Legal Weed: The Low Down in Sac Town

weed

As a lobbyist for a variety of industries, I have to admit that working within the cannabis space is thrilling. It is not often that one gets an opportunity to actively influence an entirely new sector, particularly when so much is happening so quickly.

And it can be kind of a whirlwind to understand if you’re not immersed in it.

At this point, most folks are aware that the people of California legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64 last November. What they may not be aware of, however, are the deliberative steps the City of Sacramento has been taking to ensure that it’s done right — and they’re doing a lot.

Let’s start with how we got here.

The medical sale of cannabis to qualified patients has been legal for quite some time, 21 years in fact. The industry was left largely unregulated during those years, and it wasn’t until 2015 with the passage of a package of bills entitled the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) that a more formalized regulatory structure was put in place. These laws set forth the requirements for everything from packaging and labeling, to taxation, to what licenses are available including dispensaries, distributors, and cultivators. Then Proposition 64 passed in 2016, and suddenly the state, cities, and counties were handed a very tight timeline to figure out how to regulate recreational weed too.

Now, it’s 2018 or bust.

According to the law, California has until January 1, 2018 to develop a process for licensing both medical and recreational cannabis businesses. In the last few months, the Governor and Legislature passed two bills that helped streamline the process. The first combined medical and recreational laws into one in order to avoid duplicative work and inefficiencies (there’s really no need for two separate processes). The second clarified the issues that remained unaddressed in the first, such as whether or not businesses can sell both medical and recreational cannabis in the same location (they can).

Now that these laws are in place, the agencies in charge of creating the detailed regulations – such as how much cannabis you can sell to one person, or how much security you’re required to have – are fiercely writing away to ensure those are in place before January of next year. So, we’re all good, right? Seems like the work is underway and we can all go buy special brownies to celebrate in January…well, not exactly.

Cities and Counties are calling the shots.

One of the more prominent requirements of the law is that the ultimate power over whether or not – and how – cannabis is regulated rests in the hands of local governments. This means 58 counties and hundreds of cities can give the thumbs up or down, and even determine what’s allowable. For instance, the County of Marin is considering only allowing cannabis delivery businesses, while the County of Sacramento has banned commercial sales altogether in the unincorporated parts of the county.

This makes things very, very complex if you’re a business that’s hoping to operate statewide. The law requires that you submit proof of local authorization (i.e. that you’re allowed to be there) in order to obtain a state license. That is a huge road block considering many local governments haven’t even begun the process of deciding whether or not they will allow cannabis sales, and many more are waiting to see what others do first.

Luckily for us, the City of Sacramento is not waiting, they’re leading.

Sacramento’s Cannabis Czar (more formally known as the Chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement), Joe Devlin, has no enviable job. While simultaneously waiting for the state to determine their rules, the city has also been charting its own path into the unknown, and there’s no guide book. Sacramento currently has 30 storefront dispensaries (and that number is unlikely to change any time soon), and is accepting applications for both cultivation and manufacturing.

After months of community stakeholder meetings and hearings, they are set to develop plans for delivery and distribution in the coming months, and may even hold discussions for on-site consumption and the potential of “cannabis cafes” as soon as early 2018. These are “high times” (pun intended) for the industry, city officials, consumers, and city coffers alike. Dispensaries alone brought in millions of additional revenues last year.

So, I can buy recreational weed in January, right?

Nope, sorry. And there is no clear timeline for when that might happen. While the city is a leader in regulating medical cannabis, they are also taking precautions. It appears that city officials would prefer to finish laying out what the rules will look like for medical first before tackling the recreational market. So, while it is legal to consume cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation, the City of Sacramento will not be the place to buy legal recreational weed…at least any time soon.

Is it too late to get involved in the process?

Quite the opposite. There are still many opportunities to have your voice heard on the sale and use of cannabis in Sacramento. The city is currently holding community discussions in each council district, stakeholder meetings at city hall, and will vet each proposal through the law and legislation committee, budget and audit committee, and planning commission before being voted upon by the city council. The Planning Commission will be discussing delivery dispensaries, distribution, and background checks at their October 26th meeting, and those are expected to be voted on by the city council on November 21st.

You can visit the City of Sacramento cannabis page for the most up-to-date information.

