Congressional Committee Discusses How to Legalize Cannabis

In a first-of-its-kind hearing, a key congressional committee met Wednesday morning to discuss how to finally put an end to federal cannabis prohibition. Titled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform,” it was the latest indication of just how far Congress has come on cannabis reform after decades of intransigence.

Wednesday’s hearing highlighted competing visions of what reform should look like.

According to most polls, Americans now broadly support cannabis legalization, with a majority of both Democrats and Republicans in favor. That bipartisan agreement was on display Wednesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee meeting, where members of both parties expressed frustration at the current state of the country’s cannabis laws.

Ending prohibition, said US Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, “may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session.”

But while lawmakers seemed to agree on the need for reform, Wednesday’s hearing also highlighted tensions between competing visions of what reform should look like.

Race: A Persistent Sticking Point

The war on drugs has wreaked havoc on millions of Americans and their families, but no group has been more disproportionately impacted than people of color. Despite evidence that Americans consume cannabis at similar rates across racial lines, US Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) noted, black and brown people are roughly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than their white peers. Those disparities are even higher in some parts of the country, including major cities such as New York and Baltimore.

“The foundations of our drug policy are inherently racist.”

Dr. G. Malik Burnett, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Even in states that have taken steps to legalize, racial disparities remain–both in terms of arrests and as measured by company ownership in the newly legal industry. In Florida, for example, which has a limited medical cannabis program, US Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell observed that most people in the legal industry are “white and wealthy” while people of color continue to be arrested. “We have a tale of two Americas,” she said.

To address these inequities, some lawmakers called for automatic vacation or expungement of past cannabis convictions. Others urged more direct action, such as funneling federal funds to help people of color find a foothold in the new industry.

That suggestion was too much for other lawmakers, such as McClintock, the California Republican. Though he agreed with the need for some form of federal cannabis reform, McClintock claimed Democrats were using the issue to inflame racial divisions. “I am disappointed that just as a strong bipartisan consensus is emerging on this issue,” he said, “the majority has chosen to play the race card.”

Other committee members pushed back by highlighting the drug war’s racist origins.

US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), for one, noted that a chief architect of cannabis prohibition, Harry Anslinger, not only “made claims about cannabis that were incorrect” but “also targeted blacks and Latinos.”

“Would it be fair to say that the origins of marijuana prohibition are racially tinged, flawed?” Jeffries asked Dr. G Malik Burnett, a physician at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a former policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

“The foundations of our drug policy are inherently racist,” Burnett replied.

Rescheduling vs. Descheduling

In years past, cautious promoters of cannabis reform, such as former Sen. Hillary Clinton, said they would support removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act’s most restrictive category, Schedule I, and reschedule it amid a less-restrictive class of drugs. But both lawmakers and witnesses at Wednesday’s hearings said that removing cannabis from the CSA entirely would lead to better results for most Americans.

“The whole system to me seems irrational.”

US Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)

US Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), noted that cannabis is less dangerous than most Schedule II drugs, which include cocaine and fentanyl. But even moving cannabis to Schedule III would leave obstacles in place for businesses and consumers. Taxing cannabis and expanding research would be allowed under Schedule III, for example, but access to banking and other financial services would still be limited. Nor would a Schedule III classification allow consumption by consenting adults.

“The whole system to me seems irrational,” Lieu said. “I think marijuana should be taken completely off of the Controlled Substances Act.”

Removing cannabis from the CSA completely would also “lower the barrier to entry to the cannabis industry” and thus promote a more equitable industry, Burnett of Johns Hopkins said. Descheduling cannabis would allow cannabis entrepreneurs to access federal incentives for small businesses, including grants, loans, and other financial support. That would mean more equitable access to startup capital than is currently available through angel investors or venture capitalists “who themselves have a diversity problem,” Burnett said.

Public Health

One of the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing was Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who in January announced that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases. She also filed a motion to erase nearly 4,000 cannabis convictions–a move the court has since denied. Mosby testified that decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis would allow the state to better treat problem drug use while at the same time freeing up law enforcement resources to target bigger public health threats.

“We’ve criminalized what should have been a public health issue this entire time,” she said. Since her office stopped prosecuting cannabis possession cases, Mosby told the panel, the clearance rate for Baltimore’s nonviolent shooting crimes has gone up. “What would my work look like if we were to focus on safety?” she said. “It would be great.”

Gateway Drug & Teen Use

Asked to speak to the notion that cannabis is a gateway drug, Dr. David Nathan, board president for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, called the concern “one of the most thoroughly debunked issues in this debate.”

For one thing, many researchers now subscribe to the so-called common liability theory, which says that there are a common set of factors that tend to lead to all drug use, including poverty, absence of a parent from the home, bad schools, unsafe streets, genetic predispositions, and others. It seems drug use is determined less by what someone puts in their body than the environment that body is in.

Beyond that, Nathan added, “Although there is a correlation between cannabis use and the use of other drugs, there’s also a stronger correlation between alcohol and tobacco and the use of other drugs.” In other words, if we’re truly concerned about a gateway effect, alcohol and tobacco use are bigger concerns than cannabis.

Next Steps

There are a number of bills currently circulating in Congress that address cannabis legalization. The leading measure, the STATES Act, was mentioned favorably by a number of legislators and hearing witnesses. A few, though, objected to the lack of equity measures in the STATES Act–measures which are contained in a rival measure, the Marijuana Justice Act.

Wednesday’s hearing was not meant to consider any one specific bill, but rather to give legislators an overview of the racial justice issues at play.

“Everything in politics seems impossible until it happens,” said US Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). “If 15 years ago I were to tell you, ‘In 15 years we would have gay marriage in 50 states and, in some of those states, we’d be smoking weed,’ you’d think I was crazy. But that is, in fact, what is happening now.”

