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February 15, 2022
#NoDrugWarV2: Supernova Women Leads Capitol Rally for Cannabis Tax Reform, Equity, & Inclusivity

BY TAYLOR ENGLE | Photography by Teddy Labissiere for Supernova Women

As legalization sweeps across the U.S., the emerging legal cannabis industry is still relatively young and in a state of constant flux. Unfortunately, due to "oppressive taxation" that starts at cultivation level, the promise of inclusivity and equity for Black and Brown operators and legacy farmers is dwindling.

Cannabis's legacy market has been in operation for decades, and it's these legacy operators, advocates, and activists who are largely responsible for shaping our present-day legal market, its products, its legalization status, and its practices, from cultivation to distribution. 

Recent legislation from various states like New York have promised reparations and equitable policies to support the legacy operators who have built this industry from the ground up. Unfortunately, social equity in cannabis for Emerald Triangle legacy farmers and BIPOC small-licensed cannabis operators—"the two populations most harmed by the War on Drugs"—is expected to be a long process that will require tenacity, patience, and unshakeable determination on behalf of advocates everywhere. 

Nonprofit cannabis organization Supernova Women knows this uphill battle all too well. The California-based organization, which was founded in 2015, aims to empower Black and Brown operators in the cannabis space to become self-sufficient shareholders, and they’ve recently taken great action with California’s government to make sure their mission is known and shared.

Supernova Women battles "War on Drugs 2.0" from California’s Capitol

Supernova Women has already had an action-packed 2022, to say the least. The organization kicked off the year with #NoDrugWarV2, a rally and press conference that took place at the California State Capitol in Sacramento on January 13, with cannabis advocates, activists, legacy farmers, and small business owners in attendance to raise their voices for tax reform, regulatory relief, and industry inclusivity.

The event took place as a precursor for California State Legislature’s July 1 budget deadline, which will determine the fate of excise tax for equity retailers and the repeal of the cultivation tax for growers all over the state. Cannabis advocates are comparing California’s latest dry-weight flower tax amendment—which will raise rates by almost five percent—to a "War on Drugs 2.0," and Supernova Women is urging people not to look away.

 

The event acted as a follow up to another rally and press conference Supernova Women held in November 2021 at Oakland City Hall, which addressed the high number of cannabusinesses that were the victims of a series of robberies with little to no response from the Oakland police department.

“It felt very important to bring that to the media’s attention, and it resulted in Oakland PD responding,” Amber Senter told Ember. Senter is the co-founder, chairperson, and executive director at Supernova Women, as well as the CEO of MAKR House, an Oakland-based cannabis manufacturer and brand.

“We highlighted the need for tax reduction, because BIPOC operators don’t have the capital necessary to recover when things like this happen. With no police response and no end in sight to these events occurring, we felt like we needed to show what was going on, and highlight that being overtaxed is a major reason why we can’t recover when we suffer from things like that.”

The January 13th rally/conference was an extension of these ideas, calling for the repeal of cannabis's cultivation tax (no other agricultural product has a cultivation tax), and general taxation reductions to help stabilize the market overall. These exorbitant tax policies are allowing for Black and Brown operators and legacy farmers in cannabis to continue to be exploited and profited off of as the industry evolves and grows; and these communities are struggling to stay afloat with high regulatory costs and exorbitant taxation.

 

“The cannabis market is in terrible shape in California right now, and that really needs to change. We had about 100 people show up, and assemblymember Mia Bonta and Senator Steven Bradford both spoke in support of our efforts,” Senter said.

The rally received coverage from NBC to High Times, helping to expose and elevate these messages so the rest of the industry can stay informed on what’s going on and what still needs to happen for a level playing field to be a reality. “I feel like it was a great action for us. We achieved our goal of getting the messaging and the word out about the state of the industry, and the fact that operators really need help,” Senter said.

Key moments from the #NoDrugWarV2 Rally on January 13

Those who missed Supernova Women's recent action with the public can watch the live-streamed coverage on Supernova Women's Facebook page. The below transcribed quotes from Senter, advocates, and farmers epitomize the ethos of the event, and the initiatives so many in the industry are continuing to tirelessly work toward.

Amber Senter opened the event, stating:

"We're here today because the craft cannabis industry and social equity businesses in California are in crisis and on the brink of collapse. For 40 years, Black and Brown people were locked up, detained, and denied freedoms for the same activities that are enriching the purse strings of cannabis corporations today. Emerald Triangle legacy farmers have also suffered because of the failed War on Drugs. Not only has the state fallen short on its promises to right the wrongs inflicted upon communities impacted by the War on Drugs, but it is also perpetuated for a regressive War on Drugs 2.0 through oppressive taxation, which must end. This is our cry and plea for help."

 

Genine Coleman, executive director of Origin's Council, a statewide advocacy organization serving the historic cannabis farming regions of California:

"Cannabis farmers are faced with collapsing wholesale prices, barriers to market, retail access, and a completely unsustainable tax structure. This has created the perfect storm for economic upheaval within our historic rural producing communities. Legacy operators who have had both the opportunity and the courage to step forward are losing both their businesses and their land holdings at an alarming rate. California is at risk of losing this world-renowned agricultural heritage and scores of regulated businesses. Until such time as the state legally recognizes us as farmers and cannabis as an agricultural crop, we’ll be operating under a legal framework premised on prohibition."

