*This week BET rolls out “Smoke: Marijuana + Black America,” narrated and executive-produced by Nasir “Nas” Jones.
The original documentary, examines marijuana’s cultural, social, economic and legal impact on American society and the Black community. Told through the lens of aficionados, policymakers, advocates and innovators in the booming legal cannabis industry. EUR correspondent Fahnia Thomas spoke with former NBA player and cannabis investor Al Harrington about Viola, Harris and Mary Jane.
FT: Why did you want to be a part of “Smoke?”
AH: We don’t have a lot of representation in this cannabis space. There aren’t a lot of places to get information especially from someone like myself that’s an operator in multiple states. I want people to understand my journey and the journey of people of color. It’s a tough place, it’s not easy and we’re not always welcomed into the space.
We have to understand the history of cannabis and how Black people played a part in where we are today as a society. All of our freedoms were taken away and all of our lives were mostly impacted negatively around the cannabis plant. Now there’s this new billion dollar industry we don’t have a real position in. We don’t have a seat at the table and that’s a crime. There’s enough money to go around for everybody. There needs to be more inclusion of people of color. If it wasn’t for the sacrifices we made – our freedoms – we wouldn’t be having these conversations.
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FT: What struggles have you faced and continue to face in the cannabis industry?
AH: It’s been about 10 years since I first started and one of my first challenges was being able to differentiate good advice from bad advice. I had attorneys who told me the wrong things to do and I don’t think they did it on purpose, they just didn’t know. A lot of these rules are up to your interpretation. Also, I was still playing in the NBA when I started [getting into the cannabis industry] and I had keep to myself in a position where I didn’t lose my contract or get locked up. Then, once I started to scale the business I realized how hard it was to fund a business. Some would think with the resources I have it should be easy – like everyone is going to give me money – but that wasn’t the case. When I think about how difficult it was for me to raise money, I could only imagine how difficult it would be for someone who isn’t a celebrity or athlete. How would they ever be able to participate in this industry? It’s so expensive to be a part of it.
FT: Your company Viola launched an incubator program to provide small Black owned businesses resources within the cannabis industry, how can people apply?
AH: Through our website – when they hear the incubator program a lot of people think I’m randomly picking people, it’s not like that. It’s way more difficult. We’re looking for entrepreneurs that are already in the space, have started a business and they need resources to be able to scale it up, like back office support. They can use our platform to elevate their business. Even some people operating in the gray market that have really solid brands but are in states that don’t have their programs fully built out yet, can’t find enough resources – like capital to get a license. So we would say, ‘join us and use my license to be able to get on the right side of the business and grow from there.’ Maybe they have a following and they just need a license or a grow space or access to distillate. Viola would be able to get those resources to them.
FT: “Smoke” features testimonies from other notable individuals like Vice President-Elect Kamala D. Harris, what can you share about her role?
AL: She has a history of locking up people of color and at the end of the day you can’t blame her because she was doing her job. I like that she has grown from her way of thinking…throwing the book at guys for low level drug offenses – and now is trying to figure out how we can expunge these records and give these guys an opportunity to really come back into society and be successful. When you go to jail and you serve your debt to society as they say and you come home it follows you. It could eventually force you back into a life of crime. I know some of the things she is focusing on is expungement, re-entry and changing the way we look at cannabis and the stigma.
“Smoke: Marijuana + Black America” premieres on BET Wednesday, November 18 at 10pm ET/PT.
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As State Fights Fraud, Unemployed Californians Get Caught in the Middle
*California has implemented a series of safeguards to tackle widespread unemployment fraud amid mass job losses in the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But those safety measures have also resulted in the accidental loss of benefits for some innocent claimants.
A joint team of local prosecutors and law enforcement officials announced Nov. 24 that more than 35,000 incarcerated people were named in claims filed with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) between March and August of this year. According to Sacramento County district attorney Anne Marie Schubert, more than 20,000 of those claims have been filed in the state, totaling more than $140 million in benefits. At least 158 claims were filed for people on death row, resulting in over $400,000 in benefits paid.
The investigation involved district attorneys from nine California counties, as well as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. According to prosecutors, who learned about the fraud by listening to recorded prison phone calls, the fraud schemes varied — some involving people on the outside and others orchestrated by organized networks within prisons.
Schubert, along with other county district attorneys, has called on Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials to ensure that EDD claimants are routinely cross-checked against incarcerated persons. According to an EDD spokesperson, the agency has also been working with the United States Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General to verify claims.
“Earlier this year, I launched a strike team to expedite unemployment payments and to minimize abuse of the system. While we have made improvements, we need to do more,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement.
