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Nov 19, 2020 23 min read

What Biden means for cannabis

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by The Cannabis Enigma Podcast
US President-Elect Joe Bide

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In some ways, cannabis won the 2020 general elections. Legalization measures won with healthy majorities in five separate states. The Biden-Harris platform was also the most progressive on cannabis than any other major party candidate in history. So what should we expect in the next four years?

“It’s not going to be as exciting as people hope, unfortunately,” Founder and President of Americans for Safe Access Steph Sherer said on The Cannabis Enigma podcast.

It’s not likely that Democrats will have full control of the Congress, without which it would be difficult to enact broad reforms.

“There’s policies they can change, but as far as legalizing medical cannabis, they’re going to need Congress to do that,” Sherer explained, and “even with a Democratic senate majority, that still may be a tough haul.”

The vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum support legalizing medical cannabis, polls have shown, and the majority of states have followed suit and legalized it. So why is cannabis still a partisan issue in national politics?

Most people don’t vote for cannabis on the national ticket, Sherer said, which makes pressuring representatives on the federal level a difficult task.

There is one idea for a major change that advocacy groups are pushing for, however: the creation of an Office of Medical Cannabis, a federal agency to oversee and coordinate medical cannabis policy among all other federal agencies.

The Cannabis Enigma podcast is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access. Edited, mixed, and produced by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. Music by Desca. 

Full transcript:

Michael Omer-Man: Steph, thank you so much for being with us.

Steph Sherer: Thanks for having me.

MO: So I wanna jump right into it. We are recording this on November 17th, which is, if my math is correct, 14, two weeks, two weeks after the elections in the US, and we can safely say that Biden won at this point. Assuming that he takes office, there are two scenarios playing out right now, one is that the Republicans will continue to control the Senate, in which case he’ll have less ability to implement his policies as easily. And the other is that if one of the Senate seats in Georgia flips, that there will be a split, that there will be a split senate, which is a technical majority for the Democrats. I wanna run those two scenarios by you, considering that the Biden-Harris campaign had the most progressive policy platform on cannabis that we’ve ever seen from a presidential candidate. What can we expect? 

SS: Well, I think that it’s not gonna be as exciting as people hope, unfortunately. I think… All that the executive branch can do, is set priorities for the Department of Justice, they can’t actually change cannabis laws. And they can set some priorities for HHS and the DEA, which can go through a process of rescheduling, but still though any sort of change in the legality of cannabis has to happen through Congress and through the Senate.

And so in the United States, most of the arrests for cannabis happen at the state level, so which is a reason for the state by state strategy for medical cannabis, and now legalization has been so important as far as the criminal justice aspect. So they can call on the Department of Justice to not arrest anyone for cannabis, they can set policies at the Housing and Urban Development to restrict them from evicting people for using cannabis.

So there’s policies they can change, but as far as legalizing medical cannabis, they’re going to need Congress and the Senate to do that. And even with a Democratic Senate majority, that still may be a tough haul.

MO: And does the same go for de-scheduling or and rescheduling. Is that also an Act of Congress? 

SS: That’s correct. It’s an act of Congress, or there’s a process, you can petition the government to reschedule, but currently there’s not a rescheduling petition in place, and that process takes, we’ve been a part of a couple, it takes at least four years. It could take even, some of them have taken 20. [chuckle]

So there really needs to be a concerted effort here. One thing that Biden can do, which something that we’re hoping to see at Americans for Safe Access and our patient advocacy allies, is actually the creation of an Office of Medical Cannabis, and that would be a federal agency that all of the medical cannabis aspects of the other agencies would be coordinated under that one agency.

And because it would be utilizing the budgets from other agencies, it doesn’t necessarily need a huge budget to do its work, but I’m actually going into a series of strategy meetings starting tomorrow to really look at how the Office of Medical Cannabis would be funded.

MO: That sounds like it would be huge.

