In the continuing work to diversify the legal cannabis space and include communities that have been hurt the most by the war on drugs, advocates have unveiled a model local ordinance that would help more people of color enter the industry.
The Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance, released Monday by the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), “creates a baseline framework for adopting and advancing social equity in the cannabis industry as official public policy.”
Research shows that African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana-related charges than their white counterparts—even while usage rates are virtually identical. But as legalization makes its way across the country, the effects of this systemic racial bias persist: More than 80 percent of legal cannabis businesses are owned by white people, according to one survey.
In other words, the communities that have been punished the most for something as simple as marijuana possession have yet to see many of the benefits associated with legalization.
To address this disparity, MCBA’s model ordinance calls for cities to create cannabis social equity programs to provide financial and technical support to people who might not be able to otherwise own, invest or otherwise work in the cannabis industry. For example, under current policies enacted elsewhere, they may not be able to afford the high costs associated with licensing. Or they may be barred from even applying to work in the industry because of a past drug conviction.
The model ordinance is designed to even the playing field. People who were arrested on charges related to marijuana prior to legalization, who had a family member arrested on such charges and/or lived in an area with disproportionately high cannabis arrest rates would be eligible to participate in the program. It also invites people with low income—defined as those with “household income of less than 80 percent of the current fiscal year median family income for the county of residence”—to participate as well.
“The licensing structure… prioritizes folks who have been impacted by the war on drugs for ownership,” Jason Ortiz, MCBA vice president, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “Those folks are often left behind, if included at all. We put them at the front of the line.”
Another important part of the ordinance, Ortiz said, is that it empowers local governments to study the impact of marijuana prohibition on their communities and use that data to influence decisions on where money generated from the industry should go.
“If your community was specifically targeted for arrests, your community now has data to support why they should be the ones to receive the support that is generated,” he said.
The model ordinance also encourages cities to create a “community reinvestment fund” from tax dollars and other revenue from cannabis businesses to use for job training, re-entry services and other community-centered support.
Other provisions include the facilitation of “resentencing and expungement to restore the civil rights of prior cannabis arrestees” (such as the automated process recently instituted in San Francisco) and the end of “suspicionless drug testing,” among other considerations.
The next step, of course, is to get municipalities to actually adopt the model ordinance. That’s going to take community engagement and dialogue, Ortiz said.
“For us, the importance and relevance of this document is that it allows anyone anywhere to start to have a conversation about equity at their local and state level,” he said.
“The Model Ordinance is a statement from the communities we represent to the local lawmakers, regulators, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders who are building our nation’s cannabis industry one town at time–social equity is not only possible, it should be the industry standard moving forward,” Khurshid Khoja, co-chair of the MCBA Policy Committee, said in a press release. “Our work gives those actors the tools they need to make equity a present reality in our industry rather than a lost opportunity.”
In 2017, MCBA released a similar model bill for state legislatures championing industry-wide equity.
Photos/screen grabs from video produced by MCBA.
Square Quietly Launches Program For CBD Cannabis Company Credit Card Processing
Companies that sell cannabis products—even those consisting of CBD derived from hemp, which was legalized in the U.S. through the Farm Bill late last year—are continuing to have trouble accessing basic financial services that are available to businesses in other sectors. That includes being able to maintain bank accounts and process their customers’ credit cards.
The latter problem could be solved under a new pilot program that has quietly been launched by the payment processing service Square.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Facebook Uses Marijuana And Broccoli To Show Off Its AI Tech
Marijuana buds and tempura broccoli can look oddly similar out of context, but Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology can tell the difference.
At its annual developers conference on Wednesday, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer discussed how the social media giant is able to leverage visual AI to spot “policy-violating content,” including advertisements to sell cannabis on the platform. He explained the process by comparing images of the fried vegetable next to marijuana buds, which he described as the “most benign possible example” of prohibited content he could find.
— Queenie Wong (@QWongSJ) May 1, 2019
Five years ago, the company relied on “behavioral signals” to catch people advertising cannabis—things like whether the advertiser has been “caught for doing bad stuff before” or whether they used “obvious words” like “marijuana” or “drugs” in the post. But as AI advanced, Facebook developed a system that could visually distinguish cannabis from other miscellaneous items.
To drive the point home, Schroepfer put both images on the screen and challenged the audience to differentiate them.
