Veteran Cannabis Activist Dana Beal Busted—Yet Again

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Dana Beal, a longtime fixture in New York City’s cannabis activist scene, is once again back in the slammer.

In this new misadventure, Beal was popped this past weekend by sheriff’s deputies in Northern California’s Trinity County. He was apparently pulled over near the town of Hayfork and is currently being held in the jail at county seat Weaverville.

Sheriff’s representative Jill Lynn told the New York Daily News, “It was a traffic stop where the K9 alerted to the odor of narcotics.”

She said the vehicle had been swerving and driving about 15 miles under the speed limit and a search turned up 22 pounds of pot. 

High Times’ sources indicate the bust was on Highway 36, near the Humboldt-Trinity county line. This connects with Route 299, the main road that links Humboldt County on the coast to Insterstate 5 in the Central Valley, over the rugged Trinity Alps. 

The quantity Beal was caught with usually results in an “own recognizance” release in Trinity County, meaning no bail. But this time, bail has reportedly been set at a steep $75,000—possibly due to Beal’s notoriety and past record.

Beal is said to face two charges: misdemeanor possession of cannabis for sale and felony attempt to transport marijuana across state lines. His driver was also charged, identified as Michigan resident James Statzer.

Beal and Statzer have been arrested together before—most recently, a year ago this week in Oregon, after a state trooper stopped them for driving outside the line and over the speed limit. A search turned up 55 pounds of marijuana. In June, the Clackamas County district attorney declined to prosecute the case, citing irregularities in the search. 

Before that, the pair were convicted of transporting more than a hundred pounds after being pulled over in Nebraska in 2009. Beal also faced marijuana trafficking charges in Wisconsin in 2011. He served three years on these charges, suffering a heart attack in prison.

Following his release in 2014, Beal had returned to public advocacy, particularly around expanding New York’s medical marijuana program. In his previous arrests, Beal had claimed that he was providing for AIDS and cancer patients. He has also been a crusader for Ibogaine, a psychedelic he believes has the power to break heroin addiction.

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UK Man Faces Jail In Dubai For Pot Smoked Before His Flight

The post UK Man Faces Jail In Dubai For Pot Smoked Before His Flight appeared first on High Times.

Connor Clements relocated to Dubai—the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates and a global coalescing point for wealth and power (and the very stupid and extremely criminal things that happen when too much of either clouds sense)—because he wanted to turn his life around.

The 24-year-old from Liverpool, in the UK’s northeast, hadn’t been doing much at home: Smoking weed, hanging out, “stuck in a rut,” as he explained to the Liverpool Echo. Upon arriving in the Middle East, where as many as 240,000 fellow UK citizens live in Dubai, lured there by the boomtown economy and the notable absence of an income tax, Clements scored a job as a waiter—which is when his current “living nightmare” began.

Living Nightmare: UK Man Faces Jail In Dubai For Pot Smoked Before His Flight

As he related to the Liverpool Echo, Clements was sent in by his employers for a physical examination from a doctor. A new friend of his, who goes by “Sergei,” had apparently been arrested by the police for dealing drugs—he had 10 grams of cannabis on him, which might cost $100 at a dispensary in Colorado or California.

The police asked Sergei to name names, and since Clements had opened up to Sergei about legally using Sativex, a prescription drug that contains synthetic cannabis, Sergei gave him up.

Two police officers were waiting for Clements at the testing area. Apparently, the doctor tested either his blood or his urine and discovered the presence of cannabis metabolites.

The authorities were alerted, and after a brief court appearance that sounds more like a show trial, he was sentenced to two years in prison for consuming marijuana in the UAE. As for Sergei? He was fined and then deported, apparently because he gave the cops enough names.

Clements admits to smoking cannabis but insists he did so weeks before his arrest and detention—while still back at home in England. That doesn’t matter in the UAE. The country has harsh anti-drug laws that consider the “presence of illegal substances in the body” as de-facto possession, according to the Echo.

