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Hochul wants to crack down, Singapore executes over a kilo of pot, and more

We're back! Plus, Delaware legalizes it, Ben starts a nonprofit, and Cookies in turmoil

Happy Thursday everybody,

We’re finally back to our regularly scheduled programming. Thank you all for bearing with me as I took some time off to deal with my friend Evan Gershkovich’s horrific situation.

I wish I had better news to report: It looks like we’re going to be in this fight for the long haul. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, to use a terrible metaphor.

Evan’s trial is set for May 29, and we don’t expect the negotiation process to begin in earnest until then. We’re trying to make his life as comfortable as possible in the meantime.

I’m trying my best to get back to normal — so please forgive me if I owe you an email or I canceled a meeting or anything else, I will get to it. It’s been a difficult few weeks but I’m looking forward to distracting myself with writing and schoolwork (I just kicked my MBA program off last week!)

If you want to stay up-to-date on Evan, you can do so here. I’d also encourage you all to donate to the GoFundMe campaign we’ve set up to help his family deal with expenses during this trying time, or write him a letter. We’ve been assured he’s getting them, and he’d love to hear from you.

With that all out of the way, I’m getting back to my usual whirlwind reporting. All that is to say, I’m ready for your tips — you know where to find me.

On that front, I’ll be moderating a panel at MJ Unpacked in New York on cannabis brands with Sam Arellano, Jocelyn Tse, and TJ Stouder. You can find more info here, and if you’ll be at the show, reach out and say hi.

Sponsored: Today’s Cultivated is brought to you by the Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference.

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💡What’s the big deal?

A quick note: I wish I didn’t have to report this news in this section. It’s a reminder of how far we still have to go, and how despite this newsletter’s focus on cannabis as an industry — human rights is at the core of legalization and we should never, ever forget that.

What happened: Singapore executed 46-year-old Tangaraju Suppiah for attempting to traffic about a kilogram of cannabis, CNN reports.

Of note: Suppiah didn’t possess any cannabis at the time of his arrest. He was executed on charges of a conspiracy to traffic.

Why it matters: Singapore’s decision to follow through with the execution, despite widespread condemnation from international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union, as well as many human rights groups, is a stark warning that while cannabis is quite normalized, if not yet legal here in the US, it carries excessive punishment in other countries.

Cannabis is also legal in nearby Thailand. You can go to cafes in bustling Bangkok and order THC-infused beverages. Cannabis isn’t legal in Cambodia, but anyone who’s traveled there knows that “happy pizzas” are sold in any backpacker-friendly hostel.

🌿 Jer’s take

Look, countries are free to choose their own laws around cannabis and other drugs. That’s fine, and I won’t tell them otherwise. Cultural attitudes differ, and though much evidence points to the positive impacts cannabis legalization for public health and the economy, stigmas persist.

But Singapore’s draconian drug laws are clearly a step too far. Suppiah was hanged for attempting to traffic a kilogram of pot. Many of you reading this newsletter work in cultivation facilities with far more pot every single day. That’s a stark reminder.

As a supporter of human rights, I’d call on the UN and the US to penalize Singapore for this transgression. I don’t want individual Singaporeans to be impacted, but targeted sanctions can go a long way in ostracizing a country that is striving to be part of the global order of advanced economies.

Executing people for pot is barbaric, cruel, and backward. 

If Singapore will not change this practice, they shouldn’t be allowed a seat at the table — and countries that purport to be democratic world leaders should treat Singapore as such. Clearly, Singapore’s laws violate international norms.

Money talks, especially in Singapore. Cut the money off, force them to change their laws, only then we can re-engage. Until then, I won’t spend my tourist dollars there, and I’d encourage all of you to do the same.

Suffice to say the US is not perfect. We do execute our citizens, though only in extreme circumstances. I don’t agree with it, but I live here and work here. In the US, at least, there is due process as flawed as that process and the genesis of those laws may be.

It doesn’t mean I’m putting our government and judicial system’s behavior on a pedestal. But collectively, large economies like the US and the European Union have the power to encourage others to change their practices, and they should do so with strict sanctions.

Does this resonate with you? Share it widely so we can help change Singapore’s archaic cannabis laws.

🗽 Spotlight on New York

What happened: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to crack down on illicit cannabis sellers — and she wants to use the weeks-delayed budget to do so, The Gothamist’s Caroline Lewis reports.

Hochul proposed legislation last month that would ramp up fines on illicit sellers, up to $10,000 per day and up to $200,000 per day if illicit product was found in a store’s inventory.

But that bill hasn’t yet passed and lawmakers are predictably squabbling over the details.

Why it matters: The consequence of lax enforcement and the delayed rollout of legal stores are the illicit cannabis sellers that have proliferated across New York with impunity.

The legal market, from small-scale cannabis farmers and well-capitalized publicly-traded firms, say the illicit sellers are starving them out.

Meanwhile, there is little political will to crackdown on illicit cannabis sellers — a process that would amount to prohibition 2.0, as I’ve written before.

🌿 Jer’s take

Lawmakers are walking a tightrope.

