States rush to protect cannabis

LA Times/May 29, 2017/Evan Halper

The pot industry is too valuable, and even GOP officials oppose Trump threats.

WASHINGTON — If a whiff of uneasiness hung over the trade show that drew thousands of marijuana entrepreneurs here this month, it wasn’t because they were just around the corner from a White House that has threatened to shut them down.

They had bigger worries, like sorting out the legitimate business ventures from the hype among row upon row of exhibitors showcasing cannabis growing, smoking, eating and even banking products. The Trump administration’s menacing signals seemed a mere sideshow to those who make their living off reefer, or aspire to.

After an initial period of postelection anxiety, pot businesses are increasingly confident that states where they are setting up shop have their backs, despite Justice Department warnings meant to rattle marijuana enthusiasts.

State leaders are proving themselves nimble at responding to the threat, moving to inoculate local marijuana industries that are fast becoming too important to state economies to leave vulnerable to the whims of Washington.

And they are moving not just in the places where it is politically easy, like California. Even some Republican states are signaling Trump to back off.

“We are seeing states have become very territorial about their rights to do this, regardless of what the Trump administration does,” said John Hudak, a marijuana policy expert at the Brookings Institution. He points to Nevada, where Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval opposed the state’s successful legalization initiative but is nonetheless vowing to move forward with recreational pot there.

“This is someone who easily could have said, ‘No, let’s wait and see what Trump does,’ ” Hudak said. “But he is not doing that.”

Some of the more than 200 marijuana entrepreneurs who walked the halls of the Capitol this month during the industry’s annual lobby day — an event that has grown exponentially in size — were surprised by how many Republican congressional offices were eager to engage.

“People here are treating this more seriously,” said Morgan Paxhia, a San Francisco marijuana investor who was among those lobbying.

Trump’s intentions on pot are unclear. The White House has warned that recreational pot businesses could be subject to federal enforcement actions. Trump tacked a signing message onto the budget he recently signed that indicates he may not honor its prohibition on busting medical pot businesses operating legally under state laws. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions is an old-school drug warrior eager to restore some of the zero-tolerance tactics that haven’t been part of the federal playbook for years.

But states say they can’t afford to wait to see how federal policy plays out.

“You have to have blinders on to not understand how large this industry can become,” said California Treasurer John Chiang. He has been taking a lead in the state’s efforts to move the industry into legitimacy, holding lengthy hearings aimed at helping banks step around the federal rules that make them reluctant to work with pot firms.

The easier it is for companies to get out of the shadows and operate like other normal businesses, Chiang says, the quicker they can start paying taxes to the state — and the harder it will be for the Justice Department to undermine the industry.

In several states, lawmakers are scrambling to find creative ways to keep federal agents out. California lawmakers are debating giving pot businesses the same kinds of protections as it has extended to immigrants in the country illegally, prohibiting local law enforcement from helping federal agents target them.

Colorado is mulling over a law that would let pot sellers instantly reclassify all their recreational pot as medical in the event of a federal crackdown. (The White House condones medical pot.) Oregon lawmakers passed a bill aimed at protecting the privacy of pot users from federal intrusions by requiring cannabis shops to destroy records of what consumers purchase.

Not that some states aren’t tapping the brakes. Amid the federal uncertainty — and to the deep disappointment of marijuana advocates — Massachusetts lawmakers voted in December for a six-month delay in opening the state’s first recreational marijuana shops, pushing it back to mid-2018.

Colorado lawmakers eager to allow clubs where pot connoisseurs could consume the product opted to hold off, worried their efforts could antagonize the Justice Department. Gov. John Hickenlooper warned legislators off plans to allow medical marijuana deliveries in Colorado, saying they would send the wrong message to Washington and put the state at risk.

Hickenlooper, who opposed the ballot measure legalizing recreational pot in his state but has embraced the industry it created, has taken a diplomatic approach to keeping Washington at bay. He and Sessions had an hourlong meeting in Washington a few weeks ago, from which the governor emerged mildly optimistic.

“At one point he said, ‘You haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?’ ” Hickenlooper recalled to MSNBC. “I interpreted that as: He’s got his hands full.”

Other state officials are more antagonistic, as in California. State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra recently mocked the warnings from Sessions, daring him to try to disrupt legalization in California.

Portland, Ore., congressman and longtime legalization crusader Earl Blumenauer suggested the administration is too scandal-consumed to do much damage to the vibrant legalization movement. “These people are like one dumpster fire after another,” the Democrat said.

Some in the nascent marijuana industry suggest the dose of uncertainty Trump has injected isn’t entirely bad. John Vardaman, a former Justice Department official now at a tech firm called Hypur that helps marijuana sellers and other businesses comply with financial regulations, said the threat from Washington intensifies pressure on companies and state regulators to operate with high ethical standards and not cut corners as the pot trade increasingly moves out into the open.

“In some ways, this potential threat could be a blessing,” he said. “It could ultimately create an industry that takes compliance with the rules more seriously.”

