California voters will decide during this November’s election whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana with Proposition 64. Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 and in the past two decades, the industry around it has grown exponentially. California is one of the largest economies in the world and a prognosticator of social trends within the United States. In the column Will California Go Green?, we are speaking to experts and commentators on the likelihood of Proposition 64 passing and what it could potentially mean for the state and the country.
Jonathan Teeters is the the Director of Government Affairs at Tradiv, an online business-to-business marketplace for cannabis. It is his job to manage the company’s interactions with all levels of government, help develop strategy based on local policies and legislation, and respond to any changes in the law. He recently moved to Southern California as Tradiv hopes to capitalize on a potentially massive new market. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the game. Our business is in connecting people and helping them do business better and more efficiently,” says Teeter. “The LA marketplace, with the number of dispensaries and cultivators that we think are in that space, is about five times the size of our entire Colorado marketplace, so for us it’s a no brainer.”
What are you feelings on Proposition 64 as a piece of legislation?
I’d say it reflects a lot of the hard work that’s been put into trying to solve California’s cannabis challenges overall. I’m very involved with the regulatory process for medical cannabis in the state, and currently that’s the most active piece of legislation we have to work with. Going down the road with the medical regulatory process, we have learned a lot. I understand it can be a slow slog, but the ball is really moving and the public understands that this is necessary to keep California relevant. It’s necessary for the economics of the state at this point. The process is never really pretty, but I’m fairly satisfied with what’s detailed in there.
We worked very closely with a lot of the non-profit organizations and other industry organizations. A number of them fought very hard to get a few little caveats in there that will help level the playing field for some of the small growers, the small communities that have a long history of being present in this economy, black market or otherwise.
You said you feel like the public is on board. What did it take for there to be enough confidence that a recreational initiative could be passed in California?
I’m from Seattle. I work in the industry across the country, but I’m very intimately connected with the West Coast. I’d say California in general knows that it’s time to catch up. They used to be a leader socially and economically, and I would say the average person has seen what has not happened in other states as far as negative consequences and boogiemen theories. If you just look at the polls and see where the public is nationally on the issue, in California and on the west coast the numbers are higher [in support of legalization]. The policymakers are driven by that too. Some recognize it’s the right time to put this back in front of voters [a different proposition lost in 2010]. I’m fairly confident that with the right education and outreach, we can be successful.
What will that outreach and education look like?
I certainly can’t speak for the campaign by any means, I just want to be clear about that. Having run a lot of campaigns in the past, I know that they’ve raised six million dollars and spent 1.8 million. California an expensive market, but they’re clearly going to need to mobilize voters in this state, especially amongst the really noisy general election, That’s one of the things that remains a bit of a wild card. What’s the general election going to look like? That’s sort of a meta political discussion, but it will definitely influence things.
When you create a proposition and time it to be on a ballot, 18 to 24 months out, you are saying, “I want to attach it to a presidential election because we’re going to get a presidential bump and increase turnout.” In presidential years you have increased turnouts of diverse demographics that are usually not seen in midterm elections, so you’re counting on California’s diverse and young people to turn out.
We’ve had a lot of things happen. The presumed standard-bearer for the young people, Bernie Sanders, is now in a support role. The Clinton campaign is for sure firing up its California machine, it’s already rolling. Certainly we’ll do everything we can to increase the turnout of the folks who are gonna be key in this election, i.e. young people, people of color, Latinos and Hispanics. If they can do that, it’ll help, but then the Proposition 64 campaign has to make sure that they message to those same people that are being pushed to poll by the presidential elections and not leave them out thinking that their mission is only to reach a small piece [of the the voting population] that they didn’t reach in 2010. It’s a new demographic, it’s a new message landscape.
That’s what I’m going to be looking for as a political professional. Those are the signals that tell me they understand where the demographic is and what their voter looks like. It’s really important to get a profile of what the voter looks like and not assume that just because we’re going blue that everyone is going to vote for [legalization].
There are so many layers to this. There’s a huge Catholic population who are Hispanic and have other reasons to not support legalization. Folks on the cultivation side know that there are folks who are not happy with the language. That’s where clear communication really is critical. So far it seems like they’re doing a really good job.
This year California isn’t the only state to have a proposition on recreational legalization and a number of states are voting on medical legalization as well. Do you think in a few years we’ll get to a stage where the vote will go straight to recreational and medical together, so there’s no longer this two-step process?
The Magic 8-Ball says, “Outlook uncertain” on that one. Seeing how states have evolved over the past few years, I favor [a process] in which they go through a discussion of the medical realities and applications for medical cannabis in their state and to their people, before they turn it into something that is monetized and turned into a retail product. That’s partially because I think the culture of cannabis is so ingrained in the social and health aspect of the plant. To skip the steps of having the discussion about the benefits and aligning health and wellness with the plant, in favor of just sheer economics, is doable, but I think it’s better for our communities to have those discussions. And talking about cannabis on its health merits is one of the best ways to engage people and connect with them at some level, to move them towards a better understanding. It’s a healthy part of the process of developing a community state and an ecosystem where people understand what they’re doing and what they’re choosing to allow.
Within the existing cannabis industry, what’s the main aspect that you would like to see improved?
My background is both political and I have an MBA in sustainable business. I’ve watched this industry grow over the last two years and, in many cases, start ahead of the curve in terms of its understanding of its economic and social impact in the places where it’s developing. I would say the triple bottom line aspects of creating an industry on a blank canvas are significant. Triple bottom line is: people, planet, and profit. We have an opportunity to do this right, to create an industry that is a new agricultural industry, the formalization of one that’s been in the black, to move people out of the shadows and into being the economic resources in their communities. And in many cases, like in California for example, an opportunity to pattern a whole new way of bringing agriculture and development to communities that are definitely needing another way to do things.
But within that, we can’t lose sight of all the responsibilities we have to create right now. Because going back and trying to fix something once there’s interests, families, businesses, and taxes all stacking up, it becomes a lot more difficult. The people I know that are leading the industry are well aware of the responsibility to do this right, which means you take your time to do it right, you don’t rush. Making sure we’re doing things that aren’t going to impact the planet in the long run and allowing this industry to thrive for coming generations and growth, while keeping in mind that as we vertically integrate and bring in venture capital and get mega brands established, that we remember that this is still coming from the roots of small farmers. These are individuals who have spent a lot of time shepherding this industry to where it is now and we cannot forget them in the process.
Also, we have to recognize there’s a lot of people whose lives have been impacted just to get this industry here. They’re in jail, in prison, they died for the cause. And you can’t just forget them and say, “Thanks,” and go capitalize on their hardships. They have to be part of this process. We’ll always have some checks and balances to keep this industry the way it is now, which is fairly authentic.
How likely do you think that it’s gonna pass?
I would say, if everything works out and does what it should be able to do, the timing is right for this to happen. But I don’t think it’s gonna be a walk-off home run. There’s a lot of social interests involved. The law enforcement side and others will be working to make sure this doesn’t pass or pass as it’s written. But again the benefits on the other side of this are that after it passes, there will be the opportunity for people to come to the table and help shape what it eventually looks like. That’s yet to be communicated and this really is just another step in the process of bringing the sixth largest economy in the world up to date with where the United States is heading.
There’s still a lot of the initiative that is left unaddressed, but I think that’s where we take a positive outlook and say that there’s still gonna be plenty of time to fill out all these details. People should not think that this is by any means a done deal. Sometimes people are saying, “This is just gonna corporatize everything.” The idea is that it is making real businesses out for people and giving them an opportunity to be real players in the economy. But we have a lot of opportunity as engaged citizens and have a local involvement, which is mandated. We’re all part of the process. We’re really encouraged by the outlook so far.