“I appreciate the fight,” Lieu said. “Keep on fighting, and I believe we can get this done.”

Read More

Meet the Women Leading America’s CBD Wellness Revolution

On a recent Friday evening in a private home near Walnut Creek, California, several accomplished, professional middle-aged women gathered to learn about cannabis.

The authors of a new book on cannabis and CBD explain it all, clearly and without apology or puns.

Sipping LaCroix and nibbling on cheese and grapes, they were excited to meet Dr. Junella Chin and Aliza Sherman, authors of the new book, Cannabis & CBD for Health and Wellness: An Essential Guide for Using Nature’s Medicine to Relieve Stress, Anxiety, Chronic Pain, Inflammation, and More.

Like most of America, they’d heard all about CBD but knew next to nothing about it. That’s a learning gap Chin and Sherman hope to close.

Cannabis & CBD, published earlier this month, details the history, botany, science, chemical compounds, case studies, and practical uses of cannabis. The book is a comprehensive and beautifully designed primer that’s perfect for newcomers–and will fill in the knowledge gaps for more experienced patients and consumers.

An expert guide for non-experts, without stigma, fear, or lame puns. Sherman and Chin get it right. (Courtesy Random House)

Whether as a wine replacement, a substitute for anti-anxiety medication, to ease the symptoms of menopause, or to aid with sleep, there are a myriad of reasons for women to seek out cannabis.

CBD helped Dr. Chin get through med school. Cannabis eased Sherman’s insomnia and neck pain.

But the knowledge barrier to entering the market remains large. That presented an opportunity for female educators and health professionals like Sherman and Chin.

Aliza Sherman is the CEO of Ellementa, a women’s wellness network that offers online resources and connects women in cities across the country at gatherings like the one in Walnut Creek, to learn about cannabis from expert speakers and connect with trusted brands. Junella Chin specializes in osteopathic manipulative medicine, and is currently treating patients in New York City as an integrative cannabis physician.

Prior to the event in Walnut Creek, I sat down with Sherman and Chin for a wide-ranging conversation about their new book and their experiences with cannabis. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Junella Chin: CBD helped her manage a spinal disease and make it through med school. (Jake Elwood photo, courtesy Random House)

Leafly: How did the two of you meet?

Both women laugh.

Junella Chin (JC): We just met!

Aliza Sherman (AS): We didn’t meet until last week. We wrote the book and had not met in person until literally last week when we started our book tour together.

Leafly: Oh wow!

AS: I knew of June from Ellementa New York City. She was invited to speak there by the local leader in New York, and it went really well. I read up on her and took a look online. I saw a lot of great, credible information. I wanted a co-author, preferably a doctor and a woman, and she fit the bill. I invited her to write the book with me and she said yes.

Leafly: How did cannabis enter your life?

AS: A lot of people in this industry have had some kind of physical, mental or even spiritual awakening because they accepted the fact that this plant can be helpful.

‘I thought cannabis was dangerous and illegal and would ruin my brain. It wasn’t until in my early fifties that I began to realize it was medicine.’

Aliza Sherman, co-author

I was resistant to it for so many years. I dabbled in high school and college, but it wasn’t something I thought I should have in my life because of the stigma. I thought it was dangerous and illegal and would ruin my brain.

It wasn’t until in my early fifties when I was suffering that I began to realize it was medicine. … I started researching it and I thought ‘Wow, maybe I could use this for my insomnia and chronic neck pain.'” I tried it and it worked.

I was really excited about the discovery, and I wondered why more people don’t know about this. As a writer, communicator, speaker and teacher, I wanted to teach women about it.

Author and cannabis educator Aliza Sherman
Aliza Sherman: After finding relief from insomnia and neck pain, she’s now teaching other women about medical cannabis. (Photo: Ageist, courtesy Random House)

A Challenging Spinal Disease

Leafly (To Chin): What about your personal journey with cannabis?

JC: I became a patient before I graduated from medical school. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with a debilitating spinal disease, and that led to years of chronic pain.

‘An HIV/AIDS doctor told me about CBD oil. He said it helped his patients with pain and didn’t make them feel altered.’

Junella Chin, co-author

I cycled through all of the conventional therapies: medications, epidurals, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, rolfing. When I got to medical school I found that the only thing that worked was medication and a brace–that was short-lived, but it got me through chunks of time.

I started doing rounds at the hospital, working 80 hours a week. I had a really hard time standing. One of my attending physicians noticed, and he asked me what was going on. He said “You’re not going to be able to finish medical school like this, to be honest with you. You have a long way to go.”

Getting Through Med School

I explained that I had ankylosis spondylitis–AS. He knew about it, and he knew that there was no cure. All you can do is find symptomatic relief. Dr. Levine was an HIV/AIDS doctor, and he’s the one who offered me marijuana in a tincture form. He said “This is what my HIV and AIDS patients use. It really helps them with pain and it doesn’t make them feel altered.” He didn’t call it CBD oil at the time. He just said it was a different kind of cannabis plant.

I grew up in the Bronx. I was pre-med, I had my eye on the prize, so I didn’t experiment with cannabis. I had an opinion about it–it was for gangsters and high school dropouts. I grew up in a strict Chinese household, and I was taught that it caused psychosis. But I had to try it–either that or drop out of medical school. So, I tried it over a weekend. By Monday I knew it was working. To my amazement, something was changing. I was able to stand and wash the dishes. I could sit for more than a half-hour to study.

I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I went to medical school in California shortly after it legalized here medically [in 1996], so I was able to learn everything I could about both this plant and about conventional medicine. It was the best of both worlds. I decided to dedicate my career to helping patients integrate medical cannabis safely.

Everybody’s Talking About CBD

Leafly: It‘s interesting that the book’s title is Cannabis & CBD. How do you feel about the trendiness of CBD and its promotion to people who may not know what it is?