Here’s Clements’ plea to the paper:

“They are saying I smoked it here—but I did [it] back home, they have got no proof… I used to smoke a lot back home. I came here to stop everything,” he said. “I haven’t committed a crime in the UAE. I was coming over here to totally change my life around. I had a new job and met loads of nice people.”

He’s currently out on bail ahead of an appeals hearing just before Christmas.

According to the paper, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which advocates on behalf of UK citizens stuck in messy situations abroad, is aware of the situation and has contacted Dubai prosecutors on Clements’ behalf. In the meantime, he’s spent some time incarcerated in a crowded jail. He speaks no Arabic, and his captors speak no English, he said.

Credible Story? Very

Foreign nationals detained abroad for spurious circumstances is a frequent occurrence in Dubai, and the story of ancient, long-smoked joints causing real trouble is a familiar tourist tale.

At best, the authorities may have discovered “evidence” of a “crime” committed three months ago or more.

Faithful readers of this publication will no doubt be aware that cannabis metabolites stay in the body long after use. When THC is ingested, the body starts to break it down. THC becomes THC-COOH. THC-COOH is not water soluble—it’s fat soluble, which means it lingers in fatty tissue rather than cycling in and out of the body in a matter of hours, as happens with “hard drugs” like cocaine or heroin.

In this way, a urine test does not detect impairment, as California NORML explains, and is ergo not useful as a metric by law enforcement. Yet it persists, in part because no “better” method exists, but more due to the fact that states legalizing cannabis have been quick to outlaw “stoned driving,” despite a lack of devices that would provide data to determine whether that act is, in fact, actually happening.

Clement’s situation is more familiar to international travelers in places like Thailand, where tourists from the West (and the country’s accommodation of their notorious party lifestyles) have long been at odds with local police and the national mores.

The internet is full of stories of corrupt police, randomly ordering stoner-looking westerners to submit to a “piss test,” discovering evidence of past use and incarcerating or collecting a bribe from the hapless victim.

According to Radha Stirling, CEO of “Detained in Dubai,” a British NGO created because British people getting arrested and thrown into prisons in the desert wonderland is a common occurrence, Clements’ plight is not uncommon.

Connor Clements appeal to be ruled on 3 days before Christmas. … – Detained In Dubai https://t.co/ElC0jOTQgV

— Radha Stirling (@RadhaStirling) December 17, 2017

Might be time to stay away or refrain from relating your drug habits to “new friends.”

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Jack in the Box Partners with MERRY JANE to Launch the MERRY Munchie Meal!

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West Coast fast food leader Jack in the Box is joining forces with your favorite cannabis media company MERRY JANE. The brands will launch a campaign in January that commemorates the legalization of recreational cannabis in California with a limited-edition MERRY Munchie Meal in select locations — a timely play on Jack in the Box’s popular late night menu.

The new MERRY Munchie Meal will be infused with the most craveable and snackable products that Jack in the Box has to offer, including: Halfsies (½ curly fries, ½ onion rings and all parts delicious), two of the brand’s famous Tacos, 5 Mini Churros, and 3 Crispy Chicken Strips, plus a drink — all for a very special price of $4.20.

“Jack’s Munchie Meals have been successful for us because of the authenticity of how we speak to our customers. This partnership is one more way for us to connect with them — whether you’re at a concert, up late playing video games, or pulling an all-nighter. We are about welcoming all of our guests, no matter what they’re craving or why they’re craving it,” says Iwona Alter, Chief Marketing Officer of Jack in the Box.

Jack in the Box has a history of engaging cannabis culture that spans over a decade, and notably includes the irreverent Two Tacos for 99 cents commercial as well as the introduction of the Munchie Meal product line and its subsequent marketing campaigns.

“Launching the MERRY Munchie Meal is the perfect way for both companies to celebrate legalization in our shared home state of California,” said Scott Chung, Chief Operations Officer of MERRY JANE. “MERRY JANE is the industry leader bridging mainstream brands and legal cannabis culture. Leveraging our Emmy-nominated content production, MERRY JANE has created a campaign with Jack in the Box that marries our brands’ voices.”

