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OneRouge Community Check-In - Week 108

The topic will be a continuation of our ‘Cannabis Industry in Louisiana’ with a focus on economic impact of the growing, processing and retail distribution of cannabis and hemp as well as updates on policy at the Capitol with featured speakers:

Kevin Caldwell (Southeast Legislative Manager, Marijuana Policy Project)

Royal Hill (Owner, Black Farmers Hemp)

Leah Simon (Owner/Processor, Pot Townsend)

Enlight, Unite, & Ignite!

Cannabis Industry in Louisiana


HB 298 Passed the Louisiana legislature and we can end slavery in November 2022!


Royal Hill (Owner, Black Farmers Hemp)

We are located in Lafayette and grow industrial hemp. We’ve had 6 harvests now. We look at the advent of the agricultural commodity of industrial hemp. We have a test plot in place with the limited resource farmer there who is converting 2 acres of his farm to create a test plot in St. Tammany. We’re looking to see what can sustain the Louisiana humidity and storms. It’s the 2018 farm bills we’re taking advantage of to grow this. We have to change our mindsets as it relates to how we do business as it relates to building materials, clothing and the food we eat.

John Ford, co-owner of Black Farmers Hemp - This past session was not very friendly to the industrial hemp industry and CBD that are allowing this industry to have some sort of legs. There's be a lot of attacks on the industry by certain groups in the state that are making it hard for us to scale our businesses. We are creating a $400 million industry in Louisiana. Local entrepreneurs are being intentionally shut out of the medical marijuana industry as well as the dispensary side of the industry. There are 9 dispensaries in the state and the patient load is increasing. Supply and demand continues to increase and only a few people controlling the supply then you have the high price point. I’m hoping that we can make it a lot more affordable for people who are looking to access this medicine.

Leah Simon (Owner/Processor, Pot Townsend)

I have been in the marijuana business for about 9 years in the state of Washington. We left Louisiana to go outside and learn marijuana. I have a masters degree in marijuana. I had to go away to learn everything I learned to come back. We formed a company there called Pot Townsend in upstate Washington and we would go to a farmer and buy cannabis. We bought 700 pounds in the first year. We have a processor license. We sold $50,000 joins and all kinds of products. We had a plant, Blue Dream, and that ended up being more of a CBD, and that was the introduction we had to CBD. We couldn’t sell it in Washington at the time. I got my introduction there through that product. We started to sell topicals and now we make an edible. My husband is Dave Brown, a well known marijuana activist. We came here to try and be one of the growers for Louisiana but those were awarded to other companies. The ones picked are now owned by non Louisiana companies. We have one of the 9 dispensaries in Louisiana. We think the program is garbage. We are hoping to change the program. We are not embarrassed to say it. We are not serving patients the way we should. We’re also going to Mississippi. We bought three buildings there and we’re going to make the edibles we make in California. Louisiana this week is going to have joins this week. We’re going to do the same thing in Mississippi. We’re trying to do a grow. We believe marijuana should be grown under the sun, but Louisiana and Mississippi won’t allow that. We are fighting for that.

Kevin Caldwell (Southeast Legislative Manager, Marijuana Policy Project)

We’ve had an incredibly active session this year. We had over 20 bills put in. 14 bills made it to the senate floor. We had the good the bad the ugly. There are a few bills that would have regressed and would have criminalized for people under 18. Luckily we had bipartisan support to kill that. There’s another that would have made it illegal to vape or consume cannabis in a moving vehicle. We worked ith the author to make it a secondary offense. Consuming cannabis is not a crime, it’s possessing it that’s the crime. We’ve never supporting consuming it in a moving vehicle, but we don’t want it to be an excuse for profiling. On the medical side we have a slew of bills. One restructures the medical bill. We would have liked to see more cultivator. We have two bills on reciprocity. So many of our Louisiana residents had to go to other states. We have a lot of hopes. We’re really glad to see a lot of bipartisan support on these bills. On the criminal side there is a bill that bans the search of a home based on the smell of marijuana. We have over 43,000 patients in the medical program. We have people consuming hemp.

Black Farmers Hemp - might be the only black farmers advocating for changes. Help me understand what it means and how it works for black farmers to get into this industry.

Not only do we want black farmers, it’s important for all farmers to have a processing facility for their end products. Without that there’s no reason to grow it. We submitted an application for capital outlay for funding to create a processing facility to get their product to commerce.

Royal Hill - We advocate for black and brown and poor people who are still incarcerated and paying the price. We’ve been shut out of very legal products like sugar cane, we’re not at the table in growing rice or crawfish, so why not take a shot at industrial hemp from that biomass that we can collect.

