06/05/16 Shaleen Title

Century of Lies

This week we speak with Shaleen Title, a business owner and activist who's on the board of directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and with Ngaio Bealum, who's a journalist, comedian, activist, and also a member of the board of directors for the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

Audio file


JUNE 5, 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.

I'm on the phone with Shaleen Title. She is an activist and a businessperson, part of the board of directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, and a friend, and a really, really cool person, too. Shaleen, how the heck are you?

SHALEEN TITLE: I'm doing well, thank you for having me on your show, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, it's a pleasure, it's a pleasure. Shaleen, could you tell folks a bit about your background?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah. So, I live in Boston, I have been involved in the drug policy movement since 2002, and currently I own a recruiting company called THC Staffing Group, which is focused on diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry. And that's kind of what my work primarily centers around now, in different ways, is trying to make sure that everyone feels welcome and everyone has access to this new industry that we're building.

DOUG MCVAY: Which really is one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you. I don't do a lot of interviews with people in the business, in the industry, because I'm not here to talk about peoples' businesses and promote their stuff, I'm about social justice and the drug war. And you're using your business to promote the cause of social justice, which I think is tremendous. When were you working with LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition?

SHALEEN TITLE: I joined them right after I graduated law school in 2008. I tried to do tax law for a while, I lasted about six months, and I realized that I needed to be in drug policy full time. So that's when I left, and I was with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, running their speakers bureau and their state campaigns for three years, until 2012.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. And you did great work, and you still are. So, let's get straight to it. Tell me about the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

SHALEEN TITLE: So, it was founded this year -- actually last year, in 2015. And it's the first nonprofit association that's created specifically to increase diversity in the cannabis industry. And, to me, the most exciting thing about it, in my own words, is that it's not us, you know, having a diversity arm of some organization, or trying to, you know, push the mission of some existing organization towards inclusion, which I've been trying to do for a long time with different organizations. But, it's run by us, people of color. And we are specifically and exclusively focused on creating equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses and their patients, and the communities of color that have been most affected by the war on drugs.

And there are many different ways to approach that goal, but that's all we're focused on, and we're primarily run by the people who have been targeted by the war on drugs. Not me, I should mention, I am Indian American, I have never been even approached by a police officer in my entire life. So it's something that I try to stay cognizant of, that I don't see myself as a spokesperson for black and Latino communities. But, this organization is absolutely focused on being the voice for the minority population, with programs that foster opportunity and education and equality. And anyone who believes in that mission, regardless of your background and ethnicity, is welcome to join us in this fight.

DOUG MCVAY: We were talking about, well, on Facebook, the, just recently, there's a sort of denial, not just about the lack of people of color within the industry, but also the idea that somehow regulating marijuana, decriminalizing it, partly legalizing it the way we have, that somehow this would solve the problem of racist enforcement. I mean, we keep arguing that it's racist enforcement, and so that's why we have to legalize. And, you know, I think it's understandable that people would get the idea then that legalization, or whatever we've done, means that the problem's solved. That's not really the case though, is it?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah, and I just want to say, Doug, I really appreciate that you have, since the beginning, brought a thoughtful and nuanced approach to this question, because you're right. It's not as simple as, legalize marijuana and racism is over. Of course, the talking points that people in our movement have been using for decades, and accurately so, is that because enforcement is -- it's enforced with such strong racial disparities, if we pass a decriminalization or a legalization law that stops arrests, then the benefit is of course disparate as well, and so we are primarily benefiting the black and Latino communities that were being arrested the most before. However, what we have seen in multiple states is that when we do pass such a law, the disparities themselves actually become worse.

So, for example, in Massachusetts, we passed decriminalization in 2008 here. And there are now very few arrests for possession alone. And so, that has stopped a lot of the targeting that was occurring before 2008. However, in the arrests that are still happening, if you are black, you are now 3.9 times more likely to be arrested on a marijuana offense, which is worse than what it was before decriminalization. So in absolute numbers, it has decreased significantly, but in terms of the disparity, it has gotten worse. And that's something that we need to pay attention to, if, as a movement, we're going to be talking about racial disparities. It's not just a talking point that we can say, simplistically, racist enforcement will be over. It won't be over.

