12/25/16 Ngaio Bealum

Century of Lies

This week: a discussion on diversity and inclusion in the marijuana industry with Ngaio Bealum, Madeline Martinez, Jerry Whiting, Trista Okel, and Ed "New Jersey Weedman" Forchion.

Audio file


DECEMBER 25, 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.

The marijuana industry has grown dramatically over the past few years, and if legalization is allowed to continue rolling out under the next president, then that growth will continue. It could be massive. Marijuana prohibition, all drug prohibition really, is rooted in racial prejudice and bigotry. Merely legalizing marijuana will not change racially biased law enforcement or our racist criminal justice system. Legalizing drugs does not address those issues, but that's a topic we'll deal with in a later show.

On today's show, we're going to look at access, inclusion, and diversity within the marijuana industry. As these companies grow and prosper, will it be classist and racist business as usual, or will the marijuana industry reflect the progressive ideals espoused by the marijuana legalization and drug policy reform movement?

Back in August, Seattle Hempfest held a panel on diversity in the marijuana industry. Speakers included activist and comedian Ngaio Bealum, activist and businessperson Ed Forchion, the "New Jersey Weedman", activist and NORML board member Madeline Martinez, businessperson and entrepreneur Jerry Whiting, and activist and businessperson Trista Okel. The panel was facilitated by Dominic Corva, PhD, the founder and Social Science Research Director at the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. Let's listen, the first voice you hear will be Ngaio Bealum.

NGAIO BEALUM: My name's Ngaio Bealum. I've been an activist for more than -- a marijuana activist for more than 20 years. Mostly a comedian, I also write, I'm the marijuana advice columnist for the Sacramento News & Review, Monterrey County Weekly, I write -- I've written for AlterNet, and Guardian. I write for THC News, the national edition, and the Colorado edition. I used to publish West Coast Cannabis Magazine, I write for Cannabis Now Magazine, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I love marijuana more than most people. No, wait. I love marijuana more than I love most people. But look, the thing about the diversity issue is, we have to make sure, when we first started on this cannabis legalization, it was mostly because social justice. Right? And stoners didn't want to be bothered, stoners just wanted to be able to smoke weed and be stoners. And now that we see this gigantic explosion of business and commerce, we have to remember the social justice aspect. Right? And so cannabis freedom can't still mean exclusion of minorities. Right, you see where I'm coming from?

When you're an outlaw, it's easy. You get a pound and a pager, you're a businessman. Right? But now -- a pager, because I started in the '80s.

ED FORCHION: You're dating yourself.

NGAIO BEALUM: Just beep me, dawg, I'll call you back from the payphone. But now, it's a whole different thing. Right? Some states, you need a million dollars in the bank before you can even ask to get a medical marijuana license. And so we have to make sure that the barriers to entry are relatively low, and then people who have been most adversely effected by the war on drugs get a chance to a get a slice of this new cannabis pie. You know? I think Oakland's been doing some things to ensure that minorities and women of color get first crack at it. Crack maybe not the best word to use. But, I think that's the biggest thing, is, we have to -- it's incumbent upon the people who are reaping the benefits to make sure that everybody else gets a chance, too, and to open it up for everybody else. We can't just be selfish, because that's not what weed is about. That's all. All right.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: I'm Madeline Martinez.

NGAIO BEALUM: Hi Madeline.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Hi. That was very nice, Ngaio. I'm on the board of directors of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I'm really proud of that. First Latina, woman, on the board, so that was inspiring to me. I also opened the first cannabis cafe in the United States.

NGAIO BEALUM: World famous.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: 2009, I took the name -- added the name World Famous when the Associated Press told me I was world famous. Because I had no clue. I was stoned. Bought the name that night with the -- what is it? -- the Secretary of State's office. I don't know. Did it, and then we opened, and when we opened, we sent out a nice press release, and that -- I was inundated with calls, even Al Jazeera called me for an interview on the phone, and I said, come on, you guys are busy.

But anyway, I also was the executive director of Oregon NORML for about nine years, and we created the largest chapter in the United States, and as Russ Belville says, in the known galaxy. So it's really exciting to do some of those things, and to grow that organization over 3,000, and have just enough gumption to open that cafe without asking anybody for permission, or doing any of that stuff, and just moving forward, because I wanted to, because I felt that we deserved a place of our own, out of public view, and so we did it, and it was really a success, until recently. In March, I had to close down for the indoor -- Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act.

