBRUARY 14, 2016


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is 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.

All right, we're on the phone right now with Mike Liszewski, he is the Government Affairs Director and Policy Director at Americans for Safe Access. Mike, let's just start with, I'm sure the question everybody is thinking about, and that is, what's happening with medical cannabis at the federal level? At the time of this recording, the White House released its budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year, and it once again does not include any language to protect states which have medical cannabis laws and patients in those laws. That kind of language has been added in the last budget, through the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. What do you think the chances are that we'll be able to see that amendment renewed, and added to this year's budget?

MIKE LISZEWSKI: I think the chances of Rohrabacher-Farr getting renewed again is pretty strong. When it passed the first time, we only had, I believe, 218 votes. This past time around we had 242 yes votes. And, I would expect that we would probably get a similar increase, maybe not quite as many new yes votes this time around, but if it does come to a floor vote again, I think our chances are really, really strong for winning. And it's possible that we could get this language in the original version of the bill. I don't think that Representative Culberson is nearly as opposed to medical cannabis as Representative Wolf was, and he used to be the gatekeeper on this language. So, there's a better chance that we can get it in the original bill this year.

The committee on the House side, the Appropriations Committee really isn't the place for us to do votes, so if it does come to a vote again, it will again be on the House floor, but on the Senate side, we do have a really strong group of medical cannabis supporters in the Senate Appropriations Committee, so if it comes up again for a Senate vote, and it almost certainly will, we'd aim to do that at the appropriations level, and again I think we would see, you know, it would pass again. We had 21 of the 30 senators on that committee vote yes this past year, and a 22nd senator, Lindsey Graham, initially voted no by proxy, tried to change this vote after the fact. I think he was a little bit confused as to the specifics of the amendment, and he's -- he wanted to change his vote on that, so, you know, we have 22 of the 30 senators in the committee on board with it, so really, really good prospects to keep that in the budget going into fiscal year 2017.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, that's good news. So, now, let's go to the Senate for a moment, because there's the CARERS Act. Any chance of that moving forward in this session?

MIKE LISZEWSKI: You know, there's no guarantees on that, but I've been seeing slow, incremental progress on that front. The gatekeeper in this instance, is Senator Grassley, who's the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Grassley, one of the biggest proponents of the war on drugs for many, many years. But now, when it comes to medical cannabis, he's taking a much more serious look at this.

And, you know, there's definitely hang-ups that he has, smokeable medicine being one, a patchwork of 50 state laws, potentially 50 state laws on medical cannabis rather than a uniform national policy, those are some of the things that he's taking issue with in CARERS, specifically. But, it -- between the great engagement that constituents, medical cannabis activists in Iowa, his home state, you know, they've been really engaging with him, and to Senator Grassley's credit, he actually does, arguably more than any senator in the Senate, pay attention to his constituents' concerns, and his staff are definitely taking looks at things that they can do. They haven't rallied around the Charlotte's Web bill, so they're clearly not steering this into that direction. I think what they would be most comfortable with is probably something between a CBD bill and the CARERS Act, but I don't expect us to see anything in the immediate coming weeks, but over the next couple of months or so, I think we could see progress, I think we could see a hearing and a potential vote, maybe not on CARERS, maybe it's on something a little bit different.

But I think something is developing, and I don't know if I'm more than 50 percent confident that we're going to get something done this year. I do feel that it's a real possibility, and it's something that advocates can help make hasten, and make happen. The opportunity is there. We've never had an opportunity like this before, this is -- if anyone can point to something that we've been closer, in terms of passing medical cannabis reform at the federal level, I'd be happy to take a look at it and reconsider, but the CARERS Act is, it's very comprehensive, and it is making progress. We wish it had made more progress quicker, but it is gaining momentum.

DOUG MCVAY: That's some very good news. Now, do you think Grassley is getting much pressure? This is of course, he's up for reelection again this year. The state of Iowa legislature, there's been a new, a CBD only bill that was introduced just a couple of days ago. There've been a couple of efforts in the past in the Iowa legislature to put forward medical cannabis, I know that Carl Eric Olsen has been working on this for a very long time, heck, he's been doing this as long as -- he's been doing this for longer than I have, and that is saying quite a lot. Do you think he's going to get any pressure as far as his electoral campaign's concerned? Grassley, that is.

