Wednesday, October 17, 2018

'The Conners' Creates More Problems Than It Solves

Canada Legalized Weed and the Media Had a Field Day

The Many Ways Well-Intentioned White People Are Still Low-Key Racist

Navigating between different social circles can be hard, especially when they're made up of folks from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds. And even more so when you're the only person of color in a room and the white woman you've heard greet everyone before you with a pleasant and simple "Hi" or "Hello" drops a "Yo, whattup girrrrrl!?" on you. Like, why?

Other examples include but are in no way limited to: being asked by a white person what you think of a new rap album before you've disclosed whether or not you even listen to rap, awkward small talk about Black Panther, and being told you have a "good skin tone" because you aren't "too dark." Not throwing out random slang to a black person you don't know or greeting them with a "cool handshake" you just invented seems pretty basic, but you'd be surprised. It happens all the time. Nearly every black person I know has a similar story.

Not all who do these racist things are racist, necessarily. They're trying to relate or find common ground, not quite realizing how their attempts to do so come across. The way to avoid having these attempts fall flat is simply by adapting an attitude that puts people first instead of color or culture. I asked black friends and relatives to tell me about the times even well-intentioned white people have made a mess of an interaction so readers may learn from their examples.

“I worked a job that sometimes had me greet people at the door. My supervisor once asked me why I wasn’t dancing. I responded that I typically don’t. He said, ‘I thought all black people danced?’ Aren’t you all born with rhythm?’" - George, 28

"One time at work when my manager went out of town, my company sent over a temporary manager in her place. The replacement manager and I were working together and as soon as she saw me she said, ‘Hey girl, how ya doin'?’ I told her I was good. But as the day went on, I noticed she wasn’t speaking in the same way to white employees. When she spoke to me and the one other black employee, she’d use slang and speak in a more 'hip' way. I asked her why and she literally said:‘Wha chu mean, girlfriend?'" - Elise, 22

“I worked with a Trump supporter and once, after a black boy was shot and killed by the police, she asked me 'Why do blacks run from the police and then get mad when they're killed? I hope you've learned that lesson because I would hate for you to die. Who would help me close deals?'" - Tia, 24

“When I was younger, I made friends with a short, funny, blonde girl in my class. Every day after school, we’d chat on the phone while watching Maury. One day, she made a joke about the black people on the show. I reminded her that I, too, was black, and she pointed out that even though I have black skin, I wasn’t really black because I didn’t listen to rap music or dress like the guests on the show or in music videos on MTV.” - Benjamin, 26

Benjamin, 26

“While on the road during lacrosse season, my team often entertained ourselves with karaoke. On one trip, my coach was looking for someone to take over the mic and randomly called on me. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something like, 'Amari, why don’t you rap for us. We all know how you like that rap music.' At the time, I didn’t listen to rap music much and everyone on the team—all of them white, I should add—knew my karaoke song of choice was 'Build Me Up Buttercup.'" - Amari, 23

“I walked into work with a new hair color and a fresh twist out and I overheard a co-worker say 'OMG do you think it’s a weave or a wig? I’m going to touch it.'" - Tia, 24

"I grew up in a super white town, so naturally, my close friends were white. When I went to college and finally got to be around more black people, one of my white friends from back home said 'Oh, you must be happy to have new friends that are black. You guys can talk about your hair and stuff.'" - Felicia, 22

"I went to a majority white school. One time, I walked with a group of my white friends by the table where most of the black people sat. Someone cracked a joke and all the guys at the table laughed. After we walked by, one of my white friends asked why black people sound like monkeys when they laugh." - Jelani, 25

"While at an internship, one of the girls I work with recorded a clip of me and wanted to use it on her Snapchat story. She asked me to repeat what I had said. So I said it the same way and she recorded it again. She asked me to say it again. 'You know, this kind of way,' she said as she rolled her neck and put on what she believed to be black attitude. I told her I don’t talk like that, and turned to continue my work. She pleaded and I ended up doing it. It was my first time in an environment like this. I didn’t want to screw it up; I wanted to make friends and learn. I wanted to fit in because I already didn’t." - Niama, 26

"A janitor who was cleaning my classroom once said 'Don’t take this the wrong way, but black people age really well.' My response was a confused thank you. He followed that by saying 'I’m convinced you guys age so well because you have to lotion all the time.' I explained to him that dry skin is a people problem, not a black problem." - Jasmine, 29

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Canada Has Legalized Weed. Now What?