Both the NYPD and the Office of Cannabis Management have little teeth to actually enforce the rules they’ve laid out for the budding industry. And while many illicit sellers have operated successfully in New York’s market for a long time, others are looking to make a quick buck — they don’t want to deal with the expense and the red tape of compliance.

A few fines aren’t enough of a deterrent.

It’s crucial that New York develop a market structure that allows everyone to flourish. Part of that, as I’ve written, is removing some red tape to get more stores open quicker. As icky as that may be to some, that does mean working with the multi-state operators that are already selling safe, tested products in New York’s medical market.

And it also means opening up more pathways for illicit sellers to go legal quickly and cheaply. It means cutting some of the red tape, even if that may undermine some of the lofty, if crucial, goals of New York’s legalization bill.

Righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs on minority communities in New York is a monumental task.

The state can start by giving more people an opportunity to participate in this industry, legally, than they have so far.

Investors complain to me that they can’t make money in New York. I’m not sympathetic to them individually, that’s on them, but I am sympathetic to the overarching goal of using cannabis as a vehicle for economic growth as well as a tool of social justice.

The two parts need to function as a whole, not discretely. They are not separate.

Economic growth and social justice can go hand-in-hand, if wielded correctly. It’s going to take people smarter than I am to figure it out.

One such bill is a step in the right direction. Two lawmakers filed a bill last week that would allow cannabis farmers to sell directly to consumers until September 30. While the bill hasn’t yet passed, if it does — it would go a long way toward reducing the supply glut of cannabis in New York.

The other predictable outcome if the bill doesn’t pass? That supply glut gets rerouted to the illicit market, making products cheaper, and making it even harder to enforce.

🧑‍⚖️ Legal matters

What happened: Investors of the popular cannabis brand, Cookies, are suing the company. The suit alleges that the company’s leaders, including founder, CEO, and erstwhile rapper Berner, used “threats, violence and financial kickbacks” to enrich themselves, reports GMR’s John Schroyer.

I’d encourage you to read John’s full story for more on the suit.

Why it matters: Cookies is one of the few cannabis brands that have actually managed to become “brands.” People wear Cookies swag, and there’s evidence that consumers will actually pay a premium to buy their products — which are differentiated mostly by packaging, as lots of brands now sell high quality bud.

Cookies also launched a flagship store in New York City, right at Herald Square, in November.

But the suit put Berner’s leadership at risk, and questions the company’s finances.

Berner’s response: “When I got sick, I think that a group of predatory investors saw a good opportunity to make a move on me and the leadership over at Cookies.”

Other stuff happens:

  • US long jumper Tara Davis-Woodhall was stripped of her national title and received a one-month suspension for a positive cannabis test. Cannabis remains on WADA’s prohibited substance list.

    • As if we didn’t just go through this with Sha’Carri Richardson, cannabis clearly isn’t a performance enhancer for track-and-field. It might actually be a healthy way to recover.

    • Adding insult to injury, the NBA recently lifted its ban on cannabis use.

📜 Policy moves

  • Delaware finally legalized cannabis, without Gov. John Carney’s signature. Carney is a rare Democratic governor to not support cannabis legalization.

    • Delawareans (?) were able to legally possess and consume cannabis officially on Sunday. It’ll be about 16 months before the consumer industry opens in earnest.

  • Minnesota’s House passed a bill legalizing cannabis and creating an agency to oversee regulation of a consumer industry. The bill will now move to the Senate.

    • Because of a quirk in Minnesota’s laws, derivative products like edibles and beverages containing low doses of THC are already allowed to be sold in the state.

😎 One cool thing

What happened: Ben Cohen, one half of ice cream kingpin duo Ben and Jerry, launched Ben’s Best Blnz, a nonprofit cannabis brand.

Why it matters: While stoners since time immemorial have always loved Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (half baked anyone?), the founders have long-supported progressive causes like cannabis legalization, owing to their Vermont heritage.

Eighty-percent of the profits will go to Black cannabis entrepreneurs, and the other 20% will be split between the Last Prisoner Project and the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, the AP reports.

📚 What I’m reading

  • Your favorite economics podcast, Odd Lots, has a three part series out called Pot Lots! It’s a fantastic overview of the industry, the challenges in New York, and where we go from here. I told Joe I’d give him some feedback, which I still owe to him, but in the meantime you should all listen to it and let me know what you think so I can sound smart when I talk to him next.

  • Cannabis probably doesn’t make you more creative, scientists say. It just makes you a bit more open and relaxed, The Washington Post reports.

  • Hell Gate says weed is cool again. I say it never left. Read their fun story about New York’s illicit market here.

  • Evan Mills, a resource and energy analyst, has a new piece in Slate discussing the environmental toll of indoor cannabis cultivation facilities, and points the way toward a greener future.

  • Dr. Peter Grinspoon has a new book out, called Seeing Through the Smoke. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

    • There are a lot of so-called “thought leaders” on both sides of the legalization question who spew fact-free drivel. Peter isn’t one of them. He’s comprehensive, evidence-based, and doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid.