High Spirits

#036 - Conservative Cannabis: The Red Wave w/ Hirsh Jain of Ananda Strategy

March 21, 2024 AnnaRae Grabstein, Ben Larson, and Hirsh Jain Episode 36
High Spirits
#036 - Conservative Cannabis: The Red Wave w/ Hirsh Jain of Ananda Strategy
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Discover how the tides are turning in America's heartland as we navigate through the unexpected 'red wave' of cannabis legalization with Hirsh Jain, an incredibly seasoned cannabis strategist. In our lively discussion, we examine the churning political currents within states like Missouri, where traditional conservative views are being eclipsed by progressive cannabis policies. This wave isn't just making waves; it's rewriting the playbook on industry growth and political discourse in regions once deemed impervious to such change.

Wade into the intricate battle for cannabis reform in Florida, where the stakes are high and the rules are stringent. We peel back the layers of the state's single subject rule and Supreme Court reviews, considering the monumental task of meeting a 60% approval threshold for ballot initiatives. Yet, there's a palpable buzz of optimism in the air, fueled by the resounding success of Florida's medical cannabis program. Join us as we entertain the possibility of a domino effect across the nation, should Florida's green surge become a reality.

Our journey doesn't stop at state lines; we cast our net wide, theorizing how local legislative shifts could send shockwaves through the corridors of federal power. From the role of state supreme courts to the influence of economic imperatives and political heavyweights, we dissect the complex interplay of forces shaping the future of cannabis reform. Tune in as we stitch together a tapestry of change, where even the smallest state initiative could be the thread that pulls national and global cannabis policy forward.

--
High Spirits is brought to you by Vertosa and Wolf Meyer.

Your hosts are Ben Larson and AnnaRae Grabstein.

Follow High Spirits on LinkedIn.

We'd love to hear your thoughts. Who would you like to see on the show? What topics would you like to have us cover?

Visit our website www.highspirits.media and listen to all of our past shows.

THANK YOU to our audience. Your engagement encourages us to keep bringing you these thought-provoking conversations.

Remember to always stay curious, stay informed, and most importantly, keep your spirits high.



Ben Larson:

Hey everybody, welcome to episode 36 of High Spirits. It's Thursday, March 21st, 2024. And we have an incredible show for you today. I'm here with my better half, as always, NRA Grabstein, and today we're jumping into the red wave. There's a bunch of states that are armed the ballot in the coming months and it's an election year and we're seeing Florida and a lot of movement in the repercussions of Ohio and Virginia and all these different states. So someone very smart going to be coming on the show to help pick up the slack of our political and lobbying knowledge. But before we get there, I'm going to check up with my cohost, Anna Rae. Anna Rae, how are you doing today?

AnnaRae Grabstein:

I'm good. I love our Thursday recording sessions and it's just a nice thing to get to look forward to. Yeah, I'm doing really well. It's been a great week and I guess one win that's not cannabis related, but I spent some time yesterday afternoon with my son taking him to Jiu Jitsu he is almost seven and it was just so empowering and it was so cool to just watch all these young kids exerting all this energy, with such discipline and respect and getting strong, and it just inspired me and reminded me of the strength of discipline and practice, both in exercise but also in our minds, and something that I take into my work all the time.

Ben Larson:

So it was really I love that Jiu Jitsu. That's a hardcore martial arts. My son's in a little bit more subdued Kung Fu, but yeah, he's also seven or turning seven and I've just been so impressed with the consistent leveling up, teaching him to earn the next stripe and the discipline with his body. He's always been loosey-goosey with his limbs and bumping into walls and things and I think we've talked about ADHD in the past, but he gets on to the mat with his teachers and it's just awesome to see the control of his body and the discipline and respect and I think it's really like spilling over into the rest of his little life, which is really awesome.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

And look, I think like bringing it back to what we talk about here in terms of business and leadership is that being a successful business leader takes a lot of discipline, and it takes a lot of like constant reinvention of ourselves and new skills that we have to foster inside of ourselves, and like pushing up against challenges all the time. And it's really hard to figure that out as an adult if you never had the experience and learned how to push yourself as a kid. And so it's great to start when you're young. It's also never too late to start as an adult, and it's something like we all have to do all the time to level up. And yeah, I guess that's really what I'm thinking about this morning. It's just lovely.

Ben Larson:

Yeah, I'm really liking this metaphor. I'm going to keep it going. There's like this thing with martial arts where it's like if you have the ability, you have the power, you don't always have to use it and you have to be very respectful in how you exert that power and when you do it. So yeah, all the things. I have a three year old daughter. She's going to be four in April. I can't wait to get her into it as well, Also because she's just tiny and I think it would be super cute to have her just like kicking butt, doing some kung fu or jiu jitsu. That might be the next step Mixed martial arts, you know.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

Well, and I love what you said about the power and not having to use it. I think that it's actually a perfect segue into our conversation for today. All right, yeah, should we queue it up and jump in.

Ben Larson:

Yeah, let's do it, let's do it.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

All right, let's let's bring on Hirsch. Hirsch Jane is a friend of both Ben and mine, but he's also the founder of a Nanda strategy, which is a strategy consultancy that advises cannabis operators, tech businesses, vc funds in the cannabis space. Hirsch has a long history of working in cannabis. Got to know him when he was at Kaleva. Before that he was at Medmen. He currently is on the board of directors of Cal Normal. He's the vice chair of the cannabis chamber of commerce and he's on the board of directors at SC Labs. And even before that he was doing really cool things like going to Harvard Law School and getting a philosophy degree at UC Berkeley. He was a consultant at McKinsey. He is a no slump.

Ben Larson:

I was just going to say we should really strive to get better guests on the show.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

So really pumped to have you here. Hirsch, Thank you for joining us today.