AS: There are pros and cons. The pros are that when everyone’s talking about it, it’s normalized.

‘Everyone’s hearing about CBD and thinking that it’s going to be a miracle cure for them. But they really have no idea what’s in it.’

Aliza Sherman

Even if it’s trendy, it’s out in the open. People don’t understand that CBD is cannabis and it comes from the cannabis plant. It’s a variation, but it’s still cannabis. Even legislators, they have no idea.

The downside is that everyone’s hearing about it and thinking that it’s going to be a miracle cure for them. They think something is better or healthier because it has CBD in it. But they really have no idea what’s in it–if it’s been cleaned, if pesticides and heavy metals have been removed. They could be taking in toxins and they have no clue.

JC: Other health care practitioners don’t realize that CBD is cannabis, and they feel better saying, sure you can prescribe CBD oil. So it’s semantics. My older patients, 65 and older, always come in and say “I don’t want marijuana, I want CBD.”

So that’s why we named the book Cannabis & CBD. We talked with the publisher and went through different titles, and they said ‘Cannabis and CBD are separated so much in our culture, it would be a good title and then you can delve into it.'”

Leafly: Are there negative side effects to using CBD that aren’t discussed?

JC: Absolutely. It’s not a silver bullet. It can be contraindicated with certain medications. It can change the way your prescription medications and natural supplements work. If you take too much CBD, it can cause nausea or diarrhea. There’s a subset of patients that can’t tolerate the cannabis plant at all, they get very ill or depressed, have trouble sleeping and get anxiety, and that’s something that needs to be discussed. It’s not a cure-all.

Opening Medical Culture

Leafly: Why do you think more MDs aren’t educating themselves about the endocannabinoid system or cannabis in general?

JC: We don’t learn about it in medical school or residency.

‘We don’t learn about the endocannabinoid system in med school. But I’m now teaching it to pharmacists.’

Junella Chin

I’m just starting to do grand rounds, teaching it to pharmacists. I just did a symposium at a medical school in New York, and after that I got so many calls from medical students wanting to shadow me in the office, so it’s starting. But we still can’t prescribe it–we can only recommend it–and there’s a liability with it, it’s still federally regulated. It’s not covered by my malpractice insurance, and if I have an affiliation with a hospital, they’re very clear that they don’t cover you if you recommend it and something goes wrong.

MDs as a whole are very conservative. We follow a linear path. This is botanical medicine with a broader therapeutic window than pharmaceutical meds, and that’s not what conventional healthcare is about.

Leafly: For better or for worse.

AS: Exactly. There’s definitely something to be said about the benefits of regulation–including mandatory testing. A lot of CBD products aren’t tested.

It’s not for us to promote an opinion of which products are best. We don’t say that “isolates are terrible and full-spectrum – whole plant is better.” We explain that there’s a place for each. Isolates are more limited in their ability; full-spectrum CBD has a broader potential to be beneficial for many more things. We let the consumer decide.

What’s Coming Next

Leafly: Over the next five to ten years, what do you think the potential is for cannabis to change medicine as we know it?

JC: I think there will be more research into the biosynthetic version of cannabis. If it’s genetically-modified yeast creating cannabinoids, making it in an isolate form with molecular consistency, then the pharmaceutical industry will embrace it and healthcare practitioners will as well. Ultimately I think that’s where it’s going to go: towards the development of pharmaceutical-based cannabinoids.

AS: For better or for worse. There is a beauty and harmony to nature’s medicine. But the variability scares and confuses people. We’re trying to get to the people that think it’s too complicated and simplify it for them so they can embrace something that’s more natural. Because once it’s a pharmaceutical, it’s very different from the way nature intended.

JC: I think there’s a place for both. With plant medicine, when you’re pulling apart the molecules of the plant, you’re not going to get the benefits of the synergism of the whole plant compound.

Read More

Recycling Vaporized Cannabis: 10 Ways to Use AVB (‘Already Vaped Bud’)

“Already vaped bud,” or AVB for short, is the brown, crispy flower that’s left over after vaping cannabis. Although much of the THC in cannabis will be vaporized, the flower isn’t turned to ash (unlike smoking) and retains some of its cannabinoid content. That means it can be used twice, if you know how.

Now, not all AVB is created equal. If you have that vaporizer blasting at a high temperature, it’s unlikely that your AVB will have much left to give. That said, if you hit the sweet spot, and vape with convection heating at around 315-440?F, you’ll be surprised by how much potency can still be gleaned from your leftover flower. Luckily, this is around the temperature you should be vaping at anyway to avoid combustion.

That said, the potency of your AVB will vary depending on not just the temperature it was vaped at, but also the potency of your cannabis flower, and also the method you end up choosing to use your AVB for. As always, when using your final product, remember to start low and go slow until you figure out the potency. After that, there’s nothing left to do but enjoy!

Below, discover 10 creative ways to recycle your AVB, rather than tossing it in the compost.

Edibles

First in line is likely the most obvious use–edibles. Baking or cooking with your AVB is a great choice because it helps to mask the flavor while also making use of those leftover cannabinoids.

AVB can be utilized just the same as ground flower for anything from brownies to herbed salmon, except unlike flower, because it is already decarboxylated, it is ready to use! Simply toss it into the mixture to enjoy, but use it gradually in your recipes, starting with a lower dose at first, as it will be impossible to be sure of the potency. Better to make a less potent batch and have an excuse to eat two brownies than to make one that’s too strong and only be able to nibble a corner.

Water Curing

If you fancy the idea of using AVB for edibles but just can’t get past the taste no matter what flavors you add, water curing might be the trick to help you salvage your bud. The process is pretty easy, but a bit time consuming.

You’ll first need to save your AVB until you’ve accumulated a half ounce or more to make the process worth your time. Next you’ll need patience, because the process itself will take about 4-7 days.