In the bustling main hall of the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo this month, worries about what Trump may do were taking a back seat to deal-making and networking. A fledgling headhunting firm devoted exclusively to pot companies called Vangst reported that it had placed 3,000 workers in two years. A Colorado company that makes neon signs advertising craft beer had on display some trippy designs now being used to hawk edible pot products.

Is business threatened by this administration?

“Who knows?” said Alan Bloom, chief executive of Zeon, the sign company. “We are dealing with politicians. I never underestimate the stupidity of politicians. But there is a lot of tax revenue on the line, and this industry has been growing like crazy since the election.

In a first, scientists show marijuana component cannabidiol reduces seizures for some with epilepsy

STAT/May 24, 2017/Andrew Joseph

For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a component of cannabis reduces seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy, marking a significant step in efforts to use marijuana and its derivatives to treat serious medical conditions.

The company that sponsored the Phase 3 trial, GW Pharmaceuticals, had already announced some of the results, but researchers said the full peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, validated the importance of the research. They also pointed out that the drug, cannabidiol, helped some patients more than others and was associated with a range of sometimes severe side effects, a significant finding because some families have been treating their children on their own in states where recreational marijuana use is legal.

“We now have solid, rigorous scientific evidence that in this specific syndrome, cannabidiol is effective at reducing seizures,” said Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center and an author of the new study. But, he added, “This is not a panacea.”

Cannabidiol, which GW has branded as Epidiolex, is a non-hallucinogenic component of marijuana that can be purified and administered in oil.

For the trial, researchers enrolled 120 children from 2 to 18 years old with Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic form of epilepsy that kills up to 20 percent of patients by the time they are 20. There are no drugs approved specifically for Dravet.

During the study, the patients stayed on their normal treatment regimen, and half of them also received cannabidiol while the remainder were given a placebo. Over a 14-week treatment period, the median number of convulsive seizures in the cannabidiol group decreased from 12.4 to 5.9 per month; for the placebo group, the number went from 14.9 to 14.1.

In the cannabidiol group, 43 percent of patients had their number of seizures cut in half or more, compared with 27 percent in the placebo group. And 5 percent of patients taking cannabidiol saw their seizures disappear, compared with none in the placebo group.

Common side effects seen in the cannabidiol group included vomiting, fatigue, fever, drowsiness, and diarrhea. Eight patients in the group withdrew from the trial because of the severity of the side effects.

In an editorial published with the study, Dr. Samuel Berkovic of the University of Melbourne called the trial “welcome” and “the beginning of solid evidence for the use of cannabinoids in epilepsy.” But he noted that it needs to be replicated and that other studies will be required to know if cannabinoids — the different components of cannabis — can help with other forms of epilepsy and to treat adults.

As desperate families have sought to treat their children with cannabis or cannabidiol on their own, experts have cautioned that it can be risky. Researchers don’t know, for example, how cannabidiol will interact with other medications, and they know even less about how adding THC — a hallucinogenic cannabinoid — to the mix might affect children with epileptic syndromes. They also don’t know the long-term effects of taking cannabidiol.

“We just have to be humble,” Devinsky said. “People have jumped to the idea that cannabis-based products are natural and therefore they work well, and all these anecdotes support that. There’s a lot of belief, and not a lot of science.”

The latest study was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, considered the gold standard form of research. Experts say that these types of trials are the only way to determine if cannabinoids are truly effective at treating diseases.

“The data to me are persuasive,” said Dr. Igor Grant, of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved with the study. “They do show that not everyone gets well, and that’s an important point. But there were substantially better outcomes in the cannabidiol group.”

GW has also announced the results of two Phase 3 trials for cannabidiol in another form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, the full data from which have not been published. The company plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration this year to approve Epidiolex for both syndromes.

“We do see it as profoundly important that patients suffering from these difficult-to-treat conditions have access to an FDA-approved medication, which is manufactured to the standards that medicines are meant to be manufactured to, where the safety profile is well-characterized, and where the dosing is well understood,” GW CEO Justin Gover said in an interview.

An FDA approval of Epidiolex could also lead to a change in US drug policy. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medical value. But an approval would signify that cannabis — or at least cannabidiol — does have a medical use.

The Drug Enforcement Administration could reschedule only cannabidiol and leave cannabis generally at Schedule I. But some scientists who complain that the scheduling makes valid research on cannabis burdensome — they have to get special approval and meet security protocols to study cannabis — hope that the potential of cannabidiol as a medicine could push the DEA to reschedule cannabis itself.

For now, researchers are not sure why some children saw better responses to cannabidiol than others, or even how the drug reduces seizures. But they said this study will likely lead to others exploring those questions and if cannabidiol or other cannabinoids can help with other conditions.

“It’s really a welcome development that they had a well-controlled trial, it’s a big step forward,” said Ivan Soltesz, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, who was not involved with the study. But, he said, “it’s a little bit of a mystery about how it actually works.”