MIKE LISZEWSKI: You know, that's a tough one. I think he may get some pushback in terms of election, but the fact of the matter is, Grassley is wildly popular in Iowa, and I don't see this one issue taking him down. I think if there were a number of controversial things that emerged, you know, related to his tenure in the Senate, maybe medical cannabis could be a part of that, but I don't think that his opposition or unwillingness so far to give CARERS a hearing is going to negatively affect his reelection prospects. But it could, you know. Probably the only thing that's as popular as Senator Grassley in Iowa is support for medical cannabis, so there is that possibility. But, nobody in Washington that I know is looking at this as a possible issue to go after him in the election, and since he is making progress, and moving in the right direction, hopefully we don't have to get too antagonistic about it. And so, things are moving fairly constructively, so I don't really see this as an issue that could, you know, you could use electoral pressure to make him do the right thing, unfortunately, but again, progress is being made.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. That's very true, one thing about Senator Grassley that I remember from even back then, he brings home the bacon, if you'll pardon the farmyard analogy.


DOUG MCVAY: So, staying with the Senate, there's another Senator, Bernie Sanders, who has a marijuana bill, completely de-schedule. The last time I checked, he had no co-sponsors. Do you think there's any likelihood he might get a few in the next few months? I mean, especially if he does well in the primaries?

MIKE LISZEWSKI: You know, it's certainly possible. It seems like every day now, we get a new article, a new study, a new report of some sort, that shows, whether it's the benefits of medical cannabis, or the results of legalization of adult use in Washington or Colorado not causing tremendous problems, in fact it's been, seems to be doing just the opposite in terms of tax revenue and those sorts of things. So, it's certainly possible you could see more people coming on board with that.

At the same time, I think if we had an up or down floor vote on medical marijuana, we'd win. I think we have well over 50 senators who support medical marijuana, if it's just a simple yes or no on that issue. If it comes down to recreational marijuana, I think that number drops down to about 10 or 15. The Senate is just not there when it comes to recreational marijuana. They, during the, I forget which hearing it was -- oh, it was the banking issue hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and that one squeaked by 16-14, but -- and it may have had a couple of other votes that would have been yes votes, but at least one or two senators raised an issue over the fact that the banking component applies to both medical and recreational, and that they would have voted for it if it was medical only. And I think that sentiment is fairly pervasive throughout the Senate. I've heard some similar some types of things in meetings I've had with offices. So, when it comes to adult use, the Senate is not there yet. You know, there's definitely Senators who support this, and could eventually come on board with Sanders' bill, but I don't see it picking up a great deal of momentum. I think it's more of a rhetorical vehicle, at least this session.

DOUG MCVAY: I am just very grateful to heavens that you are doing the work you're doing, and that you've been able to spend some time with us today. Again, I'm speaking to Mike Liszewski, he is the Government Affairs Director and Policy Director at Americans for Safe Access. Mike, do you have any closing thoughts for our listeners, and please, give us a website and other ways we can keep in touch, your twitter and all that kind of stuff.

MIKE LISZEWSKI: Yeah. Well, you can keep in touch with me directly on Twitter, I'm @MikeLiszewski on Twitter. In terms of things coming up that people should be aware about, this, right now we're in the thick of state legislative season. You know, your state is probably -- is in session right now, and probably has a very short window of time this year. Usually the even number years are short sessions. So right now, there may be something going on in your state, whether it's a clean-up bill, if you're an existing state, or if there's new legislation in several states, even Kansas has a -- or maybe their bill hasn't been introduced yet, but there -- all over the country, there are opportunities to get involved at the state level, and either support a new bill or support a clean-up bill.

Nationally, I'd like to plug ASA's conference, which is coming up the weekend of March 18th, 19th I believe. So it's coming up very soon here in Washington, DC. We're going to be doing another federal lobby day in support of CARERS. These lobby days that we've held in the past were really instrumental in helping getting the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment approved, you know, bringing hundreds of patients to Washington. Each year we've done this we've had somewhere between two and four hundred patients roaming the halls of Congress, and making sure that elected officials here understand that medical cannabis is an issue that they care about, and that something needs to be done. And lo and behold, since we've been holding these lobby days, Congress has actually been doing something, so really, the message I want to get out is engagement. You can do that federally, you can do that locally, you can do that at the state level. But yeah, we'd love to have people come out to Washington. And you can get information about the conference and all the things ASA's up to at our website, and that is SafeAccessNow.org.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, terrific, and I wish you a great deal of luck. Not sure if I'll make it out to the conference, but I'll keep my fingers crossed, maybe I will. Again, that's the middle of March in Washington, DC. They can find out more -- our listeners can find out more by checking your website at SafeAccessNow.org. Mike Liszewski, it is such a pleasure talking with you, my friend, thank you so much.

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.

ADRIAN BROWN: I'm Adrian from Greenbox LLC, we're a new company in Portland, where we specialize in curating cannabis products and delivering to our subscribers' homes. So ultimately, it's a cannabis subscription service. We resource and locate the best cannabis products, highest quality, and we deliver them to our patients and subscribers' homes.

