How should we react if a prohibitionist wins a marijuana license?
The Haymaker is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis policy and culture.
The news last week that a lifelong prohibitionist Tom Price won the cannabis license lottery puzzled me philosophically.
Price is a Republican from Georgia who briefly served as Donald Trump’s first secretary of health. It only lasted seven months before being washed out in a scandal. Price was the guy who wasted over $ 1 million in tax dollars hopping private jets and military transports instead of booking Jet Blue like the rest of us.
Before his turn to the Trump carousel, Price served in Congress from the Georgia 6th district, which includes the northern suburbs of Atlanta.
During his 12 years on Capitol Hill, Price did nothing to help legalize cannabis.
Tom Price has voted six times to reject the critical budget change to protect medical marijuana patients.
As pointed out by Marijuana Moment’s Kyle Jaeger, Price has voted six times to reject the Congressional budget change to protect patients in medical marijuana states. He resisted efforts to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients on three occasions.
As Trump’s Secretary of State for Health and Human Services, the country’s largest public health agency, Price ignored the struggle of the millions of medical marijuana patients in the United States.
But when he left office – and Georgia filed applications for a handful of lucrative medical marijuana licenses – Tom Price changed his mind. Or maybe it was a change of wallet. The career prohibitionist joined the board of directors of Botanical Sciences LLC, a company new to the cannabis industry founded last year by Robin Fowler, who runs a chain of pain clinics in Georgia, with some very mixed Yelp reviews.
What do you know? We have a winner
After Price jumped on board, Botanical happened to win one of six coveted MMJ licenses, beating 63 other applicants, including the well-established national brand Curaleaf. Botanical’s unexpected win raised some eyebrows – and caught the attention of Curaleaf attorneys, who are now contesting the licensing, as well as more than a dozen other unsuccessful applicants.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s Access to Medical Cannabis Commission denied Allen Peaks company’s MMJ application in the same licensing dispute.
Peake is the former state member who risked his political career, personal reputation and freedom to pass Georgia’s first medical legalization laws. While Tom Price enjoyed the benefits of high office and was deaf to the plight of medical marijuana patients, Allen Peake personally delivered CBD oil to desperate parents whose children were plagued by seizures. Leafly reported early and often about Peake’s brave work.
In the end, Tom Price got a cannabis license. Not to Allen Peake.
The struggle for legalization in Georgia
A karmic belly blow
Does that stink of injustice and injustice? Necessarily. This makes my stomach turn.
At the same time, I’m wrestling with the long-term ethics and strategy involved here.
Today, Tom Price’s cannabis license feels like a karmic stomach blow. But in the long game of damage control and legalization of cannabis, it can ultimately pay off for millions of Americans.
Open minds, win allies, change voices: this is the grueling everyday life of the legalization movement. Turning Tom Price from a prohibitionist into a proponent of medical marijuana is what drug reformers are fighting for, as much as it hurts right now.
Cannabis saw a similar moment three years ago when John Boehner, former Republican House Speaker and longtime prohibitionist, joined the board of Acreage Holdings. Say what you want about Boehner’s cannabis voting record so far – and it was bad – his entry into the cannabis industry was a turning point in the history of legalization. Boehner’s move has turned every Republican in America upside down. He forced his former colleagues to think twice about legalization. Was he an opportunist? Secure. But it also opened the mind.
One of those heads could have belonged to Tom Price.
Meet Acreage Holdings, the new cannabis crush from John Boehner
Something else is needed
I’m not here to tell you rich whites should get cannabis licenses for Republican prohibitionists to be comfortable with legalization.
In this mixture of feelings about Tom Price there is a longing for something of Price himself: atonement.
Price’s license is a reminder that the struggle for equity in the cannabis industry must continue with doubled force. We fight for complete justice and fairness in dealing with opportunities, even if we know that we will be neglected. We welcome new allies, even as our eyes are opened to their past sins and mistakes – for these new allies can help us correct these mistakes and repair this damage.
But in this mixture of queasy feelings towards Tom Price, there is an urgent demand for something from Price himself. That something is atonement.
If a former prohibitionist – especially one who has actively supported prohibition, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration – accepts legalization, that hug should include public recognition that the harms of the past were just that. Damage. This is a bipartisan question. Whether Tom Price or Joe Biden, you have to say: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. And I’ll work to heal the damage I’ve caused. “
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Just say ‘I was wrong’
Millions of Americans are about to change their minds about cannabis and our cruel, racist criminalization of the plant. You should be able to take a more enlightened approach without being embarrassed or shunned. At the same time, it is not unreasonable to ask for atonement.
I’ve been through a version of this myself. I spent years writing a book about my own conversion to the righteous cause of legalization. I have spoken openly about my own past acceptance of stereotypes and stigmatization. (Subscribe to Leafly’s weekly podcast, The Roll-up, to hear for yourself.) For decades, I’ve been wrong about marijuana. I perpetuated the harm of the war on drugs, including racism and mass incarceration. My own enlightenment has not washed away my past actions. But I acknowledge them and work to make things better.
Tom Price doesn’t have to write an entire book about his change of heart about marijuana. But we need to hear from him. It is time, Tom, to speak honestly and openly about your position to date and the process that led you to join the Botanical Sciences board of directors.
It’s the least you can do. And it has to be done.
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, research, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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