Adelanto: This sleepy California city was $3 million in debt — now it’s cashing in on the marijuana industry

The Business Insider/May 22, 2017/Melia Robinson

Adelanto, California, is what’s known as a “drive-through town.” It’s a dusty plot of desert surrounded by Joshua trees and dilapidated factories. Few outsiders stay long.

Now, the sleepy city in San Bernardino County wants to establish itself as a hotbed for large-scale cultivation and innovation in weed.

There are 360 acres zoned for growing medical marijuana in Adelanto (recreational marijuna is newly legal and California has yet to give licenses for growing it). It’s among the first struggling desert cities to turn to weed as a cure for its economic woes, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Aging factories and warehouses are being transformed into cultivation warehouses, cannabis-oil extraction facilities, and a host of other projects that support California’s booming medical marijuana market. Frontier Enterprises, a major home developer in Southern California, broke ground in February on a 30-acre industrial park that will house 21 marijuana cultivators. It’s big enough to fit nine Costo stores and may someday supply California’s massive demand.

Californians spent $1.8 billion on medical pot in 2016 — about one-third of the legal market in North America last year, according to Arcview Market Research. The state’s recreational market is expected to roll out in summer 2018, which could send industry revenue sky-high.

Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr told LA Weekly he expects revenue generated from taxes on marijuana cultivation to inject millions into the city coffers. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

California will not start issuing licenses for recreational marijuana cultivation until early next year, but Adelanto wants to get a leg up on the competition — namely, other communities in the Salinas Valley that have experience in agriculture and the right climate for marijuana farming. The city has already approved ordinances allowing medical marijuana cultivation at an industrial scale.

Investors with backgrounds in real estate development and law are migrating to the town in the hopes of striking it rich in legal weed.

Adelanto has struggled to recover since a major employer, the George Air Force Base, closed in 1992. About 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of the 32,000 residents work in an immigration detention center (the largest in the state), as well as nearby jails.

In 2014, Adelanto was in debt for $2.6 million. There were talks to disband the city and file for bankruptcy. A year later, the first large marijuana cultivation site sprung up. The deficit is now between $500,000 and $750,000. The major credits the recovery, in part, to revenue generated from taxes on marijuana cultivation, among other projects that create tax revenue.

In an interview with LA Weekly, Mayor Richard Kerr said he expects pot taxes to inject millions into the city coffers. Those funds may pay for new housing, shops, and a concrete plant.

It remains to be seen if Adelanto can make itself the Silicon Valley of medical marijuana, in spite of competition from neighors including Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, which have also attracted marijuana cultivators and developers in recent months.

Some residents of Adelanto worry that the new “green rush” will make the city too expensive for them to live in, as marijuana industry development drives up real estate prices.

Former mayor Cari Thomas told the LA Times that marijuana cultivation as a revenue stream for the city is “just not a way I would have chosen. It’s kind of uncharted territory.”

How Many Prescriptions Are Replaced by Cannabis? Canada Study Explores an Answer

Leafly/May 19, 2017/Bailey Rahn

In the US, we’ve seen a marked drop in opioid overdoses in legal states, prodding the question of whether patients are replacing their prescription medicines with cannabis. Recent survey data collected from patients enrolled in Canada’s MMPR program indicates this may be more than just a correlation.

Led by researchers Philippe Lucas and Zach Walsh, this investigation surveyed 271 patients purchasing medical cannabis from Canadian LP Tilray (which, like Leafly, is owned by Privateer Holdings). Seeking to understand who is using medical marijuana and why, they discovered some staggering statistics pertaining to substitution–63% of respondents reported using cannabis in place of prescription medications.

Breaking down the results by drug classes, Lucas and Walsh found that:

  • 30% of respondents replaced opioids with cannabis
  • 16% replaced benzodiazepines
  • 12% replaced antidepressants

The reason? “Less adverse side effects,” said 39% of patients. Others responded that cannabis was safer (27%) and more effective in treating symptoms (16%).

“In light of the growing rate of morbidity and mortality associated with these prescription medications, cannabis could play a significant role in reducing the health burden of problematic prescription drug use,” the authors wrote.

Putting to rest concerns of cannabis dependence, the survey also established a strong tendency for recreational use to precede medicinal use, not the other way around as we see with many pharmaceutical medications. A transition from medical to recreational use was only reported by less than 3% of respondents, indicating a low risk potential.

The substitution effect reaches beyond just the medicine cabinet; cannabis also helped patients curb other types of substance use:

  • 25% of respondents replaced alcohol with cannabis
  • 12% of respondents replaced cigarettes/tobacco with cannabis
  • 3% of respondents replaced illicit drugs with cannabis

Though widely supported by anecdotal evidence, this study is one of hopefully many to substantiate what patients have been experiencing for themselves when it comes to replacing other drugs and habits with cannabis. How might these statistics look in the US, where prescription medication use and abuse runs rampant? That’s a question for future research.


New Proposed Law in Michigan For Growers and Dispensaries

Medical Marijuana/April 4, 2017/Jason Draizen

In 2008, more than 60 percent of voters approved a new law that would regulate Michigan’s medical marijuana industry. Like other medical marijuana laws in the nation, Michigan’s original legislation provided clear directives to caregivers and certified medical users, but did not provide regulations for growers and dispensaries.