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

At VICE, cannabis has long been a central aspect of our journalism. (And yes, I wrote it that way on purpose.)

We have made a one-hitter out of a potato, taken down a weed dispensary chain that was allegedly abusing its workers, interviewed Justin Trudeau about inequality in cannabis arrests, made this guy try weed yoga, and created a bunch of TV shows all about weed.

Yes, that last sentence is a bit braggy, but it’s also to show that weed means different things to different people. To some people, it’s harmless, occasional fun. To others, it’s serious fun. To many people, it’s medicine. Some people will (incorrectly) argue it’s a gateway drug that will lead to a life of crime or worse, lead to a life of barely contributing to late capitalism. And finally, there’s a bunch of people who really don’t care one way or the other.

But no matter where you fall on the spectrum, weed is now legal in Canada, and that’s the most profound drug policy shift the country has seen in nearly a century.

Today is Canada’s Legalization Day or 10/17 or Hash Wednesday, and so far, it’s been fine. The biggest noticeable change today is that a bunch of adults (roughly one in five Canadians) who regularly use cannabis have a government-approved option to buy their weed from, although it’s probably a bigger pain in the ass than the dealer or dispensary they were buying weed from last week. But more importantly, Canadians will no longer be needlessly criminalized for using a relatively benign product.

Legalization is just the next chapter of the countries weed coverage. Canada is the biggest and wealthiest country to legalize recreational cannabis and will be closely watched by the rest of the world. While the billions made by the major cannabis companies will be a significant point of coverage, there are so many other stories that will need to be told. Edibles need to be regulated; provinces are still rolling out their distribution scheme; the black market will still exist; and weed amnesty may be on the table. And of course, there’s the United States that has a temperamental reality star at its helm and shares about 9,000 kilometers [5,525 miles] of border with us, so that could pose some issues.

Cannabis legalization, as you know, hardly means that the harmful “War on Drugs” is ending. The response to the opioid crisis from the federal and provincial governments across this country shows that not even thousands of deaths can change the cold-hearted views of many politicians and police, who value “law and order” over harm reduction.

But if you have progressive views on drugs and an interest in harm reduction, there are reasons for optimism. Many medical professionals and associations are pushing for the decriminalization of all drugs and the door seems to be opening toward legalizing psychedelics as medicine. Canada has the potential to be a world leader on these fronts, particularly if cannabis legalization is successful. (And while there will certainly be hiccups of the next few years, there’s little reason to think it won’t be successful in the long run, especially if your definition of success is a bunch of business people getting rich.)

Reporting on all of these subjects is vital not only to Canadian readers but to the international community that is watching us closely. Continue to follow VICE’s coverage for in-depth journalism from the frontier of progressive drug regulation.

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'The Oath' Captures How Politics Is Ruining Our Relationships

Ike Barinholtz came up with the idea for his movie The Oath, which he wrote, directed, and stars in, after a heated debate at his family's Thanksgiving dinner in 2016, shortly after Donald Trump had surprised everyone by winning the election. "We were getting like pretty heated, saying crazy shit like, ‘It’s your fault,’ which is an insane thing to say to someone about a presidential election," Barinholtz recalled. "But what’s funny is that we [all voted for Hillary Clinton]. We were all on the same side."

The Oath tells the story of a liberal news junkie named Chris, played by and based on Barinholtz, and his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish), whose Thanksgiving dinner spirals out of control because he can't help but bring up divisive political arguments, specifically a loyalty pledge that the Trump-esque government has required all citizens to sign. Barinholtz's real-life brother, Jon, plays his preppy right-wing brother in the movie. About halfway through, the family comedy takes a dark turn and becomes a thriller, when they are visited by two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen). Suspense and chaos ensue.

