Marcus : Whats up you all its Marcus Bullock I’m the CEO and founder of flikshop. I always get excited for our episodes of Marcus asks, so I'm hoping I'm saying what's up to all of you guys will join the conversation. I'm super excited about it tonight's special guest. We got Rita Montoya. She's an attorney and I'm super excited to join a half for joining the conversation. She's bought a get us in a second up. She's already on it. which makes it so adore I love when people on time. I'm like this can't be real conversation. We're going to talk about that one thing that majority of us want to talk about experts around us to help us guide that conversation. There. She is. What's up? How are you?
Rita : Hi, I'm good. Thank you. I'm so excited to be on.
Marcus : Oh my goodness. Let me tell you something. You know, I'm always the one that's winning in these conversations. Always I'm always excited about having join the conversation with folks who know what we're doing at fliksop, who know our product that you know, we're building and most importantly they're part of our amazing community and so for your willingness to be able to work and help contribute to the conversation. I'm super grateful. Thank you so much.
Rita : Thank you. I appreciate it.
Marcus : Now. This is gonna be fun. So we going to jump right in every day and I hate introducing people now my team they send you all this information about you, but I would love if you take a second to introduce yourself to our amazing community.
Rita : Thank you. My name is Rita Montoya. I am an indigenous and Latin X attorney I grew up in California and spent most of my life there travel to a variety of places and settled in the Washington DC area, where I am now. I'm a former public defender in Colorado. I've done some immigration law and now I primarily focus on cannabis law and policy including helping small businesses and family owned businesses and black indigenous and other people of color get into this industry.
Marcus : This is dope. I mean, we all want to know and learn how to like get into this get into this industry and I’m grateful that you have so much experience there. I don’t have much experience and learning how to get into the industry. I was locked up with the rock of people that were in this space, which is crazy. I mean that like we call this a space now, it’s like an industry now, but like when I was growing up and when I we were trying to figure out like where do we man was way to go buy weed from, like we all knew we would buy dirt. That was grass that we were all smoking, but it wasn’t like in my mind it wasn’t I never thought I would be locked up with people who had like years like years for marijuana. And so now coming back on the flip side of it and now I’ve been working in this space and I mean if you don’t like yellow.
This is the industry now and people are making money off of it and I still have friends is locked up. So I’m excited to be able to bring you on and to help unlock a lot of things. I’m sure they’re I’m can’t be the only one who have peers that have went to jail or prison for marijuana and now watching it be legal now in a lot of states around the country.
Rita : Yeah. No, I mean I had peers, I had friends growing up who you know, I lived in a low-income neighborhood. It was all black and Mexican rally in the neighborhood I grew up in and a lot of my peers use marijuana, and some of them got in trouble for it or weren’t able to. Go after some of the opportunities that they wanted to have for a variety of reasons and then I became an attorney representing thousands of people who were too poor to afford to be able to pay for a lawyer. So they got one from the government and that was me and my peers, public defenders do a lot of hard work out there.
Marcus : Shout out to the public defenders all the PDs
Rita : Yeah. A lot of our clients weather we were representing them, on marijuana charges or had not marijuana Somewhere in their history, right? Maybe a lot of times. It’s a probation violation right these things that we know and this was before legalization was in a lot of our state’s the way that it is now, so we definitely see those we still see it happening. I have some statistics that we can talk about when you’re ready, but I pulled from the most recent FBI crime data looking at sales, arrests for marijuana sales and arrests for marijuana possession both in the United States as well as in the state of Maryland where I’m based. Because I think that the full picture is not being painted and quite frankly. Our government is not being held accountable and I think that’s something that we all can do. You don’t have to be an attorney to do that.
Marcus : I mean, let’s talk about this. Let’s paint the picture then right? I mean your base hit your Base in Maryland it you’re very familiar with what’s happening around the country first. I mean do we know how many how many states are there where marijuana is legal? Do we know that? You know, we had asked that anywhere.