Hirsh Jain:

So great to be here. Thanks for having me, guys.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

So today we're going to talk about the emergence of cannabis as a red state phenomenon, and this is something that you shared with us and, leading up to this conversation, about something that you've been tracking. So I'd love it if you just wanted to kick us off of explaining what the red wave of cannabis is all about and how you see it.

Hirsh Jain:

Totally Sounds great and again so good to be here.

Hirsh Jain:

I think we're living in the beginnings of a red wave and we don't even know it yet, and I think the way to think about this is that for the first decade of the adult use cannabis movement in this country, it was overwhelmingly blue states that legalized cannabis. So Washington and Colorado, famously, were the first states to legalize cannabis in 2012. And sort of for the first decade after that, it was overwhelmingly blue states that legalized cannabis. There were some narrow exceptions to that, states like Alaska, states like Montana, but these are kind of remote, very, very small states and not what I would think of as true red states.

Hirsh Jain:

But what I believe is happening is that we're living in the beginnings of a red wave and I think the opening salvo in that red wave was Missouri's legalization of cannabis in November 2022 on the ballot, kind of the first red state to legalize cannabis and, as I think many of the folks on this call know, it's been an incredibly successful state.

Hirsh Jain:

So I think that was sort of the opening salvo and sort of a validation of that red wave was Ohio in 2023, where they passed an initiative by 57% of the vote and, as people know, like Ohio is the quintessential Republican red state, no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, so that margin of victory in Ohio was remarkable. And now we're standing on the cusp of potential legalization in Florida, as I think we'll kind of unpack during this conversation. You know we could have a November 2024 ballot measure in Florida. I'm really optimistic about the fact that it'll appear on the ballot and that it'll pass, and I think that will sort of be the culmination of the red wave and how it crashes on the shore and I'll just say about.

Hirsh Jain:

Ohio and Florida in particular, like these, are two really unique states. You know they occupy a really unique position in the American political consciousness, which is something that we can unpack. They're also very large states and have deep electoral significance, and so they really impact the way that things happen in DC. And you know, perhaps most crucially, ohio and Florida are situated in the most conservative regions of the country and so, by virtue of the red states that they neighbor, they will. You know, obviously there's 35 million people that will have cannabis access. You know if and when Florida and Ohio come online. But there's tens of millions of other really conservative Americans in Georgia, in Mississippi, in Alabama, in, you know, louisiana, in South Carolina, in West Virginia, in Kentucky, in Indiana. You know those eight states that I mentioned are probably amongst the 10 most conservative in the country. There are millions of other people who will have access to legal cannabis because of their proximity to those states. So you know there's much more we can say, but I think that's kind of the basic thesis.

Ben Larson:

That's an awesome primer and I think there's a bunch of different directions that we could take this, but I want to kind of start with one by one and one that's kind of very impactful and has had recent movement on the hemp side and it seems like kind of like a coordinated effort and that's Florida. So we saw this effort to kind of really Florida trying to get their hands around Delta 8 and all these kind of hemp-derived cannabinoids and to know that they're pushing for this legalization effort. It seems like this is what the state really wants and it's so interesting because Florida for a lot of us operators, especially from the lens of California, it's kind of this walled garden. Everyone knows that, like Trueleave and a few other players really own that market and I'm really curious as to what is the intent behind what Florida is designing here. Yeah, absolutely.

Hirsh Jain:

I'll talk about, maybe, the adult use measure and then we can also talk about the hemp part of the conversation. You know, if you'd like, I mean where to start with Florida. I mean, I think Florida will be the crown jewel of US cannabis. I really believe that and I think people are excited about Florida, but I don't even think they're excited enough about Florida. I really think it has the potential to totally, you know, transform the national landscape, impact the way that GOP politicians approach cannabis and really tip the scales. But you know, maybe just to quickly unpack the basics on Florida, there's currently an adult use ballot measure.

Hirsh Jain:

Right now that ballot measure is being reviewed by the Supreme Court, and so the Supreme Court of Florida has an April 1st deadline to determine whether, in fact, that will appear on the November ballot. And I think people may know that there have been previous attempts to put adult use initiatives on the ballot in Florida, but they've been invalidated for constitutional reasons and without getting too far into the details, essentially Florida has something called the single subject rule, which is to say, you can put something on the ballot but it has to touch on a single subject, and if it touches on multiple subjects then it's seen confusing and therefore can't appear on the ballot. So previous efforts to legalize cannabis via the ballot in Florida in 2020 and 2022 have failed.

Hirsh Jain:

I think the current initiative that was overwhelmingly drafted by Trueleaf which you know frankly stands to be the biggest beneficiary of this measure was crafted in a very narrow way so as to survive that constitutional challenge, and so I guess that's a way of saying I believe that sometime in the next 10 days we'll hear back from the Florida Supreme Court and you know they will say that this is constitutional, and then maybe the other thing to note is that Florida is a unique state and that it requires a 60% vote in order for this initiative to pass. So every other state in this country that has a ballot initiative process requires a simple majority. Florida requires 60%, and so you know, obviously, the burden there is a little higher, and so I'll just say that I'm pretty optimistic that if this appears on the ballot, this will garner more than 60% of the vote, and I think there's a few reasons for that, you know. First, florida passed its medical ballot initiative back in 2016.

Hirsh Jain:

And in 150 years of history of the state of Florida. This is the ballot measure that got the most votes of any measure that has ever appeared on the ballot. So in 2016, that medical measure got 72% of the vote, which really is remarkable. So that's part of it. Second, as you know, we can unpack here in a second. Florida has a very robust and successful medical program, and so I think it has a really normalized cannabis in the state of Florida, and so I think that has generated support. And you know, thirdly, this is a presidential election cycle and we've seen from previous ballot initiatives that you know when you run an initiative, you know in a presidential election cycle it's much more likely to succeed because the electorate there is more liberal. So I'll pause there. I'm sure we can talk about why it'll be the crown jewel, but those are kind of the procedural mechanics about what has to happen between now and November.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

And when you talk about the medical measure passing at 72%, that's incredible, and to hear it was is the measure that passed with the most amount of votes is also really telling.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

So I think that your hypothesis that an adult youth measure would pass makes a lot of sense, and you're right.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

Florida really has had a successful medical program, just by the fact of how many humans are participating in that program and how much we're going to be able to do, and so I think that's the big thing about this role as a governor, but it's also about the role of the citizens and how much revenue is created from the businesses that are in existence.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

The thing, though, that you didn't mention is that the Republican presidential candidate, donald Trump, lives in Florida. That's where he is registered to vote, and so he will be voting on that ballot measure, too, and what occurs to me about this red wave at the state level and these red states that are starting to support cannabis, create programs, or that the voters are speaking loud and proud in support of cannabis, is that there is this opportunity for this to trickle up to their elected officials that represent us in Washington, and so I'd like you to talk more about Florida, but also about the people that come from Florida and what their actions have been, both at the state level and at the federal level, and how that might potentially change some things or encourage some policy shifting.

Hirsh Jain:

Yeah, absolutely, and you know, Anari, I think you're right to identify that. Like you know, trump is a Florida resident, right? So he may be asked about this ballot measure, and people may be familiar with Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida made some comments a couple of weeks ago saying that he thought that this would appear on the ballot. Now, he's no fan of cannabis, but he made some comments to the effect that he thought would pass constitutional review. I think it's important to note that the only reason we got that sound bite from Ron DeSantis was because of a gentleman named Don Murphy, right, who's a former Republican legislator from Maryland, is one of the key GOP allies of cannabis and it's just on the ground in Washington, and so I think that's an illustration of how tenaciousness by one person can kind of make headlines. And I bring him up because he has signaled an intention to ask Donald Trump about how he's going to vote on the measure if it appears on the ballot. So, again, I'm optimistic that it'll appear on the ballot and I think you can expect someone like Don Murphy to be asking that question to Trump in the next month or two, and so it'll be exciting for all of us to see what happens there. And look, I obviously have no idea what he might say to that.

Hirsh Jain:

I can't predict anything that's going to come out of Donald Trump's mouth, right, and I think a few other people can, but polls in Florida do, in a deep red state, right? Let's remember Florida. You know, ron DeSantis describes Florida as where woke goes to die, right, and without opining on those politics, that shows you how much Florida has become the epicenter of Republican politics in our contemporary political moment. And so you know polls show that even in this deep red state, you know, often more than 65% of people express support for a potential ballot measure. So if Donald Trump were smart that's an open question, but if he were smart, right, the way that he could steal Joe Biden's thunder would be to say, yeah, you know, if the people want it, they should go ahead and vote for it to make some sort of an off the cuff comment like that. So I don't know what he might say to that question, but I imagine he can read a poll, and the polls in Florida are quite clear, and you know to answer your question, ann Aray, about how this might bubble up, and you know, impact politics I think one of the big.

Hirsh Jain:

You know we live in a very divided country, right? I think everyone knows that it's very difficult for anything to get passed in Congress. The only way that we're going to make progress on cannabis reform in DC obviously we've been making a ton of progress at the state level is that we enlist more conservative members of this country into that coalition. And you know, just to give you some specific examples, it is not an accident that Steve Daines, the senator from Montana, has been the biggest champion of safe banking over the past couple of years. Now I recognize it hasn't gotten done and that's kind of, you know, a term that people don't want to hear about.

Ben Larson:

But Steve Daines, a Republican politician from Montana who does not like cannabis has been an advocate for safe banking.

Hirsh Jain:

And that's because Montana has the highest per capita cannabis sales of any state in the country. You know, in a state of one million people it does 325 million in sales. And so that's a good example of how federal representatives become allies of the industry right once their state legalizes. Another good example of this is Missouri. Right, missouri is home to this guy, josh Hawley, who you know has long been a culture warrior and suspicious of anything that comes out of blue states, but since Missouri has developed a very robust program.

Hirsh Jain:

He's been notably silent on cannabis and his other you know, the other US senator, a guy named Eric Schmidt, is an advocate. So those are a couple of examples and I'll just say, you know, I think we can, we can anticipate a similar thing happening in Ohio with senators like JD Vance or Rick Scott or Marco Rubio, particularly if the vote is strong.

Ben Larson:

It is really interesting when the cannabis conversation on the Hill transitions from the plant to finance and taxes. It seems like those actually really resonate with some of the Republican senators in Congress vote. I know like during lobby days we were having conversations and we would walk into a room and sometimes we'd be like, wait, can you define the difference between hemp and cannabis is like, oh shit, that's where we're starting, okay, but then we would start talking about 280E and they're like, oh, this is what I can get on board with, and this was actually Florida in particular. You know, talking about like that just makes no sense. Like, you know, if these are businesses and their state sanctioned, like they should be able to at least grow like a normal business. And so it'd be interesting to see what kind of traction we get alongside like these state efforts at the federal level Within that, ben.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

You know it's like Democratic states have a longer history of having more robust regulatory infrastructure, and so, as we're seeing more red states create cannabis programs, I wonder if that means that we're going to see less regulatory capture in the states. That makes operating a business Maybe easier or lower threshold of complication from from the regulations totally yeah we think.

