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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The National Conference of State Legislatures, citing the wave of legalization and the explosion of a new industry in its wake, on Aug. 7 passed a resolution urging the federal government to remove cannabis from Controlled Substances Act scheduling completely.

Marijuana’s Schedule I status prohibits marijuana-based businesses from having access to the standard banking practices afforded all other businesses, because FDIC-insured banks can face federal penalties for dealing with businesses related to Schedule I substances. This has resulted in a multi-billion dollar industry that operates almost completely in cash. Aside from the obvious security concerns caused by keeping a ton of cash around, it also means shops can’t take credit debit or credit cards; they can’t have normal real estate mortgages; and they have no access to small business loans. Oh, and state tax collectors are continually faced with cartoonish bags of cash.

The NCSL resolution recognizes this problem with the fifth “whereas.” The important part:

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to remove cannabis from scheduling, thus enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses; and be it further resolved, that the National Conference of State Legislatures acknowledges that each of its members will have differing and sometimes conflicting views of cannabis and how to regulate it, but in allowing each state to craft its own regulations, we may increase transparency, public safety, and economic development where it is wanted.”

To nobody’s surprise, the Marijuana Policy Project applauded the move.

“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a press release. “Legitimate, taxpaying marijuana businesses should not have to face the difficulties of operating on a cash-only basis. Allowing banks to offer them financial services will be good for the industry and benefit public safety. Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”

Upon hearing news of the resolution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly dropped to the ground, pounded his fists, kicked his feet and wailed: “NO! NO! NO! Marijuana BAD BAD BAD!” (OK, not really, but it would not surprise us if that really happened.)


California Growers Prove It’s Possible to Have Too Much Weed

Flying in the face of centuries of pothead orthodoxy, California growers are proving there is indeed such a thing as having too much weed.

With medical marijuana sales on the rise, and the sale of cannabis for recreational use coming to fruition in January, California growers have increased production in preparation for a huge increase in demand. After all, Nevada was completely unprepared for recreational sales, and the whole state ran out of weed. But now it’s coming to light that California growers may have overcompensated just a bit.

Depending on whom you ask, California growers are growing an estimated three to 12 times more bud than California needs, based on current demand and projections. Even the conservative end of the spectrum equates to a ton of extra bud. Add to that further restrictions (and enforcement) on interstate marijuana commerce going into effect Jan. 1, and people in the industry are starting to wonder what to do with all that weed. 

"We are producing too much," said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers' Association, according to the Los Angeles Times. “(Growers) are going to have to scale back. We are on a painful downsizing curve.”

Allen delivered his assessment to the Sacramento Press Club as part of a panel discussion. The panel also included Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s shiny new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, and Joseph Devlin, chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement for city of Sacramento.

This will surely lead to prices dropping across the Golden State. While this is great for the retail customer, it does not bode well for the massive mega-grows popping up around the Coachella Valley and elsewhere. With operations like Sunniva’s Cathedral City campus hoping to produce 90 tons of product in 2018, and Desert Hot Springs licensing millions of square feet for cultivation, let’s hope interstate cannabis commerce can become a reality sooner than later.

Otherwise we’re all going to need to start doing our part to get rid of all that weed, somehow. … Got a light?


Palm Springs Sends Cannabis Tax Measure to Voters

Palm Springs has a pension crisis looming, and the City Council is scrambling to make sure the city’s debts are covered.

In November, not only is the city asking voters for a half-cent sales-tax increase; the City Council voted unanimously to send a marijuana tax measure to ballot.

The measure sets the annual tax for cultivation facilities at $10 per square foot. In preparation for recreational sales going live in January, it would also put a tax structure in place for recreation retail businesses.

Dispensaries and other marijuana businesses would be taxed at a rate of 15 cents per $1 (or 15 percent). This rate would apply to recreational and medical retail sales alike. The City Council could vote to lower this rate, but would require approval of four-fifths of the council to increase the rate.

Drug-prevention programs and public safety are mentioned in the ballot measure, but it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see the city channeling these funds to help out with the pension crisis on the horizon.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Coachella finally caught on to the craft-beer revolution with the birth of the Craft Beer Barn in 2014. When it comes to weed, however, the festival seems to be further ahead of the game, thanks to this year’s introduction of a WeedMaps-sponsored cannabis lounge for VIP ticket holders—just a few months after legalization was approved by California voters.

