Chris Roberts contributes to The Sugar Leaf from San Francisco where he has covered the cannabis industry since 2009. His work has been featured by many outlets including High Times, Leafly News, the Guardian, and SF Weekly.
If Nancy Pelosi and This New Congress Won’t Legalize Marijuana, Nobody Will (Except the Next Congress)
Now that the Democrats are in control of the House of Representatives, marijuana will legalized at the federal level. This is not a partisan take — and nor is it particularly fiery — but a basic observation. All the practical obstacles are gone, the ideological ones too few and too insubstantial to matter, and the time to do this has long ago passed. Don’t believe me? Fine, but if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the lawmaking body which she nominally controls can’t or won’t do this very simple thing — if there cannot be bipartisan agreement on this extremely popular issue, on which lawmakers as far apart on the ideological spectrum as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Florida Rep. Matt Gatez, who is a borderline Alex Jones impersonator, actually hold accord, then it can not and will not ever get done. Ever. You may point out that top House Democratic leadership have made clear how very little marijuana legalization matters to them. You may also point out the preemptive buck-passing: Back in September, Pelosi herself said marijuana reform was “up to” President Trump, which was a neat way of pinning the blame for House committee chairs like Pete Sessions blocking cannabis reform bills from even having a hearing on the Republican party’s big boss baby. But they’re in charge now, and Sessions is gone. That means the pure obstructionism that’s been blocking things for the recent past should be gone. %related-post-1% The guy who has Sessions’s old job, the very important chairmanship of the House Rules Committee, is Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern. His district included the state’s very first recreational marijuana dispensaries, which proved so popular they opened to hours-long lines and sold literal millions of dollars worth of cannabis in their first weeks. McGovern has already said that he’ll do more than Sessions did and allow the House to at least debate any marijuana reform bills, like the descheduling bill McGovern has signed onto as a cosponsor. There’s that bill to consider. But there are others. Look, look for yourself how many there are! Last year there were 80. This year, with the session barely three weeks out, there are six. Yes, one is cheekily named H.R. 420. There are too many bills from too many lawmakers to block. If nothing else, this war can be won by attrition. Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn may truly feel that legalization is no big deal or may just be posturing disinterested for some arcane political reason — it really doesn’t matter. Their House is poised to at least bring the issue to a debate, and then to a vote. Sixty-two percent of American voters want legalization. Legalization means politicians can deliver all of their favorite things — jobs, tax revenue, economic opportunity! — without really doing anything. There is a market for marijuana now; it’s an illicit one. All politicians have to do is the legislative equivalent of flipping a switch and then walk away, awash in the glow of the very nice thing they’ve done. I will not say it will happen this spring, or this summer, or, possibly, even this year. This isn’t any kind of priority during a government shutdown — or during the threat of one — and so it is unlikely to happen at the expense of basics like ensuring the federal workers who literally keep the country from descending into chaos for $500 a week don’t have to drive for Uber or stand in food lines. Of course, anything the House does is only half-done. In this country, sausage is made in the bicameral way, and a House-made and passed legalization bill would need to head to the Senate before it could hope for the presidential scribble and become law. This isn’t bad news, either, and should result in a win. %related-post-2% You may argue that the Senate is run by a usurper and an obstructionist, the kind of man who has the “factious tempers, local prejudices, and sinister designs” that the Framers warned us about. And on that, you may be right. But even Mitch McConnell and his hemp pen would be hard-pressed to find either a politically expedient or morally valid reason to block a Senate vote on any House legalization bill. There will be votes in the negative, maybe even on both sides of the aisle. But even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, prohibition’s best friend, finally ditched her opposition. No, if marijuana legalization comes to a vote, it will pass. It will head to Trump’s desk. And Trump will sign it, if for no other reason that he likes things that are big and strong and popular. He will get to babble on about jobs, and he’ll even get to talk about how his very smart move kept the very dangerous border safer. “We grow the best marijuana, the best, believe me, those bad hombres are out of business! Sorry!” All the pieces are in place. All that’s needed to get this Rube Goldberg machine going is the slightest of triggers. If it can’t happen now, it never will. But it will.
While the CBD craze continues to sweep the nation, the dealings of shady dealers shouldn’t be swept under the rug. I have a marijuana problem. By that, I mean a cannabis sativa-related problem. It is the mindfulness mantra turned into a curse. The wellness influencers stalk my every step. Everywhere I go, I see CBD. At a coffee shop in Queens. At a bodega in Brooklyn. At a bookstore in Boulder, Colorado. At more coffee shops, for “only $2 for a 10-gram shot!” Home-video rental stores are selling CBD. Gwyneth Paltrow is selling CBD. Gas stations, convenience stores. Cosmetics, coffee, doggie treats. You name it, someone has added CBD to it. The CBD hysteria is not new. Chemists have known about the cannabinoid for generations, and cannabis-industry figures have been touting the medical benefits of cannabidiol, which has psychoactive properties as well as medical benefits but without the familiar mind-bending punch of THC, for almost a decade. The New York Times was on it last year. The Washington Post ran an explainer on January 5. CBD is mainstream, CBD is known, CBD is out there — and this was before the 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump late last year in his last meaningful at for week, officially legalized hemp farming. Hemp, recall, is cannabis sativa with 0.3 percent or less THC, cultivated for fuel or fiber rather than delightful, terpene-laden smokeable flowers. %related-post-1% Since hemp is legal federally and CBD is not, hemp is the source material for the CBD sold openly in 50 states — and since hemp is now finally legal to cultivate in all 50 states, the CBD bonanza and attendant hysteria is set to reach a new and more fevered pitch. There is no one cause for CBD’s very swift and very stark rise in popularity. Every poll tells us that a vast majority of Americans support medical marijuana — the cannabis sativa with THC in it — even if they don’t use it themselves. More and more Americans are convinced that cannabis does have medical value — again, even if they’re still leery about trying the stuff themselves. CBD is also the recipient of positive earned media. Last year, the FDA approved CBD-based pharmaceutical drugs. Studies show that CBD does indeed lower arthritis-related pain and inflammation. CBD is probably good! In the spring, the World Health Organization gave CBD a ringing endorsement when they observed the substance is almost certainly benign; that is, there are no known health problems, “abuse or dependence potential” related to CBD, according to the WHO (through Harvard Medical School physicians were less sanguine.) CBD is (probably) safe! In a news cycle where the New York Times is devoting op-ed space to fanatics who declare that marijuana leads to mental illness, and when those fanatics are convincing brainboxes at The New Yorker that maybe legalization is bad and marijuana is not good, these votes in CBD’s favor are not insignificant. %related-post-2% So what’s the problem? For one, not everyone selling CBD is good. In fact, some CBD-slingers are very bad and have been reprimanded by the FDA for marketing products they swear will cure cancer. Breathless sandwich boards plopped outside hip boutiques in upscale neighborhoods anywhere gentrification can be found are also guilty of similar dissembling. Claims that CBD is good for everything might be true, but are also patently unverifiable. In this way, CBD has become the fitness and wellness fad of our day. CBD sells, CBD is known, vaguely enough, as the “good and non-intoxicating” marijuana ingredient, and so CBD is everywhere. This could be a harmless phase — that is, you’ll hear arguments like “nobody will die because they used too much CBD, even if they’re taken by a huckster.” The problem is that there is no guarantee CBD is harmless, for not all CBD products are created equal. Consider the source material. The CBD pre-rolls at the gas station could be ditchweed from up the street for all you know; nobody is regulating that stuff or checking it for purity or contaminants. That $5 shot you’re dumping in your latte along with the turmeric is probably derived from industrial hemp, meaning it might contain heavy metals or other toxins. There is also potential for lasting psychological damage — that is, a ruined reputation. For most of its salespeople, CBD is nothing more than a handy and buzzy marketing tool du jour, the acai berry or pomegranate juice of the moment. The cannabinoid does have real potential that requires careful study and mindful application rather than a freewheeling, paint-the-town-with-vaguely-hem-related-shit attitude. The market will always love bright and shiny things. And CBD is that. Eventually, the hysteria will die down and the wave will recede, leaving — what? People who could benefit from high-quality, tested and accurately dosed CBD products. Let’s hope those remain well after the mob moves on.
In a real way, the biggest development in global marijuana policy reform in 2018 was what didn’t happen, as in nothing bad. There were no major setbacks, there were no disasters — there was nothing to stop or even slow the momentum that marijuana legalization and the attendant legal cannabis industry has enjoyed for most of the past decade. Look: 2017 ended with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise that the country would legalize from Pacific to Atlantic. And it (and he) did. On the very first day of 2018, retail recreational cannabis stores opened in California. Red states legalized medical marijuana. Everything continued as before, and (almost) nothing was (too horribly) bad. What’s the catch? Depends on your perspective. We saw big business’s first real big moves to capture a lasting slice of the action, and we saw some small producers squashed in the process. Medical marijuana patients in the United Kingdom have legal access, but without any way to get any. There are improvements to be made and much more to be done, but in recounting the biggest news from 2018, there is no disaster to lament. And that is the biggest news of all. Here, then, in no particular order, are our most important stories of the year: Red States Love (Medical) Marijuana Voters in North Dakota said no thanks to one of the more ambitious recreational legalization efforts to be seen in the United States, but medical marijuana continued its winning streak at the ballot box — and in the Utah state Legislature. Better yet, the bills approved in Oklahoma in June and in Missouri in November are workable and viable. You can’t say quite the same thing about Utah, where patient advocates have filed a lawsuit challenging a “compromise” bill brokered by the Church of Latter Day Saints and their supporters among lawmakers, but even the willingness to negotiate reveals what in stark focus what everybody already knows: Medical cannabis is a political winner that transcends whatever aisles, divides, and walls that exist elsewhere in our great and groovy society. Canada Legalizes Marijuana The continent-sized country with the California-sized population, Canada remains legalization’s worldwide leader and — do you like metaphors? — the largest “test tube” for legal cannabis. Results from the latest stage of the experiment, which began Oct. 17 when retail stores opened for Canadian adults, is that it works — and seems to work awfully well. Share prices in Canadian marijuana company stocks skyrocketed, and these same firms continue to export medical cannabis all over the world. The biggest concern for some Canadians is how to negotiate the border with the United States. %related-post-1% Legacy Intoxicants Discover Marijuana… It was always a matter of time before Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco woke up to the real and tried to take over cannabis. This began in late 2017, when Constellation Brands, the parent company of Corona and a slew of other booze brands, bought a 10 percent stake in Canopy Growth Corporation, the darling and unicorn of the Canadian publicly traded marijuana companies — and it continued in August, when Constellation upped its big bet in Canopy to $4 billion. That followed a play by MolsonCoors, and that all preceded a $1.8 billion investment in Cronos, yet another Canadian firm, by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris tobacco and Marlboro. …and So Does Wall Street There are ski jumps and sharks, and there’s the day Jim Cramer discovers who you are. Marijuana is now a fixture on “Mad Money,” which means everyday investors are plumbing the internet, their friends, and — yes — CNBC for stock tips. So ripe is the melon that, in October, John Boehner, the Republican former Speaker of the House of Representatives who joined the board of an Ohio-based marijuana company, jumped into the business of selling marijuana-related stock tips. New York Figures It Out (Sort of) Once the United States’s capital for petty marijuana busts, New York City is now a cannabis speculator’s dream. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pre-Christmas announcement that his 2019 budget proposal just might include a marijuana legalization initiative had a nearly year-long build-up. There was Cuomo challenger Cynthia Nixon’s embrace of cannabis, which dragged Cuomo to do the right thing; there was the district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn announcing that they were through with low-level possession arrests — and then there was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own tepid embrace of legal cannabis as a good idea. All this means that New York, the country’s largest city, its cultural hub, one of its main tourist attractions and the center of media and finance is inching towards legalization. Legal weed, outside of all three of Donald Trump’s main houses. Everybody (Even Congress) Loves CBD (and Hemp) Mitch McConnell has a hemp pen. The Senate majority leader flashed his cannabis sativa-fueled ink to sign the Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill — which included a provision legalizing the production of industrial hemp. Now that everybody seems to have figured out what CBD is and where it comes from, the low-THC version of cannabis sativa is now a big deal in McConnell’s Kentucky, where farmers are betting big on hemp crops. %related-post-2% UK Officials Shamed Into About-face On Medical Marijuana The flight from Canada landed at Heathrow Airport in London in June. Within hours, officials with the Home Office seized its precious cargo — a vial of CBD oil from Canada, the epilepsy medicine for Billy Caldwell. Within days, Theresa May’s people were excoriated in the media and in the public for taking medicine away from sick people — sick children, no less — and within weeks, May’s government issued a promise to change the country’s drug laws to legalize medical marijuana by Nov. 1. As patient advocates have demonstrated, the law isn’t yet workable — there is no easy or cheap access, and doctors with the National Health Service can’t (or won’t) write prescriptions, but the boulder is rolling down the hill in the UK. Jeff Sessions Gets the Boot, Leaves Legacy of Dust What did Jefferson Beauregard Sessions accomplish during his year-and-a-half as attorney general of the United States? The former Senate backbencher from Alabama became marijuana legalization’s Enemy No. 1 on pure talk. But a series of increasingly shrill bellicose statements was followed up with absolutely no action. Either Sessions didn’t really want to do anything about the country’s marijuana industry, or Donald Trump wouldn’t let him — or maybe there just wasn’t enough support in the government for a countrywide crackdown on legal weed. Whatever. Sessions was let go after the midterm elections for his refusal to trigger a constitutional crisis and fire Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Which brings us to the biggest development of 2018, which was — nothing. Nothing bad, as we said the outset. There wasn’t a setback, there wasn’t a crackdown. There wasn’t a crime spree, there wasn’t a huge batch of tainted marijuana giving us all the crazies, there wasn’t a giant spike in youth marijuana use. Marijuana legalization has yet to fulfill its worst or even its less rosy prophecies. We knew this would be the case, but now it is undeniable. And that’s the biggest news of all.
State-funded universities follow state law — except when it comes to cannabis. This means real consequences for students. It need not be so. As it will almost surely be until every federal lawmaker admits that the nation’s experiment with marijuana prohibition didn’t quite work out, Election Day 2018 delivered yet another green wave. On Nov. 6, voters in Michigan approved Proposal 1, which legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, by a 56 to 44 percent margin. Elsewhere, medical marijuana won in nearby Missouri and in Mormon-controlled, deep-red Utah. As the experience of every other state to embark on the marijuana legalization path shows, it will be quite a while before cannabis is available in Michigan stores (to those of us without a medical-marijuana recommendation, at least; Detroit is replete with medical cannabis dispensaries and looks likely to remain so). That is, nothing will change overnight except for fewer grandmothers with arthritis spending nights in cold jail cells. But if the administrators at state-funded Michigan State University have anything to do with it, nothing will change at all — not now, and not in the future. Less than a week after the voters whose largess helps pay to keep the lights on at the Big Ten conference’s sixth-largest football stadium, Michigan State officials put out a statement: Marijuana legalization does not apply on campus. Here’s the statement, via Click On Detroit, but TL;DR: According to Michigan State, Michigan state law does not apply on Michigan State's campus. Got it? “We would like to remind everyone that this new state law will not change policies prohibiting the use or possession of marijuana on any property owned or managed by MSU, and by MSU’s faculty, staff, or students on any MSU property or during off-campus MSU business or events,” the administrators wrote. “Marijuana use remains illegal and fully criminalized according to federal law, and MSU is subject to the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendment of 1989," the statement continued. "In addition, the MSU Drug and Alcohol Policy prohibits the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession, and use of controlled substances, illicit drugs, and alcohol on property governed by the Board of Trustees and at any site where university work is performed.” %related-post-1% As the Detroit Free Press reported, other colleges across the state followed Larry Nassar's erstwhile employer and issued similar voter-vetoes. “Our campus policies comply with federal law,” Central Michigan University President Bob Davies wrote in a memo to students. Defying Davies carries severe consequences: He warned of outright dismissal from school should they defy his will by exercising newfound rights under state law. How can they do this? How can a public entity determine, unilaterally, that public rules don’t quite apply to them and that they’ll choose to follow some other code instead? The short answer is because they can — and everyone else is doing it. As Inside Higher Ed reported, college campuses in Colorado, California, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, and everywhere else marijuana has been legalized have declared themselves marijuana legalization-free zones. The slightly longer answer is that universities receive federal funding and thus have to follow federal law, under federal drug-free acts cited by MSU. These are the same laws that employers often cite when justifying failing to hire or outright firing employees or potential hires for using cannabis. But as recent case law has found, workplaces do have to provide "reasonable accommodations" to sick people with medical-marijuana recommendations, federal drug-free laws be damned. Yet that’s the line of reasoning offered by Michigan State, and it’s one that local marijuana activists are accepting at face value — although, as Insider High Ed also noted, there is no known case of a college campus losing federal funding for choosing to be “lax” — that is, obey state law — on marijuana. %related-post-2% “You can’t sue the school for following federal law,” said Rick Thompson, a board member of Michigan NORML, in an interview with the Free Press. “And federal guidelines clearly prohibit this.” Except that might not be entirely true. Let’s look at some other state entities that also receive federal funding. Police departments are a good example. Local police departments apply for and receive federal funding in the form of grants, and often take advantage of federal money to pay for equipment. And local police departments enforce… local law, which — in states like California, Colorado, and now Michigan — says that marijuana is legal for adults 21 and over. To date, not a single police department has reported losing federal funding because it did what it is chartered to do — that is, follow state law. Airports may provide a clearer example for universities to follow, should they so choose. Denver International Airport has declared itself a marijuana-free zone. Other airports have not — and in either case, if a passenger boarding a flight is found to have any quantity of marijuana, regular procedure for Transportation Security Administration officials is to call local law enforcement. Not the feds, not the military, not the Space Force. Why are colleges different? Legally, they aren’t, really. Like airports, they are state-chartered institutions, funded primarily by a state. Someone caught breaking the law on a college campus may be subject to arrest by either campus or local police—in either case, law enforcement chartered by a state entity or government. If arrested, they will be tried in state court. If convicted of a serious enough offense, they will go to a state prison. See the pattern here? Of course you do. So do the colleges, which is why they are choosing to fall back on federal law to justify their retrograde and anachronistic policies — which are in turn causing students real harm. %related-post-3% Contrary to the university's statements, federal law does not rule on campus. Campus cops can’t send a pot-smoking student to federal stir or a campus jail any more than they can get a local cop or prosecutor in a marijuana legalization state to imprison them for an act that is no longer a crime. But they can punish a student with consequences that are. They can eject them from campus housing. They can take away their student loans, their work-study stipend — and they can kick them out of school. In other words, they can seriously derail a young adult’s life — for following state law, remember, and engaging in behavior that is empirically safer than consuming alcohol, that other college ritual. And that — for reasons that are spurious and utterly dishonest — is something that colleges appear totally fine with. Reserving the right to fuck up a college kid’s life for smoking a joint is apparently within a university’s rights. There’s a distinction here any freshman philosophy student would grasp: It is their prerogative. It has not been proven that it is a university’s essential, compulsory duty. It is possible that these hard-line stances are merely preemptive cover-your-ass moves university presidents feel they need to take to keep the feds away. That may be so. In which case, this is merely a demonstration of moral cowardice rather than draconian evil. Neither is much to be proud of.
Is the next center of marijuana production in California former flower farms in Monterrey County, is it hoop-houses enjoying ocean breezes in Santa Barbara — or is it neither? Prior to marijuana legalization, one line of frequently repeated conventional wisdom in certain cannabis circles was that once prohibition ended, The End Times would soon follow. Once commercial cannabis became a thing and Big Something — big ag, big tobacco, big pot, big whatever — became involved, it was lights-out for the “Emerald Triangle,” the remote, redwood-forested counties of far northern California where mom-and-pop farms nestled on mountaintops and tucked behind river bends had provided the country with cannabis, and collected a neat profit in the process. Either Philip Morris was already plotting with Monsanto and George Soros to buy up all of Humboldt County and patent the marijuana plant in the process — a conspiracy theory that you can still hear repeated today in some version, and in earnest — thus “stealing” the plant, or Big Marijuana would quickly figure out the futility of trying to supply Los Angeles’ marijuana demand with farms located on treacherous, one-lane roads an eight-hour drive away, and go to where land and labor were cheapest. In California, that means the land in least demand, which means the desert or the agricultural communities of the Central Valley, where cannabis would become a complement to the oceans of pistachios, almonds, stone-fruits, and other commodities produced by industrial agriculture. %related-post-1% Some version of this doomsday scenario figured in the minds of the old-school hard-line marijuana activists and first-and-second generation Emerald Triangle growers who found common ground with the police and prosecutors who had harried them for decades when they came out in opposition to legalization. It was a compelling thesis, and there was some credible evidence — wholesale marijuana prices were indeed dropping and some of those farms were going out of business, and some old growers who could still make the nut financially were left out on technicalities, after they found that their unconventional arrangements disqualified them for state permits — but these arguments suffered from a few flaws. First, beside the fact that such an enterprise was completely impractical, there was never any credible evidence that tobacco companies, Soros, Monsanto, or any combination of the three were plotting a land-grab of remote, hard-to-access, harder-to-develop-into-industrial agriculture former timber land in Trinity County. Marijuana grows well here thanks to an agreeable climate but it was planted as a practical matter, to hide it from the authorities; if you are the authorities, why would you go to the trouble of hiding? Second, the thing about cheap land in California is that it is cheap for a reason. There isn’t a lot of water, and summers are long and hot — too long and too hot for cannabis plants, who, like humans, appreciate warmth but aren’t too keen on being baked to death. Massive marijuana farms have yet to spring up in the Central Valley, and where marijuana has been heralded as an economic savior in the otherwise moribund deserts— in a former prison in Coalinga, in unused warehouse space in the Mojave — it has yet to prove itself a profitable or viable enterprise. A much likelier scenario is exactly what’s been emerging over the last year and a half: marijuana as an alternative or a supplement to wine grapes or ornamental flowers, which turns out, thrive in similar atmospheric conditions like those found in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. The Washington Post’s recent filing from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, where marijuana is touted as a “high-value commodity that could help reinvigorate” a fading “agricultural tradition” details both the growth and the limitations of this idea in action. %related-post-2% Central California between Santa Barbara and Monterey to the north has the highest concentration of licensed marijuana producers in the state, according to the newspaper. But even that only amounts to 330 acres in total in Santa Barbara — a “tiny fraction” compared to the seas of land under cultivation for wine grapes. At one point, according to one estimate, there were roughly 55,000 marijuana cultivators of various sizes in the Emerald Triangle, meaning if Santa Barbara wants to be the next best home for cannabis cultivation, there needs to be an extended period of growth, and proof that it can be sustained. The truth is that everybody is still figuring out exactly what will work — and nobody can say with certainty what that will be. It’s becoming increasingly clear that what works with wine does work to an extent with cannabis — that is, there is something in the terroir, in the land and in the air, that determines how cannabis flowers affect the human brain and body. Which is to say it may matter very much exactly where a cannabis flower is grown, in the same way that it matters extremely to the market and to the palette if a grape comes from Napa County, or just a few hillsides away in Solano County. And there are considerations far more earthly to consider. There’s the market, and there are margins. While marijuana is an estimated $4 billion-a-year industry in California, according to figures quoted by the Post, what those $4 billions will eventually buy is far from certain — will it be high-end flower, mid-range pre-rolls packaged like cigarettes, oil cartridges harvest from huge warehouses in the desert? It could also be that the impractical Central Valley could become lucrative if local governments make it so. Many marijuana companies are still “jurisdiction shopping,” in the words of the Post, looking for the best combination of low taxes and low-enough labor costs that work for the bottom line. That works in most agricultural industries, but only so far. Wine is an object lesson yet again. You can’t grow a Napa cabernet in the mountains or in the desert, because that is not Napa. Cannabis may not be quite as picky — especially with indoor growing — but indoor growing is costly, and the cannabis plant is a more fickle mistress than some growers realize. It has yet to be proven beyond doubt that massive, mold, and pest-resistance high-quality cannabis can be grown reliably at scale. Like a snow globe just snatched from the shelf and given a furious shake, the image of large-scale marijuana farming is hazy and unclear and has yet to coalesce and to settle. As a result, the Emerald Triangle is still with us — and the “next” one may be the one we know now, albeit in evolved form.
