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Should we laugh or cry?

Comedian Stephen Colbert’s analogy hits the mark on the absurdity of Jeff Session’s cannabis views. Colbert was responding to the following Sessions comment about combatting violent crime:

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.  Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

Sessions’ comment about marijuana being sold in every corner store is fallacious, though cannabis being legalized and normalized enough to be sold in corner stores would not be such a bad thing anyway, so long as those sales are confined to adults. Further, any “suggestions” about marijuana’s ability to ease heroin addiction are based on scientific evidence. But what’s truly ridiculous about Sessions’ comments, and what Colbert is responding to in the above, is the notion that cannabis is only “slightly” less awful than heroin. Nobody has ever died of a cannabis overdose compared to the estimated 91 deaths per day from opioid overdoses. Cannabis is not chemically addictive. Cannabis can be used as medicine. Neither of those things can be said for heroin. Equating the two of them is a flat out lie and a harmful one at that as it minimizes our country’s massive heroin problem.

Comparing cannabis to heroin is like comparing a paper cut to a gunshot wound or a rain cloud to a monsoon. Not only are they not the same. Colbert gets it, but our country’s top attorney apparently does not.

 

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This quote from AG Sessions is the smartest thing he’s said on cannabis so far. Despite his well-established loathing for marijuana, Sessions here indicates respect for the Cole Memo, though it remains to be seen whether he will uphold the Memo in its entirety. The Cole Memo is an internal Department of Justice memo outlining how the Department should proceed in enforcing federal law in state-legal cannabis states. It reveals the DOJ’s tue priorities when it comes to marijuana, such as preventing distribution to minors, preventing revenue from marijuana sales from going to cartels and other criminal enterprises, and preventing marijuana possession and use on federal property.

Sessions still has an irrational hatred of cannabis as in the same interview where he talked of upholding the Cole Memo, he launched into the following diatribe:

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.  Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

Here’s the thing. How Jeff Sessions personally feels about cannabis should be irrelevant. The truth is that the majority of states have chosen to legalize cannabis and the voice of those people should be respected. There are plenty of people who do not think it wise to consume cannabis, yet still believe (for all sorts of reasons) that it should be legal. We can respect that as a personal choice. Is it possible that as much as Sessions hates cannabis that he realizes that the voice of the people and legal consistency and fairness and justice and, yes, states rights, should trump (pun only sort of intended) that?

Time will tell.

Government cannabis lawyersYesterday, the Washington Post ran an illuminating and sad little story on government marijuana, which is pot grown under the oversight of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The government marijuana photographed and featured in the story is a sample distributed to a researcher for use in ongoing clinical studies for treatment of military veterans suffering from PTSD. The marijuana in question looks a lot like green tea: it is blanched and dry, stems and leaves. It does not resemble cannabis.

We have written before about the embarrassment that is our federal system for cannabis research. When the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which oversees NIDA, says things like “[r]esearch is the bedrock of science, and we… support and promote legitimate research regarding marijuana and its constituent parts,” you must forgive the industry for rolling its eyes. The DEA clearly has no interest in studying anything that resembles the plant anyone actually ingests.

In addition to the dismal aesthetics of the government weed (reported to also lack smell), the WaPo story reports that the strain at issue tested out at 8% THC, which is less than half the average concentration found in commercial grade marijuana. The government weed also tests high in common contaminants, like yeast and mold, which would mandate its destruction in states with cannabis consumer safety laws (like Oregon, Washington or Colorado). In all respects, it would be difficult to mistake government cannabis for actual cannabis.

According to researchers, the quality of the NIDA cannabis makes highly controlled medical experiments next to impossible. One example of such an experiment includes the very experiment for which the cannabis was provided. After wending through a labyrinthian 7.5 year approval process and amassing a budget of $2,156,000 (based on a grant from the State of Colorado), it seems like a shameful waste of time and resources to test this “cannabis” on military veterans suffering from PTSD. If the government cannot grow real marijuana, it should at least know where to acquire it.

We have written before that given the lay of the land, it is up to states and private actors to take the lead on cannabis research – just as they have in all other aspects of ending prohibition. Constituent parts of the cannabis plant have real medical value, but they must be investigated properly to explore these promising features. Journalism like the WaPo piece, showing the NIDA shake, is helpful in pushing back on DEA claims that the law enforcement agency is a champion of science that “promotes legitimate research.” It does not. Really, the pictures say it all.