Meanwhile, another marijuana event, located just a couple of miles from Empire Polo Club at the corner of 50th Avenue and Calhoun Street in Coachella, could not get off the figurative ground.

Kushella Life was a cannabis festival open to the public, with free admission for Coachella Valley residents, slated for both Coachella weekends and Stagecoach weekend. Organizers worked with the city of Coachella to secure all permits required to enable the legal consumption of marijuana on the festival site. Produced by the Coachella Grow Association and Coachella Ventures, Inc., the festival was a place to purchase and consume cannabis for Coachella attendees and valley residents alike.

However, typical bureaucratic delays prevented permits from being issued until the event date was a mere three weeks away, which left organizers with an unfortunately short amount of time to recruit vendors, promote the event and book musical acts.

“We agreed to meet with the sheriff and a contingent of residents, and we did. Everyone was agreeable to the plan we laid out,” said executive producer Freddie Wyatt via phone from Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 17, after Kushella’s opening weekend. He had already traveled to another event to help Kushella Life organizers cut their losses. “Everyone with the city of Coachella, from the fire marshal right on up to the mayor, was an absolute pleasure to work with. They were on board. They wanted to do it, and they wanted to do it right, which we appreciated.”

Alas, the cooperation was too little, and way too late. Attendance was estimated at around 1,000 on Saturday, April 15, the festival’s biggest day.

“Peak time was Saturday, and next weekend should be bigger. With three weeks to promote, that’s about what we expected,” Wyatt said during that Monday, April 17, phone call.

There were high hopes for the second weekend of the festival, which was slated to start a day early in celebration of 4/20—but it was not meant to be. On Wednesday, April 19, organizers decided to pull the plug and cut their losses.

“Our sincere thanks to the city of Coachella, its mayor, councilmembers and management,” said an announcement on the Kushella Life Facebook page. “Thank you all for your support! Due to circumstances beyond our control, Kushella Life will not move forward as planned, and has been cancelled. We are hopeful that the event will return in late 2017. Once again, thank you, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

Wyatt remained optimistic when I texted him on the day of the cancellation. “Yes, we will retool and be back for next year, for sure!” he said. “We were obviously over-equipped this year, but that’s the plan.”<hr


Canada Moves Toward National Legalization

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation on Thursday, April 13, that would legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The proposed change would take effect in July 2018. Canadians would then be able to purchase flower, extracts and edibles from licensed shops, and grow up to four plants. While the change would allow Canadians 18 and older to possess up to 30 grams of dried flower, provinces, territories and cities could pass more-restrictive laws, if desired.

If passed, Canada would join Uruguay as the only countries to completely legalize cannabis for recreational use.

The bill’s introduction was the fruition of a campaign promise Trudeau made in 2015 to end the Canadian prohibition of cannabis. In the announcement, the Canadian government said ending prohibition “would mean that possession of small amounts of cannabis would no longer be a criminal offense and would prevent profits from going into the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs.”

Down here in the United States, cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning cannabis-industry finances are excluded from Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protection. This has made investors wary, meaning that billions of dollars could go to Canada and its more-cannabis-friendly banking environment rather than being spent in the U.S.

It remains to be seen if this will happen. We may find out over the next year ...


U.S. Senate Considering ‘Path to Marijuana Reform’ Package of Bills

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be increasingly alone in his quixotic anti-pot crusade.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently went on Meet the Press and said, “Marijuana is not a factor in the Drug War,” and in late March, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, unveiled the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of bills to address banking, taxation, civil forfeiture, decriminalization, descheduling, research and regulation of the booming cannabis industry.

The package includes the Small Business Tax Equity Act, which would create “an exception to IRC section 280E to allow businesses operating in compliance with state law to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana like any other legal business.” Section 280E is a 1982 law meant to prevent illicit drug-dealers from claiming deductions related to the sale of narcotics. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is a co-sponsor of Wyden’s bill in the Senate, while Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act would remove federal penalties and civil-asset forfeiture from individuals and businesses that are in compliance with state marijuana laws. The law would ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection and advertising for marijuana businesses; expunge criminal records for select marijuana-related offenses; and ease barriers for medical-marijuana research. It would also end drug-testing requirements for federal civil service jobs in states where marijuana has been legalized.

The third bill, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It would impose a federal tax structure on pot products, define permitting for marijuana businesses, and regulate cannabis much like alcohol has been regulated for decades.

