Sunday, February 25, 2018
In this post from last summer, I flagged the announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti had appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation. This news was so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer was a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and as a star student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015, she has impressively and swiftly vindicated my representation to students that they could become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly.
Director Packer's vision and activities are sure to have a profound impact on marijuana reform realities in California, and this new Vice piece headlined "LA's 'Pot Czar' Cares Who Cashes in on Legal Weed," provides a Q&A perspective on her work. Here is the piece's start and excerpts:
As cannabis laws across America continue to soften, states and local communities are beginning to come to terms with the destruction wreaked by the war on drugs, especially on black communities. Some cities are already beginning to make amends by going beyond mere legalization. They have started the process of overturning thousands of cannabis-related convictions. These policies would never manifest, however, without the help of activists who take their passion for social justice from the protests outside of city halls to the offices within them.
Cat Packer, who was recently appointed as the executive director of Los Angeles’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been given a unique opportunity to help create pot policy for one of the largest cities on the planet. As a woman of color with a background in drug policy reform, Packer is hyper-aware of the negative impact of past drug laws and the challenges those miscarriages of justice will present for her going forward.
I spoke to Packer to discuss how she plans to navigate the bureaucratic era of legal pot through the lens of activism and empathy.
LA is now the largest pot-friendly city in America. With that distinction and the rest of the country’s eyes on us, what sort of expectations or pressures are you fielding from others or putting upon yourself?
It's not really secret that Los Angeles has an opportunity to be a leader in cannabis policy. It’s going to be interesting because, as the largest city to take on this regulatory responsibility, and as a place that’s often regarded as the largest cannabis market in the world, we understand that cannabis and its impact are probably going to be felt the heaviest here.
We have communities here who have had very negative experiences, not only with cannabis policy, but are looking for a way forward. Voters across California and in the city of Los Angeles have voted overwhelmingly in support of responsible regulation and moving away from criminalization. That’s a huge shift in public opinion, and it’s a huge shift in public policy, and it’s going to take us some time to implement this policy effectively, but we’ve been given directions from voters, so we want to do everything we can to set up a responsible framework.
With many [dispensaries] having operated in a legally gray area for so long, what kind of resistance to this regulatory shift are you encountering and what are you doing to ensure it isn't just favoring large entities with the funds to quickly become compliant and crushing the small businesses currently operating in LA’s cannabis space?
There are folks on all sides of the spectrum, as to be expected. There are folks who are frustrated with the process, folks who are excited about the economic opportunity that comes from business ownership and jobs and opportunity. But I think that folks are realizing that this is a first-time policy for the city of Los Angeles, and we’re trying to make sure we do it the right way. One of the things we’re prioritizing is social equity.
We’re making sure that within these new cannabis laws and policies, we take a moment to look at these issues through a social justice lens. We have an opportunity to, at the very least, address the harm that communities here have experienced as a part of the enforcement of the war on drugs and as a part of the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws against certain communities. So we want to take a moment to acknowledge those communities and do what we can, as a city, to give folks meaningful access to what is going to be a multimillion dollar industry.