And we have to look at more than just mere possession arrests, because, as you mentioned, the story we were following that looked at teen, youth in Colorado, it looks like what had happened was, it was school administration decisions changing that ended up making possession arrests for youth of color go up. And so, it's things like school administration, it's things like the way that child protective services are deciding to go after people who are legal patients or legal consumers, that's often in a racially disparate way. And we also have to look at economic empowerment, and people of color who are trying to make their business legitimate and licensed. All of those things are important if we're going to talk about racial justice. We can't just go into a state, talk about it before, you know, during the campaign, and then when the law ends, suddenly as a movement we don't care about racial justice anymore. We need to holistic, and if we care about that issue, we need to care about it.

DOUG MCVAY: Exactly, exactly. And it's important I think to mention that those teen arrests, that the numbers we were looking at, while the numbers of African American youth and Latino youth, while the number of possession arrests increased after legalization for those groups, the number of possession arrests for white young people actually declined. So, I mean, if you needed to see evidence that there was still a continuing bias, I think that's a pretty good indicator. It's -- so, while we have time, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the MCBA, is holding a national event here soon. Could you tell me something about it?

SHALEEN TITLE: Yes. So, it's next Saturday, June 11th, from 4pm to 7pm at the Village Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. We're having a networking rally, and the purpose of the event is to share job information, to share business networking, to share information about medicating with cannabis, especially for people who might be exploring that for the first time, and we'll be talking about criminal record expungement as well for cannabis. And the speakers, we're really excited to say, includes US Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who, as you know, has been one of the nation's leaders on cannabis law reform since the beginning. And Madeline Martinez will be speaking as well, so it's a really great line-up. Everybody's welcome, and you can go to MinorityCannabis.org for tickets and event information.

DOUG MCVAY: MinorityCannabis.org, fantastic. And that again, as you said, Saturday, Saturday June 11th, 4 to 7 pm. Fantastic. And that's here in Portland, Oregon. I will try and get over there and get some interviews with some of the folks, because it's -- yeah, it's important work, it's important work. How is business doing, by the way?

SHALEEN TITLE: Pretty well. Seems like everybody is interested these days. You know what has been an unintended consequence for me, though is, I got involved as a student with Students for Sensible Drug Policy and with the NORML chapter at University of Illinois, and I always felt like, at least around that time, the movement was kind of led by students. But nowadays, I feel like students think that marijuana is kind of boring. Have you been getting that impression, too?

DOUG MCVAY: Well, you know, I started feeling that way a long time ago, as far as policy was concerned. I mean, legalization's major and there's a lot of support for it, and it's necessary, I mean, look at the number of people who smoke weed. But having said that, it's a, you know, it -- let's face it, this is a, this drug war is a lot bigger, and the stakes are a lot higher for people in terms of, you know, heroin, opiates, or even the club drugs.

SHALEEN TITLE: Yeah, I think you're right. And I can't wait to see what students do when it comes to those issues, and I can't wait to help them and see them take the lead.

DOUG MCVAY: Any closing thoughts, and once again your website.

SHALEEN TITLE: The website is MinorityCannabis.org. And the closing thought is just that, as much as I've talked about how happy I am to have communities of color leading this organization and speaking about our own issues, everyone is absolutely welcome. And I just want to say, I've always had a really good experience, both in the movement and the industry, and I've always felt equal and respected, and I'm grateful for that.

DOUG MCVAY: Shaleen, thank you so much, I appreciate the time you've taken. Again, friends, we've been speaking with Shaleen Title, she is an activist and a businessperson, and, oh my gosh, we know we haven't even said the name of your company. What is the name of your company, by the way?

SHALEEN TITLE: THC Staffing Group. Our website is THCStaffingGroup.com, and we provide help for companies that are trying to diversify their staff, that need help with hiring, and we donate ten percent of our revenues to drug policy reform organizations as well.

DOUG MCVAY: See, that's what I mean, you're actually, you know, you're in the business, you're in the industry, and yet you're still part of the movement for social justice, which I think is just outstanding, and wonderful, and, much like you, utterly outstanding and I am very proud to call you a friend.

SHALEEN TITLE: Thank you so much, Doug. And if I can just say real quick, when I joined, it was people like you and people like Kris Krane and Brian Vicente, and many others who are still leading the movement now that taught me everything I know about how to stick to your values.