Marijuana legalization’s surge in public support and the warm embrace with which elected officials — including the most conservative members of Congress — are greeting broader drug-policy reform has done little to lessen the peril facing users of cannabis and other recreational drugs across the United States. The sad case of Patrick Beadle, the Portland, Oregon resident sentenced to eight years in prison for driving through Mississippi with medical marijuana he obtained legally, illustrates how far most places have to go on cannabis. But this more general danger — from agents of the state, wielding lethal force — also extends to people who don’t use recreational drugs. In case you were in need of an illustration, please consider the case of the sandwich bags, digital scale, and mystery “paperwork” that Little Rock police seized at Roderick Talley’s apartment. Talley is a 31-year-old barber. As The Washington Post’s Radley Balko described in a recent column, Talley was sleeping on the couch of his Little Rock apartment when he was awakened by a deafening roar — and the door of his apartment itself, blown off its hinges and on top of him. In through the open portal swarmed four SWAT officers in full tactical gear, fingers on the trigger of their assault weapons, the weapons pointed square at Talley. %related-post-1% The cops were there, they wrote in an affidavit justifying a search warrant approved by a judge prior to this no-knock raid, to look for the cocaine Talley had allegedly been selling, according to the confidential police informant whose anonymous — and, evidently, wholly unreliable — tip triggered the raid. But as Balko writes, the subsequent search of Talley’s apartment and car turned up exactly zero cocaine. They did find a “green leafy substance” that police claimed was marijuana. They also found plastic bags and three digital scales, though Talley claimed to own only one, and it was broken. Talley was nonetheless put in handcuffs and taken to county jail on suspicion of committing a misdemeanor — possession of marijuana. The bags and the scales were also seized, and accounted for additional charges, along with mystery “paperwork” listed in a post-raid police report. Exactly what that paperwork is, Talley isn’t sure: it’s still in police custody, after prosecutors declined to charge him but reserved the right to file charges later. (Police also boasted to Talley’s distressed and disbelieving neighbors, alarmed by the blast that shook them awake that morning, that they’d “taken out your local drug dealer,” a shock tactic that surely played into Talley’s landlord’s decision to evict him, despite no conviction or even a charge.) No Knock, No Accountability To any rational outside observer, what happened to Talley — a no-knock raid, using explosives and assault weapons, all over drugs that weren’t even there, resulting in criminal charges stemming from items found in any typical kitchen — should be absurd and outrageous enough. To defense attorneys and retired law enforcement, they are much worse. They are violations of the Fourth Amendment that also jeopardize the health and safety of the public. And yet, they have happened dozens and dozens of times, to dozens and dozens of other people like Talley. Balko reviewed more than 100 “drug busts” conducted by Little Rock police over the past two years, and found that the majority of them turned up absolutely nothing — no drugs, and none of the marked police money given to informants to buy it. “In 35 of the 105 no-knock raids,” Balko reported, “the police only had probable cause to search for marijuana. In eight others, they found only marijuana despite obtaining a search warrant for harder drugs.” Eighty-four of the suspects who were targeted in the 105 raids are black. The city is 42 percent black and 46 percent white. And 101 of the raids were “no-knock raids.” In 20 of the raids, police found nothing. In many more, police found “residue,” or “powder,” or a “leafy substance,” or “pills” or a “pill bottle” — in other words, they found something, just not what they swore under oath to a judge they would find. %related-post-2% Rather than admit the obvious — the raid was a dangerous and costly failure — police charge the recipients of these botched raids with misdemeanor crimes. Sometimes, the occupants of the raided homes are evicted, or charged by their landlords for the damage caused by police. And then they do it again — and again and again. Another individual, a registered legal gun owner, had his weapon seized, was charged for it, and was evicted from his apartment. “None had received an apology, compensation or an offer to repair the door,” Balko writes. The problem — for police — is that they also appeared to have lied. Repeatedly, and increasingly. Police told a judge that they’d had an informant buy cocaine from Talley, and that they’d received a positive ID from their informant after casing Talley’s apartment. We know that is all untrue, because Talley set up a video security system outside his apartment following a few thefts (which were never solved by police). And that video footage contradicts the account to which police swore in their affidavit signed off by a judge. To date, that has not resulted in any punishment for the police or compensation for Talley, who waged a one-man campaign for many months, obtaining public records and using social media to spread the news of his case. How many people like Talley are set up without the exculpatory power of a home security system? In how many other cities is there a SWAT team happy to stage raids suitable for cartel kingpins for a few scraps of weed? The answers are obvious and depressing, and illustrate the broader truth: For all the progress made in America, we’re still at the beginning.
England's legalization of medical marijuana has been a predictable process, with at least one minor-sounding — yet very significant — deviation. On November 1, medical cannabis becomes legal in the United Kingdom. This is a technically true statement. But still, and mostly because this is marijuana… it’s still just sort of. There will be no flood of pain patients, cancer sufferers, and everyone else for whom medical marijuana can bring relief to dispensaries and clinics. This is because there will be no dispensaries or cannabis-recommending doctor’s clinics, of the kind seen in the United States or in Canada, where medical cannabis, government-approved and lab-tested, is legally available through the mail. A Patient-driven Process Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s long-expected order, issued earlier this month following high drama at Heathrow Airport, where Javid’s officers seized cannabis oil belonging to an epileptic boy, reschedules “cannabis-based products for medical use.” Nothing more, and nothing less. Exactly what those products will be, when they will become available, for whom and how easily — and how expensive — all remains to be seen. All those very important details will be hammered out over the next year, with exact answers to be determined. That’s all very standard sausage-making, and it will all sound familiar to anyone involved with or following similar processes as they’ve played out recently in Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arkansas, and other U.S. states where medical marijuana has slowly but surely become legally available to those who need it. It will also sound familiar in Canada and Australia, two former British Commonwealth countries that have also moved more quickly. But there is at least one minor-sounding yet very significant deviation from this otherwise predictable script. According to activists involved with the process, it’s medical-marijuana patients — and not pharmaceutical companies, or entrepreneurs, or would-be entrepreneurs — who are driving the process. The big guys (and girls, but mostly guys) with the big money are trying to get into the meetings with policymakers and members of Parliament — and so far, they’re getting shut out. %related-post-1% Steve Moore is a veteran political campaigner and strategist who briefly led the “Big Society” effort hatched by former Conservative prime minister David Cameron. He now serves on the strategic council of VolteFace, a combination think tank-content platform advocating for a science and reason-based reform of British drug policy (and organized the scene and subsequent media storm following the Home Office’s confiscation of the Canadian cannabis oil brought into the UK by Charlotte Caldwell for the use of her son). In an interview with Leafly (with this writer, full disclosure), Moore mentioned how many calls he’d been fielding from business-minded types from the U.S. and Canada, suddenly fully aware that the biggest new potential market for their products and their expertise was in the UK — which, with 66 million people, is almost 50 percent larger than Canada, for more than a few months the biggest deal in the global marijuana game leading up to nationwide legalization on October 17. All those entrepreneurs, the founders and the funders, want to be seated at the literal and metaphorical table, when members of the government and Parliament sit down with stakeholders and figure out how to get cannabis to the public. And they’re shut out! To the big money players, “the answer is, ‘You’re not invited’,” Moore told Leafly. “It’s the patients. There is a desire to make sure that patients get in first before the industry.’” Avoiding a State-sanctioned Monopoly To understand how significant this is — beyond a stark procedural departure — consider medical marijuana’s functionality in other jurisdictions that have taken different approaches. It is a literal apples-to-oranges comparison, but for the sake of discussion, let’s look at Florida. At one-third the population of the United Kingdom, Florida is nonetheless an enormous market for cannabis, with an aging population that includes a significant number of military veterans. There, medical marijuana was approved by voters, but then dictated by lawmakers in consultation with health-department officials. (It should not go unsaid that those health officials work for Gov. Rick Scott, himself a healthcare-industrial complex tycoon). The result? A ban on marijuana that could be smoked. A ban on home cultivation, forcing patients to go to capitalized companies for access to a plant. So few licensed dispensaries and cultivators that it equated to a state-sanctioned monopoly. A byzantine permitting process that gave preferential treatment to farms that had once grown citrus fruits. Some of these restrictions have been overturned by the courts, but the fact that the courts had to be involved at all should be proof enough that the laws were imperfect and unworkable. It should surprise nobody that the imperfections were put there by someone other than the patients for whom the laws were intended. %related-post-2% The UK may yet change course and make the wrong moves. They would do so if they listened to pain doctors in charge of prescribing pharmaceutical alternatives to cannabis, which — according to the literature, is effective for pain. Earlier this month, doctors “from almost every [pain] specialist clinic in the country” sent a letter to the London Times claiming that legalizing medical cannabis will lead to an “opiate-style crisis of addiction and crime.” In their letter, the doctors say that there is “little evidence [cannabis] works for chronic pain,” and that making marijuana available via a doctor’s approval rather than the black market “puts patients at the risk of mental health problems.” It is safe to say that not a single medical cannabis patient was consulted in the crafting of that letter. But it’s also easy to see what medical marijuana access would look like in the United Kingdom if current patients weren’t consulted. It would look like what they currently “enjoy” today. It would be bad. And so far, that’s not the route the UK is headed.
The National Hockey League hit the ice for another season this week. And many of its players are hitting more that that. The next few weeks are going to be very big in Canada, as the nation welcomes the return of its national pastime: regular-season NHL hockey. Lest you think this is a lazy cliché or that hockey is somehow not actually a very big deal in Canada, consider: 1.2 million Canadians over the age of 15 play hockey. (The percentage of living humans not of school age who play gridiron football, the most popular spectator sport in America, is so small as to be statistically insignificant.) Pro sports are spectator sports. And oh, do Canadians watch. As per a 2010 survey, eighty percent of the country — more than 28 million people — take in at least one NHL game a week. Put in context, hockey is three times more popular than organized religion in Canada; hockey probably qualifies as the nation’s official organized religion. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but it is most certainly a thing. Exactly two weeks after pucks drop, at the stroke of midnight on October 17, recreational marijuana becomes officially legal in Canada. While cannabis is not quite as popular as ice hockey in Canada — according to a 2017 poll, 18 percent of Canadians copped to using cannabis, though since people are still reticent to tell a pollster about their drug habits, the real figure is likely higher — there is some excitement. Marijuana stores are weighing whether to open up at midnight, though it appears the first sales will occur online. These two events aren’t directly related, but there is significant overlap. As there should be: The NHL is easily the most marijuana-friendly pro sports league in North America. The Most Lenient League If you want to play professional sports while bent on recreational drugs — or merely get a little toasted after games or before practice — you should learn how to skate. Among the major organizations for top-level corporate-sponsored athletic competition in North America, the National Hockey League has possibly the most lenient attitude toward drug use. NHL players are drug-tested for steroids and other “banned substances,” a long list of unrelated chemicals that includes cannabis. But unlike other leagues, and unlike steroids, there are no consequences for a positive test for cannabis. In rare cases, a player found to have excessive levels of something in his body is referred to treatment. (Since every drug aside from cannabis is water soluble, and thus expelled from the body within hours of last use, you can see why the players might prefer the current arrangement.) Thus, the NHL’s testing is purely informative data used to assess whether this drug-testing system should be changed. (And thus far, it has not.) Though there are a few notable outliers, hockey players have thus far reacted to this unparalleled freedom by smoking weed — and lots of it. In a 2017 interview he gave with MacLeans, one of Canada’s most prominent public-affairs magazines, former NHL enforcer Riley Cote estimated that about half the league’s players are regular users of cannabis. Some of them use once a week, some of them smoke every day. “At least half of those guys consumed, and a fraction of those guys consumed regularly. Like, every day,” he told the magazine. “And that number is probably higher.” A High Level of Performance Cote isn’t necessarily the most reliable narrator. He is the founder of Athletes for Care, a non-profit that’s advocating for even more permissive drug policies in sports including hockey. And he isn’t presenting data, merely an educated anecdote. To that, we’ll add our own — one that tracks with Cote’s claim. This author attended a college with a Division I hockey program. (In fact, he attended two such institutions, which is useful for plausible deniability.) At one of them, members of the hockey team, some of whom went on to play professionally, were frequent visitors to my dorm room — where they would buy weed from my roommate. I remember being annoyed by this at the time. A lifetime of drug-war propaganda had taken its toll — and prevented me from asking the obvious question: “If top-level athletes are using cannabis and still performing at a high level… maybe there’s something good about cannabis?” The answer is that yes, there is. While it’s not yet clear if cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties work quickly enough to help athletes recover, cannabis absolutely soothes muscles otherwise afflicted with delayed-onset muscle soreness, according to researchers. Much more important than that, possibly, is marijuana’s ability to aid sleep. Both the brain and the body require sleep in order to function and to repair themselves. And NHL players are religious nappers. The official pregame nap routine involves a plateful of pasta and one to two hours of snoozing. What sleep aids players choose is their business, but one can assume. There is no quantifying taste. Not everyone enjoys marijuana, not everyone wants to watch hockey. But whether spectator or participant, cannabis and hockey complement each other quite nicely. And now in at least one corner of the globe, the two are now officially sanctioned activities. It will be a few more years yet before major marijuana companies sponsor NHL teams — something for which the U.S. and its insane cannabis policies can be blamed. In freer corners of the continent, however, cannabis and hockey can continue to peacefully coexist, and enjoy a new era of freedom.
Florida's restrictive marijuana laws make for bad public policy, and even worse legal precedent. Florida is a vast place with a diverse population (only a visible minority of whom misbehave in meme-worthy fashion). This disparity is reflected in the state’s choices for its next governor: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Bernie Sanders-endorsed black man who wants to abolish ICE; and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the hard-right, Trump-approved member of the Freedom Caucus, who managed to racebait and redbait in the same ugly swoop. Florida has swamps and orange groves and tropical islands, a few dense cities, suburban sprawl, and rustic living (and more swamps). But one value a large majority of Floridians have in common is that medical marijuana is good. More than 71 percent of voters approved Amendment 2 in 2016, which legalized medical cannabis for sick people. It’s a good thing they like it, because it’s costing them — and it’s not their fault. For much of the last 18 months, Florida elected officials, beginning with Gov. Rick Scott (a for-profit healthcare mogul) and Attorney General Pam Bondi have been doing their utmost to give Floridians what they don’t want — and at great expense of time, effort, and treasure. In this way, Florida is providing an object lesson for other states, should they deign to learn from it. A Baked-in Monopoly Marijuana supporters went to the ballot only after the Florida Legislature — a “group dominated by fear-mongering, fun-hating conservatives,” as the Miami New Times put it — declined to do its job and make a workable marijuana law that provided affordable and relatively easy access to cannabis for sick people. This was something every poll revealed that a large majority of Floridians wanted. After the landslide victory, it was a desire nobody could honestly deny. But denial is a powerful thing. After losing in this way at the ballot box, Florida lawmakers created yet another restrictive system with a baked-in monopoly. Under rules approved in 2017 (and only then under duress), Florida marijuana patients weren’t allowed to grow their own cannabis, nor purchase smokeable flower, and had to purchase what product they could acquire from a short list of big growers. In short, Floridians were handed one of the most restrictive medical-marijuana laws in the United States. They did not like this, so they went to the courts — where they’ve won, again and again. In a series of lawsuits throughout the year, a series of judges have ruled in marijuana-patients’ favor, striking down bans in home-grow, giving patients the explicit right to smoke cannabis — the most popular way the drug is consumed — and eliminating Legislature-gifted monopolies on who can grow and sell the drug. Marijuana may soon be a business worth as much as $1 billion in Florida, but with an artificially limited marketplace, lawmakers created a high-profit scenario before a single seed was planted. One Florida company flipped its coveted license for $53 million. Florida put “profits over patients, essentially, and [are] allowing corporate America to stamp out any competition,” one patient advocate told the New Times, shortly after one legal challenge was filed. %related-post-1% That may be, but more to the point, Florida lawmakers can’t pass laws that contradict the state constitution. In failing to pass a workable law and “forcing” voters to go to the ballot, they have now lost the legal ability to take away any rights the ballot initiative granted. “Just as no person is above the law, the legislature must heed the constitutional rights Floridians placed in the Constitution in 2016," wrote Leon County circuit Judge Karen Gievers, in striking down the ban on smoked marijuana in May. “The conflicting, overreaching 2017 statute, while presumably adopted in good faith and with good intentions, cannot be allowed to overrule the authority of the people to protect rights in the Constitution.” Gievers was generous. Florida authorities are unmoved. The result is a very expensive rudimentary civics lesson that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Following these losses, Attorney General Bondi, following direction from Scott, has appealed to the state Supreme Court. This intransigence has so far cost Florida taxpayers $2 million in legal fees, nearly all of which has gone to a single law firm, Florida Politics reported. With appeals pending at the state’s highest court, this saga — and flow of dollars away from Florida voters’ pockets — will continue for at least the rest of the year. “Florida is certainly not unique when it comes to challenges, but I suspect it’s the most litigation we’ve seen around the country,’’ Karen O’Keefe, the director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s a shame. They’re probably just throwing away more money while chilling the will of the voters who voted for this faithfully.” All this was predicted well in advance. One state lawmaker, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, predicted that such clamps on the marketplace would lead to lawsuits. "There are a lot of people who thought medical marijuana would be available in a certain manner when they voted, and it hasn’t turned out that way,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “I wouldn’t blame them if they felt like this was some kind of bait-and-switch.” No Obvious Winner Such hustles typically have a clear winner. Generally, the winner is the one running the hustle — the rest of us are the marks. In Florida, it’s not immediately clear who’s winning, aside from the private lawyers pocketing easy money defending a bad law. But it’s obvious who’s losing: Florida people, from the Keys to Tallahassee. Some good may come from this, if only other states get the message. Some are: In Pennsylvania, state regulators lifted their own restriction on smokeable marijuana after discovering how much easier and cheaper it is to give people simple cannabis access. And this ordeal looks set to end as soon as Florida voters elected a new governor: Both DeSantis and Gillum have vowed to at minimum “fully implement medical marijuana.” In the meantime, Florida men and women will continue to have their interests undermined by the people elected to serve them.
As the president fumes and pouts, the cannabis industry is set to pay a price — now, and into the future. Despite appointing an antebellum drug warrior with Ronald Reagan values as the nation’s top law-enforcement official and elevating other hardcore anti-marijuana conservatives to key positions, on aggregate so far, President Donald Trump has been seen mostly as marijuana-neutral. In June, the president said he’d likely support a bill introduced by Senate Democrats that would let states set their own marijuana policies. This friendly gesture stood in “stark contrast,” the New York Times observed, to earlier in the year, when the president watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions eviscerate some Obama-era protections without making a peep. In turn, states have continued to push forward with marijuana reform, and the domestic marijuana industry has continued to grow unabated. This period of prosperity amid “benevolent neglect” may soon change — and change quickly, and for the worst — and in a most Trumpian way: By carelessness, neglect, and accident. Likely Cannabis-industry Casualties The worse it gets for Trump and members of his inner circle caught in multiple corruption probes, or the worse Republican prospects appear in the midterm elections — and with a growing roster of Trump confidants taking guilty pleas or granted immunity to testify, while Republican lawmakers in Texas appear vulnerable to Democratic challengers, neither look very good — the more likely the president is to escalate his trade war with China, analysts recently told CNBC. Though American cannabis companies still cannot extend beyond state borders except illegally or as part of licensing deals, legal marijuana is a global business, and was so well before the first exports of Canadian cannabis oil reached Europe. This is because cannabis is a consumer business. Cannabis is replete with consumer products and accessories: vaporizers, rolling trays, glassware. %related-post-1% Cannabis is also reliant on industrial equipment — grow lights, plastic sheeting, packaging. And marijuana products produced overseas are likely collateral damage in such a spat. Recently, with talks between Trump administration and Chinese trade officials at an impasse, the two countries imposed yet another round of punitive tariffs on goods flowing in both directions. Some of these products are extraneous, but others are indispensable. More to the point, most of the above are often sourced from China. Thus, key components that allow cannabis to be cultivated and consumes are likely casualties in any Donald Trump trade war. Specifically, “vapor product devices,” including “batteries” and “pre-filled pods and cartridges” — the integral parts of the fastest-growing method of consuming cannabis — sourced from China have been singled out for higher tariffs, marijuana executives testified at an Office of the U.S. Trade Representative hearing earlier this summer. Vaporizer products represented 25 percent of marijuana sales in Colorado in 2017. Since the raw materials needed to manufacture these products must be imported anyway, rising tariffs on Chinese imports that would render these products unavailable or more expensive would cut sales, thereby hurting state tax revenue while also not bringing back jobs to American shores. And so, while effects have yet to be felt in the American marijuana industry, as industry figures told Marijuana Business Daily, the future bodes ill. The Wrong Trend at the Wrong Time A few days after new tariffs were imposed on goods flowing between China and the United States in both directions, Trump brushed off the possibility of renewed talks with Chinese trade officials. “It’s just not the right time to talk right now, to be honest with China,” the president said. “It’s too one-sided for too many years and too many decades, and so it’s not the right time to talk.” If this continues, vaporizer cartridges and components will become more expensive. Marijuana grow equipment may also become more expensive. As production costs rise, so will consumer costs. Considering an estimated 20 percent of marijuana consumers are staying on the black market in part because of rising costs, this is the wrong trend at the wrong time. There is strong evidence to support the contention that Trump does not or cannot understand how global trade works, but is instead motivated out of something — personal animus, probably, though just as easily by acid reflux or something he saw on TV most recently — to settle unknown scores. %related-post-2% This is probably the best explanation for why, even as he squares up with China, Trump is simultaneously taking aim at Canada, the current worldwide leader in marijuana exports and investment. Trump recently announced a “new” North American trade agreement that is missing Canada. It’s not yet clear if the president can actually craft a trade deal that excludes the country of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Trump appears to loathe. Tariffs between the U.S. and Canada will stay the same, and U.S. trade representatives sounded hopeful that the president’s desire to banish Canada from his sandbox could just be ignored. And the recent huge investments in Canada’s marijuana industry made by liquor giants have little to do with cross-border trade — and won’t, until the U.S. changes its federal marijuana policy to allow for international trade like Canada’s Still, such bellicosity, coupled with official hostility towards marijuana, will not encourage investors or entrepreneurs, including the U.S. cannabis brands courting investors from Canada, and the international firms like alcohol giant Constellation Brands sinking even bigger sums into Canadian marijuana companies. The Increased Cost of Doing Canna-business Trump says, repeatedly, that he seeks only fairness and the redress from decades of bad deals. How these deals are bad, exactly, he has yet to articulate. What he is doing is isolating America not only from its most trusted trade partners — the Chinese and U.S. economies are so intertwined they may as well be an ourobouros — but also signaling that the U.S. is better off alone, by itself. That is bad news for any cannabis firm in American with a 10-year plan that includes attempting what Canadian firms are doing now, and supplying the world with weed. More and more products necessary to the cannabis industry are also designed overseas. If tariff fights are escalated to intellectual property rights or other restrictions on requisite components, it will also increase the cost of doing business. Simply put, Trump’s ongoing trade tantrum means nothing good for the American worker, and rising costs and increased headaches for the American marijuana industry — all while firms north of the border have a head start on cornering the global market, a lead the American government has handed them. If, a generation from now, the costly marijuana products available in stores are stamped with red maple leaves instead of the red-white-and-blue, you will know who to blame.