SS: Yeah it’s really, it would be in line with what we’re seeing in other countries. I think what’s very interesting for me, working in American for Safe Access, and when I founded it, the US was really the leader of medical cannabis, right? That it was really… This experiment was really happening here. And I started doing more work around the globe of helping patient advocacy groups pass laws in their own countries.

And so it’s always interesting to say there’s almost 40 countries that have passed medical cannabis laws and the United States is not one of them. And so what that means for our citizens is that, is a lot of restrictions that really, you have to be quite well off and have a set of privileges to be able to access the medical cannabis programs in the United States.

And it also means that our medical cannabis use is restricted to where we live, often. There are some reciprocities, but driving across this country can be very dangerous for patients, just to give an example. But it’s also of course not covered by insurance. So, utilizing cannabis in this market for a chronic condition can be quite expensive, and so it’s just not, it’s just not available for many patients in this country.

MO: And what would it take for insurance companies to be either willing or able to provide those kinds of reimbursements for cannabis doctor visits, for actually buying medical cannabis? Will anything short of federal legalization enable that future? 

SS: We have been talking to through some alternative insurance companies about possibilities, but the federal government would have to be involved for insurance companies to really be involved, and the industry would also need to sort of step it up as far as providing standardized, consistent products. It’s very unlikely that an insurance company would just cover cannabis.

If you look at how the insurance companies work in the United States when covering medications, you have to know exactly how much, what the milligrams are, etcetera. So for medical cannabis patients, when I’m looking at the future, there’s really two areas where we have to advocate and really articulate our vision and utilize our power to move the medical cannabis policies in the right direction.

And that is on one side, the federal government is really moving to ultimately change federal law, and it also means using our buying power and really getting corporations to step up providing medicine for us

MO: So the way that I phrased my first question, I very much framed it as a partisan issue, but what we see from polling and also from legalization measures across the country, it’s actually support for cannabis legalization, particularly medical cannabis legalization and access is almost unanimous at this point. Why doesn’t that trickle up to the federal government? And is there a critical mass of states and the establishment of industry and local state laws enabling cannabis access before the federal government doesn’t have a choice? Before Senators and Congress people aren’t, I don’t know, forced to be accountable to their constituents? Be they companies or people? 

SS: It’s a good question. Let me unpack it a little bit. So let me start with the process. So there is not a, there’s not a process by which a certain amount of states pass something and the federal government has to do something. There just isn’t anything like that. And you can look at, there are examples like gambling, for instance, in the United States. Gambling is not legal at the federal level, but they’ve allowed states to create programs to regulate gambling.

So there doesn’t need to be necessarily a federal change in law for states to do something that’s not legal at the federal level, and unfortunately, there’s not like a… I definitely was hoping that when we hit 26 states, that some magical thing would happen, but unfortunately there’s not.

The other issue we have is that while… I started ASA in 2002, and at that time, cannabis support nationwide was 80%. And so it’s now at something like 94%, but that meant that it was a bipartisan issue back then, and my cocky 25-year-old self thought we would be able to legalize medical cannabis in two years. It’s taken a little longer than that.

But my point is, is that this… While everyone is pretty supportive of medical cannabis, it’s not an issue that they vote on, meaning if there’s a Senator in their state that is a Democrat that voted against medical cannabis, there are very few voters that are gonna refuse to vote for that candidate.

And it just is… It may be a consideration between two Democrats for a voter, but issues like taxation and health care, abortion, environment, those are issues that are really voting issues for Americans. And cannabis, and really, criminal justice are just not.

MO: Yeah.

SS: So what I think that the vision that we see in Americans for Safe Access is… Let me start over. I apologize. What’s interesting now in the United States as far as advocating for broader cannabis policy, is you really have some very distinct camps that didn’t exist when we started Americans for Safe Access. And that is the recreational component, where a lot of people were really just focused on medical and didn’t talk about recreational that much.

The second component is the social justice element, which was always part of a discussion, that the war on drugs was racist and also a war on the poor in this country, but it wasn’t really a… They weren’t really stakeholders for the other side, meaning they wanted to see the arrests stop, but not necessarily see an industry created. And the next component of that is the industry itself.

