Eoin Long of The Cannabis Review

In The Cannabis Review, Eoin Long talks with leading figures in commercial cannabis. The show has a stated aim of educating viewers while clarifying ‘some of the sectors and topics of interest in the global cannabis industry’. The YouTube channel launched in February of 2021, where he has interviewed the likes of Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Mitchell Osak, JP O’Brien of Little Collins CBD, Jim Weathers of Puff N’ Stuff, Matthew O’Brien of The Green Paper and many others from around the globe.

What inspired you to start The Cannabis Review?

It was initially set up two years ago as a project for one of my companies, and it ended up turning into a great source of data and information and a way to connect with industry leaders.

I got to realise, ‘I don’t need money to pay for this to be made and I know how to do everything myself’, so I just started cherry-picking people of great knowledge in the industry I wanted to learn from. I thought: ‘What do I want to know about the sectors that are going to be the areas of interest?’ Over the course of time, I’ve built up a pretty strong global network and an ability to see what’s coming around the corner. The aim of The Cannabis Review is to help educate and inform both the consumer and the entrepreneur in the industry, in any way I can.

In your view, how strong is cannabis activism in Ireland?

Activism in Ireland is very strong. The folks that do it need to be commended; Martin, for example, who does Martin’s World, Natalie O’Regan, Cork Cannabis Activist Network, JP & Íde at Little Collins, Jim at Puff n’ Stuff, the Crainn folks plus a host of other determined people. There’s a lot of work they are doing now where they are putting themselves at risk, and most are not getting any financial reward for doing this. They are doing this because they believe it is the right thing. That has to be commended, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. For a businessman like myself who wants the industry legalised, you need more people like that. I would like to point out the likes of Luke Flanagan [independent], Gino Kenny [People Before Profit], Neasa Hourigan [The Green Party], and Lynn Ruane [independent]. These politicians will be remembered and appreciated for a long time for the work they are doing to help our community.

I find The Cannabis Review more accessible than many other shows of a similar nature, due to its length. Was that a strategic decision on your part?

It was, yes. I had looked at a lot of the shows and felt this was a more suitable model for educating myself and fellow entrepreneurs. You manage to get straight to the point this way. The guests have also commented on how nice the short time frame is and that it doesn’t become boring or over-complicated. There are very few good cannabis shows or podcasts out there and I aim to build TCR up over the coming years. The way you get good at something is by talking to people who are very knowledgeable in specific disciplines and that helps you round off your structure of knowledge. That is the way I have treated this show for myself. If other people are benefiting from watching the episodes, then that is great. I’ve been doing The Cannabis Review for two years and talking to some of the biggest CEOs in the world. And I’m only scratching the surface of how big this industry will be.

If you had to choose a few guests from The Cannabis Review who you found to be the most interesting personally, who would they be and why?

The number one is definitely Dr. Peter Grinspoon, who is a medical GP. The episode I did with him was Cannabis and Pain, and I think everybody seems to have liked that one. That one had the most knowledgeable medical professional I have spoken with to date. Somebody who is bonafide. His father [Lester] was in this space as well. He was just one of those people where you couldn’t not respect or be in awe of the information he possessed. There’s another gentleman then called Matt Lamers, who covers international business for MJBiz Daily. Matt, to me, is the best source of cannabis information and knowledge in the business world, especially when it comes to the Canadian MSOs. He’s one of the smartest and nicest guys, I had him on the show as well and everything that he posts is pretty much always on point. 

For you, what have been the most exciting developments in the cannabis industry over the past few years?

I think biotechnology will change the game to a degree, with the use of microorganisms capable of fermenting cannabinoids in bioreactors, exactly how they make beer. I think that’s the future for a lot of the ingredients side of the industry – a lot of the activity is going to end up being in that space, due to potential scalability, purity, safety of the end product, IP-able methods and the price per litre versus a farm grown method. The second thing I would probably say is, New York. One cannot underestimate how important New York’s legalisation is for Ireland. Whatever about Germany and Malta starting their processes, you still see unclear language from the three coalition Parties in Germany trying to get this over the line, but New York has moved swiftly, with stores opening in Autumn or earlier. They have enacted a lot of public service projects, in terms of people with weed-related convictions who are now allowed to apply for cannabis licences.

There is a lot of good being drafted into their Bills and the people in charge of the various departments seem to be very smart. Plus, Ireland and New York have a special relationship. I think the more it grows over there, where you will start seeing that it’s four to five billion a year in turnover, you are going to start seeing moves being made here. The capitalist model is to expand and to grow and to acquire new consumers and new markets. We are in a good space. Germany is going to legalise recreational use and New York is almost ready to open with their industry. Slowly but surely, those big companies will begin to want to take more territory and to start moving towards Ireland.

I see Ireland being a gateway into Europe for a lot of the North American companies and I think that’s the way Ireland should be positioning itself. We have got a very skilled, intelligent young workforce over here. There’s a reason Google and all major North American companies operating in Europe are headquartered here and I don’t think the cannabis companies will be any different. That is not to say we won’t have our own hugely successful global cannabis companies. That is for certain, in my opinion. Who those entrepreneurs will be is still up for grabs.

Are there any stand-out cannabis companies you see as having especially exciting potential, in Europe or further afield?

