Daniel Montero, Founder, GW Smokebreak TV
What does equality in the Cannabis industry mean to you?
I honestly don’t hear the term equality used in this industry. To me, equality in the Cannabis industry is a difficult concept to grasp, as we’re talking about a profit incentivized capitalist environment where MSOs are rewarded for influencing the obliteration of small business within the Cannabis industry. There is nothing equal about this industry, nor in the world of fast-paced American business. If we accept the status quo of big bank takes little bank – though in all reality it makes little difference if we agree with this concept or not – because at the business table, the outcome will always be the same as aforementioned.
So from a legacy operator perspective, a means to achieve equality besides delving into the world of equity, is to recognize the vast cultural wealth and cultural sovereignty that exists within the legacy community – and to capitalize on that very asset that does not exist within the corporate structure, whose only motivation is monopoly and money. A broader response is that equality in the Cannabis industry is to understand that the plant is the equalizer. Marijuana culture is in fact about inclusivity and equality. I’ll never forget the words of Pam Lane Sohum of Royal Farms when she said, “In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was all about sitting in a circle, de-seeding your bud, rolling a joint, and passing it around.” There’s something about that imagery that clearly defines equality as it pertains to authentic California Cannabis culture. Our industry can become a true pillar for social change and for the values we hold dear to transmute via our products, branding, and messaging. This is the power of the plant, the almighty equalizer.
What needs to change about the Cannabis industry as it relates to equality/equity?
Equality in terms of Cannabis culture will happen as the plant continues to show her adaptability and dominance as an ancient, intelligent force of nature. In terms of equity, the very nature of the industry is hellbent against it. One must only look at the historical precedence of high taxation to understand the damaging effects. Particularly, if you google ‘gross receipts tax’ you will begin to understand the draconian nature of this tax, which in the California Cannabis industry, is the very first tax you are hit with as an operator in a jurisdiction like San Jose, where the gross tax is 10%. In Oakland, it is 5% gross receipts tax. From here there exists one oppressive tax after another, culminating into the tax crescendo of the infamous federal tax. IRS Tax Code 280E does not allow for a majority of otherwise normal businesses expense write-offs, so at the end of the day, tax liability does a great job of ruining the willpower of small business owners to continue sacrificing everything to stay afloat.
The path to equity and equality in these terms would mean being equal to other industries in California, who are not nearly as overtaxed and over-regulated as the Cannabis industry. In Long Beach as an example, 10 large barrels of oil are taxed less than one eighth of Cannabis purchased at a local retailer. Now how the fuck does that makes sense? I think this does a great job of illustrating the deliberate, sneaky imbalance woven into Prop 64 that is emptying the pockets of hard-working consumers and of our beloved farmers – providing a historical silver lining into the fat pockets of the California political power structure and everyone they made backroom deals with before signing Prop 64 into law.
It’s of such an aggressive nature that even characters like Steve DeAngelo got caught up in the feeding frenzy, and holding hands with Harborside, advocated heavily to kill the one-acre canopy cap that was promised to allow smaller farms time to become established and scale – before corporate Cannabis came in with unlimited capital. Harborside has since then removed Steve and his brother from the corporation altogether. It never pays to play the game with ego and greed.
In the end, the plant and the people will win. It has always been this way and it will continue to be. My prediction, and we’re already seeing it, is that corporate Cannabis will bend to the will of equality and equity – not the other way around.
What is the Cannabis industry getting right in terms of equality and equity?
The Cannabis industry is doing a great job, by a limited number of brands, of truly promoting an equal, inclusive branding message and vibe – which is in fact what Cannabis culture is here in California. In terms of equity, we are seeing more and more genuine responses versus wolves in sheeps’ clothing that champion equity, on both sides of the game. Yet when it comes to their actions, we can easily observe a pattern that directly contradicts the spirit of equity. One of the genuine responses to this problem and an example of what the industry is getting right is how equity operators themselves are reaching out to legacy farmers in the Emerald Triangle – with the aim of establishing exclusive, independent, investor-free supply chains from Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity, and eventually the Bay Area. BALCA, the Bay Area Latino Cannabis Alliance, is a driving force behind exploring allies among the supply chain, as well as the daunting yet necessary task of tackling oppressive taxes.
Can you give us an example of something equitable you’ve seen happen in the Cannabis space?
Equitable exchanges occur every day within the Cannabis space when it’s an exchange based on friendship and the desire to see one another succeed. What we are discovering is that the larger, better-monetized players are saying they want to help equity biz succeed, and publicly yell from the hilltops this message. Yet when it comes time to talk the details of the business play they have in mind, we discover that every time the slick talker wants 10% equity of the business, or another exorbitant attempt to exert leverage on a budding entrepreneur. This ultimately results in a leverage founded on mal intent and flexed over time to take as much as possible, even if it means financial destruction, and move on to the next victim. This hypocrisy is a way of life for big business. We are seeing the evolution of the spirit of equity, and it will come from within the equity movement itself, as we learn to leverage ourselves with good intention – instead of being railroaded over time.
What challenges are facing the Cannabis industry in terms of equality and equity?
Even though there are a myriad of obstacles and challenges in terms of equity, and the idea of equality in the Cannabis industry, let us never forget that the plant always wins. She literally has been here since the beginning of mankind, guiding us, providing for us with nutrition, spirituality, healing, connection, etc. To help us have the very experiences that define the human experience. Now by and large, the biggest threat to the Cannabis industry altogether is corporate greed and the traditional American business mindset. There is only one Costco in town – they don’t have competitors. This is the endgame here in California. There is only one Marlboro, one Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, etc. But these weasels have never tangoed with the plant – they are only beginning to. There are entire communities of dedicated ganja warriors that are on their way to winning the hearts and the minds of the people, before the dishonest branding and advertising of corporate outfits like Flow Kana do. These efforts will culminate into the identity of California craft Cannabis and will be the driving force that defines what tourists worldwide have been dreaming of: the California Cannabis experience.