When President-elect Joe Biden announced he was selecting Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, the California cannabis industry wasted no time in speculating as to who her replacement might be.
Now, with Harris expected to begin her White House duties late next month, the chatter over which candidate Gov. Newsom should choose as her successor in the Senate has reached an absolute fever pitch. Even before an explosive New Yorker article raised genuine concerns this week about the cognitive condition of California’s other senator, Dianne Feinstein, a debate over who California’s new junior senator should be has inspired a coalition of Bay Area cannabis companies to offer their collective input.
In an open letter published on Dec. 8 and addressed to Gov. Newsom, a group of several legacy Bay Area dispensaries, bestselling local brands, delivery services, and cannabis organizations called for him to select U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“Throughout her career, Rep. Lee has been a fearless champion for the stigmatized, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised — including victims of the drug war and cannabis prohibition,” the letter reads. “As co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Lee has proven herself to be a major champion of our decades-long movement.”
Sabrina Fendrick, Chief Public Affairs Officer for Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), told Bloom & Oil by phone on Friday that she had multiple motivations for asking various cannabis interests in San Francisco and the larger Bay Area to sign onto the letter.
“It was done for a variety of reasons,” she explained. “I spent seven years with the national chapter of NORML and then I came to BPG. This is a conversation where there’s been a lot of public debate but I didn’t see many social justice or cannabis-based operators weighing in. I thought this was an important opportunity to weigh-in.”
In addition to emphasizing how important it remains for the Bay Area cannabis community to work together to seek what Fendrick describes as a number of vital changes, she also detailed why Rep. Barbara Lee was the right woman for the job.
The criteria are pretty compelling.
“Historically speaking, it’s only in the last year or so that any senator from California has ever even advocated for cannabis reform,” Fendrick said, “so I feel it’s important to make sure that there’s someone in there that has a proven history of being dedicated to this issue.”
The significance of the legal cannabis industry on California’s overall economy cannot be overstated. Earlier this month, Nicole Elliot — Gov. Newsom’s senior adviser on cannabis business — declared that the state is on pace to collect $1 billion in taxes from licensed cannabis sales in 2020. Given its economic significance alone, it thus seems reasonable to expect, at minimum, one of California’s two elected U.S. senators to have a keen understanding of this market and its needs.
Though Harris was no quick convert to cannabis herself, her late pivot to a criminal justice reform platform with regards to drug laws before the White House came calling is something Fendrick and her co-signers hope her successor will look to carry forward.
That’s another reason why Rep. Lee — who has represented California’s 13th District, which includes the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, since 2013 — appeals to those Bay Area pot professionals who see the responsibilities of their jobs as encompassing both commerce and advocacy.
“She has a history of standing up, alone, on issues, very publicly, for things that she believes in,” Fendrick noted. “That is something that Washington is just missing overall as a culture. I think that Barbara Lee would be a breath of fresh air in the Senate.”
In closing, the open letter to Gov. Newsom reiterates the urgency of the situation faced by the cannabis industry in California, warning that the impressive profits of today cannot be sustained without support from federal leadership.
“The past few years have been trying and relentless for our industry,” the letter notes. “We have been paying cripplingly high tax rates (with no breaks or credits) at every level of government. We have to compete with an illicit market and burdensome, expensive regulations. We have tried time and again to get some form of regulator relief or tax modification at the state level but change has been piecemeal and negligible.”
Then there’s the subject of 2020’s specific hardships to consider as well.
“This year has been particularly calamitous for the cannabis industry,” the letter’s close continues. “Between the wildfires, the looting, and the broader economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic, the trauma is real and the neglect is palpable. While we very much appreciate being designated as an ‘essential business’ during these trying times, it’s a Band-Aid that stops the bleeding, but not the infection. We hope you rise to meet the moment and choose the Honorable Barbara Lee as our state’s next senator.”
Fendrick also encouraged any who wish to voice their support for Rep. Lee to send their own messages to Gov. Newsom’s office.
“A lot of people think that call to actions and things like that aren’t very impactful,” she said, “but if there’s nothing said, then no one’s going to know how anybody feels, and then somebody’s going to get into office, and there’s going to be disappointment. I want to at least be able to say we tried to do something about it. In my view, it would behoove everybody in the social justice, criminal justice reform, and cannabis industry spaces to support Barbara Lee for Senate.”