Over the past few months, the EDD says it has been investigating fraud cases involving people who have allegedly exploited relaxed rules intended to speed up federal aid payments to people the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most, including self-employed workers and independent contractors. Investigations publicly reported so far include one case where out-of-state suspects were arrested while attempting to buy luxury goods on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills using multiple EDD debit cards. In another, a rapper posted a music video online called “EDD” in which he appeared to brag about defrauding the department.
While law enforcement authorities have found some credible instances of fraud, lawmakers and advocates for unemployed Californians and low-wage workers have been concerned that innocent claimants have gotten caught up in the state’s offensive to prevent fraud. On Oct. 22, EDD announced that they had frozen 350,000 benefit debit cards because of suspicious activity. After the freeze, there were reports of significant numbers of innocent unemployed workers left without their benefits because officials had erroneously targeted them in the operation.
“Our offices have been hearing complaints from constituents with legitimate claims who have had their EDD debit cards frozen as a part of this fraud prevention measure. Again, EDD seems unable to address fraud without harming Californians who are depending on them for benefits,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco).
The EDD has been plagued by backlogs in processing benefit claims since the beginning of the pandemic. At one point, the number of unprocessed claims totaled over 1.6 million. More than 16.4 million claims have been filed since March. The backup has left millions of Californians without access to unemployment benefits. This is happening as reports emerge of many Californians falling behind on their rents and becoming food insecure.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), former chair of the Board of Prison Terms, said “Countless Californians continue to wait for their unemployment benefits. They worked hard and lost their jobs through no fault of their own. They are desperately waiting for their debit cards to pay for rent and other bills, while prisoners are paid. This exemplifies how dysfunctional California government has become.”
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program that gets benefits to self-employed workers and contractors, is set to expire Dec. 31.
source: Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media
Iverson/Reebok Sneakers Designed By Jai Manselle Hit Stores Internationally / PICs
*The entrepreneur and designer has extended his collaborations with Allen Iverson & Reebok through the new release.
December 1, 2020. The wildly popular ‘Iverson Classic’ All-American basketball game co-founded by NBA superstar Allen Iverson, Jai Manselle and Bobby Bates had to take a break this year due to the pandemic. But, the stunning Manselle-designed sneakers for the game (originally planned to be exclusive to the players) will see a wide release today through Champs Sports .
The sneakers are a reimagining of the Reebok Question silhouette, wrapped in dark tones of suede, leather and nubuck. The outsole features a striking kente-cloth inspired pattern that is reminiscent of the jerseys Iverson wore while playing for Georgetown University. Pulling inspiration from Georgetown, Virginia, Africa, Philadelphia, and streetball culture into a cohesive design that feels radical and classic at the same time, these kicks have an aesthetic that is markedly different from anything else on the market.
“We wanted to create something aspirational. Something that represented both the journey and the destination. If you look in the details, these shoes tell a story and I hope anyone who gets a pair can pull from that energy” said Jai Manselle of the shoe’s bold aesthetic
The Iverson Classic All-American game was the most-watched All-American in the country in 2018 and 2019 (there were no All-American games in 2020) and made history last year as the first live sporting event to ever air exclusively on Sling TV’s streaming platform.
The sneakers will be available at Champs Sports and mark the first time that a top All-American game has released a sneaker to the public.
This release comes on the heels of a banner year for Jai Manselle and his MANSELLE brand house. 2020 also saw their ‘Rap Snacks’ collaborations with artists like Cardi B, The Notorious BIG and Migos grow into Walmart and Kroger locations and amass over 25 million sales.
Founded by entrepreneur and designer Jai Manselle, MANSELLE is a branding collective dedicated to innovating, disrupting, and creating unexpected brand opportunities. In addition to developing their own products and content, they work with clients and partners ranging from Apple to Mountain Dew to Sean “Diddy” Combs to Brooks Brothers with a focus on entertainment, fashion, and sports. Over 50 million MANSELLE-branded retail products have been released and MANSELLE-produced media has generated over 1 billion views.
ABOUT JAI MANSELLE
Jai Manselle is sometimes called the “King of Branding.” He has spent the last decade on a flurry of disruptive projects including launching a #1 mobile game called Bike Life starring Meek Mill and DJ Khaled, acting as the first executive in the BIG3 Basketball league, producing the first-ever live sports on Sling TV, rebranding Rap Snacks, co-founding Iverson Classic and producing partnerships with brands like Apple, Chase Bank, Sephora, Showtime and New Era Caps.
source: Mariella E. Lopez / [email protected]
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