There are a good number of exciting cannabis companies, and you kind of need to fine-tune it down into each sector – is it the edibles market, the vape category, hemp and construction? There’s Hempflax. They are a pretty amazing company that I think is going to revolutionise industrial hemp in construction. BioHarvest Sciences can make the cannabis plant in a bioreactor without using cultivation methods. You have Prūf Cultivar in Oregon and The Werc Shop in California. Bhang is another, Cann Drinks will be a global brand. For Europe, the market is so early that I believe the most exciting companies are still to come. What I’m looking forward to seeing is the first real brand that comes out of Ireland. I think Ireland has got a Kerrygold or a Guinness [of cannabis] in it, and I’m looking forward to seeing who gets that up and running. Look what we did with alcohol, do you think we cannot do the same in this industry?

Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how soon that can become a reality. It often feels like our government drags their heels with all of this.

Yeah, but this is another thing that people are getting annoyed about. People are getting annoyed at politicians who know nothing, you know? Richard laughs I feel sorry for Frank Feighan [Minister with responsibility for drug policy] now at this stage, with the amount of abuse that he seems to get on Twitter. But at the same time, they’ve signed up for this game. They’re public servants, so everyone’s within their rights to be contacting them and telling them how they feel about a specific topic. And that’s just tough, they have got to take it. But at the same time, I think there needs to be a level of realism about who the decision makers are. You hardly think Stephen Donnelly is going to be the Minister for Health in three, five years time? When the next election comes, there will be a shuffle in the cabinet and he won’t be in that same position. So, to waste all the efforts on that individual.. he’s not doing it within three years, not from what I can see.

Barring it becoming this new piece of their election campaign, where one of the smarter Parties picks it up. Until we get to the next election, we won’t know. And that’s why a Citizens’ Assembly can be pushed off until then, because the election campaign comes around mid-2023 for the 2025 election. You’ll have a good year and a half of whether they are going to bring that into a campaign that they will go around trying to get the young vote with, or if it will just be disregarded by the Parties again. I reckon that by 2025, New York will be three years legal. There will be [cannabis industry] people chomping at the bit to get into this country. Anybody with any sort of common sense in our government will support this industry then. We know the Revenue people would love to have the tax revenue from this. We know a lot of the people in the Department of Justice would like to lessen the petty crime cases, which are a nonsensical waste of time and resources for Gardaí. And it appears that a number of influential individuals in politics who are outdated in their thinking process are able to hold this whole process back.

How do you think cannabis misinformation in the media can be more effectively tackled?

The mainstream media really have no clue about the cannabis industry outside of 420 and the munchies and the usual stereotypes. They just write pieces based on second hand information. People on both sides react to it and they have succeeded in their job as a modern journalist, which is to get a reaction, good or bad. Journalism used to be about informing the public with real information. Tell me when have you ever seen a real investigative journalism piece on cannabis in Ireland? The other day, RTÉ posted an article about seized plants that were not even grown, which Gardaí claimed had an estimated value of €200,000. It was so embarrassing to see that. Who in their right mind cleared that article? It was a downright lie, published seemingly without question by our national broadcaster.

There are a number of good sites popping up to help with cannabis misinformation and one of my recent guests, Professor Dan Bear, has a new site & Twitter account – I would suggest that people check those out. Ireland definitely needs a source which calls out misinformation in this manner. 

When do you see cannabis being fully legalised in Ireland, realistically?

How far down the line do you think that will be?

I would say 2027/2028. If you go to the next election, let’s say that is in 2025.. Let us say there is a Party going: ‘Right, we’re legalising cannabis.’ And they win. It’s at least one to two years of paperwork and taxation laws being constructed. What department is it under? What are the taxes and laws? So, they’re going to have two years of politicking, and everybody figuring things out. They are going to need a cannabis board, they are going to need professionals in all the different sectors, they are going to need to start the licensing process. Cannabis Compliance Ireland, the lobbying firm that I co-founded – we already have all that built and ready to go. We sent a proposal document to all the government officials, about three years ago, for how to develop and enforce a legal cannabis industry in Ireland. I have talked to all the Department heads over in Colorado, California, Oregon, New York plus many more about how to design licensing and taxation systems. So we have all that information already, in our pocket. 

Cannabis Compliance Ireland, when everything gets legalised… There won’t even be a company close to the amount of information, data and connections that we’ll have built up over time for our country. You’ll be ready at the outset. That’s five years experience so far, we’ve got multiple databases built out and we have already designed numerous types of industry policy and taxation papers that could be used in Ireland. If the government decides to legalise cannabis we will have everything ready for them to utilise from taxation to licensing and duty, to import, export, financial support and social equity programmes. We have all the boring information and policy that will make the Irish industry ready to go. I believe Ireland has some of the best entrepreneurs in the world and our island will be the gateway to Europe for all the North American companies in this sector. It is up to us to build the companies and services to compete.

Beyond contacting local TDs, what else would you advise people to do to get the cannabis discussion off the ground properly in Ireland? 

Well, first and foremost, I think we need to start having good events. And that’s hopefully something that we’re going to start looking at at the start of 2023, maybe starting with some of the great guests we have already had on The Cannabis Review. I am going to bring over a select few from a couple of different industries and disciplines and invite a number of politicians and policymakers along as well. It will show everybody that this is how you create a company in this industry and these are the experts within a couple of different disciplines who are going to give a brief presentation and outline what needs to be done to be successful.

Because this is business now. It’s not the cannabis industry, it is business. And to run any business you need to know your product, your consumers and the rules and regulations. You need to be researching and developing your ideas and your products continuously, because there’s no guarantee for success in anything. But the harder you work at something, the better a chance you’ll have of it working. I can’t wait to hear your updates on those events. By the way, I am going to be turning The Cannabis Review into its own media website soon. It will have its own bi-weekly newsletter. It will be a source of news and information on the New York, Irish and European industries, with a section for stocks, op-eds, top weekly stories and all of that sort of stuff.

