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Colombia Releases Plans for New Cannabis Cultivation Program

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Colombia, the country known for its national fútbol team Los Cafeteros, or “The Coffee Growers,” may soon be growing a new crop of cannabis after a surprise executive decree from President Juan Manuel Santos. This announcement could be indicative of a policy shift from the country’s longtime allies of the United States in the War on Drugs.

Colombia decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs in 2012, opting for a more health-centric approach to drug policy. Citizens may possess up to 22 grams of cannabis or up to one gram of cocaine for personal use. In the event that they are caught in possession, they will not face arrest or prosecution but rather “may receive physical or psychological treatment” instead.

The government has announced plans to legalize the cultivation and sale of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes. President Juan Manuel Santos’ executive decree, which has yet to be signed into law, will regulate all aspects of a new medical marijuana program. Senator Juan Manuel Galan has also been a major proponent of legalizing cannabis cultivation for medicinal use, estimating that as many as 400,000 Colombian patients may benefit from a regulated medical marijuana market.

Once the president signs the executive decree into law, the Colombian government will license official growers for the program, even going so far as to consider the eventual exportation of Colombian-grown cannabis products.

This harkens back to the early days of grass cannabis, when Colombian Gold was known as the crème de la crème of marijuana and one of the best strains the black market could provide. Will legally imported Colombian Gold be coming soon to a dispensary or retail shop near you? In all reality, probably not. But we can dream, can’t we?

New York Governor Signs Bill to Expedite Access to Medical Cannabis

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Governor Andrew Cuomo made an unexpected move today to support critically ill patients in New York by signing two bills that will establish an “emergency medical marijuana” program two months before medical marijuana was to debut in New York.

This isn’t the first time cannabis advocates have pushed for emergency access in New York. Governor Cuomo faced tremendous pressure last year from various advocacy groups after he released the 18 month-long timeline for medical marijuana in New York. Last December, in an effort to gain media support, Compassionate Care NY urged Governor Cuomo to implement a program allowing access to medical cannabis for critically ill patients. The group used Twitter and Facebook as platforms, incorporating the hashtag #MyHolidayWish.

The #MyHolidayWish campaign was created as a response to the deaths of four children in the New York area. All were critically ill – three suffered from seizure disorders and another from brain cancer – and were awaiting access to medical marijuana when they died.

Governor Cuomo has never buckled under the pressure, instead neglecting to make emergency expedited access to medical marijuana a priority until today. The bills he signed will create a “special certification” for patients whose condition is degenerative or “for whom a delay in the patient’s certified use of medical marihuana poses a serious risk to the person’s life or health.”

Along with his signature, Cuomo released a statement in which he expressed that he “deeply sympathized with New Yorkers suffering from chronic illness, and [he appreciates] that medical marijuana may alleviate their chronic pain and debilitating symptoms.”

Hopefully, this emergency access program will ensure that New York won’t lose any more patients before the program opens in January 2016. A hearty thanks to you, Governor Cuomo — it’s about time.

Image Source (Cropped): Diana Robinson via Flickr Creative Commons

How Has Hillary Clinton's Position on Cannabis Evolved Throughout Her Career?

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Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 presidential election, has been watching Bernie Sanders, easily her strongest competitor for the nomination, as he has embraced cannabis legalization as a campaign platform that’s been met with widespread acclaim and approval from the masses. Lo and behold, within a week after Sanders proposed his overarching plan to reform federal policy on cannabis, she made her own announcement.

Clinton proposed reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule I drug (meaning that it has no accepted medical usage) to Schedule II (which means that it does have limited medical usage). Making such a move would allow for much more comprehensive medical research on a federal level.

Support for the legalization of cannabis is at an all-time high in America and, while it’s admirable that Ms. Clinton has taken action to embrace the will of the people, in past statements and comments, she has shied away from endorsing any legalization or decriminalization measures. Clinton has never tried cannabis, (“I didn’t do it when I was young, I’m not going to start now,” she says), but for the first time, she’s changed her tune about outwardly supporting cannabis research. In the words of an astute Saturday Night Live observation, this support could have come just a liiiiiittle bit sooner.

Let’s take a look at some quotes from Hillary Clinton’s past record on cannabis:

1996:

“Casual attitudes towards marijuana and minors’ access to cigarettes raise the likelihood that teenagers will make a sad progression to more serious drug use & earlier sexual activity.”

Hmmm….the “gateway theory.” Not particularly original, and it has since been disproved many times over.

2000:

“I have spoken out on my belief that we should have drug courts that would serve as alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system for low-level offenders. If the person comes before the court, agrees to stay clean, is subjected to drug tests once a week, they are diverted from the criminal justice system. We need more treatment. It is unfair to urge people to get rid of their addiction and not have the treatment facilities when people finally makes up their minds to get treatment.”

That’s better! Stop treating drug addicts like criminals and get them the help they deserve. (No comment on cannabis, though…)

2007:

“I don’t think we should decriminalize [marijuana]. But we ought to do research (into) what, if any, benefits it has.”

This is starting to sound more familiar, like the Hillary we all know today.

2012:

“I respect those in the region who believe strongly that [U.S. legalization] would end the problem. I am not convinced of that, speaking personally. I think you can, with a comprehensive strategy succeed in certainly pushing back the tide of violence and corruption that drug trafficking brings. Ultimately, it’s about providing greater opportunity, greater education, greater economic jobs and growth to a population so that they can have a real stake in their society and be partners with their government.”

Ah yes, the ultra-cautious vague Clinton response. It’s a delicate balance of noncommittal buzzwords and undefined promises.

2014:

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet to say what the effects are and what they could be on different people with different physical or psychological issues, different ages — yes, medical first and foremost, we ought to be doing more to make sure that we know how marijuana would interact with other prescription drugs and the like. But we also have to know how even medical marijuana impacts our kids and our communities…

So I’m a big believer in acquiring evidence, and I think we should see what kind of results we get, both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana before we make any far-reaching conclusions… I think the feds should be attuned to the way marijuana is still used as a gateway drug and how the drug cartels from Latin America use marijuana to get footholds in states, so there can’t be a total absence of law enforcement, but what I want to see, and I think we should be much more focused on this, is really doing good research so we know what it is we’re approving.”

This is a much more satisfying, albeit still somewhat vague and noncommittal, response on the question of marijuana legalization and how it should be treated.

2015:

“What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana, so we have two different experiences or even experiments going on right now.

The problem with medical marijuana is there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions. But we haven’t done any research…I would like to move it from what is called Schedule I to Schedule II so that researchers at universities, national institutes of health can start researching what is the best way to use it, how much of a dose does somebody need, how does it interact with other medications.”

That’s more like it.

As we can see from her past record, Clinton has never vocally supported cannabis decriminalization, but she’s always supported more research, clinging to the notion during debates when the “dreaded” cannabis question arose. This proposal is a great start, and the concept echoes the CARERS Act, which would reschedule cannabis and legalize medical marijuana on a federal level.

Sanders, on the other hand, not only has made campaign promises to end the War on Drugs, he has actually taken steps to end prohibition. The proposal that inspired Clinton to open up about marijuana, the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015,” would completely remove any mention of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively removing any and all criminality associated with cannabis on a federal level.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s recent attitude shift could bring a new wave of supporters to her campaign and increase her chances of winning the Democratic nomination.

What do you think? Is this Hillary’s time to shine or is she just jumping on the cannabis bandwagon?

Learn more about Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ thoughts on cannabis, as well as the other 2016 presidential candidates.

How Would a Hillary Clinton Presidency Affect the Cannabis Movement?

Bernie Sanders Wants to End the War on Drugs: Could He Pull It Off as the Next President?

 Legalize It? Your Canna-Friendly Guide to the First 2016 Democratic Debate

Senate Approves Funding Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Veterans

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Just in time for Veterans Day, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veteran Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which will include a stipulation for the first time ever to allow doctors in the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it is legal.

This is not the first time that Congress has tried to gain medical cannabis access for veterans. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) of the House of Representatives has introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act not once, but twice in the past two years, only for the bill to stall in the Subcommittee on Health. This time, the bipartisan amendment was introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and was included in the Senate Appropriations committee this past May.

Having passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee with an 18-12 vote, the funding bill will now be included and negotiated as part of a more comprehensive omnibus spending bill to determine federal funding for the next fiscal year. A version of the Daines-Merkley amendment was included as an extension of the much-lauded CARERS Act, and although the bill has generated bipartisan interest and gained numerous sponsors from both sides of the aisle, Congress has not taken action towards passing it.

Allowing veterans access to medical marijuana has proved to be controversial in the past, despite evidence that cannabis can help alleviate many severe symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which affects nearly 31 percent of Vietnam veterans and as much as 11 percent of veterans of the Gulf War and war efforts in Afghanistan.

Veterans, we salute your service, and we are grateful to see Congress offering a token of gratitude for the soldiers who risk their lives for our peace of mind.

Discover the best cannabis strains to help PTSD:

Cannabis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Stephen Colbert Nails Why the Governor of Ohio Should Support Cannabis Decriminalization

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Stephen Colbert, comedian extraordinaire and defender of American liberty, is at it again. This time, he’s challenged Ohio governor and Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich to rethink his views on marijuana.

John Kasich actively opposed Issue 3 in Ohio, which would have legalized marijuana for recreational and medicinal use, but not because it would have created an oligopoly on all cannabis produced in the state. Instead, Kasich has been quoted as saying that legalization is a “terrible idea” which “sends mixed messages to young people about drugs.”

During Colbert’s interview with Kasich, the topic of cannabis was the elephant in the room that would not be ignored.

“Why do you think we still need to keep pot illegal?” asked Colbert.

“Well, the problem is we have a huge drug crisis in this country,” Kasich responded.

“Is that really pot that’s the drug crisis? Lots of people are going to jail for minor infractions and it ruins their entire lives,” Colbert noted, indicating a strong argument for decriminalization.

Kasich objected to this point, saying that Ohio doesn’t mistreat drug offenders:

“We treat them and we pass them off to society…The problem with marijuana is this: We don’t want to tell our kids, ‘Don’t do drugs, but by the way, this drug is okay.’”

“Isn’t that what alcohol is?” Colbert countered with a deftly placed jab in Kasich’s anti-marijuana rhetoric, and the audience roared.

