The Green Economy: Shockingly White

The War on Drugs is far from over, and the racist ideologies that inspired it in the first place are alive and well in today's America. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, nearly 600 thousand people were arrested for marijuana possession last year. 46.9% of arrestees for drug violations were black or Latino Americans, a much higher percentage than their representation in the general population. The ACLU cites data that in some states, people of color are up to 8 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Almost half a million Americans remain behind bars for drug-related charges. The racist nature of drug law enforcement has resounding impacts, even in states where cannabis is legal for adult consumption.

In Washington state, a felony conviction, or even two misdemeanors, immediately disqualifies anyone who would otherwise apply for a legal, marijuana retail license. Because people of color are given harsher criminal convictions than white people across the board, a greater percentage of people of color have no chance at all of entering the market. What’s more, people with real cannabis experience and expertise are denied access to the legal industry, because they fell victim to the war on drugs. Despite the fact that cannabis consumption is roughly equal across racial lines, white business owners in Washington are greatly over-represented. 80 percent of marijuana-related businesses are owned by white people, under 6 percent of owners are Hispanic, and under 5 percent of owners are black. Non-white communities end up severely underrepresented at the highest level of the marijuana industry.

The broken criminal justice system is just one obstacle potential businessmen and women face. Assuming a budding entrepreneur meets all of the LCB’s requirements, applied during the correct period of time, and were awarded a license, they now must face a severe financial challenge. Ever wonder why you can’t use your credit card at your favorite local dispensary? Federal prohibition of marijuana means that banks aren’t allowed to give loans or credit to marijuana businesses. Poorly designed laws that are supposed to prevent money-laundering, require multi-million dollar business to operate solely in cash.

What does this mean for the rapidly growing cannabis industry? That any potential business operator has to be able to independently fund their startup. Even our dear commander in chief received a small loan of a million dollars to begin his empire - no such handouts exist in the green economy. Because cannabis store owners have to be able to pay their own way, this creates a homogenous looking group at the executive level.

Given the obvious reality of racial inequality in the legal cannabis industry, what is being done to combat it? On the part of the state and federal government, basically nothing. Just this past June, the United States Senate panel on appropriations blocked an amendment that would allow cannabis businesses to function financially like any other business; access to loans and other vital services from banks. The WSLCB isn’t helping the matter either. Having reached its arbitrarily decided number of license allotments, it is extremely difficult for new players to enter the market.

Luckily, we are not totally powerless! Until legislative action can be taken, we can all make an effort to support those businesses near us that are managed by diverse communities. And as we arrive at election season - do your research. Support candidates that will allow the legal marijuana industry to be more representative of Washington’s diverse populations, and help business to grow to their fullest potential.



Should we tip our budtenders? The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” No justifiable policy reason exists, and even if it did, the WSLCB has not made that reason public. Instead, the LCB’s agents have gone into King County I502 stores and demanded that budtenders take down tip jars. If the WSLCB wants to eliminate tip jars for budtenders, there is no one to stop them. It’s up to us (and you) to fight it.

Why do we hate tipping so much? The short answer is that we don’t. While it’s true that more than a hundred years ago our legislators enacted the first anti-tipping law in the US (and five more states followed), it’s clear that the laws were not taken seriously by the people or by the government. Washington State’s 1909 anti-tipping law was so poorly regarded when it passed that Governor Hay himself caused a minor scandal when he broke the new law. “If a waiter gives good service I feel like rewarding him… I do not believe the law prohibiting tipping is being observed at all and I am not afraid of being arrested,” he told a reporter for the San Francisco Call in August of that year. Anti-tipping movements were clearly never taken seriously, but even in 1909 it was the legislators’ call to make, not a decision to be made by an administrative body with little oversight from elected officials.

It was a different time, and public sentiment was that tipping placed the tipper in a position of power. That power made the tippee socially inferior, a concept alien to the core American value of equality. It was considered un-American to tip back when servers were paid living wages. Largely through that logic, tipping had all but disappeared by the time of the Great Depression. By most accounts, everything changed when FDR was elected- somewhere between the New Deal and the end of WWII tipping came roaring back and it’s been a bedrock benefit of service industry jobs ever since.

It’s long been industry custom to tip bartenders, baristas, sommeliers, servers, hotel concierge and bellhops, elevator conductors and doormen, cab drivers, karaoke hosts, and even tattoo artists. What makes a budtender different? It’s easy. Budtenders AREN’T different. The WSLCB wants to argue that we don’t tip liquor store employees, but there are two glaring problems with their analogy. First, since when does the regulating body get to determine industry custom? A famous judge (Learned Hand on Negligence for any policy wonks out there) once said that to find the best way to regulate industry, the law should look to industry custom. We agree! The WSLCB’s approach is backward in policy and counterproductive to Seattle’s goal of raising minimum wages for all employees.

Second, and more important for this discussion, liquor stores have samples! A budtender is more like a sommelier than a clerk at a liquor store. Your budtender is a person steeped in cannabis knowledge, there to guide your personal journey to nirvana. Just like at an I502 shop, you don’t get to sample wine before you buy it at a restaurant. Once that bottle is opened, it’s yours unless it’s spoiled. That sip you get after the bottle is opened isn’t a sample- it’s to make sure your bottle isn’t corked!

Like that sommelier, your budtender plays a game of 20 Questions with each customer, finding just the right strain for his or her needs. Because customers don’t get to sample on premises, or even open jars to smell or touch the product, they’re forced to rely on the budtender’s expertise. Your budtender has to spend unpaid time away from the counter going through samples, making tasting notes, and generally keeping up with each new product that comes through the shop. Morally, we should pay them for that effort because all work deserves fair pay- not just the strictly on-the-clock work behind the counter. These men and women have spent long hours building their knowledge and experience just so they can help us, and to eliminate tip jars is to say that their time is only worth minimum wage. We know that’s not true!

What do you think? Hit us up on twitter @WACannattorney and use the #tipyourbudtender hashtag to comment!

For further reading:

San Francisco Call, Volume 106, Number 75, 14 August 1909

Introducing The Team! Part 1: Boss, Man

C3's dynamic team has your back, whether you've been wronged by a business partner or by WSLCB. 

Sean Badgley hails from the mountains of Colorado, where he graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Business Economics and a minor in Film. Sean moved to Seattle in 2010 and plans to stay here with his partner Jazz and their black lab mix Leelah. Sean earned his Juris Doctor from Seattle University's School of Law. From day one of law school, Sean knew he wanted to work in cannabis. For an attorney, cannabis is an exciting new opportunity not just to practice law, but to make it. Sean's roles as a founding partner in C3 include advising clients in I-502 compliant cannabis businesses, civil and administrative legislation (we're looking at you, WSLCB), mentoring junior attorneys, and managing interns and cases. Sean is no stranger to hard work- prior to his career as a cannabis litigation attorney and managing partner, Sean worked as a banker, bartender, and even as an auto repair technician in his father's shop.

Like us on Facebook (using the button on the bottom of your screen) for updates!

Part 2 coming soon!