DOUG MCVAY: Shaleen, thank you so much.

That was an interview with Shaleen Title, she is a business owner, activist, and member of the board of directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. They're on the web at MinorityCannabis.org.

You are 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.

I'm on the phone with a good friend of mine, a good friend of the show, Ngaio Bealum. Master comedian, writer, thinker, activist.

NGAIO BEALUM: That's me.

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah. That's him. Ngaio, how're you doing today?

NGAIO BEALUM: I'm actually feeling pretty good. It's really hot down here in Sacramento right now, if you really want to know. Already, it's going to be like 106 degrees. I'm not a fan.

DOUG MCVAY: So much to talk to you about. I want to know when you're coming up to Portland next so I can see you perform, but, also -- and hang out, but also, the Minority Cannabis Business Association has an event coming up on June 11th up here in Portland.


DOUG MCVAY: And I want to know more about the MCBA. You're a board member?

NGAIO BEALUM: I'm on the board. I'm on the board of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. We're dedicated to making sure that women and people of color get a chance to take advantage of the newly legalized cannabis industry, because I mean, the cannabis industry isn't new, but it's newly legalized and more mainstream. And what we seem to notice is that a lot of the business owners, and people taking advantage of these opportunities, are predominantly white. I think out of all the clubs and dispensaries in the country, maybe one percent are owned by minorities.

And when you look at the racial disparities in -- from the war on drugs, and, you know, black and brown people tend to be the most disadvantaged by this war, and yet they're not getting a chance to be involved in this new industry, for a lot of different reasons. So it's just a -- so it's our goal to make sure that everybody gets a shot.

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed. And this is one of the things that people -- I mean, we talk about the racial disparities, I mean, which persist, and I want to talk to you about that too.

NGAIO BEALUM: Persist. They persist, even when marijuana is legal, some people can't let it go. It's systemic, man, and, you know, and cats, I don't even think they do it consciously, they just think that black people should be arrested for pot when you would let a white person go for the same amount or for the same deal, and it's hard to stop, it's hard to fight, you know. It's funny, because, like, nobody wants to be a racist, and most people aren't, but racism is still a thing. You know what I'm saying?

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I would say that most people are not consciously, and, you know, trying to be overtly racist, I think there's just -- it's, it's ingrained, it's just a thing that has to be unlearned, it's, it's --

NGAIO BEALUM: It's systemic, as I say. It's in the system. It's baked in, right? It's not a bug, it's a feature.

DOUG MCVAY: Exactly. Exactly, this is one of the -- in Colorado, they released reports about underage marijuana arrests in the state. And, you know, it's still illegal for under 21s, so you expect that, okeh, yes, under 21s. What they found was that in the most recent report, the number of white teens had -- who were being arrested for marijuana had declined, but the numbers of African American and Latino young people who were being arrested for marijuana had actually increased.

NGAIO BEALUM: Yeah. Just, kind of odd, but proof of what everyone's been talking about.

DOUG MCVAY: Exactly, exactly. It -- talk to me about California for a minute. You have a ballot measure which may be up for a vote this coming November. It's still not official.

NGAIO BEALUM: It looks like it's going to be on the ballot. I mean, they've got a lot of signatures, they have a lot of money and power behind them, and a lot of people are, from all over, from all kind of different backgrounds are coming out in support of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. We'll see, we'll see how it goes, you know, a lot of the super hardcore hippie activists who are of the "marijuana should be free and everybody should grow it everywhere, and anybody can do whatever they want all the time" are not super happy about some of the new rules and regulations, but I think that's the future, man, I think that's just how it's going to go. I mean, it's not, maybe not the best initiative ever, but it's not the worst. It's better than Prop 19 we had in, what was that, ten years ago? Sixteen, 15 years ago, gosh, was it -- 2010, six years ago. But it's not, you know, it's better than Washington's initiative, for sure. And almost as good as Oregon's, Oregon's is really, Oregon probably has the, you call it the gold standard. They seem to understand what it takes to get this whole thing off the ground.

DOUG MCVAY: Oregon is good, I will say though that you, I think yours, the California, the AUMA, allows for six, up to 6 plants per residence, per household, right?


DOUG MCVAY: Where in Oregon, it's four. So.

