Originally uploaded March 2018. A very positive update after ITV News announced that Alfie Dingley is to be given a 3 month trial of his medicine which contains THC.
“Welcome to the 21st Century,” Tony Iannelli, CEO and president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said as he ushered in the opening of Pennsylvania’s first medical marijuana dispensary Wednesday morning.
Located on an otherwise quiet street in Bethlehem, Keystone Canna Remedies looks like any other new business. There are no pot leaf signs or smelly odors lingering in the air. This is not a West Coast-style dispensary and everything about Keystone Canna Remedies points to the very professional nature of Pennsylvania’s nascent program.
Patients will walk into a spacious waiting room where security will check for proper identification and physician recommendations. Inside an adjoining area, patients can sit down with pharmacists in one of two private consultation rooms to discuss treatment options, ask questions and learn more about state regulations.
With a plan in place, patients will then visit the retail counter to choose from dozens of medications. Flower and edibles will not be available per Pennsylvania law, but patients can purchase vaporizers, cartridges, tinctures, oils and even lotions. They can also choose between products that contain THC – the psychoactive ingredient that gets people buzzed – and CBD – a purely medicinal compound that does not produce a high.
“Pennsylvania and the Department of Health has been doing it right,” said Victor Guadagnino Jr., who founded Keystone Canna Remedies alongside his father, Dr. Victor Guadagnino, and his aunt, Joan Guadagnino. “The state is setting the standard for how other states should implement medical marijuana programs.”
Native Brooklynites, the Guadagnino family chose Pennsylvania to kick off their cannabis business after seeing Gov. Tom Wolf’s commitment to getting the program off the ground quickly and without the kind of bureaucratic hiccups that plagued similar programs in New Jersey, Maryland and New York.
The elder Guadagnino is a cardiologist whose own father found relief from cancer in medical cannabis.
“It was very personal for all of us,” he said, adding that the family has a home in Bucks County and a business partner in the Lehigh Valley.
Keystone Canna Remedies’ opening comes at a precarious time for the marijuana industry. Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era directive that allowed states to decide their own marijuana laws.
Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and LSD at the federal level.
Sessions’ move coincided with California becoming the nation’s largest state to welcome recreational use of marijuana at the beginning of the new year. California’s medical program has been in place since the mid-1990s.
But the Guadagnino family is not worried their business could go belly up if prosecutors chose to enforce federal drug laws. Wolf has signaled a willingness to continue the state’s program despite Sessions warning, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts introduced a bipartisan bill to protect state marijuana laws from federal scrutiny.
“We believe that the state will protect us,” Victor Guadagnino Jr. said. “I’m not worried because we’re focused on getting the patients access. When people can see the benefits cannabis can have, I think there is going to be a lot of change at the national level.”
One of those patients is former Philadelphia Flyers left winger and current Lehigh Valley resident Riley Cote, who uses medical pot to recover from years on the ice. Known as a brawler, Cote racked up more than 50 penalties during his time in Philadelphia. He often woke up swollen and bruised, and retired from the sport at the age of 28 after undergoing multiple surgeries.
To manage the pain, doctors prescribed him pills.
“I’ve seen the dark side of opioids – what they do to the spirit and the mind for athletes and all people,” he said. “I don’t want to go down that path.”
In cannabis, Cote found a sustainable and holistic approach to health.
“It’s a very positive plant,” he said. “We have to bring it out of the darkness and into the light. We just have to get over ourselves and our belief systems and change the way we think.”
Keystone Canna Remedies is now open to the public for consultations and educational workshops only. The dispensary will begin selling medication in February.
I remember the first time my grandma tried cannabis. She was 80 years old. We were sitting in my garage in Denver back in 2011. I just about fell out of my chair when she said she’d try it. She was 100% serious.
But the story is even crazier when I tell you about who my grandma is. She’s a sweet little southern Christian lady named Viola who stills calls me Baby Doll. You know what? I’m not mad at that nickname. We’ve always been close.
And the other thing is, she’s always been scared of marijuana. She grew up believing what the government said about marijuana — about how it was as dangerous as other Schedule I drugs likes ecstasy and heroin. You know, all that stuff we all heard about how it made you a criminal, a bad person … a thug.
So back in 2011, it was me and my grandma — the woman who still carries a Bible with her when she travels — hanging out in the garage I had turned into a den. And we were just sitting there talking when she dropped it on me: She had been struggling with chronic pain for a long time.
It was a day I’ll never forget. My grandma had never told me about her pain before. She started telling me about the constant throbbing behind her eyes. It was getting worse, to the point where it was affecting her vision. It was tough for me to see her like that.
“Is that you, Baby Doll? I can barely see you there.” She’d say stuff like that. It was hard.
She told me that her doctors prescribed her painkillers and other medicine. They weren’t helping, and they were making her lethargic and depressed. She was miserable. It had been going on for years.