Whether it's a reluctant industry or incompetent regulators, one thing is certain: we're not so great at this. Vallejo, California shares an area code with most of the Emerald Triangle, where, even today, with erratic licensing squeezing small producers out of the burgeoning market, an awful lot of high-quality cannabis is grown, processed, sold, and smoked. It was and is the Wine Country of weed, the Loire Valley of terpenes, California’s cannabis basket. That is to say, it should go without saying that the 707 has not and is not about to run out of marijuana anytime soon. Thus, for those adult cannabis consumers looking to exercise their still-new rights to purchase some legal marijuana — and at the start of the seventh month of licensed and regulated retail sales — a dispensary with little legal cannabis to sell and lots of bare shelf space is an incongruity, a very dumb and very obvious cosmic joke. %related-post-1% Amid such bounty, the rare brands that passed the test were selling for $70 an eighth or more, prices not seen outside of real supply shortages in the black market days. Within a few weeks, the industry had recovered, at least partially. More than 70 brands had figured it out (with an untold number of smaller outfits giving up). For buyers, it was a brief hiccup, soon to be forgotten. But a hiccup at all, in a state with the country's oldest pre-established industry and consumer base, is a clear sign something isn’t working. Someone had blundered, which would be bad enough, if it weren’t for the fact that scenes like this played out all over the state — in just the way experts and observers had been predicting and fearing for months. “A Hard Reset” New California state regulations around marijuana purity, testing, and packaging went into effect July 1. And from seed to sale, the industry just wasn’t quite ready. For the last few weeks of June, dispensaries held emergency fire sales to get rid of noncompliant product — flower that hadn’t been tested, edibles in the wrong packaging, dubious oil of unknown potency from mysterious sources. According to a survey of anonymous dispensary owners conducted by a Mendocino County couple who own a topical cannabis brand, in some cases, tens of thousand of dollars’ worth of product or more had to be discarded. The marijuana industry had a “hard reset,” as Leafly termed it. The industry knew this was happening, and when — knew all about it for months, and yet still couldn’t manage without a disruption big enough to jolt consumers. Suppliers are due some of the blame. They’d been overproducing for years, and if they could not or would not meet the standards that they knew would eventually apply to them. Then again, these are commodity farmers, and ones who don’t enjoy government guarantees or subsidies, like most everyone else plying the land in California. They are at the mercy of the market, and with everyone else growing as much as they could while rules were lax, the market was flooded. But in other cases, government came down too hard. New testing rules — including one requirement banning the sale of marijuana deemed “too wet” — put some manufacturers out entirely, and left cannabis users and patients to scramble for what they could find back on the underground market. There, they found a significant number of fellow customers they might have recognized at old medical dispensaries, before a tax burden of 35 percent or more, depending on jurisdiction, shooed them away from retail outlets before they opened. %related-post-2% Why were brands and dispensaries seemingly caught off guard? They might simply not have been able to move so far so fast. So did regulators do enough to help them? And if so, why do they keep repeating the same mistakes seen around the country? Is this… normal? This also says something deeply ironic about marijuana legalization: Sometimes, from both sides, consumer and producer, things were easier and cheaper in the old gray-market days. This is admittedly a myopic view. The outlook for people formerly incarcerated or with criminal records for marijuana ruining career or benefits prospects has certainly improved, significantly. The New Norm of Reform With few exceptions, interrupts like this have become a feature of marijuana policy reform. In Nevada last summer, it happened when supply outstripped actual demand. In Pennsylvania earlier this year, where medical marijuana was so popular and dispensaries stretched so thin that it prompted the end of a state ban on cheaper, easier-to-use smokeable marijuana (even though patients are clearly instructed that their cannabis flower is "not for smoking). And in Massachusetts, where voters legalized recreational marijuana on the same night as Californians, recreational buyers are still waiting to hear when sales will start. They will, once regulators get around to approving an independent testing lab — but they also might not, as localities throughout the state, given the power of choice whether or not to allow a commercial marijuana industry inside town limits, have opted to become the cannabis equivalent of dry counties. Good thing bootleggers never prosper, and in marijuana producing areas that suddenly have trouble selling marijuana, there is no strong financial incentive to break the law. %related-post-3% With transition from black-market to legal or somewhat-legal in every state where the experiment is tried, it’s clear that regulators and policymakers aren’t quick to learn lessons from other states. Meanwhile, states that have mature recreational marijuana markets are back in a very familiar and predictable pickle: They’re full. Epic oversupply situations are causing prices to fall to historic lows in Washington and in Oregon. Cycling between feast and famine, with enough uncertainty to make the faint-of-heart or low-of-funding consider other work. Famine, in a time of plenty. To err is human, and to suffer shortages and interruptions is the penalty all emerging marijuana markets must apparently pay.
Unlicensed marijuana producers and sellers haven’t gone away, even in areas with a regulated market, leading to a decision: Shun them or continue to patronize? In most cases, you shouldn’t have a problem with continuing to buy from “your guy.” Lost in the outrage over “Permit Patty,” the white owner of a San Francisco-based medical marijuana tincture company who called the police on an 8-year-old black girl for selling bottled water, was the inherent irony of the situation. Not too long before Treatwell Health CEO Alison Ettel destroyed her brand and her career in the nascent cannabis industry with her ill-advised phone call, she was in a nearly identical position: making and selling cannabis products without any government regulation or approval. And though Ettel has since announced her departure from the company — which may not yet survive after a slew of California dispensaries announced they had severed ties with the disgraced brand — you could make an argument that Treatwell still isn’t fully permitted. Though Treatwell does have a pair of manufacturing permits from the state of California, according to records, medical cannabis is still not officially approved for use on animals — the target market for most of Treatwell’s products. The arrangement nonetheless (until lately) had generated nothing but positive press for the company. It’s “kind of like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Etttel explained to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015. %related-post-1% The saga illustrates an ongoing concern within the marijuana industry. Not “should you call the cops on black people not committing crimes” — you should really, really, not ever do that, in case it weren’t blindingly obvious — but to what standards the cannabis industry should be held, and what standards marijuana consumers should demand. And the answer — and whether you, the marijuana user, should turn your back on “black-market” cannabis forever, and only demand regulated product from now until forever — is not as easy or as obvious as you may think. The Permit Problem Nearly everywhere cannabis is sold, sellers and manufacturers need a permit from some kind of licensing authority. That seems reasonable, given cannabis is a psychoactive drug with the potential to cause some harm (even though, by almost every metric, the benefits far outweigh any problems). But not every cannabis maker can qualify for a permit. They might be making edibles in a kitchen that’s not zoned for commercial use. They might be growing cannabis on a hillside that was graded incorrectly or is too close to a watershed. They might not be able to afford a permit. They could be the nice old hippie couple next door. They could be your friend from school. They could be your kids’ friends. There is a nearly endless list of possible permutations of a basic situation: Someone operating in good faith, doing things “the right way” with good intentions as well as good business practices and ethics, but for the lack of an official piece of paper attesting to the fact. Such cannabis is by default “black market,” even if the name conjures up the wrong connotations and is so broad as to capture pesticide-contaminated weed grown by stone-cold criminals in the same bucket as the edibles baked by your weird aunt in the same imperfect bucket. Further confusing the situation is the fact that such cannabis may be the only or the best available cannabis, even in an otherwise regulated market. In California, the tax toll at licensed dispensaries is so high that cannabis users — many of whom are low-income sick or disabled people, let’s not forget — have turned to underground sales out of sheer necessity. %related-post-2% So there it is. Maybe it’s “your guy” you’ve been buying from since forever. Maybe it’s someone you met at a sesh, or — hell — maybe you’re just buying an edible at the music festival. Should you? And either way, is it a problem? The simplest answer seems to be some version of “not necessarily — and the black market could, in fact, be mostly okay — but more information and context is needed.” A Question of Fairness One of the great consumer benefits offered by marijuana legalization is a continuous supply of lab-tested, regulator-approved product. Prior to legalization, contamination from toxins like pesticides even in established markets like California were endemic. But that’s no guarantee — in both Canada and in Colorado, even after pesticides were limited or banned outright from cannabis, they appeared in products sold on the legal market. In a way, this is a question of ideology. In another, it’s fairness. Cannabis was banned by the government for so long — what’s it to them that someone’s now exercising a right no libertarian would deny them? Why should the government be able to intrude into the affairs of the same people it sought to jail for decades — and if “Big Pot” backed by venture capital has a creeping monopoly, shouldn’t “the little guy” get a shot, in the same way that you can sell tomatoes from your garden at a farmer’s market or — dare we say — lemonade or water on a street corner? At the same time, if other producers go through an oft-laborious process and do everything “right,” why should shirkers be tolerated? And how can consumers, who may very well be very sick, be given a guarantee without the government’s stamp of approval? It’s hard to see the harm posed to anyone by selling water without a permit. A bottle of water is not a bag of weed, but there is an honest analogy to be made. Is the unlicensed cannabis product safe? Is the producer taking care of the environment—and is it the best or even just the preferred product available to the consumer? It may seem odd for a blog on a delivery company’s website to argue this, but given the totality of the circumstances, the black-market may be the best option, no matter what other blithely unaware Permit Pattys may say.
For cannabis companies, access to the world export market is the difference between success and wild, untold-of Wolf Of Wall Street-level success. Several years into the legalization era, marijuana remains the world’s most popular illegal drug, a status cannabis enjoys for two obvious reasons: It is popular all around the world, and all around the world, it remains illegal. The reasons why are — almost — just as obvious. Marijuana is popular because it is useful and enjoyable all while being relatively inexpensive and benign. Look at that: a plant with healing qualities and (almost) no hangover. There is no comparison. Yet it remains illegal because — among other reasons — it has taken until now for authorities the world round to admit to those four qualities despite ample data points. But lo, even that is changing, as the World Health Organization is demonstrating — although change is happening at a glacial bureaucratic pace that will almost surely prove too slow for frustrated cannabis entrepreneurs, who meanwhile are desperately seeking access to the final frontier, the Holy Grail of cannabis businesses, the difference between a weed unicorn and a mere “successful company”: access to the international export market. STATE OF THE MARKET At the moment, prohibitionist states have more in common with western European countries. This is because international law resembles American federal law, insofar as whenever an international treaty — such as the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — mentions marijuana, marijuana is classified as a banned narcotic that poses a threat to the health and welfare of the people. That same UN treaty repeatedly mentions cannabis in the same breath as cocaine and heroin — two drugs that have killed many people, compared to a grand total of zero deaths attributable to cannabis “overdose” since the dawn of human history, so clearly, the UN’s attitude on weed is due for a reboot. The WHO realizes this, and its official stance on cannabis is in the process of review — and, one expects, revision. %related-post-1% As Marijuana Moment reported, ahead of a public meeting scheduled for early June, the WHO’s “Expert Committee on Drug Dependence” released some initial “evidentiary findings” about the drug. These findings are what you would expect, in that the committee recognized what most of us already know. As we restated above, cannabis has killed nobody, and has medical benefits for sufferers of pain and cancer or AIDS-related wasting syndrome. The WHO acknowledged this, while also bemoaning the dearth of clinical trials and longitudinal studies — which is what happens when you ban a substance while also making it extremely difficult, time-consuming, and ultimately a waste of time for scientists to study it. Those keeping score at home will note that so far, the WHO’s take on weed — realized after the organization solicited worldwide comment on the drug — is almost identical to the National Academies of Sciences’s review, released in January 2017. WHO IS DRIVING POT POLICY? With such well-accepted and well-known facts trickling out of the world order’s health experts at a snail’s pace — the weed version of Chinese water torture — it is little wonder, then, that the WHO’s findings have already been oversold by the overzealous or the unscrupulous. Some of them have been claiming since last December — when another WHO committee found that CBD, or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, was nonpsychoactive — that the WHO has declared medical marijuana viable and safe, which it has not. It bears mentioning that the UN treaty on cannabis has never dictated national policy — at least not directly. It wasn’t the UN that compelled Richard Nixon to sign the Controlled Substances Act into law — and the UN didn’t do anything to stop or penalize Canada from legalizing recreational marijuana, or shipping it to eager patients and researchers in Germany, Australia, Croatia, and a handful of other countries. To put it another way: The UN is behind the times on drug-control policy. The lag is so bad that member countries have decided it’s better to buck the international order and pursue their own drug-policy reform, even if it violates the very treaties to which they are held — in theory, at least legally. But here’s the main thing: The UN has also demonstrated that it’s not interested in enforcing those international treaties. Its main enforcer, the muscle using threats of economic penury as its carrot and stick, was the United States—a country whose states are making an open mockery of its official policy. %related-post-2% Would a change in the United Nations’s attitude towards marijuana shift the US federal government’s attitudes? Could it, when uber-isolationist and renown UN-hater John Bolton is feeding Donald Trump policy advice? Probably not — but here, at least, is where the US matters less than the UN. The WHO is due to deliver policy recommendations to the UN secretary-general. There does not appear to be any way, scientifically or politically, that the WHO could justify the status quo — and the UN’s current secretary general, António Guterres, is the former prime minister of Portugal, where the drug (and all others) were successfully decriminalized. If cannabis comes before Guterres, it seems almost certain he will approve a weakening of the UN’s current draconian approach. That will accelerate countries’ already swift embrace of cannabis. That will be great for Canadian companies on the export market — and that, in turn, will compel American firms sick of having their country hobble their growth to demand a change in kind. That, more so than the cosmopolitan eggheads at the WHO, will trigger an update in US policy. But it has to start somewhere — and if those same eggheads finally come around to embracing weed, you know where things are headed.
America’s fatal overdose apocalypse is opening minds to cannabis — and resurrecting the absolute worst and most punitive drug-war attitudes. Last month, as most of the internet-connected world was witnessing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg alternately charm, dodge, and bamboozle Congress, another hearing was underway nearby — one that could potentially affect more people more strongly. The Hearing You Didn't Hear About Less splashy and less shareable than a semi-investigation into social media’s toxic effect on our democracy, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Defeating Fentanyl,” the synthetic opioid blamed for the steep increase in fatal opiate overdoses over the last few years of the crisis, was arguably more important for some of the very places Zuckerberg had taken pains to visit during his carefully choreographed tour of America the preceding year. It was certainly more immediately relevant. While it is no longer possible to claim that, unlike prescription opiates, “at least Facebook hasn’t gotten anyone killed,” surely it’s true that fentanyl kills more Americans than are killed by likes and shares — even shares of patently false or inflammatory hate speech. Fatal drug overdoses eclipsed the 60,000 mark in 2016, with the rate of overdoses due to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids doubling. It was a counterfeit pain pill laced with fentanyl — fentanyl easily obtained over the internet from black-market supplies — that killed Prince, and tens of thousands. %related-post-1% The take that “drug overdoses are bad” is neither fresh nor hot. Nor is the observation that the drug overdose crisis is, in a perverse, overly optimistic way, good for marijuana legalization. Because, so far, a drug-induced apocalypse has helped inspire long-overdue drug policy reform. An Unfortunate Path to Reform Opiate dependency is now a qualifying condition for a medical cannabis recommendation. Mainstream researchers state, plainly, that marijuana can be effective in treating chronic pain, the condition for which opiates are most often prescribed — and this basic link is also being made by policymakers, who are more open than ever to considering medical marijuana, thanks in no small part to other research that found, hey, states where a non-addictive, mostly benign alternative like cannabis is available see fewer opiate overdoses and fewer opiate deaths! Not every researcher agrees — a few, writing in a recent issue of Addiction, made a bizarre analogy to ice-cream sandwiches and drownings, two unrelated things, to argue that two drugs used to treat pain are also not related — but it seems clear that the zeitgeist has been altered. Marijuana legalization is more popular than ever. Medical marijuana's acceptance is near universal. Would this have happened without a drug-overdose crisis? You can hope, but we live in a world with one, and it's hard to separate the two phenomenon. %related-post-2% Change, and a reorientation of ideas, often requires chaos, or disorientation — and it’s hard to imagine a more chaotic, disorienting phenomenon than pharmaceutical companies’ eagerness to flood economically depressed areas of the United States with addictive, life-altering, potentially deadly medication. For these reasons, you can claim to have found some good in the fentanyl crisis and not be seen as ghoulish or foolish. But there is also ample reason to worry, well beyond the health and welfare of the opiate user next door — which, following a freak accident or unfortunate turn of health, could soon be you, as the opiate crisis is also stirring some of the worst and most beastly impulses unleashed by the drug war. A Fatal Flood In December 2016, following an award-winning report from the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette Mail that showed how pharma companies flooded the state with hundreds of millions of opiate-based pain pills, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin told CNN that the only solution was a new “war on drugs.” Egged on by President Donald Trump, who has openly admired Rodrigo Duterte, the cheerfully murderous president of the Philippines, where police and political gangs conduct open extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users, U.S. lawmakers are openly considering the death penalty for fentanyl providers (despite having “drug-induced homicide” laws on the books since the 1980s, to no appreciable positive effect). Opiates have even inspired American law-enforcement agencies to cut videos in which they dress and behave like… well, you be the judge. There have been some measured approaches in Congress. A bipartisan push to fund both more treatment and more sensitive equipment to aid law enforcement’s ability to intercept fentanyl shipments is a good example of carrot and stick together, in reasonable proportions. But too much of what little the Trump Administration has done to confront the situation is punitive in nature, emphasizing policing and punishment over treatment — or reasonable alternatives, an approach drug-policy reform advocates know as “harm reduction.” Indeed, the central cause of the April 11 hearing was a bill Republicans are pushing that would lower the amount of fentanyl necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. The ideological divide on this — between whether the solution is stricter punishments or something else — is sadly and predictably partisan. If the last 50 years and counting of the war on drugs has demonstrated anything, it’s that filling prisons and courtrooms with drug offenders doesn’t do much to stop drug users. Meanwhile, the albeit limited research on opiate use and marijuana as an alternative for pain management at the least strongly suggests that cannabis is a viable alternative. State legislatures, voters, and some federal lawmakers grasp this. But if old-school, lock-em-up attitudes also reemerge thanks to fentanyl, the disaster will be compounded.
The law is the law — except when it isn’t. And very often, it is not. This is a good way to explain how marijuana legalization works in the United States. This isn’t a value judgment about you. It’s a recognition of exceptions created around you. If you are reading this on a device, or using a piece of software — and you are doing both — you are party to a contract. Chances are good that the terms of this agreement, to which you are bound, are unknown to you. So often do end-user license agreements go unread—and so often do their terms conflict with basic consumer-protection laws — that the contracts technology users routinely agree to with a simple click, and no review, constitute what some experts have called a “parallel legal system.” In other words, the law is the law — except when it isn’t. And very often, it is not. This is a good way to explain how marijuana legalization works in the United States — and why cannabis remains a black market commodity in much of the 29 states in which some form of the drug is legal. Ripping Up Your Rights There’s wide recognition now that longstanding American drug policy is bad. Weakening harsh drug laws and moving to regulate and tax cannabis — capturing revenue for the public that would otherwise go to the black market — is proving to be winning public policy. But across the country, from coast to coast, in states where the law provides for legal cannabis access, governments are creating exceptions. Municipal and county lawmakers are passing strict laws banning commercial cannabis activity, or regulating personal rights meant to be guaranteed to all citizens so strictly that they cannot be enjoyed. %related-post-1% In a real way, this is worse than the end-use license agreement hustle. What local governments are doing is taking a contract you voted for — a binding voter-approved ballot initiative — and then ripping it up. In California, where 57 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana legalization in November 2016, having cannabis delivered to your home — in the same way you can have a carton of cigarettes or a case of whiskey dispatched to your door — is strictly prohibited in 75 percent of the state, according to a recent review from the state Legislature. This is because the Adult Use of Marijuana Act grants broad powers to local governments to regulate commercial marijuana activity — or, if they chose to, ban it outright. But even the minimum personal freedoms granted by marijuana legalization are restricted, or restricted away entirely. An Untenable Situation If a locality chooses to outlaw marijuana stores, citizens are still guaranteed cannabis access through a personal allowance of six plants grown at home. Yet in nearly 15 percent of the state’s more than 300 cities, citizens are required to obtain a permit before they can grow. In some cases, they are required to submit detailed site-plan drawings, submit to police inspections, and pay permit fees of $1,400 or more, according to the Orange County Register. Instead of embracing an industry that will sell more than $1 billion worth of product in its first year of existence, more than 65 percent of cities in the state have elected to ban it. This led the newspaper to ask the question: “Are some cities trying to regulate away Prop 64?”’ As far as state lawmakers are concerned, the answer is absolutely yes. This is partially why the California Legislature is pushing a bill, SB 1302, that would make it clear that local governments’ powers to regulate cannabis does not extend to banning delivery services. Bill sponsors state outright that “local bans on delivery substantially undermine” many of the goals of legalization. But to see these undone, and to change state law to allow citizens to enjoy it, they’ll have to beat opposition from powerful law-enforcement lobbies. %related-post-2% Other states could learn from this untenable situation, and create some minimum guarantees for cannabis access. Doing so would fulfill legalization’s main goals of ending criminal activity around the world’s most popular illicit substance. It’s hard to find an argument in favor of keeping cannabis legal. But the situation in California, often considered one of the friendliest climes for commercial marijuana activity in the country, demonstrates that marijuana legalization can remain an abstraction even after a big win at the ballot. It’s also typical. An “Entry Fee” for Basic Freedoms? Across the country, local governments are moving to create local carve-outs, or declare outright that cannabis friendly state laws end at city limits. In some cases, local governments aren’t even waiting for marijuana legalization to pass before passing bans. Try to imagine an analog in which basic rights and freedoms can be exercised only after rigorous inspections or an “entry fee.” Surely liberals and libertarians alike would bristle at the idea of a police inspection or onerous fee levied on a would-be home brewer. Examples of similar limits that come to mind are poll taxes and other nefarious “exceptions” to democratic rights — a banned practice that’s enjoying a comeback. %related-post-3% This situation was in many ways predictable. Legalization ballot initiatives were deliberately written in such a way to grant local authorities broad powers — seen as a necessary move without which legalization wouldn’t have had any support from leery mayors, city councils, and hostile sheriffs or police departments. But this also shows the dangers of involving enemies to the negotiating table. Clearly, at least some local governments have approached legalization “regulation” in bad faith, using it as a cover to continue prohibition. This could be merely a temporary reaction, the expected resistance to changing entrenched policy. But it is also a clear sign that a successful legalization initiative is only the beginning — and that it will take years of work post-legalization for a regulated commercial cannabis industry to replace the black market.