I called up Barinholtz to talk The Oath, the insane chaos of Trump era political discourse and to receive praise about some homemade English muffins I gifted him when we met at a screening of The Oath last week.

Ike Barinholtz: The English muffins were amazing—I want that to be on the record. They served two purposes: When I got home at night I ate one and then in the morning I ordered my eggs and I made an egg sandwich with your English muffin. I don’t know if this will make it into the article but that’s up to you.

VICE: It's really up to my editor.
If he wants to really take a risk and really make the story relevant he’ll talk about the muffins.

So you just got back from touring around the country, screening The Oath. What did you learn from talking to people who’ve watched the movie?
I was definitely not alone in feeling the feelings I had when I created it and when I made it. The mood of the country right now is very stressed and pretty combative and I think we’re in our little bubble, whether you’re in LA or New York, so it’s good to go to other bubbles and see that there’s people just like you who are just as angsty as I am.

We met on Twitter, and I imagine you followed me because I tweet about politics. I want to know a little about how you became the insane, liberal news junkie that you based your character on in the movie.
I was always into politics, I was always passionate about it. I’m sure if you went back and looked at some of my tweets from 2008 or 2012 I had pretty harsh words for the McCain campaign, the Romney campaign. But I really did take things for granted and I never really thought we would end up in the situation we are in now. About a year and a half before the 2016 election, and for a year after, my intake level of political news was peaking, it was just completely permeating my existence and I was reading every single article I could get my hands on. It was too much. It was scrambling my brain. I was letting a random news story that I had no immediate control over shape my mood, which, that can’t be good. I wanted to endow Chris, the protagonist in The Oath, with those qualities, because I was very aware of how passionate that character could be but also quite frankly how annoying he could be.

What did you learn about yourself from writing that character?
I was like, "I don’t like what’s happening in the country right now and I’m really angry and #Resistance, I’m gonna do my part," which I thought meant being up to date with every single thing that’s happening, tweeting about it, and just yelling about it to the people who are around me. Now I don't think it does much to just tweet and make your friends and family crazy, so what I've tried to do is pull away from that and I’ve tried to engage friends of mine who might have different opinions a little more substantially. Tweeting "Donald Trump is the stupidest, fattest president we’ve ever had" is not going to change anything.

The viciousness of online political discourse has permeated the way we talk about it IRL, to our detriment.
It used to be that you could argue issues, you used to argue with a conservative and say, "How can you want lower taxes for the biggest companies in the world?" Now you’re debating a mindset or a philosophy and it’s impossible to see how someone could think this person [Trump] is good and the conversation turns into, "You’re an idiot."

Why did you decide to write a movie about a Thanksgiving dinner gone awry because of politics?
I feel like a lot of people this year are going into this Thanksgiving with this—well, straight-up, a lot of people are just like, "This year I’m probably not going home. This year and probably never again, I can’t believe people that I’m supposed to be close to hold this belief so this year so I’m just not going to have the conversation." There’s fatigue and an ennui about where we’re at right now and the thought of sitting down and talking about it more will ruin the night. But I think we have to. It's important for people to go home and at least try and have these conversations because it is a very dire time.

I don't want to spoil the movie, but when the movie turns into a thriller and the family gets into a dire situation, they all join together in a nice way, and finally stop arguing about politics. Was that something you intended?
I wanted to show that this family, who less than 12 hours before was calling each other fucking cowards and assholes, when faced with true violence and what I think is fascism—my hope, in my little utopian world, was that all that bullshit dissolved. Because now it's all about keeping the family together and immediate survival. I do hope that's one of the takeaways that people have is that you always should be able to count on your family, and if stuff ever gets really bad and your family's not there because you shut them out, or they've shut you out and you've made no attempt to reconnect, we'll be in trouble.

