Ep. 391: Betty Aldworth, SSDP

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep. 391: Betty Aldworth, SSDP

Ep. 391: Betty Aldworth, SSDP

Betty Aldworth returns and shares the extent of the growing Cannabis market: “In a new state, there are going to be countless opportunities to influence. I think that if you are based in Missouri and you aren’t already having a conversation about how you get placed on a working group or a task force, how you participate in the regulatory process in building up these laws, you are already behind the ball. These groups are being formed now.”

Transcript:

Seth Adler: Betty Aldworth returns. Welcome to Cannabis Economy. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on canneconomy.com. That's two Ns and the word economy. First, a word from Evolab, and then Betty Aldworth.

Speaker 2: We've looked and sought high and low to find folks that are producing CBG and now, just like with CBD, cultivars have started to come around that are high expressing amounts of CBG. So we're able to capture it that way. This has always been in my vision because I've always felt that THC and CBD are awesome, but the plant is amazing, and if we could get to those other cannabinoids and unlock their benefit, that we could just help so many more people.

Seth Adler: Betty Aldworth.

Betty Aldworth: Seth Adler.

Seth Adler: We were in the same room together many times over the past few days. But you're busy, Betty.

Betty Aldworth: Yes. So are you, Seth.

Seth Adler: I try to be. I try to be. I'm trying to learn from Betty.

Betty Aldworth: Oh, okay.

Seth Adler: So I guess we take this opportunity every once in a while. We learn about what's going on. Executive director for SSDP. Thank you for your work over the past, what, half decade?

Betty Aldworth: Oh, don't say it like that, Seth.

Seth Adler: Podcast land knows no time, so we're making our way into 2019. Who knows where that is, right? But when you look at 2019 from an SSDP perspective, what does the list look like?

Betty Aldworth: Well, it is a really big list right now. We've got some incredible opportunities and also a lot of work to do to make sure we're protecting the advances that we've made thus far. I want to focus right now on the cannabis work though, of course, everyone's going to remember that we also do a lot of work around responses to the overdose crisis, psychedelics for therapeutics, and intersectional issues around racial and social justice.

Seth Adler: It's drug policy, not cannabis policy, but [crosstalk 00:02:13].

Betty Aldworth: Precisely. But we want to talk about cannabis now. Sure. A couple of big things, we've gotten lots of state action happening. We have new medical marijuana initiatives to make sure are implemented appropriately in Michigan, Missouri, and Utah. Work around doing some public perception change work in North Dakota to see if perhaps there's opportunity there again. We have plenty of work to do around expungement, in particular, and other issues around building an equitable cannabis industry in many other states. So we've got our eye on all of those balls. That's something that we will be paying a lot of attention to in-

Seth Adler: Let's unpack each of those. Why not, right?

Betty Aldworth: Sure.

Seth Adler: New states coming online. Thank goodness. We now have some experience with this.

Betty Aldworth: Yes. We've done this once or twice.

Seth Adler: Yeah. With the new folks, what needs to be done in that area? What are, here's what we need to focus on from an industry standpoint, from an SSDP standpoint? Here's the thinking that goes on with a new state.

Seth Adler: Betty Aldworth returns. Welcome to Cannabis Economy. I'm your host, Seth Adler. Download episodes on canneconomy.com. That's two Ns and the word economy. First, a word from Evolab, and then Betty Aldworth.

Speaker 2: We've looked and sought high and low to find folks that are producing CBG and now, just like with CBD, cultivars have started to come around that are high expressing amounts of CBG. So we're able to capture it that way. This has always been in my vision because I've always felt that THC and CBD are awesome, but the plant is amazing, and if we could get to those other cannabinoids and unlock their benefit, that we could just help so many more people.

Seth Adler: Betty Aldworth.

Betty Aldworth: Seth Adler.

Seth Adler: We were in the same room together many times over the past few days. But you're busy, Betty.

Betty Aldworth: Yes. So are you, Seth.

Seth Adler: I try to be. I try to be. I'm trying to learn from Betty.

Betty Aldworth: Oh, okay.