It is possible to simultaneously reject John Bolton’s view of the world and to be rightly dismissive of the United Nations — though not for a reason to which America’s walrus-faced reactionary would be sympathetic. A reflexive though ultimately cynical nod towards the UN’s international order is how the United States helped scotch Canada’s efforts to decriminalize marijuana a lifetime ago, during President George W. Bush’s first term. Today, Canada’s flagrant dismissal of such scruples — and the resulting international trade in cannabis, in which it is the unquestioned leader — is yet another example of the low regard with which much of the world regards its supposed peacekeeper. For this, you can lay most of the blame at the foot of the United States, which is responsible for pushing its hard line on drugs to the rest of the world at a time when it was the dominant power — and which has never had much use for the UN except for as a rubber stamp, and one that it doesn’t always bother to get. %related-post-1% Borne out of the calamity of World War II — which itself was the result of previous internationalist failures — the UN’s main function has been to provide a semblance of international decorum. The UN dispenses a sort of global “conventional wisdom” (though one only rarely considered beyond a small coterie of think-tank eggheads and Foreign Policy subscribers) and provides a venue in which to air grievances. Not a court — that body, to which neither the US nor China are parties, is in The Hague — but a sort of agora of the world, where a wrongdoer can be identified and publicly denounced, provided they are are unpopular or isolated enough, or insufficiently wealthy. In other words: an international coffee klatch, enfeebled and farcical, replete with corruption. The Case For Revisiting Dusty Treaties This is a good starting point from which to consider the UN’s blanket prohibition on certain narcotic drugs — including cannabis, the world’s most popular illegal drug where it is illegal, and a real-life game of Monopoly where it is not. Three international treaties prohibit or restrict access to most drugs: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs; the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and 1988’s Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Like in the US’s Controlled Substances Act, exact restrictions on drugs depend on their categorization, or “scheduling.” Like the CSA, these international treaties classify cannabis as a “Schedule I” substance, meaning it is the most dangerous and subject to the tightest controls. According to the terms of the 1961 Single Convention, the world’s citizens agreed to work to end cannabis use worldwide by 1989. You could say that it didn’t quite work out, and that in itself would justify revisiting these dusty treaties. Yet in many countries, the passage of laws outlawing or restricting cannabis was justified in part by adherence to these treaties. And to this day, the Drug Enforcement Administration claims, with a straight face, that it must consider illegal non-psychoactive cannabis oil high in the compound CBD — a product derived entirely from hemp, which is legal to import into the US — because of these treaties. Meanwhile, Canada has become the global leader in medical cannabis. With the imprimatur from Canada’s federal government and its health ministry, 84 companies grow medical marijuana, several of which have received export licenses. By the end of this month, Canadian companies are expected to have exported some 528 kilograms of dried cannabis flower and 911 liters of marijuana oil. That’s about the annual output of a medium-sized marijuana farm in California, but the mere fact that Canada is shipping weed to Germany, Australia, and the Czech Republic was unthinkable not that long ago. A Conventional Lack Of Weed Wisdom If you were logical, you might assume that Canada’s global cannabis trade makes a mockery of the three UN agreements. It does, but it’s not nearly as problematic as Canada’s domestic marijuana policy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize recreational marijuana, a vow that’s on track to be fulfilled this summer. Allowing cannabis for medical or research purposes is forgivable under the UN treaties. Allowing citizens to smoke weed for fun isn’t, leading those UN-Foreign Policy egghead types to fume and fulminate that by legalizing and taxing a popular drug that has never killed anyone, is safer than alcohol, and will be used all over the globe until the end of time regardless of what international law may say, Canada was on course for some kind of international reckoning. %related-post-2% “Canada cannot pick and choose which international laws to follow without encouraging other countries to do the same,” insisted Steven J Hoffman, a law professor and columnist at Vox. In a perfect world, Hoffman may have a point. In our world, the world in which the UN exists, member nations freely do as they please, all but daring the UN to do anything about it. The UN rarely ever does, and the world continues to turn. (In sharp contrast to the early 2000s, when Bush Administration officials made the absurd claim that Canadian marijuana decriminalization would destabilize the two countries’ border, one of the world’s safest and most boring, Trump Administration officials have barely acknowledged Trudeau’s plan. Not that the US is abrogating its self-appointed role as the world’s drug cop.) In 2009, Bolivia altered its constitution to allow for production of coca leaves, the raw material from which cocaine is manufactured. This violated the conventions, eggheads howled. About the worst the UN can do is subject scofflaws to a browbeating or a cold shoulder at the next meetup. “This can be embarrassing in international diplomatic circles,” observed Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University law professor and frequent commentator on drug policy, “but no nation has ever collapsed due to embarrassment.” And in Bolivia’s case, it didn’t even do that. Not that it should. Considering the UN, the protectorate of human rights and the environment, has on its Security Council nations with deplorable human rights records and has its headquarters in a country whose leadership includes climate-change deniers, marijuana is the least of its worries. But at the same time, its outmoded, antiquated stance on drugs is yet another example of how easily its dictates can be ignored without serious consequence.
Becoming an insider is simple. You just dive in. Here’s how. Declaring oneself an expert is an invitation to be humbled — always, always will there be someone more learned than yourself; and if that’s not true today, just sit back and watch as you’re overtaken tomorrow — but yeah, okay, I admit it: I know a thing or two about weed. I write about marijuana. This is how I pay my bills, and have for many years now. It’s all true. The main reason I am able to do this is that I read about cannabis, incessantly — and I recognize those around me whose knowledge is broader, deeper, or (gasp) both. Thing is, you can do this, too. All of it. Anyone can, which is the beautiful, wonderful, and ultimately humbling thing about trading in knowledge. It is not magic. Nor is it the result of an accident of birth. Becoming an “expert” or “insider” comes from immersion. To do that, all you need is to dive in. Here’s how I’d suggest you begin. Start reading. How does your day begin? Mine starts with Google alerts. (It also ends that way, with some alerts in between, but you get the idea.) I have a few cannabis-related alerts that I’ve tailored to make sure I don’t miss something obscure from overseas for want of a difference in terms. Medical marijuana, regular-old marijuana, marijuana legalization, cannabis, medical cannabis… we’ve got them all. But because that’s not good enough, I’m also a newsletter subscriber. By far the gold standard is journalist Tom Angell’s Marijuana Moment, a once-daily compendium of the day’s cannabis-related headlines. (And since he’s New York-based and I’m West Coast, he is forever three hours and an age ahead.) If you are in this racket, or you want to sound like you are, it is indispensable. (A necessary if obvious aside: Follow him on Twitter. Now.) Since it’s good to honor your influences, and since my therapist would probably encourage me to be upfront about other journalists I envy, I would encourage you to follow the work of Rolling Stone columnist and GQ contributor Amanda Chicago Lewis. %related-post-1% Another solid email newsletter is WeedWeek, and since it arrives but twice a fortnight, every Saturday morning, it can be good for perspective’s sake to see what news was still fit to print once the ink (digital or otherwise) had a chance to dry. And of all the daily news sources there are — and there are many — the one I never fail to visit at least twice a day (morning and night) is Marijuana Business Daily, the gold-standard for market happenings. Between these three and some web alerts plus whatever you have in your Feedly feed, you’ll be covered for day-to-day news aggregation. Start listening. Modern-day Cartesian logic dictates that you never truly exist until you have a podcast. (This is tragic, for it means that I, myself, am an ethereal being.) The beauty of podcasts, beyond their allowance for total passive consumption, is the depth with which a subject can be treated. Leafly News (where, disclosure, I am a contributor) has a weekly podcast that summarizes the news and also selects the outrage or development of the week for more in-depth treatment. I recognize nobody can listen to wonky nerds wonk-nerd out forever, so I turn to comedian Doug Benson’s interview-show-cast (available on various channels, including YouTube) as a refreshing palate-cleanser. Already a go-to news site for generalists, the Cannabist’s High Minded podcast is worthy for its depth and focus, but it hasn’t been updated in a while. Get on it, folks. Read, but more. Who was it that said those who didn’t know their history is doomed to repeat it? Nobody knows, unless they read books, and lots of them. Here are some cannabis-related books you should read, if you want to pretend you know anything about it — like how, exactly, did our society go from advertising marijuana confections in newspapers and having cannabis-derived tinctures on our pharmacy shelves, to none of the above, and then most of the above again? I didn’t have much of a clue until I read journalist Martin Lee’s Smoke Signals, for my money (and yours) the definitive social history of the drug. (Lee’s Project CBD is also a fine resource for anyone curious about the medical side of cannabis.) For a handy and soon-to-be well-thumbed guide to cannabinoids, the components of the plant, how they work and how they interact with the human body, the standard is researcher Michael Backes’s Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana. Released late last year, Emily Dufton’s Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall of Marijuana in America grants perspective by zeroing in on how legalization was undone a generation ago. %related-post-2% Now you can watch things. There’s nothing like the medium of film for indoctrination. But I mean the good kind! CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed” series (see below) probably did more than any other media in the past few years to evangelize for medical cannabis. It’s not an accident that red states starting legalizing cannabis oil after Gupta publicized the plight of childhood epilepsy sufferers. I defy you to deny cannabis is medicine after giving it an honest watch. You could argue Gupta didn’t go far enough, especially when the less-slick but more in-depth “What if Cannabis Cured Cancer” had been available since 2010. You might think it’s dated, and California’s Emerald Triangle most certainly gets the Hollywood treatment, but the over-dramatized Humboldt County does a decent job of explaining the rural marijuana-grower’s ethos, a mindset that lives today. And since it’s valuable to get a perspective outside of the US, Grassroots (something about that title) shows how much further other countries have to go towards the reality we enjoy today. Bonus for all the footage of Proposition 215 author and inspiration Dennis Peron. (Honorable mention: Rolling Papers, the 2015 documentary that followed the Denver Post’s marijuana editor “to see” if weed was a legitimate news subject.)
The days of single-issue cannabis voters are gone. What to do when you find cannabis common ground with someone you otherwise disagree with? Nothing. On a visit to the Florida Panhandle in early February, President Trump-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stopped to pose for a photo op with the May family. %related-post-1% The Mays operate a commercial plant nursery. Not all farmers are known as wise and careful stewards of the land — farms use a colossal amount of water, as well as chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and the Mays don’t advertise their operation as organic — but they are conservative businesspeople. Thus they qualified politically as “#TrueEnvironmentalists,” as Pruitt gushed in a photo briefly posted to Twitter. Any doubts the Mays were MAGA-friendly were assuaged by the schoolboy-age May in the photo, who wore his red Make America Great Again hat for the occasion. But someone had blundered. The Mays are also partners in a Florida state-licensed medical marijuana grow — the exact kind of business operation Attorney General Jeff Sessions has spent much of his time in office antagonizing. Pruitt’s desire to take over the Justice Department from Sessions is an open secret in Washington. And, as Nebraska attorney general, it was Pruitt who attempted to convince the Supreme Court to end Colorado’s experiment with legal recreational marijuana. Pruitt’s lawsuit failed, but his ideology is apparent. Within an hour of Pruitt’s being informed his photo op was pot-friendly, his knee jerked round the other way and the post was deleted. On Friday, @EPAScottPruitt did a press stunt at a farm in Havana, FL called May Nursery. Pruitt tweeted a photo of him with the May family, calling them #TrueEnvironmentalists. Turns out May Nursery grows cannabis. An hour after I tweeted that fact, Pruitt deleted his tweet. pic.twitter.com/cqizA2BiMf — Nick Surgey (@NickSurgey) February 5, 2018 Whether it was ignorance or miscalculation, Pruitt should have known better. The panhandle is indeed one of the most conservative Congressional districts in the country, and does qualify as a safe space for Trump Cabinet members. Its representative in Congress is Matt Gaetz, who has pushed to eliminate the EPA entirely, backed Trump’s efforts to remove healthcare from millions of Americans, and has vigorously defended the state’s lax gun laws. But medical marijuana is also vastly popular in Florida. More than 70 percent of voters supported Amendment 2, the medical-marijuana initiative passed on the same night Trump was elected. Weed is more popular than the president in Florida, and so Gaetz is also author of a bill, with Democratic co-sponsorship, that would defy Sessions and Pruitt and remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (a bill that appears bound to die for want of a hearing, thanks to other, more obstructionist lawmakers). Pruitt has far more in common with Gaetz than he does, say, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, the Massachusetts Congressman and grand-nephew of President JFK who gave the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address. But if Pruitt was looking for a bipartisan “solution” to the country’s widening and popular marijuana legalization trend, he’d be more likely to hit up Kennedy. %related-post-2% Kennedy has consistently voted against marijuana legalization, putting him out of step with both the rest of his state’s Congressional delegation, and a majority of his state’s voters. All this represents a sea change in how lawmakers treat cannabis — and how cannabis voters should see their lawmakers. For many years, medical cannabis and legalization advocates were universally maligned by government, and so looked for sympathizers anywhere they may be found — however unlikely, or however low. Marijuana drew out single-issue voters like few other issues, which is how you saw libertarians like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson become vastly popular in certain circles within the cannabis movement, despite regressive approaches to education, healthcare, and the environment that violated everything else central to a counterculture ethos. Or central to some. Here’s the hard reality — the days when you could consider anyone and everyone a Rainbow Gathering-friendly friend just because they liked weed are long gone. The truth is that kind of unity was never really true to begin with. %related-post-3% Common enemies create uncommon friends. Legalizers looked to champions like Paul or Johnson because they had no other choice. Now that cannabis is more popular than ever before, not only is a wider and more disparate selection of politicians pushing the issue, deep and possibly irreconcilable schisms are appearing within “the movement,” if there ever truly was such a thing. If your values skew anywhere from moderate to progressive, if presented the inescapable choice between a Kennedy and a Gaetz, you would pick Kennedy, no matter how central cannabis was to your life — unless, of course, you subordinate everything else on earth to cannabis, in which case your singlemindedness is ideologically self-defeating on the whole. Nuance has arrived to the cannabis scene, and with it, gray areas and more difficult choices — and the growing realization that you can have something in common with someone and still hate everything else they stand for. Few humans have hated another with the totality that Hunter Thompson detested Richard Nixon, to whom the gonzo journalist referred as a “swine of a man” possessed of an “ugly, Nazi spirit,” “evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it.” Nixon, Thompson wrote in a “eulogy” printed in the Atlantic, possessed an uncommon quality, that of the unifier. “My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together,” Thompson wrote, words were printed in The Atlantic, on the occasion of Nixon’s death. %related-post-4% Once, Thompson was asked if he had anything in common with the disgraced ex-president, the object of his loathing for half his life. The journalist thought a moment. “We both wear belts,” he ventured. “We both use American money.” The sole time the pair met in person, the only topic of conversation was football — and, against all odds, when Thompson forced himself to forget everything else about the man, they had a pleasant conversation. All this to say that if you try, you can find common ground even with your worst enemy, with your polar opposite, with your antithesis, who stands for everything that you find hateful and hurtful in the world — minus that one thing or another. Yes, you can. It is possible. Not that you should.
In conservative Texas, lawmakers have crafted such byzantine and heavily restricted rules that very few people can access Texas medical marijuana. The hole drilled in Sierra Campbell’s skull is a prelude, to see if doctors might not drill additional, more invasive holes. Holes, but no guarantee of healing. All this, plus a pharmaceutical regimen of ten pills a day — plus a few more, whenever the 27-year-old Texas woman suffers a seizure — hasn’t solved her intractable epilepsy. %related-post-1% She still has two or three seizures a month. And every time she has a seizure, she suffers further “neurological damage,” a fancy clinical term for brain damage, like what happens when you suffer a blow to the head, a fall from your bicycle sans helmet, or other serious trauma to the organ that controls your consciousness and your body’s basic functions. Her IQ drops, and the likelihood that she may be able to live a life without constant care drops with it. Data from the “intracranial monitoring” device implanted in Sierra Campbell’s head will tell her doctors if she’s a candidate for brain surgery — for now, this is unclear — but in the meantime, her mother, Laura Campbell, would like to try something Texas law currently considers even more radical, and harder to acquire. Yes: medical marijuana. Earlier this year, “new” Texas medical marijuana program launched. “New,” because lawmakers approved the Texas Compassionate Use Act in 2015, but it took until earlier this year for the first patient to receive the first delivery. Entry is strictly limited. Patients must have intractable epilepsy that hasn’t responded to at least two other FDA-approved treatments. Then, the patient must find two doctors willing to sign off on the cannabis regimen. Then, and only then, may a patient access low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil, delivered to their home by a nurse or a social worker. You’d think Sierra Campbell is an ideal candidate for participation. She is — so are the other 160,000 Texans, less than one percent of the state’s total population. But just as strict as the patient requirements are, so too are the standards to which doctors who might want to recommend cannabis are held. %related-post-2% As the Texas Tribune reported, there are only 18 doctors in the entire state eligible to enroll patients in the state’s medical marijuana program. Sierra and her mother, Laura, live in Austin. If they want to try cannabis, they need to find a doctor who specializes in epilepsy and has a national certification. As it happens, two of the doctors in Austin are pediatric neurologists, and are unlikely to see Laura’s daughter, the newspaper noted. Another doctor, in nearby Fort Worth, told the Tribune that he’d only recommend cannabis to a “handful” of his patients — because, he said, he’s just not convinced if cannabis is medicine. The tiny number of doctors coupled with institutional reluctance to experiment a low-risk, high-reward plant-based medicine leaves Laura Campbell worried that, despite her daughter’s empirically serious health condition, going through the motions of trying to get her cannabis will be a waste of time. “I’m going through this list thinking that I’m going to have to call these doctors and see if they even accept new patients,” Campbell told the site. “Then if we’re lucky enough to get in, how am I going to pay for these doctors? I’m not sure insurance will cover it.” %related-post-3% It’s for reasons such as these that other families with sick children, whose lives might be quickly and drastically improved with medication — like cannabis — have left the state rather than wade through an inhuman bureaucratic struggle, while watching their loved ones suffer and die for lack of access to care. In the context of the country’s healthcare scene, where people die avoidable deaths every day for want of care they’ve either can’t afford or been outright denied, what’s happening to Campbell — and anyone in Texas with chronic pain, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, or any of the many other maladies for which cannabis has been shown to grant relief — is a uniquely American experience. To date, 29 states allow their citizens some measure of access to medical marijuana. Another 17 states don’t allow access to cannabis, but do allow low-THC, high-CBD oil in certain circumstances. These programs vary vastly in size and scope, but do have some commonalities: And unlike, say, prescription pain pills, what cannabis there is extremely difficult to access. Nearly every “new” medical-marijuana program has draconian restrictions, on the number of doctors allowed to recommend cannabis, on the producers allowed to grow cannabis, or on the health problems suffered by patients to make them eligible. These have been instituted as a knee-jerk reaction to the examples set by states like California, where — we’re told — medical marijuana is simply too easy to access. %related-post-4% This is a textbook example of a solution without a problem causing additional unnecessary harm and suffering. It is true that medical cannabis is available in California to anyone who wanted it — and had the $40, or sometimes half that, to give to a doctor willing to give a five-minute exam and write a recommendation. It’s also true that this situation did not lead to any serious problems. There was no public-health crisis, there was no crime wave, there was no spike in youth cannabis use. Literally nothing bad happened — except bad medical-marijuana laws. In crafting a law so narrow and so strict as they did, what Texas lawmakers did was add insult upon injury. They have raised false hopes among vulnerable and desperate people. They have admitted that there may be a solution to medical conditions modern medicine has been unable to solve. They have a cure for hopelessness and despair. They know it exists — and like Medicare for all, they know it’s massively popular with their people. But like a cruel and twisted stepparent toying with a child, they’re dangling this promise in sight but out of reach of their charges. Yeah, we know about this, they seem to tell their citizens, but we don’t think you can be trusted with it. You can blame entrenched biases against cannabis for some of this reluctance, but only so far. That argument breaks down under the slightest scrutiny, because we know too much by now. We know weed hasn’t killed anyone, we know alcohol and cigarettes are far more damaging, we know that among the 60,000 fatal drug overdoses a year in America, marijuana is responsible for exactly zero. Texas lawmakers know all this. They also know that rather than make it easy for people like Sierra Campbell to maybe try some legalized Texas medical marijuana, they’re asking her to drill some more holes in her head first. The Texas medical marijuana program is insufficient to the point of inhumanity. It needs immediate improvement, and needs to be used as a case study of how not to do medical marijuana.