Here’s how to do it:

  • First take a cheesecloth and use it to bundle up your AVB like one big teabag. Tie it off with a string.
  • Place the bundle in a bowl of water, letting it soak thoroughly.
  • Check back in a couple hours and toss the discolored water, adding fresh water in its place.
  • You’ll want to do this for about four days, up to a week but no longer, changing the water as frequently as possible.

Once the time has come, drain the water, wring out the teabag, and then spread the water-soaked AVB evenly onto a baking sheet. Set the oven to 200 degrees and let it chill for two hours, tossing the AVB about every 30 minutes to ensure it dries evenly.

Voila! You now have a batch of AVB without the awful taste. Use it in edibles or turn it into butter to use for everything from baking to breakfast.

Sprinkle on Food

If you love the idea of ingesting your AVB but can’t be bothered to cook, (no judgement here, fellow take-out aficionados), fear not, because AVB can be easily added to any snack. Since it has already been decarboxylated in the vaping process, there’s no need for any extra steps before eating.

That said, for this method, water curing is strongly recommended for flavor purposes, but if you’re really the queen of lazy culture, consider pairing it with Nutella, peanut butter, bbq sauce, hot sauce, or other strong flavors to help mask the taste. This is not the most glamorous use of AVB, but hey, there are those who still drink Bud Light–and it ain’t for the taste.

Capsules

This is another method of direct ingestion without having to cook, bake, or even water cure. There are quite a few benefits of using the capsule method, such as discretion. It’s easy to swallow one while going about your day, making it a subtle and private option. In addition, you won’t have to worry about the taste.

All you need to do is purchase empty gel capsules and fill them with the AVB. The one downside is that the onset of effects will be delayed, since the capsule needs time to break down and dissolve. For some, this may be a perk, for others, a drawback. Either way, this method offers an easy and effective way to ingest your AVB.

Coffee or Tea

As mentioned before, AVB is already decarboxylated. As such, it’s very simple to add it to your morning coffee or tea for an infused beverage that will give you some pep in your step. For coffee, simply add the AVB to your coffee grounds when brewing your cup. Then we recommend adding a strong coffee flavor, like hazelnut or caramel, or a dollop of butter (or cannabutter!)–all will help mask the taste.

When making tea, add the AVB to your tea leaves and allow to steep. Choose a tea that has a strong flavor, and add some honey or another sweetener to help with the flavor. Between the two, coffee will likely be the better tasting, but by experimenting with flavor, AVB can be a decent accompaniment to both coffee and tea.

Cannabinoids bind to fat, so adding a bit of milk or cream may also be a good idea.

Coconut Oil

Infused coconut oil is an easy way to make use of AVB, and it’s especially effective since cannabis is fat soluble–and coconut oil has plenty of that. Once again, this is a method that would benefit from using the water curing method first.

To use this method, add the AVB and coconut oil into a slow cooker and let sit on low heat for a few hours. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. When done, allow to cool and then strain the oil from the plant material using a cheesecloth. Store in a cool, dark place.

Tincture

This is another method that will require patience, and considering that the outcome will not have the same potency as regular flower, you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the wait. If you do decide to give it a go, you can enjoy the convenience of tincture, such as easy and discreet dosing.

Tinctures can be easily added to an array of food and drinks, or simply taken orally under the tongue. Simply follow this useful guide to make a tincture.

Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)

AVB can be used to make an ingestible or topical extract, such as RSO, but keep in mind that the potency and purity is not going to be the same as using fresh flower. This would not be an oil suitable for medical grade purposes, but it can serve its purpose as a less potent extract oil for casual use.

If you decide you’d like to go this route, start with water curing, and then follow the instructions for making RSO.

Technically, You Can Smoke It

Alright you absolute madlad, we get it. You can’t be bothered to cook with it, you don’t have the patience to water cure, and you don’t fancy sprinkling it on food. You have your pipe and lighter handy, and you’re wondering: Can I just smoke this shit?

Well, the answer is yes, but if your friends judge you, don’t blame us. This should probably be a last resort, because the potency won’t compare to fresh flower, it will be a harsh smoke, and the taste may just rival an accidental inhale of bong water–but by all means, knock yourself out, you audacious rebel.

With so many methods of using your AVB, there’s no excuse to throw it away after a vaping session! Try some of the above and find the method that works best for you.

Read More

Illinois Just Legalized Cannabis. Here’s What Happens Next

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made history today by signing a bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis in the Land of Lincoln. Pritzker might as well fire a starting gun.

The race is now on to get about 55 Illinois adult-use stores open, serve potentially millions of customers, and dismantle the decades-old drug war machine. Aspiring retailers have just weeks to apply for licenses. Illinois state agencies must immediately start creating programs to license them. People currently facing low-level marijuana charges can petition to have cases dropped effective immediately.

To give you an idea of how far we’ve come: California’s 1996 medical marijuana law, the nation’s first, could fit on a postcard. The bill signed into law by Pritzker today ran to more than 600 pages.

We read the entire 610-page bill so you don’t have to. Here’s what happens next in a legalized Illinois.

(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Stores Open Jan. 1, 2020

  • The first wave of retail sales will occur at existing medical cannabis dispensaries that obtain a license allowing them to expand into adult-use sales. As many as 55 dispensaries could have adult-use licenses by Jan. 1.
  • Only adults 21 and older with valid ID may purchase.
  • Taxes will run about 25% at the register (including 7% cultivation, 10% state sales, 3.75% county sales, and 3% city sales).
  • Products on sale will initially be sourced through the state’s medical cannabis system and its producers.
  • Illinois’ 67,000 qualified patients will have cannabis reserved for them, as well.