And so instead of just looking at policy from a thumbs up or a thumbs down perspective, we’re really getting into, how does a society bring cannabis to its citizens? Unfortunately for medical cannabis patients, the questions around bringing a new medicine and a new type of medicine to individuals, is a much more complicated question than how to bring an intoxicant.

And the way that’s playing out is that we… You think about a federal Senator in this country, and you think about all of the different items that they have to look at for their state. They’re here in DC representing their state, and that means they have to look at the Agricultural budget, they have to look at transportation and make sure that their state gets enough money for roads and airports.

They have to look at everything from plumbing to air quality in their state, immigration, all of those items, right? And that means a Senator with their staff have to be experts on a lot of things. And not to say that they’re lazy, they’re just busy. And so when you look at the issue of medical cannabis, I think…

I definitely have been in situations when advocating for medical cannabis that it just seems easier just to legalize it and let the industry figure it out, rather than really dive into answering questions like, “What is medicine? And is the drug development process in this country working?”

MO: Those are big questions.

SS: They are. They’re very big questions. And I think for me, that’s really an exciting part of working on medical cannabis policy internationally, because cannabis doesn’t really fit into the paradigm that we see right now of medicine. I mean, it can, you can pull out components of cannabis and turn them into pills that look like everything else. But medical cannabis advocates aren’t the only ones asking if the drug development process is really working, is really serving humans on this planet.

And part of that question, of course means really looking at who’s making money from that process. So there’s some pretty big proponents and opponents once you start getting into that realm. But when I look at drug development, you’re really talking about an industry that’s ripe for disruption, and the methodologies that they have used to create and to, to create drugs are really based on the restrictions of science from the early 1900s.

Meaning, when we started first seeing drug development in this country, you had scientists travelling to South America to find plants. I don’t know if your listeners know this, but about 80% of all prescription drugs are created from synthesized plant compounds. So we look to nature to make medicines all the time, but it’s not just an evil thing that pharmaceutical companies started synthesizing plant compounds.

It was really one of convenience, it was pretty hard to travel back and forth to South America to get plant samples. And two, the scientific instruments we had to measure reactions in the human body back then were pretty limited, so scientists really could only extract one compound, put it in a human and see what happened.

And now we have, through various technologies and with the support of AI technology, we can really understand very complex systems in the human body. So we can, it is possible to take a substance like cannabis that has so many active ingredients and break down the various reactions that we see in the human body.

And why that’s important is I think that that is opening the door for a new way to approach drug development that definitely will disrupt the current process, but it also potentially means creating medications with fewer side effects that are also inexpensive.

MO: So, you started to get into this, and I wanna ask you some more about it, I was gonna talk about it later, but let’s just get into it. What is the big difference between cannabis as a medication… You mentioned that, or at least you alluded to, that most pharmaceutical medications are single compound isolates and cannabis has a lot of compounds. We had Dr. Ethan Russo on the podcast a few weeks, months ago, talking about the entourage effect. So we know that a lot of the compounds in cannabis work together, and that at different levels, they can have different effects, in different combinations, different ratios. You’re a big advocate, from everything that I’ve read, of developing standardized and directed cannabis and cannabinoid treatments. So what would that give us that we’re not having today? If it’s working as is it, is it that it can do more? Or is it that it’s actually not working as well as it could? 

SS: I would say it’s not working as well as it could. And where we are right now, in my opinion, in the fight for medical cannabis, is we’re really at the beginning phases. It’s just spreading geographically. And what I mean by that is that when we envision the law, some of the first laws that we passed in the Americans for Safe Access at the city level in California to create the dispensary system, which has evolved into what we see now.

In one way, what has evolved has been the licensing structure. What has evolved is the… We have added some product safety standards, and we’ve added taxes, unfortunately. But what has not evolved are the products themselves. And when we envision the dispensary program, it was really supposed to be a gap. We basically, we were looking for a way for those people who really needed cannabis to have a way that they could get cannabis from people who didn’t have to worry about being arrested, right? 