And there's a lot more we're going to talk about, I'm sure.

JERRY WHITING: My name is Jerry Whiting, I own LeBlanc CNE. I am most often associated with CBD and medical cannabis, among other cannabis activities that I do. And in thinking about this panel, two things came to mind that I hope will piss off Dominic. One is, how did we get here? And in thinking about the industry, and I travel around the country and I've -- I talk with people in Ohio and Colorado and Oregon and yada yada yada. And it reminds me of high tech.

I've been in high tech for over 30 years, and when I started, you know, I was characterized by A, knowing my shit, and B, being one of the few black faces in the building, let alone the room. And there's stories that Dom and I have talked about of showing up in business casual clothing, like everybody else, to a big company that I'm not going to name, 'Where do I sign?' I'm not the messenger, I'm here to see your boss's boss's boss.

Or the other side. You go to an all-day conference at one of these big-ass hotels, and of course there's lunch in the middle of the day, with an 8 or 10 top table, and you're all sitting around in your business casual clothing. And the people who are working wear those little short polyester things, you want chicken or fish, which did you order. And then there's that look when they pass the plate to me and they realize, my god, it looks like me. And there's that glance, that, yep, I'm here.

So with cannabis, I get that same thing. I had a son that started LeBlanc with me, and we were wellknown, for A, because we had great genetics, everybody wanted what we had, but more importantly, when we walked into an event, just like software 30 years ago, we were some of the few dark faces in the room. So how did we get here?

NGAIO BEALUM: You're not even that dark, really. Sorry, sorry, I -- sorry.

JERRY WHITING: [laughter] Thank you, brother. So, how did we get here. I think in large part, it is the legacy of prohibition, the war on drugs, in that when it was criminalized, it was done by criminals, and if not by criminals, people who were treated that way. Who did you trust? Your own. You trusted your family, the people you grew up with, the people in the 'hood. Those people tended to be like you, and so we came into this stage of legalization and medical marijuana that's sweeping the country, still carrying the burden of prohibition, because people didn't trust each other when we were made to be criminals.

So, part two. Looking forward, I would propose, and Dom really gets mad at me, a very small change. A couple of years ago, I made the decision to use the word cannabis. And I don't use the word marijuana, because marijuana was used by Anslinger to demonize cannabis by associating it with people of color, specifically Mexican-Americans and Hispanics. This is but one instance of racism being used to suppress us in addition to depriving us of access to our favorite plant. So by using cannabis, I'm discussing the drug cultivars, the food, fuel, and fiber hemp cultivars, because they're all under seige.

And why? What's the big deal? Is it just a matter of words? No, because every time I deliberately use the word cannabis, it's an opportunity for me to engage one on one with the person I'm speaking with, to give them a little history. A little teachin' and preachin'.

So, you know, looking forward. Will that tumble? The rock over the ledge? Probably not, but it's a chance for me to reach out to an individual in the moment to say no, I tend to use the word cannabis for a reason, and here's why. This is the history, this is the context, and knowledge is power, and if nothing else, it's power and money that dictates who plays the game, whether it's cannabis, oil, food, or anything else. I'm done.

DOMINIC CORVA: That's very -- Thanks, Jerry. We can talk later why I disagree with him on the marijuana thing. But, that's great. Let's move on. Mister Ed Forchion has joined us after all, he was stuck in traffic. We're searching for his name badge, but we will put him right after Trista. Thanks.

TRISTA OKEL: Hi. My name is Trista Okel, and my company is Empower Bodycare. We make topicals. I've been in the movement since 2004. I guess I was in the industry before it was an industry as well, in my twenties. That's a whole 'nother story. And I didn't have a pager, I'm not that old. So.

It's an honor to be on this panel. And at first, when I was first invited, I had to really think about whether or not I really wanted to talk about inclusion and privilege in the cannabis marketplace. I do as much as I can to not seem to different, really. But I am, and look a little different than others, sometimes, and it does make a different, I've noticed. So this is exciting. Thanks for having me.