Hirsh Jain:

I mean I think you guys said it perfectly. I think that's exactly right. I mean, if we go back to Missouri.

Ben Larson:

Missouri has some of the. You know, Missouri legalized cannabis didn't have a robust cannabis tradition.

Hirsh Jain:

But after they legalized it they said, hey, we're gonna have the lowest taxes in the country, we're gonna have a six percent state excise tax and you know local jurisdictions like yeah, maybe you can impose some taxes but it'll be a maximum of three percent and, by the way, it has to go to the voters right and hey you you can see and smell the product.

Hirsh Jain:

We will allow delivery immediately, even though blue states like Washington still don't. We will allow drive-thrus, and so I think that's the opportunity when it comes to the red wave in cannabis right, adopting a different regulatory model that, quite frankly, is often preferable to the blue state models adopted in places like California and New York, and you know, that's why I think Florida is so exciting. Florida right now does not impose the tax on medical cannabis right. Like the two plus billion dollar industry in Florida is only subject to the normal sales tax Right. It's not subject to any medical cannabis tax. So it's an illustration of how the kind of limited government attitudes in red states can be beneficial, if we hope to to grow this industry and I think you know there's a real opportunity for someone like Ron.

Hirsh Jain:

DeSantis to draw a sharp contrast between himself and California and New York and, you know, for reasons we can unpack here in a second, I think Florida will have an immensely pro, you know successful program right off, right off the bat, and so I believe, in the second half of 2025, right, which is when the program will be fully online, I think Florida will generate more in sales than California, despite the fact the California had an eight-year head start, despite the fact that California is twice its size, and so I think that'll be a big egg on someone like Gavin Newsom's face come the end of 2025, and therein lies the opportunity For these red state.

Ben Larson:

I was literally just thinking I'm like you hear this California, get your shit together.

Ben Larson:

But okay, so we're talking about states in in Florida is like an interesting case, you know, especially when we're talking about the hemp drive cannabinoid side, because it was kind of there were no like written rules and this, this kind of situation was Proliferating and and then they came in pretty heavy-handed.

Ben Larson:

But in a number of other red states, like we've talked about on the show in the past, they have red state weed where they are kind of Creating this, in solidifying that, this, this hemp opportunity, and so I'm curious what, what your thoughts are on how that starts to integrate With this red wave of cannabis legalization. You know, is there an opportunity to kind of see the Minnesota model kind of like Coming in? Like it from an opposite direction? I guess is like it's, you know, minnesota had this case where they started with medical cannabis and Then the low-dose hemp Got legalized and then they kind of wove it together with this, this legal adult use program, which I think still rolling out. So it's interesting to think about like states like Tennessee and others where they've legalized Certain forms of hemp cannabinoids. But I'm assuming that there'll still be a push, especially with all this momentum, to do regulated cannabis as well? Totally no.

Hirsh Jain:

I think that's a great question and then what I would say is you know the proliferation of these. You know hemp and toxic in products in Florida and in other red states like Virginia, in Texas. All that does is first of all illustrate the demand that the American people have, you know, for cannabis. So we're trying to figure out how to regulate it. But you know, as you know well, the proliferation of these products all across these states Illustrates the demand that exists for cannabis. That's number one. Number two you know you're referencing legislation that was kind of recently passed that would sort of make Delta 8 and Delta 10 illegal and sort of Lower serving sizes in Florida, and obviously that bill passed with some controversy. There are big MSOs that were in favor of it and a lot of members of the hemp industry that were were opposed. And if signed, that takes effect October 1st, right before the ballot initiative. And look, that's a really complicated issue. We probably don't have to do justice to both sides of that argument. What I would just say is you know, people pushing that legislation have to be careful. The cannabis movement becomes less successful when there are cleavages in the community, and so what I would say is a lot of those larger operators need to be thoughtful about how they develop a framework that is Inclusive of those other products, because when you drive a fracture into that community, that means you're not going to get 60% Of the vote, and so I think that's something that you know, these, these folks, have to be kind of cognizant of.

Hirsh Jain:

I will say, in terms of a regulatory model that makes sense.

Hirsh Jain:

I mean, I'll just kind of echo what I believe an array and what you guys have said before, and I think what your your guest, aaron Edelhight, kind of said last time on the podcast, which is to say I think there's an opportunity for TAM Expansion with these products.

Hirsh Jain:

There are ways in which many of these product attract new consumers right, who don't have a medical car and who aren't willing to go into a dispensary. I think the value proposition for beverage is the strongest of these, and so, as I believe an array has said before, like I Envision a future regulatory model right where these low-dose products are available more widely but prescription strength cannabis is available in a more narrow setting. Obviously that's a very high-level description, but that's that's kind of what I envision going forward and I'll finally say like I think there's a role for a lot of these products for sure. I'll note that where cannabis access is robust and what you know, where cannabis is accessible and affordable, then we tend to see less of these products, like if you go to a state like Michigan or even the Canadian market a lot of these Products don't exist because cannabis is affordable and it's readily available, and what's so exciting about Florida is you already have 600 dispensaries organized already across the state.

Hirsh Jain:

You have a clear timeline of six months for these to transition to adult use. You have an instinct kind of for low taxes and, you know, I think of Florida as like a Missouri, which is a state that had a real step-stare function in terms of growth, but four times its size, and so I guess that's a way of saying if those you know MSOs don't, you know, don't want to compete with those products as much the best way they can do that is by developing a robust Adult use cannabis market, say less so than then engaging in enforcement.