That’s really what that program is. And unfortunately, there isn’t much difference in the process of for buying for patients. Maybe the stores are a little nicer and I guess they’ve got fancier screens, and they look a little more professional, but the actual process for a patient to be able to find the medication that they’re looking for and to be able to depend on it, has not.

And so what that means is that for non-acute conditions like mild inflammation, insomnia, maybe temporary wasting syndrome around… Or not even wasting syndrome, but the appetite loss around chemotherapy. Some of those conditions, where you’re not gonna be using, or you’re not gonna be using cannabis for a long period of time. Or the effect that you’re looking for is very general, like most cannabis, almost all cannabis has some anti-inflammatory effects, right? 

And so for those conditions, the current state works or the current system works. It’s very similar to having a glass of wine when your feet hurt. Like that’s sort of where that’s at, as far as the scientific and medical efficacy. But when you really start looking at conditions like epilepsy, MS, Crohn’s disease, all GI disorders, where the patients have…

You basically are constantly fighting to keep the disease from developing further. And so if you have a GI disorder and you start using cannabis, and this is actually a very personal story to me, I’ll actually go ahead and tell the story itself. I think it’s a good example of why we need to do better with cannabis medicines.

I have an aunt in Southern California who has severe Crohn’s disease, and I tried to convince her for six years to try to use cannabis, that I’d seen it work very well in other patients. And finally, she talked to her doctor in Southern California about cannabis, and he said it was a good idea.

I should mention that my aunt’s Crohn’s was so severe that she hadn’t really left the house in four years. And so she… You hadn’t seen friends, and it is very isolating. And so her doctor told her it was a good idea, but wouldn’t write a recommendation, he actually sent her to one of the pot docs in the Orange County weekly, he said, “Just go to one of those,” which is a whole other story and problem.

But she got her card and I went to Southern California and took her to a dispensary I knew well in West Hollywood. There was actually a PFC certified dispensary. Unfortunately, that’s quite… It was two hours from where she lives, and got her a bunch of different types of medications and enough for three months and for her to experiment, and I set her up with a patient journal and all of that. So she really took a scientific approach to this.

And it worked really well. And within a month she was leaving the house. She felt better, she looked great. And so she started with her doctor, going off the other medications that were having horrible side effects. And about three months in, she couldn’t find the same cannabis products she was using, and she was looking, going to various dispensaries in Orange County.

She couldn’t quite make it out to West Hollywood, but long story short, her health started deteriorating rapidly, and because the medication she was on, they don’t just, you don’t just start taking them and they work, these are medications that take time, she ended up getting so sick that she had to have her large intestine removed. And I feel horrible about that whole process, but it’s not an uncommon one. That is not an uncommon story.

And so if we’re really going to be talking about cannabis medicines for acute conditions, which is really why I’m in this, right? That’s really why I started ASA, is not necessarily for minor issues, but this could be life-changing. And the only way that doctors are going to really get behind patients with acute conditions utilizing cannabis, is going to be if they’re products that they know that their patients can afford and that they know are gonna be a consistent supply.

Because you’re really getting into, for doctors, you’re really getting into a question of ethics. Many doctors won’t recommend or prescribe medications that they know that their patients can’t afford. It’s an ethical issue. We see this in countries that have state-run healthcare programs, they’re not gonna approve drugs unless they know that they’re affordable and that there will be a constant supply.

MO: Well, I’m just thinking of the program here in Israel, where I’m based. The medical cannabis program has been plagued by all sorts of problems, but one of the things they’ve tried to implement over the years is price controls, so that the maximum a patient would pay for a month’s supply is something like $70. Which is still too much for some people, but considering market rates that you would pay in places like California, is still pretty accessible.

SS: You know it’s…

MO: And then…

SS: Okay.

MO: Go ahead.

SS: I was gonna say, yeah, for patients that have chronic conditions, you’re talking anywhere from $1000 to $3000 a month for their supply of cannabis here. It’s not cheap.