Washington D.C. is full of cannabis roadblockers, powerful legislators who needlessly prevent cannabis progress from occurring. But who are the worst cannabis roadblockers? Start with these five. One need not be a hardened cynic to grasp that Congress, on the whole, is not in the business of doing the people’s business. If it were, the United States would years ago have had single-payer healthcare (58 percent popular support, according to Gallup), student-loan debt relief, stricter gun laws (55 percent), and repeal or reform of the Controlled Substances Act’s blanket prohibition on marijuana (there’s 60 percent support for legalization, and far more for medical cannabis). %related-post-1% We have none of the above items, which suggests something is amiss. And yet, Capitol Hill lawmakers more interested in donors than voters cannot resist forever. The “bums,” they do get thrown out: In 2006, Tom DeLay and his crew exited, helped along by scandal; in 2010, smug Democrats succumbed to the Tea Party “revolution”; and, if current indications hold true, if not quite a blue “tidal wave,” some force will send select enablers of Donald Trump from Washington’s august halls to post-electoral careers as K Street rainmakers or think-tank flunkies. At the same time, only a bitter and ignorant cynic would declare everyone in Congress a corrupt monster. Let’s look at the cannabis question. At the time of this writing, there are 42 marijuana-related bills currently in Congress. There are bills to speed along marijuana research, reform banking and taxation restrictions, and legalize cannabis outright. This is a popular issue with bipartisan support. And yet these bills aren’t going anywhere. They’re either dead or doomed to die in limbo — for want of a committee hearing. Here, then, is the rub. Not Congress as a whole, not the Civil War reenactment running the Justice Department, and not the president (not on this one). Bills only become law if the bill receives first a hearing in committee — and a bill only gets a hearing if it’s called by the committee chair. In this way, a handful of select lawmakers can block popular measures that impact millions of people from becoming law — and, if the committee chair is from, say, Texas, there’s very little the people of, say, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine he is maligning can do about it. Who are these folks? Glad you asked. Walk with us, won’t you, through the garden of cannabis roadblockers. %related-post-2% Cannabis Roadblocker #1: Pete Sessions Perhaps nobody in Congress is more responsible for the current unpopular cannabis stalemate. A Texas Republican, Rep. Pete Sessions (no relation to Jefferson Beauregard III) has represented the northern neighborhoods and suburbs of Dallas for more than 20 years. It’s not the most conservative place — Sessions was recently re-elected with 71 percent support, but his district narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in November 2016 — but Sessions behaves as if a MAGA hat is glued to his head, voting with the Trump agenda more than 97 percent of the time. As chair of the House’s Committee on Rules, Sessions is also one of the most powerful people in Congress. If a bill manages to make it out of another committee, the Committee on Rules can hold it up, or send it to another, unfriendly committee. In September, it was the Sessions-chaired Rules Committee that refused to allow the rest of Congress to even vote on a host of marijuana reform measures, some of them very modest. Opposition is one thing. Under Sessions, the Rules Committee is engaging in pure obstructionism — a tyranny of the minority. Cannabis Roadblocker #2: Chuck Grassley Remember the CARERS Act? What a big deal it was. There was Cory Booker, there was Kirsten Gillibrand, and there was Rand Paul, pushing bipartisan cannabis reform in the U.S. Senate. The days of marijuana bills coming from isolated back-benchers were over forever — but so was CARERS’s chances of becoming law, thanks to a lawnmower-riding lad from Iowa farm country. Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley is chair of the Senate Judiciary committee. In a disingenuous op-ed co-written with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), a legendary foe of drug-policy reform in her own right, Grassley declared his support for expanded marijuana research, not long after declaring his opposition to just that. Grassley could have had everything he asked for in that op-ed, had he not used his position as chair of the Judiciary to block CARERS from a hearing. Grassley is secure in his position as long as Republicans hold the Senate, which is bad news for cannabis reform. Also: That infamous remark about “good people” not smoking marijuana from Jeff Sessions, then an obscure and extremist senator from Alabama who nobody else in Washington really took seriously? That was entered into the record at a committee hearing called by Grassley. Thanks, Chuck. %related-post-3% Cannabis Roadblocker #3: Greg Walden You might not expect a Congressmember from Oregon to be a roadblock obstructing progress on cannabis. But Greg Walden is Oregon’s token Republican in Congress. He’s promised to be a reliable Republican in Washington, as befits his conservative district, and as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce — the oldest and longest-standing committee in the Congress — he’s more than doing his bit. Twenty of the cannabis-related bills in Congress have been assigned to Walden’s committee, more than any other in Congress. Of these, a perfect, round zero have advanced to a hearing. Walden does this despite going on fact-finding hikes to Mount Hood with Portland’s Earl Blumenauer, a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Does Walden ever explain why Blumenauer’s bills — bills from others — don’t get anywhere around the campfire? Cannabis Roadblocker #4: Bob Goodlatte Cannabis reform is popular in Virginia, and yet a recent decriminalization measure died in the state legislature, after representatives from the state prosecutors’ association claimed, on record, that decriminalization would lead to toddlers eating weed. Who would say such a patently insane and absurd thing? Why, the kind of groups coalescing behind U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has chaired the House Judiciary committee since 2013. Behind Energy and Commerce, no committee receives more cannabis-related bills behind Judiciary, which is currently “considering” 18 such pieces of legislation. We use that verb loosely, because those bills, like the ones in Energy and Commerce, are languishing. While Goodlatte refused to allow impeachment proceedings of Barack Obama to proceed — laudable, in the same way a police officer who does not allow murder to proceed is laudable — he has proven himself not above backdoor dealing: It was he who oversaw a vastly unpopular effort, undertaken in secret, to gut Congress’s independent Office of Ethics. The good news for cannabis advocates is that Goodlatte is retiring. %related-post-4% Cannabis Roadblocker #5: Jim Sensenbrenner One of the most modest — yes, you could say conservative — marijuana-related bills currently in Congress is H.R. 2273. Introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania), the “Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act of 2017” would excluded cannabidiol and other CBD-rich, low-THC plants from the DEA’s definition of marijuana — thus easily allowing access to plant-based medicine useful in treating intractable epilepsy. So much around medical marijuana would be made easier if this bill became a law. And lo, it, too, is nearly a year old and has yet to receive a hearing. What, why, and who? It’s been referred to the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Its chair is Jim Sensenbrenner. A lifetime lawmaker who has represented suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin since 1978, it’s Sensenbrenner whom we have to thank for the post-9/11 PATRIOT Act. Sensenbrenner notably voted against providing post-Katrina aid to New Orleans, and was forced to apologize to Michelle Obama after referring to the then-First Lady’s “big butt” during a church meeting. And he’s the definition of a cannabis roadblock, since Rep. Perry’s law allowing CBD oil to not be classified as more dangerous than heroin is not becoming law, thanks to Jim Sensenbrenner. Of course there are other cannabis roadblockers in our nation's capital. But these five, they are some of the most problematic.
It's becoming more evident by the day that NFL marijuana rules are antiquated and do more harm than good. Yes, it's (past) time for those rules to change. Until red-and-blue lights flashed behind the SUV in which Carlos Henderson was riding in West Monroe, Louisiana on Jan. 14, it had been more than seventeen years since a member of the Denver Broncos had been arrested for marijuana charges. %related-post-1% Initial reaction from some corners was surprise. Why had it taken this long? Denver, Colorado is home to the first legal commercial sales of marijuana in the U.S., and since sales there began on Jan. 1, 2014 up until now, Denver has been the most cannabis friendly tourist destination in America. Well before all that, in 2007, marijuana activists paid for a billboard outside Mile High Stadium exhorting running back Ricky Williams — whose career was very nearly derailed for marijuana use — to come to more welcoming climes in Denver. But this arrest “gap” is no aberration at all, and shouldn’t be surprising. Dealing with cannabis outside of the criminal justice system — if at all — is what a majority of Americans want. And it’s how they do it in Denver. If Henderson had been pulled over in Colorado (or California, or Oregon, or Maine or Nevada or Massachusetts or Alaska) and not Louisiana, he might be dealing with a citation for public consumption instead of a misdemeanor possession charge and potential discipline from the NFL. It would have never made the news; we wouldn’t know his name. What happened to Henderson should be the exception; such a state of affairs is what marijuana legalization is all about. But there’s another way of looking at Henderson’s unfortunate off-season encounter, one we should consider during the run-up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 4. It’s the same way you should interpret freak occurrences like the saga of T.J. Ward. %related-post-2% Police responding to a report of a tripped burglar alarm at Ward’ s apartment discovered some cannabis in glass jars — and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety ended up arrested on marijuana charges. That’s a disgrace, and an indictment of law-enforcement — and not T.J. Ward, who, at the extreme worst, was an adult who allegedly wanted to possess marijuana in the relative safety of his home. If what police say is true, Ward felt comfortable enough to do that while pursuing an NFL career. That’s the rub. For most NFL players, marijuana isn’t a big deal anymore. It’s not considered a career risk. It’s certainly not considered bad, or dangerous, or something to be avoided. For the entire league, for all 32 billionaires who own franchises, cannabis should be their last concern. The league still has the professional sporting world’s strictest and most punitive rules against cannabis use — and that’s a problem — but the players clearly know how to work around those NFL marijuana rules, and, if anything, are feeling more and more empowered to use cannabis in peace. As they should — they don’t want to live in the pain and confusion they absolutely know is waiting for them on the other side of their career, should they be lucky enough to have a long and fruitful one that involves championship rings and Heisman Trophies. " frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"> The former football players above have names that even casual fans know, and they’re making a salient point: The NFL’s prohibitive rules on marijuana are dumb and outdated and need to go. But they also need to go because nobody cares about them anymore — not the players, and certainly not the owners or the league. The league’s power structure entered the 2017 season believing that they’d weathered football’s ongoing concussion scandal. Look at that — they put out a product that absolutely threatens the health, safety and welfare of the people who play it — and everyone knows it and still goes along with it! They thought they were invincible. Instead, after blackballing Colin Kaepernick and compelling their close personal friend and recipient of their largess, a certain Mr. POTUS, to call the man out by name, they very nearly lost control of their shop. Digging in on a lost cause like cannabis prohibition — an issue unpopular with Republicans in Congress — is not something NFL owners have the luxury to do, even if they truly cared about whatever “family values” or “moral character” principles are supposedly violated by marijuana use. %related-post-3% Cannabis is banned in the NFL because of the contract the NFL Players Association signed with the league. The conventional wisdom is that removing the marijuana ban, a sensible thing and a thing the players want, will almost certainly require the players giving something up in return. Money, maybe, or work rules? Or, maybe not. Late last year, Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson returned to the team after a layoff of more than a year. Henderson had been sick — he has Crohn’s disease, an incapacitating inflammation of the intestines. He used cannabis for the pain, got caught, and served a lengthy suspension. But the Bills want him, and welcomed him back without so much as a word about what had him sitting out. More and more, it seems that the NFL has declared a de-facto truce on marijuana use. The war may not be over, but it’s ending. All that’s left is getting the belligerents to admit it, get them to the negotiating table, and change those NFL marijuana rules.
California's commercial cannabis rollout was the big New Year's marijuana headline. How did it go, and what have we learned so far? Imagine, after many years of anticipation, you finally receive an invitation to that big party. You’ve been dressed up and ready to go for as long as you can remember. In the interim, you’ve been pregaming, or perhaps pre-celebrating. Then, hey — you discover this invite isn’t for tonight at all. It’s for next week. Is it time to celebrate, or time to just go about your business as usual? If some of the joy and magic of California’s rollout of commercial adult-use cannabis sales feels muted, and more like a somewhat-momentous, mostly functional trip to the store, it’s partially due to this pattern of long, drawn-out anticipation and irregular, somewhat anticlimactic fulfillment. %related-post-1% The first sales of recreational marijuana in California were Jan. 1 — four years after people lined up in the freezing cold and snow in Colorado in order to be the first-first — but this was a limited-engagement fete. Sales weren’t at every dispensary, and not in every city. Though a few San Francisco dispensaries went live on Jan. 6 after sales began in Berkeley and Oakland across the Bay, Los Angeles is still dark. Now, one-by-one, a few more “grand openings” are trickling out, as soon as dispensaries receive the green light from state bureaucrats and print out the permit. How many “first day” parties can you possibly expect to greet with the same enthusiasm? As it turns out—quite a few. Legal marijuana is really popular — and cannabis consumers don’t care about being up early, or first in line You hate to fuel a stereotype, but…legal marijuana consumers are either relaxed enough to feel no sense of urgency, or they have plenty to do in the morning before hitting the dispensary. Or perhaps, as the Sacramento Bee opined, after capital-era dispensaries opened their doors to a few die-hards and some crickets, “Californians are too cool to line up for weed.” As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. While “hundreds” lined up outside Oakland’s Harborside in the predawn dark and cold on Jan. 1, in San Francisco, just a handful of people were queued up outside The Green Cross and The Apothecarium when they opened at 8 and 9 a.m. on Jan. 6, respectively. But then — more came. And more. And more. By lunchtime, lines were stretching longer and longer. At Green Cross, “85 percent” of visitors were new customers. All this long, drawn-out exposition has translated into less need to “be the first,” but there’s no denying legal cannabis is a popular draw. In a state that’s been saturated with marijuana for decades, in a marketplace some feared was already full — “everybody who needs or wants weed already has some” was a common line — there’s still ample room for excitement and novelty. That exhale you just heard was a sigh of relief from entrepreneurs. Legal marijuana is really, really, really expensive. Maybe too expensive There’s just no getting around it. Legal commercial-grade California cannabis is not cheap — just as business leaders and analyst warned us. On Jan. 1, one fellow forked over $100 for four-and-half grams, a price point that could have brought home a half-ounce less than a month prior at The Emerald Cup. %related-post-2% Such is the cost of going legit. State and local sales taxes, excises taxes, and cultivation taxes add an estimated 40 percent to the cost of legal marijuana. This means $70 eighths and $500 ounces — before sales tax — are common sights, even as California is supposedly drowning in a biblical oversupply. (Not all of that cannabis is ready for the legitimate market, you see.) The fear is that legal cannabis will price low-income people, especially sick patients, out of the legal market and drive them back to “their guy” on the street. That may happen, but be honest: Most of us would rather pay more for the convenience and assurance of going to a store rather than deal with all that. Everybody is going to try to make money off of this — everybody Hustlers built what we’ve come to know as modern-day California. Their legacy is still with us. The Gold Rush-era companies still in business made their first mint marketing gear to minors. Their spirit is alive if not eye-rollingly stale in Jack-in-the-Box’s very creative $4.20 “Munchie Meals,” a promotion hatched with Snoop Dogg’s Merry Jane lifestyle brand. Other big corporate types that may have disavowed or eschewed any connection to scary, illegal cannabis will follow suit in their quest to make an ancillary buck off of California’s estimated $7 billion pot market. Isn’t it funny how quickly something can be mainstreamed when there’s money involved? O.G.s will note, accurately, that weed hucksterism isn’t exactly new — it’s just migrating from cheap Venice Beach kitsch to slick Madison Avenue machines. We are drowning in plastic When sales went live on Jan. 1, a bevy of new rules went into effect along with them. Among them is a requirement for all cannabis to be put into a child-proof container. Dispensaries already had stocks of glass jars, pill bottles, plastic bags, and other containers ready to go — how do you lock those up, exactly? The “solution” has been to put everything into an opaque, “child-proof,” harder-than-normal to open plastic bag — and we mean everything, from single-serving edibles and modest grams to large purchases. %related-post-3% Times like these are when California regrettably descends into self-parody. We can see the logic of keeping edibles away from children, but as many others have noted, alcohol and cigarettes aren’t held to the same standards — and raw marijuana, remember, has very little THC. Dispensaries and brands are working on integrating child-proofness into their supply chains, but until then, be prepared for this polyethylene silliness. This is prologue. Everything is moving fast, and everything could change again A few days after legal sales began Jan. 1, a Sacramento-based cannabis compliance company committed a legendary self-own, advertising a party that did not comply with state law. But really, they should be forgiven. Life (and rules) are coming out fast and hard. The state managed to come up with “emergency” regulations only six weeks before the big day. If you didn’t like them, good for you: non-emergency rules will be “finalized” sometime in the next few months. Anyone expecting that to be the final-final is fooling themselves. Haggling over taxes, regulations, packaging, testing will take years. Speaking of testing: Cannabis purity requirements haven’t even come into effect yet, and won’t until the summer! In other words, the market has a few disruptions yet to come, and those are the ones we know about. To return to the metaphor and bash it to bits, this party is still barely in the cocktail and hors d'oeuvres stage.
Will there be banking? Will there be research? Or raids? These shot-callers will influence marijuana policy in 2018 the most. If 2016 was a year of great, watershed moments in marijuana policy reform — and it was — 2017 was a year of boring, yet more substantive achievement. It was also a year when the power of the minority (read: prohibitionists), and all their arbitrary, contrarian, and obstructionist tyranny, was proven beyond a doubt. %related-post-1% As we explain, this bodes both ill and well for the future. It’s only after voters elect to legalize cannabis for all adults or to allow medical marijuana that the work can be put in — you know, the work to actually provide weed to sick people or all people over 21. Take a look at Maine or Massachusetts, where voters legalized recreational cannabis on the same day they did in California and Nevada, and you’ll see what we mean. As you read this, over-the-counter marijuana sales are happening in Las Vegas. It matters not if you read this at 3AM, since dispensaries there are open 24 hours. In California, retail recreational cannabis stores open(ed) January 1. In the northeast, retail dispensaries will open for business a year after they did in Nevada, at the earliest — and that would be an accelerated deadline we’ll hit if we’re lucky. What’s taking so long, and who’s not getting it done? In the case of those two states, it’s lawmakers and elected executives. Blinded by his zeal to block the voters’ will, Maine Gov. Paul LePage has all but laid his body down on the railroad tracks to block commercial marijuana, and if somebody convinced him that legalization was a tangible entity, like a boulder or a train, he quite possibly would. In 2018, voters will almost certainly have the opportunity to legalize cannabis in more states, chief among them Michigan — but just like in 2017, the real work, the real action around advancing marijuana policy will come later, in governor’s offices, legislative chambers, and on bureaucrats’ desks. A few people wield an inordinate amount of power and can accelerate or obstruct. Who are these people, and what will they do? The Californians As chief of California’s still-new Bureau of Cannabis Control, no one person in the state has more sway over the marijuana industry than Lori Ajax. The regulations promulgated by Ajax and other top California bureaucrats will dictate the size and the shape of the world’s biggest single marijuana market. However: If we wanted to be pedantic, since Ajax answers to Gov. Jerry Brown and serves at his pleasure, technically Brown has more power, and can tell Ajax what to do. %related-post-2% Indeed, indications are that Brown’s office, and possibly the governor himself, is steering the ship, and influencing key world-shaping decisions like California Department of Food and Agriculture’s choice to allow cannabis cultivation operations of unlimited size. But let’s hop off this tangent. The point is that California has an opportunity, now, to decide who’s let in to the industry, who can be big, and how they do business. Emergency regulations released in November will almost certainly be altered between now and the spring. Some California lawmakers are already demanding changes. What they come up with will be foundational, throughout the nation. As much as they might deny it, other states have a California obsession. Onerous medical-marijuana rules that make it very difficult to obtain marijuana were passed in other states in response to what was seen as a “too permissive” atmosphere in the Golden State. The Money Machine It’s a sad fact if you believe in the grassroots, and it’s a convenient one if you have a large bank account. Either way, it’s a demonstrated truth that legalization happens only in the presence of money. Taking California as a convenient, nation-state-sized example again: Legalization initiative Prop. 64 happened only after tech mogul Sean Parker contributed millions of dollars — and Parker’s involvement followed billionaire investor and alt-right bete noire George Soros’s longtime involvement with the Drug Policy Alliance. Their choices of what kind of ballot initiatives to fund directly determines what kind of legalization efforts voters have to choose from. And where money comes, more money follows. Look: Constellation Brands , the multinational mega-brewer, invested in the (Canadian) cannabis industry, and Colorado-based MillerCoors may do the same. If it does, expect other major corporations to follow. On the flip side of this is the negative money. Who will fund the anti-legalization campaigns — and how much will they spend? With an assist from pharmaceutical companies like Insys, which markets a product containing fentanyl (and is also working on a synthetic marijuana product), Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s dump-truck loads of cash helped defeat Arizona’s legalization measure. It’s never a bad time to be a billionaire in America, and it’s even better now. You get a tax cut, and we plebes are subject to your investment whims as always, whether it’s in legalization, stopping legalization, or profiting from it. %related-post-3% The Thought Leaders In response to the opiate crisis, some state lawmakers are allowing the spouses and friends of drug-overdose victims to be charged with murder. Sounds a bit over-the-top, but that’s what happens when drug-induced homicide laws are put on the books. Exposing the callous and heartless efforts like this is one of the aforementioned Drug Policy Alliance’s achievements, and a demonstration of how organizations like DPA, NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, and many others can steer the conversation and change minds with cogent arguments based on data — data like the facts weighed by the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, when it declared early in 2017 that cannabis does in fact have medical value. Such findings belie claims that neither science nor medicine has anything good to say about cannabis. Quite the opposite. Speaking of opposites: On the other end of the spectrum from the likes of DPA and MPP are entities like Project SAM, the intellectual basis (such as it is) for drug prohibition. Run by a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer, Project SAM has worked overtime to find any reason to convince the Justice Department to crack down on cannabis. Sometimes the reasons don’t add up, but if it’s what certain people want to hear, it matters not if it’s intellectually dishonest misdirection. The Washingtonians About those certain people. A central point of 2018 is that so much is still unclear, because it’s unclear who will be making key decisions. Look at the roster, and its many empty holes. We have no drug czar. We have no full-time, non-interim head of the DEA. We have an acting director of the Department of Health and Human Services. So much of the agenda is set by the feds, and so many of the feds who make these decisions are temporary replacements or still on the way. %related-post-4% As for people who are at work, VA Secretary David Shulkin could, with a dictum, change veterans’ access to cannabis, as Marijuana Moment’s Tom Angell has argued. In this way, he has more sway than a committee head in Congress blocking debate on key bills. National Institutes on Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora Volkow also deserves more credit as an influencer on cannabis policy than she receives. Under her tenure, NIDA has updated its website several times — in rational and fact-based ways. Because of this, anti-marijuana forces have had to resort to eccentrics in order to find any kind of “rational” argument — which is why Attorney General Jeff Sessions was welcoming into his office zealots like Robert DuPont, Richard Nixon’s drug czar and the hardest of hardline true believers, who has argued that cannabis’ Schedule 1 classification (and its “official status” as more dangerous than fentanyl) is rational and cool. Which brings us to… The Big, Loud, Online President Much attention has rightly been focused on Sessions and what he will and won’t do on the cannabis question. One theory why he hasn’t done anything yet is that he’s unsure where he stands with his boss — and it’s his boss, the man with the unquenchable appetite for Diet Cokes, Fox News, and sharp-elbowed tweets, who will also appoint a drug czar, a health secretary, a DEA head, and ergo influence so much more of American marijuana policy. Sessions will likely do nothing earth-shattering until the Trump-Russia imbroglio is resolved. Does Donald Trump want Sessions to start a drug crackdown? Sure, whatever, as long as it will fill rally halls and make for good content on Fox and Friends. If it doesn’t, then who cares? All of us, of course, who are captive as always to the moods and whims of a famously moody, grudge-bearing man.
