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Legalization Advocates Create Hoax ‘Elite’ New York Marijuana Club In Push For Social Equity



It was billed as an elite, members-only marijuana social club. But the advertisements for Country Club Cannabis, which popped up on social media feeds and in advertisements across New York City this week, were all part of a deliberately provocative campaign launched by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

As New York lawmakers continue to work on legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state, advocates are ramping up efforts to ensure that social equity and restorative justice are key components of any legal cannabis system that eventually emerges. DPA teamed up with creative agency Virtue to make that point by creating the fake cannabis club.

Country Club Cannabis was supposed to represent the moneyed, exclusive marijuana market that develops when cannabis is legalized without a focus on social equity. Members could pay for special access to different services—spa access for basic membership and access to “legal counsel” for premium members, for example. And joining the club also meant adhering to a dress code that prohibits members from wearing sneakers or having visible tattoos.

“Country Club Cannabis was created with traditional values in mind,” a mission statement on the website reads. “Join us in a celebration of our heritage to ensure an elevated, clean experience. We are founded on the belief that you should have a space where your reputation and influence can be recognized among others who share your values.”

The ploy even included a fake physical storefront in Manhattan.

The ad campaign elicited some outrage and some intrigue. But on Thursday, DPA announced that it was all a hoax meant to highlight policy proposals that advocates want included in New York’s legalization plan. That includes automatic expungements for individuals with prior cannabis convictions, an equity programs to support small businesses and using revenue from marijuana sales to reinvest in communities that are disproportionately harmed by the drug war.

“Legalization creates opportunities for places like Country Club Cannabis to exist, but the framework of legalization in New York should not reinforce a culture of exclusion and othering,” Kassandra Frederique, DPA’s New York State director, said in a press release. “A legalization model that creates exclusive spaces like CCC but does not reinvest in communities, does not create space for other people to participate meaningfully in the market, and does not clear records, should not be the legalization framework here in New York.”

“This fight is about more than marijuana and about more than having the privilege to indulge,” she said. “It’s about people and about investing in the dignity and humanity of all New Yorkers.”

The pressure is on to get legalization passed sooner rather than later, with an April 1 budget deadline looming just days away. But advocates remain determined to get Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and leading lawmakers in agreement on the details of a legalization plan for 2019. The governor said on Monday that they are still “working to try to get marijuana done,” but that “the devil is in the details.”

“And I don’t know that it is done for the budget, but if it’s not done after the budget, I believe we get it done after the budget,” Cuomo said.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has cosponsored legislation to end cannabis prohibition, also voiced support for DPA’s #LegalizeItRight campaign in a tweet.

DPA also launched an online petition that people can sign to show their support for social equity in the cannabis industry.

“We, the undersigned, call for an end to the ineffective, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition,” the petition states. “We support the emergence of a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in providing safe access to an already widely-used substance that is less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco and has been proven to have substantial medicinal uses.”

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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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