So, we're going to do, focus on both medical and the adult recreational market. We actually won't be starting until November of this year, once we receive our licenses and approval to actually deliver. But we're going to target both markets. We want to make it easier for elderly and seniors, you know, the older baby boomers I like to say, make it easier for them to explore different cannabis options without having that pressure of being in a dispensary and being overwhelmed with, you know, countless amounts of products and don't even know where to start. And so we're just trying to make it a nice, personal approach to discover new cannabis products and get it easily to your home.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, are you up here in the Portland metro area, or where are you at?

ADRIAN BROWN: So, we're going to be based out of Portland, starting here in Portland, we're eventually going to branch out once we, you know, get a feel for the market. And we're going to start here.

DOUG MCVAY: Have you run into any problems, regulatory or such, with the delivery model up here? I know in California, they've talked about it, and eh, it's a little tricky, but I haven't seen it up here yet.

ADRIAN BROWN: Well, the legislature and the OLCC, so far with the temporary rules, will be allowing delivery come whenever they start issuing licenses. But the exact final rules have not been written yet, and so, that's where the tricky part of -- I can't exactly say yet. But, once they get those details figured out, we'll be, we have a pretty good idea that we'll be able to deliver.

DOUG MCVAY: Fantastic. We're here of course at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference -- got to get that name right one of these days. How's the conference -- it's a trade show, how's it been going for you?

ADRIAN BROWN: It's been going great, it's been nice to network and, you know, see a lot of people new in the industry, like myself. And see all the new ideas that these people have, and it's nice to see a nice, professional approach to cannabis.

DOUG MCVAY: How'd you get into this?

ADRIAN BROWN: Well, I'm an OMMP patient. I've worked in the dispensaries before in the past, and I -- something I've always been passionate about, since I was a teenager, selling cannabis, of course. I now -- yeah, saw an opportunity, and I took it. And, you know, there's not many people of, persons of color, you know, not many people that look like me that are here, and so I want to set that example and show that people that, men of color can successfully run a cannabis business.

DOUG MCVAY: Absolutely. We were talking before, and -- the unbearable whiteness of the movement has been a problem for many decades. It's -- we're starting to see improvement, but still. So, do you have a website yet? Where can people find out about your business?

ADRIAN BROWN: I do. So, you can find us at PDXGreenBox.com. We're also on Facebook and Twitter, @GreenBoxPDX. Follow us, we are in a launching phase, and so we have some great things coming up soon.

DOUG MCVAY: Fantastic. Adrian Brown, with GreenBox LLC here in Portland. Adrian, thank you so much.

ADRIAN BROWN: Thank you, thanks for your time.

JAMES MORRIS: James Morris, I'm here with La Caja. And, you know, here at this conference to learn a little bit more about the industry, to become a little bit more involved, and to forward a concept and idea my partner, Chip Lazenby, and myself have come up with.

DOUG MCVAY: All right, well tell me more about your idea.

JAMES MORRIS: Well, having a background in the financial services arena, being a financial adviser, our idea is really around getting more people who are already in the industy, who are making the conversion from say the medical arena to the recreational arena, or who are complete novices to the cannabis world as a whole, when they come in, giving them the structure, from a legal structure because Chip's a lawyer, and from a financial structure on the back-end, setting them up in such a way where their chances of success are going to be really, really great.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. And, Mister Lazenby, you're over here, I'll let you chip in. Tell me about yourself.

CHIP LAZENBY: I'm a lawyer with an MBA, which I guess means I'm double armed, I guess. And I have a lot of clients right now in the cannabis business, all the way from growers, processors, distributors, I help them with the normal business stuff. Also been involved on the policy side, I helped write the rules for the adult rec system, through the OLCC. And like James, you know, we're interested in developing a more well-rounded approach to advising cannabis clients. Not just giving them legal advice, not just forming their corporations, but giving them the tools to be successful, whether that's a better business plan, whether that's access to better financing, understanding how the hydraulics of running a successful business really works, and so, you know, you look around this conference, there are a number of people that are doing bits and pieces of that, but part of the reason we called the business La Caja, which means "The Box" in Spanish, is that we want to present people with a box that has all those tools available to them, and can facilitate them to be successful businesses, both in terms of what they're doing and where they want to go.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm interested, you've obviously been doing some of the policy side, I heard you mention before you'd worked with the Oregon ACLU. One of the concerns that people have is that this industry is largely dominated by the white male, it is a, it's a new industry, it should be inclusive because -- I've been doing this stuff for 30 years, and I didn't, I did not put myself on the line during the Reagan era in order to let a handful of guys make a greasy buck off the backs of a lot of other people. I am very concerned about bringing in more women to the industry, bringing in more people of color to the industry. So, how do we do that? And -- yeah, talk to me about that.

