Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Jerome Crawford, director of legal operations and social equity discusses cannabis reform, advocacy and how the UK can learn from US legal states.
The cannabis industry was valued at US$20.73 billion in 2020 and is set to be worth $111.31 billion by 2028. It is also thought to support 321,000 jobs in everything from packaging to sales to growing plants. However, alongside this incredible growth, comes a slower pace of releasing non-violent cannabis offenders from prisons.
While some brands embrace adopting a social equity policy and making a positive change, others find it a bit more daunting or choose not to engage at all.
Jerome Crawford is the Director of legal operations and social equity for the US brand Pleasantrees. Pleasantrees has made it their mission to actively work with those still incarcerated. Jerome has a strong legal background which makes him the perfect candidate to advise Pleasantrees on best practices.
Speaking with Cannabis Wealth, Jerome explained why it’s important for brands to commit to change.
Jerome said: “It’s simple as we live by the saying, do well do good. We are a for-profit industry but what are you doing along the way to be part of the change you want to see?”
He added: “Cannabis should never have been illegal in the first place. As a black man from the city of Detroit, I experienced an impoverished situation and racism. I know all too well what it means when you have a targeted approach.
Creating cannabis change
For cannabis brands and companies that want to be a part of that change, it’s about recognition, not guilt. You have to open doors for others. You need to be lifting as you are climbing and intentionally doing so for the folks that were hardest hit by prohibition and criminalisation.”
Pleasantrees has just announced a collaboration with Richard Wershe, otherwise known as White Boy Rick. Richard Wershe became the youngest FBI informant ever at the age of 14 in the 1980s. Wershe was involved in Detroit’s drug trade during the War on Drugs. He eventually ended up working in the drug trade after he no longer worked with the FBI. He was arrested for cocaine possession served 32 years in prison. He was released in July 2020 and is now suing the FBI and prosecutors for allegedly using him as an informant from the age of 14.
Rick, now aged 52, is now moving into the established US cannabis market with the release of his new range, The 8th. The 8th has been developed with Pleasantrees, a vertically integrated cannabis company based in Michigan. The collaboration will focus on flower in pre-rolls and vape cartridges along with brand clothing. A substantial portion of the sales proceeds will be dedicated towards the release of wrongly or excessively imprisoned drug offenders.
Jerome said: “We met Rick last summer when we were filming an episode of Canna Cribs. He came for a tour and got to know us. He was being approached by a lot of people who just wanted to use his name. He wanted to be very meaningful about what he was doing.
We realised that he didn’t just want to put his name to something so beyond the partnership, he is actually an employee of the company. So we created the brand, the Eighth together because it was centred around his story as being a nonviolent drug offender and also around the parallel of what happens with most non-violent offenders.”
Rick and Jerome went on to form a partnership with a strong social equity effort centred around four pillars. These included access to the value chain, education, legislative advocacy and being a good neighbour.
“The value chain means how are you giving access to opportunities for people that were the hardest affected. We are specifically targeting you directly for job opportunities not just posting on Linkedin. When it comes to legislation advocacy, it’s about getting people out. If we have a commercial industry then why are bodies, in particular black or brown bodies, still in prison? That’s a lot of work right there,” he said.
“Our fourth pillar of being a good neighbour is what it sounds like. It means supporting communities that support us. If we are a new neighbour in an area and open a store there then we can help out by giving back. In East Lansing, we started a scholarship that was specifically for students who come from the hardest-hit cities by cannabis-related prohibition.”
He added: “We offered book scholarships to students at Michigan State pursuing their education because of our store in East Lansing. This is a lot of the work we do with Rick as he does great things in the community. He has a heart for it and personally, so do I.”
When it comes to the numbers of those still incarcerated for non-violent drug offences, it remains high in the US. While change is happening, it isn’t happening quickly enough.
Jerome said: “We work with many different groups but one in particular called The Last Prisoner Project. Their purpose is to advocate for the 40,000 individuals that are still locked up for cannabis-related crimes. However, it’s a slow turning wheel.”
He added: “The fight is happening. Sometimes it’s the bigger stories that you see in the headline but what is happening on the smaller end?”
Jerome shared that they have been writing to the Governor of Michigan on behalf of one prisoner, Rudi Gammo. This father-of-three is currently serving five-and-a-half years for operating a city-sanctioned, medical cannabis dispensary in Michigan.
“Rudi Gammo is another individual we have been advocating for as he has been on the frontlines. He was incarcerated for things that are no longer a crime the year after he got locked up. He was a caregiver in the grey market where the laws were kinda squishy. One city allows something that another city doesn’t and you get caught in the middle,” he explained.
“We just spoke at his public hearing about three weeks ago and submitted a letter to the Governor of Michigan on his behalf. There is change but there is also much work to do. We try to not just fight for the change but make the road easier.”
Another initiative the company has been working on saw Jerome mailing over 95 letters to inmates across the county. The letters were written by the Last Prisoner Project and Pleasantrees staff.