Marijuana was already legal in Colorado, but I didn’t mess with it yet. I was still in the league and the NBA tested for it. But even more than that, I still had antiquated views about it. I viewed it the way I saw it as a kid, as a scary drug and nothing more than that.
But on her second day staying with me, she shocked me by agreeing to try it. You have to remember, this is a God-fearing old lady from the South who never touched a drug in her life. She didn’t drink alcohol. She didn’t even like going out to restaurants. My grandma, man … old school to the core. But she was desperate for an alternative.
Nothing’s been the same for her since she tried it.
The day after she had cannabis for the first time, she called my mom to tell her all about it. My mom actually recorded the conversation because she was so shocked. On the recording, you can hear my grandma saying how her the whole world felt “brighter.” She was calling it a miracle. “I can read my Bible again!” she was saying. Since then, my grandma has continued taking cannabis and she’s found the right dose for her symptoms. She’s in far less pain, and it’s pretty incredible to see.
Now you know a little about my grandma. She’s a cool one.
So lemme ask you, is my grandma doing something wrong? According to federal laws, she is. She’s committing a crime.
Is that where we’re at? Are we really trying to put grandmas in prison for using marijuana to treat pain?
I’m gonna tell you what I think is the most important statistic about marijuana.
First we’re gonna have to go all the way back to the ’80s. Back to Orange, New Jersey, where I grew up and lived until I was in high school. You know how some people are always being like, “You don’t know where I come from?” Orange is the kind of place where people say that. If you know, you just know.
To picture where I lived, envision a huge U-shaped apartment complex. There must have been hundreds of apartments in that complex. In the middle of the U, there was this big field of grass where me and the other kids played football, kickball and baseball when we were 10, 11, 12 years old. Almost every day, after we were done playing, everyone would go over to the little convenience store on the corner of Tremont and Scotland. I’d usually get a quarter water and bag of chips. Maybe some Now and Laters. Run me about 65 cents total. In the back of the store they had arcade games — Street Fighter and NBA Jam. If we had any money left over, we’d play those games. Otherwise we’d be outside chillin with all the other kids.
I came up during the War on Drugs. I didn’t know what it was called. But I knew what I saw. Almost every week, at some time or another, a police car would roll up to the corner. If there was a group of young black men standing on a corner, it was only a matter of time. That was just normal for us. We’d be chilling outside and the police would get out and make everyone empty their pockets. They’d search us, make us stand against the wall, the whole routine. “Who got drugs? Show me the drugs.” But me and my friends never had any. I never messed with marijuana when I was a kid. I knew my mom would kill me if that ever happened. But no lie, I never got used to those searches. I was like 12 years old, man — that shit was scary. Sirens are going off and you’re being searched by dudes with guns. It’s crazy — I always felt like I was doing something wrong even though I wasn’t.
In Orange, it was mostly marijuana they were looking for. I’m sure there was hard stuff there, but it seemed like it was mostly weed. It was the ghetto — and the ghetto means cheap weed. So people would come from all around to get it.
Sometimes, kids got picked up. Sometimes you didn’t hear from them after that. Today I’m 37 years old and sometimes I still wonder what happened to some of those kids. Maybe they made it out all right. But c’mon, if you’re from the hood, you’ve heard too many stories of the opposite — lives changed forever, relationships changed forever, black men who can’t get jobs because they’ve got a non-violent marijuana offense on their record.
I moved from Orange to a nice neighborhood for high school. Then I went to the league right after that. For the first time in my life I was meeting people from all walks of life. Some guys from nice upbringings, some from places like Orange. Most of them had gone to college.
Talking to them, I heard about another side to the War on Drugs. The way some dudes were describing it, marijuana was everywhere in the suburbs and at colleges. But police weren’t really caring too much about it. I was hearing about people selling weed like it was nothing — never getting caught. I was hearing how everyone casually smoked weed in college like it was just another class. Basically, I was hearing how police in some communities weren’t really policing marijuana the same way I was used to.
Alright, now I’m gonna finally tell you that statistic. I came across it a couple years back:
The rate of marijuana use is relatively similar across racial lines. But black people are almost four times as likely to be arrested for it.
Think about that for a second. In other words, yo … everyone uses marijuana at the same rate but not everyone is punished the same.
Enforcing marijuana laws costs the country about $3.6 billion a year, but it hasn’t stopped the use of marijuana, or decreased the availability of it.
More important, people’s entire lives have been altered for using or selling something that’s legal today in multiple states. Today, the cannabis industry makes billions of dollars and there are still people in other parts of the country, mostly minorities if we’re being real about the stats, who are incarcerated for the same substance.
Maybe I didn’t know the definition of the War on Drugs when I was 12 years old, but now I do. It wasn’t a war on drugs. It was a war on certain people who used drugs. And that’s a fact.
I encountered pain early in my career. Then I encountered the pills that they tell you will help. I was lucky I never got hooked.