 

Cannabis fraud cannabis lawyersDon’t lie to your investors, and don’t be taken in by investments that don’t make sense. That’s the moral of this story, which made the rounds based on an SEC press release on Friday. A few years ago, the founder of a marijuana ancillary services company allegedly pumped up the value of that company with misleading press releases and created illusory revenues by transacting “sales” between the “operating” company and the publicly traded company. The SEC found out, investigated, charged the founder, and settled for a hefty fine. The cannabis industry is full of these stories. Every time a local newspaper touts how high marijuana tax revenues are or any new milestone in local marijuana sales, it invites investors to throw their money at any company they can. Investing in small, local, state-licensed cannabis companies is challenging and time-consuming due to state regulations, and the back-end return is fine, but usually not amazing. Public companies, on the other hand, promise enormous growth by having their hands in and around all aspects of the industry, and investors flock.

For those of us that try to do things the right way in this industry, it’s easy to highlight stories like this as indicative of bad actors and move on, but it’s important to remember a few things. The company described in the story was prominent in the cannabis industry for a while, and a lot of people thought it was making a lot of money and doing really well. It’s not just investors that get taken for a ride in cases like this. Attorneys, accountants, industry lobbying organizations, and others often get taken in the same way investors do, and they can face similar consequences. Public company fraud often relies on complicit actions by people who don’t realize they are a party to the fraud.

Here’s how things can spiral: Fraudco, Inc. puts out a press release touting big money and amazing technology. Small media outlets jump on it because they desperately need content. Attorneys, accountants, and potential business partners across the country that are looking for opportunities see the initial media coverage and rush in to see if they can do business with Fraudco. Fraudco is light on the details but says yes. Larger industry organizations get word that Fraudco is aligning itself with well-known professionals within the industry and give Fraudco a more prominent public and political role (after Fraudco pays to be a gold-level member). Larger media stories follow, and the public sees a company with positive reporting from large and small outlets and business relationships with recognizable and respected businesses and other professionals. Fraudco doles out just enough money to the industry groups and professionals to make it seem like they are doing real business and to avoid too many questions.

It can take months or even years to figure out that much or all of a company’s business can be fictitious. This happens because we fall into the trap of relying too much on trust. A modicum of due diligence can generally unravel most fraudulent schemes. Just last week, in Buying a Cannabis Business: The Top Five Due Diligence Items or Buyer Beware, we stressed the importance of due diligence when buying a cannabis business. The same holds true when investing in one. Despite what most people think, the fraud aspect isn’t usually that complicated. The problem is that even a modicum of due diligence is hard. It’s time-consuming, and short cuts are attractive. One of the most prominent shortcuts you see in small industries is to assume that a company is legitimate because the media and other businesses in your industry act as though they are legitimate. You say to yourself, “Well they can’t all be wrong about Fraudco,” and you let your guard down. Now you’re part of the problem — a self-reinforcing feedback loop that gives power to a company whose only output is a constant churn of press releases. See also Oregon Cannabis Fraud: How to Stay Out of the Newspapers

If you’re a potential investor in the cannabis space, it’s not that hard to protect yourself. Even if you don’t know the first thing about due diligence, you can still follow the tips that FINRA laid out in its stock scam investor alert of a few years ago. You can also make the decision to have your lawyer review all transactions and perform due diligence before you enter anything binding. There’s no reason to go it alone. See The Six Top Marijuana Scams to Avoid and Top Ten Marijuana Industry Red Flags.

But if you’re an attorney or an accountant or an industry organization or other professional to whom people look for guidance, you have a greater responsibility. It isn’t just to make sure that you don’t do anything illegal. Your associations and your reputation matter. They matter for your business and they matter to the outside world. If you haven’t done your homework on a company to be sure it’s legitimate, don’t vouch for it. If you’re an industry organization, make sure that the businesses you promote and put at the forefront are real, compliant, successful businesses. The overwhelming majority of cannabis businesses we see are legitimate, but I also can tell you right now that there are plenty of cannabis businesses in California, Oregon, and Washington that those in the know whisper about and will not touch, and yet plenty of others seem to have no problem just diving in.

As long as marijuana is illegal federally, the cannabis industry is in a somewhat precarious position and every prominent cannabis company that engages in illegal conduct — whether illegal drug trafficking or investor fraud — is a stain on the industry that makes progress that much harder. Industry participants can’t prevent bad acts, but they can do their part to make sure they don’t contribute, mistakenly or not, to those bad acts.

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How refreshing: a politician who thinks sensibly about cannabis. Prime Minister Trudeau is correct: you don’t need to enjoy marijuana or want access to it to support its legalization. Legalization speaks for itself. It’s good for the economy as it creates jobs and generates tax revenue. It’s good for those that use cannabis medicinally and/or recreationally and it’s good for disempowering the black market. The regulation of which Trudeau speaks is both practical and based on actual evidence from places that have already legalized. What a welcome difference from Jeff Sessions’ comments, about which we wrote last week and other cannabis comments the Trump administration.

We aren’t asking for much. Just common sense, not scare tactics.