“Two days ago, I mailed 95 letters to various prisoners from executives, retail staff and sales people because we want them to feel connected to the mission of social equity. Rick will tell you that those letters matter even if they are from a stranger. It says someone is thinking about you or rooting for you. Even if we can’t get you out tomorrow then we are pulling for you and that is sometimes the difference maker that keeps you going.”
As the UK looks towards trialling decriminalisation in London and Europe moves towards legalisation, what can we learn from the US?
Jerome said: “No matter what market are you in if you open a door, you create an opportunity. The wealthy are generally best suited to jumping in right now. The simple caveat I have is to don’t forget about the people. People who might be consumers also may want to come but aren’t suited to jump into the industry because they don’t have the capital.”
He added: “The states are unique because we have thirty different markets because each state is different. It’s very hard to say learn from us because we don’t even have our own act together. So the more united you can be, the better.”
Canopy Growth appoints industry veteran Christelle Gedeon as chief legal officer
Gedeon’s cannabis and commercial expertise will further Canopy Growth’s strategy for North American cannabis leadership, the company said.
Christelle Gedeon is one of Canada’s Law Department Leaders of the Year and formally served as chief legal officer at the international cannabis firm Aphria.
Canopy Growth has appointed Christelle Gedeon as its new chief legal officer. Listed on the Legal 500 GC Powerlist in 2020 and the 2019 Canadian General Counsel Awards Tomorrow’s Leader, Gedeon is a commercial lawyer and strategist with more than a decade of legal and strategic experience.
Most recently she acted as chief legal officer and corporate secretary for The Metals Company (TMC). Prior to this, she served as the chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Aphria Inc, where she oversaw the reverse takeover of Tilray.
“Christelle is a proven leader in the legal and cannabis industries, and we are excited to have her join Canopy Growth as we continue to build the leading brand-driven cannabis company in North America,” said David Klein, CEO of Canopy Growth.
“As a company, we have set clear priorities including achieving profitability while advancing our competitive positioning through a premium focus in Canada, high-impact CPG brands and the continued growth of our US THC ecosystem. I am confident that Christelle’s commercial and legal acumen will be key to further bringing our strategy to fruition.”
In addition to her expertise in the cannabis industry, Gedeon brings experience with complex regulatory structures, intellectual property management, corporate governance, government relations and strategic acquisitions.
She has also had a direct role in the completion of more than 50 mergers, acquisitions and strategic investments including during her time as a partner at Fasken, a leading Canadian law firm, where she advised life sciences clients on commercial, regulatory and government affairs matters.
Gedeon received her Bachelor of Law from McGill University and is a member of both the Ontario and Quebec bars. She is also a registered trademark agent and holds a PhD in Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology from the University of Toronto. Her appointment to the role of Chief Legal Officer at Canopy Growth is effective immediately.
‘The hemp revolution has already happened, now it needs reigniting’
Hemp fibre produces some of the strongest and most durable materials in the world and absorbs more carbon than pine trees. Hemp Farms Australia believes interest in the plant needs reigniting.
Cannabis Wealth sat down with Lauchlan Grout, co-founder of the Australian industrial hemp farming agribusiness, Hemp Farms Australia. The company was launched in 2013 by Grout and his childhood friend Harrison Lee to cultivate, process and sell the primary components of industrial hemp.
A dedicated seed supplier, Hemp Farms Australia was one of the first players in Australia’s hemp industry. The company specialises in variations of the plant that perform well in sub-tropical environments, a rare thing for a plant that originated in the icy tundras of Siberia.
Now a leader in hemp seed genetics, the company supplies seeds for growing grain for food and growing fibre for animal bedding, hempcrete and bioplastics. Grout talks about his passion for hemp and its potential to tackle the growing threat of climate change.
How did you get into the hemp sector?
After school, Harrison and I both went to work for his family in their abattoir here in Brisbane. They supply a couple of big grocery stores and supermarket chains with beef. We started on the kill floor and then went to the boning room. That was about five or six years of work experience in the abattoir as well as out on their farm. We learned there are so many facets to a supply chain.
At the time, hemp was being brought up a lot as this wonder crop; there were 70,000 uses for it apparently, but that just didn’t make sense because we hadn’t seen it anywhere. If there were so many uses for hemp, why wasn’t it being used?
So we dug deeper into that side of it and realised that all the different prohibition laws and the fact that hemp was so closely related to cannabis meant both of them, in Australia and many parts of the world, were illegal to grow even as for food or fibre.
But not many people realise that back in the day, the British and Russian naval fleets were all kitted out with hemp sales and hemp ropes because it was the most durable fibre in the world. All that knowledge and all that belief and all that industry were lost so we saw it as an opportunity to bring back something that could actually have a great impact on people and the environment.
Why is sustainability so important to you as a company?