As the number of medical marijuana patients in Michigan grew from hundreds to tens of thousands, the community also grew. Unfortunately, Michigan’s lack of clear regulations led to a lot of confusion.

In March 2017, lawmakers passed a bill that overhauled the state’s medical marijuana program. According to Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, the new medical marijuana law in Michigan takes the 2008 small home-grown industry created by a ballot proposal and puts the industry “on steroids.”

New Michigan Laws

Under the previous legislation, Michigan allowed the growing of limited marijuana by certified medical users and caregivers. A certified medical user was authorized to grow up to 12 marijuana plants. A caregiver was allowed to grow a maximum of 12 plants for each of their patients. Each caregiver was allowed to serve five patients at a time. This meant a caregiver could grow a maximum of 72 plants.

The new law creates three classes of growers: people who can grow a maximum of 500 plants, 1,000 plants and 1,500 plants. It also creates five types of licenses for growers, dispensaries, testing facilities, transporters and seed-to-sale tracking.

Participating in the new law will come at a cost. The community will charge dispensaries an annual fee, which could total $5,000 for each dispensary. Also, they’ll decide whether a dispensary will be allowed to operate and where it will operate.

The state will charge dispensaries a licensing fee of no more than $10,000 per license for the lowest class of growers who cultivate 500 plants or fewer. Every dispensary will pay a 3 percent tax on gross sales, of which 70 percent will go to the local governments and police departments. Much of the balance will go to the state general fund.

For the most part, licensing fees will support a bureaucracy that is projected to cost about $21 million a year. This includes $550,000 to the attorney general’s office for legal expenses, 34 officials from the Michigan State Police and 113 permanent state licensing employees.

Local Control

Beyond the state’s licensing laws, which are yet to take effect, local communities will decide whether they’ll allow newly legalized entities to operate in their areas. A city, village or township may set the number of medical facilities allowed in its jurisdiction, along with laws to restrict zones where a dispensary, grower or other entity may operate.

In some ways, the new laws will legalize dispensaries, which have operated in the legitimate shadows since the original law was approved in 2008. The old law wasn’t clear about marijuana dispensaries, and that’s why there was an oversupply in cities like Lansing and Detroit, which failed to honor the business in the community. This led to numerous shutdowns by the police.

Administrators are weighing the benefits that the medical facilities will bring — such as more tax revenue for the state and greater accessibility to medical marijuana for patients — against potential safety concerns.

State Marijuana Laws

Across the nation, 28 states have laws largely legalizing cannabis in some form. More states will soon join them after recently passing laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana.

Eight states have adopted extensive laws permitting the use of marijuana for recreational use. Most recently, in November 2016, Massachusetts, California, Nevada and Maine also passed measures legalizing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In California, for instance, adults 21 and above are allowed to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis as well as grow up to six plants in their homes.

In states that have recently passed regulations, several officials are debating proposals regarding the use and sale of cannabis. Massachusetts legislators are weighing bills that could lower the amount of marijuana people can legally possess. In Nevada, lawmakers are proposing that businesses should obtain permits from the state allowing for the public use of cannabis. A few other states have legalized the possession of limited amounts of cannabis.

Some marijuana laws are more accommodating than others, allowing possession of medical marijuana for certain preapproved conditions. Otherwise, most states have approved narrow laws permitting citizens to possess medical cannabidiol, a strain of cannabis that provides relief from pain without the usual high that accompanies traditional cannabis.

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said, “We support a structure that gives patients the most options.” She mentioned Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, as a good example. “Anyone who meets the requirements can get a license. As long as you qualify, you can get a permit, and that’s best for patients.”

Under Michigan’s new laws, the five-member licensing panel, which will be appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, cannot put a limit on the number of marijuana licenses available to businesses that will have gone through a thorough and conclusive background check to ensure they qualify for a license.

What to Expect

With marijuana activists launching a petition to put recreational legalization of marijuana on Michigan’s 2018 election ballot, it’s not clear how long the new medical system will last before the marijuana industry gets another law.

One group of legislators tried to place a legalization bill on the 2016 election ballot, but they failed after state officials said many of the 350,000 signatures on the petition were collected outside of the stipulated 180-day window.

Nonetheless, the Marijuana Policy Project is working to form a coalition that will put the recreational use of marijuana up for a vote. It believes there’s an excellent chance of prompting state lawmakers to move forward with legalization.

In fact, Mike Callton, who plans to run for Senate in 2018, said he had successful talks with one legislator who plans to introduce marijuana for recreational use before the beginning of spring. “Moving from medical use to recreational use is going to be a much shorter route,” he says.

For now, we’re all looking forward to getting more growers and dispensaries licensed, allowing for greater accessibility in Michigan as well as reduced marijuana prescriptions and more tax revenue for the state.