Rita : I’m sure it is.. Honestly, I stopped counting because every day there’s some new thing going on and it’s a little challenging the of some places have a medical cannabis market and then some places have an adult use or full legalization market and then some states have decriminalization, or maybe you’re just, you know, you’re just going to get a fine or something like that. So I think that’s actually part of the challenge is knowing especially, you know here in the DC area. There are space. Cases where you don’t really know which jurisdiction you’re in and so it can be very confusing or you’re traveling or you or maybe you’re undocumented or maybe you’re a legal resident, but you’re not a US citizen. And so what does that mean for you? Where you go and how clear is it for everybody? And for a lot of folks, it’s not and then, you know, even in spaces where we do have decriminalization like Maryland, we know I know for a fact that people are still getting pulled over they’re still getting questions. They’re still getting their medical cannabis taken from them at times.
They’re still being told. Well you have just a little bit too much on you even though it within the legal limits of medical cannabis possession. And so we’re going to charge you as a drug dealer, right ! which is just the whole different level. And so we talked about those kinds of laws and policies. What are we saying counts and what do you cross that line between personal possession and distribution and you know in this day and age most people buy things by the eighth and so should you be presumed to be a drug dealer because you have six different 86 different strains, right? I mean back in the day it was weed as we as we need right? We didn’t even I don’t remember even getting into like Indica, sativa was that it was just like you got when you’re a leader, you know, right?
Marcus : best you had like a row of chocolate time like you ain’t get like you definitely get the indica or sativa and now different all the different hybrid.
Rita : What’s a terpene was it cannabinoid? Even right? Like we all you knew was weed and it was thc And you either had that gas or maybe you have that kush but like that’s about as deep as it got and now I mean, you know, we know there are think over 200 terpenes and we know that they exist in fruits and things like that and other things that we use like lavenders and pine needles right from your Christmas trees. All of those things can change for beans is the basically the odor there are Limitless Kima bars or marijuana strains, right? There’s names for everything and then you got hybrids so then there’s new names and so Marijuana or cannabis as we know it. It’s just a whole different Beast. You know, my dad used to say it’s not that cheap s*** that you get from. You know, it’s not that anymore, right? Yes, so that has evolved and yet our criminal justice system has it. and are the criminalization and the stigmatization has it and the views of our policymakers have it? You know, I planned but about two years ago now we held an education policy education for our legislators in Maryland at the state house and to my knowledge. It’s the first time anyone ever did that for cannabis. So it was really amazing. I brought in a lot of local folks a lot of black and brown folks to come in there to show them that cannabis consumers cannabis patients cannabis businesses are don’t need to be stigmatized. Right? We look just like everybody else. I’m an attorney and you know, I still had people kind of cracking jokes or you going to be bringing bombs, or I don’t even know how to use a bomb first of all so you don’t it’s that idea of that, you know that that’s what it is instead of looking at this for really the medicine. That is because whether you have a card a medical cannabis card or your medical cannabis patient, you know, we know that this plant is medicine for a lot of folks and a lot of folks realize that by using it in a quote unquote recreational way and realizing that it helps them for a variety of things and that could be something physical that can be something emotional, spiritual, right there a lot of uses for that.
Especially I think we’re talking about folks who are re-entering society and that can be from periods of incarceration. That could be from the military, right? We know that this has benefits and yet those are the communities that were we as a society because we are responsible for our government. We elect them and our government officials are still keeping that medicine from our most vulnerable people who also are disproportionately black and brown right because that’s who gets incarcerated that 2 goes into the service. I’m indigenous Native Americans serve at the highest rate of any race.
They were one of the smallest numbers. We also are more likely to die in Combat 5 times more likely. so when we talk about coming back in the things that we need to deal with and reintegrating into society. were not equipping our communities with what they need. And not only we’re not doing that were then also still walking them up. So, you know, let’s talk a little bit about what that looks like because I think that there was you know, recently some things in the media out so great. The the numbers are down for cannabis arrest for possession. The numbers are down for cannabis.