 

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This comment from AG Sessions is truly laughable, especially where he says “maybe science will prove I’m wrong.” Sessions either does not pay attention to scientific research on cannabis or he is aware of the scientific evidence that proves him wrong and completely ignores it. Sessions is a smart guy so we think he is just being deceptive. Lying. Alternative facts. Whatever it takes to suit his own narrative.

We’ve been writing for two weeks now on the recently published high level scientific findings on the efficacy of cannabis in reducing opioid abuse and addiction. Sessions’ statement about how the opiate abuse argument is a “desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana” is also untrue. Those of us defending marijuana’s harmlessness (with or without the opioid argument) are not doing so desperately, we’re doing so because marijuana is actually harmless. We are doing so because we respect science.

We get it Mr. Sessions if you do not like cannabis and believe it is bad for America. That is your right in a free country. But it is corrosive to our democracy and to our legal system to have our top law enforcement officer lie and lie and then lie some more.

Are we asking too much to expect our top law enforcement officer to be straight with us? Should Sessions be impeached?

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White House Press Secretary and public enemy Sean Spicer is anti-science and a liar. His attempt to link cannabis to the opioid crisis in this country directly conflicts with the actual evidence. First off, marijuana is not an opioid. Opioids are highly addictive and neurologically dangerous, whereas cannabis is neither. Second, and as we wrote just last week, a recent study out of Mount Sinai showed cannabis to be medically useful in easing the withdrawal symptoms and cravings of heroin (an opioid) users. The opioid epidemic costs the United States $78 billion per year and cannabis could help that. On top of this, multiple studies have shown that opioid use actually declines fairly substantially in states with legalized cannabis. See this serious study as an example. Third,  rendering legal cannabis illegal again will not somehow put the entire genie of cannabis consumption back in the bottle. In other words, fully enforcing federal laws against marijuana businesses and users will not make illegal cannabis disappear.

If the DOJ starts cracking down on state legal marijuana businesses and users, the impact on cannabis consumption, especially by routine users, will almost certainly be minimal. Does anyone not remember how prevalent cannabis was before it was legalized? And unleashing a federal firestorm will lead again to arresting mostly young, poor people of color. See Marijuana And Racism: Bearing The Blunt Of The Problem. It will also mean that criminals will go back to profiting from cannabis at the expense of regulated and taxed businesses that provide real jobs and real state tax revenue. See Marijuana Legalization: Bad for the Cartels, Better for All and Cannabis Creates Jobs.

There’s no way state-legal recreational marijuana could cause further “blossoming” of the opioid addiction crisis. There is no way that state-legal recreational cannabis is anything but good for our economy. There is no way that state-legal weed is anything but good for reducing crime. Most importantly, it is no longer the will of the people of the United States to criminalize cannabis by adults. The health and economic benefits of cannabis legalization significantly outweigh any “danger” Spicer wrongly attributes to cannabis. His views on cannabis are a misguided mixture of out-of-touch conservatism and stigma.

Will the Trump administration really lead us back into the dark ages on cannabis? We have our doubts on this. See What Will “Increased Enforcement” Against Recreational Marijuana Really Mean. But it is unequivocally up to us, the people, to ensure that our democratic experiments with marijuana remain intact.

Recreational marijuanaWhite House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke today at a press conference on how he expects the Department of Justice to handle state-legal marijuana in America. In response to a question on how the Trump Administration will handle recreational marijuana, Spicer had this to say:

Well I think that’s a question for the Department of Justice . . . I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it. Because again there’s a big difference between the medical use … that’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”

There’s a big difference between [medical marijuana] and recreational marijuana, and I think when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana.”

Regardless of Spicer’s factually wrong take on the relationship between marijuana and opioid use, marijuana industry folks should not fret just yet.  Out of everything Spicer had to say, the key point is that marijuana enforcement falls on the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The job of the Press Secretary is “to act as spokesperson for the executive branch of the United States government administration, especially with regard to the President, senior executives, and policies” and the fate of the marijuana industry is not going to be decided in one White House press conference by the White House Press Secretary. The Department of Justice has so far declined to comment on Spicer’s briefing. It also bears mentioning that the Cole Memo setting out how the Department of Justice will treat state-legal marijuana (both medical and recreational) is still alive and well.

The bottom line. Though it is certainly unsettling to listen to Spicer predict increased enforcement of recreational marijuana businesses and to use stupid opium trope to boot, it is not time to lose heart or cash out. Will the jobs-focused Trump Administration really want to shut down cannabis businesses in multiple states and add a slew of hard-working people to the unemployment rolls? I don’t think so, but of course only time will tell.