Upcoming Meetings:

September 27 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 3 Neighborhood Workshop

October 5 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 8 Neighborhood Workshop

October 23 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

October 24 | 3 pm | Law and Legislation Committee Meeting

November 7 | 2 pm | Budget and Audit Committee Meeting

November 16 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

November 21 | 5 pm | City Council Meeting

Making Your Voice Heard at City Hall

CityHall

Since the results of the presidential election, I’ve met a lot of Sacramentans who want to get more engaged in local politics and public policy. This is wonderful news! Generally, few people pay attention to what’s going on at City Hall, even though local decisions – be it on land use, policing, or street maintenance – have a very direct impact on residents’ day-to-day quality of life.

For example, a recent study by the Advancement Project  found that only one-in-ten Californians  contacted a public official in the past year;  nine-in-ten Californians had not even attended a “meeting where political issues are discussed.”

That’s a lost opportunity for a number of reasons. First, citizen engagement can make a big difference at the city level. No really. In a recent survey of California city officials, over 80 percent agreed that “preferences emerging from public deliberation had an impact on final decisions.” I’ve witnessed and heard the same from councilmembers.

Equally important, if civically-minded citizens never show up, someone else will fill that vacuum. In the same survey, 76 percent of city officials report that public meetings are “typically dominated by people with narrow agendas.” Yikes.

Finally, civic engagement can be personally fulfilling! Again, really. Science even says so. Civic engagement, particularly when done with neighbors or as part of a group, builds community and can increase people’s sense of life satisfaction.

And, the good news is, in Sacramento it is especially easy for citizens to advocate for local policy change. So, as someone who works in the government transparency field, here’s my quick primer on how to make your voice heard at City Hall.

  1. Meet Your Councilmember.

One of the very best ways to affect change is to speak directly with your councilmember. On any given day your average councilmember has dozens of policy issues jostling for their attention: a one-on-one conversation can elevate your issue above the noise. A 30-minute conversation can also cover more ground and leave a more lasting impression than a typical letter.

Unlike your congressperson or state legislator, who represent so many residents that substantive personal contact with constituents is near mathematically impossible, I’ve found Sacramento city councilmembers and their staff to be very accessible. Most are eager to have coffee with a constituent they have not had the opportunity to hear from before. To request a meeting, call (916) 808-5300 and ask to speak to your councilmember’s scheduler. Try and set things up at least two to three weeks in advance and understand they are doing their best to fit you into a very busy schedule. You will probably be asked to email over a one to two paragraph description of what you’d like to discuss to help make the meeting as productive as possible.

Sometimes councilmembers just will not have time to meet. Don’t get discouraged! Many councilmembers have community office hours or attend neighborhood meetings (often noticed in their newsletter, which you should sign up for!) where you’ll have an opportunity to speak with them without a formal meeting. In addition, each councilmember has two to three staff who advise them on policy matters: a meeting with staff can be equally valuable, especially because they will often have more time to consider your concerns.

  1. Email your councilmember.

The fastest way to let your councilmember know what you think is to email or call them. Most councilmembers personally read the email you send them, unfiltered by staff, so this can be a very effective way of letting your direct representative know your concerns. Here is the official contact information for every councilmember:

What’s that — not sure who your councilmember is? Don’t worry, you are far from the first. The city has a helpful council district locator tool here. Simply enter your street address and the tool will spit out your district and councilmember!

  1. Speak at a Council Meeting.

Dais

Most changes in city policy are decided by the city council at a public meeting. If the change is being done through a city ordinance, it will first have to be discussed at the city council’s Law & Legislation Committee (affectionately called “L&L”), which vets policy changes before they go to the full City Council for a vote. With both City Council and L&L meetings, the public is given the opportunity to directly address decision-makers on any item before they vote.

The hardest thing is to know when an item you are interested in is coming before the council. City council and standing committee agendas are posted five days in advance on the city’s website. In this case, that means on Thursdays by 5:00 p.m. for both the City Council and L&L. Unfortunately, there is presently no way to subscribe to council agendas by email (RSS is available), so you either need to monitor the council’s agenda weekly or, if there’s a particular upcoming issue you are interested in, ask your councilmember or the city clerk when they expect that issue to come before the council.

You must appear in person to speak at a meeting. The city council generally meets weekly on Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m. in the New City Hall council chambers, located at 915 I St. The Law & Legislation Committee typically meets every second and fourth Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. also in council chambers. The city clerk maintains an up-to-date calendar of council and standing committee meeting dates online.

To comment, you must first complete a speaker slip and hand it to a city clerk staffer who will be conspicuously seated at a desk on the left side of the room, in front of the council dais. Speaker slips and pencils are available on a counter at the back of the city council chamber. However, you can also download, print, and complete a speaker slip at home and bring it to the meeting. The most important thing is to look up the item number you want to speak on in the agenda and mark it on your speaker slip; otherwise the city clerk will not know when to call you up to speak. If you are at all confused, there are lots of staff around who are happy to help.