Arrests for drug sales, and they are and so if you look at the raw numbers what you will see whether in the United States or in the state of Maryland is that the numbers are down the actual physical number. So in 2024 possession arrests, there were 376,866 in 2019 and in 2020, there was only 226,748. That sounds great. Right that’s like, you know at least 150,000 less. Drug sales went from 35,487 to 23,139 again. Also great right seems like a pretty significant number to me. the challenge is that then when you break that down and you look at the percentages right you break that down by race and ethnicity how many black people as that? How many Native American people? Is that? How many Latin X people is that? We see the same patterns. So first we don’t even have numbers for the Latin X Community because the government does not collect that data so we have no idea how many Latin X people are being arrested for cannabis or marijuana related charges, right? Because that’s even that’s the difference right? We’re talking about medicine we get to use the term cannabis the scientific term, but when we’re talking about crimes now, we have to call it marijuana which comes with all these stigmas and criminalization that date back row over the past 100 years, right, but definitely are tied to racism. So even the usage of that vocabulary problematic, but What we see again is the numbers might be going down, but the trends are the same. The patterns are the same and I think when we’re talking about Government systems it’s important and government accountability which is ultimately where I would encourage everybody to go with this is that we have to look at these patterns of behavior because it is individual humans who are making these laws and policies as a collective as our government, right? So in 2019, there were 140,000 655 black people arrested for marijuana possession and the United States based on the FBI crime data. And in 2020. There were only 87,584 black people arrested for marijuana possession. now that sounds better because it’s a smaller number right ? a little more than half. But the problem is that when you convert that to statistical percentages to see of the whole amount of people that were arrested what percentage was black. It’s actually higher. in 2019 that number represented 37 percent, but in 2020 that number represented 38.6%
Right,? and we see the same thing for indigenous Americans are Native Americans there termed American Indians by the by the government still, but my community in 2019. We saw 5019, which was one point three percent and in 2020, we saw 3408, but that’s one point five percent of that overall number which decreased right? So we’re seeing the same pattern and you see the same pattern when it comes to marijuana arrests for sales as well.
In 2019, There were 44 percent of the 35,000 folks that were arrested were black and in 2020 - 45% of the 23,000 wear black right before for Native Americans and in my home state of Maryland.
It’s actually even worse for marijuana possessions of the 14983 in 2019, 54.5% were black. And in 2020 of the 1072 arrest which is a huge decrease right from 14 almost 15 thousand two one thousand. Absolutely that’s something to be applauded. Yet, they still manage to disproportionately arrest black people at 58.48% and I believe it has to look at the statistic, but Maryland I believe is only about a third black.
Right ? and you find the same thing with the number for marijuana sale arrest. I actually think it’s just outrageous, In 2019 There was 1902 arrests for marijuana sales in Maryland and 70 percent were black, and in 2020, there were only 120 marijuana sale arrests and 80 percent were black. So 97 of the 120 people arrested last year for selling marijuana in the state of Maryland were black.
Two were Native American and one was agent so of 120 people a 100, Were minorities or people of color or disadvantaged communities? Right? Only 20 were white and a state that has been is overwhelmingly white and wear white lawmakers. Hold the power.
Marcus : Yeah, I did really one of the things that I think this is this I’m thank you so much for for these amazing statistics. I mean, it’s when you hear it from the numbers, it’s always really really impactful. So thank you for that. One of the questions I have for our listeners who have family members and who are who are you know are still either in the sales are going through these kind of sort of this system that now we learned in life seeing that how it overly oppresses. So people look like me and you tell me like, I want to make sure people don’t feel alone. What are you seeing when you go into the courtroom when you see, you know folks that I mean as a public defender that are being charged with these with crimes that still are since around cannabis.
Rita : That’s the thing, You know, from what I hear is that a lot of people are still getting violated, their probation is still getting violated for cannabis use. I know in Maryland there is no law that says that you cannot continue to be a medical cannabis patient, even if you’re on probation or even if you’re incarcerated in fact, the law would seem to imply that you should be able to access your medical cannabis yet. There’s no system in place.
Right, and so I think that you know your ability to use the medicine that works for you. You know, I personally I’ve tried these various things and they just don’t work. And so I have a combination of medications that I using cannabis happens to be one of them and if there were some reason where I became incarcerated then why should I lose my ability to be healthy simply because of that I would argue I needed even more to be healthy to quite frankly survive in that environment. Right, that’s part of the,
Marcus : that is the public conversation.