As 2017 draws to a close, it's time to cast an eye forward to 2018 and predict which marijuana issues we'll be hearing about frequently. There isn't much new under the sun in the cannabis reform movement. Namely: It should be legal, but it isn't. Should be easy to agree on what to do, but it's not. And as you'll read in our preview of 2018, you should be prepared for discourse that devolves into dispute merely on the size and shape of the negotiating table. %related-post-1% Here are 5 major marijuana issues to watch next year. Medical Marijuana Legalization That Isn’t Merely Symbolic Statistics are great for fooling yourself. You could look at how many states allow medical cannabis and believe that sick people all over the country are easily and safely able to access their preferred medicine. You would be wrong. Medical cannabis programs are not created equal. Both California and Texas “have medical cannabis laws” on the books, in the strictly literal sense — but in Texas, what cannabis there is can be prescribed by one of only eight doctors statewide, and only to someone with intractable epilepsy who has tried at least two other treatments with no success. Marijuana is already illegal. Passing symbolic medical-cannabis access laws that leave the black market as the most reliable and reasonable source of medicine defeats the purpose. If cannabis is going to be legal — and the honest argument to keep it classified as a more deadly and less medically useful alternative to Oxycodone has yet to be made — then it needs to be LEGAL, and not accessible only after navigating an epic Crusades-level quest for healing. If a legalization law arises that’s overly restrictive, or if a medical cannabis bill is introduced that won’t result in anyone obtaining cannabis, then it may be time to take a pause, or a pass, and wait for a better option. Advances in (or at Least Fewer Barriers Towards) Research As a general rule, when something is unlawful, a series of barriers, literal and metaphorical, arise around that thing. That thing becomes harder to obtain. You can’t find that thing in stores. The less corporeal and more mythical that thing becomes, the harder it is to discuss and to know much about it. "What do you know about that thing?" "Well, I’ve never seen it myself, but I hear tell…" You see? This is how rumors start. %related-post-2% Now, cannabis isn’t exactly the Sasquatch, but it would seem clear that marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I controlled substance creates serious difficulties for anyone — a researcher, say — desiring to discover more about it. In case it was unclear, or up to debate, researching cannabis can indeed be “extremely onerous,” as Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told Congress. NIH would love to research the connection between legal cannabis and a drop in opiate use, Collins informed a Senate committee, but… well, this whole Controlled Substances Act thing. Even when scientists do, at last, win a hard-fought struggle for research, they can’t always do much with it. The federal government’s official supply of research-grade cannabis is weak and moldy stuff bearing little resemblance to dispensary-grade cannabis. How much longer can this broken status quo continue, especially in the light of recent findings like the World Health Organization’s, that cannabidiol, or CBD, does in fact have health benefits; and mounting pressure from the medical community to allow for more research on marijuana, on people and on pets? Fixing this gaping hole in logic and our knowledge will take a long time — it will require reforming medical school curricula as well as federal law — but there will be more calls for progress, and quickly, in 2018. Banking Reform If you’re in the marijuana industry, you know full well how difficult it is to make payroll, pay the taxman, and set aside enough liquid assets in your operating fund to keep the lights on — because all of that routine business must be conducted without the ease and security of that modern-day innovation, a “bank account.” Cannabis is a cash-only affair, but it’s not that marijuana businesses can’t bank. It’s that banks won’t have them. In 2014, the Obama Administration released guidelines that offered cannabis operations a path to the bank teller line, as long as they were following state law. But since marijuana is still federally illegal, most banks — like, all banks — have elected to stay away rather than absorb a modicum of risk. If you listen to banks, which have for years taken deposits from drug-trafficking organizations and war criminals, doing business with a cannabis dispensary could expose them to a money-laundering or racketeering charge. %related-post-3% Lawmakers in Washington have recognized this absurd state of affairs. But a few weeks before Congress set about the greatest transfer of wealth (aka tax “reform”) in modern American history, Republican leadership blocked debate on legislation that would have allowed marijuana businesses to use banks. Note that, and note it well: They didn’t vote against allowing cannabis retailers, cultivators, and other participants in the billion-dollar legal marijuana trade to use banks — they voted against talking about it. As recreational retail sales begin in California and continue to steadily increase in Colorado and everywhere else marijuana is sold, calls to fix this risky and inefficient method of conducting business will only increase. 2018 might be the year of the checking account. Marijuana Tax Reform Separate but related are the additional hoops marijuana outfits must leap and squeeze through during their annual exercise with the taxman — and the price the marijuana industry must also pay in order to fund the Trump tax cuts. There was brief hope that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) would throw a bone to cannabis entrepreneurs with the Republican tax-cut bill, and include a provision reforming Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code. A cocaine cowboys-era effort to make life harder for the real-life antagonists of Miami Vice, 280E prevents drug sellers from claiming luxury items like yachts and platinum-plated guns on their taxes. It also prevents dispensaries and cultivation operations from claiming common cost-of-doing-business expenses, forcing them to pay an effective tax rate of as much as 70 percent, according to Forbes. %related-post-4% However, at the last moment, Gardner experienced a change of heart and did not offer the 280E reform to his colleagues for a vote — possibly because fixing dispensaries’ tax bills, and drawing a distinction between them and El Chapo’s empire would cost $5 billion. So that’s where the year will end: A tax bill, meant to create jobs and stimulate the economy, will not do anything to relieve pressure on a rapidly expanding segment of the economy, which is creating jobs. This will absolutely be an issue in 2018. The Battle for Facts Here’s our early frontrunner for person (or thing) of the year, in the year 2018: Truth, as in, “What’s real — and what’s not?” Real, accurate data is reportedly a popular thing — everybody wants data! — and yet when we have it, the squabbling begins. Better to seek counsel from trusted sources who won’t challenge your narrative. Just look at the trend in teen marijuana use in Colorado following legalization: Exhibit A, click here. Exhibit B, click here. Here we have two sources, debating a similar release of data, drawing widely divergent conclusions. Seems like youth use of marijuana has declined since legalization, if you believe the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham. But that federal data cited by Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Kevin Sabet shows that youth weed use has remained constant since the 1990s, which means, as he said, that it’s going up… wait, what? As the country’s ongoing struggles with recognizing reliable information reveal, confirmation bias is a potent cocktail. All the data in the world won’t matter if otherwise sensible human beings act on their motive to deny and obfuscate. Convincing the unwilling of the truth of what’s right in front of them may be the most formidable challenge yet. And there you have them. Five marijuana issues we'll all be hearing plenty about in 2018.
Strict permitting in new medical marijuana states is bad for consumers, but great for the lucky few who become state-ordained marijuana millionaires. Anyone with a combination of money and interest in marijuana has been staring for months at the state of Ohio, where more than 185 groups of entrepreneurs have staked fortunes and their futures on the outcome of a process beyond their control. %related-post-1% This sounds like bad business. Worse — it sounds like straight-up gambling, like stuffing all of your investors’ cash into a slot machine, crossing your fingers, and pulling the handle, leaving the path towards perfidy or fortune up to the one-armed bandit — until you consider that their wager is banking on the promise of government-guaranteed munificence: Membership in an official marijuana millionaires oligopoly. The Ohio model The national bellwether, the decider of presidential contests, Ohio has also been a point of national obsession in cannabis circles since it decided to serve as judge, jury, and award presenter in a high-stakes game of “Who wants to be a guaranteed marijuana millionaire?” You may channel David Byrne for a second and wonder how we got here. It’s like this: Scared straight by the threat of marijuana-friendly voters going too far with a ballot initiative, Ohio lawmakers took the unusual step of legalizing medical marijuana through the legislative process in 2016. (Most states do not do this.) Going that route allowed the state to go slow — the first medical-marijuana dispensaries won’t open for business until September 2018 — and for state authorities to choose the cannabis industry’s entrants carefully, from a large pool of contestants, the best of whom would be selected based on their appearance on paper and granted a license. %related-post-2% Carefully … and selectively. Under the “strictly regulated” medical-marijuana plan Gov. John Kasich signed into law — the same John Kasich who’s dealing with an apocalyptic opiate crisis and believes cannabis has no role in pain management — licenses to grow cannabis will be rarer in Ohio than Jim Harbaugh sympathizers. A total of only 24 licenses to cultivate marijuana throughout the state of Ohio will be issued under the current scheme. And even these chosen few won’t have to worry about competition. Permits are all regional. No more than two dozen companies will receive the right to service a select and discrete portion of a population of more than 11 million. Like loyal feudal lords receiving bounteous fiefdoms from the king, each best-sounding company would be given the right to cultivate for a specific region, without fear or worry of trouble from an unexpected quarter. Winner(s) take all Befitting the high-roller table at Caesar’s Palace, this was a high-stakes game not everyone was invited to play. Non-refundable application fees cost as much as $20,000 — plus the time, energy, and lawyers and consultants required to put the application together. (Just like a casino, the house already won big.) For the winners, that ante will pay itself back many times over. Business publications noted that the competition for the chance at entering a “multi-million dollar industry” was fierce. That only tells part of the story. This wasn’t competition — that’s something that happens on the free market. This was pre-competition, a political and popularity contest, in order to enter a controlled market without much competition. The first 14 winners were announced on Nov. 3. Eleven companies won licensing; one company won the right to grow cannabis exclusively in three regions. They’ll now have nine months to get up and running. %related-post-3% Ohio officials insist the process wasn’t rigged. And they may be right — companies were selected based on how their proposals met certain criteria, a process anyone who’s bid for a public contract would recognize. But not unlike the two-man energy company briefly tasked with rebuilding hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, all these companies have something in common: They’ve never done this before. And unless they commit some terrible crime or fail miserably at delivering their goods, they’ll have plenty of runway. Hard to worry too much about a good product when all the other producers are relegated to the black market. Florida's license stranglehold There is some precedent. In most of the states legalizing medical marijuana in the past decade, authorities have strictly limited the number of permits awarded to some arbitrary number. The results are predictable to anyone familiar with how artificially constricted markets work. Think housing in California. 900-square foot bungalows aren’t going for a $1 million because of the view. Scarcity means speculators are going wild, man. As of August, Florida’s estimated $1 billion medical-marijuana market was controlled by only seven moguls. Realizing what it had done — enriched private enterprise through public action, textbook regulatory capture — the state hurried to add a few more licenses, but not before the artificially scarce marijuana licenses were valued at $200 million each, according to the investment in one made by a Canadian marijuana giant. Let’s be frank: Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, the Florida company in which Canadian company Aphria made that significant investment, did not have $200 million worth of fungible “stuff” on hand. It did not have $200 million worth of real estate, property, or patents. That was an option bet, a calculated risk based on the company having a giant slice of legal business all to itself thanks to government regulation. %related-post-4% And this is the same roadmap Ohio is following. And in Pennsylvania, where the same script is playing out as if it was rehearsed. And Arkansas, where permits to grow will be limited to five. Why do states follow this model? By now, you, a reasonable and sane person, is probably asking, “Why?? What purpose does strictly limited permitting serve?” The answer is one you know by heart. It’s reefer madness, my dear. Most states approaching weed with great trepidation, only after caving to the will of voters — not because they want to, but because they have to. You could blame Jeff Sessions and the feds, but this was going on when Hillary Clinton staffers were still ordering office furniture for the State Department jobs they were sure were theirs. No, this is because Americans might love the idea of weed, but maybe not so much in practice. They fear it. They don’t understand it — and they think that by limiting it while still allowing it, they check all the boxes. Enough weed to help sick people, not too much weed to let in “an unsavory element.” It’s great policy, if you’re one of the lucky few to win a permit. Less great if you’re a patient stuck with all the consumer choice of a town where the only retail option is a Wal-Mart. In that way, this monopoly-creating approach to weed is very familiar.
From opponent to ally. Behind the Utah Republican’s seemingly bizarre marijuana conversion. Orrin Hatch is the Republican Party’s senior statesman in the U.S. Senate. At a venerable 83 years old, Hatch has been in the Senate since 1977. His lawmaking career has spanned almost half of his long life. It began before more than half of Americans living today were born, and it’s been spent in the true and faithful pursuit of core conservative values. Before his marijuana conversion, Hatch was an anti-marijuana hardliner As befits someone who came to power when the Republican Party was applying Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy, for most of his four decades on Capitol Hill, Hatch has also been a staunch supporter of the drug war, and all its racist, harmful, authoritarian multitudes. %related-post-1% After California voters approved medical marijuana way back in 1996, Hatch, as a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was quick to deploy Bill Clinton’s own drug dogs as interference. Marijuana is “more cancer-causing than tobacco,” he said at the time. It’s no accident it took many more years before widespread access to cannabis was a reality. But now it appears Sen. Hatch is singing a new tune on marijuana. Whistling a new tune on marijuana What can we say, except that the age of 83 is apparently a fine time for a reinvention. Orrin Hatch, staunch Republican. Orrin Hatch, Trump guy. And Orrin Hatch, voice for medical marijuana in the U.S. Senate. In September, Hatch introduced legislation in the Senate that would lift current draconian restrictions on medical-cannabis research — and used no less than eight exhausted puns in the accompanying press release. He is quite the humorist, said his spokesman — who in all likelihood wrote the release — in an interview with CNN (though the lighthearted tone taken with a serious issue led some cannabis advocates to question his sincerity). And last month, Hatch managed to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his old Senate colleague, to admit that there should be more than one single source of government-approved marijuana for medical research. %related-post-2% What has happened? What snapped in Hatch’s brain? There are two ways of looking at this metamorphosis: As a cynic, or as a pragmatist. A cynic's take on this marijuana conversion The cynic would step back, look at the record — and note Hatch’s continued opposition to legalized recreational marijuana — and declare that Hatch is merely evolving with the times. Utah is close to legalizing medical marijuana, and may have done so already were it not for classic obstructionism at the state legislature. A majority of Republicans, and 61 percent of all Americans, support marijuana legalization. And support for medical marijuana is an overwhelming 83 percent. Any halfwit can look at the polls, realize how the tides have turned, and adapt accordingly. What a courageous opportunist — and if he’s serious about this, why isn’t he out there criticizing Jeff Sessions from the right, not just on the Justice Department’s obstructing cannabis research, but on Sessions’ scaremongering campaign against state-legal cannabis, a clear-cut violation of conservative principles? That would be helpful. (Most marijuana-friendly mainstream Democrats deserve no laurels, either: They, too, waited until public opinion had safely swung in weed’s favor before making the jump.) But what about a pragmatic view? Now, enter the pragmatist, whose memory is too short to bear grudges and who is happy to see any progress from any corner, no matter how slight. The pragmatist will say that anyone holding pro-legalization views in the 1990s was a wild and crazy outlier, a ranting hermit fresh in from 40 days in the desert — and that Hatch has had twenty years to listen to science and to hear testimonials from cannabis patients, more than enough data for him, a reasonable person, to change his views. %related-post-3% The pragmatist will note that Hatch is merely following a trend set by other Republicans holding office. The co-sponsor of a (failed, but still symbolically important) bill to reschedule marijuana’s classification in the Controlled Substances Act was Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents one of the most conservative districts in the country. At the polls last November, cannabis won more votes than Donald Trump. Gaetz can see this. Hatch is seeing it. It’s long overdue and it’s still not quite enough, but Hatch’s evolution is of a piece. The pragmatist would look at all this and predict, rightly, that it will only be a matter of time before a bill rescheduling cannabis (and, after that, legalizing it outright) crosses the desk of the president of the United States. Only the cynic would cross his arms, frown, and ask — however righteously — what took so long.
Denying Massachusetts marijuana sales-tax revenue to communities that ban legal cannabis sales is only fair. Which, is why it probably won’t happen — and wouldn’t exactly work, even if it did. Parables aimed at children aren’t generally accepted as valid bases for systems of governance or the rationale behind key decisions affecting millions of people. (When choosing intellectual foundations, here in America we rely on morality tales aimed at adults.) Yet in the push in Massachusetts to deny marijuana sales-tax proceeds to the more than 100 cities and towns that have chosen to ban recreational cannabis sales, the lesson of the Little Red Hen is happily (and seriously) repeated. %related-post-1% Why should places that at almost every turn have tried to halt marijuana legalization in its tracks — and, failing that, attempting the same blockade of legal marijuana commerce — enjoy any of its proceeds? Massachusetts’s plan to divide the legalization spoils currently looks like this: There’s a 17 percent “effective tax” on commercial pot, according to the Boston Globe. State sales taxes go to the state and are absorbed into the general budget. Not so with the two local cuts. Three percent of retail sales and 3 percent of a locally-based marijuana company’s revenue stay with a local government, provided they afford a place for legitimate weed businesses. This provides some incentive to allow marijuana firms to operate in your community. But some Boston-area cannabis activists and entrepreneurs want to go even further and deny marijuana-related money to places that deny a place for commercial marijuana. They plan to introduce legislation in January that would (somehow, in some as-yet undefined; little key details like this are just that, crucial details) reduce each weed-banning localities’ share of state-collected Massachusetts marijuana sales taxes. As logic goes, it’s hard to beat. (That’s the simple brilliance of schoolyard philosophy at work.) It’s only fair. It’s hard to find a reason why parties who share none of the supposed burden and perform none of the work should enjoy the same benefits as those that do. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” is in fact the earliest working political theory in English-speaking America. %related-post-2% But as analogies go, it’s not perfect. First, nowhere in the Red Hen’s patient efforts to convince the other farm animals to join in and assist in her bread-baking labors was she met with outright sabotage or well-organized and well-funded anti-bread campaigns — only to be asked for a slice of toast from someone heretofore gluten-averse as soon as she opened the oven door. In her world, her obstacles are merely sloth and greed, not hostility. Cannabis enjoyed no such casual indifference. Only 52 percent of Massachusetts voters backed Question 4, the ballot initiative that legalized recreational cannabis for all adults 21 and over in the state last November. Opponents included nearly all of the state’s political establishment, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. So desperate were the state’s deciders to beat legalization that they were happy to lie, and lie wildly and irresponsibly: House Speaker Robert DeLeo once claimed that there was a clear link between casual marijuana use and opiate dependency, despite clear scientific evidence that cannabis availability reduces opiate abuse and overdose deaths. It didn’t work, and it doesn’t matter. These same fellows now get to figure out how to spend an extra $150 million a year, the estimated sales-tax haul by 2020 from the Massachusetts marijuana market. And these are some the same fellows who will be asked to approve a plan in the Legislature to deny their areas tax money if those same areas also banned marijuana. What lawmaker would do that? That’s one clear problem to overcome. Another is logistical: Sifting through the state budget, figuring out how much each area is "owed" solely from Massachusetts marijuana money, then reducing each area's payout accordingly. Yet another is that there’s no precedent for this, anywhere. %related-post-3% Advocates point to Oregon and California as examples of places where localities pay a price for banning weed. Baked into those states’ legalization laws are provisions denying some money gleaned from legalization from locales that strongarm marijuana businesses — emphasis on “some.” In Oregon, most of the proceeds from legalization are earmarked for schools, who get the cash no matter what local leaders choose to do. The rest — less than $8 million a year, or $3 per person — isn't much to make a difference. In California, cities and counties that ban marijuana businesses are ineligible for some grant funding — but they will still enjoy funding from state sales taxes. And these are also grants that are specifically meant to help “implement” legalization — meaning, unlike the Red Hen's neighbors in the barnyard, California cities without a single cannabis retail outlet will still get to pay their cops and pave their roads with the money from places with a booming weed retail sector. What there is precedent for, as the Globe noted, is similar inequality. Take the state Lottery. Tickets for the lottery, a key source of state funding, are disproportionately sold in poor and working-class areas. Yet when it comes time to divide up the proceeds, they’re divided “equally,” meaning richer areas take in more than their people put in. (These richer areas, with their higher property taxes, also enjoy better schools and ritzier civic improvements.) It’s not fair. But that’s simply how it works. That’s the way it is: The brutal logic of resignation to life’s slings and arrows learned in the workplace, replacing the utopian ideals of youth. Unless the Massachusetts marijuana-legalization law is drastically rewritten as to direct the majority of money to localities and not to the state, this is how it will be. To do that would require prying money from some of the same hands that tried to prevent that money from appearing in the first place. That sounds fair — but that’s not the principle driving most lawmaking in America.
Giving veterans marijuana access should be an easy, commonsense move, right? Everyone supports the troops. Of course they do. To say otherwise is anathema for anyone in public office. In all but the most progressive jurisdictions on in the U.S., criticizing the military — including questioning the mission, or, far worse, the conduct of service personnel — is a form of political hari-kari. Look at Bernie Sanders. Vehemently and proudly anti-war, the most successful left-leaning presidential candidate in most voters’ lifetimes nonetheless supports the notion of a “robust military” at the ready at all times. But do we really fully support the troops, specifically veterans, in the U.S.A? %related-post-1% If we did, we wouldn’t have warehoused soldiers and Marines maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan in a rat-and-cockroach infested slum located an Uber ride away from the halls of Congress — and that scandal at Walter Reed Hospital wouldn’t have been followed within a decade with yet another criminal embarrassment at the Veterans Health Administration. If we did care about the veterans and wanted to support them — all 2.3 million women and men who went overseas to pursue missions that are still incomplete almost two decades later — we’d listen to them and to the American Legion, arguably the most conservative veterans’ organization in the county, and give veterans marijuana priviledges. As many as one in five veterans of the country’s two 21st-century wars have post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 360,000 have some form of serious brain injury. Add them to the veterans of Vietnam and the “small-scale” conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s, and by sheer numbers alone, you have what should be a national health emergency. Stories of veterans using marijuana in some form instead of a shopping list’s worth of pharmaceuticals — some of which are habit-forming, others of which have terrible side effects, yet others which just don’t work — are everywhere. There seem to be more cannabis organizations founded by and designed for military veterans every day. %related-post-2% And yet here are House leaders, killing proposals to allow VA doctors to prescribe cannabis to veterans without so much as a vote. And here’s the VA, doing what it can to block one of the most significant marijuana-related research projects in existence, what would be a groundbreaking study into cannabis’s value in treating PTSD, were it allowed to go forward. As a result, there are military veterans breaking the law, risking imprisonment and treated like cartel-level criminals solely because they took matters into their own hands in order to go through a day or two without chronic pain and psychological torment. It should be a simple thing to give military veterans marijuana. They really don’t ask for much, just what everyone asks for: decent health care, decent job opportunities, to be remembered and cared for rather than forgotten after their service expires. Giving them that much is supposed to be the deal. It’s the civilians who have a hard time fulfilling their end of the bargain. Good things happen when we actually support the troops. The GI Bill is considered to be one of the single most successful policies to emerge from the federal government. Opportunities for education and home ownership afforded to returnees from World War II and Korea laid the groundwork for a new middle class that lasted for at least a generation. Bad things happen when we don’t: homelessness, suicides, never-ending wars. The good news is that this can’t go on forever. There is simply no way that elected officials can say with a straight face that they’re pro-military and deny combat veterans marijuana access without suffering real consequences themselves. %related-post-3% This time around, if we give vets some agency and pay attention, we’ll see the first steps towards ending the war on drugs. Wounded vets using cannabis to heal their wartime scars are crucial to nationwide efforts to legalize marijuana. Once Congress finally eases marijuana restrictions, it will absolutely be in no small part thanks to the vets. It’s already breaking that way. States with ridiculously limited medical-marijuana programs are being shamed into adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions — and others are proving wise enough not to impose such pointless and harmful restrictions in the first place. As has been demonstrated time and again, medical cannabis is the first step. Once people accept the plant as a legitimate wellness tool, decades of anti-pot propaganda starts to dissipate. Look at Florida, where more than 70 percent of voters approved medical marijuana, and where one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress is now a champion of medical pot. Maybe he’s doing it solely out of political expediency. It doesn’t matter, though. The worm is still turning. Conservative states including Tennessee aren’t so conservative when it comes to cannabis policy. Cities like Nashville have already pushed municipal decriminalization efforts. Within two hours’ drive is Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division. You can bet that everyone on base knows that weed will help them through their lives once they’re discharged. And they'll act on it, whether legal or not. Patriotism as politics cuts both ways. Vets vote. And vets spur lawmakers into action. When marijuana is legalized in your area, when medical cannabis becomes acceptable for you to use, make sure you thank a vet.