NGAIO BEALUM: Eh, you know.

DOUG MCVAY: I guess they must figure that Oregonians are just better growers so we can get more off a plant.

NGAIO BEALUM: Ah, hey, you watch your mouth [laughter] you watch your mouth. Oregon still has the second best weed in the world, but it's very close.

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah, right across the border, actually, right across the border from the best.

NGAIO BEALUM: Yes, exactly! I can't wait til we lose some of this federal oversight, and we can have a border skirmish, where everybody goes up to northern California and southern Oregon and we have a little marijuana contest. I'll put Humboldt and Mendocino against Rogue River Valley and the Illinois Valley any day. It's going to be close, though, it's going to be a battle.

DOUG MCVAY: It will, well, you know, and they've always been, northern California and southern Oregon have been doing this State of Jefferson thing for many years, hoping to eventually.


DOUG MCVAY: Could marijuana actually be the, could marijuana be the tipping point for the creation of the new State of Jefferson? Hmm.

NGAIO BEALUM: You know, that's an interesting point. In some ways, maybe yes, but I also think, when you think about a lot of the cats who are the proponents for the State of Jefferson now, they seem to have a little more, few more rightwing conservative ideas. And one of the challenges when you're up there in -- maybe not in the northwest part of California, not, you know, in Humboldt or Mendocino or whatever, but when you get to northeast California, those guys aren't as pro-pot, they're way more conservative, and so I don't know, I don't know if it would fly, throughout the whole thing. But it's an interesting idea.

DOUG MCVAY: Southern Oregon. You play down -- you perform down there.

NGAIO BEALUM: All the time. I'm in Medford, I'll be in Medford again in July. Late July, end of July. Come on out. See me at Chadwick's. And I'll be in Coos Bay at the same time, too.

DOUG MCVAY: Very cool.

NGAIO BEALUM: Not at the same time, but a couple days before.

DOUG MCVAY: What do you think about southern Oregon, as a --

NGAIO BEALUM: I love southern Oregon. I think southern Oregon's got nice people. They grow -- the growing conditions in southern Oregon are top-notch, they're phenomenal. It's very comparable to Humboldt and Mendocino county -- counties. They have a great climate, they have excellent growers, really know their stuff. And there's some great, what I like about, there's a lot of good -- I love a good microstrain, you know, like, I love a good regional strain, like Three Kings out of Humboldt, or Jaeger, from southern Oregon, or the Ortega out of up near Roseburg. These are all fantastic things.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to be at the Umpqua Valley Hempfest June 18th, Saturday June 18th. Come on out.

DOUG MCVAY: The Umpqua Valley Hempfest, now, that will be right outside of Roseburg, I presume, right?

NGAIO BEALUM: Yeah, it will be in, I think it's in Oakland, Oregon.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. That's one of the -- for being as wide open spaces as Douglas County is, there are actually a lot of folks up there, a lot of small communities. Lot of good growers, too.

NGAIO BEALUM: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. That's what I'm saying. They've, they're -- you know, people have been growing weed in southern Oregon for just about as long as they've been growing weed in northern California. And everybody's got their nice styles. People have it kind of locked in and dialed in. I mean, but that's one of those things, right, so, while the Umpqua Valley has been growing great weed, there's still been a lot of pushback in Douglas County and Jefferson County, in a lot of these places, where people are just really against the cannabis industry. For no reason, for, you know, fear. Right? We already know that legal marijuana doesn't make kids use marijuana more often, in fact, kids use less marijuana in states where there's legal marijuana, because it's regulated. Right? The dope man doesn't care if you're 21, but the dispensary does.

DOUG MCVAY: Exactly.

NGAIO BEALUM: So that's just one those things.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh, let's get back over to the Minority Cannabis Business Association. You folks have been around for a little while.

NGAIO BEALUM: The MCBA's a nationwide organization, right, there's people from Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, DC, Chicago, all over. And like I said, we're just trying to make sure that typically underserved and overpoliced communities get a chance to be involved. I think Oakland is just starting a whole thing where they give you, cats from zip codes that have been over-affected by the war on drugs get priority in opening clubs and receiving licenses. Right? I mean, that was a challenge they had in Washington, where I think one of the mistakes Washington made was, they had a very limited number of licenses, and there was a lottery system, and, you know, when you do that, all the people with big money get in first, and a lot of people got shut out. That's why I like the Oregon way, and that's why I like the California, the AUMA in California, also sets it up where it's not, it's not so limited, so, you know, if you've got a few bucks, you can get in.