Seth Adler: So I guess we take this opportunity every once in a while. We learn about what's going on. Executive director for SSDP. Thank you for your work over the past, what, half decade?

Betty Aldworth: Oh, don't say it like that, Seth.

Seth Adler: Podcast land knows no time, so we're making our way into 2019. Who knows where that is, right? But when you look at 2019 from an SSDP perspective, what does the list look like?

Betty Aldworth: Well, it is a really big list right now. We've got some incredible opportunities and also a lot of work to do to make sure we're protecting the advances that we've made thus far. I want to focus right now on the cannabis work though, of course, everyone's going to remember that we also do a lot of work around responses to the overdose crisis, psychedelics for therapeutics, and intersectional issues around racial and social justice.

Seth Adler: It's drug policy, not cannabis policy, but [crosstalk 00:02:13].

Betty Aldworth: Precisely. But we want to talk about cannabis now. Sure. A couple of big things, we've gotten lots of state action happening. We have new medical marijuana initiatives to make sure are implemented appropriately in Michigan, Missouri, and Utah. Work around doing some public perception change work in North Dakota to see if perhaps there's opportunity there again. We have plenty of work to do around expungement, in particular, and other issues around building an equitable cannabis industry in many other states. So we've got our eye on all of those balls. That's something that we will be paying a lot of attention to in-

Seth Adler: Let's unpack each of those. Why not, right?

Betty Aldworth: Sure.

Seth Adler: New states coming online. Thank goodness. We now have some experience with this.

Betty Aldworth: Yes. We've done this once or twice.

Seth Adler: Yeah. With the new folks, what needs to be done in that area? What are, here's what we need to focus on from an industry standpoint, from an SSDP standpoint? Here's the thinking that goes on with a new state.

Betty Aldworth: Right. In a new state, there are going to be countless opportunities to influence. I think that if you are based in Missouri and you aren't already having a conversation about how you get placed on a working group or a task force, how you participate in the regulatory process in building up these laws, you are already behind the ball. These groups are being formed now, or at least the members of these groups are being considered now. Folks, if they want to influence the process, need to have their name in the hat already. If you haven't yet, well, there's no day like today.
Reach out to your state representative. Start building that relationship. Start presenting yourself as a credible witness. For SSDP, what our students tend to be most concerned about are issues around equity, access, and sustainability, so environmental sustainability but also sustainability of these programs as they are developed to make sure that we aren't building programs that are too vulnerable to failure, that are considering all of the different issues that got us here in the first place. Public health and justice and liberty and of course the markets and the opportunity that is presented by a legal cannabis market. Where those tax dollars are going, does that align with our values? How are we talking about these tax dollars? Are we building up systems that are overly taxed in a fashion that will actually harm them in the legal market ultimately?
Andrew Livingston did some of the first work around that here in Colorado in 2012, '13, where he was building out these models that really informed how diversion markets work and what sort of tax burdens can be borne by the legal markets. But five years later, we have so much data around that. So there's a lot of ... I mean take absolutely any area of study, and you can find a way to plug it into how we go about regulating the cannabis market. That's going to be the big question now. And then also of course people have their business interests.

Seth Adler: Yeah, of course. Of course. Election day essentially is the starting line, as we're saying, for these new markets, right? We don't-

Betty Aldworth: In a sense.

Seth Adler: Yeah. In a sense. We don't have too much, thankfully, recent experience with losing. When you talk about North Dakota, what is the thinking that goes back into, okay, here's how we approached it, here's maybe how we approach it differently this time?

Betty Aldworth: Well, in a state like North Dakota I think there are a lot of things to consider. That campaign was outspent ... Last time I saw, I think it was something like 12 to one. The opposition really decided that they were going to stop us in North Dakota of all places. That was probably a strategic ... Just the initiative itself was inevitably underfunded. The language was the least meaty that we've seen since perhaps 2004 in Colorado. It was always going to be a tough battle in North Dakota, even under the best of circumstances.
When you look at something like that, none of the national groups participated in drafting that initiative. First things first, we start talking about what drafting looks like. We start talking about what issues need to be addressed in the ballot initiative in order to build something that the voters are going to get excited about. And it'll be less open to criticism. Then we think about what it really takes to run such an initiative. There are some things that I can't talk about just yet, but I think that when we start looking at the next initiatives we're going to have some extremely exciting and bold and compelling opportunities to see change in 2020. I'm so excited to be able to start talking about it.