State lays out Proposed Rules for Cannabis Testing in California

The Cannifornian/May 9, 2017/Brooke Edwards Staggs

he Bureau of Marijuana Control on Friday released a plan to make cannabis safer for patients, with rules for all medical marijuana legally sold in the state to be independently lab tested starting next year.

The 46 pages of regulations lay out everything from what clothing lab technicians can wear when collecting cannabis samples to what level of pesticides marijuana can contain.

The draft rules drew mixed reactions from industry professionals who are anxious to finally have uniform guidelines but believe the state included unnecessary testing that will drive up the price of cannabis.

“Like with any regulations, I think there’s still tons of work to do,” Robert Martin, executive director of the Association of Commercial Cannabis Laboratories, said.

Martin, who runs CW Analytical lab in Oakland, said state officials visited his facility and really listened as his association members weighed in on issues such as pesticides and how to handle the plant material.

But he was disappointed to see that the proposed regulations mandate measuring heavy metals and aflatoxins, which are cancer-causing chemicals produced by certain molds.

“We’re over-testing the products,” he said.

A study by UC Davis scientists earlier this year found samples from 20 unidentified Northern California marijuana dispensaries contained bacterial and fungal pathogens that may cause serious and even fatal infections if smoked or vaped by people with impaired immune systems.

But Martin said he has 10,000 data samples showing there’s no evidence of aflatoxins in cannabis anywhere in North America.

“I think it’s going to take some real science to change opinions,” he said.

If the rules stick as proposed, Martin said labs like his will have to buy pricey new equipment to measure for heavy metals. And he said that will drive up both the cost and turnaround time for test results.

The testing regulations are part of a larger plan to finally rein in the state’s unruly cannabis industry, as California marks 20 years since medical marijuana became legal and nearly six months since residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Medical marijuana regulations were mandated by a a trio of bills known as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, which became law in 2015.

The Bureau of Marijuana Control (formerly the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation) was created by that act and charged with establishing and enforcing rules for cannabis retailers, distributors, transporters and testers.

On April 28, the bureau released a 58-page document with draft regulations for the first three segments of the market. Those rules would limit dispensary operating hours, dictate security plans for each shop, cap how many ounces of cannabis patients could buy each day and more.

The same day, the Department of Public Health published detailed rules for cannabis manufacturers.

And the Department of Food and Agriculture released proposed rules for cultivators.

The bureau’s new draft regulations for testing are 46 pages long.

The testing regulations were the most challenging to develop, Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s marijuana bureau, said during a presentation Friday evening at UC Irvine.

Here are some key details in the proposed rules released Friday:

Labs will have to test for homogeneity; the presence or absence of various analytes, including cannabinoids, residual solvents, micro-organisms, pesticides, heavy metals, and mycotoxins; water activity and moisture content; and filth and foreign material.

Labs can also test for terpenes.

They must report in milligrams the concentration of THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBG and CBN. Samples “pass” if they don’t vary from the stated THC or CBD levels by more than 15 percent.

Labs must report whether samples have more than allowed amounts of pesticides such as acephate, residual solvents such as butane, impurities such as Salmonella, heavy metals such as arsenic, mold that averages 5 percent of the sample by weight and more.

To get a full annual license, labs will need to be accredited by the International Organization for Standardization. But the state will offer 180-day provisional licenses to labs that meet all other qualifications while they work on their ISO accreditation.

Lab techs have to wear safety goggles, hair nets and other sanitary gear plus use sanitized tools when collecting samples for testing.

Labs have to collect 0.5 percent of the total cannabis batch for testing. Batches must be under 10 pounds.

Labs have to maintain detailed plans for chain of custody for samples, employee training, storage and more. And they have to make those plans available to the bureau if asked.

All of the draft medical marijuana regulations — which now total 257 pages — are open for public comment.

The state plans to take feedback in writing and through a series of public hearings over the next several weeks before getting a final set of rules in place in time to start issuing licenses to testing labs, cultivators, retailers and all other cannabis businesses by Jan. 1, 2018.

“We want to hear from you,” Ajax said. “We’re OK with you not agreeing with us. … Tell us what we did wrong and then tell us how we can make it better.”

Martin said his association plans to take advantage of that public comment period to present the bureau with solid science that he hopes will shape the final regulations into something that’s more logical and fiscally sound.

California expects to release draft regulations this fall for the recreational cannabis industry, created when voters passed Proposition 64 on Nov. 8. Those rules must also be in place by the start of the new year.

Meanwhile, the legislature is grappling with how to rectify differences between the medical and recreational marijuana laws.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office pitched its plan for reconciling the two systems in a 92-page budget trailer bill released in April.

He largely recommends that California go with the more market-friendly plans included in voter-approved Prop. 64.

Lawmakers are holding hearings on that plan. And the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office on Thursday published an overview that praises parts of Brown’s proposal — such as allowing vertical integration — while urging caution on his recommendations to not start reporting on key aspects of the industry until 2023 and to limit the number of medium-sized farms allowed in the state.