I mean, it's not going to be cheap, and that's the thing. Right? Like, one of the challenges in this new cannabis industry is, the barrier to entry is fairly high. It used to be really simple, right? You had a pound and a pager, you were in business. Right? You got a QP and a cell phone, you could start your own cannabis business. But now, you know, you're going to need four grand or five grand. Down here in Calaveras County, they've just started a thing where you can get -- I mean, and it's a decent deal, you get 22,000 square feet on your five grand license. That's gigantic. Now, maybe you don't have five grand, and maybe you don't want a 22,000 square foot grow room. I mean, that's a lot, you understand, once you factor in putting in all the lights and paying the rent on the spot, and getting everything set up, you're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So we just want to make sure that cats who just want to, you know -- not everybody has to be Budweiser, right? Some people want to be, I say Ruhstaller, because that's a Sacramento, local Sacramento brewery, or Anchor Steam, or Fat Tire, or a smaller, you think Rogue River Brewing in Ashland, you know, and I think that's the thing. We just have to make sure to make space for the moms and the pops, for the people who sacrificed their money and time and risked their freedom to create cannabis legalization. Those cats shouldn't be left out because people in suits with the money think they know better.

Which is really funny. I'm going to remind all the suits who are listening to this, if you're some sort of venture capitalist suit, get some hardcore stoners on your team, man, because you probably don't know the culture, and you're going to freak out when you're dealing with stoners, and that's just how -- you know, so just be ready. That's all.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and it's no different, I mean, the alcohol -- people seem to think somehow that there -- people forget I guess that there is an alcohol industry -- that there is, and there's a booze culture. But there is, you know, just watch Mad Men.


DOUG MCVAY: That wasn't a, that was -- a friend who lived through it told me that that was a very accurate slice of life back then, and the notion of -- well, even up here in Portland. At the Liquor Control Commission meeting recently, they were deciding on a set of permanent rules, and one of our friends, Lee Berger, mentioned the "safer" argument, about alcohol being, you know, the idea that we're -- that we should be treating marijuana at least like we do alcohol, which reminds me of another thing. And that, because of the, you know, alcohol is responsible for so many deaths a year, and that marijuana, no one's died of an overdose, and at which point, one of the commissioners actually objected strongly, wanted his objections put on the record that, well, we have, you know, so many thousands of years of experience with alcohol but this marijuana is so new and you can't really say that, and I don't believe it --

NGAIO BEALUM: [laughter]

DOUG MCVAY: He was --

NGAIO BEALUM: I'm sorry.

DOUG MCVAY: Dude. This was -- I mean, it was outrageous. It was absolutely -- they actually got, it actually got a little bit heated. It was the one point in that whole meeting where things got in any way heated. But I think it illustrates --

NGAIO BEALUM: Marijuana's not new. We didn't just invent weed last week, or two years ago. Marijuana's been around since before Cheech and Chong, since Louis Armstrong, since the ancient Egyptians, since the Chinese doctors. I mean, it's not -- that's crazy talk. And it just shows the amount of, and I'm not using this word in the pejorative, but the amount of ignorance that's out there, and it's not that people are dumb, it's that they simply don't know, and the challenge of course is, Americans hate to be wrong. And so, a lot of times, when you tell somebody the actual facts, they still can't let it go. They can't change their mind, they don't want to admit that they made a mistake.

DOUG MCVAY: Which I think is also part of the alcohol culture, it's the booze culture. I mean, get into an argument with a drunk, they're never going to give in, even when they are absolutely wrong. It's, you know, and that's the -- it's not -- at that point, it's willful ignorance. I mean, the, you know, the fact that marijuana overdose --

NGAIO BEALUM: What's that saying? Never expect a man to understand you when his job depends on him not understanding you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was an interview with Ngaio Bealum. He is a comedian, journalist, activist, and a member of the board of directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. They're on the web at MinorityCannabis.org.

And well, that's it for today. Thank you for joining us. You've been 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. The 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.