When you are called, you will have two minutes to speak. A timer on a screen in front of you will count down the time you have left. Once your time is up, you need to quickly wrap up your comment in about 5-10 seconds or the meeting chair may cut you off. Remember that council meetings can drag on late into the night and it’s hard to predict when an agenda item will come up … be prepared to wait a few hours and bring a good book!

  1. Submit a Written Comment.

Another way to get your views before the council at a meeting is to submit an electronic comment. The “eComment” feature is conveniently located next to where the agendas are posted. Simply click on the eComment button, scroll down and select the agenda item you wish to comment on, and then write your message. Electronic comments are made available to councilmembers at the dais as agenda items come up.  Because it is fully electronic, you can even submit an eComment up to 15 minutes before the start of the meeting and it will be included as part of the official record.

eComment

eComment presently only accommodates 1,000 characters of text (or about 7 tweets), so keep your comment pithy.

  1. Join a Group!

As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. There are many groups that are active in trying to make the City a better place. Joining a group is a good way to become aware of what’s going on, be a part of a community, and effectuate change. There are so many groups out there for people of every political stripe, here are just a few your Sacramentality Team are proud members of:

  • League of Women Voters: For the past few years I have been a member of the local chapter, which works to promote honest, ethical, and transparent government. We recently partnered with the City Council and Common Cause (where, full disclosure, I work!) to create a City Ethics Commission, Ethics Code, and Redistricting Commission — one of the most significant local governance reform packages in the state.
  • Local Democratic Clubs: Sacramento is a Democratic town, and as the state capitol an especially political town. The County Party has a list of almost two dozen local Democratic clubs, many of which are active at the City level. For example, Caity is the Fundraising Director for the Fem Dems of Sacramento, which recently advocated for the City to take a closer look at its diversity practices to ensure its workforce is diverse and equitably paid.
  • Neighborhood Associations: Want to meet your neighbors, beautify your street, get speedbumps installed, and discuss the City’s crime prevention strategy? The City has dozens of neighborhood associations across the City that do just that each year. Associations tend to have close relationships with councilmembers and can be good catalysts for change. For example, Devin co-founded and is a board member of the Pocket-Greenhaven Community Association, where he has hosted a number of community events and advocated for funding for community priorities.

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As this short list indicates, there are so many ways to be civically active in our City. How are you civically active in Sacramento?

Is there a tip that should have made this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Who We Are: A City of Dreamers

A blue road sign that says Welcome to California in script, alongside a picture of a California Golden Poppy. Behind the sign is a highway, leading to mountains and a cloudy, but bright horizon.

I was born here in California. We were not wealthy, but my parents had adequate economic opportunities available to them to provide for our family, I had good schools available to me and the community was reasonably safe (although anyone complaining about crime today must have forgotten the early/mid 1990s). Today I have a very good job. My neighborhood has excellent schools and is the safest in the city (more on that later). I have no reason to go anywhere. I love my son more than anything in the world and I cannot imagine how I would feel if I were unable to provide a good life and good opportunities for him here in Sacramento.

I worked hard and made (mostly) good decisions along the way. I have faced and overcome some adversity. But most of my success can be attributed to having born to educated (white) parents in the greatest place in the world. I feel incredibly blessed.

Many have not been so lucky. Their situations were so dire, they made the choice to leave behind the only life they’ve ever known, to risk everything in hopes of giving their families a better life. All because of the luck of the draw of where and when they happened to be born. Some were forced to flee their homes because of violence and economic ruin driven by the drug cartels that thrive because of American demand and our failed War on Drugs. I cannot imagine what it is like to live that why. I cannot imagine facing the choice that Aaron Sorkin so perfectly described:

With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm. And the ones that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here. Talk about impressive. – President Bartlet

43 million American residents were born somewhere else, tackling either enormous bureaucratic challenges or a border with 20 thousand agents patrolling it. Impressive. About one-in-four (11 M) are undocumented. Most came as adults, some were brought by their parents as children. About one-in-ten (1.1 M) of the undocumented population were eligible for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, allowing these Dreamers to live and work without fear of deportation, in two year increments. About four-in-five (790k) of the eligible Dreamers are currently enrolled, including 223 thousand in California and 8 thousand in Sacramento. (Author’s estimate: Local data has not been updated publicly since the first year of the program, but California’s statewide proportion has remained steady, so it seems likely that Sacramento’s share has as well. This estimate is based on that assumption.)