That’s what we need more than anything in Ireland, a de facto source of information that is consistently up to date. That sounds great, best of luck with that! It sounds like you’ve got very exciting plans for the future. We’re looking forward to hearing about those as they develop. Thanks again and take care! See you!

Allison of Her Highness | 09.09.21

Allison Krongard runs Her Highness with her friend and business partner Laura Eisman in New York, where they sell a lifestyle collection of ‘THC and CBD products designed to increase joy in women’s lives & remove the stigma of cannabis use’. They sell stylish high end products across three channels, to accommodate different regions with varying degrees of legal weed: hemp-CBD, high design paraphernalia, and THC (to expand as legalisation spreads). Their product range includes accessories like the Thigh High stash jar, pre-rolls, vape pens and highly orgasmic pleasure oils. While their THC products were initially available in California only, they have since expanded this range across several US states. Recently, Her Highness announced plans to begin launching products in the Canadian and Mexican markets.

When did a women-oriented cannabis company come up first, in conversation with Laura? How did she initially pitch the idea to you? Both of us came from businesses – where she created a website, I created products for women. So we both came from the standpoint of creating luxury female products. But she came to me with an idea to do cannabis accessories. As cannabis was becoming more and more popular, she was looking for some beautiful rolling papers and ashtrays and accessories for people who like to smoke; female-oriented, design-oriented. I, being a cannabis user for 30 years, have collected beautiful ashtrays and things from my cannabis use over the years, coming from design and interior design. And I totally agreed, there’s a real gap there. But really, my passion was to make cannabis products and touch them; really get in there, and feminise them. Which she loved too. So when we got together, we both did this really beautiful paraphernalia collection; marble rolling trays and ashtrays, the stash box, our fun lips ashtray… They definitely stand out compared to typical accessories, they’re very unique. Yeah, so for her that was what was driving her and I of course loved that. So I jumped right on board with that.

But then we took it further to design beautiful pre-roll boxes. We really feminised that, like our pre-roll with the extra long crutch, so you don’t melt your eyelashes and ruin your nail polish. Once we got together, we knew we were gonna do something for women. We then developed a bigger idea, with the mission of creating a CBD version of every THC product, as well as the paraphernalia. That really allowed us to enter many markets and talk about THC while we’re talking about CBD. Mainstream media would not profile our THC business, but they would profile our CBD business. And when they’re asking questions, we can always answer with something that includes this concept of normalising something that contains THC. If we can get it on that type of magazine and on that type of media, we can accomplish that. So that’s where we came from and how we started this company.

You’ve said in previous interviews that Her Highness is keen to eradicate stigma associated with cannabis use and sex. Have you noticed a significant cultural shift away from the stigmatisation of both in America? Yes. I would say that, especially during Covid, when things like Only Fans became mainstream, but there’s still a long way to go. But even when things like sex and cannabis become less stigmatised for women, it always takes longer. To accelerate that process, we’re making accessories that you want to display in your home and creating cannabis products that are designed for gifting. For example, a pre-roll and lighter set. On the back it has a ‘to’ and ‘from’, so it’s like a postcard. It’s a very cool feature, actually. Yeah, it’s just fun. It reminds people that this is not only a gift to ourselves, but if you’re meeting a bunch of friends for dinner instead of picking up a little candle for everyone or whatever, this is really a super fun gift, and something to be shared. And that’s sort of a very female characteristic. When we find something really good that we love, we love to share it with our friends.

In terms of destigmatising cannabis through products meant for sharing and gifting, another example of that would be our Get Lit Kit *Richard laughs*. It’s just a lighter, ashtray and grinder, meant for hostess gifting. Instead of bringing wine, to bring cannabis. To bring actual cannabis, we have another gift set (which we also do in CBD), where you get your box of pre-rolls, an ashtray, and a lighter. We’re really trying to encourage people to gift cannabis instead of alcohol, or with alcohol, but instead of it always being the go-to to bring a bottle of wine or something to a party, to make cannabis gift-able. To answer your question about sex as well, there’s not just sex stigmatised, but female pleasure stigmatised.

The idea of prioritising women’s orgasms when sex in popular media is so much about the male orgasm. And by really shining a light on the importance of a female orgasm, and creating a product that we feel really enhances the depth and size of a female orgasm. The Pleasure Oil is a product that is so shared and so gifted because when women discover that, it’s like: ‘Oh I’ve gotta tell my best friend about this, this is major!’ Game changer. Game changer! And then we’ve created this product around it, these packs. They’re called Cum on the Go packs. With the idea that if you’re going to your boyfriend’s overnight, women typically will bring heels and lingerie. But you know, it’s like you’re thinking about planning for them, but you’re not planning for your own orgasm. Right, so you’ve got little handy sachets to bring with. Exactly, right! And it’s subtle, and each one is ‘one orgasm amount’. They’re also gift-able and it’s such a fun thing to share. And in making things that are kind of fun, you know it’s silly but it’s not silly, it’s actually useful. We’re just trying to stimulate conversation and make it something that people want to tell their friends about and share.