After my second year in the league, I had to have back surgery. It was my first time knowing real, sustained pain. The inflammation in my back, and then later in my knees, was a battle I fought my whole career. The doctors gave me Vicodin and other strong painkillers for the month or two right after surgery, when the pain was really bad. But then I stopped. I really didn’t enjoy the way I felt. I was having all kinds of side effects — stomach aches, feeling woozy. It was terrible.
But I count myself as lucky, not strong. It was a window into the world of opiates. Painkillers do what the name says. They kill the pain. But it’s temporary … and then you need more just to mask the same pain. Maybe you saw this stat: This year 64,000 people in America died from overdoses on opioids. When I read that, my first thought was about how much of the addiction starts with a real injury, like the one I had with my back. And then spirals out of control from there. That’s why I count myself as lucky.
The most common thing I got prescribed was something called Celebrex, for inflammation. I played 16 years in my career, and damn near my whole career I was taking some type of pill for inflammation. I took two Celebrex in the morning and one at night for inflammation, just to be able to practice or play or get through the day. I probably still have bottles of Celebrex in some drawer in my house. Looking back, who knows what effect that’ll have on me long term. But nobody really talks about the side effects or the long-term issues. You’re supposed to just pop a pill and let it do its thing. You’ve seen those commercials on TV where the narrator is always sounding super happy as she lists 43 side effects? “It’ll cure this — but your eyeballs will fall out!” … “You’ll feel happier but there’s a chance of sudden death!” It’s crazy, man. We’ve gotten to a place where side effects are like some kind of background noise. I challenge you to tell me how many overdose cases there have been from cannabis. I’ll wait.
As I said, I was never into marijuana when I was in the league, but I tried everything the doctors could prescribe. After my career, when I was around 32, after seeing what cannabis did for my grandma, I tried out cannabidiol, which is the non-psychoactive form of it — you get the anti-inflammatory effects and the pain relief without the THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. I took the cannabidiol (CBD) as a cream or oil that could be rubbed on topically.
And look, I’m not trying to give out medical advice, so I’ll just say this — for me, cannabis changed my experience with pain. It has worked better, with fewer side effects, than anything I’ve gotten from a doctor. To this day, at 37, after 16 years in the NBA and back surgery and all the miles on my body, I’m still playing ball every week in L.A. Meet me out there. Afternoon runs Tuesday and Thursday. You don’t want none of this!
A few years ago I co-founded a business that produces non-psychoactive cannabis as well as THC-based products. Marijuana changed my life with regard to pain. Now it’s my second calling after basketball. And in a way, it all goes back to that day seven years ago in the garage with my grandma.
Being a minority in the cannabis industry has made me realize how rare it still is. That’s why I’m active in the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA). The MCBA is about improving access and empowerment for minorities in the industry. It basically comes down to this: We’re the communities most hurt by the War on Drugs. Now that marijuana is legal in so many parts of the country, we shouldn’t be left without a seat at the table as the industry takes off.
Alcohol abuse and the NBA. You don’t hear a lot about it, but it’s there. It flies under the radar.
This is just the reality: NBA players are affected by anxiety and stress. We’re like any other people with a full-time job that involves a lot of emotional and physical ups and downs.
Many NBA players have a few alcoholic drinks a day. I’ve seen the progression to where they’re having more than a few — just to unwind a little bit or relieve some pain. Pretty soon, it’s easy to be doing that after every game. That takes a serious toll. Pain is just part of sports, though. Athletes are going to seek ways to ease that pain.
I won’t say names, but in my 16 years in the league, I knew of at least 10 or 12 players who had their careers cut short due to alcohol. It either affected them physically or mentally, but one way or another, alcohol shortened their careers. No judgment from me, just facts. We all should be honest. It’s well known how liquor can destroy lives. But we’re still out here demonizing cannabis while alcohol is promoted at sporting events? It all starts with some honesty.
Jeff Sessions, man. I almost left him out of this … because I’m not usually heavy into politics.
But then I thought, We can’t just let these politicians off the hook.
You maybe saw how Sessions, the attorney general, said, just a few days ago, how he plans to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it’s already legal. Sessions says marijuana is a federal issue.
But I think he’s confused about his own politics.
When it comes to the votes of the people in states where cannabis is legal, Sessions is all about the federal government’s power. But then when it comes to laws that would make it easier for minorities to vote, he’s a states’ rights guy?
Jeff Sessions, man.
Young people need to run for office. That’s my first thought on that subject.
But not only that, I’ve got some advice for y’all: if you want to win, make marijuana legalization one of your main issues. You could win on that issue alone, I really believe that. Because it’s not just about legalization, it’s about addressing racism, policing, the prison system, sentencing laws — all of that. Decriminalizing marijuana is one of those issues that cuts across party lines.
Some politicians are understanding what we need to do. I’m grateful that New Jersey senator Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill modeled on California’s Proposition 64 that ends federal marijuana prohibition and centers on communities most devastated by the War on Drugs. I worked with the Drug Policy Alliance to support Prop 64 here in California. Now I’m continuing my support of Senator Booker’s bill. I hope you’ll read up on it and see why it makes sense on a civil rights level and a common sense level.