Kasich struggled to regain the conversation on the dangers of drug addiction, discussing citizens who have been affected by drug addiction that he’s encountered on the campaign trail, easily switching the topic from cannabis to heroin and fentanyl.

“I want to be clear, I’m not arguing for legalizing heroin,” said a deadpan Colbert to laughs from the audience.

Kasich continued in the same vein, “We don’t need to take the approach where we send a confusing and mixed message to our children.”

When asked by Colbert whether he himself has used marijuana before, Kasich admitted that, yes, he has, but no, he was never caught using marijuana by the police.

That’s when Colbert went in for the kill shot.

“If you had been caught smoking marijuana and had it on your record, would you be the governor of Ohio right now?”

Point-counterpoint and a slam dunk for Colbert.

Kasich played it off, saying maybe if Colbert had been campaigning for him, he might still have the job, but Colbert hammered the point home: “What I mean is it ruins a life to have that police records because you can’t get a job.”

The governor defended his position by saying that Ohio has a program to expunge records for nonviolent offenders. “We don’t want to put people in prison. I don’t want to ruin anybody’s life…We don’t want to be in a position to demonize people, I just don’t want to legalize drugs.”

Colbert, you wise, hilarious soul. The entire cannabis community, along with 58 percent of Americans who support legalization, thanks you with applause for your perfect choice of questions here.

Watch the full interview below:

Find out Kasich’s presidential cannabis rating and learn why ResponsibleOhio’s campaign to legalize cannabis failed:

What Do the 2016 Presidential Candidates Think About Cannabis?

BREAKING: 5 Hard Lessons from Ohio's Failed Legalization Effort

EXCLUSIVE: Leafly Has Obtained the Full Mexico Supreme Court Ruling and It Will Shock You

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When Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last week that consuming marijuana was constitutionally legal, it left the world shocked and somewhat confused.

In a 4-1 vote announced Wednesday in Mexico City, the five-justice panel declared the personal recreational use of marijuana legal under the right of “free development of personality.” In the same paragraph, however, the Court cautioned that its groundbreaking decision applied only to the four plaintiffs who filed the case. It did not, in the Court’s words, “imply a general legalization.” In Mexico, cannabis is now legal–but only for four Mexican citizens.

The whole thing has left legalization advocates elated but puzzled.

It’s been especially difficult to sort through the ramifications of the case because it’s been nearly impossible to track down a copy of the ruling. Late last week officials at the top drug policy shops — Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, and the London-based International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) — were scrambling to find and translate copies of the full 88-page decision.

By the end of the week, Leafly had located an original Spanish-language copy, which is available here. With a little rough translation, we’ve uploaded an English language version to Scribd and made it accessible to our readers.

It’s incredible reading, a stunning 88-page work of sense and logic that stands as a profound milestone in the drug war. Or rather, the winding down of the drug war. It’s the high court decision that American legalization advocates have been dreaming of since the early 1970s: A full legal appraisal of cannabis prohibition based upon scientific evidence, not moral argument and hollow cant. It’s a shame that it happened south of the border. And only applies to four people. But the words and reasoning put down on paper by Mexican Justice Arturo Zaldivar will no doubt stand as a resounding precedent in similar cases around the globe, and be recalled by history as one of the turning points toward freedom and sanity in the regulation of cannabis.

Read the translated court ruling below.

Mexico’s Supreme Court Ruling on Cannabis – English Translation

 

What is the “Right of Personality Development”?

It’s a simple case. Four plaintiffs, Josefina Ricaño, Armando Santacruz, José Pablo Girault and Juan Francisco Torres Landa Ruffo, challenged the constitutionality of Mexico’s marijuana prohibition. They argued that the cannabis ban, codified under the country’s General Health Law, violated their right to “free development of personality.”

That sounds goofy on its face, but there’s solid legal ground here. The Mexican Constitution recognizes “rights of freedom” that establish a sphere of privacy and personal autonomy around the individual. Expressing opinions; moving unimpeded; freedom of association; the right to adopt a religion or choose a certain profession — these are the kinds of things which are protected.

Within that realm, Mexican law has developed a specialized doctrine known as the “right to free development of personality.” The word “personality” is an imperfect translation. In the U.S., we’d probably think of it as the development of individuality, or personal character. The choices involved in the expression of one’s individuality range from the trivial (the decision to take up hunting or horseback riding, for example) to the essential (undertaking sexual reassignment, or deciding to marry or divorce). Zaldivar quotes the Spanish constitutional scholar Luis Díez-Picazo: The doctrine of free development of personality involves “a radical rejection of the ever-present temptation of state paternalism, who think they know better than the people what is good for them and what they should do with their lives.” It’s a shield against the nanny state.

The plaintiffs’ argument, then, was no less radical. They declared that their recreational use of cannabis was a personal choice, one that played a role in defining their individual character and personality. Supreme Court Judge Arturo Zaldivar agreed.

The judge based his decision on the premise that the state didn’t have the right to interfere with the leisure or recreational choices of an individual. Those choices “may include, as in this case, the intake or consumption of substances that produce experiences that in some way ‘affect’ the thoughts, emotions, and/or feelings of the person,” Zaldivar wrote. “Mental experiences” are among the most personal and intimate, he added, so they must be covered under the right of free development of personality.

That right isn’t absolute, though. It exists in balance and conflict with other rights. Here Zaldivar could have been setting up the plaintiffs for a fall. Because the state had rights and obligations, too — and they directly conflicted with the whole “personality” scheme.

 

The Evidence Destroys the Foundations of Cannabis Prohibition

Lawyers for the state must have assumed their case was a slam dunk. Pot prohibition under the General Health Law, they argued, ensures the health of drug users and protects society from the harmful consequences of drug use. In this case, the right of free development of personality must be limited in order to protect health and public order.

Fair enough, said Justice Zaldivar. To resolve the clash of constitutional rights, he declared that he’d put cannabis prohibition to two tests: To see whether the ban was appropriate, and proportionate. In other words, was an absolute ban on cannabis use a right and reasonable response to the danger marijuana posed to the individual and society?

This probably didn’t shake the state’s lawyers. A lower court judge had dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims with little more than a cursory look at their evidence. Prohibition protects the public health, the district judge ruled; therefore, it’s constitutional.

Here’s where Zaldivar made a radical break with history. Since the late 1800s, scientific studies and official commissions have looked into marijuana’s health risks and generally found them to be far less harmful than previously assumed. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in the 1890s, the La Guardia study in the 1940s, the Shafer Commission in the 1970s — each went in expecting to find great harm, and found little. Each was, in turn, largely ignored by those in power.

“What is required is an evaluation of the empirical relationship between marijuana use and the damage to health or society,” wrote Zaldivar. “I will rely on the scientific literature that has addressed this issue.”

This is where the state’s case began to wobble. Zaldivar actually read the scientific evidence put forth by the plaintiffs, and what he found was a compilation of data that destroyed the foundations of cannabis prohibition.

 

The Long-Term Health Impact of Cannabis is Deemed to be “Not Serious”

After spelling out the temporary effects of cannabis, Zaldivar found that the long-term health damage caused by marijuana was “not serious.” The risks posed by cannabis use, he wrote, were far less than those presented by tobacco and alcohol.

What about addiction? That’s a legitimate concern, the judge found. Studies generally agreed that marijuana held a 9 to 10 percent addiction rate, but that dependency was “much less severe than opium or alcohol.”

Is it a gateway drug? Zaldivar found that studies had long debunked the theory.

Is marijuana an incitement to commit crime? On the contrary. Several studies, the judge noted, “indicate that marijuana inhibits impulses of aggression in the user.”

Drugged driving, the judge found, is a legitimate concern, but one best handled in the same way the state deals with drunk driving.

Zaldivar questioned the effectiveness of marijuana prohibition. It didn’t reduce the number of consumers, he wrote, nor did it diminished even the claimed harmful health effects.

In a final kneecapping of the state’s argument, Zaldivar pointed out that prohibition did not pass the test of appropriateness and proportionality. A complete ban was hardly the only way to regulate the use of marijuana. The state could regulate it like alcohol or tobacco, he wrote. Colorado and Washington State were showing that a state-regulated cannabis trade can succeed. The Netherlands and Uruguay also handled cannabis without resorting to the extreme measure of prohibition.

“The ban,” Zaldivar concluded, “constitutes an intervention in the free development of the personality because it involves interference with personal autonomy, which is protected by the Constitution.” By failing to prove that marijuana posed a legitimate threat to health and public order, the state lost its traditional trump card.

“The way a person wishes to recreate,” the high court wrote, “belongs to his most intimate and private sphere.”

Read in its entirety, the 88-page decision is a stunning example of logical argument. After an impartial look at the evidence, the Court could no longer justify Mexico’s ban on marijuana. Even then, though, the justices hedged their decision by applying it in the most limited way possible, to the four plaintiffs alone. They’ve given Mexican legislators some time and space to create a system of federally legalized and regulated marijuana.

If they don’t, there will surely be more cases to follow. And next time Arturo Zaldivar may not limit his ruling to four bold and history-shaking individuals.

Here’s the original Spanish language version of Mexico’s Supreme Court ruling:

Mexico’s Supreme Court Ruling on Cannabis

Update (11/10/2015): This article has been amended to include the names of the four plaintiffs in the case.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Open Today

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After a long and seemingly endless wait, medical marijuana patients in Illinois are on the receiving end of some great news! Today marks the opening day of medical cannabis sales in Illinois after a two-year journey that began with former Governor Pat Quinn signing the law into effect in 2013.

State regulators gave the green light to state-licensed cultivation centers to begin shipping cannabis products to eight licensed and approved dispensaries last week in anticipation of the dispensaries opening today.

The Clinic Mundelein opened doors at noon today to a crowd of 100 registered patients waiting to be serviced. There are 3,300 patients that are listed in the medical cannabis patient registry for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. In order to pick up medical marijuana, patients must have a state-issued ID card and be registered ahead of time with a designated dispensary.

For all Illinois patients, please keep in mind that these first few weeks of rollout, there will be a limited supply of cannabis, and products that require more processing, such as concentrates and cannabis capsules will not be readily available yet.