Can you speak on behalf of women

Leah Simons - There's a 1% participation from the Black community in the marijuana industry. We don’t see that inequality for women. There are no jobs in Louisiana. If there are only 2 growers, that’s the only jobs. Then you have the dispensaries, and those are not many jobs and they are limited. There was a black marijuana jobs expo in New Orleans last year and I was wondering where they were getting these jobs. They don’t want any competition. They don’t want to let anyone else in. More growers mean more employment and you can spread it across the state. Of the 9 dispensaries there’s only one woman. A lot of the front desk receptionists are women, but the owners are not. I don’t feel like there’s a barrier in the industry because it’s very open to women.

Can you speak on where the winds of change are to open this up to the private industry?

Kevin Caldwell - I think most of the speakers have hit on this. It’s going to be very challenging over the next couple years to open the medical program to competition. At the same time what we have seen in the last 10 years is more bipartisanship. I think we really need to pivot to what adult use is going to look like. There’s a more free market approach in Mississippi. The most diverse cannabis industry in America is in Oklahoma because there’s a lower barrier to entry. We saw on the senate floor yesterday a lot of aversion to the free market in the medical program. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on the Mississippi industry and if we see what we see in Oklahoma, then that might be the most effective strategy. Diversity and inclusion is an important part of our organization. We are going to see legal cannabis in the next couple years in Louisiana but we have to be strategic.

What is adult use and how is that different from medical use? How do you get medical use if you want/need it? What is the criteria?

Kevin Caldwell - Adult use is what we say for legalization. With medical you have to be certified by a physician. We have expanded the qualifying conditions. Last year they tried to apply taxes to patients. If you want to tax cannabis, bring on legalization. Our patients are paying the highest in the country. The tax is cruel to add more to those patients. Google how do I get my medical marijuana recommendation in Louisiana.

Now they let you use telemedicine, so you can do it from your house and get your recommendation and get cannabis in the same day.

Is your dispensary a true dispensaries with a pharmacist?

Leah - In Louisiana, on site a pharmacist has to be onsite. There are 13 states not in it yet. None of the other states require a pharmacist. You get your recommendation and any doctor in Louisiana can write you a recommendation. You can decide what you want at the counter. Flower is cheaper. The business started out with tinctures and it was like $800 for that. Now you can get an 8th and it’s $21, so it’s much more affordable. The state does have a limit on the amount you can consume. There’s a limit on the amount per month that you can consume.

Can you explain why doctors only recommend it?

Kevin - The courts have decided because of the fiesta amendment doctors have the right to recommend cannabis to a patient and that happened back in the 90s. Since cannabis is a schedule 1, which means there’s no redeeming qualities, the only way in which doctors cannot lose their license is to recommend it. It’s semantics.

Where are the sheriff’s associations on this?

Kevin - We’ve seen a shift in a few years. They’re not actively opposing it. I do think we will see a spirited discussion when it comes to legalization. Where is the revenue of marijuana going to go. Everyone is shuffling to see who is the beneficiary for legal cannabis in Louisiana.

We will be working on a tax bill off session. I would like to see the revenues from legal cannabis to getting our court systems away from a fine and fee based way of funding the courts. In the end it will be up to the legislature to pick what tax structure they want.

What are you growing now?

We’re growing both textile and for flower. Our facility is leaning toward training and education into the industry as part of the labor force. We’re trying to start up the seed to sale program to give that individual of the plant and the history and to go into the workplace.

Royal - what most people don’t understand is the verticality of the industry. It’s about if you’re going to grow inside you’re going to need electricians, you’re going to need medium, you’re going to need pots, you’re going to need nutrition. You’re going to need all of these things to make it grow. They don’t see the entire industry. They just look at one caveat of what this plant does of smoking and getting high. There are so many things that can come from this.

What sort of opportunities are there for formerly incarcerated people?

Leah Simons- you cant’ have a felony on your record. It’s a check the box issue. That’s why all of these possession crimes need to be misdemeanors. With less felonies there can be more people open to the jobs.

Kevin Caldwell - HB553 would get rid of the background check.

Do any of the presenters want to comment on Gary Chambers campaign will help or hurt?

Kevin Caldwell - John Kennedy and the other democratic candidate, I don’t think they would want to talk about cannabis, but MR. Chambers has made it to where we have to talk about it. Kudos to him.

Royal - I think it’s a positive regarding voter engagement. He’s bringing people in who wouldn’t ordinarily vote.

Leah Simons - He broke the mold. In this next presidential election cannabis is going to be one of the top issues. Cannabis is going to be a major topic. If this administration is going to move along, they are going to have to legalize it or make a major step. It’s the largest growing industry in the United STates. It has to be dealt with. Fun fact: in 2021 cannabis sales surpassed energy drinks, milk, and OJ

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