For our full bottle of Pleasure Oil, we tried to make it beautiful. And we tried to make the experience of using it beautiful. We don’t want you to hide it. If you leave it out on your bedside, you’re gonna use it. If it’s something that looks weird or ugly, you’re gonna hide it and use it less. So you’ve designed it kind of like a designer perfume box. Exactly, yeah. Your packaging designs are fantastic, I have to say. The Thigh High ashtray, the way it’s got the marble and the legs sticking out, it’s really cool. Thank you. In an interview with the Cannabinoid Connect podcast, you credited weed as being a consistent source of inspiration to you in previous ventures, whenever you were designing products. Why do you think many people continue to perceive cannabis as being detrimental to productivity? I think many people are stuck in that Nancy Reagan Just Say No moment, ‘cannabis is bad’. Rationally, people know that cannabis is ancient medicine. It’s such a clean product. I don’t know any young people who are stuck in that mindset. Yeah.

It seems like that generation that was raised on ‘cannabis is a drug and it’s bad’ and ‘alcohol is not a drug and it’s okay’.. Rationale is out the window and those are just accepted as facts and it’s really hard to break that. Although, what’s interesting is something I learned with my father, who is certainly a very conservative person. What happened, when he got cancer and he started using cannabis medicinally, it helped him for a long time. Now he’s better, but during that time he realised that it actually was a great healer. So I think there are a lot of older people who are starting to use it for arthritis and sleep and other reasons, and they’re starting to see it. Yeah. Slowly but surely. Right, slowly but surely. It’s just old tech, old thinking. Everyone I know who uses cannabis regularly is athletic, works out regularly. For me, I find it gives me access to my creativity in a way that when I’m not stoned, I still get the ideas, but it’s like I shoot it down before I develop it. But when I’m stoned, it’s like the idea flows and keeps going to fruition, I get to a place where I can use it. It gets you in the zone more. Yeah, yeah.

I saw you mention before that Her Highness tries to avoid cannabis that causes ‘couch lock’, and that you display rankings for the strength of each product’s high and so on, to keep your customers informed. Now, you already gave me the example of the way your pre-rolls are designed to bear nails and lashes in mind. Do you have another example of tailoring your products to your customers’ needs? Yes. Our vape, which you mentioned, sort of looks like a Tiffany pen, looks like a piece of jewellery. It doesn’t look like drugs and there are two formulas inside. Giggle, which is perma-smile energy with extra humulene to kill off ‘the munchies’. Okay. And High Priestess, which is pure euphoria, it’s 93% THC..Oh wow..With extra humulene to kill off ‘the munchies’. And the reason why we developed these two is because we were speaking to the two most prevalent, distinctive, memorable highs that women tend to like. It’s ‘going out with your friends and laughing so hard your face hurts. And then not going home and having twelve bowls of macaroni and cheese.’

And the other one is when you’ve sort of passed from mildly stoned into super stoned and it becomes more about the body high and this introspective feeling.. Mindfulness. Yeah. That is the perfect sex high, it’s the perfect yoga high, I think. For me, it’s also the perfect ‘walking down 5th Avenue and window shopping and looking at people’ high. That’s that other feeling that’s sort of like the high when you want to be by yourself more. Yeah. Taking it all in. Yeah. It’s that other kind of high that’s so great and so useful. A great example would be our High Heels, which are trans-dermal pads that go in your shoes when you’re wearing high heels. Because that’s when women need pain relief. And so many trans-dermals, it’s all about back pain, which is great, and boring. *Richard laughs* But women have foot pain. We all have shoes in our closet, where every woman sort of has a mental checklist of how many hours they can go in that pair before it’s too unbearable. So, judging the evening ahead gives you a selection of what’s possible. So this really extends that time. I must say, I think that’s a particularly clever item to sell. Because that’s a major annoyance for a lot of women out there. It’s a real issue, so I’m sure they’ll be eager to pick that up. Yeah, it is.

That’s sort of the premise of our company: ‘How can we bend cannabis to suit women?’ There’s such a rich, amazing assortment of cannabis products out there. But they’re often either delivered in a way that doesn’t suit women, or dosed, or… A million things that give us the opportunity to tweak them to make them more female-friendly.

In that same interview with Cannabinoid Connect, mentioned earlier, you said that at one time in the past you used cannabis to help you combat depression. And you noticed that many women were self-medicating with pills and alcohol, and you felt that more of them should know about the benefits of weed. Did this take place long before you had that discussion with Laura that led to Her Highness? It did. It happened after my previous venture was acquired, and the deal was I had to work for them for two years. And I went from running my own business and being in a very creative, positive-spirited environment, to a sort of Wall Street, 100-year-old company. A really, really corporate environment where the people.. It was like a job. Before that, we went to work because it was more fun than being home. *Richard laughs* And I moved into a company where it was hard to get out the door, really hard to get out the door. And I think a lot of people suffer with that. Plenty of people hate their job and they really look forward to that after-work drink.

I really felt like there was a better way and I wanted to do something. Initially, I was thinking after I sold my last company that I wanted to do something in cannabis. But it was just too early on the East coast and I was just worried about federal laws. And I’m a single mom, the last thing I need is to get in trouble. But then more time passed and Laura came. This idea of being in the cannabis industry and being part of cannabis has really been a part of my life forever. When I was eighteen years old in New York City, when I could finally register to vote, I picked the Cannabis Party. And I didn’t even smoke cannabis, but I just thought it was so stupid that it wasn’t legal that I wanted to support it. I didn’t even get into cannabis for many years after that. But I guess I was just meant to do this. It seems like it! *Allison laughs* How do you market your brand towards women who don’t know much about weed or its effects, or who only have a vague interest in learning more about cannabis? How do you get them on-side?