The dispensaries that are scheduled to open today:

The state’s four-year pilot program is currently set to expire in 2018, but has taken more than two years for patients to gain access to medical cannabis and, in light of that, the deadline may be extended before the expiration date. The program has already garnered widespread support, and even expanded the qualifying medical conditions to include eight new conditions, although the program is still waiting for final approval.

Congratulations, Illinois! This is sure to be a new and exciting time, so remember to stay safe and stay informed. #JustSayKnow

Leafly List: The Top Cannabis Locations in North America, August 2016

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THE LEAFLY LIST

August 2016

 

Every month we update the Leafly List in an effort to answer a question we hear all the time: “Can you recommend a great dispensary near me?” The list is a snapshot of the most talked-about medical cannabis dispensaries and retail locations in 10 major cannabis markets across North America. The top locations are determined using an indexing system that ranks locations across a variety of customer engagement metrics like reviews of each location’s quality, service, and atmosphere.

Click on your state or territory below to find the most relevant Leafly List for you. Remember, if you don’t see your favorite dispensary on the list, make sure you follow, rate, and review your favorite cannabis locations to let the world know where you find your favorite cannabis.

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More on the Leafly List

The Leafly List index score is a proprietary statistic created by Leafly to measure the performance of medical cannabis dispensaries and retail cannabis locations across Leafly’s digital platform. It is designed to be a comparative metric that offers context as to which locations are generating the most positive buzz and pushing the cannabis industry forward through exceptional service and digital engagement. Check out the Leafly List FAQ for more information on how dispensaries are ranked.

The Leafly List is based on 100% objective customer feedback and data collected by Leafly. Businesses CANNOT pay for a spot on the list.

The Leafly List is by no means a comprehensive list of your options when it comes to cannabis access points. You can use Leafly’s Find Nearby tool to see the complete list of dispensaries or recreational stores in your area. The Leafly List is designed to let you know which locations are being reviewed, followed, and have their Leafly menus visited the most, and it also provides other web-based engagement factors. Simply put, these are the places that the Leafly community is talking about, so if you don’t see your favorite location listed, make sure you follow, rate, and review your local dispensary to let others know it’s the best.

 

Last Month’s Leafly List – July 2016

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Colorado Cannabis Clubs are Coming — But How Soon?

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It’s a familiar conundrum. You’re visiting Denver. You purchase a preroll and a lighter at a legal cannabis shop, and…now what? Your hotel doesn’t allow smoking. It’s illegal to fire up in public. You’re caught in the all-too-common Denver dilemma.

That may soon change. After banning public consumption in its original 2012 legalization law, Colorado city officials and state legislators are now rethinking the policy. Alaska, learning from Colorado, has already written an allowance for public consumption into an early draft of its regulations. In Portland, Oregon, the quasi-legal World Famous Cannabis Cafe has become fully legal under Oregon’s Measure 91. But all movement on the issue isn’t forward. In Washington State the restrictions against consumption in private clubs actually grew stronger over the summer and tied the hands of Seattle officials looking to allow regulated clubs.

Problems with the ban appeared soon after legal cannabis shops opened in Colorado and Washington State. In Denver, police citations for public consumption and display shot up 471 percent. Consumers caught partaking in public faced fines up to $999. The ban had the unintended consequence of driving many inexperienced consumers to edibles, which didn’t work out so well for some. Recognizing a niche opportunity, a handful of entrepreneurs opened consumption clubs in the Denver area earlier this year. Grassroots Break Room, POTUS, and iBake operated on a strictly BYOC basis, but they didn’t last long. Starting on the 4/20 weekend, law enforcement officials began raiding the establishments and shutting them down.

Seattle saw a different kind of problem. A single rogue cop went on a ticket-writing spree and issued 66 of the 83 tickets for public use between January 1 and June 30, 2014. African Americans in Seattle received 33 percent of the tickets despite making up less than 8 percent of the city’s population.

“We’re telling millions of people to come to Colorado and purchase, but then they find it’s not legal to consume it,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a Denver comedy club promoter. “People are going to consume whether we like it or not. It’s better to make sure it’s done appropriately.”

Reformers in Denver took up the issue earlier this year, gathering enough signatures to put a citywide initiative on the ballot. The Limited Social Cannabis Use proposal would have allowed cannabis use in adults-only bars and clubs within city limits. And it had political muscle — cannabis industry leaders and many of the activists who passed Amendment 64 in 2012, including Marijuana Policy Project communications director Mason Tvert; attorneys Christian Sederberg, Brian Vicente, and Steve Fox; and cannabis entrepreneur Jane West, propelled it toward the Nov. 3 election.

And then suddenly the campaign stopped.

In early September, campaign leaders withdrew the initiative. Signatures weren’t the problem — they had twice as many as they needed. Rather, the surprise move was a political tactic. City officials and the Colorado Restaurant Association were lining up against the measure, but they weren’t averse to a more limited form of public consumption, they just didn’t want it forced on their restaurants. So Tvert & Co. agreed to a time out. The initiative would be put on hold to give Denver officials time to work out a scheme more acceptable to the hospitality industry. Tvert said in September that he hoped for “a law that we know the city would be comfortable with and will not resist and will actually implement.”

 

Denver Clubs in 2016. Or Else.

Is it such a law actually in the works?

Yes, but it’s not the kind of action the reformers were hoping for. “Since the proponents pulled the ballot initiative, there has not been much movement on the issue,” Carolyn Livingston, communication director for the Colorado Restaurant Association, wrote in an email to Leafly. The City of Denver has indicated it will convene a stakeholder group to discuss the issue in early 2016. “We also anticipate legislation being introduced at the state level in 2016,” Livingston wrote, “although it is too early to tell what the introduced bill will look like.”

“My honest assessment is that we probably won’t have actual laws until the middle of next year,” Denver attorney and legal activist Brian Vicente told Leafly. “It’s going to have to develop community by community. What’s right for Denver may be different than another town.”

“There’s some chatter about activity at the state level,” said Steve Fox, co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “But our position is that no state licensing scheme is needed. Localities like Denver should handle it themselves.”

While Denver talks, other cities are acting. Nederland, a small mountain town east of Boulder, currently allows a private cannabis club to operate within city limits. Club Ned, located in a house near the center of town, charges a $10 daily membership fee (or $14.20 monthly) and it’s strictly BYOC. Inside there’s a big communal table and usually an experienced and friendly local who’s more than happy to roll your gram into a joint. You can’t buy cannabis there, but Club Ned sells an array of candy and soda. There’s no alcohol — for that you’ve got to walk down the street to one of Nederland’s many bars.

It’s no surprise that Nederland, one of Colorado’s most 420-friendly towns, is one of the first towns to allow a consumption club. But the other pioneer in the space is more unexpected. In October the Denver suburb of Englewood considered a draft ordinance that would allow, regulate, and cap the number of cannabis consumption clubs within the city. City officials there are wrestling with issues including fire safety, intoxication and driving, and the big one: indoor air quality for employees. “In [city] code, it doesn’t necessarily address this type of environment,” Englewood City Council member Steven Yates told Westword recently. “If we’re going to bring the limelight to us, I want it to be a success.”

For the Denver activists, the timeline is clear. If there’s no action by city officials by spring of 2016, they say they’ll revive the initiative and take it directly to the voters.

 

What Would Legal Cannabis Clubs Look Like?

Some cannabis clubs feel a lot like some of the early MMJ dispensaries. They’re a little shabby and have a doing-the-best-we-can vibe. Visiting Club Ned is a lot like stopping by a mountain cabin for a neighborly visit. The club, owned and run by David and Cheryl Fanelli, isn’t going to make the pages of Architectural Digest. But it’s a notably welcoming venue, and Club Ned members aren’t going to leave without making a few new friends.

The Denver-area clubs (the few that are still open, at least) are similarly funky. When Englewood City Council member Yates visited iBake Englewood, he reported leaving with a contact high. The smoke can get a little thick.

If Englewood and, eventually, Denver get the regulations right, cannabis consumption might move into a clearer, better-lit space. NCIA’s Steve Fox said he’d like to see city regulations that allow cannabis use in a designated area within any bar or restaurant that already has a liquor license.

“People are concerned about exposing teens to this,” said Denver attorney Brian Vicente. “I understand that, even as I’m aware that I can go to a steakhouse and have a martini with the kids next to me. The idea of designating a specific area in a restaurant for consumption seems a little like over-regulation, but I get it. We need to take baby steps at this point.”

Cannabis-infused food may or may not be part of this initial round of rulemaking. “There you’re getting into issues of sale,” said Denver activist and comedy promoter Kayvan Khalatbari. “If there’s a license involved, will it allow for on-site sale, whether it’s an infused food or a single joint? We know about the BYOC model, but that’s not how alcohol works. You can’t bring your own bottle of Jim Beam into a bar.”

In Oregon, that’s exactly how it works. At the World Famous Cannabis Cafe in Portland, private club members (paying a daily $10 fee, like Club Ned) are welcome to bring their own cannabis, share, and consume out of public view. What does “out of public view” mean? Therein lies a legal gray area that so far hasn’t been tested.

Meanwhile, in Washington State, the prospects for cannabis consumption clubs are not nearly so good. In late June the state legislature passed a bill to simplify the state tax structure and loosen restrictions on the local cannabis businesses. Hidden within that bill, though, was a line that outlawed private cannabis clubs statewide. The sneak attack caught many legalization advocates by surprise. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who sponsored Washington State’s Initiative 502 in 2012, had been preparing to consider regulations to allow private clubs within the city.

Not anymore. “Frankly, it’s a stupid provision and I think that it’s overkill,” Holmes said earlier this year.

Once again, Washington will have to let Colorado — and now Oregon — take the lead.

Coming soon in Leafly: An insider’s guide to America’s cannabis clubs.

Florida Selects Licensed Producers for the State's CBD Program

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After facing criticism for missing a major milestone for getting their medical CBD program off the ground, the Florida Department of Health sent out the final letters informing applicants for the Low-THC Cannabis Dispensing Organization Application whether or not they were selected to be a dispensing organization.

The final five applicants that were selected are as follows:

Florida’s program had a much different approach than other medical and/or CBD-only states in their criteria for selecting licensed growers. The state officially passed a limited CBD law when Governor Rick Scott signed the bill in June 2014.