Hirsh Jain:

I think the former is a better strength. Florida, here we come.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

Well, so outside of Florida, there's a bunch of other red states that are moving forward cannabis in a whole bunch of different ways, but ballot measures tend to be the most popular in states where ballot measures are possible, and while they haven't all qualified for the ballot yet, we're looking at opportunities in South Dakota, arkansas, nebraska and I think in.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

In past election cycles it might have been that the cannabis advocates would choose to not put a cannabis ballot measure on the ballot during a presidential election season, because there was an assumption that that is when the most voters come out and that this is a red state and that the Republicans most likely wouldn't support that cannabis ballot measure and so it wouldn't be a good time to do it. Now we're seeing the opposite, and the people that are pushing for these cannabis ballot measures are saying this is a presidential election year, people are coming out, but we're not afraid of that. We think that that actually is going to help us, and that's really at the core of what this red wave is about is saying that, okay, now these people in red states are going to come out and they're still going to vote red, but they're also going to vote for cannabis, and that's a big surprise and it's exciting for me to see, is this like? Do you think that that means that cannabis is now a bipartisan issue?

Hirsh Jain:

I think cannabis is a bipartisan issue. When it comes to the people of this country, it's just Republican political and judicial elites don't like cannabis. I really think it's that simple. What I'm saying is not a revelation. If you just look at polls now, a majority of Republicans are supportive of cannabis, and we were just talking about the polls in Florida. To answer your question, anna Rae, I think this is solidly now a bipartisan issue, but on this issue, particularly on the Republican side, there's a lot of conservative leaders who don't see it the same way, and that's why ballot initiatives are so crucial.

Hirsh Jain:

We legalized cannabis in Ohio via the ballot, even though the GOP legislature was never going to allow it, and something similar is true in Florida.

Hirsh Jain:

I would just say, before getting to those states where we have potential ballot initiatives, the reason this is so crucial is that we are running out of states that have ballot initiative processes.

Hirsh Jain:

Only about half of the states in this country allow for a ballot initiative. The reason I think Ohio and Florida are so crucial is that they border a bunch of states that actually do not have a ballot initiative process and where it is so dominated by the Republican Party that they never would have moved forward, but they will force the issue. When everyone from Northern Kentucky is driving into Cincinnati to purchase cannabis, that will force the issue. When folks from Charleston, west Virginia, are driving into Ohio, when folks from Georgia are driving to Jacksonville or Tallahassee, which is right across the border. I guess that's one point, which is to say it is a bipartisan issue at the level of voters. Politicians, as they often are, are behind on this issue. The reason we're seeing legalization in Ohio and potentially in Florida is because of the ballot. That is crucial, because that's the only thing that's going to put pressure on those neighboring states.

Hirsh Jain:

You mentioned the presidential election just as a snapshot of how important who the electorate is in presidential cycles is. We can focus on South Dakota. South Dakota, if people remember, actually passed an adult use ballot measure in November of 2020 by 54% of the vote. It's pretty solid. They won by seven points in 2020. That measure was later deemed unconstitutional. In 2022, which is an off-cycle election, they took another crack at it. This time it got 47% of the vote.

Ben Larson:

That's a really good case study.

Hirsh Jain:

There was a seven-point difference in the adult use measures in 2020 versus 2022. I think that shows how important that election cycle is. One other thing I'll note is the Ohio GOP deliberately scheduled the adult use vote for November 2023, which is super off-cycle, because they thought it would diminish turnout. Even then it got 57% of the vote. The fact that they tried to monkey with the dates so that only conservative retirees would go up to the polls and still this got such a strong vote, I think illustrates how it's a bipartisan issue.

Ben Larson:

Just a quick sidebar for those of us that aren't political pundits, it feels like in politics, having writers and multi-topic issues, that seems like a hallmark of the political process. What is it about Florida and South Dakota where we have these single-issue things? Or is it because it's a ballot initiative that makes it unique where it has to be hyper-focused on one issue?

Hirsh Jain:

Yeah, let me know if I'm answering your question. What I would just say is that in red states across the country that have a ballot initiative process, those state supreme courts are just really suspicious of those ballot initiatives. It goes back to what I was saying before, that even in these deep red states there's a huge gap between what their voters feel on certain issues and what politicians feel. A lot of this hostility to ballot measures has come on the backs of states residents past minimum wage legislation, which the GOP legislature is not down with, or abortion rights. It's one of the issues on which even in red America, as we saw in Ohio, the electorate is supportive of those freedoms. I would say the crux of the matter is that there's a host of cultural issues where even conservative people feel there's a freedom orientation, say for cannabis and abortion. These states have ballot initiative processes. The way these state supreme courts try to impact policy is by invalidating as many of these initiatives as possible. Sometimes what they do that through is something called the single subject rule. The theoretically is justified.

Hirsh Jain:

In theory you could say, hey, okay, we can have a democratic process for policymaking, but the voters have to be clear on what they're voting on. That's the theoretical justification for touching on a single subject. In practice, though, it's implied in such an extreme way so as to basically invalidate these initiatives.

Ben Larson:

Just to be specific, the reason that the Florida adult use measure does not contain home grow is if you had a measure that said, hey, we want to legalize cannabis and also allow home grow, then that would have been deemed invalid by the state's Supreme Court and had to focus on that really very narrow question and maybe the final thing I'll say is a lot of this is in response to the very permissive ballot initiative process we have here in California.

Hirsh Jain:

Anyone who lives in California knows that every cycle you're voting on 40 different things that you don't really know about. In red America that's viewed as special interests over the legislative process. So those are the two extremes when it comes to ballot initiatives.

Ben Larson:

Interesting. I appreciate that Different rules exist for different intents, but no matter which direction it's going, it can always be abused for whoever's in charge.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

I want to get into it on some of these states that have upcoming ballot measures, because I know that you have details about what those ballot measures are looking at and I think it's worth hitting on them. So if we are to talk about South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska, you chose which one you want to talk about first, but let's hear about those, yeah.