It’s my belief that 70-80% of today’s NBA players use marijuana in some form. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t do any formal polls or anything like that. I just played in the league for 16 years, and that’s my opinion.
Due to the NBA’s ban on cannabis, most of the guys are doing it in the offseason. But I really think the number is that high.
Here’s why I’m telling you that. These guys are NBA superstars. It’s not the last dude on the bench who’s on his couch getting high. These are global icons — leaders, teammates, parents, citizens. These are world-class athletes, man. They’ve got pain and stress and anxiety and all the things any human has. The NBA has never been more skilled or more fun to watch.
So you tell me: Is cannabis ruining these athletes’ lives? Or are our laws and ideas behind the times?
I started with a statistic, so I’ll end with one. It’s a fill-in-the-blank. Each answer is the same.
- An estimated 88,000 people die from _________- related causes annually.
2. In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that _________ contributed to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions.
3. Consuming ________ increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver and breast.
Hint: the answer is either marijuana or alcohol.
Do I need to even tell you?
Discrimination in Maryland’s broader business climate would justify giving minority and women-owned businesses preferences for entering the state-regulated medical marijuana market, according to a report released Wednesday.
The long-awaited report, ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), gives lawmakers the justification they need to pass legislation to help more minorities break into the industry.
Pending legislation would set aside five new marijuana cultivation licenses for minority-owned businesses and put a pause on any other new licenses for as long as a decade.
None of the 14 companies licensed to grow cannabis for medical purposes in Maryland’s are led by black executives. That enraged lawmakers who said it was unfair that African Americans were disproportionately locked up on marijuana charges, compared to the overall populations, but were getting fewer opportunities to profit from the legal industry.
While the 2014 law legalizing medical marijuana called for regulators to seek diversity in licensing growers, the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission did not consider race or ethnicity after receiving legal advice that said it would be illegal to do so without evidence of disparities.
After a political brawl ensued, and lawmakers failed last year to reach a compromise on overhauling the medical marijuana industry, Hogan ordered a disparity study.
The consultant, economist Jon Wainwright, didn’t specifically examine Maryland’s medical marijuana companies or the application process. Instead, he examined whether an earlier study finding widespread disparities in business opportunities for minorities in Maryland could be applicable to the medical marijuana industry.
He concluded that it was.
“Absent such affirmative remedial efforts by the State, I would expect to see evidence in the relevant markets in which the medical cannabis licensees will operate that is consistent with the continued presence of business discrimination,” Wainwright wrote.
But he cautioned that he is not a lawyer and could not say which race-conscious measures to expand the medical marijuana market are legal.
Medical marijuana went on sale in December at a limited number of dispensaries after years of delays. Supply is low and prices are high while most growers are still working to get their product ready for market.
Massachusetts voters approved marijuana for medical use in 2012, but it took the state nearly three years to open its first dispensary.
The timeline for retail pot shops is looking a little more expeditious, even with some delays and the uncertainty brought about by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
When Bay State voters went to the polls in November 2016, they approved a ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana with a rapid timeline. (Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, as federal prosecutors keep noting.)
The growing and gifting of pot became legal under state law in December 2016, but Gov. Charlie Baker and state lawmakers tinkered with the timeline, delaying a series of important deadlines by six months as they sought to re-write the voter-approved marijuana laws.
That meant that states like California, whose voters approved recreational marijuana at the same time as Massachusetts, beat the Bay State to opening retail marijuana shops.
It’s not set in stone
State regulators say they’re moving ahead with setting up the framework for legal pot shops.
But the timeline could still change. Jeff Sessions aside, roadblocks could pop up, and lawsuits could slow things down, too.
Take the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as an example. (Lawmakers looked to the set-up of the Gaming Commission when rewriting the state’s marijuana laws to create the Cannabis Control Commission.)
The Gaming Commission
The Gaming Commission, tasked with awarding licenses for a casino and a slot parlor, was created through a 2011 law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Patrick is out of office, and the casinos haven’t been completed yet. MGM Springfield is scheduled to open this year, while the massive Wynn Boston Harbor project, which was once at the center of multiple lawsuits and public spats between mayors and Steve Wynn after its license was awarded, is due to open June 2019 in Everett.
The third available resort casino license hasn’t been awarded, because plans for a potential tribal casino made the Gaming Commission take a step back.
The owner of the slots parlor license, Plainridge Park Casino, was up and running in June 2015.
Federal officials are the wild card
“I understand that there are people and groups looking for additional guidance from this office about its approach to enforcing federal laws criminalizing marijuana cultivation and trafficking,” Andrew Lelling, the US Attorney in Massachusetts, said after Sessions made his move to rescind an Obama-era memo that allowed states to do their own thing when it came to marijuana.
He added: “I cannot, however, provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution.”