Personal Rights Kick in Jan. 1, 2020, Too

  • Illinois residents age 21 and over can possess up to 30 grams of flower (that’s about one ounce), 5 grams of hash, and edibles with up to 500 mg of cannabis’ main active ingredient, THC. For out-of-state visitors the limits are a little more strict. You’re limited to 15 grams of flower.
  • Adults 21 and older with valid ID can legally buy cannabis, drive it home, and enjoy it. You can’t smoke it in public, or in a car, or in your condo if your condo association prohibits it. This will probably be on the agenda of a lot of condo associations at next month’s meeting.
  • Home growing is limited to medical cannabis patients only. Recreational cannabis gardening can get you a fine of up to $200 for up to five plants.
  • Underage possession comes with consequences. If you’re under 21, you’re looking at up to a $200 fine and a misdemeanor for possessing cannabis. Non-licensed marijuana sales are still a felony. Driving while intoxicated remains illegal. Bosses can keep drug testing people and fire anyone they reasonably suspect of being stoned on the job. If you furnish cannabis to someone under 21, you’re looking at a minimum $500 fine, and if someone gets hurt, a felony. Interstate traffickers still risk a Class X felony, $200,000 in fines, and more prison time than some rapists or murderers.

Criminal Justice Savings Start Immediately

  • Illinois police made 32,773 marijuana arrests in 2016, 42% of all drug offense arrests. Those arrest numbers should collapse.
  • If you were arrested in the past year for under 30 grams of marijuana you can petition the court to have that arrest expunged. We’ll have more details on that soon.
  • If you’re in jail, prison, or on probation or parole for a minor cannabis crime you can also petition for an expungement. The state has to notify you that you’re eligible. Some folks will get out of jail or get off probation.
  • In 2020, state police must begin annual automatic expungements of old records. An estimated 770,000 records could be expunged eventually.
  • Parents can’t be deemed negligent for cannabis use alone.
  • Pediatric medical cannabis patients can take their epilepsy meds at public schools.

 

Illinois marijuana legalization will make medical dispensaries much busier when they are approved to sell adult use cannabis. (Courtesy of Mission Illinois)
Illinois medical dispensaries will get much busier when they are approved to sell adult use cannabis. (Courtesy of Mission Illinois)

The Adult-Use Market Rapidly Ramps Up

  • Jan. 1, 2020 is just seven months away–the blink of an eye in bureaucratic timeframes. At maximum capacity, by the year 2025, Illinois might have 500 stores, 30 big farms, 150 craft farms, hundreds of infusers, and more.
  • Adult-use licensing runs on the rails laid down by the state’s medical cannabis system. In July, the state is expected to spend $17 million powering up the Cannabis Business Development Fund. State officials also must craft and release an application for the state’s 55 medical cannabis dispensaries to serve the first adult use customers.
  • Fees, taxes, licensing, and mandatory donations run into several hundred thousand dollars for dispensaries that want to sell adult use. Double that amount to pay for the personnel to navigate the bureaucracies.
  • Still, incumbent licensees that pay to play get first crack at serving Illinois’ roughly one million regular cannabis consumers.

“The existing license holders should have the opportunity to do quite well,” said Illinois dispensary operator Kris Krane, a Chicago-based national cannabis regulations expert and president of 4Front Ventures. “I’m not really hearing any complaints about how much they’re going to have to spend to participate in the adult use market.”

Unprecedented Equity Provisions

Opening a licensed cannabis store in the US is not like opening up a lemonade stand. Cannabis remains a federally illegal Schedule I controlled substance. Opening a store is a major commercial real estate undertaking that requires substantial capital–in the millions, not thousands–and a sharp legal team. Selling cannabis is but one skill of hundreds that any team needs.

Consequently, the folks who sold illegal marijuana–and got busted for it–are often among the most disadvantaged when it comes to obtaining a license to sell legally.

HB 1438, the bill signed into law today, blunts the discriminatory effects of heavy regulation and fees with a slew of grants, carve outs, community college courses, business incubators, sponsorships, and diversity bonus points for licenses applicants. Illinois will pay for it out of the deep pockets of incumbent players.

  • The first adult use cannabis sellers must surrender 3% of annual profits (up to $100,000) to equity regulators, and incubate disadvantaged entrepreneurs with physical space or loans of $200,000.
  • License applicants get bonus points for being veterans, diverse, Illinois residents, environmentally minded, union organized, and community organizers. Paging, Barack Obama.
  • One quarter of all cannabis tax revenue–less regulatory costs–is earmarked for a new state program dubbed Restore, Reinvest, Renew (R3), good for tens of millions of dollars in grants to community groups to decrease gun violence and concentrated poverty.

Adjustments and Annual Reporting

Lastly, the new Illinois law should prove to be more flexible than most, due to the fact that it was created through the state legislature and not via a statewide ballot initiative. By 2021, state agencies must make public reports on the program’s status and progress toward its goals. There are mechanisms built into the law that allow lawmakers and regulators to fairly easily increase or decrease taxes, fees, and license allocations.

In many ways, Illinois has set the template for the legalization bills coming to future states in the Midwest and East Coast.

“This makes it a lot easier for Rhode Island and Connecticut and New York and New Jersey,” said Krane. “You needed one state to get this done to give a little push to some of these other states. I think we’re going to start seeing a wave of these states over the next couple of years now.”