Our region is lucky to have them. Allowing Dreamers to work could be worth $200 billion to $400 billion nationally over the next ten years, which translates to $2 to 4 billion in Sacramento (Author’s estimate: Assuming a proportional share). In discussing the lower estimate, the conservative CATO Institute wrote that the estimate “is driven by the fact that the ‘Dreamers’ tend to do well in school and as a result do well in the job market after they complete their education.”

Of Sacramento’s 8,000 Dreamers, about 1,000 are currently enrolled and doing well at Sacramento State (A university known for advancing its students economic prospects). Those students will be allowed to continue to attend school and California, which will continue to charge them in-state tuition because that is simply the right thing to do. But without DACA they will no longer be allowed to work legally. Funding college these days is hard enough. Telling students they cannot work and earn the money they need to pay tuition is simply heartless.

Just as I cannot imagine having to make the choices these Dreamers’ parents had to make, I also cannot imagine the challenges these students must be facing or the fear of returning to the shadows or facing deportation. I have had too privileged of a life for that.

Even so, I hope to be able to help. I am asking friends, my fellow alumni and the Sacramento community to join me in making a contribution to Sacramento State’s Dreamer Resource Center. The Center provides a wide variety of legal, academic, personal and financial support to Dreamers at Sac State.

Please join me and tell these students that you have their back. Tell these students that all of the hard work they have put into succeeding in school and making it to college was not for nothing. Tell these students that you believe in their American Dream.

Any amount helps, $5, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1,000. Just $30 would cover tuition for the equivalent of one class session. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

Whazzuuuup with Budweiser’s Attack on Sacramento Brewing?

Ruhstaller AdIn July, the news broke that Golden Road had submitted plans to develop a new taproom in Midtown. Golden Road is a Los Angeles-based brewery known for mediocre beer and for recently being purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgo-Brazilian mega-conglomerate best known for producing an indistinguishable line of lagers, including Budweiser & Bud Light, Becks, Corona, Fosters, Labatt, Stella Artois and some of the biggest brewers from Argentina, Belgium Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, the best of which are known for their flavorless, easy drinking demeanor. Those beers make a lot of people happy (and they help to finance amazing commercials). There is nothing wrong with that. But many of us prefer a more locally-flavored alternative and, perhaps more critically, brewing close to home offers substantial economic benefits.

Over the last two decades, the traditional mass-production brewers, or “Big Beer,” have been squeezed from all sides. With the takeoff of craft brewing and the increasing popularity of wine and spirits, Big Beer lost 1/3 of its market share.

BeverageMarketShare

Compiled by author from multiple sources,
primarily the Brewers Association and the Distilled Spirits Council

BourbonLineAt first Big Beer ignored craft brewers. Then they laughed at them (Upsetting some of their recently purchased “friends” in the process). Now, unable to beat them, AB InBev has turned to buying them up, beginning in 2011 with the purchase of Goose Island. That Chicago brewer produces of a range of quality products, including the legendary Bourbon County Brand barrel aged stout. While some saw the slippery slope we were headed down, many celebrated their ability to get Bourbon County nationwide, without long lines on Black Friday.

For nearly three years Goose Island remained the lone former-craft brewery in AB’s portfolio, however, in 2014 it became clear that AB thought this experiment had paid off. They seemed to agree with the adage, “Once you go craft, you never go back.” Over the next two years it would add six more former-craft breweries, including Golden Road, with several more added since. AB would selectively pick one growing player in major beer markets to backstop with the kind of marketing and distribution heft that only AB InBev can provide (sometimes with questionable legality). Some of the breweries, like Goose Island, Elysian and Wicked Weed were highly respected. Others, like Golden Road, Blue Point and Four Peaks appear to have been acquired more for their strategic place in the market. All have expanded significantly since their acquisition.

Meanwhile, brewing has been booming in the Sacramento region. From just a handful of breweries at the turn of the decade, Sacramento’s brewing scene has grown over 10x with about 70 breweries, including larger operations like Track 7 and Knee Deep and smaller, critically acclaimed breweries including Moonraker, Mraz, New Glory, New Helvetia and Device. With numerous neighborhoods that have yet to open their own brewery (Pocket Brewing, I’m looking for you), room for growth is plentiful.