MO: Yeah. And that’s comparable to the general accessibility and price of medications in the United States. If you don’t have insurance, it’s out of reach for most people. Another thing that just popped into my mind is — it’s all related — is that in Israel, they’ve just announced last week or a few days ago that they’re planning to legalize a recreational market within a nine-month span, and this came in the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee that went over all the issues and made its recommendations to the government.

And one of the things that they recommended is that prices be kept low enough that there’s an incentive for consumers to use the legitimate market, so that they’re not pushed for financial reasons back to the black market. Because that seems to be the primary driver behind legalization here.

And I’m contrasting that to a lot of states in the States, but also countries in various parts of the world that are talking about cannabis legalization as a revenue generation policy. We hear the governor of New York speaking that way, or hear people in various states, and especially in the time of COVID, that this is something that the government can do to raise revenue through the use of taxes on sales and production.

And I’m just wondering, Americans for Safe Access, it has it in its name, is devoted to fighting for access to cannabis, and we’ve talked quite a bit already about how a lot of that has to do with cost. Is there a way to decouple those two things, cannabis access or cannabis regulation and legalization and revenue generation? In some states, it actually, you’re exempt from taxes if you have a medical card, but it seems like it’s still a pretty big issue.

SS: It is a big issue, and I think the only way that we’re going to really see those issues are broken apart, is gonna be through research, and I don’t just mean scientific research. But yes, the tax revenue is something that feels instant, the cannabis industry can thank once again, the patient population in the medical cannabis programs for advocating that those businesses be deemed essential.

That was the work of Americans for Safe Access members and it really saved that market, so to speak. But of course, with legalization, age is the only barrier, and these states can start bringing in money right away. But there’s other ways that states and governments are making and saving money with medical cannabis, and this is really the work that we need to see done to really put numbers on this.

For instance, during the opioid epidemic here in the United States, which is still going on, we saw reductions in deaths in states with medical cannabis laws reduced by as much as 25%. Which is… That seems like a social number, a number where you’re looking at fewer deaths, but what does that, what does fewer deaths really mean for a society? 

And there is a financial… There’s a number to that. The same thing with, for our insurance companies. If their cannabis is much cheaper than opioids and if patients are using less drugs, which we definitely have also seen in states that have medical cannabis laws, what does that impact on the insurance infrastructure? So the…

This is an issue that we see at the WHO, and we also see this in many countries, that when you’re looking at a price of a drug, so if an insurance company is deciding whether or not it’s gonna cover a drug and for how much, there’s a lot of factors that they look at, but one of the ones that they don’t look at is, are side effects, and what is the financial burden of there being other side effects from that medication? 

Well, from one perspective of the pharmaceutical companies, it’s pretty exciting because there’s, it means more drugs to treat the side effects. But for governments and for insurance companies, it should be very exciting that there are fewer other drugs that they have to cover. And so I think we really need to look… We have to… In the same way that the environmental movement really had to put a price on carbon, and really had to put a price on various environmental impacts, we need to do the same for drug treatments and for medical treatments.

What is the… What are the… If for instance, opioids cause constipation, so for recovery after surgeries, for hysterectomies or anything in the abdomen, there’s actually an extra two weeks added to the recovery time for patients because they know that they will be constipated from using the medication.

So what does that two weeks of productivity mean to a society? It’s a lot. And so if a patient was using cannabis to treat pain, not the acute pain, but the post-surgical pain, then what would that mean for their recovery time? And I think you can take that across many scenarios, many conditions. And we don’t see those numbers yet, but the data is there, and I think once we can approach governments and insurance companies with that data, we’ll see more.

I do know that in Holland a few years ago, Holland has gone back and forth with insurance coverage of cannabis, but there was one insurance company that made the decision to cover cannabis fully. Because through their research, they found that patients had fewer emergency room visits and were using fewer other drugs, and so it was actually a cost saving for the insurance companies for them to use cannabis. So that’s really, I think where we’re gonna see the numbers that compete with taxes for state governments and for federal governments.

MO: And are there any policy makers out there, without naming names — or do name names — who are taking that long view? Who get it? 