Rita : Yeah disconnect, That we have with our communities, right? You know, I don’t want to say for certain, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of our policymakers at any level of government in any jurisdiction. Don’t have a real understanding of what it means to be incarcerated and I only have it from an attorney perspective right? I know what my plans were going through. I we go sit in those jails and wait and wait and sometimes that’s all you can do. You know, I’ve been locked in cells a couple times on accident so but but that is not the same. As me being forcefully placed in there and knowing that I cannot leave. Yeah. Yeah, you know and then when you go in with a variety of health issues because they’re just, you know, folks are just human. It doesn’t change you do not have health issues because now you’ve become incarcerated, so I think that you know when we’re talking about actionable items, which is one of my favorite things to talk about you like what do we do? Okay, we’re talking about these things. But now what do we do.
Marcus : that was going to be my next question rita, Now my next question is
You know if I’m sitting at home, and I’m in my living room right now, and I may not even consume cannabis, but I do understand that I shouldn’t be on the side of try to restrict people from consuming. Is this plan. What do I do?
Rita : Even if you don’t, You have your hesitancy about the consumption. we all know you shouldn’t be in Chains and shackles and cages for it. Right? We we I think everyone can agree that that is not a good use of energies efforts tax dollars human lives. So I think that one of the most important things to do is Advocate and you don’t have to be an attorney to Advocate you don’t have to have legal training. You don’t have to have any training, you know. Advocacy is simply using your voice and I you know, I have two young children. I teach them that all the time if there’s something that’s going on. You got to use your voice you got to be brave.
Find other people who want to use their voice like you do and so I think that we can do that and I think that’s something that I would even encourage our folks in our communities who are incarcerated to view. This is something you can do, right? You can use your voice. You can write your legislators.
Marcus : That’s a great question if you’re incarcerated, how do you leverage your voice? How do you use your voice.to advocate for these laws that are sensitive around cannabis?
Rita : You know, they have to read your e-mails and so you can go online you can say who is my legislator and usually put your ZIP code in, and find out who are your legislators let them know these issues are important to you. You know, my cellie is locked up for ten years for the for, you know a joints worth of weed and yet I see that these billions of dollars in sales are happening here. Why is that you know, why is it that people in Maryland are getting violated for cannabis consumption on probation when millions of dollars in cannabis sales are happening every year right? There was four hundred and thirty two million in the in 2020. And we’re still locking up 97 black people for cannabis sales and I can tell you that there are not that many cannabis licenses awarded to black people in the state of Maryland. So, you know when we have these conversations you can see how important it becomes when we start talking about legal and and adult use markets who’s getting to be the business holders, you know, and even when we craft this legislation, we see things like social Equity programs and programs for disadvantaged communities. Are they even really going toThe communities that were talking about are they going to buy that was locked up. Does he have a chance? ,
you know, what are we calling violent offenses? I mean, you know you and I probably know full well that a lot of things that are labeled as violent are not actually what that is, right? So when we start talking about oh, well only let non-violent offender will do you even know what that means in practicality. Do you know how easy it is to go from one to the other that could be that someone else got a good plea offer and took the violent tag off and someone else didn’t and who’s getting those offers. Right. What kind of lawyer did you have? Yeah, what is your skin tone look like what is your name sound? Like do you have an accent was the judge mad that day.
Marcus : all of those.
Rita : all of those people don’t understand the nuances of the system and so when we start writing in crafting the social Equity legislation, I think it's so important that we have folks who are from our communities that were incarcerated that we’re re-entering society that they have a seat at the table and I really think that it’s important to people like me and people Far more
Important than I am. We can’t sit here and wait for y’all to find us we need to go find you and we need to say you need to have a voice in this you need to have a space to create this because there’s also you know, we talked about cannabis licenses and businesses, but there’s a lot of other opportunities for business outside of actually touching the plants.