The Midtown scene may be reaching saturation, though. The recent closure of Rubicon, Sacramento’s original craft brewery, speaks to this likelihood. In a saturated market, adding competition will only serve to undercut the existing businesses. When that competition has AB InBev’s marketing and distribution advantages behind it, the out-of-towner is ‘starting on third base’ without having to hit a triple.

Craft beer is a valuable industry. Responsible for over 400 thousand jobs nationally including over 50 thousand in California and perhaps five thousand in the Sacramento region (author’s estimate), breweries are more than simply a bar. Craft breweries are manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer in one. If we assume the menu price is a typical 4x markup that means every $6 beer of local craft brew is keeping an extra $1 in the community after accounting for state and federal taxes. That dollar ripples out through the local economy adding another 50 cents or so of economic output. If we extrapolate that to a 1,000 barrel micro-brewery (the average California craft brewery is 5,000 barrels), assuming 200 pints sold per barrel (accounting for spoilage, tasting and frequent ‘quality control’), sending our business to this purveyor of locally manufactured beers would add $300,000 to the economy, relative to a bar or taproom serving beverages produced out of the region. Multiply that by 70 and we are looking at $21 million in additional local economic output because our drinking dollars are being spent at those breweries instead of traditional bars or places like Golden Road where the brewing occurs elsewhere.

The reality is, when AB InBev’s tasting room comes in to Sacramento, it will be undercutting our own local manufacturers and causing our region to lose in a zero-sum game. As the National Beer Wholesaler Association describes it:

“Rearranging the deck chairs in your market … does not provide a real economic impact since the size of the total pie remains the same.”

I am not sure what the solution is, but it was unfortunate that Golden Road’s minimal footprint meant it was able to sail through the City’s permitting process with no discussion of the harm it would do to our economy.

So let’s start that discussion. If you would like to learn more or have thoughts on how we can protect our local industries, I encourage you to come by New Helvetia Brewing tonight (September 5th, 2017 at 6 pm) for a very special Wonk Wednesday, Tuesday edition. In honor of the California Craft Beer Summit this week in Sacramento, we will be raising a pint and discussing strategies to support the development and success of our local craft breweries. Also check out Cindy & Isaac’s discussion with Quinn Gardner of Sactown Union Brewery on Ransacked.

WonkWedsBrew

Who We Are: A Union Town

Happy Labor Day

Nothing like Labor Day for us to get back to work. Minor issues like the birth of a child impeded our ability to keep up with the site for a few months there. We will have some catching up to do over the next few months and, happily, we have a fantastic new member of our team, Caity Maple, to help us make that happen. We have some fantastic guest writers lined up to write from time-to-time as well.

But for now, in honor of Labor Day, let us talk about organized labor and the Sacramento in our continuing series, “Who We are.”

For too long, Sacramento has struggled to not just find, but to really celebrate, our identity. We have grappled with an identity crisis. Whether it is our Sac’o Tomatoes cow-town roots or perceptions that we are little more than a pit stop between San Francisco and Tahoe, too often we find ourselves with a chip on our shoulder, trying to keep up with the Joneses but distracting ourselves from the fantastic, unique, comfortable city that we all share. Throughout this series, I use data to explore different aspects of Sacramento to try to help us understand — and celebrate — Who We Are.

Union membership has been in a well-documented decline for the last half century. Nationally it dropped from about 1 in 3 in the mid-sixties to 1 in 10 today. California’s membership levels have declined as well, dropping from a similar 1 in 3 to about 1 in 6 today. Meanwhile, despite declines in California, overall, and nationally, Sacramento’s union membership has remained basically flat (with significant year-to-year fluctuations) over the past thirty years.

LaborDecline

Source: UnionStats.com

This isn’t solely a product of Sacramento’s concentrated state workforce, although the majority of Sacramento’s public sector are union members. Over eleven percent of the private sector workforce is organized as well, 73% higher than the national average and 26% higher than the state.

DSC07282The decline in union membership has been linked to the decline in the middle class wages, lower non-union wages and increased inequalityalthough not everyone agrees.

Here in California, however, we can see that inequality play out pretty clearly across the state’s various metropolitan areas. The lower the union membership, the higher the inequality. Sacramento and Riverside have the highest union membership among large metros, while having the lowest levels of inequality.

UnionInequality

Source: Author’s Analysis based on UnionStats.com & Economic Policy Institute data

On this Labor Day, while celebrating the important victories labor has won for all working Americans, we in Sacramento can also celebrate organized labor’s sustained strength in our city.

Full Disclosure: The author has been a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Auto Workers and is currently a member of SEIU, Local 100.