Lellings’ comments injected additional risk and uncertainty as Massachusetts ramps up a massive change to the culture of the state that’s been underway for a while: Marijuana was decriminalized a decade ago, and medical marijuana and recreational marijuana legalization followed.
Here’s the current timeline
Here’s a look at the Massachusetts timeline as it stands today, starting after voters approved the recreational marijuana law and ending with what happens to medical marijuana dispensaries now that recreational marijuana is here.
Parts of new marijuana law go into effect — Dec. 15, 2016
A little more than a month after Massachusetts voters approved legalization, people who were at least 21 years old could possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana inside their home and up to one ounce outside on this date.
Smoking marijuana in public is still banned in the same places smoking tobacco is.
Gov. Baker signs law delaying retail pot shops’ part of marijuana law — Dec. 30, 2016
Lawmakers rushed a bill to the governor’s desk delaying key parts of the marijuana law that govern retail pot shops. It didn’t affect personal possession limits and the home-growing of marijuana products.
Board of cannabis advisers set up — Aug. 2017
The 25-member Cannabis Advisory Board was set up through the ballot question approved by voters. Its members include Walpole Chief of Police John Carmichael Jr., who opposed marijuana legalization, and Kimberly Napoli, an attorney who co-founded the Hempest, a hemp-based clothing boutique in Cambridge’s Harvard Square neighborhood.
Cannabis Control Commission set up — Sept. 2017
A retired executive who worked at Bain. A former state senator from Central Massachusetts. A former top aide to ex-Attorney General Martha Coakley. An attorney who co-founded a cannabis recruiting firm. And the former deputy general counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Tapped for the job in September 2017, these five people are the ones with hands on where recreational marijuana is going to go in Massachusetts. Just one member voted in favor of the ballot question broadly legalizing recreational marijuana.
They’ve hired Shawn Collins, a top aide to state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, as their executive director. Collins, a Webster native, was tapped due to his experience in navigating the State House.
Cannabis commission releases draft regulations – December 2017
The Cannabis Control Commission dove into developing regulations for the new industry expected to grow in Massachusetts, including everything from marijuana cafes to yoga studios and movie theaters that could be allowed to sell the controversial substance.
Here’s what the commission is doing in the first six months of 2018
The Cannabis Control Commission must start accepting license applications from potential retailers, product manufacturers and cultivators by April 1, 2018.
The five-member commission also has to endorse regulations on protocols for independent marijuana testing facilities by May 1, 2018.
The commission can issue the first retail licenses starting on June 1, 2018. (They cannot issue approvals before that date.)
First retail pot shops slated to open — July 1, 2018
If all goes according to the timeline described above and laid out in state law, retail pot shops should open on July 1.
The specific date of July 1 is not explicitly in the Massachusetts marijuana law, but it’s the date state regulators are aiming for because it’s when people are widely expecting them to be open.
How many stores?
The number of stores that will be open to customers remains unclear.
Kamani Jefferson, the president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said at a recent panel on marijuana that the state will be lucky to have 25 stores, maybe 30, by July 1.
Jim Smith, the founding partner of Smith Costello and Crawford and a former state representative from Lynn, had a more optimistic take. Also a panelist at the summit on marijuana put together by the State House News Service, Smith said there will be more than 25 shops, and could be as many as 40 to 50.
How much retail marijuana will be available?
Both Jefferson and Smith pointed to whether there’ll be enough marijuana available.
“There’s plenty of demand,” Smith said, predicting that the “Day 1 story” will be a “picture of the lines.”
Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, predicted in comments to MassLive/The Republican that the first places open “will sell out in less than a week.”
Taxes on marijuana could reach up to 20 percent. The break down is: 6.25 percent sales tax, state excise tax at 10.75 percent and local option tax of up to 3 percent that can be set by cities and towns.
How much is ‘overkill’?
There are currently 200 pot shops in Denver, Colorado.
Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said at the panel that Colorado was among the first states to implement legal marijuana, and Massachusetts is learning from what the state did to handle demand. But the amount of retail pot shops is “overkill” in Colorado, according to Rosenberg, who was one of the few elected officials at the State House to support the 2016 ballot question legalizing marijuana.
“We do not need the kind of proliferation in Massachusetts that they have in Colorado,” he said.
Transfer of medical marijuana program — Dec. 31, 2018 or sooner
The rewritten marijuana laws call for the medical marijuana program to fall under the oversight of the Cannabis Control Commission.
The program has been with the state Department of Public Health, since the ballot initiative endorsed by voters in 2012 placed it there.
So what about the feds?
Baker, the Massachusetts governor, has expressed worries that federal prosecutors are sowing confusion about marijuana with the stance Jeff Sessions is taking.
Baker opposed marijuana legalization in 2016, but now notes voters approved the ballot question. Prosecutors should be focusing on street drugs like fentanyl to combat the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts and elsewhere across the country, he said.