Hirsh Jain:

I mean, let's talk about South Dakota. As I mentioned before, we know people. When the full electorate in South Dakota votes, which is what happens during a presidential election year, we know that they are likely to support cannabis Again. In 2020, 54% of people voted to legalize cannabis in South Dakota. In 2022, with a much lower turnout, it only got 47% of the vote, and so there's a potential ballot initiative in November 2024. When it comes to South Dakota, it would be an adult use measure. Currently, the campaign is collecting signatures. There's a sort of May 7th deadline to collect signatures. They need something like 17,000 signatures, which just shows you how small of a state South Dakota is, and so, if it qualifies, it'll be on the ballot. It's a very simple ballot measure that would legalize adult use and facilitate a transition of those medical operators into adult use.

Hirsh Jain:

And look, I mean you might say, hey, who cares about South Dakota? There's not a lot of people there, that's fair. Right, it's not Florida, it's not Ohio, but the reason that I think it matters is that each state matters, which is to say, as you increase the number of states that have passed an adult use law, it crystallizes the insanity of prohibition, right, when you guys read about cannabis these days I imagine almost every day you're reading an article that says almost half the states have legalized cannabis. Right, we're now at 24 adult use states. That wasn't the case six months ago. And so even for small states, as more and more states come online and that's why I'm excited about what might happen in Hawaii this year, what might happen in New Hampshire this year, what might happen in South Dakota, because even if they're small states like when we get to a point, if we're speaking a year from now and we can say 28, 29 states have legalized cannabis that's immensely powerful from a rhetorical perspective. So that's the way of saying, yeah, it's a small state, but we have strong indication that it'll pass.

Hirsh Jain:

In a presidential election year, the number of states that have legalized cannabis has a huge impact again and crystallizing the insanity of this federal state conflict and the federal intransigence on cannabis. I mean, just kind of like a quick sidebar, joe Biden is now pushing this rescheduling thing. The reason is that there are 11 states that have started adult use sales during his term and another four states that have passed measures but where sales have yet to start right In places like Delaware and Minnesota. So really think about that right. 15 of the 24 states moved during his term and his advocacy is sort of downstream from that, similar to how Barack Obama started coming out in favor of gay marriage after red states like Iowa legalized gay marriage. That's how this kind of like bubbles up, so South.

Hirsh Jain:

Dakota, small state, it still matters for that reason, and it also borders a number of prohibition states as well.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

Let's talk about Arkansas.

Hirsh Jain:

Yeah you know, what I think is interesting about Arkansas is it presents a model for what a robust medical program might look like in conservative parts of the country and parts of the South right, and so people may remember that in November of 2022, arkansas had an adult use measure that failed, and the reason I bring that up is the messaging there was really fascinating. You know Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the governor and basically the entire GOP establishment. Their sort of slogan was don't California or Arkansas right. That was their argument for why we shouldn't legalize weed, and I think that crystallizes the historic understanding of cannabis as a blue state phenomenon.

Hirsh Jain:

I don't think you're gonna be able to do that anymore right as states like Missouri and Ohio and Florida come online.

Hirsh Jain:

So I think that was kind of the last glimpses of cannabis is particularly a blue state phenomenon. So this cycle folks are taking another crack at it and rather than putting forth an adult use measure, they're putting forth a really permissive medical measure. So right now in Arkansas there's only 38 dispensaries, you know, you. Only you have to get a recommendation from a certain type of doctor. There's a narrow list of qualifying conditions. You know, the renewal requirements are onerous, right, they don't really allow for telemedicine. So they have a program. And you know, remarkably you know again, just going back to the idea that people demand cannabis, even though neighboring Missouri has allowed adult use, arkansas continues to set sales records which shows how cannabis is being normalized. But this year they're trying to make their medical program even more permissive, right, and so what that would mean is that, hey, we're gonna eliminate the list of qualifying conditions.

Hirsh Jain:

If a medical professional says that you need to use cannabis, then you can use cannabis. And again, the reason I think this is fascinating is this is a quintessential conservative argument, a suspicion of the idea that the government should mediate your relationship between you and your doctor. Right, and so it's a good, you know, example of how conservative thinking can actually help us as we try to broaden cannabis access.

Hirsh Jain:

So yeah, Arkansas would you know, allow any doctor to prescribe it. Eliminate those conditions and you know would allow. You know you only have to get your card renewed every three times and you are seeing this in different pockets of the South right.

Hirsh Jain:

So Arkansas is one example, and one other example I'll quickly mention. It's not a ballot measure, but Mississippi, right, which is probably the most conservative state in the country right now, has an omnibus bill that would do something similar right, and people anticipate that the impact of that is that 4% of the state could be registered as a medical patient by the end of next year. So that's exciting to me.

Ben Larson:

This brings me back to the old hello MD days in California, where it's just like you set up your telecall with your doctor, like, oh, I have back pain or I need to sleep better, and it's like you have your license five minutes later. Really exciting, can we? In a way am I jumping out of order if I want to talk about Virginia a little bit? So Governor Glenn Yonkin is, I guess, internally debating whether he's going to allow cannabis in Virginia. Hersh, can you catch us up on that and just kind of like the impact that that might have on the surrounding states?

Hirsh Jain:

Yeah, I think this really tells kind of the story of cannabis right now in so many different ways. So Glenn Yonkin is a Republican governor of Virginia. The legislature of Virginia is kind of democratic and I think a lot of people on this call know that a few years ago Virginia, when it had unified democratic control, passed an adult use bill, but they really clumsily forgot to set up a framework for sales. So we've been living in this no-man's land for three years and so this year the Democrats put forth a bill trying to get a Republican signature so they could actually start adult use sales. The reason I think this tells the story of cannabis is several fold. First, as I was mentioning before, divided government has never produced an adult use bill.