The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 requires that the selected growers have been in business for the past 30 years, with the capacity to grow more than 400,000 plants for the operation. Applicants challenged the Department of Health, arguing that the proposals “fail to establish even minimum criteria to evaluate [the] applicant’s financial, technical and technological ability to securely cultivate and produce low-THC cannabis.”

Ultimately, the lawsuits did little but delay the entire selection process. During this time, medical marijuana proponents pushed for a more broad initiative, resulting in the ill-fated Amendment 2, which landed on the ballot during the last general election and lost by a slim margin of just two percent of the vote.

The announcement as to which companies had won the coveted licenses was supposed to come out in early August — better late than never.

Here are the businesses that applied but did not make the cut:

  • Bill’s Nursery, Inc.
  • Hart’s Plant Nurseries
  • Loop’s Nursery and Greenhouses, Inc.
  • San Felasco Nurseries d/b/a Grandiflora
  • Tree-King Tree Farm, Inc.
  • Razburton, Inc.
  • Spring Oaks Greenhouses, Inc.
  • Treadwell Nursery
  • Redland Nursery, Inc.
  • Deleon’s Bromeliads, Inc.
  • Dewar Nurseries, Inc.
  • McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery
  • Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms
  • Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc.
  • Sun Bulb Company, Inc.
  • Tropiflora, LLC.
  • Perkins Nursery, Inc.
  • Plants of Ruskin, Inc.
  • Tornello Landscape Corp d/b/a 3 Boys Farm

We offer our congratulations to the victors, our condolences to the remaining candidates, and our fingers crossed for the patients who are still watching and waiting for the program to open.

DPA Reform Conference Roundup: Are We Approaching the End of Cannabis Prohibition?

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The DPA Reform Conference in Washington D.C. wrapped up over the weekend, with discussions turning towards Canada’s promise to legalize, the shelf life of cannabis prohibition, and Uruguay’s trailblazers paving a path for other countries to follow. Catch up on the discussions that concluded this year’s gathering by checking out our roundup.

 

MAPS And Its Well-Earned Reputation

Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), earned one of the biggest laughs of the DPA Reform Conference on Saturday. Doblin and MAPS have famously struggled for years to get federal permission to grow cannabis for research. So when he announced a closing-night bonfire on the National Mall, Doblin assured everyone the event had been properly sanctioned by the National Park Service. “We at MAPS are known for our ability to obtain permits from the federal government,” he said.

 

The True North Strong and (Finally?) Free

No international contingent arrived with more optimism than the Canadians, who came to Washington D.C. soon after electing pro-legalization Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (They also offered the conference’s best poster.)

The Canucks and their friends celebrated at the chic D.C. boîte Tonic on Friday night, clinking lager bottles and mulling over what might come next. Shea Dewar of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition was confident Trudeau would come through. “He made quite a public promise to legalize during the campaign, and it’s going to be really difficult to go back on that now that he’s in office,” he said.

Dewar added that the most likely route would be nationwide decriminalization followed by province-by-province decisions about cannabis regulation. Some of Dewar’s colleagues were already thinking ahead to some of the challenges of legalization, such as finding a pathway into legality for black market cannabis growers and sellers. “It’s not just a legal issue for them,” one said. “It’s their livelihood.” It’s also a good problem to have.

 

Pondering Prohibition, and its End

One of Saturday’s liveliest discussions considered the idea of prohibition — where it came from, the harm it’s done, and what might replace it. “It started with alcohol in the early 1900s,” said Robin Room, director of the La Trobe University Centre for Alcohol Policy Research in Melbourne, Australia. “Drugs were really a side issue.”

Alcohol prohibition utterly failed, but that didn’t stop the idea of the punitive ban. The Puritan ethic, so fundamental to American culture, helped drive the prohibition model, said Craig Reinarman, sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz. “We tell ourselves we’re a nation of self-made men, and self-control is a large part of that. Substances that loosen that self-control become the object of fear.”

Most agreed that the model does more harm than good. For starters, it doesn’t stop consumption. “And it sets up perverse incentives,” said Reinarman. “Prohibition makes it difficult to understand potency and dosage. There’s no quality control. And it encourages the development of new substances like K2 and Spice, which people find really harmful and dangerous.”

There emerged no one-size-fits-all regulatory model to replace cannabis prohibition, and perhaps that’s the point. Different countries — and maybe even different states — have to regulate according to their own history, culture, and social custom. What’s best for Oregon won’t be best for Uruguay, and vice versa.

 

Until Next Time…

We’ll conclude with some odds and ends both heard and seen as the conference wound down.

Uruguay always represents well at this conference, and this year was no exception. Dr. Raquel Peyraube, from Montevideo, offered this quote:

“People say to me, ‘You are a doctor! A mom! Not a cannabis user! Why do you want to legalize?’ And I answer, ‘Because I am a doctor, a mom, not a cannabis user’”

The influence of student groups continues to grow. Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) were front and center at a number of panels, and educators are learning to stop preaching to youth and start collaborating on useful drug education models

After a big showing in Denver two years ago, cannabis companies were conspicuously absent at this year’s conference. We’re not sure why — perhaps they spent their energy and travel budgets on the previous week’s business conference and NCIA anniversary gala in Las Vegas

The past two DPA Reform Conferences have convened, by happy coincidence, in newly legalized cities: Denver and Washington, D.C. The next one will likely end that winning streak. See you in Atlanta in 2017!

Will New Jersey Push to Legalize Cannabis?

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Discussions on legal and medical cannabis have put New Jersey firmly in the spotlight recently as the battle among lawmakers played out at the New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference held in the Atlantic City Convention Center.

New Jersey has had a somewhat complicated relationship with cannabis. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010 with the approval and signature of former Governor Jon S. Corzine. However, then-Governor-elect Chris Christie took office soon after, with many misgivings about the newly inaugurated medical cannabis program.

The program got off to a bumpy start and, even as it began to take shape, continued to face setbacks and difficulties. It took more than two years for the first dispensary to open, but with an explosion of patients, the dispensary, or “alternative treatment center,” eventually decided to serve North Jersey residents only. In September 2013, with no other dispensaries operating and with patients growing desperate, New Jersey health officials faced a lawsuit.

Chris Christie, now quite notorious for his anti-cannabis rhetoric, was rumored to have intentionally caused delays in the implementation of the medical marijuana program. In December of 2013, he refused to sign a bill that would have allowed patients to visit other legal states and bring back the medicine that they couldn’t legally access in their home state.

By 2014, patients had grown so desperate that many families began to relocate, and wave after wave of “medical refugees” descended upon Colorado in search of the medicinal marijuana they needed.

Five years into New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, five out of the six allotted dispensaries have opened in New Jersey, but patients still face restrictive eligibility requirements in order to qualify.

This week, however, the conversation took a turn towards legalization. The state held its first public hearing on legalizing marijuana, with strong support from some unexpected sources. Aside from the usual patients and civil rights advocates, members of law enforcement were vocal about supporting the idea.

Lieutenant Nick Bucci, a former narcotics detective turned member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spoke during the New Jersey Senate Committee hearing about the long-lasting effects that fighting the drug war has had on his life, as well as his regrets.

“I’ve spent most of my career fighting the failed war on drugs, and I have seen the message that enforcement of our harsh marijuana law sends: if we catch you experimenting, we will do everything we can to ruin your future.”

His remarks echo the sentiments of the majority of New Jerseyans. According to a recent poll conducted by Rutgers-Eagleton, 58 percent of New Jersey respondents support legalizing, taxing, and regulating cannabis like alcohol for anyone over the age of 21 years old, even as arrests for marijuana possession are on the rise in the Garden State.

Despite past protestations of Governor Chris Christie, he recently signed a piece of legislation into law allowing a New Jersey teen to access her medicinal cannabis oil on school grounds while still offering legal protection to the schools, which are subject to federal funding.

Is that an indication of a change of heart? Or was it signed on a whim? Either way, New Jersey is on the forefront and looking towards 2016 with a lot of cannabis questions.

DPA Reform Conference Roundup: Notes from Day Two of the Year’s Biggest Cannabis Conference

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It’s the second day of the DPA Reform conference in D.C. Here are the biggest news stories from the day’s action.

 

Sorry About Buddie and Those Rat Cages

One of the more admirable trends at this year’s DPA Reform Conference outside Washington D.C. has been the public mea culpas offered by those behind some recent spectacular misfires in the cannabis world.

Yesterday we covered the verbal flogging of Ian James, director of the failed Responsible Ohio campaign and promoter of Buddie, the worst mascot in the history of politics.

Today’s owning-up came courtesy of Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Remember those giant rat cages that Colorado put on college campuses around the state last year? They were part of the “Don’t Be A Lab Rat” campaign to prevent cannabis use among minors. Worthy goal, terrible execution. Wolk didn’t create the cages, but he did okay the campaign. “If nothing else, I thought it would stimulate conversation,” he said. “Well, young people embraced the campaign as a great opportunity to take selfies getting high in the cages.”

Lesson learned. “Our next youth campaign began with conversations and focus groups with young people,” Wolk said. This time around, the message the under-21 set chose was simple and without gimmick. The “What’s Next?” campaign asks minors to consider how cannabis use might get in the way of their job, relationship, or the next step they want to take in their lives. “Has anybody over 40 seen it?” he asked, of a room full of over-40s. “No? Good. We’re only circulating this on youth sites. And in three weeks we’ve had over two million views.”

 

A Sneak Peek at Colorado Use Trends

Speaking of Colorado, many conference-goers are anxious to see data from Colorado and Washington State on use trends among adults and minors. Wolk, who has the job of overseeing the health of both groups statewide, said he’d taken a look at preliminary surveys to make sure there wasn’t a spike that needed immediate attention, and “so far there’s no fire burning.” Though he couldn’t quote numbers, he said “we’re not seeing a significant increase in youth use. Or in adult use, either.”

 

Roger Roffman’s Grand Idea

Roger Roffman, emeritus professor of social work at the University of Washington and one of the deans of American cannabis research, is cooking up an interesting project. He wants to supercharge the product education of consumers at the point of sale. Working with Washington State’s Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics (CCSE), Roffman is talking with scientists and retailers to develop a staff training model that would widen the scope of a budtender’s knowledge. “The retailer could be an active educator of the consumer,” said Roffman, in a way that goes beyond a description of strain qualities.