Medical marijuana patients are scared
Registered patients of medical marijuana say they’re frightened by the Sessions move, particularly since it’s driven some operators to shift to cash-only.
But they add they’re heartened by comments by local law enforcement officials who say they won’t be going after legal marijuana operators, despite what federal prosecutors have said.
Gov. Baker’s public safety chief Dan Bennett told MassLive that the Massachusetts State Police will be focused on enforcing state law, and under state law, marijuana is legal for adults age 21 and over.
Marijuana legalization advocates are waiting to see what happens next
Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the ballot campaign that broadly legalized marijuana, said he hopes local police departments pay attention to what Bennett said.
Public opinion has shifted toward the advocates’ side, with most voters in recent national polls believing marijuana should be legalized.
As for what happens after the Sessions move and the Lelling statements, Borghesani wrote in an email to MassLive, “I think much of how this plays out remains to be seen.”
Congress could pursue a measure that blocks federal prosecutors from moving against state-sanctioned marijuana businesses.
“As ominous as Lelling’s statement is, I’m hopeful that he and other U.S. attorneys are ultimately prevented from prosecuting lawfully operating businesses,” he wrote.
A previously pot-friendly rural Northern California county has reversed course and banned commercial marijuana farms, paving the way for lawsuits from growers who previously received permits and paid taxes.
A newly constituted Calaveras County board of supervisors last week voted 3-2 to ban marijuana, giving some 200 farmers with permits about three months to wind down operations. The vote to ban occurred less than a month after California authorized retail sales of marijuana for recreational use in cities and counties that approve of pot operations within their borders.
Calaveras County growers with permits said Wednesday they are planning to sue. Each permit cost $5,000 and the county has collected more than $7 million in taxes from marijuana growers since 2016.
The economically struggling county of 44,000 residents initially embraced legalized marijuana as a way to generate revenue and recover from a devastating 2015 wildfire that displaced hundreds or residents and businesses. The county used some of the marijuana tax to hire additional police and staff.
But four new board members were seated this month after winning election in November on campaign promises to ban marijuana.
“We have known this day could come and we have prepared for this eventuality for the last year,” said Trevor Witke, president of the Calaveras Cannabis Alliance farmers’ group. “We are going to move forward with everyone who has been impacted by this decision.”
The farmers also said they may try to qualify a ballot measure to reverse the ban.
Marijuana has deeply divided financially Calaveras County, the famous setting of a Mark Twain short story located about 150 miles east of San Francisco.
Sheriff DiBasilio estimated the county, which is about the size of Rhode Island, has more than 1,000 illegal farms in addition to the 200 licensed farmers and the hundreds more who had their applications pending. The influx has caused a backlash among residents and led to the ouster of some leaders who approved marijuana cultivation.
I glance down at the glass case, encircled by a marble countertop. Large flat-screen displays hang above, showing off the merchandise, but I want a closer look.
As I edge forward, the soft white glow of the undercabinet lights by the gray-tiled floors shines on my Nike sneakers. The mix of marble, stone, glass and wood accents gives the space a serene, almost sterile look.
No, I’m not at an Apple Store eyeing an Apple Watch or iPhone X. I’m actually two and a half miles east of the Las Vegas Convention Center, spending my second day at CES at the Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary.
And I’m here for work. I swear.
Jardin and other local marijuana dispensaries were expecting a surge in traffic last week as the more than 180,000 attendees of CES flooded into Las Vegas, where recreational weed is now legal. I wanted to check out where convention goers who smoke marijuana might be getting their pot during the week.
In the midst of my tour, my attention falls to a flat screen mounted on a silver stand. It’s part of a video booth that records a short animation of a given customer and sends it to that person’s email address as a GIF file. There’s even a Jardin background to pose in front of, like the backdrops you find during parties at Vegas nightclubs.
But the video booth is more than a chance for a silly memento — it’s a way for Jardin to win over a potential new regular customer.
“Now it’s logged their emails and we can use that for our marketing campaign,” said John Kent, Jardin’s inventory curator, as he types in his own info as an example.
Jardin goes to such lengths in part because it, like others in the legal marijuana business, often gets short shrift in Google’s search results or listings on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
It underscores the fine line that tech companies have to navigate with these businesses, since marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government even as it’s gone legit in a number of states. That forces weed businesses like Jardin and neighboring Essence and Reef to take more creative approaches to gain consumer attention.
The online challenge is well documented. Canna Ventures, a marketing firm for marijuana companies, wrote in a blog post last May that marijuana and Google were “a match made in Hell.” Nevada laws make it impossible for marijuana companies to use services like Google’s AdWords and tracking on social media, which have helped startups in other industries boom.
“Google does not allow marijuana ads on either the display or search side [via our AdWords policies] because the product is illegal on the federal level,” said Google spokesman Alex Krasov. “This policy is the same on the publisher side [AdSense].”