SS: What I find is that politicians who are open to alternative medications and are really, you know, have a critique of the drug development process and of the medical apparatus, that they’re more likely to see that long view. I think, unfortunately in the United States, we have so many healthcare crises that we’re constantly talking about how to get more people into this broken system.

And so because there are so many people left out of the system because there are so many health crises… We went from the opioid epidemic, which like I mentioned, is still rampant, and actually it’s getting worse in some areas, to the COVID pandemic that we’re… That there’s constantly emergencies in our healthcare system that don’t necessarily create a space for a longer term vision.

In the United States, there was a push in the ’70s and ’80s to create a natural medicines process in the United States. And it was kind of hijacked by the nutraceutical and supplements industry, which basically have created a… They’re available and they’re legal, there’s a process that they basically just have to show that they’re safe.

But by going out of their sort of middle ground drug development process, it means that all of those products, again, have the same issue that medical cannabis has. Doctors aren’t very likely to recommend them, and they’re expensive, and people who are on fixed incomes or below the poverty level just don’t have access to those.

MO: You mentioned the World Health Organization. There’s an expectation that international bodies and the WHO will reclassify, or vote to reclassify, vote on the issue of reclassifying cannabis in the near future. What impact does a Biden administration, beyond the fact that they would rejoin the WHO, have on that process and its prospects of succeeding? And then a follow-up question, what does that matter for various countries around the world? 

SS: I think as far as the Biden administration, I’m not sure that has much, there’s actually… That process is well under way, and actually the UN representatives for the United States under this administration, have been very positive and have backed the recommendations of the WHO, actually, to our surprise. And so we’re really looking at what the Middle East, Russia and China will do. Or really the big unknowns in the vote that’s before the UN. This is…

MO: Can you just explain the issue, real quick? 

SS: Oh yeah, I apologize. So the WHO put out a series of recommendations to the UN a few years ago, I guess. I don’t know. This year seems so long, so I think it was 2019, I apologize. [chuckle] I think we’ve been in 2020 forever. And those recommendations actually came out of a process for rescheduling at the UN.

So the way that drugs are scheduled at the UN level is that the Committee on Narcotic Drugs, CND, makes recommendations to the full UN body, and then the UN body has to vote unanimously on the policy. So the current scheduling of cannabis actually was based on a report that was written in 1930s about cannabis.

So Americans for Safe Access along with a couple of our patient advocacy groups started about 15 years ago, chipping away the WHO to get them to write a new report, to make new recommendations. And so finally, they wrote that report and their findings came out and said that actually, that the UN should change the scheduling.

Now, it’s a little confusing, and I don’t wanna spend too much time talking about the scheduling because there’s several different schedules of cannabis, but ultimately what the WHO recommended was that CBD be out of the scheduling and recommended that the scheduling change to reflect that there is medical value of cannabis.

And so this means a couple of exciting things, one is Americans for Safe Access, we work with patient advocates all over the world, and outside of the G20, countries really have to look at UN policies of how they approach drugs. And the UN drug policies are really supposed to be there to make sure that there’s access to drugs, but also defines how it should be restricted.

And so for patient advocates in many countries, there’s no dialogue with the government about medical cannabis because it is seen as a drug that has no medical value, and so there just isn’t a way to have that discussion. In the changing of the laws, the other thing that will happen, ’cause I mentioned these scheduling and the UN, their role internationally around drugs isn’t just to be international cops.

It’s also there to be, to guide and make sure that there is access for drugs globally, whether that’s opioids or HIV/AIDS drugs. And so by changing the scheduling of cannabis, what the UN is also saying is that countries need to figure out how to create access to these drugs in their country.

So that creates an even… It isn’t a mandate that they have to, but it does create an opportunity for patient advocates in Iraq and in areas where we’ve really seen really strict laws. To be honest, we’re already seeing just with the WHO report come out, we’ve seen some progress in countries like France, which has been very strict on cannabis laws, you can’t even wear a cannabis leaf t-shirt there, it’s illegal. So it’s already having impact and with the change at the UN level, we’ll see even greater impact.