ED FORCHION: I apologize for being a little late, I ran into a Seahawks traffic jam. I'm Edward Forchion, and I'm glad to be invited to be on this panel on inclusion and privilege. you know, I've had my issues over the years, and one of the issues I always talk about is the fact that I believe that people of color are excluded from this new emerging marijuana industry, this multi-billion dollar industry. And it's not done by just putting a sign up and saying whites only, that's not how it's done. It's really done by power and money, like the other speaker mentioned. It's a power thing.

For instance, I live in New Jersey, and New Jersey technically is a medical marijuana state. But the only people who can, say, have a dispensary, we call them ATCs in New Jersey, are politically connected, very rich guys, in New Jersey there's only five of them. And they eliminate anyone who has any records, anything to do with marijuana prior to its being legal. You can't belong to the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program. I couldn't be a budtender or a door opener in New Jersey, because everybody gets a background check, and my marijuana arrests will come up, and that's basically I all I ever have, I've had multiple marijuana arrests over the years, and that excludes me.

At one point I even had a dispensary in Los Angeles, and at the time, in 2008, there were about somewhere between 800 and a thousand dispensaries. And at one point, I actively went around trying to find how many of them were black owned. I mean, there were a lot of Mexican owned ones, and there are Armenian owned ones, and Russians, and Jewish, and white owned. But there were less than 20 that were owned by black people. And for whatever reason, I don't know why, there were a lot of underground distribution centers, that were controlled by black people, but for whatever reason, laws, you know, statutes, whatever, we just aren't included. I guess we can move on from there.

DOUG MCVAY: We're listening to a panel discussion on inclusion and diversity in the marijuana industry. It was recorded at Seattle Hempfest back in August. Speakers included Trista Okel, Madeline Martinez, New Jersey Weedman Ed Forchion, Jerry Whiting, and Ngaio Bealum. This is Century Of Lies, we're 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. Let's get back to that panel.

NGAIO BEALUM: I think one of the challenges is, the people who are coming in with all the money have to make sure that they're including other people. Right? Like Chris Rock says, white people created racism, white people need to deal with it. You know what I'm saying? So it's not up to black people always to stand up and be like, hire me, hire me. You all need to be out looking for cats, y'all need to be out trying to find women, y'all need to be out trying to find people who might know things, especially if you're new to the cannabis industry. Maybe you want to talk to somebody who's been in the cannabis industry, whether underground or aboveground for a few years, and bring them on board, and figure out how stoners actually work, because it will save a lot of money and hurt feelings if you have an idea of that first.

I don't think hopeless is the right thing. I just think we have to make sure not to over regulate it, and make sure that people who want to get into it, have a chance. I mean, the challenges before, the reason you didn't see more black people owning dispensaries in the outlaw, illegal days, is because they come after black people first. My boy Virgil Grant had three dispensaries in LA, all by the book. All by the book, the man is a mother fuckin' stickler. And he just got out of jail, for six years, from the feds. You understand? And everybody else still has a club. Right? So, now that it's more legal and more open, we just have to make sure that everybody gets a chance, and that's on the cats coming in.

That's not necessarily -- I mean, you know, we can stand up and yell and make waves. I'm on the board of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and we're doing things, and Virgil just started one in California for California cannabis growers. But that's it. But the people who are coming in, and the people who know the people who are coming in, got to make sure that these guys know what's going, and to make sure that they get involved. You've got to hold everybody -- when you see, all you white people -- mad love, but when you sit around in your business meeting and you see a bunch of white people, ask everybody else. Ask somebody. Be like, man, it looks awfully white in here.

Studies show that businesses and companies with more diverse employees and more diverse labor bases make more money and are more efficient. All right. That's it. I'm done.

DOMINIC CORVA: Well, you did give -- you did give me one thing to address my hopelessness, which was actually lower regulatory barriers to entry. So, looser regulatory structures, basically.


DOMINIC CORVA: Now, I was actually -- in addition to what you were saying, which is also true, that white people actually have to exert their privilege to change it. They're the ones with the privilege to begin with. Jerry.

JERRY WHITING: To extend the parallels to high tech, which started in people's basements and garages, and god knows my software company did. I would love to see people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, everyone, that communities act like communities, pool their resources. In high tech, it's the first interstate of mom and dad. Friends and family, before you go to the angel investors, there's a way you raise money if you're headed towards an IPO. People in the 'hood may not know it, but you look. You know? You do the friends and family after you do the credit card kind of thing, you know, Robert Townsend school of finance.


