Legal Cannabis – A Blueprint from Persecution to Restitution through Local Stakeholders as Shareholders

The global legal cannabis industry is projected to reach $57 billion by 2027 according to a Forbes report but that may be a floor, not a ceiling.  Other prognosticators (Grand View Research) predict the global legal marijuana market, hemp excluded which had $827 million in 2017 USA sales and is expected to triple that amount by 2022, will come in at $146.4 billion by 2025. The same researchers believe legal marijuana sales in the USA, $7 BN or so in 2016, should “grow at a CAGR of 24.9% from 2017 to the level of $100.3 BN by 2025.”

The first point is that while the numbers are big, there is no proof that this emerging industry, similar to predecessor industries such as Renewable Energy, Cloud Data, Social Media Platform Monopolists, Corporate Farming, Big Pharma, and Amazon-like ubiquitous retail, both big box and online, will contribute anything transformational to resolve America’s stand-out inequality deficits. In a country freeze-tagged between “Black Lives Matter” and “Dying of Whiteness,” the United States appears incapable of healing its self-inflicted geography-is-destiny, racial and economic class-based inequalities.

With such rampant inequalities exploding in our “America First” faces, exponentially-expanding human marginalization is both the newest and oldest unrecycled “plug & play” after “swipe & send” waste byproduct, fodder for obscene financial margin-masters to manipulate and arbitrage the more than one-third of this nation’s inhabitants still “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” Watching this cycle begin to repeat itself in the emerging legal medical and recreational cannabis industry, New York State and City African American legislators rightfully and righteously pulled the brake. Across state lines and America’s warring regions, 2020 social warriors and their elected representatives are united in resolve that economic social justice will not take a back seat to the prevailing questions of “how,” “who” and “how much,” with “if,” “what,” “where” and “when” as givens.

America’s minority populations, both rural and urban, have savagely and disproportionately suffered from the United States’ “one size fits all” war on drugs, starting with being at the wrong end of the forever discriminating table on ownership culture. A prime example is America’s bipartisan proclivity to privatize prisons where mostly white owners commoditize mostly black and brown inmates (and now brown immigrant children along the country’s southern border, forcibly and purposefully separated by the United States Government from their families).   Policies accelerating mass incarceration recall the eighteenth-century French philosopher and social critic, Voltaire, reputed to have noted that building prisons means needing to find prisoners to fill them. Catch, but never release, especially in a country goosed by quarterly 10-Q performance reports and proxy statements to shareholders.

Clearly it’s time for community stakeholders to become shareholders if America is ever going to deploy its proverbial “free marketplace” to showcase how “persecution can transform to restitution.” Fortunately, there are a number of “virtuous cycle” solutions that if seized and applied in time can help to heal the country’s metastasizing societal injustices resulting in disappeared populations of color, compensation discrimination by gender, lower economic class opioid addiction directly connected to a missing-in-action future of aspirational work, and rising suicide rates especially among those 35 and younger who opt out when the price of failure is so cheap by design, easy to afford and downloadable from anywhere.

Proven solutions include both individual ownership with a voice and a vote, and community-based “citizens’ shares” through hybrid ownership structures such as worker cooperatives, union cooperatives and other emerging economic democracy models. Building on the principle that single class equity “is the right to vote,” municipal and state governments intending to apply economic justice principles to the emerging legal cannabis industry can reimagine public sector procurement preferences supporting start-up local ownership structures through clear and compelling local minority business set-asides similar to those awarded to military veterans, “those who have paid the price.” Other healing ecosystem solutions include tangible access to needed capital and workplace training both in ownership culture and in all aspects of legal cannabis opportunities, applications and standards.

Companies who qualify for, earn and retain state legal cannabis licenses should visibly set the standards and models for safety and training in the emerging (regional) medical cannabis industry, with a direct focus on creating permanent and part-time employment opportunities for local community members. These full-time jobs must include benefits and have the potential of helping members of each participating community build lasting careers that pay individual and family sustaining wages together with an equity share to ensure that local stakeholders remain shareholders in good times when the graphs are rising and in downcycle markets where resiliency counts for everything.