Hirsh Jain:

Every adult use measure that we've had so far has come because of unified democratic control or because of a ballot measure, and so now we're kind of stuck in this impasse that we constantly face in American politics where the two sides can't agree on anything. So in that way it kind of tells the story of cannabis sort of the challenges of divided government. But what I think is notable is that there's sort of horse trading going on in Virginia right now. So the Democrats passed this bill. Governor Junkin has until April 8th to determine whether he's gonna sign it or whether he might veto it, and he's kind of engaged in a negotiation with the Democratic legislature because he wants to bring a sports stadium to Alexandria. So there's a bunch of priorities he has that the Democrats are skeptical of. And the Democrats want to pass an adult use bill, and he's kind of skeptical of that. Right now. We're kind of in that horse trading period and so the Democrats have not yet exceeded to his request for that stadium, and so he hasn't yet said, okay, I'm gonna legalize cannabis.

Hirsh Jain:

And so some people are a little disappointed, as I am, that we seem to be at that impasse, I think the optimistic way to look at that, though, is that like he has sort of, in some ways, I think, surrendered his ideological opposition to cannabis, right, like he views this, in my opinion, as a bargaining chip to kind of get what he wants, and so I think obviously he's not where we want to be, but that illustrates the softening attitudes towards cannabis, and my prediction is, even if, by the April 8th deadline, he decides not to sign that adult use bill, I believe that's still just the beginning of a negotiation process between him and the Democratic legislature, where he does some stuff, they do some stuff, and that's kind of my read of his take, and the only other thing I'll say is he better move, because Virginia again I realized that the hemp products debate is a complicated one, is seeing a proliferation of a lot of these hemp and toxin products and it really does not make much sense to continue to render cannabis sales illegal as these kinds of products are proliferated.

Hirsh Jain:

So I think he probably knows at some point he's going to have to make a movement. He wants to extract what he came.

Ben Larson:

Give that man his stadium please.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

You know, I just have to call out for all of our listeners. We are so lucky to have you, hirsh. You are like an encyclopedia of knowledge and I pride myself on keeping up on all this stuff that's happening in other states, but the level of detail that you're able to share with us today is really awesome and it's got me really excited. To be honest, because you're right, this crystallizing the ridiculousness of prohibition is, I think, a big part of why we want to have this conversation is that we think that we think that opening up opportunity for consumers to participate in consumption, for businesses to participate in a more open market and this is really telling about where it's all going and it's making me feel hopeful Because really, what it says is this we don't have to fight about this as much.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

This is actually something that we can agree on and that's going to have tremendous impact on both American cannabis policy, but, I believe, also in global policy as well, because people watch what we do here and we have these other countries that are starting to look at cannabis in new ways but are definitely grappling with what to do, and if the US can get our shit together and we can figure out what to do and we can create some sort of federal pathway to be less prohibitive than we are today. I think that that will have a tremendous domino impact as we look at European countries and how they're thinking about it. I think freeing up people who have conservative beliefs to not feel like the conservative block and mindset is inherently prohibitive to cannabis is just like a great release valve.

Hirsh Jain:

Totally. I couldn't agree more. And just to hit on the international point that you made there, right, like this is not happening in a vacuum, right, we're currently in the midst of a global debate about cannabis, and so if I think about a state like Florida, sure it's exciting for all the reasons we talked about, but think about how many international tourists come to Florida, right, they will have an opportunity to see a functional adult use cannabis system and I think that has tremendous impact on the rest of the world, including a part of the world if you think about Latin South America that has had some challenges with cannabis and vis-a-vis the United States. So I think that's a great example. And, on the converse, you know, I remember being in New York City in September during UN week, right, where a bunch of foreign dignitaries come to New York right For various events like the Clinton Global Initiative and this and that, and so New York for a week is just mobbed with international visitors.

Hirsh Jain:

And I remember seeing some of these folks right Ambassadors and other people and reading their comments about the proliferation of unlicensed activity in New York. Right, and that gave them a very negative impression of cannabis. So we, as the United States, have the opportunity to show the rest of the world that we can integrate plant medicine into a rational and functional economic framework, and so we can swander that opportunity by doing it poorly right, or we can do it effectively, and so that's why I think that's so important and you know you mentioned it's not something we have to fight about Like. I'm gonna borrow a line from Emily Paxie here where she says like look, we can't even agree on Taylor.

Hirsh Jain:

Swift, right Like we can't even agree on our like blonde, blue-eyed pop stars in America anymore. That's where it has gotten. This is the unique opportunity that we have to agree on something, and there are parts of this cannabis movement that should find a receptive audience, no matter your political orientation, and so you know not to get too shi-shi here, but that is the opportunity that cannabis presents to remedy a lot of these political and cultural cleavages in this country.

Ben Larson:

And if we see the opportunity in Florida, show explosive growth, like we've seen in Missouri, and it's based on these frameworks that are a little bit more open, a little less taxed, I mean they could really start setting the standard and maybe seeing some recursive improvements in kind of, you know, the blue states, where you know and I'll just speak for California where we are overly taxed and it's really becoming burdensome to the industry. So, yeah, this could be a huge impact.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

And what we're talking about today is really state level change and shifting of dynamics, but we and we have no idea, no way to really know what's going to happen with this presidential election in November. And but I have heard people say, well, if the Republicans win the White House again, well, we should just give up on. On anything happening at the federal level for cannabis policy. And I'll say that this conversation today and just being reminded of what's happening in red states makes me take a pause to that and and and still kind of gives me that piece of hope that I need to stay motivated to believe that we, that no matter what happens, that that the voters, like the people, the constituents of these elected officials clearly are are are saying loud and loud and clear what they believe and at some point our federal government might listen to that.

