Activism in Alaska One woman is trying to help the growth and expansion of Alaska’s cannabis industry

Political activism comes naturally to some. Samantha Laudert-Rodgers, 29, has been around elections most of her life and when cannabis became a real legal possibility, Rodgers knew she had to stay as active as ever, and help the industry grow. CULTURE spoke to Rodgers, a political activist from Alaska, to learn about her unique journey and gain insight about the growth and expansion of the cannabis industry in her home state.

“All of my childhood I remember my mom working elections. My mother got me involved with working elections the way her grandmother did . . . I have worked elections ever since, when the opportunities arise.”

In 2014, Samantha worked with Yes Campaign as an election worker leading to the passage of our recreational bill Proposition 2. In 2015, after Senate Bill 62 went into place Samantha began attending public meetings and used her community-building skills from experiences in the hooping community, to assist local platforms on social media with reaching more people, concerning the shaping of regulations.

“I strongly encourage people to get involved with civic duty as election workers, volunteer for campaigns, and always vote!”

Samantha shares “2016 has been a very big year!,” as she goes on to explain that she officially “came out” to her hometown, state, and beyond as a medical cannabis card holder who consumes cannabis for health benefits. “It was scary but with Valdez voting on whether or not to opt out of cannabis sales in May 2017, I had no choice.”

March of 2016, Samantha had the opportunity to attend the Alaska Town Hall meeting with Jane Sanders and asked a question pertaining to medical cannabis, “which lit a political fire under me. We caucused that weekend and I became the House District Chair of my district for the Matanuska Valley Democrats, my previous voting district.”  During this time, Samantha was creating connections and memories. “I bring my hula hoops with me everywhere I go. I was in the next town over when my best friend told me they scheduled a last minute town hall. I had my hula hoop bag in my car when my friend Darci (@thestonedmuggle) and I went to the Town Hall with Jane Sanders. Knowing that the best souvenirs received are the ones from those we meet on our travels I brought some of my father’s Shrimp Whisperer AK cards and a 2016 calendar that he had made. After the event (Jane) was meeting everyone and I gave them to her in a manila envelope. I asked for a photo and she suggested we take out one of the cards for the photo and of course I picked the hooper.” Samantha goes on to share that Jane and her daughter Karina were overcome with excitement. “My family loves to hula hoop. We have one and we all take turns sharing it!” Jane told Samantha. “Karina elaborated and told me that the kids, the adult siblings, and the grandparents all hoop together. It was a genuine moment. Bernie was on Jimmy Kimmel that night and he said his pride and joy were his grandchildren. Their family values resonated with mine. It made me wish I had the time to build a hula hoop to send home because they are my favorite thing to gift.” Samantha in fact got that opportunity the next day when that the Sanders’ travel plans to Bristol Bay were canceled due to weather. “Instead they attended a multicultural event in Anchorage that members of the Sanders campaign invited me to the day prior. I took one of my old hoop boxes, shrimp skiing and snowboarding cards for each of the grandkids, and built them an Ione AK Hoop! Right after I finished making it I had to fill my car with hula hoops to share hoop love and give people the opportunity to give them a spin. I hooped with community members of all ages. At the end I was able to give (Jane and her daughter) the hoop and they even hula hooped with me!”

Samantha declared her candidacy for State Senate Seat F, in June 2016 and won her Democratic Primary in August before withdrawing to endorse independent candidate, Tim Hale. “(Hale) helped get a local cannabis sales tax bill on the ballot for a borough still fighting to have retail, testing, cultivation, and manufacturing. Our district successfully Voted No on B2 to not opt out of sales and passed a 5% sales tax.”

“This is what the end of prohibition looks like.”

Post election, Samantha has moved back to her hometown of Valdez, Alaska to prepare for a big vote coming up in May 2017. “A vote that could hurt our economy as an industry and also our town.

Samantha speaks about what the existing market looks like, “Currently our industry is primarily homegrown. No outside investors can enter the Alaska cannabis industry with our state regulations.” Despite this regulation, Alaska has some helping hands, “We have some incredible people from outside (the state) who’ve relocated to bring knowledge (…) and be a staple for new canna-businesses. They infuse our Alaska Cannabis Community in a wonderful way.”

With only handful of stores across the state, “The shift in acceptance is the biggest change I have seen.” Samantha shares exciting details regarding her new job, working for the first cannabis retail shop to exist in Alaska, Herbal Outfitters, which opened their doors on October 29th, 2016. “We open at ‘High Noon’ daily! I joined their team one month to the day after they opened. We are the only shop who have not run out of product since opening our doors. People travel hundreds of miles across the last frontier to make their first legal purchases in Alaska, or ever. We have visitors from around the world too.”
Currently Herbal Outfitters only carries flower due to the availability of the product, they expect have edibles before Christmas. “By the end of December more cultivators and manufacturers will begin having edibles and hopefully concentrates as well, available for purchase for retail outlets.” In addition to medicine “we carry smoking apparatuses, Herbal Outfitters apparel, and also Grassroots California hats.” Apparel is Alaskan themed and directs people to get out and vote.

Since Herbal Outfitters has been open, there has been a change in how Valdez, Alaska views the cannabis community and industry. “They are beginning to appreciate the resource we offer. (…) Overall, the social stigma is less by the day which is major progress necessary for the industry to succeed and for our country to repeal prohibition, again. I predict, that with time, other boroughs and municipalities will also find their community easing up, if they are given the opportunity to open for business.”

The future is looking bright for Samantha and her local community. “Today our cannabis community is growing daily and becoming more vocal about supporting a regulated industry. We have a community that strives to move away from the black market, Big Pharma, and other regulated intoxicants for a happier, healthier tomorrow. We hope to be pioneers on the last frontier who will positively impact responsible cannabis reform across all 50 states.”

Samantha shared her thoughts on the most critical issues facing Alaska in their responsible cannabis reform movement is “the push back impacting some of the state’s most populated areas. Assemblies and city councils can pass ordinances that ban any license type by “opt out” of them. Personal use is protected however as is personal possession. The problem with this is that we drive those who could support legal businesses toward illegal means of getting cannabis when it should not be this way. Our crime rates in Alaska are above the national average and our most populated area of the state still have no retail shops, Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley. Crimes associated with illegal drug use or black market where cannabis is a factor will have less chance to take place when it is regulated. The community will learn the expectations of what the industry will uphold. This is what the end of prohibition looks like.”

“I strongly encourage people to get involved with civic duty as election workers, volunteer for campaigns, and always vote!”

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