So far, the spin-off advantages of local worker and community owned legal cannabis industries have not yet been calculated but initial projections appear promising. Coupled with the goal of leading and advancing higher quality worker training, legal cannabis applications can diversify into agriculture, retail, waste remediation, R&D, product development and production sectors that will be part of this rapidly growing industry (e.g. seed banks, growing, processing, waste to energy, value-added products, dispensaries, supply chain logistics, security, telemedicine, pharmaceutical networks and physician referral best practices) within the overall healthcare marketplace that currently stands at over 6% of USA GNP and is rapidly growing.

Companies should commit at their cost with enlightened public sector partners to develop, test and field a national set of training standards for each employee role and category within their enterprises based on the understanding that these training protocols and certifications across all U.S. regulatory markets will contribute directly to rising wages, benefits and direct equity participation by workers. The idea is to “show, not tell” how the highest possible quality worker training, ownership, participation, diversity, inclusion and workplace democracy models will ensure a rising middle class with America’s legal cannabis industry as an enabler, and serve as an example of how virtuous cycle capitalism can off-set structurally-resistant inequalities of wealth, mobility and opportunity.

Benefits to structuring the emerging U.S. legal cannabis industry in favor of local stakeholders as shareholders hold rural as well as urban relevance for both liberal and conservative advocates. The DC-based Open Markets Institute notes Austin Frerick’s article for The American Conservative magazine “explaining how addressing concentrated corporate power throughout the country’s agriculture and food systems can help rural American communities. ‘Rural American can thrive once again,’ Frerick writes, ‘but only if we’re willing to challenge who holds power in the current system… Also in The American ConservativeGracy Olmstead’s wrote about the many harms of a concentrated seed market and drew repeatedly from Claire Kelloway’s Washington Monthly article earlier this year. Kelloway noted that farmers are not only ‘paying monopoly prices for a diminishing selection of seed strains produced by [a] handful of giant corporations, they also are paying monopoly prices for fertilizers and pesticides, often to the same corporations.”

As both industries “cover the same rural and urban ground,” legal cannabis – if virtuously structured through local stakeholder ownership formulas – can help to offset opioid addiction-induced ravages in under-served communities. The Washington Post reports that, “In the span of a few short years, fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 times more powerful than heroin, became the drug scourge of our time. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 67,000 people died of synthetic-opioid-related overdoses — exceeding the number of U.S. military personnel killed during the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. In 2017, fentanyl became the leading cause of overdose deaths in America for the first time.”

The most urgent macro rapid response to this kind of crisis must start with breaking the monopolistic choke-collars of Big Pharma that commoditize marginalized Americans as “human pill-pop nodes” to increase corporate profit margins.  The most critical micro response to eschew perpetual victimhood is to halt opioids’ addictive “slide to the bottom” palsy by injecting a new cultural workplace resiliency that comes equipped with an equity stake and a seat with agency at the decision-making table.

Opening America’s policy doors to widespread, deepened and broadened stakeholder ownership is both the political elephant and donkey looming large in the nation’s living room previewing the 2020 elections. Nobody believes the Flint, Michigan water crisis would have happened if local Flint stakeholders owned their municipal water utility. This is where it all comes together, insisting on equal local stakeholder ownership as the overriding centrifugal force to put more fully representative democracy and leveled playing fields that are no longer pre-rigged back into America’s moral, cultural, economic, technological, political and physical civic infrastructure commons. It’s not so much that “every billionaire is a policy failure” as “every underserved victim is the policy failure”.

We can begin this transformation now. “Purdue Pharma’s C.E.O. said that the company was considering bankruptcy protection as an option as it faces lawsuits over the role of its drug OxyContin in America’s opioid epidemic” (WaPo). Rather than more bankruptcy escapism for the corporatist-enabled class, let’s recycle and up-market boardroom and c-suite failures into shared ownership opportunities to equate stakeholders with shareholders. Starting with the emerging legal cannabis industry and the toxic human wasteland fall-out from America’s “Big Pharma” opioid crisis, this more credible, market-based approach to social and economic justice could become a driving catalyst to forming a more perfect union.

– Michael A. Peck is a co-founder and serves as executive director of 1worker1vote –