This is already being done by some budtenders, of course, but the CCSE program could result in a kind of state-limited certification. “We’ve got 17 retailers signed up for a pilot test, and we’re hoping to get 25 to 30 by the time we start,” Roffman said.

 

Heavy Chatter

Wrapping up our recap is a roundup of topics and talking points that gained attention today:

  • There’s a lot of talk at this year’s conference about Black Lives Matter and the intersection of the drug war with America’s problems of institutional racism and mass incarceration.
  • What might (but probably won’t) come out of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, a once-every-15 years convocation scheduled for New York in April 2016?
  • How can we find ways to move the financial benefits of cannabis legalization into communities of color disproportionately impacted by the drug war?
  • And, of course, there was much talk about the presidential race and how little interest the candidates have in legalization issues, as well as the game-changing prospects for California’s legalization campaign in 2016.

Don’t miss Day 1 of our DPA Reform conference coverage:

Is it the End of the “End of the War on Drugs’?

Blumenauer Stands Up to the DEA for Medical Marijuana

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Like Batman in a bowtie, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) heard the distress call of his constituents and leapt into action. Upon hearing the contentious words from Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Chuck Rosenberg that caused such an outrage among the medical marijuana community, Rep. Blumenauer took action in the most precise and effective way possible for a lawmaker.

First, he denounced the remarks in Congress on Wednesday, saying that Rosenberg’s troubling perspective is “indicative of a throwback ideology rooted in the failed war on drugs,” and a clear sign that the former federal prosecutor is unfit for the job.

“Rosenberg is clearly not the right fit for the DEA in this administration. He’s an example of the inept, misinformed zealot who has mismanaged America’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”

Blumenauer spoke with the eloquence and conviction of a man who has seen both sides of this war and ultimately won the battle against prohibition.

While his words swept through Congress, the petition that started the movement cascaded across the 100,000 signature mark, just as pollsters Marijuana Majority prepared to submit the final tally to the government. As it turns out, their cause would be getting an unanticipated boost.

Within 24 hours, Rep. Blumenauer went one step further. Together with a group of bipartisan members of Congress, the representatives sent a signed letter to President Obama.

Blumenauer uses Rosenberg’s own statements against him, first noting the danger of trivializing the importance of cannabis as medicine and the many states with successful medical marijuana programs. Next, he calls out the “deep hypocrisy” of the Drug Enforcement Administration for even saying that cannabis has never been shown to be safe or effective:

“The only reason there are remaining doubts about the safety or effectiveness of marijuana, or questions about the proper applications of extracts or component parts, is because federal policies have routinely hampered medical marijuana research for decades. The DEA itself has been integral to limiting access to marijuana that can legally be used for research, creating bottleneck and uncertainty challenges for potential researchers.

“Additionally, the DEA has continuously denied petitions to reschedule marijuana, leaving it at the tightly controlled Schedule I level, also limiting the ability of researchers to closely examine it as medicine.”

The letter ends with an urging for President Obama to find new leadership, as “Mr. Rosenberg has demonstrated he is not the right person to hold the job as the head of the DEA.”

Six bipartisan members of Congress signed Blumenauer’s letter:

  • Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
  • Sam Farr (D-CA)
  • Steve Cohen (D-TN)
  • Barbara Lee (D-CA)
  • Jim McDermott (D-WA)
  • Ted Lieu (D-CA)

It’s worth noting that every politician who has signed on here has also made a point of supporting medical marijuana legislation, and the majority of the signees hail from a legal medical state.

Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project voiced his support at the Drug Policy Reform Conference for replacing Rosenberg, aptly noting that “If someone’s behaving badly and not following administrative policy, you fire them.”

During a time when the political climate towards cannabis has shifted nearly overnight, these powerful allies in Congress have proven that they recognize the will of their constituents and will truly represent their citizens, even in a fight with the big dogs.

Image Credits: USDA via Flickr Creative Commons, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Responsible Ohio Campaign Director Takes Criticism at DPA Reform Conference

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In a hotel conference room at the DPA Reform Conference in Arlington, Virginia this afternoon, there was a perfectly pleasant political discussion going on. Then the topic of Ohio broke out.

The wounds are still fresh from the pounding Ohio’s much-despised Issue 3 legalization measure (known in some parts as the Nick Lachey Oligopoly Amendment) took in the November 3rd election. And the rancor among the state’s two legalization factions remains hot, apparently.

To his credit, Responsible Ohio campaign director Ian James showed up and took his lumps in public. “I just came in from Ohio, from a memorial service where we cremated Buddie,” he said, referring to the bizarre bud-headed mascot created by the campaign. “I don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a boot mark on the back of my head.”

James vowed to continue fighting to legalize Ohio, albeit with a measure that features a “completely open market for marijuana and hemp.”

When the Q&A opened up on a panel that featured James, his fellow Buckeye Staters let him have it. Cassie Young, head of the Ohio State University chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said “the movement is very divided in Ohio right now.” The state’s other group, Legalize Ohio, “is moving forward with an initiative for 2016,” Young said. “Why not join us?”

James objected to Legalize Ohio’s inclusion of a clause that prohibits drug testing. With that clause, he said, the measure could not pass in Ohio.*

“Why don’t you put your money behind us?” Young said.

“Because I don’t think your measure is compliant with Ohio law,” James said. Graham Boyd, the panel moderator, stepped in. “What I’m going to suggest is that you Ohio folks go out in the hall, after the panel, and find points of agreement. See if you can go from there.”

At the end of the panel, it was unclear whether the two factions had decided to follow Boyd’s advice.

*Jacob Wagner from Legalize Ohio 2016 reached out to Leafly to make a clarification on the drug testing mandate:  

“Our measure does not at all prohibit drug testing.  It merely prohibits employers from firing patients simply because they test positive for marijuana…Essentially, it requires employers to treat marijuana as they do other prescription medications.  It does not apply to non-patients, and it certainly doesn’t blanket ban drug testing.”

Learn more about why Ohio’s recent legalization effort failed:

5 Hard Lessons from Ohio's Failed Legalization Effort

 

Is it the End of the "End of the War on Drugs"?

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The number of cannabis industry conferences seems to grow exponentially every year, but the Reform conference remains the premiere get-together for global policy makers and industry shakers. This year’s shindig is no exception. Today’s opening session at the Crystal Gateway Marriott hotel in Arlington, Virginia, was salted with officials from Jamaica, Uruguay, Mexico, and a gleeful contingent from Canada.

Between panels, America’s legalization brain trust could be seen hobnobbing: Marijuana Policy Project leader Rob Kampia and organizer Mason Tvert; Washington State legalizer Alison Holcomb; New Approach founder Graham Boyd; Jasmine Tyler, drug policy reformer for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations; Denver legal eagle Brian Vicente; former ACLU head Ira Glasser; Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer (rocking a pink bow tie); New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries; Brookings Institute fellow John Hudak; and even former Responsible Ohio director Ian James, showing up to take his lumps over the debacle of Issue 3.

With such an all-star cast, there was a lot going on; here are Leafly’s top level takeaways.

 

DPA Reform Conference Day One: Ending ‘End the War on Drugs’?

“Years ago we were fighting for incremental change on medical marijuana laws. Now we’re talking about ending marijuana prohibition entirely.” That’s how Ethan Nadelmann summed up the progress he’s seen over the past 15 years as executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), one of the nation’s most influential drug law reform groups. Nadelmann, the former Princeton professor who famously gave up tenure to fight for legal change, basked in the movement’s success before 1,400 attendees from 71 countries at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, a global meetup organized every two years by the DPA.

“For twenty years we’ve said ‘End the War on Drugs,’” Nadelmann told the crowd. With that war now winding down, and with a majority of Americans considering the war a failure, “we ask ourselves: Do we need a new phrase?”

 

New Answers to an Old Question

The question gets asked at every conference: When will the federal government fully legalize cannabis? The answer from the experts in 2015: Don’t hold your breath. Ben Pollara, who managed Florida’s 2014 medical marijuana campaign (you remember, the one that got 58 percent of the vote and lost), said he didn’t consider national legalization inevitable. “Nothing in life and politics is inevitable,” he said, “and certainly not this.”

“It might be a while before we see legalization forced upon a state that doesn’t want it,” said Matt Schweich, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Dave Metz, an Oakland-based political pollster, said his data indicated a changing belief among voters. “Voters now believe legalization is inevitable, even if they’re not all ready to vote for it,” he said. “They understand that’s where the momentum is going.”

One thing that will help, said Metz: The post-2016 experience. With four or five states, including California, potentially turning legal in the November 2016 election, “people nationally will see the economic benefits and the lack of public safety problems. That will put a lot of pressure on other states.”

 

Is Presidential Turnout Necessary?

In 2013, one of the political truisms floating around this conference was the Four Year Rule. There was a widespread belief that cannabis legalization measures could only be passed during presidential elections, because of the heavy turnout from younger voters.

Two years later that’s no longer the rule. Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. legalized in 2014. Ohio lost in 2015 for reasons completely unrelated to young voter turnout. In fact, some now believe that the marijuana measure itself can drive turnout as much as a presidential ballot.

John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institute who covers cannabis issues, recently dug into the numbers produced by the Washington State and Colorado elections in 2014. “Compared to 2008, you’d expect a marginal dropoff in the youth and liberal vote, based on the Obama effect,” he said. In other words, the possibility of electing Obama was exciting the first time around, not so much the second. “But in Washington State, voters age 18-29 doubled from 2008 to 2014,” when a legalization initiative was on the ballot. “In Colorado, it was up 80 percent.”

“There’s this odd dynamic,” Hudak said. “The presidential election has an effect on the marijuana issue, but the marijuana issue also has an effect on the presidential election.”

Ben Pollara said he saw something similar happen with Florida’s medical marijuana vote in 2014. “The number of first-time voters doubled from 2010 to 2014,” he said. “The youth vote — 18 to 29 year-olds — nearly doubled.”

New rule: Run a cannabis legalization measure in any November election. But run a good one. We’re looking at you, Ohio.

 

Quick Hits from the Floor

“Don’t underestimate the influence of Canada. If they legalize, it could have a huge effect here,” said Washington Post writer Christopher Ingraham.