Seth Adler: That's why we have to check with Betty Aldworth every once in a while because she doesn't give us all the answers every single time.

Betty Aldworth: Well, and it's an inevitably changing landscape, Seth.

Seth Adler: Right. Exactly. But you mentioned expungement. What I love about this is that everyone can plainly see that how would it make sense for us not to ... Expungement must happen based on the legality of cannabis across the land, not federally, but certainly through how many states? Where are we looking and how are we looking as far as expungement in 2019?

Betty Aldworth: There are really amazing expungement efforts being run by SSDP alums and others in lots of different places. We got Cage-Free Cannabis hosting the National Expungement Week. SSDP board member, James Gould, has a website up to help people figure out whether or not they can expunge. You can literally type, "Can I expunge", and you'll find out whether or not your record can be expunged. We've got law school chapters running expungement clinics all over legal states and lots of opportunity there. But ultimately, what makes the second most sense is for state legislatures to pass blanket expungement. What makes the most sense is to see, as we have in some states at this point, governors doing blanket expungements of people with marijuana-related convictions that have been completed.
I think that there are lots of interesting opportunities, and folks should definitely sign up for our action alerts at ssdp.org to learn more.

Seth Adler: There you go. We will take a plug from SSDP any time. Speaking of what folks can do, what folks should do, what folks should be thinking about, we've got a ton of momentum. We've got a lot of folks that are in a really great mood as far as the cannabis industry is concerned. What concerns you about that? Where would you guide folks to action or at least to thought?

Betty Aldworth: I think that we can get a little lazy after a set of big wins. We've seen it before. The fact is that, yes, winning these states is part of a decades-long strategy that we've been working on. In the course of this strategy, winning the states is a critical step, of course, for all of the goals that we've been working for, but also for pushing better election and ending federal prohibition in the US and prohibition globally. We cannot let ourselves believe that a few wins in a few states means that we can let our foot off the gas at the federal level.
Congress is an incredibly slow-moving, complicated, difficult machine to figure out how to run. If we want to see movement on things like 280E and banking, much less any of the justice concerns that we are thinking about, or the fact that we are still engaging in a federally illegal activity, let's not forget that. We need to keep the pressure on on Congress. We need to make sure that we are continuing to contact our elected officials. Go and lobby in their home offices. Go to the lobby days with NCIA and all of the other groups that you're involved with, and make sure that Congress still understands that there's opportunity here. There are 535 of them. We've got 50 who are really with us and we can't think that that's a victory.

Seth Adler: Well, 280E and banking are both in the STATES Act and we've got bicameral support. Sure, it's only 50, but this is inevitable, is how the line goes. I heard many folks share that with me. Some of our very best friends almost talking about it as though it were inevitable. What is your thought on inevitability? And I'll just leave it there.

Betty Aldworth: Nothing is inevitable, Seth. You know that. I mean there is a possibility that the STATES Act will pass this Congress, or in the next Congress rather. That is possible. I would not put money at it.

Seth Adler: Why not?

Betty Aldworth: Well, again, we are still looking at a Congress controlled by a party whose elected officials do not stand in support of cannabis policy reform in general. While we certainly have more Republicans who are our friends now, a lot is going to depend on where people sit on committees and who ends up being in positions of power where they can block action, either in committees or on the floor. I think that we need to assume that there will be some amount of shenanigans in terms of whether or not a bill can be heard even if it does have the support.
There are plenty of members of the Senate who don't want to vote on a marijuana-related issue. As much momentum as we have, there's nothing stronger than the status quo.

Seth Adler: As much momentum as we have, there's nothing stronger than the status quo. Betty Aldworth, that is extremely quotable. Essentially what you're saying is, okay, fine. Pete Sessions is not in the House any more. Who's the next Pete Sessions either in the House or in the Senate? My money's on Chuck Grassley, but that's just me.