If that budget trailer bill passes, the bureau said it will withdraw all of its proposed regulations and propose a new set that’s consistent with any changes in the law.

The public can submit written comments on the draft testing regulations for the next 45 days. They can also attend public hearings that will be held throughout the state in coming weeks. The first meeting will be held in Eureka from 1 to 3 p.m. on June 1 at the Adorni Center at 1011 Waterfront Drive.

New National Poll Results: Cannabis Approval in U.S. at All-time High

May 6, 2017/Matt Walstatter

Cannabis is hot! It’s sexy and exciting. There is constant news coverage of cannabis, so it must be important. We hear numbers like there was more than $6 billion in legal retail cannabis sales last year, so it’s clearly big business. It seems like every week a state decriminalizes, passes a CBD law or legalizes medical or recreational use. So we know that the increasing visibility of cannabis has been accompanied by increasing acceptance and support.

But we are still left to wonder just who is using cannabis and who is supporting legalization. Which Americans are joining this revolution?

Last month, the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion, home of the Marist Poll, released the results of a poll commissioned by Yahoo! News to learn more about Americans’ perceptions of cannabis. The results were highly instructive to those of us interested in not just the what, but the who and why behind cannabis legalization.

First the fine print: The Marist Poll is the central endeavor of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion. It is widely regarded as one of the most successful, trusted and respected polling organizations in the nation, earning high marks from NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. For this particular poll, they surveyed 1,122 American adults from March 1 thru March 7, 2016.  Calls were made to both mobile and land lines, and interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.


The poll found that 83 percent of Americans eighteen or older support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.  Among parents, support drops ever so slightly, to 81 percent.  Of those who have tried cannabis, 94 percent support legalizing medical, as do 98 percent of regular users (who consume cannabis once a month or more).

While this kind of support would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, it’s hardly surprising now. Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia allow some form of medical cannabis. If you count CBD-only laws, the number jumps to 44 percent. Even conservative strongholds like Texas and Georgia have begun to allow the use of CBD.

When asked about legalizing adult use of cannabis, support remained strong. Among U.S. adults, 49 percent support legalizing recreational cannabis. Of those who have tried cannabis, 70 percent support legalizing recreational cannabis. Among regular users, the number jumps to 89 percent.

That means that nearly half of American adults (perhaps more than half when you factor in the poll’s margin of error) support the full legalization of cannabis.  This bodes well for those of us working to end prohibition.

Put your money where your mouth is

The poll contained some questions related to finance as well. Of all respondents, 29 percent said they would invest in a cannabis business if it became legal.  The poll also showed that 52 percent (and 85 percent of regular users) are comfortable with their bank working in the cannabis space.  Respondents who approved of their retirement fund investing in cannabis totaled 51 percent. Of regular users, 80 percent also approved using their retirement fund for investing in cannabis.

It’s one thing to say you support legalization. But it requires much stronger conviction to pony up and risk personal savings on the industry. This finding tells me that we have more than just broad support for the cannabis movement – there is also deep conviction behind that support, evidenced by a willingness to invest in the future of the industry.

Who uses cannabis in the U.S.?

According to the Marist Poll, 52 percent of U.S. adults have tried cannabis at some point in their lives.  The poll also showed that 22 percent say they currently use cannabis, while 14 percent label themselves regular users (at least once or twice each month).

Among users, 54 percent are parents, and 30 percent are parents of young children. This tracks very closely with the national averages for all adults. This tells me that most folks aren’t passing on using cannabis simply because they have kids at home, which means that some of the stigma around cannabis has faded.

Just under a third, or 31 percent of cannabis users, have a college degree, compared to 32 percent for all U.S. adults.  Nearly half, or 46 percent of cannabis users, earn more than $50,000 per year, compared with only 29 percent of all adults.  From this we can deduce that we have cannabis users in all socioeconomic categories and all walks of life. If anything, it appears that tokers are slightly more successful than their non-consuming counterparts.

The poll also looked at party affiliation. Democrats represented 43 percent of users, with 14 percent identifying as Republican and 41 percent as Independent. It’s hardly surprising that Republicans comprise the minority. But it’s interesting to note that they represent a significant minority. This will help the cause of legalization.

Cannabis legalization is one of the few political issues that doesn’t cleave neatly along party lines. Progressive Democrats tend to be the strongest supporters of legalization, but supporters also appeal to some states’ rights Republicans. And people who have watched as a sick friend or relative gets some much needed relief from cannabis tend to buy into the cause, regardless of party affiliation.  This bipartisan support will make it much easier to accomplish the descheduling and full legalization of cannabis at the national level.

I was once asked during a lecture what the typical cannabis consumer looks like. I responded with a question of my own: What does a typical beer drinker look like?

The data from this survey shows that, as a group, cannabis consumers look and act just like the rest of America. We have similar educations and similar earnings power. We are male and female. We are black, white and brown. We have children at the same rate, and we all want to leave the world a little better for them.

Disney Just Banned Cannabis From Disneyland, Disney World

Leafly/May 4, 2017/Gage Peake

Last updated May 5, 2017, 10:25 a.m.

