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Where are the Black hemp farmers?

FLORIDA COURIER — Although hemp is legal, regulatory risks complicate the crop’s long-term outlook. Some states are positioning themselves to compete, but it’s unlikely the market can sustain hemp production in every state — unless there’s a significant increase in product demand, according to a February 2019 report from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky.

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By April Simpson

COLUMBIA, Md. – Clarenda Stanley-Anderson will be the featured farmer of Hemp History Week, an educational campaign in June focused on a newly legal crop that’s at the center of a risky, potentially billion-dollar industry.

Stanley-Anderson is considered a pioneer in the nascent hemp agricultural community, for educating others and encouraging young farmers to bring hemp back to the U.S. agrarian landscape, according to history week organizers.

It’ll be the first time that the Hemp Industries Association annual initiative, which boasts celebrity endorsements and events across the country, will feature a non-white farmer.

Stanley-Anderson wants to expand the representation of hemp farmers, even if she’s far from the average industry insider. Black farmers are a mere 1.4 percent of the country’s 3.2 million farmers, according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture.

In North Carolina, where Stanley-Anderson and her husband own Green Heffa Farms in the town of Liberty, Black farm operators are nearly 3 percent of farmers.

While Black farmers aren’t as visible, Stanley-Anderson is part of a developing community. As growers, processors and entrepreneurs, Black professionals across the country are working to carve out a space in a trendy industry that’s projected to reach $1.9 billion in U.S. hemp-based product sales by 2022, according to the Hemp Business Journal, an online publication that tracks the industry.

‘BECOMING EXTINCT’

Individuals and organizations are in the early stages of building networks of Black farmers and processors to ensure Black agriculture professionals get their share of hemp riches. But it’s hard for everyone to take on the risk.

Black farmers have long been discriminated against by lending institutions like the USDA. And with a limited population of growers, land, resources and sometimes access to the information networks that enable farmers to move quickly, they could be left behind again with hemp.

“Black farmers are becoming extinct,” said Lamar Wilson, founder of SunJoined, a nationwide network of hemp growers and processors with farmers in Kentucky, Kansas and Colorado. “This is an opportunity to bring them back and to actually provide a profitable resource, but also a resource that can be used for so many different things.”

Not everyone is optimistic hemp is the future for the small and under-resourced farmer, unless there are regulatory efforts to ensure they can be competitive.

“Most minority farms are on the verge of survival,” said Joe Trigg, a farmer and city council member in Glasgow, Kentucky, who’s running as a Democrat for state commissioner of agriculture. “The last thing they need is something else to drag them down.”

Hemp has been touted by Democratic and Republican senators as a lifeline nationwide to farmers, many of whom are struggling under declining commodity prices. Farmers can harvest three types of hemp: fiber; grain or seed; or floral material extracted for plant resin, including cannabidiol, popularly known as CBD. Hemp’s uses span more than 25,000 products, including textiles, biofuel, ropes, cosmetics, food and beverages.

REGULATORY RISKS

Agriculture professionals say the high-value crop can be particularly well-suited to Black landowners, who typically have smaller farms and less overall sales than White farmers.

Black farmland accounts for 0.4 percent of U.S. farmland, and sales account for 0.2 percent of total U.S. agriculture sales, according to the USDA. Hemp can be cultivated in tight spaces, especially when harvested for fiber and seed, which are planted in narrow rows.

“We’re just seeing Black farmers emerge in the market,” said Bonita Money, founder of the Los Angeles-based National Diversity Inclusion and Cannabis Alliance, another group connecting hemp farmers of color.

Although hemp is legal, regulatory risks complicate the crop’s long-term outlook. Some states are positioning themselves to compete, but it’s unlikely the market can sustain hemp production in every state — unless there’s a significant increase in product demand, according to a February 2019 report from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky.

“Technology may dictate that production will ultimately be concentrated in relatively few states where hemp can be grown at the lowest cost of production and transported shorter distances for processing,” the report said.

GOT IN EARLY

Some states, including North Carolina and Kentucky, adopted hemp early and began growing it in research or pilot programs prior to Congress’ passage of the 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp widely.

Before December, when President Donald Trump signed the bill, federal law treated hemp as a quasi-controlled substance because of its relation to marijuana.

Neither Kentucky nor North Carolina tracks the race of growers or processors, according to spokespeople from the states’ departments of agriculture.

With federal legalization, many states are launching hemp pilot programs, transitioning from pilot to large-scale programs, while some are choosing to keep hemp farming illegal. Regardless, competition is increasing as growing hemp becomes more accessible.

Roscoe M. Moore, Jr., a former assistant U.S. surgeon general who attended a recent hemp workshop in Columbia, Maryland, thinks that as more money enters the hemp market, there will be few minorities involved.

