City of Seattle - City Council - Committee - Finance and Housing - Committee Meeting
(April 6, 2022) - Cannabis Business Panel

Cannabis Business Panel - Sacramento - Humble Root - Seattle - The Academy of Cannabis Science

The committee heard renewed calls for a city-level cannabis equity program from the public before a panel with a California equity licensee and a Washington cannabis training expert.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday April 6th Seattle City Council Finance and Housing Committee (City of Seattle - City Council - Committee - Finance and Housing) Committee Meeting.

My top 4 takeaways:

  • A representative from the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and two budtenders reiterated the importance of equity efforts during public comment.
    • Claude Burfect, Seattle King County NAACP Vice President (audio - 2m, video
      • Burfect relayed that the policies under consideration by the committee were the result of “a large stakeholder process which we were a part of” that weighed what other cities had tried in order to make an ideal system for Seattle. "Black and Brown communities were harmed by the War on Drugs," he stated plainly, at “rates much higher than White people for possession of marijuana.” Though city officials had “taken steps to remove misdemeanors from records,” Burfect argued there was much more to be done, stating he was "urging you to take urgent action to address the systemic problems in the cannabis industry" through legislation to “ensure more equity in the system.”
    • Kristen Wells, Ponder Budtender (audio - 3m, video
      • Supportive of increasing equity in the cannabis sector, Wells said she’d joined the cannabis industry after she’d lost her job “in the middle of the [coronavirus] pandemic.” A medical cannabis patient as well, she reported that there was “a lot of equity work that needs to be done” in the cannabis space. She was especially interested in possible employee training and opportunities for staffers to “see what they would be good at” to advance within the industry. Wells’ initial medical cannabis consultant training had been paid for by her work, but she found the process was “not accessible” for most in the industry due to costs for the initial training as well as a need for annual renewal. Increased training opportunities would “help with the development of the workforce within the industry,” she added.
    • Zion Grae-El, Have a Heart Belltown Budtender (audio - 3m, video)
      • Having spoken to the committee on February 16th, he remarked that after five years in the cannabis space he was accustomed to “high volume cash handling" and even deescalating “situations between staff and customers at times." Grae-El indicated that he’d gotten into the cannabis sector even after several positions were “yanked out from underneath me" due to a felony conviction, but ultimately “the cannabis industry openly accepted me.” He considered vacating and expunging past convictions to be a “vital component” of increasing industry equity, along with a “commission” to oversee equity programs within the cannabis sector that was separate from WSLCB and representative of “the communities that have been wronged.” Grae-El believed it was “time that Seattle rights the wrongs of the War on Drugs and protects cannabis workers"
  • Only two of four invited panelists representing cannabis businesses were available when introduced by City Councilmember and Committee Chair Teresa Mosqueda.
    • Mosqueda thanked her Legislative Assistant, Aretha Basu, for her assistance organizing the panels which would help the committee better grasp “what cannabis equity funds and equity licensing processes look like,” confirming they were still taking input from equity licensees and regulators in other states. Acknowledging Norbert Pickett was unavailable (the Owner of Cannabliss, Washington, D.C.’s first African American owned medical cannabis dispensary), she was “very excited” to hear from those present (audio - 3m, video).
    • Javier Hernandez, Humble Root Founder and CEO (audio - <1m, video
    • Trey Reckling, Academy of Cannabis Science Founder (audio - 2m, video
      • Reckling said the academy was founded in 2015 and was the “first company approved by the [Washington State] Department of Health” (DOH) to train medical cannabis consultants. While not taking a legislative position on the ideas discussed by the committee, he conveyed a wish to “champion the efforts of equity,” particularly on the “transformative influence of education.”
      • Reckling explained that the academy had partnered with South Seattle College, Highline College, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). He commented that leaders at South Seattle College had been interested in developing “the largest education and professional training footprint in the state….developing about ten different courses in cannabis, as well as two certificate programs.” He felt this work aligned “with their values as an institution related to social justice and equity.”
      • Other businesses the Academy had partnered with included the Last Prisoners Projectprisons to prosperity program” and Green Legacy, which was “founded by one of our former students to help people support and empower underrepresented cannabis entrepreneurs and founders.” He added that his company had entered into talks with equity organization Think BIG, founded by C.J. Wallace, “son of the late Chris Wallace, popularly known as ‘Notorious B.I.G.’”
      • At publication time, Reckling was also a Cannabis Alliance board member and had been the Have a Heart Training and Development Manager.
  • Two council members posed several questions about Sacramento’s cannabis equity program, barriers to entry, training needs, and possible elements for a comparable program in Seattle.
    • Mosqueda first asked about Hernandez’s experience with the City of Sacramento equity program, inclusive of “challenges” he would have faced “had you not had the CORE program” (audio - 2m, video).
      • He described Humble Root as a “non-storefront dispensary" licensed for “delivery only.” A legacy cannabis business in Sacramento which started as a medical dispensary before adult-use retail was licensed by the state, Hernandez said CORE had been set up to help “people of color, people that grew up in the impoverished areas” of the city. Among the most “crucial” services the program offered had been “priority licensing” before there’d been “big money” in that cannabis market, he stated. A “workshop” on cannabis licensing had also been useful, Hernandez added, “as well as some cash grants" for security upgrades.