Medical marijuana might have the support of millions in California and Florida, but there are still plenty of places where it’s not allowed. One of those places, according to a new policy, is Disney World in Orlando. Another is “The Happiest Place on Earth”—Disneyland in Southern California.

The Orlando amusement park updated its website Thursday morning to specifically list “marijuana” as a prohibited item, a change reported by WESH 2 News. Disneyland’s website remained silent on cannabis until later that day, after Leafly News contacted the park to inquire about its policies.

“The answer is the same for both coasts and we are in the process of updating the park rules,” Disneyland’s media communications manager, Melissa Britt, told Leafly. By Thursday afternoon, marijuana had been added to Disneyland’s list of prohibited items on the park’s rules page. The prohibition appears to apply to all forms of cannabis, and it does not distinguish between medical and nonmedical marijuana.

“What makes that different than a pill of Oxycontin in their purse?”

Matt Morgan, Orlando attorney

“We are revising our rules to clarify that marijuana is not permitted on our property,” a Disney spokesperson told WESH 2 News when asked about the change. “Although some states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”

Orlando attorney Matt Morgan, a legalization advocate who fought to pass Florida’s Amendment 2 to allow medical marijuana in the state, told WESH he’s not surprised by the decision. Allowing medical cannabis into the park, he explained, could become a nuisance to the general public.

“But to the extent that they’d go through someone’s personal belongings to search for that, I think that’s when the public might start having an issue with it,” Morgan told the station. “So for instance, if someone has a vaporizing pen in their purse, what makes that different than a pill of Oxycontin in their purse, and should people be treated differently?”

One reason for the difference could be based on the misconception that cannabis consumption necessarily involves smoking. Disney understandably wouldn’t want people smoking inside of the park, Morgan said, but many medical marijuana patients consume cannabis simply by placing a few drops of oil under their tongues.

As Disney World moves to ban medical marijuana from the park, patients throughout Florida are watching as lawmakers continue to overhaul the voter-approved Amendment 2. Some, however, have criticized the process as two steps forward, one steps back.

“We have listened and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process,” Florida House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) told local media in response to complaints.  “We believe this bill makes it easier for patients to obtain their medical marijuana.”


May 4, 2017, 6:04 p.m. — A Disney spokesperson tells Leafly News that the ban on cannabis also applies to Disneyland in California.

Cannabis workers, once facing legal peril, get the California seal of approval

Los Angeles Times/April 23, 2017/Robin Abcarian

The parking lot of the River City Phoenix medical cannabis dispensary was jammed last Thursday. As a security guard directed traffic, a line of patients stretched out the door of the North Sacramento outlet in a funky industrial neighborhood.

Unlike people who show up at cannabis festivals such as the Emerald Cup — young and looking for a good high — these marijuana seekers were indistinguishable from the folks you see in line every day at the grocery store.

Some were youngish, but many were middle-aged and elderly. Some looked pretty sick as they waited to get into the dispensary, which grosses $16 million a year in sales despite being crammed into only 1,700 square feet.

Everyone still had to show a medical marijuana card to get in; even though California voters legalized recreational cannabis last November, the new rules don’t kick in until 2018. Until then, unless you grow your own, you must have a doctor’s recommendation to buy.

Since this was April 20, a national marijuana holiday for reasons you should know by now, the dispensary was especially busy.

Like many around the state, River City Phoenix celebrated the occasion by offering treats to its patients: vouchers for pizza and tacos from food trucks outside and a goodie bag with a prerolled joint, a gram of bud and an edible sample or two. (Next to cosmetics, cannabis is the most sample crazy industry I’ve ever seen. Some pot lovers even treat 4/20 like Halloween, roaming around from dispensary to dispensary, collecting freebies.)

“Have a great 4/20!” a budtender cheerfully told a young woman who was buying a rainbow-colored Rice Krispies square.

Just as the high-end coffee culture gave us the “barista,” so has the booming marijuana trade given us a the “budtender,” the dispensary equivalent of the pharmacy technician.

“If a new patient came in, I would definitely ask what kind of effect you were looking for. Do you want something to relax at the end of the day? Are you suffering from joint pain, back pain, headaches?” said Shayna Schonauer, 27, who began working as a budtender at River City Phoenix almost five years ago.

Last month, Schonauer became California’s first official cannabis pharmacy technician. She completed 2,000 hours of training — on safety, packaging, patient verification and best business practices — and was awarded her journeyman certificate by the California Apprenticeship Council of the state department of Industrial Relations. Another 35 enrollees in the Sacramento-area pilot program are still working toward their certificates. The program was spearheaded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million members and began reaching out to dispensary workers about four years ago.

Shayna Schonauer’s cannabis pharmacy technician certificate from the California Department of Industrial Relations (Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

“This is an exciting time,” said Jeff Ferro, director of the UFCW’s’ Cannabis Workers Rising campaign.

