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Cannabis Pioneer Sparky Rose Talks Industry Reform | CBD to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo | The Latest from Azuca
In the past two decades, nearly 24 million people have been arrested for cannabis offenses. Among them, industry legend and innovator Sparky Rose. In 2006, as part of a raid in Oakland, Sparky was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison and pleaded guilty to 14 marijuana related crimes. As co-founder of Supercritical, a Chicago-based cannabis consulting agency, Sparky shares how this experience motivated him to make change in the industry, stand up for social justice reform, and offers advice for those looking to break into the space. Plus, read on for the latest legislative updates around the country, new Azuca flavors and more.
6 Questions with Sparky Rose, Co-Founder of Supercritical
Q: You are a cannabis veteran. How have you seen the industry change in your career?
Honestly, how much time do you have? I first got involved in the industry back in 2006 in Oakland, CA. At that time, the only guidance you had from the state about running your business was S.B. 420, a piece of legislation so vaguely written you could drive a Mack truck through it. There were no licenses to win back then, no labs to test your cannabis, no regulations at all. We were a self-regulating industry, and it was very much the Wild West. So, the changes I’ve seen are the introduction of cannabis testing, the rise of non-THC cannabinoids, the advent of the vape pen, the beginning of adult-use legalization; I mean, everything has changed but the plant. And being asked this question by Azuca, I also must mention the incredible innovation in the space. At my consulting firm, Supercritical, we have a set of technologies (including Azuca) that we work with to help proliferate across the industry because we believe they are the best solutions for the problems facing manufacturers, cultivators, and consumers.
Q: What changes do you believe still need to be made in the industry?
As for what changes we should make, diversity is top-of-mind in the industry right now, and I love it. One thing you learn in Federal Prison is that it is not a bunch of white-collar criminals. It is around 80% black and brown people, the vast majority of whom have drug-related offenses. And all of these prisoners, for the rest of their lives, check that “Have you been convicted of a felony?” box on every employment application they put forward. That is wrong. That is shameful. That is unfair. If you are convicted of a non-violent/non-sexual crime, and you’ve paid your “debt to society,” you’ve paid your debt, period. You should not have to carry a felony around your neck, and you shouldn’t be barred from the industry you helped create. We need more BIPOC representation in our industry.
Where do I think we need to make changes? Again, how much time have you got? While I could go on and on here, I’ll bring up one that I think is pervasive, and that’s the lack of ethics. I don’t know what happens to people when they get into this industry, and I certainly appreciate where the industry has come from, but we have a dearth of ethics in this business. I don’t mean to be holier than thou, but I feel like we need more people in the industry for the right reasons. We need people who respect the plant, who appreciate the legacy of the plant, and how we got to where we are today. There is plenty of industry history going back decades, and I think the industry needs to appreciate the legacy and weed out (pun intended) the unethical players lest they bring the industry down with their bad behavior. Does anyone remember “vape gate?” I would also like to see us tackle the tax issue. Cannabis taxes are, by and large, far too high, and instead of embracing the industry, we end up trying to fleece it for all it’s worth. All of this while giving distinct advantages to the illicit market against legal and legitimate industry participants. In this case, the states should focus on making their taxes on volume. Ultimately, it’s better for everyone.
Q: How did your incarceration change your view of the industry and motive you to bring about greater change?
What hit home for me were the friends I made in prison. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a middle-class household in a predominantly white neighborhood in suburban Maryland just outside of DC. I started my career as a freelance graphic artist. I’ve been an entrepreneur or a freelancer for the majority of my career. When I got out of prison, I called a few friends and scraped together some design work to help get me back on my feet. Most of my friends in prison didn’t have that luxury. They had to hit the bricks looking for work, and it’s very tough. Before I was released, I was in RDAP, the Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Drug Abuse Program, which is a 9-month inpatient program. Towards the end of that program, they taught us how to fill out job applications, and we did mock job interviews to go over how we should speak about our incarceration to make an impression that will keep you in consideration for a job. That’s what drove it home for me. All my friends were being discriminated against and denied work for a non-violent drug offense. That drove me to want to right that particular wrong.
Q: What challenges have you faced as you’ve built multiple businesses in the cannabis industry?
Ultimately, the challenges are not all that different from starting up any company. Funding is a challenge. Finding good people is a challenge. Building brands is challenging. What you get with cannabis is that extra bit of stigma (and legal standing), making all of these things more difficult. Most banks and institutional investors don’t want to get involved with plant-touching companies. Some of the more qualified candidates in this industry have little to no organizational experience. Many of them are lifelong growers who have operated outside of the law and don’t understand things like taxes, brand marketing, or regulatory compliance, and it cuts both ways. As someone hiring staff, you run into shortcomings from legacy experts and a lack of cannabis education and understanding from credentialed professionals. As someone trying to sell services, you find that legacy experts who never had to market their products don’t understand the value, the cost, or the necessity for good brand marketing to succeed in a competitive environment. It is extremely hard to close those customers. Ultimately, I think 90% of the challenges in the space ultimately revolve around education. Educating consumers, educating professionals, educating regulators on the plant and the industry so, collectively, we can all make better decisions.
Q: What advice would you give to others in the industry who are trying to break into the space? Especially those without previous experience?
