Some San Diego Cannabis Retailers Sound Like They’ve Joined the Prohibitionist Movement

by on February 21, 2022 · 1 comment

in San Diego

Are Cannabis Retailers Weaponizing Drug Prevention to Prevent Equity?

By Terrie Best – San Diego Chapter Americans for Safe Access

The San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access (SDASA), the nation’s largest cannabis patient advocacy group, has been working to advance access to medical cannabis since 2002. We are not surprised at the length drug and alcohol prevention contractors will go to keep medical cannabis over-regulated. One of their strategies is to push policy making it nearly impossible to enter the industry.

In San Diego County, preventionist contractors were instrumental in pushing onerous land use restrictions on commercial cannabis. This placed retailers in the far flung rural areas as if they were radioactive. Placing medicine out-of-reach created large cannabis access deserts and an undue burden on patients throughout the county.

But the coordination between cannabis retailers and the drug prevention community to keep it that way is new. The inferiority complex from being told you don’t have a right to exist must have felt awful, but how much influence should cannabis retailers have on the County’s mission to create equity in the cannabis industry? Especially since it means competition for those already in operation.

In the County’s first attempt to permit cannabis, drug prevention agents descended on then-supervisors to warn of disaster should they allow commercial sales of medical cannabis. SDASA determined these prevention groups were being paid public money to lobby against safe access. Now, preventionists are again badgering the County and its 18 cities with misinformation.

City cannabis retailers appear in lock-step with this prohibitionist messaging. As municipalities struggle to regulate, cannabis retailers can be heard  at meetings and forums shoring up anti-cannabis rhetoric, presumably to keep the status quo. Cannabis retailers are using fearful messaging such as ‘medical access policies are the wild west of weed.’ Words they fought against when they themselves received their own permits.

Cannabis advocates are accustomed to pharmaceutical and alcohol industries viewing  cannabis as competition but we never expected the industry to oppose itself.

What began as coordination with law enforcement messaging against the unpermitted shops has now evolved into a prohibitionist stance on the industry by some industry insiders.  One obstacle to safe and convenient access to medical cannabis is now a unity of retailers and preventionists who want to keep the market as it is.

There is also some indication that drug prevention groups are applying for cannabis regulatory contracts. At least one of the County’s recent requests for proposal (RFP) attracted an application from the Institute for Public Strategies. Their website is anti-cannabis, and it is clear they are in favor of banning access. Yet they applied for a contract to design the county’s cannabis social equity program. Why do they want that contract, and what cannabis experts were they planning on hiring to accomplish their proposal? The first RFP was never completed so we don’t know. But more RFQ have been posted.

On the wrong side of the drug war, San Diego County’s alcohol and drug services fund the Marijuana Prevention Initiative (MPI). MPI is supposed to be strictly focused on youth. The sting tactics used have been shown to disproportionately harm BIPOC communities and feed the school-to-prison pipeline. The drug war is made of bad drug policy, and a dangerous net forms entrapping legions of BIPOC. In the environmental model of drug prevention, contractors heavily engage law enforcement with the goal of arrest, criminal court and punishment for youth. Unless San Diego adopts an evidence-based model, giving preventionists an outsized voice in drug policy will make it harder for BIPOC to recover from the drug war.

Previously, state and federal prevention funds were awarded to drug prevention organizations who contracted with the County such as North Coast Prevention. Now all funds go to the Center for Community Research (CCR). “Key Leaders” on the Marijuana Prevention Initiative page of CCR’s  website are with agencies of the drug war. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the San Diego County Probation Department and the San Diego Law Enforcement Coordinating Center are CCR partners in criminalizing youth for cannabis.

If we are to begin to mitigate the drug war as the County aims to with its cannabis social equity efforts, we must end punitive practices and that includes fewer cops designing ways to criminalize our children. But it isn’t just about the children. We should also end the land-use tricks that strategically pushed cannabis into rural areas where only dangerous businesses can be. Patients have to travel long distances for their medicine, and those without cars face lengthy bus rides.  These heavily restricted cannabis land use policies and racists drug policies are harmful to patients and exclude all but savvy consultants and land use experts. The status quo is not acceptable if we are to have equity.

The rich and connected are doing their jobs very well. Everybody wants to keep competition out. But the stakes are higher when efforts are maintained to continue the drug war and force barriers on patients struggling to get the medicine they’ve been entitled to since Prop 215 passed in 1996.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank Gormlie February 21, 2022 at 10:20 am

I hope discernible Rag readers see a certain theme in our graphics this morning.


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