Illinois Legalization Implementation Timeline

June 25, 2019

State officials release application for Early Approval Adult Use Licenses

Cities start thinking about local votes to ban

Dispensaries and farms have 60 days to apply to sell or grow adult use cannabis

Emergency rulemaking begins at Dept of Agriculture and others

Illinois State Police must identify cases eligible for expungement and notify defendants

Illinois State Police must begin automatically expunging small-time marijuana arrest records older than one year, if no charges were filed

Summer ’19

State loans itself $17M to start Cannabis Business Development Fund

Dispensaries submit applications for Early Approval Adult Use Licenses

Medical cannabis farms submit applications for Early Approval Adult Use Cultivation Center license

Departments have 60 days to approve a complete application for a store or farm

DUI Task Force created

Fall ’19

Cultivation taxes kick in 7% in September

Adult Use Dispensing Organization License Application out by Oct. 1

Early Approval farms start selling to Early Approval stores on Dec. 1

Dispensary staff must complete Responsible Vendor Program by Dec. 1

ISP must approve or deny expungement petitions within 60 days of receipt

Courts must expunge records within 60 days of order

Permanent rulemaking deadline for Dept of Agriculture, others

Jan. 1 2020

Adult Use sales start at up to 55 dispensaries and/or their secondary site

Personal rights kick in for possession, consumption, transportation, etc.

“Purchaser” taxes begin 10% state (+15% for hash)

Counties and cities can begin imposing taxes in small increments, capped at 3.75% county, 3% city

Infused license application and Transporter application released

Potential local votes on taxes, bans

Adult Use Dispensing Organization License Application window closes

Q1 2020

Up to 75 Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization licenses issued by May 1 (47 in Chicago area)

Community College Program application available by Feb. 1

Infuser license application deadline is March 15

Q2 2020

Potential local votes on taxes, bans

Dept of Agriculture begins assessing medical cannabis supply levels quarterly

Growers must begin using a licensed Transporter

Q3 2020

Up to 40 Craft Cultivation licenses issued

Community College Program applications due by July 1

Up to 40 Infused licenses issued by July 1

Transporting licenses issued by July 1

Up to eight Community College Program licenses Issued by September

DUI Task Force recommendations due

Jan. 1 2021

Early Adult Use licenses start expiring

60 more Craft Farm licenses could be approved

Community College Courses could start

Annual program reporting requirements begin

Program adjustments to fees and license allocations can begin

March 31, 2021

Social Equity Inclusion Plans must be completed

Disparity and availability study must be commissioned

Q3 2021

Equity report due by September 30

60 more Infused licensees could be approved by December 2021

60 more Craft Farm licenses could be approved by December 2021

Up to 110 more Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization licenses issued

DUI Task Force dissolves

2022

More Craft Growers could be approved (max 150)

Automatic expungements by ISP

Early Adult Use Dispensing Organization licenses expire March 31

Number of shops, farms, infusers, as well as fees can be modified by Department

2023

Automatic expungements by ISP (Records from 2000 to 2013)

Fees modifiable directly by department, instead of legislature

Assessment of costs of raw materials for infusers

2024

Annual reporting on overall program efficacy plus consumer access, and diversity reporting

2025

Automatic expungements by ISP (records prior to 2000)

Annual reporting on overall program efficacy plus consumer access, and diversity reporting

Number of stores could reach maximum 500 in state

Read More

Americans Spent as Much on Cannabis as Taco Bell Last Year

It’s official: The Crunchwrap is losing ground to the blunt wrap.

With the opening of more and more state-legal markets, cannabis sales are quickly catching up with that of more established products, brands, and services. New data compiled by Marijuana Business Daily shows that Americans spent an estimated $10.4 billion on cannabis last year–about as much as they dropped at the country’s sixth-largest fast food chain, Taco Bell.

Just two years ago, cannabis sales in the US stood at about $6.7 billion.

That $10.4 billion in sales, which combines medical and adult-use markets, was nearly $2 billion more than in 2017. It was also nearly three times the $3.6 billion that Americans spent on e-cigarettes in 2018.

As the industry continues to expand–Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, and Texas just OK’d a massive expansion to its medical marijuana program–it seems only a matter of time until cannabis eclipses other sectors of the American economy. Already there are more legal cannabis-industry employees in the US than there are steelworkers.

Explosive Growth

A number of interconnected factors fueled the industry’s growth in 2018. Perhaps most notably, regulated adult-use sales began in California, making it the largest legal market in the country–perhaps the world. Meanwhile, Utah and Oklahoma opened their doors to medical cannabis, and the latter already has more registered patients than New York state.

As Leafly reported earlier this year, the cannabis industry added 64,000 jobs in 2018 alone, bringing the total number of legal cannabis workers up to nearly a quarter million. On the finance side, investors poured in nearly $10 billion.

“The gradual legalization around the world of a plant which humans have been happily consuming for millennia is creating one of the largest industry-growth phenomena in history,” said Tom Adams, the managing director and principal analyst at BDS Analytics. He’s not exaggerating: Just two years ago, cannabis sales in the US stood at about $6.7 billion.

Goldfish Crackers Today, NFL Tomorrow

The MJBiz analysis made a few other striking comparisons to help contextualize what $10 billion in sales looks like. For instance, it’s about 10 times the roughly $900 million that Americans forked out for Goldfish crackers. It’s just a sliver of the $72.2 billion spent on wine. And it’s more than twice what Americans paid to play the popular video game Fortnite.

Some of the most interesting data points in the report highlight the industries that cannabis is likely to surpass next. The NFL generated $15 billion in 2018, for example. Cannabis is almost guaranteed to blow past that figure in the next few years.

Online food deliveries, meanwhile, added up to $17 billion in 2018. Whether cannabis will pull ahead there remains to be seen–in part because more legal cannabis may in fact lead to more online food deliveries…

Whether cannabis will ever surpass the king of fast food, McDonalds ($36 billion), pizza ($46 billion) or alcohol ($254 billion!) remains to be seen. But no matter how the numbers play out, they tell us that when legal cannabis becomes available, people want it. A lot.

Read More

Female Forward: Periods, Hormones and THC

Hormones are powerful chemicals that are constantly fluctuating and influencing the ways in which our bodies respond to our environments. Sex hormones, and in particular those produced in the ovaries, have been shown to play prominent roles in regulating cognitive and behavioural functioning of cisgender women.*

There are two studies that examine the relationship between cannabis and the menstrual cycle, both of which were done in the 1980s. Neither study satisfies the ‘gold standard’ of scientific inquiry: a randomized double-blind placebo study, large sample groups and few limiting and/or confounding factors.