Whenever you visit a dispensary, consider it Dispensary 101 that the establishment is staffed by knowledgeable budtenders. Think about it, the butcher, the baker, the teenager putting the new iPhone through its paces for you at the Apple store — they’re there out of their own self-interest, yes (for motives, there is nothing like pure financial survival), but they’re also there to tell you everything you need to know about the goods they’re selling to you. Of course they are. Imagine the salesperson at the used car lot incapable of rattling off all the features, real and imagined, on the “new-to-you” selection of the day. Worse, picture the pharmacist without a clear grasp of the side effects of your new medication or who neglected to run a drug-interaction check seeing the sum effect of everything in your medicine cabinet (a real thing, and spectacularly dangerous if overlooked). %related-post-1% All this is to say that we enter into our commercial relationships with basic expectations. You come in with money, and the merchant comes with some fluency with their products. If their grasp on their wares is shaky or tenuous, something is wrong. And if they’re not keeping up their end of the bargain, you should take yourself and your money elsewhere. This is the standard to which anyone selling legal cannabis should be held. Yet, at times it’s a standard that goes unmet at cannabis retail outlets. Oftentimes, this is due to the blinding speed with which most transactions are conducted. There’s simply too much to take in — too many strains, too many OGs. You don’t know where to begin — and there are people in line behind you! Take a breath and relax. You, the consumer, are in charge. You can avoid the attendant unpleasant evening of unexpected, uncomfortable highness, or dropping a grip on a cannabis product that just isn’t good for you by posing to your budtender a few very basic, very reasonable queries. If they can’t or won’t provide you with this fundamental information, you should feel confident in running far, far away — and not coming back until the dispensary’s management employs qualified staff, or until he or she provides necessary training. So, with that, here are five Dispensary 101 questions every budtender should be able to answer — five questions you should feel comfortable posing: %related-post-2% “What is this?” Might as well begin at the beginning. What, indeed, is Silverback Gorilla Haze OG, other than the word salad of the day arbitrarily slapped on what could possibly be an otherwise average batch of pot? Without any kind of agreed-upon genetic standards for what differentiates an SFV OG from a Tahoe OG — and no guarantee (yet) that a famous name was applied to a strain with no relationship or even resemblance to it whatsoever — the consumer has the right to ask what the hell it is the budtender is selling. The budtender should be able to tell you this plant’s lineage — if it came from a well-known seed bank and what known strains served as its parents. They should also be able to tell you who grew it — was it in-house, or was it cultivated by a well-known producer? — and how (indoor, outdoor, greenhouse, organically, veganic standards, etc). If they don’t know, that’s not good. This means they won’t have a real clue as to this next point, which is... “What will this do to me?” This is a vital Dispensary question. It's hard to answer definitively, but you should be able to walk away with a rough idea. Here is where nuance comes into play. Cannabis isn’t entirely like wine, where quality and scarcity of grapes and vintages is subordinate to the drinker’s palate and preference in determining whether the pour is “good,” but they’re analogous enough in some respects. The budtender should absolutely know the strain’s THC and CBD content — and in some states, they’ll have testing results far more detailed than that. They should also know the strain’s basic terpene profile (more on that later). Armed with all this, they should have a general idea of what the strain will do. At the same time, the customer should be able to tell the budtender what they want — pain relief, a joyous morning, a good night’s sleep — and also alert them to their tolerance and experience levels. %related-post-3% In return, the budtender should be aware that the old-school “indica-sativa” binary is by now far exploded — everything is hopelessly hybridized — but should also be able to respond with a suggested strain (or three) if the customer says they want a “60-40 hybrid with mindful calming effects that won’t put me into a stupor.” Finding exactly what you want will require some give-and-take and some foreknowledge on your part, but if the budtender can’t rattle off some of these basics about what’s in that jar — good for daytime, good for sleep, good for pain, etc. — you shouldn’t feel compelled to buy it. “Who does your testing — and can I see the results?” Question royalty, the key point, the heart of the matter. This is how you determine whether the product is safe or not. Cleanliness and product safety is a real problem in the marijuana industry. Most states have mandatory, state-regulated testing. Others — including California, at least until January 2018 — do not. What’s left is a libertarian’s dream, a safety inspector’s nightmare — a wild west of sorts. Even when there are safety regulations in place, cannabis tainted with pesticides, mold, or other nastiness makes its way onto the market. Testing data should be basic information the budtender knows by heart. If you haven’t heard of the testing company, whip out your iPhone and look it up. “Can I smell it/can I take a peek?” Let’s say the budtender is able to rattle off a whole shopping-list’s worth of terpenes. Do you know what they are and what they do? You probably don’t — and that’s not a character flaw. This is all very new information. One way to find out for yourself is to take a deep sniff and see how your mind and body reacts. Did you like it? Did it relax or excite — or repel you? The terpene content is a fine indicator of the strain’s final effects. %related-post-4% In the event that the dispensary is selling you buds in an opaque container, you should also demand a visual inspection. Many flaws in cannabis are plainly visible — and getting a peek at the buds’ size, shape, and density will give you an idea if you’re paying top-shelf prices for mid-grade reefer. Many dispensaries these days have pre-packaged eighths. The “let me smell it” rule still applies. They should be able to open them up and give you an olfactory taste. If they won’t, take your money somewhere else. “How long has this been sitting around? When did this come in?” This is not the equivalent of asking the sushi chef if the fish is fresh. In that case, you’ll insult them if the fish is fresh — because it’s supposed to be — and if it isn’t, do you think you’ll get a straight answer? At the marijuana dispensary, the budtenders will know if something’s been on the shelf so long that it’s drying out — and if something has been lying around long enough to dry out, it’s also losing cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavor. It won't be as effective and it simply won't be as pleasant to consume, whether you're vaping, smoking, or turning it into oil for edibles. Cannabis is a flower, an agricultural product — and flowers don't keep forever. Of course, if the producer did a bad job curing, it won't make much difference how long the flower has been sitting around. But at least you asked this, and the other, Dispensary 101 questions.
Yes, senior citizens and marijuana could easily form a political powerhouse. Here's how. If it impacts me directly, it's important politically Adam Smith was not a cynic. He was a realist. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” wrote the modern era’s first economist wrote in Wealth of Nations. Aside from providing the general, unlearned public with rudimentary bromides to deploy over dinner and in barrooms — if anyone knows anything about economics, they will know this principle of self-first survival, or maybe the “invisible hand” of the free market — Smith also delivered a fundamental political lesson. The question all voters ask, and the one all supplicants for their votes must answer is: What’s in it for me? %related-post-1% Appeals to reason, justice, or emotion will find their effectiveness limited at property lines. In other words: A foreign war or a public good is an abstract thing, an innocuous thing, until it affects your taxes or your home values — and then watch it become a Matter of Great Import. In order to do the right thing, a voter must believe it is the right thing for herself. When it comes to voting, senior citizens call the shots This can be a challenging equation to balance at the ballot box. It’s Millennials who will (someday) inherit the world from the Baby Boomers (eventually) — yet it’s the Baby Boomers who are shaping the future by turning out to vote and selecting choice-makers for us. With this in mind, they can help us move toward a more verdant future by voting to legalize marijuana. And they should. Senior citizens and marijuana make for a great match. " frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"> Until now, voters over 50 have been the reliable bulwark against marijuana legalization. According to Gallup, there’s wide majority support for marijuana legalization across all generations, with one exception: That’s right, voters over 55. You can probably thank senior citizens for marijuana legalization’s loss in Arizona, the lone failure on Election Day last year. This is ironic, considering senior citizens have been for some time the fastest-growing demographic among marijuana users. There’s decades of propaganda to unlearn, sure. But then again, people around the age of 60 or 65 or older were the people who made cannabis a central part of the American counterculture. Senior citizens and marijuana have been cozying up According to one survey, marijuana use among Americans 65 and older has increased by 250 percent. Data like this isn’t the most reliable — a survey’s value relies on people telling the truth, and since people lie to their doctors about how much alcohol they drink, and it’s legal, how honest are they about drug use? — but at least some of the smart money is following it. %related-post-2% Marijuana companies are converging on senior centers and retirement homes to find new customers. Since aging includes some of the very ailments medical marijuana is most effective at treating — among them sleep issues, chronic pain, and wasting syndromes associated with cancer — the appeal is obvious. The pitch makes perfect sense. Here’s something that’s relatively benign, available in formats that require no smoking — thus, no negative health impacts — with limited side effects, and profound medical value. And, yes, the fountain of youth potential. As mentioned above, initial results from a study conducted on mice revealed that THC may reverse or at least slow the cognitive decline associated with aging. Would you like to enjoy — and remember — those golden years? Of course you do. " frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"> It’s no accident that medical marijuana was overwhelmingly approved in Florida, land of of the snowbirds and Sun Belt retirees. Until now, much of the taboo and reluctance to embrace cannabis has been about “the children.” This, too, is ironic: It’s been kids, stricken with intractable epilepsy and other illnesses medicine is helpless to heal, that have convinced state lawmakers in red areas like Georgia and Texas to allow sick people to access high CBD, low THC oil. When senior citizens and marijuana come to terms, prohibition will end You’ll notice that no matter who is in office, no presidential administration and no Congress have been able to raid Social Security or gut Medicare. In addition to owning property and significant wealth, seniors also wield significant political power. If seniors collectively realized tomorrow that cannabis was good for them, Congress would end marijuana prohibition within a year. You can bet on that.
“Marijuana devastated Colorado. Don’t legalize it nationally,” is the linkbaity headline of a recent marijuana editorial, published on Aug. 7 in USA Today. The faulty marijuana editorial was penned in apparent response to Sen. Cory Booker’s proposal to legalize marijuana via Congress. The piece puzzled many, including some Coloradans. Isn’t Denver booming? Aren’t marijuana sales taxes funding college scholarships and allowing towns to build new civic centers? Didn’t Colorado just top more than $1.3 billion in legal marijuana sales? Aren’t there 18,000 new jobs in Colorado thanks to the marijuana industry? Subsequently reprinted in parent company Gannett’s other properties from Detroit to Nashville, and elsewhere in the U.S., the item has gone bona fide viral, with more than 106,000 Facebook shares within a few days’ time. This was the screed anti-legalization sympathizers have been waiting for. Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the organization that benefited from pharmaceutical industry cash to defeat that state’s legalization measure last fall, and Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the anti-marijuana advocacy group chaired by a former staffer in the Office for National Drug Control Policy, all responded with predictable cheers. As they should, since the marijuana editorial parroted many of the same cherrypicked data points they’ve been repeating for months, which form the intellectual foundation (such as it is) for supporting marijuana prohibition. The author of this hot content is one Jeff Hunt. Hunt is the vice president of public policy at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado, where Hunt chairs the “Centennial Institute,” the school’s official think tank. What Sen. Booker is proposing to do, Hunt writes, is to visit upon the entire United States the ravages that marijuana legalization has wreaked on Colorado since voters legalized the drug in 2012. %related-post-1% The carnage includes the highest marijuana use rate among youth in the U.S.; an increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths and emergency room visits; an increase in marijuana-related arrests, particularly of black and Latino youth; and no perceptible benefit in the way of jobs or sales taxes. “We’ve seen the effects in our neighborhoods in Colorado, and this is nothing we wish upon the nation,” Hunt summarizes. It’s another “sad moment in our nation’s embrace of a drug that will have generational consequences.” Hunt’s marijuana editorial points are lifted straight from what’s become the Bible for marijuana prohibitionists: A 2016 report from the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The nation’s many HIDTAs, remember, are part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which itself is prohibited by Congress from advocating for marijuana legalization. Hmm. That smells like a bias. In this case, the bias comes at the expense of…well, everything. As Forbes and Reason.com columnist Jacob Sullum has pointed out, HIDTA reports overwhelm the reader with charts and data that make legalization look like an apocalypse — and bury caveats needed to accurately interpret the data, such as “inferences concerning trends…should not be made” and “that does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident,” deep in tiny footnotes. According to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the HIDTA report presents “incomplete and unreliable data,” which — along with its institutional bias — is why it’s become the document of choice for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his fellow travelers. Hunt also produces a quote from Harry Bull, the superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District: “So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana,” says Bull, who has been seeding this soundbite in the media since at least early 2016. %related-post-2% Like Hunt, Bull is being disingenuous in several ways. Several reviews have found that marijuana use among teens in Colorado has either remained flat or dropped since legalization. And under state law, the first $40 million worth of marijuana sales taxes go to capital improvements in impoverished and rural school districts. Cherry Creek School District is in Arapahoe County, which encompasses Aurora, Littleton, and other well-off communities in suburbs east of Denver. Fewer than six percent of people there live below the poverty line, so Cherry Creek doesn’t qualify as impoverished. At all. But what do other commentators without institutional biases think? “Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes,” wrote scholars from the libertarian Cato Institute — the think tank funded by one of the Koch Brothers — in their review of legalization’s impacts published last fall. “The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.” Thing is, Hunt has been banging this exact same drum for months — using almost the exact same language. “The legalization of marijuana has devastated Colorado,” Hunt wrote in a January 11 Facebook post, in which he went on to repeat (verbatim) all the greatest hits from the HIDTA report. Apparently, Hunt waited until Booker introduced his legislation, and then used that as his news hook when shopping his op-ed around to anyone who would published it. Among the hopeful homes was Denver’s alt-weekly, Westword. Westword declined Hunt’s offer, and instead published a response: “Dear USA Today: Marijuana Hasn't Devastated Colorado,” the paper wrote. (The paper sought Hunt’s input, but for some reason, Hunt was nowhere to be found.) So why did USA Today take a bite at this stale old garbageburger? The short answer, judging by other recent contributions, is that they’ll publish almost anything if it generates web traffic. Most of the comments on Hunt’s marijuana editorial — and on his Facebook page — repeat many of the same facts we’ve asserted above. It’s not honest. It’s not convincing. It’s not even fresh or interesting. It’s just an inflammatory polemic! But you clicked on it, whether it was to ponder or to vent. We all did. We’ve all been played — you, me, USA Today, and Jeff Hunt.
Island paradises are popular vacation spots with mainlanders for a reason — because, well, they’re paradise. Why else would pasty-looking people flock to them? But there’s a glaring omission from the all-inclusive's list of earthly delights: Legal cannabis. So where to go for beach themed marijuana vacations? Make no mistake: Weed can be found everywhere fruit-based cocktails with paper umbrellas are served without irony. Whether or not you’ll be able to find some is another issue. Until this month, when Las Vegas turned on the green light at its recreational cannabis stores, over-the-counter cannabis tourism was a privilege reserved for places that enjoy cold, rain, and snow, like Denver, Seattle, Portland, even Anchorage. Out on the islands, the drug war has died a slow death. %related-post-1% But since most of the expensive island getaway destinations also happen to be stone broke, there’s a strong push to reform marijuana laws from elected leaders as well as the hoi polloi. But like the mainland, progress can be measured in island time. This also applies on American soil. Here are the best candidates for an irie island experience. Jamaica The most obvious choice for marijuana vacations is the island synonymous worldwide with cannabis culture. But not only isn’t there a legal dab bar in Montego, Jamaicans don’t even get to enjoy official Bob Marley-branded marijuana — which is produced and sold in legal states on the American mainland. But since the island needs money from something other than tourism and export-based agriculture like coffee, Jamaica is keen to cash in on the wave of marijuana business sweeping the mainland. The island is not the least bit apologetic about looking to marijuana to provide another excuse for tourists to get off the cruise ship, or as an anchor for wellness-seeking ecotourists. Jamaica decriminalized possession of two ounces or less in 2015, and has talked about allowing tourists to load up on local herb at the airport. Sounds nice, until you keep in mind that while Jamaicans enjoy medical cannabis in theory, it’s taken until 2017 for outfits wishing to cultivate government-approved ganja to be issued permits. In the meantime, demand is met by a still-thriving black market. And since laws are far, far more relaxed than they were in the not-so-recent past, a ganja-seeker can afford to be choosy with the sketchy strangers who appear offering drugs. Puerto Rico The hard times in America are hardest in Puerto Rico, where the local government owes mainland banks $72 million and where as many as half of working-age people are out of a job. Puerto Ricans are American citizens but can’t vote in presidential elections, and get no votes in Congress — and their raw deal extends to cannabis, still a target for the DEA and FBI, which absolutely have local offices on the island. %related-post-2% Even so, Puerto Rico’s sovereign government has pushed forward with medical marijuana, handing out a license to almost anyone with the permit fees. Yet a few years on, fewer than 4,000 of the island’s 3.5 million people have signed up as patients. And these select few who managed to navigate a bottlenecked approval process have had terrific difficulty actually accessing any cannabis. Growers have had difficulty producing adequate supply, and when the same government publishes tweets comparing using cannabis to “smoking LSD,” as Puerto Rico’s Senate did earlier this year, the atmosphere isn’t exactly welcoming. But things are looking up. In July, Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed an updated medical-marijuana bill, and stated at the same time that there’s “absolutely” support in the legislature for legalization. Can the industry adjust? Will San Juan have a Calle Verde? Maybe, but for now, if sun-filled marijuana vacations are what you’re after, you’re probably better off going to Vegas. Hawaii The most obvious place for palm trees and coconuts to serve as a backdrop for swaying fields of green is America’s most remote state. Hawaii has had medical marijuana for years, after all — but it’s also been years that patients, of which there are fewer than 16,000, have been waiting for dispensaries to open up. Sales were supposed to begin in 2016, but as of July 2017, the state was still a ways away from approving labs and dispensaries to open their doors. And despite relaxed island vibes — everyone in the legislature wears Hawaiian shirts to work! — there’s a decidedly conservative bent to drug-policy reform. Relaxed marijuana laws struggle to get past the committee stage. The best method for a Hawaiian vacation involving pakalolo is probably to bring your own from the mainland, as the natives still suffer through punitive pot laws. %related-post-3% Florida (Mainland and Keys) Key West is closer to Havana than it is to Miami — but it’s also still in Florida, which is a good thing for anyone wanting to visit Hemingway’s house with a joint stashed in a pocket. Florida is a red state, but it’s quite possibly the most marijuana-friendly red state. After a large majority of Florida voters approved medical marijuana last fall, deep-pocketed dispensaries are opening for business in places like Tampa. To add dispensaries to the mix in liberal, LGBT-friendly places like Key West is a no-brainer. For now, there are only delivery services, but as the rest of the state opens up to the cannabis industry, storefront dispensaries will follow — and from there, it’s only a matter of time before full legalization hits the ballot. If we had to bet on a warm-water destination to master the art of letting adults buy marijuana first, we might put money on Florida. Beach themed marijuana vacations make almost too much sense. Let's hope they become a (legal) reality soon.
Democracy is a loud, divisive, and ponderous task. This is true when the parties involved mostly agree. Undoing a lifetime’s worth of failed policy — even a vastly unpopular policy that benefits only a privileged few, to wit: marijuana prohibition — is a titanic undertaking, akin to melting a glacier with a hair dryer. But legalizing marijuana is something legislatures have been tinkering on for some time. With how quickly Americans’ attitudes have shifted on drug policy, it’s easy to forget how long and torturous a path the movement to allow adults to use cannabis without fear of arrest has trod. Remember: California voters rejected legalizing marijuana recreationally in 2010 — after medical cannabis production and sales had been legal for more than a decade. It took another seven years (and three other states going first) before the state at last legalized in November 2016. Do you have that kind of patience? Thankfully, it won’t be required. If anything like the following is going on in your state, legalizing marijuana will likely come much sooner than seven years. %related-post-1% You already have medical marijuana You gotta walk before you can run, you gotta hum before you can sing — and you have to have CBD oil available to kids with epilepsy, former NFL players with head trauma, and senior citizens with chronic pain before you can walk into a dispensary and cop a handful of pre-rolled joints. Every state to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over has had medical marijuana in place first — and in most cases for a very long time. In Oregon, medical preceded legalization by 14 years; in Maine, it was 17 years. And it shouldn’t be some mythical, “medical marijuana in name only” situation where only hemp-derived CBD oil is allowed or where dispensaries are as rare as unicorns. In both Maine and Massachusetts, where legalization passed by the smallest margins in November, retail storefront dispensaries had been open for a few years. Ask any monorail salesman: There’s nothing like a real-life demonstration to win over the unwilling. Medical cannabis sales normalizes the concept of incorporating the drug into society, and provides tangible proof of the benefits. This bodes well for Michigan, where dispensaries have been in operation for several years, patients have been able to grow their medicine at home, and the Marijuana Policy Project is currently organizing and fundraising for a ballot initiative. Decriminalization is happening A good first step towards allowing something is ending the practice of punishing it severely. Most medical marijuana measures have been preceded by decriminalization, where cannabis possession, once a misdemeanor crime punishable by arrest and incarceration, becomes a violation akin to a traffic ticket, punishable by only a fine. This is another example of social conditioning: it’s hard to convince people to start collecting taxes on conduct that’s still criminal, but it’s a much easier sell to regulate and tax when cops grow so bored with writing tickets for a relatively harmless activity that they stop bothering. And this is happening all over… albeit slowly. Embarrassed by arrest statistics so spectacularly biased it’s a wonder they didn’t earn a statue in New Orleans, pragmatic lawmakers and law-enforcement officers in Houston and Nashville moved to decriminalize possession — though in Nashville’s case, the good turn was undone by state lawmakers, who recognized the first step towards legalizing marijuana when they saw it. %related-post-2% You’re broke Necessity is the mother of invention, desperate times call for desperate measures — pick your pablum: it applies to the dire straits Illinois finds itself in. The state is an apocalyptic $9 billion in the red, a budget deficit so bad it makes California’s subprime crisis-era fiscal hole look like a molehill. Residents are fleeing, and a political impasse means no new tax money is coming anytime soon. It’s no accident that Democratic lawmakers in Springfield are now floating the idea of legalizing marijuana as a ready and easy moneymaking solution. Together, Colorado and Washington collected about $455 million in tax revenue from the sale of cannabis. Together, the two states have a smaller population than Illinois, which could net as much as $700 million with regulated and taxed cannabis sales. Cannabis cash has allowed one Colorado town to pave its streets and build a new city hall and civic auditorium. Marijuana revenue won’t solve longstanding systemic problems like population imbalances (hi, Baby Boomers) or high fixed costs like healthcare, but it’s an untapped source of revenue. There aren’t too many of those around. There won’t likely be any bailouts from Washington in the Trump era, and with hard-up citizens unlikely to volunteer to pay more income or property taxes, turning a black-market economy into something that can fund schools, roads, and public-employee pensions is one of the only remaining cards yet to the played. Lawmakers are finally doing their jobs If our elected representatives were truly interested in working for us, cannabis would have been legal a long time ago. More than 90 percent of Americans support medical marijuana; more than 60 percent of all Americans believe recreational marijuana should be legalized. Cannabis is more popular than Donald Trump, and has better-attended inauguration parties. Yet, to date, legalization has only come through the citizens’ initiative. You can blame special interests, you can blame political deadlock — either way, lawmakers aren’t doing their jobs and making laws the people want. In Florida’s case, lawmakers took forever to do the job they were constitutionally bound to do, simply because that job involved weed. %related-post-3% So if notoriously risk-averse politicians are willing to publicly say it’s time for legalizing marijuana, it’s probably well past time. And judging by the reaction state lawmakers in New Jersey are triggering from human roadblock Gov. Chris Christie with their proposal to legalize cannabis in the state, it won’t be long before a Legislature votes to legalize. This follows a similar formula as above: first medical, then legal, and a host of state houses have already passed medical cannabis and successfully convinced the governor (most of whom in America are Republicans) to affix his (most are men) to the bill. And even setbacks like Vermont’s, where the governor declined to sign a just-passed legalization bill, came with the caveat that the only problem was the details, not legalization itself. The real progress, however, would come if Congress called one of the more than a dozen cannabis-related bills introduced this session for a committee hearing. Once that happens, legalization will be imminent everywhere in the country. Take heart: It’s already inevitable.