Through low-dose products and non-psychoactive products. By making the CBD foot pads, even if you’re not sure about cannabis, that’s a great on-ramp product. We have low-dose mints. Even if you wanna mix it with alcohol, a 2.5g mint just takes the edge off, if your body’s completely clean (for me I could eat the whole bottle). But for an on-ramp or canna-curious person, just one will give you the idea that it’s safe, it’s small, but it’s noticeable. So between low-dose products, non-psychoactive products, the packaging and the accessories (‘cause it’s still a great gift), we’re trying to open up all these doors for women to just come in and take a look without getting stoned. Do you believe Her Highness is getting much closer to that original aim of being able to bring cannabis to women everywhere? Well, yeah! I mean, we started in California. And then we added Nevada, and Massachusetts, and we’re gonna add Ohio and Pennsylvania. Colorado, Canada, working on Mexico, starting to talk to someone in Venezuela. Oh. Yeah!

I think between the CBD that we can ship legally, the smoking accessories that we can ship internationally anywhere, and getting THC licences in any state and country that we can, licensing our brand so that it can be done locally, as laws allow… that’s how we’re gonna do it. We’re about five years ahead of anyone who’s specifically targeting women. It’s like all the other companies split it down the middle and are targeting just everyone, but make some female products.

But when you split it down the middle, it’s not 100% for women, it’s like, ‘Oh this is the best thing I could find’, but it’s not 100% there. Yeah, you do strike me as being considerably ahead of the curve there. Having a lifestyle collection, rather than just having a single product, really sets us apart. And our mission, where we raise money for female cannabis prisoners. The idea is to shine a light on female prisoners, because as an industry, we all do a pretty good job of talking about cannabis prisoners and raising money for them. But it mostly goes to men, because they’re the most known and vocal and the largest population. But when a woman goes to prison, a family falls apart, typically. It’s very destructive. We have a mission with The Last Prisoner Project, where we ‘Help our sisters doing time for cannabis crime’. Where we feature an actual former cannabis prisoner, and 50% of our proceeds go to these women and to a fund to help more women. That’s fantastic. Yeah.

Our mission as a company is ‘to reach all women through cannabis’. So, to your point, through our product, which is obviously bent towards women… Through our mission helping the women in the cannabis industry who came before us, pre-legalisation, who are in prison. And also, future women coming into cannabis. I end every presentation with buyers by reminding them that with our lifestyle collection, you can anchor a female section in your store and finally have room for those single-product women-owned companies, ‘cause there are a lot of them. But it’s hard for them to get shelf space, because it’s just one product. If we can make buyers mindful, in every meaning, that ‘I should have a female section’, we hope that we’re helping future female entrepreneurs in this space to find shelf space more easily. Are there any New York-based personalities you and Laura look up to, in terms of people who have had a significantly positive influence on society’s attitude towards cannabis? Hmm. It’s funny, because in terms of consumption, New York is the largest consumption state in the country, and has been.

So, I’m sure there’s tonnes of fabulous celebrity New York stoners, but I can’t really think about a specific New Yorker who’s influenced us. Really, we’re most driven by the love of the plant. Yeah. I believe in its benefits. I can’t even think of a single person. I would say, we both come from design so our inspiration is probably designers. Florence Knoll said: ‘Form follows function and good design is good business’. Those words really are integrated into our products. If the product is beautiful and not comfortable, if it’s beautiful and not perfectly functional, it’s a ‘fail’. It has to be both. According to Filter magazine, New York marijuana possession arrests fell from 3,700 in the first quarter of this year, to just eight in the second quarter, although there were still ‘racial disparities’ in those eight arrests. The legislation in New York for legal weed expunges the criminal records of anyone previously convicted of actions involving cannabis that are no longer considered criminal.What more do you feel can be done in New York to have a more equitable legal cannabis market? That’s a good question.

The regulations haven’t really been rolled out yet, so we don’t really know. But what we are hearing is that they’re very heavily weighted to people that have been heavily impacted by the war on drugs, to women and minorities. I think New York is really making a grand effort to tilt the scales, and we’ll see. A lot of people are trying to get licences. We’re gonna try and get a retail licence in New York, to have our flagship store. So, I would love to answer that question once I get intimately involved in that process of getting a licence and then I’ll really learn. Because it’s still early in the market. To your point about cannabis arrests and racial disparities, that is something that I’ve certainly seen growing up in New York City and smoking pot in New York City my whole life. I’ve seen that so much and I’m so happy to see that arrests are down and that that time is over. It’s just so disgusting and unfair. It must be an amazing feeling to know that your state has changed for the better, at last. At last, I know!

I mean, I cannot believe how long it took. I cannot believe how many conservative states legalised before New York. Right, yeah! *Richard laughs* Ireland is definitely taking its sweet time with legalisation. I know, the slowest, right? It’s painful. Here’s hoping we’ll get somewhere within a year or so, if we’re lucky! Well, I hope so. Speaking of Ireland, if you could present your elevator pitch to the Irish government about the benefits of legalising weed, what would you say to win them over? Certainly, the Irish government is okay with alcohol at high levels. Yeah. I would say, we know that alcohol overdoses happen. Alcohol causes violence, deaths, car accidents. The amount of suffering caused by alcohol compared to cannabis, really makes the argument. And the fact that it has antidepressant, calming, anti-anxiety attributes, as well as natural medicinal attributes, like anti-inflammatory.