He envisions apprenticeship programs covering every part of the cannabis industry “from seed to sale.” He is working with educational institutions like City College of San Francisco to create a cannabis apprenticeship curriculum that could be a model for other parts of the industry. (Dispensaries do not have to be unionized to participate.)

In addition to creating a more standardized workforce, Ferro said, apprenticeships will help level the playing field for the folks who have been penalized the most by the failed war on drugs. “This will be an opportunity for people of color to really thrive, because it’s the skills that will get you there, not your gender or color,” he said.

The apprenticeship program is yet another measure of how cannabis is professionalizing at a breakneck pace.

Another sign: the unionization of the cannabis workforce. The UFCW, which represents workers at River City Phoenix, has organized thousands of them in eight states.

Unlike many employers who want to run screaming when they hear a union is sniffing around their workers, River City Phoenix actually invited the union in.

“I had a real fear I was going to get hauled off to jail,” said David Spradling, an engaging 36-year-old who owns the River City Phoenix dispensary with Mark Pelter, 68, a serene former Buddhist monk who got his start in cannabis years ago as a seasonal worker, or “trimmigrant,” in Mendocino County.

“I reached out to the union because I wanted to solidify my staff wages and benefits, so if I was arrested or had to sell, the people I employed would be secure,” Spradling said.

With 100 workers on the payroll, he and Pelter operate the largest unionized dispensary in the state. Their employees start at $13 an hour and get bumped to $15 after 90 days. They receive health benefits, and will eventually participate in the UFCW’s pension plan as well. (Spradling said many of his entry level employees are not as excited about the health benefits as they could be, since they’re under 26, and not desperate for insurance because they are still on their parents’ plans.)

Spradling and Pelter have recently purchased a second dispensary nearby, and have plans to expand to Marysville and Portland, Ore. Their goal is to open three dispensaries a year for the next five years, including, they hope, in Los Angeles.

“Los Angeles is the biggest market in the world,” Spradling said. “You can’t be an industry leader without having a presence in Los Angeles. It dwarfs everything.”

When Schonauer, who did not attend college, first went to work for River City Phoenix as a budtender, she earned $9 an hour. Now a manager who oversees two stores, she is earning nearly quadruple that.

“I’m hoping this program will put some sort of standard into our industry, which we don’t have yet,” Schonauer said.

Jeffrey Ferro of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Cannabis Workers Rising project has pushed for a state apprenticeship program for cannabis workers (Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

We were chatting in a small, airy space next door to the dispensary called Honey’s Hideaway Gallery, recently opened by Spradling. The gallery is devoted to high-end blown-glass pipes, bongs and “rigs,” which are used to smoke concentrated forms of cannabis. Some of the pieces, which cost up to $5,000, looked like no smoking implements I’d ever seen. Personally, I couldn’t imagine befouling any of the delicate glass with gooey cannabis extracts.

Then again, I could hardly have imagined that cannabis workers would be unionized now, or that the state of California would put its golden seal of approval on a new class of cannabis industry journeymen.

Ohio will begin accepting applications to grow medical marijuana in June 7, 2017/Jackie Borchardt

COLUMBUS, Ohio — State officials will begin accepting applications to license 24 medical marijuana grow operations in June and will review them in July.

Once awarded, license holders will have nine months to meet all the requirements of the program.

The Ohio Department of Commerce plans to release application forms and instructions in the next two to three weeks, according to a fact sheet released Friday morning. Department officials will then hold a webinar to go over the process and answer any questions before growers begin applying for licenses in June.

Gov. John Kasich signed Ohio’s medical marijuana law in June 2016. It allows people with one of 21 medical conditions to buy and use marijuana if recommended by a physician. Most of the details of the program were left to three state regulatory agencies to decide before September 2017.

State officials are still finalizing the application process and rules for marijuana product manufacturers, testing labs and dispensaries.

The state will issue two types of cultivator licenses: 12 “level I” licenses for up to 25,000 square feet of growing space and 12 “level II” licenses for up to 3,000 square feet. The space was increased because of concerns the number of growers and allowed square footage were too little to serve Ohio’s patient population.

Department officials can decide in September 2018 whether to issue additional licenses or grant additional grow space to existing license holders.

The license fees and financial requirements are among the highest of the country’s 28 medical marijuana programs: a $20,000 nonrefundable application fee and $180,000 license fee for a level I license and a $2,000 application fee and $18,000 license fee for a level II license.

Other requirements for cultivators:

  • A person or company cannot own or invest in more than one cultivator.
  • Applicants must show local support for the plan and no bans or moratoriums can be in place.
  • Demonstrate the facility will be secured by fencing, 24-hour surveillance and security alarms.
  • Maintain an inventory of at least 20 pounds of medical marijuana for large growers and 10 pounds for small growers.

How will applications be scored?

Applications will be screened first to determine whether they are complete. A separate panel of reviewers will then score the applications based on criteria set by the rules. The applications reviewed in this stage won’t include identifiable information.

The department sought help in February developing the scoring system, but as of last Wednesday hadn’t yet hired someone, according to a department spokeswoman.