CHIP LAZENBY: Well, I -- look, it's about being deliberate. You can walk just down the aisle here and run into the Women Grow organization. They're doing a fantastic job of providing support for women who are in this industry, who want to enter into the industry, who want to be successful as business practitioners within the cannabis industry. I think the same thing is true for people of color. You know, it's easy to say, and for people to recognize that there are a lot of African Americans and Latinos that are doing time in prison for doing what people in this room are getting ready to make a lot of money doing.

And so basic sense of equity says, we need to be conscious and deliberate about bringing them into this emerging industry. And I think it's, I think that's the word. We have to be deliberate and pointed about it. We have to say, this is what we want to do. I helped write some legislation in the last session here in Oregon that made it easier for people that had been convicted of felony marijuana convictions to get those expunged, and have them expunged in a way that they wouldn't run into the background check problems of getting into this industry. If you think about whose been going to jail, then you're going to hit right away on who that legislation really benefits.

I think the industry itself needs to do more to figure out ways of reaching out into those communities and bringing people into the industry, as budtenders, as people that can help cultivate. I mean, if you think about it, when this industry was illegal, there were lots of people who were involved in the illegal industry who understand marketing, understand channels of distribution, understand pricing, understand cultivation. Right? The problem was, their product was illegal and a lot of them were going to jail. Okeh, that's no longer the case, so why let that human capital and expertise languish out there? Let's bring it into the industry, it only makes the industry stronger and smarter, to gain the expertise between those people. So it's not an altruistic, oh it's the right thing to do kind of piece, it's a good business piece, too, and make it as diverse as possible, because --

JAMES MORRIS: It's not just bringing them into the space, it's making sure that, you know, blacks and Latinos and other people of color have the tools in order to excel in this space. It's one thing, opening the door and saying, hey, you know, come on in, and then say well, you know, a bunch of them didn't make it. Well, what we want to do is ensure that we're giving those people of color that are entering this space every possible chance to be successful. And a lot of that has to do with being in the room, number one, but also making those relationships, also getting an understanding of what this new market looks like, how this new territory looks, and what the horizon's going to be, and being able to work together and not to be excluded.

CHIP LAZENBY: I think people, you know, I think people have a sort of a culture blind sense of the way success works in America. We've got these myths around Horatio Alger and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and doing all that, when the reality, if most people who are successful really sit down and are honest about it, they had help. They had people who mentored them. They had people that said, this is the way you need to do that in order to be successful. Because we still live in a largely segregated society, I would debate anybody that wanted to argue that with me. We live in a largely segregated society, a lot of people in the communities we're talking about don't have those mentors immediately available to them, and there aren't the expectations that they're going to be participating in business, let alone in the cannabis business. So we want to blow that low expectation up, and make it not a barrier to entry to people so that people hit this industry feeling like they've got somebody at their back, that they've got good technical advice, and that they can do it, that, you know, they are growing the confidence to be successful in this space as good business people.

So, that really is the, that's really the notion. That's really the notion, now, Woody Allen once said that somebody came to him with a concept for a movie, and Woody told him, well, put some money with that concept, you'll have an idea. So we're trying to move from concept to idea on this, and that's where the tricky piece is, but we're feeling pretty good, especially -- this industry is pretty open to a lot of that stuff, we think. We don't think that there's the hostility there would be, say, in investment banking, or you know, some other areas. Not to pick on investment bankers, I've got good -- some of my best friends are investment bankers. So, but, you know what I mean. I think that the acceptance of those concepts and the need, and the desire to have a more diverse industry, I think it's in this room. I think that people just need to have a light that shows them how to get there.

JAMES MORRIS: I agree with Chip wholeheartedly. As I look around, you know, as far as being at this convention right here, and other things that, you know, my segue into this was being the vice chair for the Oregon Commission on Black Affairs. And when Proposition 91 came up, and really beginning to talk to those people around me, and having an understanding of, like, wow, so, this is how it's -- this is the next wave of how it's going to happen, where there's a large percentage of us that are sitting in jail for dealing in the world of cannabis, and the people that a large percent of us were selling to, now become doctors, lawyers, college professors, and now, those same doctors, lawyers, college professors, of whom we taught about marijuana, are now going to become the new dealer and make money off of it. You know, it kind of really didn't sit well with me, and I wanted to get involved and to be a part of a process that's going to allow the playing field to be leveled, for a lack of other words.

DOUG MCVAY: That was from an interview with James Morris of La Caja and Chip Lazenby of Lazenby Associates. I met up with them at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference in early February here in Portland, Oregon. We were talking about minority participation in the cannabis industry. We'll have more on that in another show.

For now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us. This has been 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.

We'll be back next week. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

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.