Tiffany Haddish plays your wife. Her character was great—because she's hilarious—but also, because she's a good proxy for the viewer. She's bearing with her husband, who keeps starting conflict, and is very frustrated by him.
I based Tiffany's character off of my own wife. My wife and I could not be more closely aligned—she was nauseous on election night—but at the same time, she's aware of the fact that she has three children and a job and a family, and she's not willing to give all that up for politics. She's not willing to give up the joy that those things bring her because she's tuned into so-and-so's Twitter feed. And I was. I was making her crazy. I wanted Tiffany's character to be scared of what's happening in the world, and her husband is fucking crazy, and she's just trying to make sure that the ship stays in the water. I look at her as the moral compass of the movie.

One of the government agents, played by John Cho, is so great at breaking the tension of this really high stakes moment and adding softness and comic relief to a really stressful situation. You wrote the part for him, right?
I've known John for years, and every time I talk to him, I'm, like, calm. He's very likable and attractive, and when he's on camera, he has a very pleasing and calming effect. I needed that because, you know, the movie's tone is so crazy in the sense that we try to scare you and make you laugh. There's some pretty gruesome violence, and I needed to cut that, and the best person to do that is John Cho.

What do you want viewers to get out of The Oath?
The most important thing is that people are entertained. This is not a Michael Moore movie. I want people to laugh and to get scared and emotional. The message that's sort of baked into the movie is let's try to keep these connections with the people that were supposed to be connected here, whether biologically or through years of friendship, let's try to keep those [relationships] intact, and maybe make them a little healthier than they are. The other thing is let's be aware of what's happening, but let's not have it dictate every moment. We can't be robbing them every moment that brings us joy with news and politics. My perfect audience member walks out of this movie, and is like, "Holy shit, that was funny and kind of scary. Tiffany Haddish is good." And as he or she goes to check Twitter on their phone, they open the app and instantly closes it and says, "I'm going to call my brother."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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'Clogged Drain,' Today's Comic by Tara Booth

Here's What Happens to the Canadian Black Market Now That Weed Is Legal

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

If you’re to believe the Canadian government’s hype, legalizing recreational weed is all about eradicating the black market.

“The sale of cannabis is the easiest money that organized crime makes,” said Bill Blair, the Liberals’ Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister, at a town hall hosted by CBC’s The Current Monday night in Ottawa, which I participated in as a panelist.

Blair said he estimates black market weed in Canada is a $6 to $8 billion [$4 to $6 billion USD] industry.

“We have created a new, regulated, safer commodities industry in Canada that employs Canadians, creates jobs, growth, and other opportunities in our communities and by displacing this business from criminal enterprise… we’re creating a new industry that will actually follow some rules when there’s oversight, testing, and accountability.”

Canada is also introducing severe new punishments for selling “illicit” cannabis—as in, anything not provided via the 129 licensed producers—once legalization kicks in on October 17. Those punishments include up to 14 years of jail time for selling weed to a minor or selling it without a license.

But the government’s ability to succeed in its goal of getting rid of the black market will depend on a lot of factors—price, access, quality, and diversity of product to name a few.

On the pricing front, the feds are introducing an excise tax for cannabis of $1 per gram or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is higher, plus GST. Given that the average price of black market weed in Canada is $8.24 [$6.34 USD] a gram, consumers are likely going to be paying more for legal weed. And those purchasing it online will likely have to pay a shipping fee—the Ontario Cannabis Store is charging a $5 [$3.85 USD] flat rate while BC is charging $10 [$7.70 USD].

Access wise, things aren’t looking great for October 17. Newfoundland and Labrador, which is doing private sales, is leading the country in terms of brick and mortar weed stores, of which 24 will open on legalization day; New Brunswick is a close second with 20 government-run stores.

Meanwhile, BC and Ontario, the two provinces with the highest concentrations of gray market dispensaries, will have one and zero weed stores open on October 17, respectively. Ontario won’t have any brick and mortar cannabis stores until April.

So while October 17 seems like the day we’ve all been waiting for, the reality is legalization is still in the very early stages and the rollout is going to be messy. In the meantime, the black market that has operated in Canada for decades isn’t likely to vanish.

VICE reached out to black and gray market operators from different sectors of the industry to find out what their plans are post-legalization. Here’s what they said:

Dealer

Frank*, a cannabis trafficker in southwestern Ontario, is on track to take home $300,000 [$230,902 USD] this year.