“This is common-sense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement on the organization’s website. “Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it.”

Published in Cannabis in the CV

On March 15, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while addressing a law enforcement conference in Richmond, Va., said: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use, but too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store, and I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

Yes, the attorney general of the United States just said marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

This isn’t a question of being “unfashionable,” but of the AG being factually wrong about the effects of two very different drugs. While some cannabis industry and advocacy groups have forced a smile and tried to paint a green-tinted picture of states’ rights, Trump likes medical cannabis, it’ll all be OK, yadda yadda yadda, how can we not see a difficult future ahead for cannabis when America’s top cop is so glaringly ignorant in his crusade against it?

“With over 600,000 arrests a year, the only thing life-wrecking about marijuana is its prohibition,” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director, in a statement the day of Sessions’ speech.

Sessions spoke with reporters after his speech in Richmond.

“I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” Sessions said, according to various media sources. “Dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial, I acknowledge that, but if you smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting, it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that.”

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, countered Sessions’ remarks in a statement issued the same day.

“Statements like these from the Attorney General are factually inaccurate,” Sherer said. “In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering released a report that reviewed over 10,000 research articles, which states there is conclusive, moderate, and substantial evidence for benefits of cannabis in several conditions. Sessions needs to stop spreading unfounded, unscientific theories about medical marijuana and take the time to actually meet the millions of Americans that are benefitting from its use before making comments about it being over-hyped.”

President Trump said he was “100 percent” in favor of medical marijuana during the campaign. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently clarified that the president sees a “big difference” between medical and recreational use.

As we’ve seen in the days since the inauguration, things are moving fast on all fronts in the Trump era. Those wishing to preserve and even further legalization must not be reactionary in their activism. There is too much at stake to take a wait-and-see position.

One productive way to be proactive in the defense and progress of legalization is to participate in and support the organizations that have been fighting this battle for decades—and will be on the front lines in the coming years.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

norml.org

Keith Stroup was smoking with Ralph Nader’s legal team in 1970 when someone suggested he ask Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Foundation for a grant to fund his fledgling pro-pot organization. Hefner approved a grant of $5,000, and NORML was born. By the mid-1970s, Hef was donating $100,000 a year to NORML. It was this support that helped make NORML the premier pro-pot organization.

NORML now boasts 135 chapters and a network of more than 500 lawyers. With legalization becoming more of a reality, NORML has edited its mission to “move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”

Americans for Safe Access

www.safeaccessnow.org

The ASA is a medical marijuana advocacy group founded in 2002 by medi-pot patient Steph Sherer. The mission is “to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.”

ASA is the largest national member-based organization of medical professionals, patients and scientists promoting medical use and research, with more than 100,000 active members in all 50 states.

Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County

www.browniemaryclub.org

If you’re looking for a way to get involved locally, stay informed on the latest developments, and meet like-minded individuals, check out the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County. Founded by activist Lanny Swerdlow, it is believed to be the first political-party-affiliated cannabis advocacy group in California. It is named for Mary Jane Rathbun, who got the nickname “Brownie Mary” for illegally baking and distributing cannabis brownies to AIDS patients while volunteering at San Francisco General Hospital.

Meetings are held the first Saturday of every month at 11:30 a.m. at Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

Marijuana Policy Project

mpp.org

Founded in 1995, the MPP deals with lobbying and ballot initiatives. The MPP PAC, founded in 2003, donates to key congressional candidates. The mission is to affect federal law, to allow states enact to their own marijuana policies without federal interference, and to regulate marijuana like alcohol nationwide. In terms of budget, members and staff, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest national organization working specifically on marijuana policy reform.

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

The DPA takes an active role in the legislative process, and its goals include rolling back the excessive laws of the War on Drugs, blocking harmful initiatives, and pushing for sensible drug-policy reforms.

Considering the mixed (or worse) signals we’re getting from the current administration, it is clear that the fight for legalization and acceptance is far from over. We must not rest on recent victories. We must remain vigilant, and we must let our representatives know that we support the legalization of cannabis. When the will of the people is ignored in favor of a self-righteous crusade with no base in science or democracy, we must resist. Joining, supporting, and participating in these organizations shows that we are unified—and that we are not going anywhere.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as the attorney general along party lines, with no Republicans opposing his appointment and only one Democrat in favor. While this understandably makes the cannabis industry a little jittery, thanks to the prospect of the resumption of federal enforcement efforts, there may be some cause for cautious optimism—at least that’s the message put forth in a statement released by the nation’s largest cannabis policy group, the Marijuana Policy Project.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will refrain from interfering in state marijuana laws,” said the Feb. 9 statement. “When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo(es)’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings. He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.

