When the phone guy at Los Angeles City Hall went to set up Cat Packer's phone line, he wondered if the assignment was a prank. Like a lot of people, he was a bit surprised to learn that the city actually has a new pot czar.
"Pot czar" is not what it says on Packer's business card — her official title is executive director of Los Angeles' new Department of Cannabis Regulation. The 26-year-old said her interest in the intersection between policy and pot dates back to a class she took on marijuana law while at Ohio State University.
"I understood that there were injustices that happened here in America," Packer said. "But I didn’t understand how law enforcement and the way that cannabis policy has developed was very much interlinked to trying to bolster racial tensions."
Packer recently spoke with KPCC. Here are a few highlights from the interview:
Your goal is to undo a lot of that. A word you’ve used to describe yourself is “equitable.” What does being equitable mean to you?
Equitable to me just means fair. The policy up until now has been prohibition. For decades and decades, we’ve understood that prohibition doesn’t work. It hasn’t curbed the availability or consumption of cannabis. But nonetheless, we have spent millions and billions of dollars incarcerating people for a plant and substance that now under California law is not a drug.
As we move forward, we want to make sure that those community members and individuals impacted disproportionately by marijuana prohibition and its enforcement have an opportunity to participate in the legal industry.
In your position, there must be a ton of logistics to sort out with a deadline that is swiftly approaching. What are some of the questions that are top of mind?
We have to determine where these businesses can locate. How these businesses can interact with each other. Can a business that cultivates also manufacture and sell their products? Are they going to have to use a different type of distributor? Can these businesses open up without engaging with the public? What are the hours of operation? Is the city going to allow for on-site consumption? How are we going to treat public consumption? How do we ensure that we keep our roads safe?
There are so many different policy decisions and they touch so many aspects of our lives, from public safety to health to housing to employment. It’s extremely significant here in Los Angeles because we will be the largest city to do it.
Do you use cannabis yourself? And would you use it on the job?
Would I use cannabis on the job? Absolutely not. Part of this conversation and how we develop responsible conversation about consumption is allowing people to be honest. I think that if we develop in a space where people can’t have honest and genuine conversations about the things that they do, that causes an area, an environment of stigma. And stigma is actually the number one reason why people do not seek out drug treatment.
I shy away from the question of whether or not I consume partly because for some folks that’s a medical question. When folks are having these conversations, remind folks that it might not be polite all the time to ask people about their medical history or their medical practices.