Cannabis lead­ers dis­cuss in­dus­try fu­ture at sem­i­nar in San Jose

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - By Emily DeRuy ederuy@ba­yare­anews­

Though mar­i­juana is now le­gal in Cal­i­for­nia, it isn’t al­ways easy to buy and it can be es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult for en­trepreneurs who are forced to nav­i­gate a con­vo­luted bureau­cracy to get into the in­dus­try.

At a cannabis sem­i­nar Wed­nes­day evening at San Jose City Hall, busi­ness lead­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from around the state gath­ered to dis­cuss the road­blocks the le­gal mar­i­juana in­dus­try faces and, more im­por­tantly, where it’s headed.

La­mar Thorpe and Mon­ica Wilson, who sit on the An­ti­och City Coun­cil, for ex­am­ple, pointed out the du­el­ing forces in their city over the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana.

Though around two-thirds of the city’s res­i­dents sup­ported le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana when it hit the bal­lot last year, sev­eral mem­bers of the coun­cil have re­sisted al­low­ing busi­nesses to op­er­ate within the city. A lo­cal church group has been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal in its op­po­si­tion and even lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cials have cited con­cerns about crime with lit­tle re­cent data, Thorpe said.

“Your lo­cal Ap­ple­bee’s cre­ates more crime than cannabis,” Thorpe said, not­ing that the restau­rant serves al­co­hol.

Wilson ac­knowl­edged she orig­i­nally op­posed al­low­ing mar­i­juana to be sold in the city, but said she felt dif­fer­ently af­ter learn­ing more about the in­dus­try.

“I re­ally had to open my mind,” Wilson said.

Sean Kali-rai, the founder and pres­i­dent of the Sil­i­con Val­ley Cannabis Al­liance hopes more lo­cal of­fi­cials will make that same leap. And if they’re not, he’s pre­par­ing to push them to­ward ac­cep­tance.

“We’re re­ally go­ing to start to try to push the in­dus­try,” he said.

The for­mer San Jose of­fi­cial said he’s meet­ing with for­mer Obama or­ga­nizer Peggy Moore and work­ing on a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee.

“We will help them fig­ure out how to vote,” Kali-rai said, is­su­ing what seemed to be a barely veiled threat to city of­fi­cials to get on board or pre­pare to face a back­lash.

For now, though, de­spite what res--

idents may want, many cities don’t have li­cens­ing sys­tems in place to al­low mar­i­juana com­pa­nies to op­er­ate legally. So many peo­ple are ei­ther driv­ing long dis­tances to buy cannabis or opt­ing to pur­chase it il­le­gally nearby. It also leaves mar­i­juana com­pa­nies scram­bling to fig­ure out the tan­gled web of dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tions and or­di­nances, with few op­tions for where to op­er­ate.

David Hua is the CEO of Meadow, a Y Com­bi­na­tor­backed soft­ware startup that aims to con­nect med­i­cal cannabis pa­tients with dis­pen­saries. But, he said, “It’s been a challenge to be a tech provider in this space.”

Busi­nesses find them­selves play­ing “ar­bi­trage,” Hua con­tin­ued, urg­ing for in­creased sim­plic­ity across the state.

But reach­ing that point means that places like An­ti­och, which is still in the be­gin­ning stages of fig­ur­ing out whether and how to al­low le­gal sales, have to play catch up with places like San Jose and Sacra­mento, which both have li­censed dis­pen­saries and or­di­nances in place to reg­u­late them.

And it means pay­ing work­ers fair wages and ben­e­fits.

“We’re com­pet­ing with In- N- Out Burger,” said Kali- rai, not­ing that the beloved chain pays work­ers more than $16 an hour in many places and pre­dict­ing that the in­dus­try will have to ne­go­ti­ate la­bor peace agree­ments with unions in the fu­ture.

“We’re a brand new in­dus­try,” Kali-rai said. “We can’t af­ford to make en­e­mies.”

Fiona Ma, a mem­ber of the state’s Board of Equal­iza­tion and a can­di­date for state trea­surer, thinks the state can help by cre­at­ing banks to serve canna- bis busi­nesses, which right now are forced to pay taxes and fees us­ing cash.

Ma, who mod­er­ated a panel at the sem­i­nar, said she sees cannabis as the “largest un­der­ground eco­nomic driver” in the state.

But, she added, so many il­le­gal com­pa­nies strug­gle to tran­si­tion to op­er­at­ing legally be­cause they can be pe­nal­ize, for ex­am­ple, fail­ing to pay taxes in pre­vi­ous years.

“We re­ally need to have an amnesty pro­gram, I think,” Ma said.

And Frank Louie, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the state’s Asian- Pa­cific Cham­ber of Com­merce, thinks that when cities do de­cide to al­low cannabis sales, they need to do a bet­ter job of reach­ing out to un­der­rep­re­sented mi­nori­ties.

“Di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion are a challenge,” he said. “I re­ally do think it’s about ed­u­ca­tion.”

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