“President Trump has consistently said that states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and his spokesperson made it clear that the attorney general will be implementing the Trump agenda. We are hopeful that Mr. Sessions will follow the president’s lead and respect states’ rights on marijuana policy.

“A strong and growing majority of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and an even stronger majority think(s) the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. Eight states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana for adult use, and 28 states now have laws that regulate marijuana for medical use. It would be shocking if the Trump administration attempted to steamroll the citizens and governments in these states to enforce an increasingly unpopular federal policy.”

The MPP’s view seems to be somewhat optimistic. Sessions’ distaste for legalization is well-documented, and when asked about enforcing the federal ban in states that have legalized weed, he’s said it is not his place to choose which laws to enforce, before adding: “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.” Many took this as an indication that federal enforcement could resume in the absence of action by Congress. However, parts of his oral testimony did indicate that a lack of resources might keep federal enforcement of pot laws in check, and he avoided committing to enforcement in states where marijuana is legal.

On the same day as Sessions’ confirmation, Orange County-area Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher reintroduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, H.R. 975. First introduced in April 2013, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act exempts individuals and entities acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act. This is the third time Rohrabacher has introduced the bill.

“I happen to believe that the federal government shouldn’t be locking up anyone for making a decision on what he or she should privately consume, whether that person is rich or poor, and we should never be giving people the excuse, especially federal authorities, that they have a right to stop people or intrude into their lives in order to prevent them and prevent others from smoking a weed, consuming something they personally want to consume,” Rohrabacher said during his speech introducing the bill. A solid Trump supporter and devout state’s rights advocate, Rohrabacher added: “My bill would then make sure that federal law is aligned with the states’ (laws), and the people in those states’ desires, so that the residents and businesses wouldn’t have to worry about federal prosecution. For those few states that have thus far maintained a policy of strict prohibition, my bill would change nothing. I think that this is a reasonable compromise that places the primary responsibility of police powers back in the states and the local communities that are most directly affected.”

Not surprisingly, the MPP supports the bill.

“Nine out of 10 Americans now live in states that have rejected federal marijuana prohibition by adopting some sort of marijuana policy reform,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This legislation would ease the tension between state and federal laws to ensure these state-level reforms are successful. It would also help states address the public health and safety priorities shared by state and federal authorities.”

The last time the bill was introduced in 2015, it received neither a hearing nor a vote, so it’s still a big maybe in a GOP-controlled Congress. Therefore, legal-weed proponents have much to fear—and are not taking “maybe” for an answer.

Washington, one of the first states to legalize adult recreational use of cannabis, is leading the resistance against federal interference. State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, has been involved with shaping Washington state’s cannabis policy since legalization in 2012.

“It is extremely difficult for anyone to pretend we can predict what the Trump administration is going to do,” Carlyle told The News Tribune in Tacoma.

Washington is preparing for the worst with a bill that would prevent local officials from cooperating with the feds in enforcement of marijuana laws that contradict state law. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he would do anything he can to sway White House opinion in favor of at least allowing states to continue down their own paths without federal interference.

“I think it would be a really big mistake for them to pick this fight, and I hope it will not occur,” Inslee said in that aforementioned article in The News Tribune.


Cannabis sprouts in Coachella

Del-Gro, the city of Coachella’s first commercial cannabis-cultivation facility, held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 9. The facility rents turn-key grow spaces to growers, and will provide cannabis-business support including extract production, financial services, consulting, lab testing and onsite distribution.

“Opening the first cultivation operation in Coachella is an incredible opportunity for us and our partner cultivators”, said Ben Levine, founder and CEO of Del-Gro, in a news release. “We forecast that our operation will ultimately bring in over $100 million in annual revenue for us and the independent growers we work with. But greater than that, we’re thrilled that the residents of Coachella have trusted us to be industry trailblazers in their city.”

All available spaces have been rented, and Del-Gro will be open for business later this year on the property that used to be the home Ajax Auto Wrecking. Del-Gro estimates the facility could produce $3 million in annual tax revenue for the city of Coachella.

Published in Cannabis in the CV