JERRY WHITING: Then, you do go to the first interstate of mom and dad. Then you go to friends and family, and then you --

NGAIO BEALUM: The challenge on that though is mom and dad are probably broke, too. Intergenerational poverty.

JERRY WHITING: Wait a second. Not all black people are poor.

NGAIO BEALUM: No, no, I'm not saying all black people are broke.

JERRY WHITING: Let's not, you know -- no. That is not true.

NGAIO BEALUM: I'm saying -- no, this is definitely true. Too Short will tell you there's money in the ghetto, but I'm saying that not -- it's not as prevalent always that someone's parents or grandparents will as well.

JERRY WHITING: That's why I'm suggesting that we do it. I know we'll --

ED FORCHION: Well, I have to tell you, I come from a family that's really not poor. I didn't grow up in the city. But, when I tried to hit up some of my family members to invest in the marijuana industry, they instantly think, police. I'm not getting involved. And the police, that scariness of the police, is very prevalent in the black community too, so they've shied away from the marijuana legalization industry also.

And, when I bring it up to other people, like, say, you know, I get the eye rolling, too. You know, as soon as I start saying, hey, you know, let's be more inclusive, you know, hey, I'm a black man, I would love to represent your product, this that and the other. And it's like, I played the race card, and they don't want to play no more now. You know, like, I get that. You know, if I bring it up. If I don't bring it up, they're like, it just doesn't happen, it doesn't occur, it's this thing that just doesn't exist.

And I find that to be amazing, too, because I look at, say, Sanjay Gupta's specials, and I saw this hour long special, and not one black person was in it. And I would say, wow, that's like in a 1950s movie. Or Donald Trump's make America great thing. Anyway. Oops, I shouldn't have got political.

But, that's what I found, that's what I find a lot, when I try to push the envelope. You know, you said there's no hope, yeah, like I said, people roll their eyes when you bring it up.

DOMINIC CORVA: How about Trista and Madeline, would you like to weigh in?

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Well, you know, I wanted to say that, I know a lot of people are stopped by the color of their skin or perhaps because someone's judging them, but I have the ability to just go and open a door. My friends are all white, and I'm a brown person, and I got contacted -- I too was down to become part of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and I actually am. And I thought that was kind of strange, because I was always segregated in my life. I come from East Los Angeles. And so we lived in the barrio, and when I came out of living in the barrio, and lived in the real world, where it's -- there's more white people than us. Except in California. Right? They think we're the minority, but we're not.

Anyway. What I was going to say is, I have never found it to be a problem for me. I just open the door and go in. People are like, did they stop you? I've said, no, I wish somebody would try to stop me, because I want to know, I would like to engage with these people, but I have never had that problem. When I first got to Oregon, I had the problem with, the guys ran all the marijuana issues. The guys, sometimes you hear banjo music in the background when you see these guys. And they didn't really like the idea that this little brown lady came in here and went and did try to do some legislation, and I didn't check with them.

You know, and I said, well, I read it, and it said I could do it. I'm not always a proud Oregonian, but I live there, I chose to live there. You know what I mean? I don't like the racism and all that, and I don't go to Estacada because they say they don't like us there, so I don't go there. But I do go wherever I want, and I say whatever I want, most of the time. I try to be measured at some point. But, I think as far as this inclusion, I kind of get the sense that if we have a Minority Cannabis Business Assocation, are we resegregating ourselves?

You know, I don't want to do that. I want to stand up and be a person. I mean, you can see what I am, obviously, I'm Mexican and Navaho. I mean, I don't know if you know I'm Navaho, but I'm actually native. So, I don't know, I have a problem, even when people say, hey, you broke the glass ceiling. And I'm like, there wasn't a glass ceiling, I created this position. So I don't, I really have a hard time understanding a lot of the, oh, what did they, did they stop you? Well, they tried. But I'm not going to let them stop me.

I always say, be the change you want. Look in the mirror and say, I want this to happen and I want this to happen. I don't go to country clubs or golf courses, I don't want to go there. I'm probably not, you know, welcome there.

NGAIO BEALUM: I'm a pretty good golfer.