He’s been selling weed—both wholesale (supplying dealers) and retail—for about ten years but said last year he made an important connection in BC and things “blew up.” Frank told VICE technology—and primarily cell phones and apps like Instagram, have “allowed the black market to explode.”

“Until you shut down people’s phones, you will never be able to shut down a black market of any kind,” he said.

Frank predicts after legalization we’ll see “a massive return to the traditional black market.”

“The gray market is going to collapse overnight,” he said of storefront dispensaries, the majority of which are in Ontario and BC.

That’s because dispensary owners are going to shut down in the hopes of getting into the legal market or because they’re fearful of the penalties that come with continuing to operate.

He also said some of the major gray market players will get out of the game because they’ve already made a lot of money and don’t want to deal with the wrath of the Canada Revenue Agency.

Frank said people will continue to patronize the black market because at first, the legal market won’t be able to meet demand. And he believes the ability to legally possess an ounce of weed will make it easy for dealers to drive around and deliver ounces all day.

The government has announced that legal weed will have a tracking system and it is illegal to sell weed without a license, but Frank said he doesn’t see that being a huge issue.

“The higher-end weed dealers are essentially your young, white, upper middle-class guys. These guys blend in, they’re not getting pulled over,” he said. “These guys are just going to fucking kill it for the next two or three years.”

Frank told VICE you can buy a pound of high-grade BC bud for less than $2,000 [$1,540 USD] and retail it for double that. It’s reasonable for a middle of the road dealer who sells 20 pounds a week to take home $200,000 [$153,930 USD] a year, he said.

As for himself, Frank said he’s going to continue to dabble in wholesale, retail, and the legal regime, and see what pans out.

“Most of my customers have told me they want me to stay,” he said.

Eventually, once there is enough high-quality weed in the legal system, he thinks people will transition, but that process could take a couple of years. In the meantime, he believes Canada’s underground black market will flourish while the government targets dispensaries.

“Traditional black market dealers are not really the competition. Their enemy is the storefront and online.”

Grower

Two years ago, Jamie*, a cannabis grower based on Vancouver Island, had no involvement with weed other than being a consumer. But being a personal trainer who worked with many dispensary employees opened his eyes to the business opportunities available in weed.

So Jamie decided to try his hand at growing cannabis.

“I had no experience growing anything but I would consider myself a jack of all trades,” the 25-year-old told VICE. He paired up with a well-respected organic grower to learn the trade.

“I basically had to give him a huge portion of the business I’ll have in the future just to learn all of his secrets,” Jamie said.

For the last couple years, he’s been exclusively supplying dispensaries, operating with a medical license to grow weed in a facility he describes as “obscenely large.”

“I have a license that allows me to have 380 plants and 40 pounds of dried cannabis at one time all ostensibly for my own personal use.” He said black market producers also “stack” their medical licenses to grow more weed in the same facility.

While he operates under the guise of being a medical grower—and feigns running a landscaping business when he has to deposit money at the bank—Jamie is now hoping to transition into being a legal craft grower.

His one factory that’s fully up and running produces roughly 200 pounds of cannabis every three months, but he’s looking at a space that will be the equivalent of four of those factories, and could yield 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of weed every three months. Because he grows high-quality, organic cannabis, he says he can sell it for up to $2,400 [$1,850 USD] a month.

“By the time this next crop comes down we’re going to have $400,000 [$307,870 USD] of essentially liquid income,” he told VICE. “I don’t think it would be unreasonable to make $500,000 [$384,840 USD]… by the end of 2019.”

But it hasn’t come easy, he said, noting he’s been working 14 hours a day and seven days a week for the last two years and has to be careful to avoid cops.

“I’m exhausted,” he said.

His hope is to build up his brand of high-quality bud and get bought out by an LP or start his own LP.

“It’s either tremendously successful… or a fucking dumpster fire.”