The Earth is not heading in a nice direction in terms of the environment and climate. The climate extremes that we’ve seen in the last ten years here are comparable to what farmers have spoken about over the past 60 years. It seems like the events of those 60 years have repeated themselves in the past ten but double the scale and in a harsher fashion.
Farming is not easy. You have to budget for one in three crops to fail; it’s sometimes a business that can make you extremely depressed and that’s why so many farmers kill themselves; it’s terrible. They just have no water and if you have no water, you can’t do anything.
If I can do something that would not only help potentially reverse climate change or at least stop temperatures fluctuating so heavily by reducing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, I want to do it.
Hemp is the highest carbon sequestering plant and one of the most sustainable protein-producing plants in the world. Hemp can reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere on a scale 40 times larger than a pine forest. Not only does it suck out the carbon, but it also locks it in the plant material so you can then build a car with that and produce fuel. Henry Ford built a car back in the 1940s out of hemp plastic that ran on hemp biofuel. All this stuff has been around but it just needs to be reignited.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced on your journey running Hemp Farms Australia?
The first five years were challenging but also hopeful. Every mistake that we made hadn’t been made before because no one else had stepped that far yet. In other established industries and markets, you can read books or you can speak to people to find out what not to do, whereas in this sector there was none of that.
For example, nobody knew that you have to store industrial hemp at a certain temperature and in a certain humidity once you’ve harvested it, otherwise it will go mouldy within two or three days.
With our first crop, we harvested 40 tonnes of seed, we put it in an aerated silo which had heaps of fans running through it, but it was partially in the sun in a big metal container. We came back to check on it two days later and you could smell the mould from where we parked hundreds of metres away.
There were 40 tonnes of seed there worth every bit of $10 a kilo. That’s $400,000 worth of seed.
How have things changed since the early days of setting up Hemp Farms Australia and what have you learned?
We’ve got great advisors now and our key cornerstone investor is a very wise and smart agricultural businessman, so the last three years have been a lot different to the previous five.
I’ve learned that if you have something of value, then it’s worth risking a lot more than you think you would ever risk. I was questioning myself in the early days. I was doing it because I believed it will have a good impact on the world and the environment and the people living in it, but is it going to make me any money? Am I going to be able to build a family off of this? Those things were running in my head so much because things were ticking but they weren’t ticking the way we thought they would.
But I think the biggest thing I learned is If you believe something and you know in your gut that it will happen or it should happen then do not stop; the maths doesn’t need to line up. If money is the only thing that’s stopping you from keeping on the grind, then you shouldn’t be grinding it.
You run the business with a close school friend. How do you find running a business with one of your best mates?
Harrison and I have been very close friends – pretty much best friends – since year seven at school. We weren’t very fond of each other to begin with. He was very much into gaming. I was very much into sports. But he taught me the world of gaming and I taught him the world of sport and we became very close friends after that.
Never ever get into business with your best friend is what everyone told us. I will admit, we’ve been through some pretty bad times, to the point where we were not talking to each other, but you get over it, you harden up and you laugh about it.
We suddenly just said to each other ‘business is business and friendship is friendship’. We both have to pull our weight and we can’t be bickering at each other just because we know each other in and out.
Why are you proud to be part of the hemp and cannabis industry?
Not only can you heal people medicinally, but you can also house people through the fibres, you can clothe people through the fibres. There’s so much that hemp can do for people. Hemp revolutionised things back in the day, it’s now about reigniting it to a level where we can make a change.
Gerardo Gorostiza joins team at Linneo Health
Linneo Health has appointed Gorostiza as chief financial and strategy officer.
Gorostiza will be bringing experience of corporate finance, strategic planning, business transformation and corporate development to the Linneo Health team.
Medical cannabis research and cultivation company Linneo Health has welcomed Gorostiza as Chief Financial and Strategy Officer.
The company has stated that Gorostiza possesses a track record of success leading the financial and strategy functions of a number of multinational businesses, both private and publicly listed.
Linneo Health CEO, Don Bellamy, commented: “We are delighted to welcome Gerardo to Linneo Health as chief financial and strategy officer.
“He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, and his strategic mindset and leadership skills will be invaluable to Linneo as we continue to build on our success and growth as the leading provider of medicinal cannabis, for the benefit of patients.”
Gorostiza’s previous roles include Uralita, Adveo and Grupo Costa Food, as well as having worked as a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Most recently, Gorostiza was CFO and subsequently CEO of Juan Luna, a leading Spanish food processing company, where he played an integral role in the professionalisation of the company and its subsequent sale to a top industrial player.
Gorostiza holds an Executive MBA from the IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, and qualified as an Industrial Engineer with the Universidad del País Vasco, Spain.
Gorostiza commented: “Linneo Health’s fully integrated platform, enabling the research, manufacture and supply of the highest quality medicinal cannabis, puts the company in a prime position to grow at scale as this market matures.
“I am looking forward to working with Don and the team to maintain Linneo’s leading position and continue its expansion.”
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