The first study was on self-reported cannabis use during the menstrual cycle. The sample size was small with only 28 women included. Further, the nature of the study design did not account for the different ways in which women consume cannabis.

The second study was at least randomized and double-blind, but still does not reflect modern cannabis use: the potency of THC used was 1.8% and the sample size was, again, small. Currently, the average percentage of THC per strain is 7-10% and some strains can go as high as 25%!

The study found that there were no significant relationships between THC and sex hormones in women. However, based on the potency of THC used, take these results with a grain of salt.

Instead, let’s examine the specific effects THC has shown to have on ovarian hormones and vice versa.

Like Hormones, Tolerance Can Fluctuate

Women generally have higher tolerances for THC compared to men, for a few reasons.

Consider the chemical properties of THC. It is lipophilic, meaning that when it crosses paths with fat cells, it will attach itself to them. You may have heard that THC can stay in your system for weeks to months beyond abstinence–this is why.

For evolutionary purposes, women have higher fat percentages than men, resulting in higher amounts of THC going to fat cells rather than the bloodstream when ingested by women versus men. The result? Not as much THC circulates to get to your brain for that ‘high’ effect to take hold.

Another reason women have a higher tolerance to THC is ovarian hormones. However, which ovarian hormone we are talking about matters. The amount of tolerance you experience depends on which phase of your menstrual cycle you’re in.

The Estrogen (Estrus) Phase

A menstrual cycle is typically 28 days long. The two weeks is called the estrus phase, or how I like to call it, the ‘sexy’ phase: it builds up until you release your egg and ovulate. Those two blissful weeks where acne and pimples lay to rest and B.O. remains a non-issue is evolutionarily, on purpose.

During this phase your ovaries are producing estrogen, the ‘come hither’ hormone– it’s meant to find you a mate, among other things. It heightens your sexual prowess, which includes your sensitivity. Greater awareness generally indicates an animal-like ‘on the hunt’ state.

Studies using rat models have shown that during the estrus phase, females were more sensitive to THC compared to the diestrus phase, the last two weeks of your cycle. Studies conducted on humans examining the effects of caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants found similar results: during the estrus phase, women felt they were more sensitive to the effects of these substances.

During the diestrus phase (ie. after ovulation), sensitivity to cannabis decreases, along with everything else. Progesterone becomes your ovaries’ best friend and you are left feeling cranky, tired, and agitated when these levels are high.

The Progesterone (Diestrus) Phase

The dynamics between THC and female sex hormones can vary. So far, estrogen and THC seem to have a cordial relationship where they build each other up–but what about progesterone?

Poor progesterone, nobody likes them. No surprise there: it’s the major culprit for PMS.

High progesterone levels are correlated with mood swings, tender/sore breasts, fatigue and acne, among others.

Luckily, studies conducted on rhesus monkeys (at least we’re in the primate category!) show that THC reduced the amount of progesterone produced in the diestrus phase. This was not a direct inhibition, which means it ‘modulated’ the production of progesterone–a safer version than simply arresting its production directly.

It’s no wonder that many women are turning to cannabis products during PMS and menses: it helps to level out the effects of progesterone and satisfy a physiological need for cannabinoids.

What I mean by ‘physiological need’ is that studies have shown that CB1 receptor increases in the hypothalamus during the diestrus phase. This means that your body is in demand for cannabinoids–whether you are producing them yourself or ingesting them through cannabis.

Additional studies are needed on the subject of female sex hormones and cannabis. Hormones are highly complex: there are layers to which they affect cognitive functioning (short-term and long-term), physiological changes (CB-1 receptor fluctuation), and their role in the female reproductive system.

However, some things are beginning to be clear. The estrus phase can cause a heightened state of awareness, which tends towards greater sensitivity towards mind-altering substances. The diestrus phase produces progesterone and increases CB1 receptors in the hypothalamus–both of these changes can be helped by a spoonful of THC in the diet.

That being said, consume in moderation and consult your physician if you experience severe symptoms associated with PMS.

*This article uses the terms women, females, men, and males in reference to biological sex.

Read More

Hey, Officer! Stop Arresting Grandma for Her CBD Oil

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis politics and culture.

Hester Burkhalter is my new hero.

Burkhalter is the 69-year-old North Carolina great-grandmother who was arrested last month at an Orlando Disney World security checkpoint after a guard found a small bottle of CBD oil in her purse.

Cops in Orlando opened a new front in the CBD wars when they arrested this badass great-grandmother at Disney World.

Instead of returning grandma’s arthritis medicine to her purse, like a decent person, the guard alerted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies came a-running.

Burkhalter began her morning expecting to enjoy the Magic Kingdom with her family. Instead she spent 12 hours experiencing all the pleasures the Orange County Jail has to offer. Prosecutors ultimately dropped the cannabis possession charge against her, saying the case wasn’t suitable for prosecution.

Before she left Orlando, though, Hester Burkhalter laid down one of the greatest mug shots I’ve ever seen.

Hester Burkhalter, 69, gives the Orange County Sheriff’s Department a healthy dose of F-you in her mug shot. She’ll see you in court, Orlando.

Smile for the Camera

That is one badass great-grandma. Giving the camera nothing but Blue Steel, pursed lips, no apologies, ready to rip the entire county a new one. And she will–Burkhalter has hired Benjamin Crump, the high-profile lawyer who represented Trayvon Martin’s family. A multimillion-dollar lawsuit is expected to be filed within days. Her gaze at the camera says: I am not wrong.

I wish Hester Burkhalter’s case was an outlier. Sadly, it’s not. The only reason she made the national news is because she was arrested at Disney World.