Edibles producer

Edibles—aside from oils—won’t be regulated by the federal government for at least another year. Sarah Gillies, owner The Baker's Shop, a Toronto-based company that makes THC- and CBD-based edibles, tinctures, and topicals currently gets her product to customers via pop up markets, in dispensaries and online. However, she said a lot of dispensaries have shut down in light of the strict penalties that come with legalization. The pop up markets have attracted upward of 1,000 people, she said.

Right now, she’s focused on getting the brand ready for when edibles are legalized.

“We’re just preparing to have a licensed facility and… getting everything up to code,” she said.

But there’s no blueprint in Canada for how a licensed edibles producer will be able to operate, so it’s a bit of a guessing game. The Baker's Shop is focusing on areas like packaging (edibles will likely require child proof packaging), locations to set up a kitchen, food safety standards, and dosage.

One of the bigger issues that’s come up with edibles is accurate dosing information. Gillies said The Baker’s Shop has sent in product to be tested by labs. She’s also heard of innovations in the industry, including dissolvable strips that contain an exact dose of THC and can be placed in each edible.

Gillies also considers herself an activist and she’s determined to continue to provide medical cannabis patients—many of whom prefer edibles to smoking—with product.

“I don’t want to go cold turkey and leave these people without anything,” she said, noting some edibles markets are shutting down.

She said one solution might be to be stricter with the markets, only allowing licensed medical cannabis patients to attend.

“We want our brand to make it through to legalization without being barred from it.”

Dispensary owner

Justin Loizos has long been an advocate for medical cannabis patients. Loizos, 34, who uses medical cannabis to treat his multiple sclerosis symptoms, has been running Just Compassion, a compassion club out of North York, for the last two-and-a-half years.

While much of the media frenzy as of late has focused on recreational weed, medical cannabis patients are still facing many challenges, including the imposition of the government’s excise tax on October 17. Medical patients still also won’t have storefront access to cannabis, and many products, including high potency extracts and edibles, aren’t available for them to purchase through licensed producers.

Loizos opened Just Compassion to fill some of those gaps, only serving patients who are licensed with Health Canada. But staying open after October 17 could mean 14 years of prison.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see Just Compassion fitting in anywhere. I don’t see any regulations for medical dispensaries,” he told VICE.

He’s currently looking into getting a micro-cultivation license in order to do direct to patient sales.

“I can grow better than anything I can buy,” he said. He’s also looking into opening cannabis clinics to consult with patients.

For the time being, he said Just Compassion will be closing down and turning into a vapour lounge.

I just want to do anything with patients.”

Weed lounge operator

Weed lounges—spaces where adults can gather and consume cannabis—aren’t legal anywhere in Canada, though they do exist.

Proponents argue lounges give adults a safe environment to consume cannabis. Despite many politicians expressing concerns about keeping weed away from kids, several provinces including Newfoundland and New Brunswick have banned cannabis consumption anywhere other than a private dwelling, effectively forcing people to consume weed at home—around their children, if they’re parents.

Abi Roach has been operating HotBox Cafe, a cannabis-friendly lounge with an adjacent head shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market, for 15 years. Roach is hoping the Progressive Conservative government, which recently loosened the rules around weed consumption in the province, will regulate and license lounges.

Last week, she delivered a deputation at Queens Park outlining the steps lounges will take to ensure they are safe for the public, including proper air filtration systems, a health and sanitation plan for weed accessories e.g. vaporizers, and signage and ID’ing requirements.

In addition to providing a safe place for locals to consume cannabis, Roach said lounges and similar businesses are great for tourism.

“People are going to be coming to Canada looking for legal weed, looking for places to consume, looking for hotels that are [cannabis]-friendly and private retail experiences that are exciting and Instagram-worthy,” she told VICE, noting that 40 percent of her customers from spring to fall are tourists.

Roach, who also runs a bud and breakfast hotel in Jamaica that offers ganja farm tours, is hoping to be able to get a license to sell retail cannabis, so people can buy and consume weed in one spot.

In the meantime she is set to launch The Good Grass in November—a retail accessories shop that will have an “experiential chill zone” to allow vaping.

*names have been changed due to privacy concerns

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