”I’m less worried about Chris Christie,” said Marijuana Policy Project director Rob Kampia. “If Bernie Sanders or Rand Paul wins, I could see big changes coming. If not, then I foresee small tweakings. The Cole Memo would be renewed, but other than that I don’t see much change from a new administration.”

”They may not care about it now, but I think the presidential candidates are going to care about marijuana as an issue once they realize they’re going to be alongside it on the ballot,” said Florida medical marijuana campaign director Ben Pollara.

”Mr. President, I love you like a father for commuting my sentence, but with all due respect, you need to do more,” said Jason Hernandez, whose drug sentence was commuted by President Obama earlier this year.

A Changing Climate for Cannabis on Capitol Hill

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“With every social justice movement I’ve been a part of, the politicians were always the last to board the train,” former ACLU executive director Ira Glasser said at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Reform Conference on Thursday. “They have never led the movement.”

That was a recurring theme at the day’s political panels, where pollsters and campaign consultants noted the continued reluctance of most politicians to publicly back marijuana reform measures. Christopher Ingraham, who covers politics and drug policy for the Washington Post, noted that “there’s a lot of work to be done to make this a mainstream topic people are willing to talk about. There’s still a discomfort and a subtle stigma involved in taking this as a legitimate policy issue.”

There are signs of change, though. Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, noted that a couple years ago he couldn’t find a single member of the U.S. Senate willing to touch marijuana law. Now there are 15 Senate co-sponsors of the CARERS Act, plus Bernie Sanders, who recently introduced one of the most far-reaching marijuana reform bills ever seen. “The CARERS Act really opened up the Senate,” Piper said. “Simply by introducing it, and receiving applause, those four senators showed their colleagues that the sky didn’t fall when they took the risk.”

“It’s a huge shift. Four years ago we saw only two or three marijuana bills introduced. Now there are more than twenty bills in the current Congress.”

Stephanie Phillips, a legislative aide who handles drug policy issues for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, remarked optimistically on the noticeable shift in Congress. When asked if anything has a real chance to pass, she said, “I’m very optimistic about the banking issue. I think that will get fixed in the next year.”

Marijuana Policy Project director Rob Kampia was a little more cautious. He sees a possible amendment in the coming omnibus spending bill (expected in December) that may provide a temporary, one-year banking fix. “That’s an issue that’s really in play, and it would provide substantial relief for the industry,” Kampia said.

Kampia also said he expects Congress to re-authorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits U.S. Department of Justice funding to be used for prosecuting medical marijuana cases in legal medical states.

Also expected to be in that omnibus bill: an amendment from Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) blocking Washington D.C. from enacting marijuana legalization. Harris, of course, represents a state that’s enacting medical marijuana legalization even as he pulls out the stops to prevent his neighbors in the District of Columbia from adopting regulated adult use.

There may not be enough support to defeat Harris’ amendment this year. But a number of political players saw banking as an issue that the cannabis industry could use to connect with politicians who were otherwise scared of touching any sort of reform. “The banking issue really resonates with a lot of members of Congress,” said Phillips. “It’s a public health and safety issue, and it’s a good entry point for some members who are business-minded and public safety focused.”

Report from the Front: The Trouble with Cannabis in Indian Country

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Three days after purposely destroying their crop in a bonfire, two Flandreau Santee Sioux cannabis farmers spent their Tuesday afternoon mothballing the indoor grow. Metal flood-and-drain tables, 110 feet long and custom-built on rollers, sat empty, polished, and gleaming. A worker rinsed equipment in a deep aluminum sink. “We’re winterizing the whole place,” said Jonathan Hunt, the head grower and vice president of Monarch America, the Colorado-based cannabis firm working with the tribe. “We think of this as a big pause in the project.”

That big pause made national headlines last week. And it illustrates the quiet war now being fought over cannabis in Indian Country.

Back in June, the Flandreau Santee Sioux, a small 726-member tribe, announced that it would grow and sell marijuana on the reservation. “It’s an opportunity for us to get ahead of the game a little bit and get established so we can generate some revenue and get some proper things in place,” tribal president Tony Reider said at the time.

South Dakota isn’t a legalized state. Even medical marijuana is outlawed. But the state has no jurisdiction on the reservation. The tribe, which operates the Royal River Casino near the farm town of Flandreau, about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls, intended to sell cannabis at a planned nightclub and performance center next to the casino. Patrons — both Indian and non-Indian — would be free to partake in tribe-grown cannabis on sovereign tribal land. Tribe president Reider foresaw an “adult playground” that would attract patrons to the resort. A grand opening of the marijuana lounge was planned for New Year’s Eve.

Then, on November 7, the tribe shut down the grow in dramatic fashion. At a meeting of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Executive Committee that afternoon, tribal leaders voted to halt the project and destroy the knee-high crop. That night a small group of tribe members built a bonfire and put the plants to the flame.

 

The Murky Intersection of Federal, State and Tribal Policies

South Dakota state building

The episode illustrates the unclear and increasingly risky status of cannabis in Indian Country. 2015 began with high hopes for a new marijuana economy on tribal lands. Eleven months later, however, that optimism has been tempered by a series of puzzling and possibly illegal federal raids. Publicly, the federal government has given the all-clear to the nation’s 566 officially recognized Native American tribes to grow and sell cannabis on their land. But on the ground, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) are using questionable legal tactics to quash cannabis and hemp projects on reservations around the nation.

Late last year the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued the Wilkinson Memo, which established federal marijuana policy on tribal lands. Tribes had been asking for clarification on the issue since the August 2013 release of the Cole Memo, the DOJ document that allows legalizing states to operate as long as they adhere to eight priorities — things like preventing distribution to minors and halting out-of-state diversion.

Tribal lands are managed and policed by each tribe, but they fall under federal jurisdiction. In Indian Country, state law doesn’t apply. So the status of cannabis on reservations remained unclear.

The Wilkinson Memo seemed to open up new economic opportunities for tribes. The policy, while vague, gave tribes the same legal wiggle room as legalizing states. In Denver, cannabis consulting firms began getting calls from tribes around the country, wondering about the possibilities of growing and selling cannabis.

Some tribes are now going full steam ahead in legal states like Washington. In September, the Suquamish Tribe signed a compact with the State of Washington to sell retail marijuana on its reservation west of Seattle. The government-to-government agreement wasn’t strictly necessary, but state-tribal relations in Washington are relatively friendly, and compacts like this are one of the ways they remain so. Under the agreement the tribe will tax retail pot at the same rate as the state, but revenue will go to the tribe, not the state treasurer.

The Suquamish strategy seems to be working. A few weeks ago tribal officials erected a sign near the tribe’s Clearwater Casino advertising a retail pot shop, called Agate Dreams, now under construction. “COMING SOON,” the sign promised.

 

South Dakota: A Challenging Environment

Welcome to Flandreau sign

South Dakota isn’t Washington State. State-tribal relations in the home of the Black Hills have been notoriously bad for decades. Memories of the bloody 1973 American Indian Movement standoff at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation remain sharp and fresh. Pine Ridge and the Rosebud Reservation, in south central South Dakota, rank among the most economically impoverished districts in America. “South Dakota is Mississippi for Indians,” one Flandreau tribal member told me.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn’t wealthy, but it’s doing all right. The tribe’s Royal River Casino opened in the early 1990s and continues to draw local farmers and busloads of slot players from Sioux Falls. Flandreau (rhymes with Andrew) is a typical Midwestern farm town tucked into a bend in the Big Sioux River. It’s a place where large pickups sit next to small houses. There’s a Dollar General store, a Subway, and a local joint called Mad Mary’s Steakhouse & Saloon. A handful of dive bars light up a one-block section of Wind Street.

Operating in a state that’s both hostile to Indians and doesn’t even have legal medical marijuana made the Flandreau Santee Sioux grow a bold proposition from the start. But after a January 29, 2015, meeting with the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, tribal officials felt they had enough legal cover to proceed. “We don’t mind being first,” Tribal President Tony Reider said in June. “It’s not something we strive for. We’ve done our due diligence, we’ve checked and we’ve had to have a certain comfort level before we dive into something…especially something this big, something that’s going to be under such a large microscope.”

The tribe partnered with Monarch America, a small Colorado consulting group, to build and manage the grow. Monarch CEO Eric Hagen and vice president Jonathan Hunt oversaw the conversion of an old storage facility into a state-of-the-art indoor grow. Next door, the tribe began refurbishing a former bowling alley into a gleaming new performance center and cannabis-friendly nightclub.

South Dakota state officials hated the project. Publicly, State Attorney General Marty Jackley said he respected the tribe’s authority, but reminded them that possession and use of marijuana by non-Indians remained illegal off the reservation. Privately, reports circulated that Jackley was considering all kinds of ways to kill the project: Setting up sobriety checks at the reservation boundary; searching cars and arresting non-Indians as they left the nightclub; inviting in the DEA. “The tribe is considered a sovereign nation,” Monarch America CEO Eric Hagen told Leafly a few weeks before the shutdown. “Some people in South Dakota don’t feel that’s the case.”

The project found both supporters and critics in the non-Indian population of Flandreau. On the Saturday of the tribe’s Executive Committee meeting, a handful of Flandreau locals staged a demonstration against the marijuana project. They marched a few blocks near the Royal River Casino, carrying signs that said “Stop the Pot” and “Keep Our Kids Safe.”

As the crop grew from seedlings to knee-high plants, Tony Reider and fellow tribal officials remained confident that the principle of tribal sovereignty, fought for and established over decades, would insulate them from Jackley’s ire. As for the neighbors, well, a lot of tribe members were old enough to recall when similar fears were raised over the opening of the casino in 1990. Some locals still don’t like the casino. But a lot of others can be found playing the slots and enjoying the buffet.

Then came the Menominee raid. And suddenly the risk calculus changed.

 

The Raid Heard Around America

Cannabis grow facility in South Dakota

Earlier this year the Menominee Indian Tribe planted a crop of industrial hemp on the tribe’s reservation in central Wisconsin. Small hemp grows are going in all over the Midwest, especially in Kentucky, since the 2014 federal farm bill specifically allowed them. Hemp and marijuana are both the species Cannabis sativa. The only difference is that the THC level in industrial hemp, by law, must remain at or below 0.3 percent.

