Some say that there’s another epidemic co-occurring alongside COVID-19: the abuse of power in cannabis. Commonly used in legal terms, Abuse of Power can also describe official misconduct in the growing, yet still highly puzzling, legal(ish) cannabis market.
Despite some form of medicinal or recreational legalization in 33 U.S. States, four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, to date cannabis remains federally illegal due to its inclusion on the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act; an abuse of power unto itself according to some long-time cannabis activists.
It’s Political: Abuse of Power in Cannabis by State, Government & Municipal Officials
Michigan, a state with robust and further confusing legislative hurdles around cannabis, sentenced Danny Trevino, a Hispanic man, to 16 years for “five counts of maintaining a drug-involved premise, as well as multiple counts of manufacturing, distributing, possessing with intent to distribute and possessing an excess of 100 plants” (MLive, 2019). Mr. Trevino must serve at least 11 of those years before eligibility for parole, plus another four years under supervised release and 11K in fines.
In the wake of racial uprisings happening across our country, many contend that the disproportionate attention paid to Mr. Trevino by law enforcement was racially motivated. Supporters gathered outside the courthouse to protest the owner of Hydroworld’s conviction and continue to support Mr. Trevino since his January sentencing.
We have begun to discuss how the War on Drugs negatively impacted Black Americans, but Hispanic people are also disproportionately affected as evidenced by a 2018 report claiming that 59% of people jailed for cannabis-related crimes were Hispanic (NCDIS, 2019).
Massachusetts has also taken some flack for alleged regulatory misconduct. Charges of “systemic abuses of power by municipalities” have been brought by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition NORML, which claims that a staggering 79% of the state’s cannabis contracts are operating illegally (Boston Globe, 2019).
Yet another alleged abuse of power in cannabis was spearheaded by Attorney General William Barr. Barr is accused of ordering “antitrust investigations into 10 cannabis companies, based solely on his political opposition to marijuana legalization” (Leafly, 2020).
In Minnesota, a dispensary worker reported being fired from their 60K per year job after testifying at a pro-cannabis public hearing in neighboring North Dakota on their day off (HPR, 2018). The North Dakota Attorney General is alleged to have sent a “cryptic email” to the citizen’s employer, ultimately leading to their termination. If misconduct is grounds enough to be considered “abuse of power” in cannabis, both the accuser’s employer and the state of North Dakota may be guilty.
Abuse of Power by Cannabis Brands
Of the alleged cannabis companies targeted by Attorney General Barr was MedMen, or the “Apple store of cannabis,” who we’ll spare the hyperlinking based on numerous accusations of bigotry, greed, homophobia and more. The long controversial CEO and co-founder Adam Bierman, along with fellow Co-Founder Andrew Modlin, deny all accusations against them yet have both agreed to step down, ultimately relinquishing super-voting rights by the close of 2020.
While many celebrate the move, others believe bro-culture and misogyny might be too ingrained in MedMen’s culture and aren’t incredibly hopeful for an inclusive company in the future.
Another alleged abuse of power in cannabis happened at Ignite Cannabis, a SoCal-based brand started by a reported misogynist named Dan Bilzerian. Reporting a “50 million dollar loss in 2019,” maybe the trust fund-enabled Bilzerman is experiencing karmic retribution for his behavior (Forbes, 2020)? From over-sexualized billboards in Hollywood, CA, to parties using women’s bodies as actual props, some attribute Bilzerman’s abuse of power to a culture of misogyny that has allowed people like him to operate in regulated cannabis.
Did we mention that Bilzerman’s reported antics include using a woman’s body as a tray for his food whilst in a hot tub, purposely kicking a woman in the face at a party and throwing a naked woman from his Beverly Hills roof in an apparent stunt (GQ, 2017)?
How Can We Prevent Such Abuse of Power in Cannabis?
Oversight. Oversight. Oversight.
Tyranny, corruption, sexism, homophobia, racism and other abuses of power have no place in regulated cannabis. It was activists and queer folks who started the movement we now know as cannabis legalization, after all.
One way to track, regulate and respond accordingly to problematic behaviors of people and entities in cannabis is to have trusted, non-government organizations and committees that oversee all aspects of regulated cannabis. Operations and standard business practices at all levels and phases of the industry need to be held by and to ethical standards created by diverse, qualified and vetted stakeholders.
Manufacturing, packaging, advertising/marketing, media, social equity, social responsibility and so on. Abuse of power in cannabis can occur at all levels of the emerging industry. Why not redistribute some of the funds from taxation to overseeing such critical aspects of the industry?
As legalization continues its near country-wide takeover, cities like San Francisco and Portland rely upon pre-established committees of their own. However, there remains much work to do to protect those entering the once-criminalized industry against abuses of power.