— Tom Simonite (@tsimonite) May 1, 2019
A few people thought the tempura broccoli was marijuana, but most seemed to get it right. The visual algorithm was 94 percent sure that the marijuana was, in fact, marijuana, and 88 percent sure that the other image was the broccoli.
— john colucci (@johncolucci) May 1, 2019
For Facebook, the technology offers a convenient way to streamline its policy enforcement efforts. But for many cannabis reform groups and media companies that run Facebook accounts, the presentation is a window into an ongoing frustration.
The ban on content promoting the sale of federally illicit drugs has had collateral consequences for pages that post noncommercial marijuana material such as news outlets like Marijuana Moment and state regulatory bodies like the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. These pages have at times been hidden from search results (a technique referred to as “shadowbanning”) because the algorithm isn’t able to accurately differentiate commercial advertisements from cannabis-related news articles, for example.
Marijuana influencers and state-legal cannabis businesses have long complained about having their accounts on the Facebook-owned Instagram platform temporarily disabled or permanently blocked for depicting cannabis or advertising their services.
A policy change may be on the horizon, as the company said in March that it wants “to consider whether we can loosen this restriction, especially in relation to medical marijuana, legal marijuana and brick and mortar stores.” But for the time being, Facebook will continue to enforce the policy, and it hasn’t provided a status update on that front at the conference so far.
“It’s against our policies because it’s against U.S. federal law, so you can’t advertise marijuana on Facebook,” Schroepfer said.
Photo courtesy of Facebook.
FDA Sends Warnings To Three Companies Selling CBD Products
At the same time that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to create a regulatory framework for hemp-derived CBD, it’s also cracking down on companies that are in its view irresponsibly marketing CBD products and making unsanctioned claims about their medical benefits.
FDA announced on Tuesday that it and the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to three such companies last month: PotNetwork Holdings in Florida, Nutra Pure in Washington state and Advanced Spine and Pain in New Jersey. The letters were sent “in response to their making unsubstantiated claims related to more than a dozen different products and spanning multiple product webpages, online stores and social media websites,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a press release.
In a Twitter thread, the commissioner added that he was “concerned to hear recently that several national pharmacy chains and other major retailers have begun to sell or will soon begin to sell” CBD products and that the agency will “be contacting them to remind them of #FDA obligations and our commitment to protect consumers against products that can put them at risk.”
CVS and Walgreens both recently announced they will begin selling CBD-infused products.
We’ll be contacting them to remind them of #FDA obligations and our commitment to protect consumers against products that can put them at risk.
— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) April 2, 2019
In the press release about the warning letters his agency has already sent to CBD companies, Gottlieb asserted that they used their websites to “make unfounded, egregious claims about their products’ ability to limit, treat or cure cancer, neurodegenerative conditions, autoimmune diseases, opioid use disorder, and other serious diseases, without sufficient evidence and the legally required FDA approval.”
At the same time, the warning letters announced today make clear that #FDA has and will continue to monitor the marketplace and use our authorities to take action against companies illegally selling these types of products when they are putting consumers at risk
— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) April 2, 2019
FDA is hustling to provide manufacturers guidelines on marketing cannabidiol following the federal legalization of hemp last last year, but the process is complicated by the fact that CBD is the active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug, Epidiolex, and remains the subject of intensive clinical testing. Gottlieb has indicated that it will take years to develop a regulatory plan for CBD without further congressional action.
In the meantime, companies that continue to choose to engage in CBD commerce should be wary about making health claims about their products. The commissioner said FDA has “limited resources” for enforcement operations, but it would take action against companies that make “over-the-line” statements.
In the press announcement, FDA listed some of the unauthorized claims that the three companies made. For example, the products were touted as being able to treat cervical cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and substance use disorder.
“I believe these are egregious, over-the-line claims and we won’t tolerate this kind of deceptive marketing to vulnerable patients,” Gottlieb said. “The FDA continues to be concerned about the proliferation of egregious medical claims being made about products asserting to contain CBD that haven’t been approved by the FDA, such as the products and companies receiving warning letters today.”
“Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims can put patients and consumers at risk,” he said. “These products have not been shown to be safe or effective, and deceptive marketing of unproven treatments may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.”
Questions about what constitutes an unauthorized claim that would put a company at risk of enforcement action will likely come up at the agency’s just-announced public hearing CBD issues on May 31. Stakeholders are invited to submit information about the public safety impacts of CBD and how to manufacture and market products that contain the cannabis compound.
This piece was updated to include Gottlieb’s tweets about national pharmacy chains.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.