People who use cannabis regularly have a lower BMI [Body Mass Index] than the rest of the population. I mean, that is an amazing thing, despite ‘the munchies’. Yeah. I just don’t understand people saying that it should be illegal now, and there’s so much evidence pointing to it (being beneficial). To the Irish government, I would say, when you compare the death and destruction statistics of alcohol to cannabis, to not want your population to have this safer, healing, more human-friendly alternative available is just unconscionable. That’s about as good of an answer as I could’ve wished for! Thank you so much for sparing your time, I wish you and Laura all the best with Your Highness! Take care, Allison! A pleasure, thank you so much.

Debating the Drug War: Race, Politics, and the Media | Review

Michael L. Rosino is the Assistant Professor of Sociology at Molloy College in New York State. In his book, Debating the Drug War: Race, Politics, and the Media, he explores the following areas of debate on the War on Drugs: ‘the history of the relationship between racism and drug policies, the role of the media as a place where people debate these policies, how the debate reflects popular ideas about race, crime, and politics and even commonly held ideals like justice, equality, and freedom, and how people construct and reinforce identities through their participation in these debates and what that means for society’.

In order to get a clear breakdown of the views held by people in this debate across the media, he ‘conducted a content analysis of over 30 years of US newspaper content that focuses on the War on Drugs, including 394 op-eds, letters to the editor, and news articles.’ He also examined ‘3,145 comments on the internet’, gathering them from the comments sections of relevant online news articles, published from 2009 to 2014. Including the Introduction and Conclusion, there are six chapters, which include questions for academics to discuss, as well as additional notes. To emphasise the ongoing legacy of systemic racism in the United States, Rosino begins the Introduction by detailing the fatal police shooting of unarmed eighteen-year-old African-American, Ramarley Graham, in 2012. He mentions that this was only one of three killings of black men that week by the New York Police Department.

A plain clothes NYPD Officer shot Graham in the bathroom of his home, which he shared with his grandmother and six-year-old brother, after the cops involved broke down both the back door and the bathroom door. Graham was trying to flush a small amount of newly-bought cannabis down the toilet. The officers involved had seen his purchase through street cameras and had decided to follow him home, entering without a warrant. Before the young man’s home was breached, Officer Richard Haste announced that Graham had a firearm, ‘perhaps misrecognising the young man adjusting the waistband of his pants’. A gun was never found at the site. This gives readers a sample of the racist police violence that is so prevalent across the US. Rosino covers the racist origins of American drug prohibition, which relied on the creation of moral panics, exaggeratedly defining activities, events or people as ‘a threat to societal values and interests’.

The powerful would manufacture such hysteria, linking minority ethnic groups to the supply of drugs and the corruption of the innocence of white moral values. The author begins by outlining the suppression of Chinese opium dens in the 1870s, eventually leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law excluding an entire ethnic group from entering the United States. Anti-Catholic sentiment and growing antisemitism against Jewish immigrants in the alcohol trade, by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, led to a demand for alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Popular and influential media depicted European migrants who identified with these religions as threatening to the dominance of white Protestants in America. Mexicans, blacks and Native Americans were all presented by the Temperance movements as engaging in criminal and immoral activities, particularly when using alcohol. Rosino provides examples of how historical prohibition has had a lasting effect on racial discrimination in policing and the legal and criminal justice systems.

One study from 2006 stated that, ‘although a majority of drug transactions involving the five serious drugs under consideration here involve a white drug dealer, 64 percent of those arrested for drug delivery in Seattle from January 1999 to April 2001 were black.’ A 2016 study said: ‘Overall, in comparison to blacks, whites receive shorter prison sentences for the same drug crimes in the United States.’ A 2007 study into the effects of felony convictions on employment, found that white applicants who had felony convictions received more callbacks than blacks who had no criminal record at all. A groundbreaking sociological study of crime carried out by W.E.B Du Bois in 1889 gets a mention too, where he showed that ‘racial differences in crime rates were a product of residential segregation, disproportionate policing and surveillance, the impact of slavery, racial discrimination, lack of economic opportunities, and lack of government investment in black communities.’

Rosino mentions two response tiers which began to emerge for problem opiate drug use in America during the 2010s. One of harm reduction, treatment and empathy, and one of surveillance, punishment and incarceration. Statistically, the former tends to be the approach for white people with drug issues, while the latter is how black people with the same issues are dealt with. Although the Obama government began moving away from severely punitive drug laws, former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of the Trump administration re-introduced regressive drug laws and narratives, positing that cannabis use is linked to violence and that it is addictive and dangerous. Rosino discusses media agenda-setting, via frames, which present coherent narratives of a complicated War on Drugs. By examining digital copies of local, regional, and national newspapers containing the term ‘War on Drugs’, from the ’80s onwards, the author was able to break down exactly how arguments have been framed in the media over the years.

He presented four primary frames: Fiscal, Freedom and Justice, Functionalism and Racial Unfairness, each of which was further broken down into sub-frames. They were given percentages based on the frequency they appeared. The frame of Racial Unfairness was the least common to appear, at almost 9%. Additional frames were included in the author’s breakdown of internet comments, such as Racialized Victim Blaming, which had sub-frames like Denial of racism. Racial Unfairness was acknowledged nearly 12% of the time by commenters. According to Psychologist and Sociologist, William J. Ryan, victim blaming involves ‘justifying inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality.’ Racialized Victim Blaming took place when commenters ‘interpreted racial disparities in arrest or mass incarceration as a natural or legitimate outcome of inherent differences in traits between whites and blacks.’ Such comment authors ‘saw clear evidence of systemic oppression as instead serving as evidence of moral inferiority or social deviance.’