MARIJUANA STIGMA

He pointed to the Maryland state law that called on regulators to reflect racial, ethnic and geographic diversity among those licensed to work in the medical marijuana industry. No Black applicant was awarded a grower’s license, according to news reports, and there were no repercussions, Moore said.

“Business relationships are the gold standard for America,” said Moore, who advises several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. “Business is based on commerce. There’s not any excuse why we’re not involved, we just haven’t had the experience.”

But even when approached, Black farmers sometimes decline the opportunity. Trigg, the Kentucky city council member, said a state official encouraged him to participate early in Kentucky’s pilot program.

Trigg declined because of the crop’s association with marijuana and law enforcement oversight.

Even though marijuana and hemp are separate strains of cannabis, with hemp having a lower level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the main psychoactive component in the cannabis plant — farmers like Trigg worried about a stigma in being associated with the crop.

“There was still so much skepticism associated with it, and everyone was worried,” said Trigg, who plans to grow his first hemp plant this year. “You start growing marijuana on your farm and you’re Black?”

WHITE MALE COMMISSION

Stanley-Anderson, whose nickname is Farmer Cee, didn’t initially connect hemp to equity until she didn’t see herself reflected among decision makers. The North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission, for example, whose nine members develop rules and licensing fee structures for the industry, is all male.

Eight members are White. Two are from law enforcement. None are African American.

Members, who serve as volunteers, are appointed by the governor, commissioner of agriculture and General Assembly. Their selection criteria are written into state law.

“I agree. It’s all White. It’s all male. But that’s the way it was set up,” said commission Chairman Tom Melton, also deputy director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at North Carolina State University. “Maybe the law needs to change to indicate some sort of representation. That’s beyond the scope of our commission.”

Federal law requires applicants for hemp licenses to not have had a drug felony in the past 10 years. The advocacy groups Vote Hemp, Drug Policy Alliance and others were able to get that decreased from a lifetime ban, but were unsuccessful in getting removed, said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, in an email to Stateline.

“Our goal is to allow all farmers who want to grow hemp to do so with as limited restrictions as possible,” Steenstra wrote. Vote Hemp, based in Washington, D.C., is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that supports a free market for industrial hemp.

BACKGROUND CHECKS

For some Black farmers, the felony restriction on hemp is a lost opportunity. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to have marijuana-related drug felonies, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

People coming out of prison desperately need jobs, said Ashley Smith, co-founder of Black Soil: Our Better Nature, an organization that supports Black farmers, growers and producers in Kentucky.

“There has to be some compromise where we can bring folks who are in need of jobs working land that is in need of labor,” Smith said. In Kentucky, hemp laborers are subject to background checks.

Some places are trying a system to offer some restitution for the disproportionate impact of drug enforcement on Black communities.

Some California cities, for example, have adopted cannabis equity programs that provide business development, loan assistance and mentorships for minority and low-income entrepreneurs. Oakland has permits set aside for people of color.

“No one is doing that with hemp,” said Stanley-Anderson, who grew up on a farm in Alabama.

ORLANDO ADVOCACY GROUP

Jackson Garth, national director for industrial hemp for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, an advocacy group based in Orlando, has been working to get equity goals or requirements written into hemp legislation in Georgia and South Carolina. While the measures never made it into legislation, he’s encouraged South Carolina has awarded licenses to farmers of color he’s worked with.

“We’re going to have to have set-asides for Black and brown farmers, so farmers aren’t forgotten,” Garth said.

Garth’s group, known as M4MM, is in the early stages of setting up a co-op program for hemp. Garth, who’s also an executive of an industrial hemp processing company in Atlanta, is educating farmers on the crop and helping them get licenses.

“A lot of times,” Garth said, “it’s a lack of information that we’re receiving, and even when we get the information, it’s too late.”

FARMER EQUITY ACT

At least two states — Illinois and California — have enacted a Farmer Equity Act in recent years to ensure socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are included in food and agriculture laws.

States with programs to support minority-owned businesses, new and beginning farmers and other targeted groups, could potentially apply to commercial industrial hemp producers unless there are restrictions in place to exclude hemp production, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some critics argue that these programs can feel like a Band-Aid.

“There’s a slew of people who fall under minority,” said Kentucky farmer Charles Jones, citing White women, veterans and other farmers of color. “So, they can say they’re doing this for minorities, but the Black farmer still gets left out within this.”

More than 100 people attended the recent daylong hemp informational event organized by Morgan State University, a historically Black university in Baltimore, Maryland. A handful of the attendees were Black. Among them, few were farmers. Instead, most were entrepreneurs or academics connected to Morgan State.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Courier

Activism

Through Ads and Advocates, Battle Over Calif. Gambling Propositions Heat Up

A statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.” The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

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The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.
The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.

By McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

Clint Thompson, a Santa Monica resident in his 30s, wouldn’t say he has been inundated with advertisements supporting or denigrating Propositions 26 and 27, but he sees an ad focused on one of the legislations each time he turns on his television.

“I usually watch the news during the day — NBC — and on NBC, Prop 26 or Prop 27 comes on every other commercial break per show,” said Thompson, an actor, who admitted he hasn’t researched the sports gambling propositions. “Both of the props seem to have good things with them. The commercials seem to have reasons why you should say ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’”

Prop 26 would legalize roulette, dice games, and sports betting on Native American tribal lands if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election. It is backed by over 50 state Native American tribes.

Prop 27, supported by sportsbooks DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Fanatics, PENN Entertainment, and WynnBet, would give those sports betting companies the reins in sports gambling in the Golden State and allow online gambling.

If people like Thompson feel the advertisements from the campaigns for and against the propositions seem to be flooding the television and radio airwaves — and to be ever-present on social media (Watched a YouTube video lately?) — they might be right.

The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November. That has led to ads backing and slamming the two propositions to be front and center in all forms of media Californians consume.

Dinah Bachrach of the Racial Justice Allies of Sonoma County, a group supporting Prop 26, said the proliferation of ads supporting Prop 27 is concerning.

“They are all over the place,” Bachrach said. “Gambling is already a pretty big business, but to be able to do sports gambling online is dangerous because it hurts what tribal casinos have been able to do for their communities in the state.”

According to Bachrach, Prop 26 protects the sovereignty of native tribes. “It’s a really important racial justice issue,” she said. “Indian casinos provide a tremendous amount of financial support for the casino tribes and the non-casino tribes, and they contribute a lot locally and to the state.”

Bachrach’s organization is one of several civil rights or African American organizations that have thrown its support behind Prop 26.

Santa Clarita NAACP spokesperson Nati Braunstein said in an email, “The NAACP supports Prop 26, which would legalize retail sports betting at California tribal casinos only and opposes Prop 27 which would allow online sports betting via mobile sportsbooks.”

Kathy Fairbanks, speaking for the Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, composed of California Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and other partners, said winning the approval of every potential voter, including Black Californians, is their goal.

Yes on 27 – Californians for Solutions to Homelessness, the campaign arm of Prop 27 backers, had not returned California Black Media’s requests for comment for this story as of press time. Prop 27 proponents say in ads and the Yes on 27 website repeats that the initiative would help solve California’s homelessness crisis.

Prop 27 imposes a 10% tax on adjusted gross gaming revenue. Eighty-five percent of the taxes go toward fighting California’s homeless and mental health challenges. Non-gaming tribes get the remaining 15% of tax revenue.

Organizations such as Bay Area Community Services, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, and individuals including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Bay Area Community Services CEO Jamie Almanza, and Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon are listed as Prop 27 supporters on the Yes on 27 website.

On the campaign’s Facebook page, commenter Brandon Gran wrote under an advertisement photo that voting for Prop 27 was a “no brainer.”

“People are already gambling using offshore accounts,” he typed. “Why not allow CA to get a piece of the pie … money that will (hopefully) go to good use.”

However, a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.”

The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

“Regionally, majorities in the Inland Empire, Orange/San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area would vote ‘no,’ while likely voters in the Central Valley and Los Angeles are divided,” they wrote. “At least half across most demographic groups would vote ‘no.’ Likely voters age 18 to 44 (52%) and renters (51%) are the only two demographic groups with a slim majority voting ‘yes.’”

The survey, titled “PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government,” did not ask participants about Prop 26. The Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, said in a news release that the PPIC’s research confirmed what Prop 26 supporters have said for some time.

“Despite raising more than $160 million for a deceptive advertising campaign, California voters are clearly not buying what the out-of-state online gambling corporations behind Prop 27 are selling,” the statement read.

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Activism

Oakland Promise and Kaiser Support Promising Student

Kaiser Permanente gave a significant grant to Oakland Promise, helping it reach a $50 million goal for its Generation Fund, which will offer college savings accounts and scholarships to all low-income Oakland public school students while they’re pursuing college degrees or trade certificates.

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Kaiser Permanente partners with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor program, scholarships, academic guidance. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente mentor Ingrid Chen, MD, at right, with Sandy La, who begins her second year of college this fall.
Kaiser Permanente partners with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor program, scholarships, academic guidance. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente mentor Ingrid Chen, MD, at right, with Sandy La, who begins her second year of college this fall.

By Carla Thomas

When Sandy La applied to two programs while a senior at Oakland High, she had no idea the Oakland Promise program would truly reward her for being a promising student on the rise. Now a successful student at UC San Diego majoring in Public Health, La has spent over 12 months mentored by Kaiser Permanente Oakland psychiatry resident Ingrid Chen. For Chen, mentoring a student and just being there for her was key.