      • Without CORE, Hernandez believed the length and cost of the licensing program would have been prohibitive, relaying that the equity program “cut it in half.” Garnering consumer awareness early on had been crucial; “If you're not into the market early,” getting in later comes with higher costs, he warned
    • Mosqueda wanted to hear how issues of “racial equity” Hernandez had encountered in the California cannabis sector might have been obstacles to getting more “business owners of color to be able to enter the cannabis industry.” She was further curious about “additional training” Hernandez thought could be useful (audio - 3m, video). 
      • He replied that “finding a property” that was suitable for his business had been one challenge as he had little capital and discovered land owners charged cannabis licensees more than they would for a “non-cannabis business.” Business space ended up costing Hernandez “upwards of six figures” to secure land use “entitlements.” However, as a renter, “even once you get it, you don't own it” and instead his efforts profited “someone that already owns the property and is already wealthy.”
      • After so long in the industry, Hernandez was confident in the training provided by Humble Root, but new businesses could benefit from “basic cannabis knowledge as well as medical cannabis knowledge” that would help new employees “solidify that relationship with” customers.
    • Mosqueda’s next question was directed to Reckling. She wondered “what existing training programs are out there” to help advance the cannabis sector. Moreover, she wanted a better sense of the academy curriculum, including ways they increased opportunities in the industry “through an equity lens” (audio - 5m, video).
      • Reckling offered that he was “a patient first" and had been involved in medical cannabis prior to adult-use legalization. The Washington state cannabis sector had “no required training for any budtender,” though some states did require training. He commented that a 2015 medical cannabis law merging the medical and recreational markets had mandated training for medical consultants. Reckling believed the Academy’s 20-hour course for consultants was the most comprehensive program of its kind in any legal cannabis state.
      • However, stores weren’t required to carry medically compliant product, Reckling noted, and could choose to “opt-in.” Telling the committee he’d visited a retail store where staff couldn’t identify anyone in charge of training them, he figured “we owe it to the public to make sure” budtenders knew “what they’re handling,” especially for first time customers ("or first time in a long time").
      • Reckling said his training modules all had educational content “focused on the social injustice [history] of cannabis” and he considered it an “on-going crime" that “over 40,000 people are in jail” for cannabis offenses. This context was important for "empathy" and "understanding," he said, feeling that the “community of cannabis should be the most diverse community you can belong to.” 
    • Councilmember Sara Nelson wanted to know more about the training costs for Reckling’s curriculum and who paid. He replied that most employers paid for the training after hiring individuals to become store medical consultants, but some people proactively paid for the course because they were interested in the field (audio - 3m, video) .
      • Nelson asked what the cost was, and Reckling responded that it was $399 with bulk discounts for training multiple staffers. He asserted costs had been “kept low” in part by offering it online.
    • Mosqueda asked Hernandez what he’d want “as a business owner” when it came to making training available and affordable for “folks to be able to go through” (audio - 2m, video). 
      • He answered that Sacramento officials had provided “workshop training programs for people that wanted to join the cannabis industry.” Hernandez didn’t feel the program was as “built out” as Reckling’s courses at the academy.
      • Stressing the academy’s diverse faculty, Reckling compared cannabis training with “getting into a job in tech" where information was changing “all the time.”
    • Nelson wanted to find out more about the CORE program’s funding. Hernandez told her it had come through a state grant to cities and counties for cannabis equity (audio - 1m, video).
    • The final question from Mosqueda was about city-level programs and any single factor that had been most useful for enhancing social equity (audio - 5m, video). 
      • Hernandez replied that early access to the market had been the most important single thing which helped his company beat out bigger competitors. Without that prioritization, he felt “I wouldn’t be here today.” He further noted that reducing local taxation of cannabis had been another concern of licensees in his state. Hernandez pointed to San Francisco, where officials placed a “two-year moratorium on the city tax” on cannabis. Authorities in Sacramento were considering a similar move specifically targeted to help equity licensees.
      • Reckling advocated to “lower the barrier” for criminal record expungement in Washington, as criminal histories “follow” people trying to operate legitimate businesses. He wondered if it was a “disservice” to give underage persons criminal records when other “deterrence efforts” like monetary sanctions might serve the same purpose. 
      • “Access to capital is huge" as well, observed Reckling, who offered the Muckleshoot Tribe as a community using the “exceptional” tribal model of compacts to allow cannabis businesses to be owned by the public “rather than a few individuals.” He talked about how the academy had partnered with Muckleshoot’s retailer Joint Rivers on a six-week “educational event” open to their “whole community” after which the tribe hired retail staff from those who’d participated.
        • Learn more about the Muckleshoot Tribe cannabis compact which was signed in March 2017.

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