For me, chapters four and five were the most eye-opening sections of the book, as they covered important terms like racial silence, coded language and identity construction. Racial silence involves the implicit silence of whites (including white-dominated media) regarding the ongoing legacy of systemic racism, which is a central issue of the discriminatory War on Drugs. Because whites are dominant in positions of power and influence, their perceptions of themselves, other ethnic groups, and so-called cultural norms in behaviour and thought are imposed on society, promoting their interests as being legitimate, natural, or common sense. Coded language is explained by the author as ‘enabling claim makers to construct racialized subject-positions while maintaining surface-level racial silence.’ Code words for ethnic minorities range from crack babies and welfare recipients to terrorists, cartels and thugs. Words such as these are used to ‘conjure racial imagery, yet avoid the direct evocation of racial categories.’

In this way, age-old myths about an intrinsic superiority of whites compared to other ethnic groups who are threatening, dysfunctional, and morally-inferior are reinforced to some degree in the public psyche. Rosino states that identity construction and reinforcement are an integral part of responding to, understanding and debating a given issue, such as the War on Drugs. People are inclined to identify themselves as being part of a particular group, while excluding others via symbolic boundaries. The categorising of racial groups, dominant traits associated with them, and differences between them, are just some symbolic boundaries. Such notions are highly influenced by those with the most power and influence in society. Michael L. Rosino’sDebating the Drug War..‘ is more informative and enlightening than this review can truly communicate. It’s packed with sociological and racial concepts and data which underline the urgency for drastic racial justice and drug reform in America (and by extension, the Western world and beyond).

Many uncomfortable truths of systemic racism are laid bare in this book. Often, those truths are ignored, undermined or denied in the media and in public discourse. It seems that a significant amount of white Americans prefer to imagine that their society is fundamentally fair and equal and that those complaining about social inequities have simply failed in life through poor personal choices, or were born into an inherently inferior culture with lesser moral values. The reality is that this is nonsense. No ethnic groups are less morally sound or more naturally prone to dysfunction, violence and crime.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Michael L. Rosino for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear | Review

Doctor Carl Hart is a Professor of Psychology, specialising in Neuroscience at Columbia University in New York. He is well-known for his research on drug abuse and addiction, which has been his passion for over 25 years. He opens his latest book, 1Drug Use for Grown-Ups, with the lines:

“I am an unapologetic drug user. I take drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and a better person because of them.”

As a means of better educating drug users and thereby facilitating their health and happiness, he suggests that people focus on four areas – Dose, Route of Administration, Set [individual user characteristics], and Setting [environment in which drug use occurs]. These four areas can greatly influence the user’s experience – whether it will veer more towards a beneficial or a negative one.

Early in the book, he highlights the complete failure the war on drugs has been by quoting the United States drug control budget of approximately $35 billion a year in taxpayer money; in 1981, the amount stood at $1.5 billion. This is a gargantuan budget increase, but traditionally-popular illegal drugs are as commonplace now, if not more so, than they were back then. Dr. Hart believes that one unstated aim of the drug war is to prop up the budgets of law enforcement and prison authorities, along with drug treatment centres and urine drug testers. Those in law enforcement receive the bulk of drug-war money according to the Professor, and more drug arrests mean more overtime, bigger budgets and stronger job security for those in law enforcement, while more prisoners keep prison authorities content. It’s worth noting that the U.S. has got the biggest prison population on the planet, at an astonishing 22.12 million inmates. This system includes 3130 private prisons. It’s clear from the statistics that prison authorities are among those who benefit enormously from the war on drugs.

The Professor believes the term Harm Reduction is dated and should be gotten rid of, or replaced with a more nuanced term, because: “The language we use shapes how we think and behave”. Elaborating on this, he says: “We need to cut the bullshit and stop pretending drugs inevitably – and only – lead to undesired outcomes”. He doesn’t believe there should be a specific term for harm reduction, mentioning other existing phrases which could be used, such as: “common sense, prevention, education, and the like”. Dr. Hart emphatically states that “Drug abuse and addiction are a minority of the many effects produced by drugs…” Of his years spent researching drug use, he says: “More and more, I came to realise that drug-abuse scientists, especially government-funded ones, focus almost exclusively on the detrimental effects of drugs…” He says that addiction “represents a minority of drug effects, but it receives almost all the attention, certainly the media attention”, before asking: “Have you ever read a newspaper article or seen a film about heroin that didn’t focus on addiction?”

Other universally-accepted lifestyle choices involving calculated risk are listed, including flying and driving – two potentially dangerous activities, which statistically involve few injuries or deaths when engaged in correctly. The information that’s typically found about heroin is compared with a driving analogy: “Imagine if you were interested in learning more about cars or driving and could only find information about car crashes or information about how to repair a car after a crash”. Regarding the small fraction of users who suffer with addiction, he says there are a substantial proportion of addictions involving “co-occurring psychiatric disorders – such as excessive anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia – and socioeconomic factors – such as resource-deprived communities and under-employment”. The Professor stresses that there are no inherently “evil”, wholly-negative drugs, despite what we are told growing up. Regarding the age-old gateway drug myth about cannabis, he states that it “grossly overstates the evidence by confusing correlation with causation…the vast majority of pot smokers never go on to use so-called harder drugs.”