There are plenty of other grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters being arrested for CBD possession who don’t have the option of retaining the services of Benjamin Crump.

Confusion Reigns Nationwide

Back in December, when Congress ended the federal prohibition of hemp via the farm bill, we here at Leafly worried about the fallout. Hemp is legally defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC, which means it could register as marijuana on a law enforcement field test. Would drivers of delivery trucks loaded with hemp get arrested as drug smugglers? Would people seeking pain relief with hemp-derived CBD get popped for “cannabis oil” possession?

The answer: Yes they would. The cases are piling up:

  • Oklahoma: Andrew Ross, a Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, is facing 18 years to life for providing security for a tractor-trailer load of state-certified hemp from Kentucky.
  • Idaho: An Oregon truck driver was charged with drug trafficking for hauling hemp through Idaho in early April.
  • Ohio: Robert Faulker, 31, was charged with a felony for possessing a half-ounce of CBD oil he takes for anxiety.
  • Nebraska: A mother and her son who opened a CBD shop days after passage of the 2018 farm bill were arrested in Scottsbluff for selling the products.
  • North Carolina: A 16-year-old high-school student was handcuffed and taken to jail when a Gaston County Police Department resource office, conducting a random search, found her medicinal CBD in her backpack.
  • Louisiana: The owner of a Lafayette CBD store was arrested in a raid last month and charged with drug trafficking.

I could go on. (I haven’t even touched on Texas. Hoo boy.)

Well, Is It Legal or Illegal? Yes.

In 2019, we’re living through a transitional phase. Psychologists would call it a liminal state between legality and illegality. It’s a period in which hemp-derived CBD is simultaneously allowed nationwide and prohibited locally.

Today, CBD oil is legal as lemonade in Rapid City, but it’s a felony in Sioux Falls.

Those laws are so confusing that they can vary wildly even within a single state. In South Dakota’s Pennington County, the prosecutor recently declared that he would not prosecute any CBD cases because the products “are not scheduled and are not marijuana under our statutes.” Meanwhile, last month in Minnehaha County, police arrested 57-year-old Bernard Davis, a visiting Alaskan, for having a small bottle of CBD oil in his carry-on bag at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport. So basically, CBD oil is legal as lemonade in Rapid City, but it’ll earn you a felony charge in Sioux Falls.

A number of state legislatures have attempted to deal with the new reality thrown at them by the farm bill. Louisiana, among other states, recently tried and failed to agree on regulations surrounding hemp and CBD. In other states, like South Dakota, the British company GW Pharma has successfully lobbied to keep CBD illegal while creating a loophole for its own FDA-approved CBD product, Epidiolex. (For what it’s worth, that’s the exact position the DEA has taken on CBD extracts: Epidiolex is now Schedule IV, while all other extracts remain Schedule I.)

Police: Exercise Common Sense

As we wait for state laws to catch up to the federal farm bill, it falls on individual police officers to carry out the most single most important part of their job: exercising discretion and common sense.

Here’s a tip, officer: Read a damn newspaper. Take five minutes to learn what CBD is.

Many of the cases cited above made news because the officer on the scene simply hadn’t taken the time to read up on CBD and hemp. They went into robocop mode: If the oil smells like weed, cuff ’em and book ’em.

Here’s a tip, officer: Read a damn newspaper. Keep up on what’s happening in the world. Take five minutes to learn what CBD is and how it differs from marijuana. And put that knowledge into action. Police exercise discretion and judgment every minute they’re on the job. Some drivers get warnings, others get tickets. Some beer-drinking kids get sent home to their parents, others get taken to juvie. (The well-documented racial inequities that result from this discretion is a national outrage, of course. But that’s a column for another day.) When cops throw up their hands and say “I don’t write the laws, I just enforce them,” they’re lying.

Sadly, the substance we’re dealing with here is a form of cannabis, and police departments have spent the past 80 years treating people who possess cannabis as if they’re street thugs preying on grandmothers. That’s a lot of institutional culture to combat. But it’s got to happen. Because in 2019, the police are now the ones preying on the grandmothers.

Read More

New Washington Law Will Erase Old Cannabis Convictions

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday aimed at erasing old misdemeanor marijuana convictions, seven years after voters in the state approved an initiative that legalized the drug.

Under the new law, judges are required to grant requests to vacate misdemeanor marijuana possession charges that occurred before the drug was legalized, provided the defendant was 21 at the time.

The measure goes further than an earlier marijuana pardon process announced by Inslee, which had stricter eligibility requirements.

“This is a matter of fairness and justice,” Inslee said. “We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in this state.”

The new law will take effect 90 days after the end of this year’s legislative session, which finished up on April 28.

When a conviction is vacated, it is generally removed from a person’s criminal record, and isn’t used as part of the sentencing considerations for any future crime. People with vacated convictions are also not required to mention them on employment or housing applications.

Advocates have called having to list a prior misdemeanor conviction a major barrier to housing and employment, and part of a system of barriers that can make it difficult for people with even minor crimes to escape a cycle of joblessness and housing issues.

After a conviction has been vacated, a person is allowed to state that they were never convicted of that crime, according to an analysis of the bill prepared by nonpartisan legislative staff.

Monday’s signing followed Inslee announcing in January a streamlined pardon process.

But while the pardons were accessible via a simple online form, they had stricter eligibility requirements: Applicants could only apply for the pardon of a single conviction, it had to be the only conviction on their record, and it applied only to state ordinances.

The bill also covers municipal ordinances, and doesn’t require an otherwise clean record.

Some disagreed with the change, however.

State Rep. Brad Klippert, a Kennewick Republican who is also a sheriff’s deputy in Benton County, voted against the bill in the state House, and said Monday that he still opposed it.

“At the time they committed the crime, it was a crime,” said Klippert, adding that consequences should be attached to the decision to break the law, even if the law later changed.

Read More