Jardin, for its part, gets most of its online traffic from text message blasts and it has a healthy database of numbers. First-time customers at Jardin register a profile with the dispensary, with a name and phone number, similar to signing up for certain website services.
“We just wanted our information to be more available,” Kent said. “We allow ourselves to be exposed and found, and hopefully, like the Steve Jobs’ philosophy, we want to offer the best product and the best service the marketplace has to offer.”
Banned on Instagram, again and again
Essence, the only dispensary on the Las Vegas strip, similarly features a minimalist design, with white walls and shiny floors. People buy their marijuana while sitting behind a window. It reminds me of how I’d get medicine from my pharmacist, but cleaner.
That appearance offers no hint of one of Essence’s greatest challenges: publicity. The shop has had to rebuild its Instagram account of 20,000 followers six different times. That’s because about every three to six months, it’s banned from the Facebook-owned social network without any warning.
The first time was in 2015, Armen Yemenidjian, the store’s owner, said he was distraught. He pulled together all his store’s licenses, scanned them and sent them over to Instagram’s support team. He wanted to show the social network that the store was operating within the law and that Instagram’s ban was hurting its business.
He never received a response. He created new accounts instead, and each got banned in turn. He never knows if his store’s accounts will be safe and worries each time he looks at Instagram that it could be taken away from him.
“It’s a frustrating experience because no one is there to listen to what we’re saying. No one hears us say, ‘we’re a legitimate business,’” Yemenidjian said. “For all that work to be wiped out with literally the push of a button, it’s disheartening.”
And he’s not alone. Accounts for Jardin and Reef have also been banned, forcing those businesses to create new accounts each time, too. It usually takes Yemenidjian about four months to build his following back up — and that’s if it doesn’t get deleted again in the meantime.
Asked for comment on why it bans accounts like Jardin’s and Essence’s, Instagram responded by deleting their current pages. A spokeswoman said it was because the shops violated Instagram’s Community Guidelines.
Jardin and Essence declined to comment on what happened.
Instagram’s community guidelines prohibit promoting drug sales, even if they’re legal in the state. Marijuana content, though, is allowed, as long as it’s not promoting sales, said a person familiar with Instagram’s rules.
Dispensaries also are not allowed to post their websites, address or any kind of contact information on Instagram.
Even with the sudden bans, Instagram is a major part of a dispensary’s outreach. Jardin’s aesthetic makes the store popular among tourists and more importantly, social media influencers. Kent said he sees an Instagram model posting from the store nearly every week, expanding its reach.
Even if the store gets banned on Instagram, people with large followings can post pictures from the store, and with its look, Jardin gives them every reason to.
With the drugs displayed under glass in Petri dishes with identifying placards near them, it’s as if I’m at a cannabis museum. A row of succulent plants in glass domes is perched on one wall. They have nothing to do with marijuana, but they provide a hip vibe that Jardin’s founder Adam Cohen favors.
He’s had experience building and selling hotels in the Virgin Islands, and said he wanted to bring a “luxury” appeal to dispensaries. The video booth is in front of one of the store’s most Instagrammed spot, Cohen said, which helps him get more eyes on a network where advertising is forbidden.
Kent showed me a photo on his phone of him hanging out with the rapper Method Man.
“People see Method Man smoking Jardin cannabis, and then they think, ‘Jardin cannabis is probably good,’” Kent said.
They’ve also taken advantage of the fact that tweets appearing in Google’s search results aren’t subject to as strict a standard as promoted posts on Twitter itself. Google places popular tweets in a prominent spot on the first page of search results. Fake news in tweets have surfaced on Google that way, but that indirect route also provides an opening for the marijuana industry to get more attention.
Kent said the company tries to have useful and informational tweets on its Twitter account so that when people type in questions about marijuana, they will see answers from websites, as well as from the dispensary’s Twitter account.
Until they can advertise like any other business on Google and social media, the dispensary industry is stuck searching for workarounds instead. Many have called for changes from the tech giants, arguing that they are legitimate businesses and shouldn’t be treated like shady drug dealers.
The Reef dispensary features simple wooden tables and strains of marijuana in plastic display cases for customers to get a quick look and smell. Customers flock in on Wednesday in the late afternoon, and I spy many CES badges.
Mike Pizzo, the dispensary’s marketing content manager, hopes Google and Facebook will eventually stand up to the federal government on marijuana.
“I love the Google mantra of ‘don’t be evil,’” Pizzo said. “Let’s subscribe to that and think about how many people are helped by cannabis, how many jobs it’s created, how many people have voted for it to be legalized.”
Is Thailand now ready to legalize marijuana plantations for medical use? In recent days both legislators and state officials have been in the news after coming out to voice their support for cannabis cultivation for limited use within the medical realm.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Wiwat Salayakamthorn said he agreed with the idea of legalizing the cultivation of the narcotic plant purely for medical research and medicinal use.
Marijuana should be regarded as a herbal plant that is useful for drug manufacturing, according to Mr Wiwat.