Like the Santee Sioux, the Menominee partnered with Colorado-based cannabis experts 3C Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting to raise the crop. That’s nothing unusual — tribes commonly hire non-Indians. Some of the best fisheries biologists in the world, for example, are non-Indian scientists working for Pacific Northwest tribes like the Nisqually and the Quinault.

But the Colorado connection didn’t sit well with federal authorities. They suspected the tribe was growing marijuana, not hemp. On October 19, DEA and BIA agents appeared on the reservation to obtain samples of the crop. According to the October 22 legal affidavit of DEA Special Agent Steven Curran, a site-check came back negative. The plants were hemp, not marijuana. Curran and BIA Agent Shawn Sheridan weren’t convinced, though. They blamed a faulty test kit. “BIA Agent Sheridan had been stored [sic] the test kits in his Government Owned Vehicle storage vault,” Curran wrote in his affidavit, “which they would be subjected to extreme hot and cold temperatures.”

Three days later, the BIA agent tested samples of the crop with another kit “which had been stored at the BIA District Office in Phoenix area in a controlled environment.” This time, Curran testified, “all items presumptive tested positive.” No THC level was specified.

What really seemed to alarm the agents wasn’t the THC level, though. It was the presence of the white guys from Colorado. Law enforcement officers “witnessed individuals appearing to be non-native come and go” at the crop field, DEA Special Agent Curran wrote. This was, he claimed, a “clear violation of Federal Law and Wisconsin State law.”

Using Curran’s affidavit as probable cause, a team of federal agents descended on the Menominee hemp grow on Friday, October 23. The feds called in dump trucks and heavy equipment to rip and confiscate more than 16,000 plants and equipment related to the grow.

In a single day, the Menominee Tribe’s entire hemp investment vanished.

With the Menominee raid hanging in the air, Flandreau Santee Sioux president Tony Reider met with the tribe’s executive committee on Saturday, November 7.

The possibility of a DEA crackdown had hovered over the Flandreau project for months. Over the summer federal authorities quashed smaller Indian projects near and far. In June, Acting U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Randolph Seiler refused to allow Alex White Plume, former president of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, to grow hemp on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In July, federal agents raided a marijuana grow established by the Pit River Tribe and the Alturas Indian Rancheria in Northern California.

Those were disturbing omens, certainly. But the shocking Menominee incident made a federal raid on the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation suddenly seem both possible and probable. Law enforcement officials started asking questions about the origin of the seeds or clones for the grow, as if fishing for probable cause. Monarch America workers began getting pulled over by local police, who pointedly told them to re-register their Colorado-plated vehicles in South Dakota. When one Monarch worker asked how the cop knew they he wasn’t just a tourist, the officer reportedly replied, “Oh, word gets around.”

Minutes of the tribe’s Executive Committee meeting remain private, but it’s clear that Reider and committee members were forced to consider the heightened risk. A DEA raid might cost them not only the plants, but the tribe’s significant investment in equipment and the grow facility itself. And then they’d face a potentially long and costly court battle against the federal government.

At meeting’s end, Reider and tribal leaders voted to protect their investment and scuttle the crop.

 

In the Face of Confusion, Work Goes On

Outside of Royal River Casino in South Dakota

Last week, work continued on the reservation. In the casino, gamblers played blackjack and progressive slots next to posters advertising an upcoming Ralphie May comedy show. The old bowling alley resounded with the thwack-and-boom of a demolition crew tearing out a restroom. Workers joked with tribal police officers about getting arrested. Beautiful wood bowling lanes, polished and gleaming, leaned against a far wall. “They’re going to turn the alley wood into nightclub tables and a bar top,” one of the construction workers explained.

Tribal leaders remained upbeat about the project. “It’s not over,” Tony Reider said on Monday. The next day Reider and others drove to Pierre to meet with state and federal officials in the state capital. Seth Pearman, the tribe’s attorney, said the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe was “temporarily suspending” its grow. The move, Pearman said, was “pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture, and Tribal leadership is confident that after seeking clarification from the United States Department of Justice, it will be better suited to succeed.”

“Pausing production was a step in the right direction,” Attorney General Marty Jackley told the local Moody County Enterprise. “I think it’s the best thing for tribal and non-tribal members that the tribe makes this a more permanent decision and we find other ways that will help the tribe financially.”

That last bit struck some tribe members as a bit rich. The history of South Dakota doesn’t exactly abound with examples of white locals finding ways to financially aid the tribes.

By the end of the week, all parties seemed to agree with Tony Reider. The fight over cannabis on the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation was by no means over. It felt like it was just beginning.

Sarah Weston, an actress and filmmaker, is a tribal member who’s been documenting the marijuana project for a future film. She began months ago with mixed feelings about the grow. But the events of the past week had brought the issue into sharper focus.

For her and others, she said, cannabis has become an issue of Native American sovereignty. “Prior generations fought their battles for tribal sovereignty,” she explained, mentioning the American Indian Movement of the 1970s, and the fight to establish casinos in the 1980s and 1990s. “This,” she added, referring to cannabis, “may be our generation’s fight.”

Petition to Fire DEA Chief Gains Traction

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Running the Drug Enforcement Administration is, admittedly, no easy task, and a position that seems to be rife with controversy. Michele Leonhart, the former Administrator of the DEA, resigned under dramatic circumstances after an inquiry into reports of a sex scandal involving DEA agents, cocaine, and so-called “sex parties” with Colombian prostitutes.

With a track record like that, one would think that the path for a new administrator would be fairly straightforward. Yet somehow, new appointee Chuck Rosenberg has been in the role for hardly six months and his gaffs have been seemingly unending. 

First there was this statement comparing marijuana to heroin that made us cringe:

“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”

Because why on Earth would we want an “expert” on drugs to be in charge of drug policy for the United States?

Rosenberg quickly backtracked on his statement and cleared up any misunderstanding by acknowledging publicly to the media that yes, “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” This is particularly relevant as there has been a sharp increase in heroin-related deaths in the last decade, but not a single death attributed to cannabis use. Also, it’s worth noting that states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen a 25 percent decrease in opiate-related deaths.

During an interview with Fox News, when asked about the possibility of rescheduling cannabis to allow for more comprehensive scientific research, Rosenberg’s response was “Yeah, I don’t think so,” followed by a reiteration of how “dangerous” marijuana is and, in the same breath, denying any legitimate medical use for it.

The last straw for cannabis supporters was the most recent painfully infuriating statement in which Chuck Rosenberg calls medical marijuana “a joke.”

“What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal — because it’s not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine — that is a joke… if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana — which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana — it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”

Ignoring the fact that Rosenberg appears to believe that the leafy part of the plant is what you’re supposed to smoke (someone needs to brush up on his cannabis anatomy), his latest comment rose the buzz of tens of thousands of seething medical marijuana patients to a deafening roar, and cannabis supporters took action. Marijuana Majority began a petition aptly and simply entitled “Fire DEA Head Chuck Rosenberg for Calling Medical Marijuana a ‘Joke’.’”

Needless to say, without any further prompting, the petition took off. Within a week, the petition had gained 5,000 signatures, including that of notable rock legend and cannabis advocate Melissa Etheridge, who encouraged fans to follow her lead.

As of November 17, the petition was nearing 90,000 supporters and showed no sign of stopping. By comparison, a petition urging the Obama administration to fire Michele Leonhart gathered just 46,000 signatures before Leonhart resigned.  Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, made the apt observation at the Drug Policy Reform Conference this week that “It took Michele Leonhart several years to get a campaign against her.  It took [Rosenberg] only a few months.”

The most recent report from the Drug Enforcement Agency clearly shows that America’s law enforcement officials consider cannabis to be a low priority, placing a much higher emphasis on reducing the rate of heroin use. So why doesn’t the DEA chief feel the same?

I’m no expert, but as a cannabis supporter, advocate, and medical marijuana patient, I feel strongly that the person in charge of American drug policy should, in fact, be an expert on all drugs and drug policy, including cannabis.

The continued missteps and misinformation from someone who is arguably the highest consultant on drug policy in the United States, someone who spreads his own perceived “dangers” of cannabis without any scientific proof, is a disservice to every medical marijuana patient and to everyone who believes in the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

#JustSayKnow

New Jersey Allows Cannabis in Schools for Autistic and Epileptic Teen

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It seems that Chris Christie, New Jersey governor and staunch cannabis opponent who once referred to cannabis sales as “blood money” and stated “I’m not going to put the lives of children and citizens at risk,” may have had a change of heart thanks to one young New Jersey resident diagnosed with autism and epilepsy.

Genny Barbour is 16 years old and suffers from such severe autism and epilepsy that she was nearly nonverbal, only able to articulate a single word at a time – “eat,” “drink,” “bathroom.” With frequent seizures and agitation, she was having difficulty in school and at home.

At their wits end and fed up with various pharmaceutical solutions that offered no relief from seizures, her parents, Roger and Lora Barbour, asked their doctor about the possibility of medical marijuana last September.

Genny was put on a regimen of four doses of cannabis oil per day. The change was significant – her verbal skills improved, her seizures decreased, and her school saw such a remarkable progress that her teachers were able to increase the rigor of Genny’s lesson plan.

The relief cannabis oil brought Genny, her parents, and her educators was short-lived. It became clear that administering medical marijuana in any form would not be allowed on school grounds. The severity of her symptoms was such that even one missed dose could cause her condition to deteriorate, agitating Genny sometimes to the point of harming herself.

Inspired by Genny and her story, Chris Christie took a step into the unknown and signed a bill allowing parents or primary guardians to administer edible cannabis on school premises without putting the school at risk for liability.

This will be the first school in the nation to allow cannabis of any kind on campus, and will provide relief for Genny, who has resorted to half-days at school in order to maintain her regimen.

Her parents still have another hurdle to overcome – authorizing school officials to administer Genny’s medicine, which they intend to fight for. In the meantime, one young girl is getting a new chance for education and life.

