Cannabis Insider took a deep dive into some of the prickly questions that beg to be answered and called on just the right trio of women to do that: Natalie Papillon of the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), Christine De La Rosa of The People’s Ecosystem and Sarah Chaseexecutive director of the Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation (CFCR).
Chase, who co-moderated the fascinating conversation along with Benzinga’s Elliot Lane and Javier Hasse listeners told that Washington DC-based CFCR’s mission is to legitimize cannabis by assisting the government and its federal regulatory agencies to rethink, develop and implement evidence-based cannabis regulations.
She then introduced Papillon and De La Rosa and the conversation took off.
Criminal Justice: Who’s Welcome And Who’s Able To Join The Burgeoning Cannabis Industry
Papillon said there are basically two buckets of criminal justice issues that should be focused on.
“One, of course, is to end the criminalization of cannabis. Regardless of the fact that there is legalization in many states, there are still hundreds of thousands arrested for cannabis and essentially the stigma still exists,” she said. “The second bucket is the issue of [helping] people saddled with cannabis-related convictions to get on their feet in general and enter into the cannabis industry if they so desire.”
Papillon stressed that the so-called legacy as well as former cannabis prisoners are indeed the very people the industry needs and should welcome. “They are the wizards, the most skilled in terms of cultivation, distribution…they’ve been working for years to build up the industry but now because of their criminal records, they can’t get into it.
“If you fail to utilize a huge swath of people who have enormous skill and experience in the industry, you’re not going to have the most robust marketplace…so we need to make sure people’s records are cleared and the barriers are removed.”
What Are The Barriers And How To Get Around Them?
It’s about money, financial instruments, who has access to them and how to get them to those who really need them.
De La Rosa said that while it’s great that we’re building a new industry that could create change, “we just keep missing the mark, state after state after state as cannabis goes legal.”
We don’t have the financial instruments that can help formerly incarcerated people, she said, nor have we been tackling the situation from a financial perspective.
“People from the financial sector who are putting together equity deals, debt facilities and all that good stuff have not been talking to these people to see what they need…financial instruments should be solving a problem, not creating a new one,” De La Rosa.
She pointed to New York State where formerly incarcerated people who will soon be entering the marketplace per state mandate. De La Rosa called the $200 million in public-private funds pledged by Gov. Kathy Hochul to support social equity applicants “a golden ticket that you can never use…and that is soul-crushing to be holding the golden ticket and not have access to capital.”
What’s To Be Done?
De La Rosa, to which Papillon and Chase agreed, said that teaching people how to understand and create their capital stacks and how to use your investment at hand to create revenue to pay off your debt – not the other way around – is the way to go.
“These are things that most people are not taught but need to know,” she said. “What we need to be doing is teaching people about the money part of the business…how you do your finances, how you spend your money.”
What small new cannabis operators will need, even those who manage to attain a piece of real estate upon which to build their dispensary, as in the case of New York, where then does the operating cash come from? All Cannabis Insider guests agreed that SBA loans would certainly come in handy, though that can’t and won’t happen until there is federal legalization.
A bit of a vicious cycle? It seems that way at times. But listening to this conversation will help answer lots of questions and point people in the right direction.
In fact, why not come and meet Christina De La Rosa in person at Benzinga’s Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago on Sept. 13-14? Get your tickets HERE and make your reservation at the historic Palmer House Hotel HERE.
In the meantime, have a look at Cannabis Insider’s half-hour conversation with Papillon, De La Rosa and Chase. Enjoy!