MO: Well, let’s hope for that. When is that expected to happen? 

SS: It could happen as early as December. We don’t know if they’re actually gonna go through votes at that meeting, because it looks like they’re not going to have an in-person meeting for the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs, obviously because of COVID. And so we were actually expecting a vote in March of this year, and it got pushed back. So it could happen in December, and Americans for Safe Access will be putting out a guide for governments for what this means.

MO: So getting back to the original direction of this interview, kind of. Even though there’s broad, if not full support and among the American public for medical cannabis access and for cannabis legalization in various forms, it has been and continues to be partisan on a political level, with legalization and liberalization being championed by progressives.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence, therefore, that the cannabis industry has quite uniquely adopted the responsibility, the cause, the burden of social justice and reparative justice and diversity and inclusion in building itself. What I wanted to ask you is, is that a real…

SS: I would probably challenge that. I would probably… I don’t…

MO: ‘Cause that’s actually my question. Is that as real as it’s purported to be, as the industry talks about it? 

SS: Absolutely not. The industry is dealing with social justice issues because governments are now mandating it, and they did not at all before that happened. At all. The industry was led by, and still is, White men, who have had very little issues with the drug policy issue. With the criminal justice system. And the only reason we’re seeing these conversations about social justice is that the governments are mandating it. And it’s sort of the trendy… It’s trendy to talk about.

So when I worked on recycling policies, lifetimes ago, there’s something called “greenwashing” that we see oil companies and waste companies do. I’m sure you see this in Israel. Where you have an oil company who spends $100,000 on planting some trees, and then they spend 100 million on the PR campaign to tell people about it. And I think we’re seeing something very similar.

And I’ll just say that that is… I’m excited to see it happening, and I’m excited to see governments forcing that dialogue, but I would definitely not say that this is something that came from the industry. And if you can… Really, the first laws where we saw this social equity happened in San Francisco, and the industry is actually quite upset about it. It’s like behind the scenes, it hasn’t been…

It also hasn’t been an easy issue to deal with, and I think it definitely takes some… It’s still taking some work to figure out how to do this, and I think they’re figuring out things that work and things that don’t work, and states are learning from other states. But I would… Without the states requiring or mandating, this would not be a reality, it may be lip service, like I mentioned as far as greenwashing, but it definitely would not… It is not an initiative that started from within this industry.

MO: Is there some hope to be found maybe then, in the fact that the states are building this into their programs? 

SS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it is, I think it’s such an interesting opportunity, and experiment really, to see how within this microcosm of racism that we can look at reparations and repairing harm. Because of course in the background is the bigger shadow of slavery in this country that still has played out in socio-economic disparities, that this country has not tackled at all.

So to see at least one aspect of that, of systematic racism being discussed and actually taking it out of theory and what’s right and ethical philosophy and putting it into practice, is very exciting. And I’m hoping that this process and really seeing that this can be done, can be a model for how this country can approach some of the larger issues that go back to slavery in this country.

MO: So you already kind of did this, but I’m gonna push you one step further beyond that, what you just said. What gives you the most hope about your work and the progress of cannabis access and legalization? 

SS: What gives me the most hope right now is that the United States isn’t alone, and that we’re seeing a global phenomenon of countries approaching access to medical cannabis as a whole plant medication, and really doing some of the work that we’re not doing here in the United States, of mandating standardized products and safe products.

So I’m excited to see a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about in theory, actually being implemented in countries and seeing insurance coverage of medications that, it lets you know that we are on the right path. And that even though the day-to-day could be difficult to get there, that there really is an opportunity to open up definitions of medicine globally and start creating medications that are cheaper and have fewer side effects, and can really move this planet towards a healthier and safer healthcare system.

MO: I’ll sign on to that. Steph, thank you so much for taking the time.

SS: Thank you so much for having me. This was an exciting conversation, and thanks for letting me talk about more than just recreational versus medical. It was pretty exciting.

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