Cannabis' comparisons to Silicon Valley are only apt if we note that unlike smartphones, there's still a long way to go before we achieve saturation. To do that, the marijuana industry needs some changes, only some of which it can implement itself. For all the endless hype — the earned media prevaricating between open-mouthed fawning and hand-wringing, the disruptive attention from investors, and the caterwauling from police and prohibitionists petrified of a world with new rules — it’s important to remember that marijuana is still a fringe pursuit. Cannabis enjoys favorable comparisons to Silicon Valley, sure. As the only other industry to appear in our lives as if overnight, technology is a convenient measuring stick. It’s also hyperbolic wishful thinking to compare the two in apples-to-apples style. %related-post-1% Consider: more than two-thirds of Americans, and 86 percent of adult Millennials, own smartphones, still the vehicle of choice for any venture that touches tech. Compare that to the number of Americans who smoke weed. According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, the nation’s monthly marijuana users number only 22.2 million — or fewer than ten percent of the population. Thus far, the meteoric growth of a legalizing industry segueing from the black market to government regulations has protected this willful overselling from painful exposure, but the razzle-dazzle of the marijuana industry likely won’t last forever. Let’s assume that’s low, and that participants in a government-run survey are less than forthcoming about their drug habits. Another recent survey pegs the number of “regular” users of marijuana — that is, people who use cannabis at least once or twice a month — at 35 million, or slightly more than ten percent of the population. That’s better, but not exactly the kind of market estimate to make a venture capitalists’ heart sing. Imagine a world where only ten percent of us had an iPhone — and we only used it every other weekend, after the kids were safe in bed. Apple would be a cute little company with an interesting booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), not a global juggernaut. But there is a favorable comparison to be made to consumer electronics. Unlike smartphones, cannabis is far from achieving saturation — there is still room to grow. Over half of cannabis consumers are Millennials, and men outnumber women almost two-to-one. This means women and all people over 40 are new frontiers for the marijuana industry. There hasn’t been opportunity like this since Uber set sights on China. But in order for cannabis to take advantage, and to avoid stumbling like Uber has in China, weed will have to break free from some major hindrances. Here are four of the biggest hurdles cannabis needs to jump in order to maximize its market presence: Cannabis is Over-Reliant on Super-frequent Users If the cannabis industry relied on the 35 million people who smoked just once or twice a month, there would be mass layoffs at dispensaries. For now, a relatively small percentage of heavy users are keeping the marijuana industry afloat. %related-post-2% According to data crunched by Colorado’s Department of Revenue, 50 percent of marijuana users use fewer than five times a month — and account for less than 3.5 percent of sales. Meanwhile, another roughly 22 percent of users who consume daily account for nearly 70 percent of all sales. The “average” marijuana user is a 37-year-old male who spends about $100 a month on flower, but in reality, a few Millennials are coming in to spend hundreds of dollars a week. What the cannabis industry needs, then, are more people from all walks of life, who spend just a little more, who have figured out a way to weave cannabis into their lives, if not daily, at least every other day. Cannabis Still Has an Image Problem There aren’t enough positive representations of marijuana use and users for most of us to stand up and say, “Yes, I smoke weed, and I’m a good person.” Seth Rogen, this is partially your fault. Weed already has white males (studies show this). But there still aren’t very many role models for the demographics where cannabis has growth potential: women, people of color, people over 60. Much of this has to do with how society has “rewarded” these people: with visits from Child Protective Services, with trips to jail, with misinformation and propaganda. There is still ample room for a respected mainstream voice to start saying what we know to be true: weed is a relatively benign substance, a safer alternative to alcohol, and an even safer substitute for habit-forming pharmaceuticals like opiates. Former NFL players like Jake Plummer taking non-psychoactive cannabis oil for post-concussion syndrome is a start, as is Whoopi Goldberg’s line of non-psychoactive, beauty product-like offerings geared towards women. But cannabis-infused bath salts and marijuana-based “romantic aids” aren’t going to matter if people can’t see themselves using them. What weed really needs is a celebrity endorser with wide appeal like Ivanka Trump, although preferably without the overseas sweatshops. Marijuana Needs to Become Boring Smartphones are ubiquitous because they are simple. Look: a touchscreen! Look: icons! A few apps, and you’re set for life. If an iPhone and iOS are the standards of our day (and they are), cannabis is still a PC running MS-DOS. Even experienced users are overwhelmed by the size of the average dispensary menu, with brand-new strain names every week, and budtenders who have the task the size of a sommelier’s, but with the training and expectations of someone working a beer-and-shot dive. What is all this? What will it do? You don't know, exactly? Imagine sales patter like that at a car dealership. %related-post-3% Cannabis needs to figure out a way to become less ritualized and more boring if it wants to capture a Walgreen’s-sized market. Being able to sell in a simpler, standard setting without ID checkpoints and security guards isn’t something the industry can grant itself, but it can absolutely work on standardized products with predictable, consistent dosing and stupid-obvious, idiot-proof directions and results. The customer experience at many dispensaries is in need of enhancement, if not a total overhaul, if the untapped women-and-Boomer segments are going to feel welcome. Marijuana Use is Still a Risk Smoking weed won’t kill you — unless you’re an immunocompromised AIDS or cancer patient using weed tainted with fungus — but it can absolutely rob you of your ability to earn a living...and more. That’s not weed’s fault. It’s society’s, which is neither welcoming nor friendly, even in the legalization age. Employers have the right to fire a worker for smoking weed — and that’s in the states where adult-use cannabis is legal. And if you’re a parent, drug use is still a serious risk, particularly if you’re involved in a custody battle. Weed can lose you your job and your kids. If you go to any marijuana industry conference, you’ll hear stuffed shirts in suits prattling on about advocacy and education. They may sound like hectoring bores repeating catchphrases — and they may be — but they’re right. If the marijuana industry was longsighted enough, it would be dedicating much of its profits towards advocacy and education efforts to countermand the decades of brainwashing for which we have DARE to thank.
Discuss marijuana use at work? Why not, right? After all, Americans may not live to work, but we absolutely live at work. Americans spend an average of almost nine hours a day on work or “work-related activities,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working more than you sleep is the rule: Forty percent of us reported to Gallup working well over 40 hours a week. We will see more of our coworkers than we’ll see of our friends, families, life partners — a fair number of whom entered our lives via the workplace, because where else are you going to meet someone? — and whatever children we produce. Such familiarity makes it tempting to treat the workplace with total honesty. Why not share with your cubicle-mates on Monday morning the exact details of what happened over the weekend — they were probably there anyway! %related-post-1% Here’s a good reason: If it’s talking about your marijuana use, it can get you fired. Legal or not, medical or not, cannabis users are not a protected class in America. State and federal “Drug-Free Workplace” acts have given employers the explicit right to fire employees for illegal drug use. And, as courts have upheld, this means marijuana use is still a fireable offense, even in states where cannabis consumption is legal for adults 21 and over. Some are lucky enough to be in-demand skilled workers, where employers will turn a blind eye to reprehensible behavior as well as relatively benign recreational marijuana use. The rest, however, have to weigh our options very carefully when judging to come out of the “cannabis closet” — and how to comport ourselves when we do. The first and most obvious consideration to weigh is whether being outre with marijuana use will get you fired. For people working in “public-safety” positions with regular contact with the public, such as bus driver, police officer, and anyone working with heavy machinery, drug tests aren’t just a not-so-subtle means of social control, allowing employers a convenient excuse to discard a qualified worker they just don’t want — they’re part of the job. While we’d love for cops to publicly declare themselves to be secret stoners, they would quite probably soon no longer be cops — and can do us all more good by remaining on the force than being off it. Likewise with workers in other positions. Until American groks the fact that cannabis metabolites stay in the body for days or weeks after use — and until we’re as comfortable with the notion of an airline pilot getting stoned on the weekends as we are with them flying 300 people through the air at 30,000 feet with a brutal hangover — it’s best to stay at least anonymous. %related-post-2% As important as cannabis freedom is, economic freedom is more important. Supporting cannabis use is simply not worth the risk of losing a good career. You’re better protecting your economic power and supporting legalization in other ways — like among your friends and family. At the same time, when the subject comes up in the workplace it’s perfectly appropriate to be an educated advocate and voice your support for legalization. You can correct the record and point out that dispensaries don’t cause crime and that legalization hasn’t led to more kids using marijuana. You could even add the qualifier, “If I could, I absolutely would!” For the rest of us, it’s a measure of judging the workplace atmosphere and, when we decide to be public about smoking pot, behaving as a combination model citizen, advocate, and ambassador — who has a keen sense of both timing and decorum. If you’re the boss, some of these rules fly out the window — because you make the rules — but the responsibility to create an example of positive, beneficial cannabis use is all the greater. Likewise, if you live in a legal state like California or Colorado, the risk is significantly lower than if you’re in Texas or Tennessee. There’s a trade-off in that, though — you’re much more valuable as a stoner role model at work in the Deep South, but you also have more to lose. Behavior modeling is a very big deal. Recounting, in meticulous and graphic detail, the length and breadth of last weekend’s alcohol use, down to the last drop of Jager and the last blurry visions of the bathroom floor, is juvenile, tedious — and a possible sign of destructive behavior requiring professional intervention. %related-post-3% Even though excessive marijuana use is by all indications a healthier behavior than binge drinking, this doesn’t make it actually healthy. Nobody really wants to hear how lit you were, dude, or how many globs you slammed in an evening’s time. This is high school-level banter and has no place in the workplace, or in the life of a healthy and productive adult, whether it’s on social media, Slack, or whispered furtively in the elevator. But! If someone asks you what you did on Friday, and you got stoned and watched a movie, or you were able to function properly because cannabis solved your chronic pain or ADHD, then you should feel empowered to say so. You will also have to be prepared for some unfair treatment. There is absolutely a double standard at play here. Snapchatting cocktails at sunset and Instagramming beers hoisted at the ballpark is typical Millennial behavior. Nobody will snicker and assume you start every morning with a Bloody Mary if they know you drink. If you’re a high performer on the sales team and you are a marijuana user, it’ll be easier and more conducive to openness than if you’re barely getting to work on time or on probation yet again. And whether or not your job allows you to consume cannabis on your off-hours, you can be an advocate for others. If you have a family member whose life was positively impacted by medical marijuana, rejoice! Be glad! And share the love.
Are you familiar with Medbox, arguably the most substantial marijuana hustle to date? If not, here’s how the hustle went down. It is worth remembering now, with legal marijuana attracting serious interest from serious venture capitalists — all of whom, if they’re honest, want as much as they can get out of the billions of dollars the legal American marijuana market is worth — that the first “billionaire” to emerge from the sector sold no marijuana at all. Instead, Vincent Mehidzadeh, the CEO of a California-based company called Medbox, was in the business of vending machines — vending machines designed to dispense marijuana. But he didn’t sell very many of these. Not nearly enough to become a paper billionaire. Instead, he sold stock in his company — and when nobody was buying that, he went into the “business” of buying his own stock. The sales were enough to give his company the appearance of profitability. The marijuana industry’s first unicorn was a fraud. %related-post-1% You could say the vending machines were an idea before its time. Older Millennials will still remember cigarette vending machines — some of us may even remember stuffing a few quarters in the slot, pulling the handle, and trying to sneak out of the Elks Hall with a pack of Camels. So why not weed? The simple answer — true way back in 2010, when Mehidzadeh founded the company, and true in 2017 — is that cannabis is not sold like cigarettes. Vending machines are built for convenience, and the way America has approached legalized marijuana, it will be a long, long time before an enterprising underage kid is able to pull an Elks Hall-esque cannabis caper — and when s/he does, it will cause a scandal. You could also say it was a bad idea. Successful companies tend to build products people need now, rather than ones that might be useful later. The only place a Medbox unit could be placed was inside a medical-marijuana dispensary — and though the fast-food industry is playing around with fully automized restaurants, this isn’t marijuana’s model. By Mehidzadeh’s own admission, Medbox had moved fewer than 100 units by the time Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012. Shortly after that, Medbox was a multi-billion-dollar company, America’s first weed unicorn. And as CEO and the chief shareholder, Mehidzadeh’s stake in the firm was $2 billion. Demand for vending machines hadn’t materialized out of nowhere; by early 2014, Medbox had sold no more than 130 units. But in those wild, confused, and heady days when recreational marijuana was first legal, Medbox had an enormous competitive advantage: It was one of the few publicly traded cannabis-related companies. The company did exist, and it did have products — and at $3 a share, it was accessible to the general public. And since Medbox didn’t deal directly in the plant — which, conventional wisdom had it, was the danger zone — it would be seen as a “safe” harbor for capital. %related-post-2% For the day-trader, for the institutional investor, for the person with money in the bank and the certainty that marijuana was the next big thing, Medbox checked all the boxes. Never mind that the company was traded on the “over-the-counter” market, the “pink sheets,” where companies’ financial statements are not subject to Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny (and where “pump-and-dump” penny-stock schemes lurk). Before long, shares in the company spiked from $3, to $98, then to a dot-com 1.0-worth $242. It was an incredible success. Many rags to riches stories like this follow a predictable arc. There’s the struggle, there’s the meteoric rise to glory, and then (unfortunately for many) the crash back down to earth. Lesson learned, humility earned, everybody goes home wiser. At first, Medbox obeyed the script. Once the hype wore off, once Medbox had more shares on the market than anyone would buy, the bubble popped. Shares that traded for over $200 were by 2014 soon shuffling around for pennies. The company failed, but not before Mehidzadeh cashed out enough to buy prime real estate in a tony Los Angeles suburb. Around the same time, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission started warning investors about marijuana-related stocks. They were sketchy, the SEC said. They didn’t play by the rules. They made stuff up. Throughout it all, Mehdizadeh maintained an impeccable facade, and demonstrated a level of hubris that would shame Johnny Hooker. He set up as a consultant with another publicly-traded firm. He self-published a book sharing what he’d learned during his wild ride, but he also self-edited out the good parts. As the SEC alleged earlier this spring, from the very beginning, what revenue Medbox reported, including its stupendous growth in value post-legalization, was fueled by stock purchases made by a second company Mehdizadeh set up. Those sales were then reported as Medbox revenue. Apparently profitable, the company’s value went up — allowing stockholders, Mehdizadeh included, to sell shares and pocket real money. %related-post-3% “[T]he only thing we are really good at is public company publicity and stock awareness,” Mehdizadeh texted an associate during the scheme, according to the SEC. “We get an A+ for creating revenue off sheer will but that won’t continue.” It didn’t. A few years into the scheme, Medbox published “new” financials for the period beginning in 2012. The reported revenue suddenly vanished. Medbox’s board members and shareholders turned on one another. This was not Mehdizadeh’s first scheme. As a lengthy 2013 profile piece by the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation revealed, prior to entering the marijuana sector, Mehdizadeh pleaded no contest to posing as an attorney, giving legal advice to immigrants, and agreed to pay authorities in Los Angeles $450,000. In March, Mehdizadeh agreed to pay $12.3 million to settle the fraud allegations filed against him by the SEC for the Medbox scheme, by far the greatest hustle yet pulled in the American marijuana game. But he’s not done. On June 13, Mehdizadeh filed suit against his former lawyer, in an attempt to shift some of the blame for the ruse onto him. So, the saga of the Medbox marijuana hustle continues on.
I went to college an ignorant young man. I was convinced the people around me were going to die at any minute. Why? Marijuana myths. I was decently well-read. I wasn’t an end-times religious cultist and I didn’t subscribe to a fluoride-chemtrails conspiracy theory. But like tens of millions of other Americans who grew up and went to school in the 1980s and 1990s, I was the victim of a combination of both. What I mean is that I was a product of the Just Say No-era anti-drug hysteria. I sat through D.A.R.E. class and watched endless propaganda-level PSAs. So I knew — beyond a shadow of a doubt, because I’d read it or heard it from some authoritative source out to save my soul and body — that if you smoked marijuana while also drinking alcohol, your liver would shut down. %related-post-1% Even in context, I should have recognized this particular gem of drug-war propaganda as absurd. College campuses across the country are not littered with corpses, and both Barack Obama and George W. Bush — drinkers who liked weed — survived to live in the White House. But I just couldn’t bring myself to partake, which demonstrates the extent to which misinformation and nonsense pervaded the public’s collective consciousness on drugs, even drugs as demonstrably benign as cannabis — and, despite reams of science patiently and rationally refuting such feeble claptrap, how easy it is to mislead. This is still happening now. America’s leaders, including the president’s Cabinet members, his marijuana-hating attorney general, and the man he assigned to solve the opiate crisis are still repeating exploded drug-war marijuana myths. And why not? It’s the age of alternative facts. You could blame Trump, or you could theorize that it’s the inevitable backlash to the enormous gains drug-policy reform has enjoyed over the past decade — with nearly every American agreeing (with science) that cannabis can be a medicine and a majority of citizens desiring an end to the drug war. But, really, this is what our government has been doing for almost half a century. You can break the cycle, though! You don’t need to be a slave to fake news. When you hear one of these bunk talking points, you can recognize it as such — and you can have a ready rejoinder. ALTERNATIVE FACT NO. 1 — Marijuana has no place treating the opiate crisis “I know it’s not recreational marijuana, not recreational use, but I don’t see a role for it in this at all.” – Ohio Gov. John Kasich, March 30, 2017. John Kasich, the moderate Republicans’ onetime hero, is sentencing his own constituents to death by adhering to age-old marijuana myths. In Ohio, drug overdoses are the most common cause of accidental death — having overcome vehicle accidents for that dubious honor over the past 15 years — and, shocker, nearly all drug overdoses are due to opiates. Not marijuana. As it happens, chronic pain is one of the most common health problems for which opiates are prescribed (the reason why and how 780 million prescription painkillers ended up in West Virginia alone) — and chronic pain is one of the few afflictions doctors and researchers agree conclusively that marijuana can treat. Even if weed didn’t treat chronic pain, its value in solving the opiate epidemic is clear: In the states where medical marijuana is available, opiate-related hospitalizations dropped by 23 percent, and opiate-related deaths dropped by more than 10 percent, according to a study published in May. The Just Say No-era propaganda material liked to call drugs a “deadly game.” This is true today, except it’s the rhetorical games politicians play. %related-post-2% ALTERNATIVE FACT NO. 2 — Marijuana legalization leads to more kids smoking weed “In the two year average... since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, youth past month marijuana use increased 20 percent compared to the two year average prior to legalization. Nationally youth past month marijuana use declined 4 percent during the same time.” Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact,” January 2016. “[Marijuana legalization] laws have had significant negative impacts on public health and safety, such as: Rising rates of pot use by minors...”—“Lessons Learned After 4 Years of Marijuana Legalization,” Project SAM, October 2016. If marijuana prohibition has a Bible in America — and it does — it’s the Rocky Mountain HIDTA’s report on marijuana legalization in Colorado, which was gleefully received by the country’s anti-marijuana advocates. Many lovers of marijuana myths can quote sections of this report by heart. “These adverse outcomes should not come as surprise to anyone,” DARE’s national website intoned. They are also, by textbook definition, alternative facts. Bear with me for a second as I get bureaucratic: The various high-intensity drug-trafficking areas around the country are under the purview of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. And ONDCP, the office of the “drug czar,” is by Congressional fiat prohibited from supporting marijuana legalization — so it stands to reason that HIDTA would find any reason to oppose it, including cooking the books and the selective use of data. HIDTA based its findings on an annual questionnaire given to teens called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. HIDTA used data from 2013-2014 — before retail marijuana stores in Colorado and Washington had been open for a full year. The following year, after recreational cannabis became available in stores, that same survey showed a significant drop in youth marijuana use. Another study, this one looking at data crunched by the University of Michigan, showed no change in youth use rates in Colorado before and after legalization. A more recent study showed that the number of teens with marijuana in their systems seeking help at the E.R. increased four times — from under 200 cases to under 700 annual cases. That study, which perpetuates marijuana myths, stopped far short of saying legalization was the cause. The preponderance of data suggests that marijuana legalization has no widespread deleterious impact on kids. Any suggestion to the contrary must carry a massive caveat — and if it does not, it’s best assigned to the wastebasket of mendacious comments designed to misdirect. ALTERNATIVE FACT NO. 3 — Gateway theory “There is a big difference between that [medical marijuana] and recreational marijuana… And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Feb. 23, 2017. %related-post-3% “Taking the first puff on a joint is nothing more and nothing less than taking the first step on the road to becoming a hard drug addict.” Narconon. "Every study shows marijuana is a gateway drug. And every study shows it causes damage." New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Nov. 21, 2016. Donald Trump assigned the task of solving America’s opiate problem to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — an unsettling development for cannabis advocates. He loves marijuana myths, and as Christie recently boasted, no person has done more to “stand in the way” — his words! — of marijuana legalization in his state than him. For intellectual foundation, Christie repeatedly refers to gateway theory, one of the most often-debunked examples of junk science imaginable. But since it’s still out there, it must be addressed. For starters, any statement that begins with the canard “every study shows” must be immediately ignored, its issuer muzzled forever — because that’s not how scientific review works, at all. Here’s how the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (no friend to legalization!) handles the issue: “...the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances.” As it is, about 9 percent of people who use marijuana become addicted — compared to 15 percent of alcohol users and 33 percent of tobacco smokers. Much more reliable predictors of hard drug use include factors like poverty and mental illness — you know, the factors alive in places hardest-hit by the opiate crisis. Places where marijuana is illegal. ALTERNATIVE FACT No. 4 — Marijuana is totally harmless Here’s a curveball for you. If you hear anyone declaring that cannabis is entirely benign, walk away, quickly — because it’s not. That line belongs on the "marijuana myths" list too. In fact, cannabis might have killed somebody. A few years ago, leukemia patients at the University of California, Davis Medical Center started developing severe lung infections. One patient died. Upon review, a rare fungus was found to be the cause. The patient had smoked marijuana — and upon further review, that rare fungus was found on marijuana sold in medical marijuana dispensaries in California. This is just one possibly connected death in the annals of time. “For the vast majority of cannabis users, this is not of great concern,” as researcher Dr. George Thompson told the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee. But we also cannot say with certainty that marijuana is always 100 percent safe — in the same way that you can’t say with certainty that a plate of potato salad left out overnight is safe. Forget for a second the studies suggesting that youth use leads to mental infirmities, and think about consumer protection. In California, the billions of dollars’ worth of marijuana sold every year is not subject to mandatory third-party testing, and won’t be until as far in the future as the end of 2018. In the states where cannabis is illegal — and thus the country’s favorite illicit drug — no products are tested for contaminants like mold, pesticides, or bacteria. The solution, of course, is to treat marijuana like any other consumer good and apply health and safety standards. Anything else is just nonsense...just like the continuation of marijuana myths.