Ben Larson:

So Anna Ray is not not voting Republican yet, but she might still remain hopeful, if that indeed is the way it goes.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

This has nothing to do with my personal voting at all, but I think that that to say that if the Republicans were to win the White House, it means that there is no chance for for federal policy change, I think I think that's short-sighted and I think that the voters are telling us otherwise with their actions.

Hirsh Jain:

Yeah, I think that's really overstated. I think you said it well and I would just say you know, like, let's imagine a world in which, you know, donald Trump is the next president, but let's also imagine a world in which, in that intervening period, right, we have an Ohio adult use sales kind of come online and impact that region. Right, you have Florida vote to approve adult use. Right now, 53 percent of Americans live in a state that have legalized adult use. If Florida moves, that'll be 60 percent. And that says nothing of the other states. We were kind of talking about the South Dakotas, the Hawaii, right, the New Hampshire's. Just imagine a world a year from now where, you know maybe to some people should grin we have a Republican in the White House, but all that other movement has occurred. You know, I can't see a world in which this is dead under a Republican administration. That's okay.

Ben Larson:

I'm getting flashbacks of 2020 election night, where there was like this there was a 2016. You know, when there was a bunch of states that legalized and there was the election. Then go the direction. Most people, in California at least, thought it was going to go and it was just like a really mixed emotion. Tonight I think we had it was like five of six states that legalized in that election period. But now we're kind of like on the tail end of this evolution of cannabis legalization, where it's less about critical mass now and now it's just about ubiquity, like how do we get to this place where it is red, blue, purple all over and the only thing left is is federal movement Wild?

Hirsh Jain:

Wild Wild times.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

Yeah, well, it has been so great having this conversation and I think that we've probably given people a lot of new and exciting perspectives to think about as we enter this election cycle. So thank you so much, and I think that we should keep having you back as this all unfolds. So this is our part of the show where we moved to the last call and we give you the mic. It's your chance to leave a lasting impression on the audience. So what's your last call, harsh? Well, thanks guys. First of all, thank you so much for having me.

Hirsh Jain:

It was awesome, you know, really enjoyed being on. My last call is this I think all of us come to this with our own political perspectives. It's probably no secret that most people in the cannabis movement lean to the left side of the aisle, but I think now more than ever, it's crucial that we get out of our political comfort zones and try to push this movement forward and celebrate its movement forward, even if there are people that we disagree with that are sort of leading that movement, and so I think that's absolutely crucial.

Hirsh Jain:

And again, you know, cannabis has long been a more liberal or progressive issue, but there are deep parts of conservative thinking that can be helpful as we try to push this plant medicine movement forward. Right, there's no better example of a failed government program than our criminal justice system, in our system of mass incarceration in this country. Right, that's just one example of how conservative thinking can help us, right as we try to liberate this plant. You know the high tax, high bureaucracy schemes in New York and in California.

Ben Larson:

And look, I love those states.

Hirsh Jain:

Those are the two states that I've lived in, but those have proven to be a disaster, and so some conservative challenging of that thinking, I think can be useful, as we hope, to make this product more widely available to citizens. And, as I think you know, dr Harold said like so articulately on your show a few weeks ago right, if plant medicine is our mission, then we should think about all the steps that we can take with our particular skill sets to make this medicine more widely available, whatever that skill set is, be it politics, be it science, whatever. So yeah, that's my message let's get out of our comfort zones, let's move this movement forward, and that's the only way we're going to realize this vision that we've been working on for a decade or longer for you guys.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

So, wow, I know I just got goosebumps. I don't know, did anybody else out there?

Ben Larson:

I mean, I'm also just completely flattered that there were multiple times throughout this show that you have dropped that. You're maybe a super fan in watching our episodes, which is just thrilling to me, but also, like Hirsh, I just I'm feeling a little like I need to go like do some biohacking or something like improve like my brain chemistry, because how you retain all this information and just have it at the ready, it's like I mean, it's proof that there are still people out there that are more valuable than chat GPT. So thank you for being on the show today. You're a wealth of knowledge. Everyone here is lucky to have just had access to your brain for the last hour.

Hirsh Jain:

So thank you, I'm you know, proud to be in this movement with you guys. So awesome.

Ben Larson:

Well, we'll catch up soon. Thanks, hirsh. All right and a rain? Wow, Thanks for queuing that one up. I really feel stupider, in a good way. I'm going to go reassess my priority.

AnnaRae Grabstein:

Careful with the self-deprecating language, Ben Come on now Amazing.

Ben Larson:

All right, everyone, what did you think? As we wrap up, I want to remind you that the conversation doesn't have to stop here. Keep your comments coming in. If you're on LinkedIn, leave them there. We'll engage, but shoot us messages, let us know what you think. Who should we have on the show? What should we be talking about? What's top of mind for you? We're incredibly grateful for you and your support. We're having so much fun doing this. I'm excited to be home this week and be back in the studio thinking about what lays ahead. We have a lot of exciting topics coming up. Next week, I believe we have David Gonzalez from Hemp House talking about the retail be it brick and mortar or online, in the hemp movement. Other than that, subscribe like share, do all the things to help us keep spreading this. We're having a great time and we want to keep improving for you. Stay curious, folks, stay informed and keep your spirits high Until next time. That's the show.

Emergence of Cannabis in Red States
Legalizing Cannabis in Florida
Red States and Cannabis Legislation
Cannabis Legalization in Red States
State Courts and Cannabis Ballot Initiatives
Cannabis Legalization Impact on National Policy