He discusses the alarmism of typical cannabis-focused headlines which often blame it for psychosis. The studies such claims are based on generally make bogus interpretations of their data. This is because weed-centred studies often highlight when volunteers have marked if they have ever experienced certain psychotic symptoms (something many people do at some point in their lives) on a questionnaire. Such studies then decide that those volunteers qualify for psychotic disorders, when in reality, determining if someone suffers with a psychotic disorder requires rigorous consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists. It is not simply a box-ticking exercise. Of similar note, the inaccurate reporting of the results of toxicology reports by authorities and the media is looked at. These results generally involve many complex factors and according to Dr. Hart, “one of the most important limitations of many recent analyses and reports on drug overdose deaths is that the co-occurrence of alcohol is ignored completely”. 

Brain imaging data is another area the Professor breaks down into basics – structural scans look at the size of brain structures, without telling you how they’re functioning. Functional scans provide brain activity information (i.e. specific neurotransmitter activity), but not brain structure information. According to Dr. Hart, these scans only capture a moment in time. This means it’s nearly impossible to determine if drug use caused any difference to the brain, or if that difference was there before the scan occurred. Multiple scans are needed at different times to gain a true understanding of whether drugs have affected the brain or not, so the result of what is a highly nuanced procedure often ends up becoming an alarmist ‘finding’ about brain deterioration. The ignoring of tobacco and alcohol’s effects on the brain are also common oversights. Toxicology reports and brain scans, so often misinterpreted and misrepresented by prohibitionists and the media, often make the aforementioned mistake of confusing correlation with causation.

Dr. Hart says that complicated socio-economic issues are often reduced to being the result of “drug problems” by the powers that be. This means that more resources end up being given to law enforcement, instead of community organisations who urgently require education programmes, employment and life-saving drug services. The Professor outlines the deep-rooted, historical racism which has been such an intrinsic part of the war on drugs, stemming mostly from the U.S and spreading throughout the world thereafter. Opium developed a negative reputation because of media fear mongering in relation to the opium dens of Chinese immigrants. Dr. Hart cites an 1882 report, which said that young, respectable white people were “being induced to visit the dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise”. The marijuana term entered common use in English because American authorities and media co-opted it from the Mexican term marihuana, to give it an association with Mexican immigrants, who traditionally used the plant and in some cases brought it to the States.

Common use of this term helped to exploit the existing hatred or distrust many Americans had for Mexicans, giving weed a negative connotation via perceived association. Media stories emerged in the ‘30s claiming that cannabis use by blacks led to violent crimes. Then there were ridiculous stories about cocaine use causing black men to become unpredictable, dangerous, and even bulletproof, in certain cases! The Professor notes that all modern reports referring to zombies and users with superhuman strength are descendents of those old media falsehoods, existing as a sensationalist, dehumanising means of justifying discrimination and brutality. During weed regulation hearings in Congress in 1937, Harry J. Anslinger is quoted as having said: “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”. But interestingly, Dr. Hart states that there has been public data proving the safety of cannabis since it was first banned. New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study about its use and effects and the results ran contrary to Anslinger’s hysterical statement.

Report findings from 1944 concluded that concerns about catastrophic effects from smoking weed were unfounded. It said that those “who have been smoking marijuana for a period of years showed no mental or physical deterioration which may be attributed to the drug.” Further highlighting systemic racism, Dr. Hart quotes data from The U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2017, which states that over 80% of those convicted of heroin-dealing were black and latino, despite the fact that most dealers were white. He also mentions the fact that black men make up 40% of U.S. prisoners, despite only representing 6% of the country’s population. The horrendous police killings of many African Americans, such as Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice (who was shot at the age of twelve) are discussed in the book, as are the distortions of what occurred in subsequent reports released surrounding their deaths. These police killings and others place a glaring emphasis on the very serious issue of systemic racism in America and how the war on drugs continues to enable it.

The way the media shapes our perceptions of the effects of drugs and who is using them where, is a crucial subject area of the book. The media frenzies sensationalising the crack cocaine crisis and in more recent years opioid use in the U.S. are covered by Dr. Hart in considerable detail. The common portrayal of crack mainly being used in poor black communities, when in fact it has been used primarily by white people, will likely be a revelation to many readers of the book. The author also discusses the mythology surrounding ‘crack babies’ and writes about troubling incidents in which pregnant women who were found to have cannabis in their system then had custody over their newborn babies removed.

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a must-read book in a time where the war on drugs is increasingly put into question across the world. I would highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in cannabis, drug policy, health, misinformation, corruption or racism. Dr. Carl Hart expertly argues the case for every adult’s right to the pursuit of happiness, as espoused in The U.S. Constitution. He believes that safe, informed drug use should be permitted as a part of that equation. He argues this while dismantling virtually all of the arguments that are found in favour of prohibition, with an expertise developed over years of hard graft. From being a young man fully invested in the war on drugs narrative to one who sees it for what it really is – an authoritative narrative built from racism, paranoia and notions of morality, rather than one based on logic and scientific data.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Doctor Carl Hart for providing us with a review copy of this book.

References

1 Drug Use for Grown-Ups can be purchased via The Book Depository here –

https://bit.ly/3f01fMc 

2 This figure is taken from the following page, which details global prison populations –

https://www.statista.com/statistics/262961/countries-with-the-most-prisoners/

3 For more information on U.S private prisons, see this link –

https://infotracer.com/resources/us-private-prisons-facts-statistics/