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The Future of Cannabis Is Now

Three SXSW panels explore how education can change lives if policies keep up with the industry


Rachel Burkons, co-founder of Altered Plates (Photo by Nicole Boggs)

As cannabis conversations continue to grow in the American zeitgeist, understanding the power and nuance of the plant is critical to its future. Three panels on the cannabis track are focused on educating the public on cannabis culture and cultivation (it is this country’s fastest-growing industry) in the hopes of destigmatizing and creating equity in the space. “Cannabis is a social justice, health care, and economic issue. It is a plant for everyone, and yet not everyone gets to enjoy it with the same privileges, safety, or access,” said Janessa Bailey of Leafly. “Crafting policies that help create a fair and equitable cannabis industry has never been more important.”

The current culture editor for Leafly, Bailey created a first-of-its-kind state-by-state report, Seeds of Change, measuring equity and justice within cannabis legalization. The report identifies the eight key policies that states must include to create the kind of markets that provide opportunities to all. A few of the report findings: One in 20 Black Americans holds business equity in any industry, but Black Americans hold business equity in only 1 in 50 cannabis companies; automatic expungement and equitable licensing systems are two of the most impactful strategies that states can employ to combat inequities in cannabis; and Black people are over three times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession, despite comparable usage rates.

“Cannabis is a social justice, health care, and economic issue.” – Janessa Bailey

“I wrote Seeds of Change because I could see a widening chasm of inequity happening before my eyes as a member of the cannabis industry. As a journalist, it wouldn’t be right for me not to note, in detail, how complex and different the problems are and how they vary from state to state,” she said.

Bailey is sitting on the Puff, Puff, Pass: Equity in Cannabis Legalization panel where they’ll host fact-based discussions on topics like the record-high job numbers in legal-use states, data measuring states’ equity efforts, how the future of cannabis is affected by policy, and how to ensure Black and brown communities are not left out. Bailey said, “The industry as a whole can and must do better to address systemic inequity. Current barriers aren’t erased by simply declaring cannabis legal. There is something that every state can do, and the time to close the gap in cannabis is now.

“Cannabis isn’t just about getting high. It’s about jobs, medicine, and the way our government is structured for the American people to fail or succeed.”

She added that a hospitality lens can promote accessibility and acceptability to cannabis, which is helpful for destigmatization. In the Future of Cannabis Consumption & Hospitality panel, that’s exactly what they aim to explore.

Like wine and spirits, cannabinoids have nuance – terroir, region, flavor, varietals – but the resulting effects run an even wider gamut. “You can’t do a cannabis pairing dinner unless people know how to taste cannabis,” said Rachel Burkons of Altered Plates, a hospitality consulting group based in Los Angeles that believes the dining table is a very exciting classroom.

“Cannabis is a miraculously communal thing when you’re given the opportunity to experience it in a social way,” Burkons added. “Consumers need to know how they can expect to feel, especially now with so many different forms [nanotech gummies, concentrates, flower, drinks, etc.], each with a different effect, different onset, different duration. The endocannabinoid system responsible for processing these compounds is so highly individuated.”

Cannabis hospitality – or culinary cannabis – is a burgeoning empire in legal states like California and New York. “We try to mitigate fears and it always starts with education, and the social component is essential – just like you would ask a bartender [about alcohol], same for cannabis,” she said. “But it is essential that I mention: There are still 40,000 people in prison for cannabis in this country, so our job is to not only educate, but to really understand that there are people in jail for what I do for a living.”

Sustainability is also at the forefront of these critical conversations of justice. At the Offsetting Cannabis’ Sustainability Crisis panel, Graham Farrar will present various cultivation techniques for energy-efficient cannabis growing methods. A technologist and environmentalist who happens to also love cannabis, Farrar co-founded Glass House Brands, a vertically integrated cannabis brand-building platform in California with a focus on sustainable, efficient, high-quality, greenhouse cultivation. Their recent independent study revealed some startling statistics. A few: The average indoor facility’s electric use intensity was 95% higher and produced 741% more carbon emissions than greenhouses; approximately 80% of the U.S.-based cannabis cultivation occurs in indoor facilities; cannabis accounts for more than 1% of U.S. electricity consumption, and it’s climbing to meet demand.

By utilizing tools like integrated pest management, Glass House and fellow sustainability-minded industry leaders help decrease the cost of the energy-efficient methods, which increases accessibility. “Our goal is to grow craft cannabis for more people, eventually at a national scale, and do it efficiently enough that everyone can afford it,” said Farrar. “I believe that cannabis can be a leader in agriculture. It is an industry that started from a place of compassion and healing, and we should maintain that as we grow.

“The entire cannabis industry starts with the plant, and the plant comes from the planet. It is imperative that we operate in a way that is sustainable or we are sowing the seeds of our own demise. We are all citizens of this planet and that should be front and center in our minds in everything that we do.”


Cannabis at SXSW


Puff, Puff, Pass: Equity in Cannabis Legalization

Sunday, March 13, 2:30pm, Hilton

The Future of Cannabis Consumption & Hospitality

Tuesday, March 15, 11:30am, Hilton

Offsetting Cannabis’ Sustainability Crisis

Tuesday, March 15, 2:30pm, Hilton

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

SXSW 2022, SXSW Interactive 2022, Cannabis, Janessa Bailey, Rachel Burkons, Graham Farrar, Leafly, Altered Plates

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