The conversation ahead

Flow Kana’s ‘Cannabis as a Catalyst for Change’ event heard from industry experts, politicians—and Snoop Dogg

Cashmere Agency founder, Ted Chung (left) and Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz (right) might have gotten a contact high from Snoop Dogg at a September cannabis conference in The Emerald Triangle.

Cashmere Agency founder, Ted Chung (left) and Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz (right) might have gotten a contact high from Snoop Dogg at a September cannabis conference in The Emerald Triangle.

Photo courtesy of rosati photos

It’s a strange moment when Snoop Dogg takes the stage at a cannabis conference to talk about how he legally sells a product for which he’s done jail time. But that’s exactly what happened at the “Cannabis as a Catalyst for Change” event in Mendocino last month hosted by Flow Kana, a cannabis processing and distribution company in the Emerald Triangle.

Snoop joked that because he’s known to smoke weed by the pound, he named his flower company Leafs By Snoop, which carries the same initials as the abbreviation for pounds—lbs.

He was a surprise guest at the conference where social and environmental issues were top of the agenda. In addition to the West Coast rap legend, featured speakers including Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi and two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke talked about the industry’s challenges and opportunities to make the world a better place.

Tometi, a Nigerian-American immigrant and human rights activist, told the crowd that people of color are six times more likely to get arrested for cannabis-related offenses and that cannabis infractions are also the fourth most common cause for deportation. Even now, with legalization in 11 states, there are still black and brown people serving life in prison for cannabis convictions, a sobering fact for everyone who enjoys legal access to the safe and regulated cannabis product of their choice.

California, Tometi said, is paving the way forward through local social equity programs including those in Sacramento and Los Angeles. Under these programs, black and brown people who have been most negatively affected by the “war on drugs” have more opportunities for participating in the legal industry. But even then, access can be difficult for those historically deprived of capital and lacking business experience. Karim Webb, another speaker at the event, runs a firm called 4thMVMT that helps entrepreneurs of color through the lengthy cannabis permitting process in L.A.

For the industry folks congregated among the oaks and redwoods of Flow Kana’s spacious campus, Tometi had a call to action: Support the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, what she called “the most sweeping marijuana bill ever.”

Introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the bill calls for taking cannabis off the federal schedule of harmful drugs. It also stipulates that a portion of cannabis tax revenue should be allocated to a trust fund benefiting communities of color to pay for expunging criminal records, a reentry program for those leaving prison with cannabis offenses and substance abuse treatment programs. The trust fund would also establish an agency to encourage minority participation in the legal cannabis industry and create a more equitable licensing program.

If Congress passes and President Trump signs the bill, Tometi says, it would help those who have suffered disproportionately under prohibition and deserve to benefit from the industry’s exponential growth.

While Tometi’s message honed in on social justice, Winona LaDuke’s also wove in protecting the environment. LaDuke, a member of the Ojibwe White Earth tribe in Minnesota and also a hemp farmer, said the cannabis conversation needs to include more than what we smoke or consume.

Hemp, the non-psychoactive cannabis variety, is effectively legal to grow and sell in the U.S. since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed. It can be used for clothing, shoes, paper, packaging, insulation and biofuel. What’s more, hemp can be grown outdoors in an environmentally friendly way and can even store carbon to help stem climate change. The fossil fuel-addicted economy, she said, “needs to be hemorrhaged out” to create an economy that serves people and the earth, not corporate profits.

“We have a whole materials economy that is predicated on hauling s--t around the world that shouldn’t be hauled around the world,” she said. “And a lot of stuff [like fossil fuels] that should stay in the ground.”

Still, to reach a sustainable relationship for the industry and the economy, it’s a long road. LaDuke shared an Ojibwe prophecy: The “Seventh Fire” was said to be a time when, “we would have a choice between two paths: One would be well worn but it would be scorched, and the other would not be well worn and it would be green.”

The way forward, according to LaDuke, is to build an economy based on cooperation, not competition, and one in which hemp plays a vital role. She urged the crowd of cannabis industry veterans, newbies, and consumers to think beyond immediate gains and “be the ancestors our descendants can be proud of.”