Betty Aldworth: Right, right. To be clear, Sessions wasn't going to be chair of that committee next Congress anyway in the Senate. But what we're going to have to do is figure out how we convince Chuck Grassley to bring these votes to committee. I think that, of course, we're going to maintain momentum in the Senate. Of course we're going to maintain pressure. We're going to keep doing that. We're going to keep working for the STATES Act and the Marijuana Justice Act and all of the different ways that we might be able to make those incremental reforms through amendments and other riders on bills. These are ways that we have been working for decades and how we will continue doing the work.
That being said, what we have the opportunity to do right now, which is more forward-facing, is change the dialogue in the House.

Seth Adler: How do you mean?

Betty Aldworth: What I mean is we have an incredibly large number of younger members of the House, representatives from places where marijuana is legal. They're brand new to the House, and they haven't really set their language around cannabis policy reform or drug policy reform writ large. We have an opportunity to go and educate, teach them about what they need to know about this work, and really move the question forward in that regard.

Seth Adler: Interesting.

Betty Aldworth: I'm incredibly excited about what we're going to see in terms of how the dialogue shifts coming out of the House.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Almost the first time ever, not almost, absolutely the first time ever that that can happen.

Betty Aldworth: Yes.

Seth Adler: And hey, listen. It works for folks. One of the first advocates within Congress, not necessarily the first, but one of the first strong advocates in Congress is now your governor-elect, Jared Polis. This is helpful for you, if you're a politician.

Betty Aldworth: Yeah. Jared, not only was he one of the first champions of cannabis policy reform in Congress along with Earl Blumenauer and others-

Seth Adler: And let's say, Dana Rohrabacher. We'll take Tom McClintock, and thanks so much.

Betty Aldworth: Absolutely.

Seth Adler: Carlos Carbelo and Matt Gaetz and all the whole everybody.

Betty Aldworth: Yes. Jared, I think, was unique in ... Excuse me, Governor-elect Polis was unique in that his embrace was never qualified. He just understood that marijuana legalization made sense, and he understood that from the beginning. He was one of two elected officials who endorsed Amendment 64, maybe three, but he did. That meant more than you could imagine back then, way back in 2012. And he was the first person to develop, the first person running at his level to develop a cannabis outreach plan during his campaign. He had a cannabis outreach coordinator who was working on connecting with the industry and the movement to make sure that we understood where he stood and to make sure that folks knew that he supported our work.
It's quite a game changer. It's really exciting to think about, back to the rest of the work that we do. He's also incredibly supportive of harm reduction and other lifesaving measures that SSDP focuses on. I think that the opportunity to really show the world, particularly other US states, what we can do if we're being compassionate about drug policy and the ways that we approach drugs and the people who use them. We've got really great opportunity here and I'm so excited to start that work.

Seth Adler: Yeah. I think we can file this under progress.

Betty Aldworth: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Seth Adler: All right. Here we go. Yet another year. I think what I'm hearing from you is that's all well and good that things seem very nice and easy, but things are not nice and easy. We still are under federal prohibition and we still have the current status quo. I hope you got some sleep last night because we still have work to do.

Betty Aldworth: Yeah. I think that there's, yes, let's take a break for a moment. Let's enjoy the holiday. Let's make sure that we are well-rested because the fight doesn't get easier just because we had some wins. This is a matter of really pushing past these last hurdles to end prohibition of marijuana in the United States once and for all. The work to get from here to there is going to be intense. It's going to take a lot of energy, and it's going to take a lot of money. But I'm confident we've got the right brains working on it.

Seth Adler: Absolutely. You just gave me some chills there. That'll happen when you speak to Betty. Let's do the three final questions for guests who have returned more than at least twice. They're simple. There's always three. I'll tell you what they are, and then I'll ask you them in order. How are you doing? How's everything else going? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's gotta be there. That's always the final question. But how ya doing?

Betty Aldworth: I'm great. I'm great. I'm really excited about what's coming up. I'm excited to make some stuffing tomorrow and have a nice little holiday with the family. I'm excited about what this next period's going to look like.

Seth Adler: Podcast land knows no time, but it is air of Thanksgiving or what, Thanksgiving eve?