Field Dispatch: Inside South Dakota’s Grassroots Movement to Legalize Medical Cannabis

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When you’re fighting for cannabis in a conservative state, you take inspiration where you can find it. Last year Melissa Mentele and Joy Beukelman (pictured below), two thirty-something moms living in small South Dakota farm towns, watched the documentary Evergreen, which chronicled the 2012 legalization campaign in Washington State. “We saw a woman–Alison Holcomb–leading the movement,” Mentele recalled. After the credits rolled, Mentele and Beukelman asked each other: Why not us?

Last Monday the two women and their New Approach South Dakota supporters appeared at the Secretary of State’s office in Pierre bearing more than 16,000 voter signatures in favor of a statewide measure legalizing medical marijuana. “We needed 13,871, and we wanted to give ourselves a little leeway,” Mentele said after delivering the signatures.

If the signatures are verified, medical marijuana will be on the South Dakota ballot in November 2016.

A little more than 24 hours after delivering the petitions, Leafly caught up with Mentele and Beukelman over coffee in the restaurant of the Royal River Casino near the town of Flandreau. Workers and gamblers spotted their matching “South Dakota Medical Marijuana” hoodies and offered congratulations.

New Approach South Dakota cannabis activists at their booth

“We gathered a lot of signatures here,” Mentele said. “We’d come every Thursday. Senior Day.”

Senior Day?

“Seniors were huge for us,” she said. “Our strongest base of support is among folks over fifty.”

Beukelman recalled an older casino security guard who often shot them a skeptical eye. “But in the end, he signed too,” she said.

The general election may be a tougher nut to crack. South Dakota voters rejected MMJ legalization in 2006 and again in 2010. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) dedicated $428,000 to the 2006 measure, which failed 52 to 48 percent. In 2010, MPP chipped in $4,600 and the measure got walloped, 63 to 37 percent. MPP has offered advice to New Approach South Dakota on the new attempt, but is saving its money for campaigns aimed at full legalization.

New Approach is getting by, though. “We got this far on about $10,000” raised locally, said Mentele. “Most of our costs were paper and gasoline.” They fished for signatures at the Flandreau casino; at the South Dakota State Fair; at Riverboat Days in Yankton; at the Brown County Fair; at quilting fairs and craft bazaars, and anywhere else people gathered in the rural state.

We wondered if they got much criticism or pushback.

Mentele laughed. “Look at us–we’re the bake sale moms,” she said. “We don’t get much pushback.”

Canada Prime Minster Trudeau Orders Justice Minister to Legalize Cannabis

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Keeping true to his word, newly ordained and noted cannabis-friendly Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an official mandate to the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, with a complete list of his major priorities for the Canadian government under his reign.

The priorities cover a variety of topics, including physician-assisted death, inquiries into murdered and missing indigenous women, and, la piéce de resistance…

“Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health [to] create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”

In addition, the letter includes a memorandum on improving the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, with recommendations for exploring sentencing alternatives and bail reform. Nearly all of the priorities listed were promised as part of the election platform, and it’s a good thing – under the previous administration, mandatory minimum sentences were the norm, and clearly, the time is ripe for change.

Until now, there had not been a formal edict on how to handle marijuana by jurisdiction, despite the campaign promise of legalization under the Liberal Party.

Last week, dispensaries in Nanaimo received a rude awakening in the form of a cease-and-desist letter signed by Sergeant Rob Christenson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The letter threatened legal action if the dispensaries do not cease all activities related to medical marijuana within seven days.

Needless to say, the owners and operators were dumbfounded by the notion that just days after a revolutionary election in which the victors promised legal cannabis at a federal level, they were facing a shutdown.

The order from the office of the Prime Minister ought to shed some light on this issue, and it is now up to the Justice Minister to follow through on Trudeau’s orders. The whole world is watching…

Montana Can't Decide Whether to Embrace or Reject Cannabis Initiatives: The Leafly Legalization Roundup

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The cannabis world is on fire lately, with unprecedented support from all kinds of unexpected places. Arizona, Missouri, and Montana are preparing for the fight to the finish line for the general election next November, collecting signatures and signed-on support. Montana’s proposals are running hot and cold, though – there’s one medical, one one recreational, and one measure to ban cannabis entirely.

Internationally, some Canadian dispensaries are holding their breath after a brush with the long arm of the law, Colombia’s president wants to cultivate and export cannabis, and Mexico can’t decide what the Supreme Court ruling will mean for the future of cannabis. Hold on tight, this ride towards legalization is just getting started!

 

U.S. Cannabis Updates

NATIONAL

After DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg recently made inflammatory remarks about medical marijuana being “a joke,” cannabis advocates were righteously outraged and circulated a petition calling for his resignation on the basis that he is not qualified for the job (you can sign it here if you’re feeling similarly inclined). The petition has gained more than 80,000 signatures, which is actually about twice the number of signatures that were on a petition that led directly to the resignation of the former chief of the DEA, Michelle Leonhart.

With so many Americans who have benefited from the use of medical marijuana, shouldn’t there be a qualified administrator leading such a crucial component of drug policy, one who understands and respects the science behind the medicine, as well as the will of the patients and voters?

 

ARIZONA

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona announced that they have collected 100,000 signatures in support of marijuana legalization, meaning they have hit the two-thirds mark on the road to the November 2016 general election. They still need to collect another 50,000 signatures before the July deadline, but the campaign is aiming even higher than that with a goal of 230,000 total signatures. As they are well on their way, the group is optimistic that they won’t have any trouble achieving their goal.

The proposal would create a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control to oversee implementation, regulate distributors licensed to sell cannabis products to anyone over 21, and instate a 15 percent excise tax on cannabis products. A recent poll found that 53 percent of Arizonans support legalization, which means that this time next year could prove to be quite an exciting time for Arizona.

 

MISSOURI

Missouri is looking for a chance to get marijuana on the 2016 ballot one way or another, but competing measures could create a dilemma for voters. Show-Me Cannabis is supporting one such measure for medical marijuana, although they previously pushed for a more broad legalization initiative. The effort they’re now supporting comes from an organization known as New Approach Missouri. This effort outlines a comprehensive ballot proposal that would allow for the licensing of 75 cultivation centers and allow qualifying medical patients to purchase cannabis from distribution centers, as well as grow up to six plants for personal use in their home.

Another proposal, known as Missouri Research: Cures, Jobs, Health & Lower Taxes, is also seeking to legalize medical marijuana, but it would be heavily taxed – 75 percent at the retail level – with the extra revenue being put towards medical research. Both groups still need 168,000 signatures from at least six of the nine congressional districts in Missouri to get their initiative on the ballot for 2016.

 

MONTANA

There are three upcoming marijuana proposals that could change the cannabis game in Montana come next November. One would legalize cannabis to create a similar recreational structure as Colorado or Washington through a constitutional initiative. The second would modify the state’s existing medical marijuana system. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the third would outlaw cannabis entirely on the basis that any drugs that are illegal federally would also be illegal in the state.

Wow, sounds like Montana can’t quite decide whether it loves or hates the cannabis movement. One way or another, the deadline for collecting signatures is June of 2016 – may the best initiative win.

 

NEVADA

Nevada may well give Arizonans a run for their money in the race to be the next recreationally legalized state, although some might argue that Nevada has a bit of an advantage. It was able to secure a position on the November 2016 general election ballot, while other states are still scrambling to gather signatures and support. Nevada’s medical marijuana system has only just gotten off the ground, though, and hasn’t yet been able to work through the inevitable kinks and regulatory hiccups that come with an emerging medical market. Can Nevada win that golden ticket?

 

NEW YORK

After Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed legislation to expedite access for critically ill qualifying patients, the countdown has begun and the commencement of New York’s medical marijuana market is nigh. In preparation, the Cannabis and Hemp Association will be holding a panel discussion entitled “Open For Business” on the implementation of the medical marijuana market in New York. The meeting will be held December 2nd from 7 to 9pm at District Cowork and the panel will feature:

  • Senator Diane Savino (D-NY), sponsor of the Compassionate Care Act
  • Dr. Julie Netherland, the New York Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance
  • Dr. Larry Good, CEO of Compassionate Care NY
  • Hanan Kolko, regulatory attorney for Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein P.C.

The panel will be open to the public and will consist of topics relating to the new medical marijuana system and making sure it stays within the lines of regulation. If you’re in New York and would like to attend, you can RSVP here.

 

International Cannabis Updates

AUSTRALIA

Australia has been making major moves for cannabis legalization and the support for medical marijuana “Down Under” is at an all-time high, with 91 percent of polled respondents in support of legalizing cannabis for medical use, and only a tiny fraction, 7 percent, opposed. New South Wales has led the charge due to a moving story from a mother who watched her son succumb to cancer. Clinical trials will be starting in NSW next year, but they have also inspired similar legislation in Victoria and Queensland. Read our report on Australia’s fight for medical marijuana for more details.

 

CANADA

Nanaimo dispensaries got a scare last week when dispensary owners received a strongly worded cease-and-desist letter from the local RCMP. The letters threaten legal action if the dispensaries do not cease selling cannabis and close doors within seven days, although Canada’s new justice minister was not informed of this plan ahead of time. Furthermore, the letters point out that the dispensaries are not in compliance with Health Canada’s MMPR law and do not comply with the current Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

It’s a strange and unexpected turn of events, particularly after the victory of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, who campaigned with the promise of legalizing cannabis on a federal level. Luckily, it appears that Nanaimo was the only jurisdiction to receive the letters, although only time will tell if the threat of a local government shutdown is real.

 

COLOMBIA

President Juan Manuel Santos announced an executive decree to legalize the cultivation and sale of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes. Although the measure has not been signed into law yet, it would license official growers for the program and possibly even offer exports of their cannabis products eventually. The country decriminalized the possession of up to 22 grams of cannabis in 2012 in an effort to combat the black market and shift to a health-centric drug policy, rather than making it a criminal justice issue. Could this mark a shift in policy towards the War on Drugs in general?

 

MEXICO

After the landmark ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court, Mexico has been thrown into a disarray and no one can decide what this will mean for the country’s future marijuana policy. On the one hand, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto immediately went on the record as being opposed to the legalization of marijuana. Almost immediately afterwards, a senator from the President’s governing party introduced a bill to allow qualifying patients to gain access to cannabis-based medicine by way of importing cannabis and derivatives from outside sources.

“This measure is responding to the urgent need to allow availability of medicines thought importation,” said Senator Cristina Diaz Salazar, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

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