 

Kika Keith, owner and operator of Los Angeles's first Black woman-owned dispensary, Gorilla Rx:

"Governor Newsom is why we're standing here and we're talking to you at the State Capitol. We have had enough of your empty promises! Six years ago, as lieutenant governor, you told us the purpose of marijuana legalization was social justice, to right the wrongs of the abject failure of the War on Drugs in the United States of America. You framed your support for legalizing cannabis as a move for racial justice and economic empowerment. [...] Where [are] the reinvestment dollars in my community? Where are the jobs for Black and Brown people devastated by drug felonies on their record? What is the recompense for my brothers and sisters who have lost their lives? [...] Thirty four and a half percent of taxes is unjustified. This egregious taxation is unreasonable and is the direct antithesis to social equity and social justice."

 

Assemblymember Mia Bonta, serving the California State Assembly's 18th district on behalf of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro:

"California cannabis stands at a crossroads, and the actions—or inaction—of this Governor and Legislature will shape the face of cannabis for decades to come. In doing so, California will shape the faces in cannabis, and whether they look like yours and mine, and those of so many others still locked up and locked out, or whether cannabis becomes just another corporate enterprise [...] California’s cannabis market, legacy growers, and equity communities need relief:

Tax relief, to draw consumers back to the legal market. Retail relief, to create more legal retail opportunities across the state. And regulatory relief, to simplify the rules and level the playing field."

 

Casey O'Neill, cannabis farmer and co-operator of HappyDay Farms in Mendocino:

"I grew up under the choppers in the midst of the drug war. In July of 1985, law enforcement landed a helicopter in the meadow and stormed our home for 30 plants. My pregnant mother escaped with me and my younger brother into the creek bed to the north. The trauma of that day forms one of my earliest memories.

… I stand here today as a participant in the hard work of legislative and regulatory development over the last eight years to say to you that the system is not working. I traveled the four hours from my farm to bring a message that the unfair taxation spells the end of the dream for so many small farms and small businesses. I ask today for the removal of the taxes, and if not for their full removal, for a shift to a tiered tax system that places the burden on large operators and exempts the equity businesses and legacy farms. These businesses founded this community in this industry, and today we are teetering on the brink."

 

Karla Avila, cannabis farmer, homesteader, and owner of Flower Days Farm, and executive director of Trinity County Agricultural Alliance:

"The existential threat our legacy cannabis communities face today is due to the flaws of a regulatory system so steeply based in the obsolete framework of the War on Drugs mindset, that it is clearly failing us and failing in its intent to bring California’s long-established medical cannabis industry—a culture and crop with over 70 years of great historical, cultural, and economic significance in our region, successfully into legalization.

... Our state’s global reputation as one of the world’s most significant cannabis producing regions was built on the backs of these thousands of small family farms who are facing an existential crisis today."

Supernova Women continues its efforts for equity

Supernova Women then went on to host their own virtual town hall meeting on January 19, hosted alongside Ecotone, a leading impact analysis and social value communication consultancy firm heavily involved with social equity in cannabis. Their presentation was aimed primarily at government officials and policymakers.

Together, the two groups combined forces with a few other companies to create a report called the Social Equity Impact Report 2022, which uses Social Return on Investment (SROI) to measure what a society can expect to get back on their investment—in this case, in the cannabis space.

“When governments invest in these programs, it’s usually a certain amount per equity operator—in Oakland, it’s a little over $30,000,” Senter said. ”The report shows return on investment when they’re properly supported through a robust social equity program, and it also shows how that number increases with more support.” 

Overall, the report makes a case for social equity programs being properly funded, as well as showing how much taxes the social equity operators have to pay, even when they’re given money. “How much is going back into the state? This can be a useful tool for advocates, not just in the creation of social equity programs, but also the real need for tax reform,” Senter said. 

What’s next for Supernova Women and social equity?

The work Supernova Women has done so far for the industry has been groundbreaking, but Senter and the rest of the team are well aware how much further cannabis has to go before it can be truly deemed equitable, inclusive, and fair.

While the organization remains focused on California, where taxes are arguably in the worst state and in most need of reform (especially since the state typically serves as a model for the rest of the nation to go on as they create cannabis legislation), Supernova Women is ready to bring their message to the rest of the country.

“We can’t pull data from places that don’t have data yet, and since California and Oakland in particular have been operating for a while now, we had a lot of data to pull from to create our report,” Senter said. “However, we are eventually going to go into other states and do analyses there, but it’s just a matter of waiting for operators to come online, for programs to be funded... We’re really hoping that what we’ve created here will make the case for these programs to get funded sooner. The longer we wait, the more time it takes.”

Although Supernova Women's Social Equity Impact Report highlighted plenty of downfalls with California’s approach to the legal cannabis industry, one of the most important messages Supernova Women wants to get across is how harmful it is to have a delay in getting these programs off the ground in the first place. 

“This is why we need to have these conversations now, and why these programs need to be funded right away,” Senter said.


Taylor Engle is a freelance writer, editor, and public relations/marketing specialist based in Brooklyn, New York. In her free time, she loves to cook, do yoga, and hang out with her cat.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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