Betty Aldworth: Thanksgiving eve, yeah.

Seth Adler: All right. So then the next question is, really it's your decision how to take it. But it's a general, large question. How's everything else going?

Betty Aldworth: Well, I alluded to this in the course of the interview. I mean people who know me know I'm super driven by my work, and I do this work because I care so much about it. Looks like the rest of our work is also on an incredibly promising track. I think that in particular we have an opportunity to pass legislation in a handful of states to allow for safe consumption facilities where people who inject drugs can go to receive medical care. Just very briefly, I will tell listeners that in safe consumption facilities there has never been a fatal overdose over the course of millions and millions of injections. Furthermore, people who use services like safe injection facilities, safe consumption facilities, are more likely to enter treatment and succeed at it.
If folks think that it's about enabling drug use, I promise that it is not. All of the evidence shows this is a good thing, and it looks like we're going to pass in a couple states.

Seth Adler: You are outside of my wheelhouse. I am absolutely ignorant about what you're talking about, so I would imagine at least some of the folks listening, you're over our heads here. Break it down for us, to just explain what this is, why we would need such a thing, please.

Betty Aldworth: Yep. For many people who are in a chaotic relationship with what we call highly stigmatized drugs, so heroin and other opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, et cetera, who are injecting those drugs, injecting on the street can be very dangerous. Not only do you run risk of overdose, but the other health risks, the chronic health risks that come along with that, problems with your skin that can turn into deadly infections, contraction of diseases that can be fatal if left untreated, and the mental health problems that can be attendant with the complete and utter loss of dignity that can happen for a person who is using drugs and shunned by society.
All of those things can be addressed in a clean and sterile facility run by people well-versed in compassionate response, well-versed in harm reduction, who can provide clean supplies, who can provide a network, a safety net into social services that are available, who can provide entrée into treatment, and who can provide medical intervention if something goes wrong, by administering overdose drugs.

Seth Adler: I have a friend who, this is as close as I come to this conversation, I have a friend who's a recovering alcoholic. I don't even know if those are the right words to use. But he's nine years sober and he was introduced to an off-ramp. I wonder, as far as these facilities, how do we not just let this be a nice safe place for you to just continue that consumption, which is not necessarily giving you any medical benefit type of thing?

Betty Aldworth: That is one thing that happens there. Oftentimes people who have the opportunity to experience some human dignity in one of these facilities will, over the course of time, having that experience where you can just have a real conversation with a human being, will lead toward a desire to-

Seth Adler: Change.

Betty Aldworth: ... to make some sort of change. But one of the baseline tenets of harm reduction is that you meet people where they're at. Whether someone is ready for treatment or not, you treat them with the same dignity. You provide them with the same services. You make sure that you understand that they hold value as a human. Yeah, sometimes it's an off-ramp and sometimes it's not. But harm reduction is really based around an idea that you reduce harm either in the tiniest manner or in the greatest manner. Any sort of reduction of harm in any fashion is going to be a good thing for the person who is using drugs.

Seth Adler: Yeah. It reminds me of points I've heard from Art Way, DPA Art Way, and the small steps, giant leaps approach that I've heard from NPP's new Steve Hawkins. He's certainly not new, but he's new to NPP. That all makes sense. That all adds up. Thank you for that lesson there, which brings us to our final question. On the soundtrack of your life, Betty, one track, one song that's gotta be on there. You can repeat a song that we've heard from you before. It doesn't matter. What do you got?

Betty Aldworth: Everyone is going to be a little surprised if they remember my previous songs, but I woke up this morning with Elton John's I'm Still Standing in my head. Apparently that's the soundtrack today. It is not mid-'90s girl punk. Sorry.

Seth Adler: Listen. It is what it is. Still standing is certainly something that we need you to do. Betty Aldworth, again thank you for all the past work, the current work, and future work. Thanks for giving us a few minutes. It's always good to speak with you, as you well know.

Betty Aldworth: Seth, always such a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on.

Seth Adler: And there you have Betty Aldworth. Very much appreciate her time. Very much appreciate your time. Stay tuned.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.