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Debby Goldsberry has been involved in cannabis activism since 1988, and she attended her first smoke-in in 1986, which means she has been fighting to repeal prohibition for 25 years. In those 25 years, she has founded or been on the board of a number of influential businesses and organizations including: Cannabis Action Network, Americans for Safe Access, Berkeley Patients Group, Marijuana Policy Project, CA NORML, Bloom Well Services, Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (working to legalize in CA), Medical Cannabis Safety Council, Citizens Coalition for Patients Care (San Jose referendum) — and that’s just the short list! Recently, Debby took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her current and past work in the cannabis world and how it has affected her throughout the years.
DF: You’re currently working at Magnolia Wellness Collective. What do you do there and what services are offered?
DG: I am the Ambassador at Magnolia Wellness, spreading the word about our collective and the member programs. Magnolia has won more awards than any Bay Area collective, including winning the Sativa Cup at the last High Times Cannabis Cup in California. We have the most stringently tested cannabis in the State, with all of our cannabis evaluated for potency, molds and mildews, pesticides and fertilizers. Each day, we open our services room for free adjunct therapies, including acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, reiki and Chinese medicines. An advice nurse comes in twice a week to meet with patients and our free barbershop is open every Sunday and Monday.
Our collective supports patient members to the maximum, making sure that we give back to each person in great need. Magnolia works with the top producers of CBD/THC tinctures and oils to provide free medicine to any child in the state suffering from seizure disorders. Once a week, any member with HIV, Crohn’s, or cancer can secure free medicine, and seniors and veterans always get a discount. We give a Compassion Medicinal Edible to each member on their birthday, and work with our local suppliers to host frequent product testing days at the facility. Magnolia believes in Denis Peron‘s original vision for Proposition 215, where we work our hardest to help those most in need. As Ambassador, it is an honor to introduce potential members and our community to these old-fashioned values, where caring and compassion come first.
DF: The International Cannabis Business Conference is coming up in September and taking place in Portland, Oregon. What is your role?
DG: I am booking the speakers for this conference, and am working hard to make sure every person who attends gets a well-rounded, thorough education. We plan to provide enough information to give any cannabis entrepreneur the tools they need to start a businesses and make it work. I am coordinating the Cannabusiness panels, intermediate and advanced, along with the Dispensary Management. We want to give an overview of all of the toughest aspects of business management, presented by the entrepreneurs who innovated the topic in the field of cannabis. Our attendees will learn directly from these experts, by hearing tales of both successes and failures.
DF: You are asked to judge many competitions for cannabis — how many times have you been a judge at the High Times Cannabis Cup?
DG: Oh wow, a lot. Not exactly sure, but I have judged nearly every SF Cup, minus one, and in Amsterdam, about 5 times. I used to be the head Voting Official for the Cup for many years, managing the public vote. It was a high pressure position, requiring a trained staff and lots of fraud protection mechanisms in place. As far as I know, they still use the rules that I wrote up many years ago.
DF: You were Freedom Fighter of the Year in HIGH TIMES Magazine, correct?
DG: Nov. 2011 – Nov. 2012, yes.
DF: You have also been featured in SKUNK as a ‘Tokin’ Female’. How is the movement different for women from when you started becoming involved 25 years ago?
DG: Now, there are a lot more women entrepreneurs who have entered the industry, and the peer group is larger and more talented than ever. Women have joined together, so we can have common ground to share stories, concerns, and ideas. The movement’s women leadership are supportive of each other and friendships and informal alliances are common and welcome. Women business leaders are putting community first, rather than competition. It is a welcome change.
DF: What is currently going on in California regarding medical marijuana and recreational marijuana and how you are involved with that?
DG: California advocates have two goals right now. First, we need to shore up CA’s medical cannabis laws. After all these years, there are still no state regulations to license medical cannabis dispensaries, cultivation, and manufacturing. This means that collectives still operate in a grey area, without access to oversight that would assure the safety of our medical cannabis supply. The hope is that patients, advocates, and lawmakers can join together to create laws that work. Citizens Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR) is leading the campaign to legalize cannabis for adult use in CA. I am a board member at CCPR, along with Chair Dale Sky Jones, Chief of Staff Diane Goldstein of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Alice Huffman of the CA NAACP, and others. CCPR has partnered with some heavy hitters to accomplish this, notably the ACLU of Northern CA, who formed a Blue Ribbon Panel with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom to study the best path to reform, Drug Policy Alliance, CA NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Together, these organizations are engaged in a campaign to reach everyone from cannabis stakeholders to soccer moms, in order to create a law that will end prohibition and regulate businesses that produce and sell cannabis. The campaign is on track to qualify an initiative for the 2016 ballot.
DF: How is it being a mom in the movement and industry? Are you hiding in plain sight — or how do other parents react to your profession even in a place like Oakland, CA?
DG: I tend to hide out from other parents, as I do not want my daughter to face any of the stigma still attached to medical cannabis use, even in CA. However, recently, I did a radio interview for Magnolia Wellness, which aired on the Friday evening commute on a large rock station. One of the parents heard it, and began a productive conversation about cannabis. Shortly after, she attended a training for health professionals about medical cannabis, and became inspired to consider becoming a patient herself. So, coming out to other parents can be an amazing experience. Conversely, there is a rule against promoting “drug use” at school, and I tend to turn my Magnolia Wellness staff shirt inside out, if I find myself there wearing it. It would horrify me to have to argue with the a school administrator about my feeling that cannabis is a medicine and “drug use,” so I preempt the discussion. In the mind of most cannabis using parents is the fear of a CPS visit, and the dread of losing a child for your own personal use of this important medicine.
DF: Who are your humanitarian heroes outside of cannabis who have taught you lessons you use to navigate our cannabis movement?
DG: The Dalai Lama is a great leader, who is a living example of using nonviolence, kindness, and peacefulness to promote the cause of freedom. The main lesson I have learned is that you cannot inspire with words alone, but through visible action, even if the action is non-action. Long ago, from watching tons of boring speeches about cannabis, I began studying really powerful speakers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to understand why their words were so impactful. From this, I learned the importance of imparting positive and motivating feelings when speaking, rather than reporting facts and figures like a newscaster.
DF: Who are your personal heroes?
DG: My personal hero’s are the leaders of the peace movement and the cannabis movement in the United States. This includes the Yippies, the beats, the hippies, the poets, the artists, the clowns, the dealers, the smugglers, the cultivators, the breeders, and the activists. In my own life, Dr. Tod Mikuriya (RIP), a former NIH leader turned cannabis expert, Jack Herer (RIP), author of the Emperor Wears No Clothes, and Ben Masel (RIP), Yippie organizer and founder of the Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival. They all played a huge role in inspiring my activism. Now, my personal heroes are people who continue to fight for peace and justice, rather than turning their time to canna-business. We have a drug war to end, people to free from prison, and patients who are suffering needlessly. We cannot lose focus on the big picture now.
DF: What do you like to do in your rare down-time that helps to keep you grounded?
DG: I like to spend my downtime in the woods with my dog, clearing my head to make space for new ideas. Oakland has thousands of acres of redwood forest, which is largely unknown. The trees there now are the genetic children of these 2000 year old trees cut down during the gold rush to build San Francisco. The largest tree ever measured was in the park a few doors from my house. It is quite peaceful, but there is a warrior spirit in those woods. I find myself wandering around there after smoking cannabis, totally engaging my senses. I am very grateful to people like John Muir, who created these regional parks for us all to enjoy for the next 2000 years.