Kaiser Permanente gave a significant grant to Oakland Promise, helping it reach a $50 million goal for its Generation Fund, which will offer college savings accounts and scholarships to all low-income Oakland public school students while they’re pursuing college degrees or trade certificates.

“The program is very well organized, and very accessible for busy working people,” said Dr. Chen. Kaiser Permanente is partnered with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor programs, scholarships and academic guidance.

La was one of the lucky few of 300 to 400 Oakland high school students who received college scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $16,000 each year from Oakland Promise, and Dr. Chen is one of the 34 mentors from Kaiser Permanente who help keep them in college, often forming long lasting friendships.

“When I first moved to Oakland in 2020 to start my residency, the social justice movements spotlighting racial inequality in our society inspired me to help the community,” said Dr. Chen. “My parents are first generation Taiwanese immigrants, so I have a heart for immigrant families and other groups that are often marginalized in society.”

Dr. Chen makes herself available to La and one other student to talk about anything and help them identify opportunities in college and beyond.

“It’s been great to have someone to talk to and support me,” said La, who says the extra support really matters.

Dr. Chen says it has been great getting to know La and supporting her. La says the support has been a great confidence booster and she now pays it forward while counseling incoming freshmen. “I’m majoring in public health because I want to make a difference in health care and solve some of the disparities in the field,” said La.

Kaiser Permanente is also a founding sponsor of Oakland Promise, said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs. “Oakland Promise is creating brighter futures for children and families by supporting children at every stage in their lives, from the day they’re born to the day they graduate from college,” said Radford. “This innovative public-private partnership is helping Oakland’s children become more successful in school and in life.”

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Activism

Meet the Woman Who Spearheaded Equity, Inclusion in the Business World

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses. “We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” said Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

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Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)
Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, has been creating change for Black people and other minorities long before she started consulting.

In an interview last Wednesday at her office in downtown Oakland, Ramsey said she first worked on easing racial conflict by serving on the student relations council in high school. The goal was to integrate the lunchroom in a school that consisted of 80% white students and 20% Black students.

Ramsey went on to get a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and has been operating Mason Tillman Associates since starting it in 1978. Her firm’s name is a combination of Ramsey’s maiden name, Mason, and Tillman, a last name by which her husband was known.

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses.

“We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” Ramsey said, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

Mason Tillman Associates’ statistical research has revealed institutional practices systemically limiting minority businesses’ access to public contracts.

The company’s disparity study research and policy recommendations have helped identify and modify governments’ practices. Consequently, billions of dollars have been distributed more fairly in over 150 cities, counties, and states since 1978, she said. For example, New York State’s current minority business law is predicated on a Mason Tillman disparity study.

Oakland officials were at first reluctant to release a disparity study for their city, causing an outcry from the Black community. The study — kicked off by Ramsey’s firm — was eventually released in November 2020. Mason Tillman Associates plans to update it following a year of talks.

The company is also credited with preparing the nation’s first competitive disparity study, which was done for Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1990.

Disparity studies aren’t just the right thing to do, they’re the law. Following a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, disparity studies must be prepared to document the need for awarding contracts to minorities. Lawmakers can no longer give preference to minorities without evidence from a study.

Ramsey suspects 300 to 400 studies have been conducted since the SCOTUS decision.

She has also been at the forefront of breaking through ceilings for businesswomen.

“The notion of the glass ceiling was very real,” she said, adding that for Black women, the ceiling was made of “concrete.”

Starting Mason Tillman Associates gave her an occupation when doors were closed for Black women following her attempt to become a university professor, she said.

“You walked a fine line,” said Ramsey.

Women could not come off as too intelligent without offending men. She refined the art of levity to make people feel comfortable.

Before Mason Tillman Associates, Ramsey worked as a flight attendant for the now-defunct yet iconic Pan American Airways. She was the second Black female flight attendant to be hired by Pan Am, which was the only international carrier in the U.S. in the 1960s. Pan Am was known for its stewardesses — now called flight attendants, another positive change for women in the workforce.

Ramsey managed to earn her doctorate in 1977 while raising six children. Then she applied for jobs as a professor and neither UC Berkeley nor the University of Colorado Boulder would hire her. Society wasn’t ready for a Black female professor, she said.

Her experience has taken her on some interesting journeys. While living in Boulder, she secured a contract with the National Park Service to investigate whether Wilberforce, Ohio, was once part of the underground railroad. That, she said, was the start of her consulting business.

Since starting Mason Tillman Associates 44 years ago, Ramsey has trained many professionals in the company’s Oakland headquarters. The firm continues to help redefine managers’ views of Black businesses in agencies nationwide.

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