MADELINE MARTINEZ: But I don't like to go to cigar bars, or hookah bars ,either, you know, I don't like tobacco. So, cool. But everybody should have that choice, and my thing is, I want people to stop going to prison for pot. I used to work for the Department of Corrections in California, and as I went down the halls to take count of these inmates, I could smell marijuana wafting down the halls. They can't seem to stop it from going into a maximum security prison with the Mansons? They're never going to stop it.

So I worked really hard in Oregon to legalize. And I wanted to make sure that we were taxed, so we can have that freedom. You know, so we could grow four plants, no paperwork necessary in Oregon, as long as you're 21 and you keep it out of public view, you're good. You can have eight ounces of stored marijuana off those four plants. And then I guess the rest we all know.

NGAIO BEALUM: I wanted to talk about your point of --

MADELINE MARTINEZ: Could we get Trista in first?

NGAIO BEALUM: Yeah, okeh.

TRISTA OKEL: So, I also created my own position. Right? And that was probably the most direct way to avoid any sort of judgment, or -- I don't know, any sort of apprehension from anyone else was to start my own company. Right? And to start with, so, Empower stands for End Marijuana Prohibition, Organized Women Enact Reform. Right? Or, enacting reform. So, focusing on women, and focusing on empowerment, you know, getting people out of pain is empowering. Right? And, once you feel out of pain, it's a lot easier to behave in a more empowered manner. Right? So you can help others.

And, I find that by staying true to that course, I'm able to avoid a lot of situations that would normally, or in another industry, would hold me back. So that's kind of, that's how I avoid it. However, still, sometimes, because of the way I look, I'm sometimes ignored, or things that I try to ignore myself, pretty much.

DOMINIC CORVA: Well, so, refocused the broader theme onto, you know, class intersectionality, which is kind of what I -- it's my fault, I'm throwing that on them, they're not doing this. It figures, the white guy is doing it. But, my, you know, if you don't want to segregate, but in fact do, like networking small businesses, for example, you know, turning a weakness into a strength by getting flexibility and, you know, resiliency in your networks. Now, that's a, you know, seems to me an interesting way to go, and by focusing the marijuana movement in the sort of, you know, socioeconomic margins, you're bound to get a more diverse crowd that way. Seems like a possibility, what do you think?

NGAIO BEALUM: I just wanted to address what Madeline was talking about, groups like the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and others, but I don't think it's necessarily a way of setting yourselves apart, or setting another group apart, as it is, it's empowering people and bringing people together. Maybe there's somebody -- it's a collective effort. Economics, right? This is what happens. Larger non-diverse groups with more money come in and try to push everybody out the sphere. Right?

So now, maybe you have, you meet someone through this association who has a business similar to yours, you guys can pool resources, and create better economies of scale. Maybe someone has gone through a similar situation, you have peer to peer resourcing and counseling where you can talk to each other. You can throw job fairs in the 'hood, and show people who -- no one, in some of the past three or four years, people haven't even considered that you can actually have a career in marijuana. It's not just being a weedman or having a site or something, but there are actual legitimate careers.

Managing a cannabis club is a skill set. Right? Knowing how to break down a pound into eighths is a skill set. Right? You know, all of these things, these are all -- it's true, it's a skill set. It's all customer service, all this bargaining, it's a skill set. And so, I think that we have to make sure to remind everyone, men, women, gay, lesbian, transgender, if you have weed skills, you should be able to get a job in the weed industry.

DOUG MCVAY: That was from a panel discussion on inclusion and diversity in the marijuana industry which was recorded at Seattle Hempfest back in August. Speakers included Trista Okel, Madeline Martinez, Jerry Whiting, Ed Forchion the New Jersey Weedman, Ngaio Bealum, and Dominic Corva.

And finally. Earlier this week, the legendary singer songwriter James Taylor announced that he is cancelling a concert in the Philippines. Taylor is on a world tour, and had been scheduled to make an appearance in Manila. He has cancelled that concert in protest because of human rights violations and officially-sanctioned campaign of murder being carried out in the Philippines at the order of that nation's dictator. Thank you, JT, for taking a stand. Remember folks, until Duterte is finally removed from office, it's hashtag #BoycottThePhilippines.

And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're 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. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. 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.