 

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Dr. Hurd, the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience and the Director of the Center for Addictive Disorders at Mount Sinai, speaks here to cannabis’ medicinal properties. She has extensively studied whether marijuana can help ease withdrawal symptoms in heroin users, and her work was published in the journal Trends in Neurosciences this past Thursday. Dr. Hurd’s work was inspired by the ever-increasing issue of opioid addiction, which has become a huge epidemic in the United Sates–an epidemic estimated to have economic costs of at least $78 billion in the US alone. The overprescribing of opioids leaves many addicted to legal drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, but it also is a gateway to heroin addiction for far too many.

Dr. Hurd’s findings show that opioids are far more neurologically dangerous than cannabis. Further, she asserts that not only does cannabis have therapeutic properties, it can reduce heroin cravings and restore some of the neurobiological damage caused by opioid use as well.

The DEA decided against rescheduling cannabis last year on the grounds that marijuana is not a commonly accepted  “safe and effective” medicine. The DEA has us in a catch-22, since a large part of the reason cannabis is not commonly accepted as medicine by the scientific community is because there is a dearth of high-level cannabis research because of cannabis’ federally illegal status. One can only hope that with new research such as Dr. Hurd’s, the DEA (and the federal government in general) can begin to accept that marijuana is shockingly safe and does have medicinal qualities, and then move forward accordingly. If truly accomplished scientists are declaring cannabis to be a non-addictive and effective medicine, as based on their own rigorous scientific research, it is high time (pun intended) the DEA catches on.

Washington State cannabis delivery serviicesAre cannabis delivery services legal in Washington State? 

Strong demand for home-delivery cannabis services in Washington – and particularly Seattle – is apparent, as demonstrated by the numerous delivery services operating in plain sight, as revealed by a simple Google or Yelp search. Yet, such operations remain illegal following the passage and implementation of I-502. In 2016, Seattle proposed a law to permit a pilot project for legal delivery in Seattle (which failed in the state legislature). This year, Seattle officials are pushing for similar legislation, with certain modifications, that they hope will open the door to cannabis delivery throughout the state.

What’s the status quo in Washington State?

Cannabis delivery services are as old as old-school weed dealing itself. The common trope is of the marijuana dealer who delivers late (and stays past their welcome) – and only after multiple calls or texts. Today’s pot delivery services, particularly in states with legal medical or adult-use cannabis, are exponentially more professional operations – yet, in large part, they remain illegal under both state and federal law. Such is the case in Washington State.

What happened with the 2016 proposal?

Last January Seattle city officials supported Washington State House Bill 2368, which would have authorized a pilot plan for home cannabis delivery in Washington in cities with 650,000 or more people – effectively just Seattle.

HB 2368 was seen by as “Seattle-centric” and lawmakers outside Seattle and greater King County did not vote for the bill because it would not directly benefit their constituents. Also, Washington can be a deceptively conservative in general and in terms of cannabis, especially on outside its urban centers and especially on the East side of the mountains. Ultimately, HB 2368 did not become law.

How does the new proposal differ?

MyNorthwest.com reports that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes intends to broaden support for the 2017 bill by allowing home cannabis delivery statewide. Such marijuana delivery services would still be subject to county and municipal regulations and prohibitions.

Will it pass?

The bill’s ultimate fate is unclear. City Attorney Pete Holmes said in January that the bill was in the early stages of finding a bill number and sponsor, though he was optimistic going forward. Ultimately, only time will tell if this or a different bill authorizing cannabis delivery eventually becomes law in Washington State. Though it is far from certain, I think pot delivery services will within the next few years become legal in Washington and I say this because the longer Washington legalization goes on without the sky falling down (and I do not foresee the sky falling down), the more Washingtonians will come to realize it is no big deal and the less they will care about restricting it by doing things like forbidding cannabis deliveries.

Why is this important for the future of cannabis reform in Washington State?

Other jurisdictions with legal medical or adult-use cannabis have experimented with home delivery, and “gray market” home delivery operations are thriving in Washington and other state-legal cannabis states since before legalization. This despite many arrests in Seattle.

The demand for cannabis delivery ensures and proves its durability as a market force. Allowing illegal delivery operations to prosper erodes the legitimacy of legal cannabis markets, and undercuts its economic rationale. Our cannabis clients resent having to pay big taxes and be subject to massive regulations while at having to compete with illegal operations that avoid both of those things. The solution is to permit legal home delivery for medical and/or recreational users and to license and treat those cannabis delivery services  as any other cannabis business.

Why is this important to medical patients and adult-use cannabis consumers?

The ability to legally provide home cannabis delivery services is particularly important to medical marijuana patients with limited mobility or other disabilities that make it impossible or unduly burdensome for them to personally go to a dispensary to obtain cannabis. Also, even adult-use recreational patients can benefit from the convenience and added value of a cannabis delivery service. Just look at Amazon Prime.

For its part, earlier this month a Seattle Times editorial endorsed legalizing cannabis deliveries.