Marcus : This is what I was getting ready to ask you now the next week because my question now was like are there other ways that people can participate in this explosion of the cannon. This Market but may be able to do it without even having to touch the plant that could potentially restrict them from, you know, some of the galleries they like look I got a felony. I can’t believe touch the plant but there maybe there’s the people who handle the lights or maybe there’s people who you know handle the the seating. I don't know
Rita :. Know exactly there a all time of Opportunities and what’s also really important is that those are things that run like quote unquote normal businesses, right? You’re not going to get hit with these tax issues right that the challenge for a lot of our cannabis businesses to stay in business, especially our small businesses and our businesses of color. Is that the operating costs are so high. right? They can’t deduct cert a lot of things for taxes. And so it does not always as lucrative as it looks especially if you’re not operating with one of these big companies or these multi-state operators. And so, you know, we want to create spaces for our communities to be part of that and there are a lot of things that go into that. Can you form a cleaning company?
Right every place needs to be cleaned. Right. We have Kovac going on now. Maybe you’re a mask company. Do you make uniforms? Maybe they want their their staff to all dress in a particular way right? Do you design things? You can be a brand designer. You can be a consultant. You know, I used to work for a foster care. You can see quite some time ago right after college and one of the things they would always say is you know, your kid was amiss for Youth and you know your teenager who who ran the gang or was the drug dealer, you know, they could have been a CEO of someone would help them go through college and get that business degree, right? That’s the difference here. They know how to run a business. So, you know, I would really encourage again folks that are incarcerated and those that are out to try to help make these connections because quite frankly they have might have a level of knowledge that you’re not going to get in some of these msos who just thought like oh, well cannabis looks cool. Let me go do that and how to do business, but you don’t know cannabis. You don’t know bead and you don’t know what it takes to navigate in these spaces right? Because you know, it’s not just about being able to sell the business right? These are Brands. This is a culture.
This is the whole culture that existed far far before a lot of these companies. Yeah, and there’s a level 2. I think of cultural competency that is really lacking in this industry, right? You have a lot of folks coming in. They’re setting up their businesses. They’re acting like cannabis has never been here before they got here. No, there’s a whole existing Legacy Market here that you’re over here trying to disrupt and being quite frankly a little bit disrespectful.
Marcus : talk about it.
Rita : You know, I think those are that’s a huge huge conversation we can a whole conference about that but you know one of the things that these companies can do is they can hire folks like us to / help them to provide that cultural competency, right? You don’t just roll into this neighborhood instead of your weed shop. There’s already a set of going on here you can but don’t be mad when there’s conflict, you know, one of the questions I get all the time is well, why is there still a legacy Market because we have these, you know adult use markets and medical markets.
Do you see it right people don’t have to worry about pesticides with their plug right? They don’t have to worry about $75 dates with their plug. They don’t have to you know, there’s a lot of things that are going on and I think that quite frankly the quote unquote legal Market could really stand to learn a lot from the laces.
Marcus : This is interesting. I love this conversation is really this is like one of the things I’m enjoying about this I mean and and I’m grateful for you coming on. Thank you so much for coming out to help us at Marcus Asks
I could talk to you all day about this about this kind of stuff. I mean, it seems like you’re very knowledgeable and it’s different from me talking to one of my boys just right after they rolled up and it’s like we’re just all just having a conversation about how your emotional we’re all emotionally attached to trying to figure out how to eradicate some of these crazy laws that have put us inside these rooms, right? But this has been very informative one of the things that you guys have heard from Reading tonight are the stats around, you know, all the way from arrests for drug sales and how that impacted the community which I think was incredible because you always see the impact when you hear the numbers one of the things I’ve also heard was like we talked about the boundaries that are being set forth inside of this space that now we can now we call it industry now, right and how billions of dollars are being made here. But by you know, so many so many lines that are being drawn out for people that look like her I especially folks all you folks to have a effort in chest will not have but thankfully stopped now, but that both who have empathy tests that look like her and I mean that they come from backgrounds that come from now, but that’s that’sthat’s a felony like you boxed out, but I think that one of the things that we that really ended on was like showing ways that we all can still participate inside this space and not only build real relationships with folks who are doing this and you have growing businesses inside of this industry, but also think outside of the box and ways that we can we can grow our own.
Rita I’m super grateful for you. I’ll leave you with the last word for the for the evening. What do you