Mr Wiwat made his comments after the National Farmers Council (NFC) earlier encouraged the government to legalize marijuana cultivation for medical research and use.
The council’s move came after a regulation on the cultivation of hemp, or Kanchong, in designated areas for medical research purposes was published in the Royal Gazette on Jan 6.
He said a study should be conducted on the potential benefits, both medical and also in terms of revenue, and drawbacks of changing the laws governing the cultivation of marijuana.
Thailand risks losing the opportunity to become an early Asian adopter of a more relaxed approach to policy governing the drug that is already sweeping through large swathes of the western world, especially the United States, he added.
“Marijuana holds medicinal properties. There have been many studies on the use of this in the medical field, and it has been long been accepted that kratom, opium and marijuana can be used in the production of medicines,” he said.
Mr Wiwat said physicians have often used drugs derived from these plants to treat their patients while they have also played a role in traditional medicines used by villagers over the past decades, particularly in China.
China has seen a rapid expansion in the manufacture of herbal medicines. These traditional drugs are also exported overseas as well, and bring in large amounts of revenue to the country.
As for Thailand, Mr Wiwat said local wisdom in the area of herbal medicine has been around for years. However, the production of certain domestic drugs in Thailand hit legal snags which resulted in a ban on the manufacture of several types of medicines.
“Today, many laws govern which medicines can be produced in Thailand. Besides, some international trade agreements also limit our freedom to produce our own drugs,” he said.
NFC president Prapat Panyachartrak on Monday also confirmed that the council discussed designating an area for marijuana cultivation with the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).
They have initially looked at 5,000 rai of land on a military compound in Sakon Nakhon, where marijuana plantations could be easily monitored and regulated.
Sakon Nakhon was selected due to its conducive climate and the fertility of the soil along the Phu Phan Mountain range.
After this news broke, Witthaya Chanchalong, Sakhon Nakhon’s governor, insisted the province had no such plans and had heard nothing from the government regarding the matter.
However, besides Mr Wiwat, Chaimongkol Chairob, president of the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Administrative Organization, on Thursday voiced support for cannabis cultivation in the region, saying the crop can be used in producing medicines to treat or alleviate the symptoms of several ailments, such as cancer and diabetes.
In particular, he highlighted how useful marijuana is in combating the debilitating effects of the chemotherapy used to treat many types of cancer.
Legalizing cannabis cultivation would help lessen the amount of medicines imported from overseas, said Mr Wiwat, who is among a group physicians and farmers who are urging the government to make marijuana cultivation legal for medical use.
In June last year, a committee supervising the laws on methamphetamine, chaired by deputy permanent secretary for justice Pol Col Dusadee Arayawuth, agreed to implement new regulations to allow the cultivation of hemp as an economic crop.
The cultivation of the plant is allowed in designated areas in 23 districts of nine provinces under the supervision of the provincial narcotics control management centers.
As for marijuana, the committee agreed to move the drug to the fifth tier of the controlled narcotics list in order to pave the way for its use in medical research.
Legalizing cultivation of the drug for particular medical purposes forms part of a draft update of the narcotics code which is now being contemplated by the Office of the Council of State.
Marijuana tourism is on the horizon for California’s famed wine country.
A craft cannabis brand called Flow Kana is building a marijuana processing and manufacturing hub on the site of a former winery in Mendocino County. The company purchased the 80-acre parcel once owned by the founding family of Fetzer Vineyards for $3.6 million in 2017.
Much like a winery that hosts tours and tastings, the Flow Cannabis Institute will build experiences around the operation. Visitors will eventually tour the facilities where small farmers test, dry, cure, trim, process, and package marijuana for distribution; learn about the plant in seminars and pairing dinners; take a yoga class; and stay at an on-site, pot-friendly bed and breakfast.
Flow Kana was founded as a boutique delivery service in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company only sources from farms that grow outdoors without pesticides.
The Flow Cannabis Institute is the first of its kind in California, and it enables small and independent farmers to scale and compete with Big Marijuana brands. But is also offers an opportunity for the company to educate new consumers in the long-stigmatized industry.
This Wonka Factory for weed comes with one major caveat: Flow Kana has no plans to grow or sell cannabis on the property, though a future “tasting room” will give away marijuana for free to adults over the age of 21. California law allows up to an ounce of marijuana to be gifted.
On January 1, recreational marijuana became fully legal in the Golden State, where medical use has been legal since 1996.
We spoke with Amanda Reiman, head of community relations at Flow Kana, about what we can expect from the Flow Cannabis Institute.
Reiman, a former professor at UC Berkeley who taught classes on substance abuse and drug policy, recalls taking college students on field trips to marijuana dispensaries.
Some went into the experience with preconceived notions about what a pot shop is like. They imagined shopping for marijuana like going to a house party where people passed around joints — instead of the highly-regulated and increasingly boutique retail experience that it is today.
“Seeing with your own eyes is sometimes the only antidote to what you see in the media,” Reiman said.