On Feb. 15, I traveled to Atlanta to join elected officials, Chamber of Commerce members and concerned citizens in the annual Savannah-Chatham Day at the Georgia Capitol. As Smoke Cartel’s newly-hired Communications Strategist, I figured this political schmoozefest was a great way to gather intel and introduce the company as one of the city’s most important success stories. It was only my second day of work and I didn’t even have a desk yet, but I think that SC’s presence at the Gold Dome made a significant impact.
Here’s a summary of the who’s and what’s:
I arrived in downtown Atlanta dressed in my one reasonable suit; I like to call this look “business drag.” The afternoon began with a legislative session featuring speeches from state representatives, each who repeated essentially the same tropes: Yay Tourism, Port Traffic, Real Estate Development. The room was crowded, and I found it much more useful to network in the hallways, where many local people clustered in small groups to talk. I handed out a lot of cards and enjoyed re-introducing myself to those who know me as a local journalist as the newest employee of “the Savannah-based global manufacturer of cannabis-related glassware.” The reactions were confused at first but then overwhelmingly positive, and the mention of cannabis brought mostly-resounding support from both state and local players.
I chased down State Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah), a local physician, to ask about his position on HB 764, the medical cannabis bill currently being considered by the Georgia Assembly—he was a bit squirmy, saying that he hadn’t looked closely at the bill since the legislation hadn’t yet crossed from the House to the Senate. He said he supported medical cannabis but would like to see more research before getting behind any legislation. (I did NOT roll my eyes in spite of the fact that the news is currently bursting with positive proof of cannabis-related medical uses, including as a direct disruptor of the opioid crisis.)
I also had a conversation with Savannah District 2 Alderman Bill Durrence, who reiterated his support for the cannabis ordinance that would decriminalize—or rather, deprioritize—possession of less than an ounce within Savannah city limits. He seemed to think it was going to pass easily, though a few minutes earlier Mayor Eddie DeLoach told me he would only vote for it only if decriminalizing first-offense shoplifting and other misdemeanors were included. Durrence countered this by saying that the idea muddies the legislation. (Turns out he was right: On March 1, Savannah City Council passed the ordinance 8-1, the dissenting vote from Alderman-at-Large Brian Foster.)
I was not able to get a meeting with Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the sponsor of the current medical cannabis oil cultivation/distribution bill that stipulates for 10 dispensaries around the state if passed. My goal was to find out how those licenses would be distributed, and I called his office beforehand to see if he was available. His administrator told me that Gov. Deal had just announced that he would not sign any cannabis cultivation during this session and suggested I make an appointment with Peake at his home office after the session ends in March.
Yet Gov. Deal announced that same week that he was approving two new diagnoses to the bill—PTSD and chronic pain—which bodes well for the many Georgians suffering from these conditions. (The proclamation came the day after I was talking up cannabis in the Capitol, but I’m pretty sure I did not have anything to do with it.)
Peake also announced recently that he would not run for re-election, and rumors abound that he will be joining the fight at the federal level. Make no mistake, medical cannabis is going to be a huge issue in November’s gubernatorial race—multiple candidates in both parties have voiced their support.
After the legislative session, everybody walked over to the Georgia Freight Building for a seafood buffet, a massive networking session heavily seasoned with oyster juice and an open bar. The best conversation I had was with Carey Ferrera, who is currently the Marketing Director for Leopold’s Ice Cream. We riffed on possible partnerships (I mean, what is better for munchies that local ice cream?) but she also had valuable information regarding the GA Dept. of Economic Development, where she worked for ten years and offers tax incentives for qualifying businesses, including those that offer tours. The idea of touring the Smoke Cartel’s new facility (once everything gets settled!) lit up several people’s eyes—folks are curious about SC’s operations, and showing our stuff can only help legitimize and solidify our position as a growing local company in an emerging industry.
After the seafood extravaganza, folks split off for dinner (for real, I ate like seven meals that day.) I was honored to be invited by Savannah Economic Development Authority Emerging Project Manager Patrick Bentley to join him, SEDA CEO Brynn Grant, State Rep. Craig Gordon (D-Sav), and Creative Coast Executive Director Blake Ellis, plus two of my favorite Savannahnians: Creative Coast manager Coco Papy and board chair Clinton Edminister. Rep. Gordon mentioned another tax incentive around real estate on the West Side corridor of Savannah and the neighborhood of SC headquarters, and there was also talk about a possible partnership with our local World Trade Center office. Later someone mentioned that is was a real coup to be included at the SEDA table because it showed that SC and cannabis in general were becoming more normalized in the business community. Totally worth eating another dinner!
Unbelievably, the day was not done. After dinner, much of the delegation convened in the bar at the Whitley Hotel, formerly the Ritz-Carlton, where much of the delegation as staying. (I was perfectly happy with my room at the JW Marriott next door.) Apparently, this annual night circus can yield important connections and fascinating debauchery, so I gathered my druthers to watch the show. I had a cocktail with Chatham County Superior Court Judge candidate Ben Karpf, who is running for the seat his dad has held for a million years and has worked in magistrate court his entire career. Very nice, fair, social-justice minded, and importantly, pro-cannabis ordinance. After that, things started to get drunk and weird, so I escaped back to my room.
The next morning, I tagged along with Coco, Clinton and Blake for their meeting at Plywood, the uber-cool co-working incubator in Cabbagetown. (OMG, the public art in this neighborhood! Swoon!) From there we visited with Chantelle Rytter, an international artist who plans lantern parades on Atlanta’s famous Beltline and elsewhere. If we ever plan a Smoke Cartel parade, this is our woman—a giant spliff with glowing ember tip, anyone?
Overall, it was a productive trip (and second day of work!) I can’t wait to see what all the connections may yield, and with all of the changes on the horizon for the company, I doubt I’ll have to re-introduce myself when Savannah convenes at the state Capitol again. But next time I might have to skip that third dinner, oof!