For many, what you do in your day job is most likely a job that needs personnel in cannabis. If you are a truck driver, we use truck drivers. If you are a security guard, we’ve got those too. HR, IT, accounting, legal, marketing, it’s all here in cannabis just like everywhere else. If you can, try to educate yourself on the plant and the industry. If I can give another plug here, for the layman, I would say start at Green Flower. They have solid courses that can give you a basic understanding of the plant and the industry. Also, if you would like to be an operator or work at a plant-touching organization, understand your local regulations. The laws are on the books, and they are public. They are a lot like reading stereo instructions, but if you put in the time to try to understand them, it will go a very long way in your quest to break into the industry. Remember, compliance is the single most important role in cannabis, so if you roll into an interview and you know your state’s cannabis regulations cold, the interviewer will sit up and take notice. I’d say that’s the quickest way to make an impact, have all the rules and regs down cold. Beyond that, network, network, network. Comparatively speaking, cannabis is still a close-knit little industry, and while everyone doesn’t know everyone, networking, in my experience, has been a lot more effective for me in cannabis than in other industries.
Q: What is the best way to navigate the changing legal landscape of the cannabis industry? How can you best anticipate changes and be ready to pivot?
The changing legal landscape is pretty simple. It’s either legal in your state (in some form or fashion), or it’s not. The changes typically begin with a medical exception in your state, allowing the use of some form of marijuana as medicine in particular instances. From there, you’ll typically see an expansion of the medical program (perhaps several expansions), and, invariably, you’ll see adult-use legalization. That’s pretty much the path to legalization everywhere, so there aren’t a lot of wholesale twists and turns when it comes to cannabis policy. Depending on your state, there can be numerous changes to your cannabis regulations over time outside of significant legislative changes. We’ve seen many changes to packaging regulations in many states, specifically when we start to hit some of the regulatory milestones I just mentioned. Depending on what part of the industry you’re working in, there are some well-defined pivot points to consider at these legislative milestones.
Sparky Rose is the Co-Founder, and Managing Partner of Supercritical where he helps other companies build their brand and gain footing in the cannabis world. He was at the forefront of the cannabis industry from 2003 to 2006 as executive director of Compassionate Caregivers, an Oakland, California-based medical cannabis company. For more background on Supercritical visit their website.
Legalization Update: The Green Wave is Growing
Virginia: In early April, the Mother of States became the 16th state to legalize adult use cannabis. Under Virginia’s new law, adults ages 21 and over can possess an ounce or less of marijuana beginning July 1, 2021, before the sale of cannabis begins in 2024. (Source: NPR)
New Mexico: After much anticipation, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham officially signed the state’s adult use cannabis bill into law–making New Mexico the 17th state to legalize adult use. It is expected that the New Mexico Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee will accept and begin processing license applications no later than September 1, 2021. Retail sale of adult use cannabis is currently slated to begin no later than April 1, 2022. (Source: Canna Advisors)
Alabama: A bill to make Alabama the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana cleared its first hurdle in early April when the House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation. The bill then moved to the House Health Committee, where it again was approved. It now will make its way to the house floor where representatives will vote on the bill. (Source: al.com)
Safe Banking Act: At the end of April, the House of Representatives passed the Safe Banking Act–a long time priority for advocates of the cannabis industry on Capitol Hill. The legislation would allow credit unions and banks to work with cannabis companies. The bill now moves to the Senate. (Source: Reuters)
Legalizing Cannabis for Veterans: Another development on the federal front comes in the form of a bipartisan bill introduced to congress that would legalize the use of medical marijuanna for military veterans called The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act. If passed, it would temporarily allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis under federal law, as recommended by doctors in accordance with state law. (Source: Marijuana Moment)
New Azuca Flavors & Products from our Partners
Mix things up: Azuca hits shelves at Everest Apothecary dispensaries. Everest will begin carrying a line of Azuca infused syrups, bringing our fast-acting TiME INFUSION™ process to medical patients across New Mexico. The first syrup released is a zesty lime flavor in honor of Cinco De Mayo. Keep an eye out for a pomegranate flavor launching later in the week. For more info on the partnership, read here.
When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello gummies: Wana Quick Fast-Acting Gummies, powered by Azuca TiME INFUSION™, has a new flavor for Spring: Limoncello. The creamy lemon flavor inspired by the classic Italian liqueur is the fourth flavor in the happy hour-inspired line of gummies. Read more about this exciting launch here.
Celebrate Cinco De Mayo with a Festive CBD Recipe: Tepache
Look beyond the classic margarita this Cinco De Mayo. Azuca takes a unique spin on a traditional Mexican fermented drink–Tepache. Featuring 25 mg of fast-acting Azuca simple syrup, you’ll feel festive in no time. Recipe below:
Makes 8 servings, 25 mg Azuca CBD each
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp Azuca CBD Simple Syrup
1 ripe pineapple
¾ cup + 1 Tbsp sugar
1 cinnamon stick
8 cups water
- Clean pineapple, then peel and slice the pineapple into chunks. Place in a large glass pitcher or glass jar (or even a fermenting crock if you have one) along with the spices, Azuca Simple Syrup, sugar and water and stir.
- Then cover with cheesecloth or loose plastic wrap and allow to sit for 24 hours unrefrigerated (if you are in a hot environment, reduce time to 12 hours).
- Skim the foam from the top of the tepache. Loosely cover again and let sit another 24 hours (you can let go for another 12 hours if you like a more fermented taste).
- Strain out pineapple and spices. Add more sugar or water depending on taste. Serve chilled over ice or added to a cold beer.
Last Prisoner Project
We are committed to help make the CBD and cannabis community a fair and equitable place for all. A portion of all Azuca proceeds are donated in support of Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working to bring restorative justice to the cannabis industry and dedicated to releasing those incarcerated for cannabis and helping them rebuild their lives. Learn more and support this great cause here.