To experience the exclusive MERRY Munchie Meal, fans can hit up one of the following restaurants in Snoop’s hometown of Long Beach:

5601 Pacific Coast Hwy, Long Beach, CA 90804

3032 Palo Verde Ave, Long Beach, CA 90808

652 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, CA 90802

(And before you go, peep our dispensary locator to find more goodies in the neighborhood!)

The limited-time offer will only be available from January 18 to 25, so fans will have to move quickly. For more information, please visit jackinthebox.com, and connect with Jack on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Stay tuned for more about MERRY JANE and Jack in the Box’s budding friendship, and get your snack on next month!

Sting Operation Proves Oregon Pot Shops Don’t Sell to Minors

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A first-of-its-kind undercover dispensary inspection conducted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission found strict ID checking and security from all 20 pot shops it targeted.

According to Oregon’s KTVZ News, the OLCC, the state-run agency responsible for regulating alcohol and cannabis, sent volunteers under the age of 21 to licensed recreational marijuana retailers across central Oregon, where each and every minor was rejected at the door.

Oregon regulators were more than pleased with the 100% compliance rate, and are hopeful that the initial results represent a state-wide ethos of playing by the rules.

“That our licensed retailers in central Oregon scored 100 percent on refusal to sell marijuana to a minor is a sign that this segment of our regulated industry understands the importance of compliance,” Steve Marks, Executive Director of the OLCC, told KTVZ. “As we continue these checks, I hope that this result will be reflected across the state.”

If dispensaries are caught selling cannabis products to minors, they face a license suspension of 10-30 days and a fine of $1,650, with subsequent negligent sales punished with longer suspensions, further fines, and eventually the total rejection of their license.

Even if a cannabis customer is over the age of 21, a failure to properly check IDs before a sale carries a seven-day license suspension and fine of $1,100 or more. To make dispensary security’s job a little easier, all Oregon driver’s licenses have a clearly visible red outline demarking underrage residents.

“This is part of our stepped up compliance and enforcement activity,” Marks said. “We’re working to make sure that all segments of our regulated market are living up to the requirements of their license, and the expectations Oregonians have that they will act responsibly and follow the law.”

According to the OLCC, every Oregon dispensary will be subject to a similar sales protocol inspection at least once a year.

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State And Federal Law at Odds Over Allowing Medical Marijuana on School Grounds

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Federal and state cannabis laws are falling further and further out of sync, as federal drug prohibition laws constantly interfere with progressive states trying to advance cannabis reform. The latest battleground between federal and state cannabis laws regards public schools, where school district supervisors are being forced to debate whether or not to risk violating federal law to allow state-legal medical marijuana on campus.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all American children receive a “free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment,” which requires all school districts to accommodate children with disabilities. But the federal government also bans the possession or use of all illegal drugs, including state-legal medical cannabis, within 1,000 feet of any school. Any school district that chooses to allow their students to use medical marijuana is violating this law, which could potentially lead to federal funding cuts.

“This is a problem for schools,” Brad Bixler, communications specialist with the North Bend School District in Oregon, said to The World. “What we’re finding is that some kids have a need and families have reached outside of the traditional realms of medicine for products derived from the cannabis plant, which are showing to have benefits for some things these kids deal with.”

Bixler explained that students who are registered medical marijuana patients “could have an identified need to access some of the cannabis plant during the school day,” but “because it’s not a prescription from a doctor, we can’t handle it through our prescription medication policy and it isn’t something we can sign off on because it’s not an over-the-counter medication. We’re really restricted on what we can do. We have to be very careful and be aware of what may be coming onto our campuses and how to handle it.”

In California, school district supervisors are also struggling to reconcile the federal prohibition of cannabis with the federal mandate to provide appropriate support to children with medical needs. In the North Bay area, Jana Adams, a mother of a child suffering from Dravet Syndrome, hired cannabis attorney Joe Rogoway to help after her local district informed her that her daughter would not be allowed to bring her medicine to school. Cathy Myhers, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for the Rincon Valley Union School District, told KALW News that the board feels “as though our hands are tied. If we can’t provide her that rescue medication, we can’t serve her on a public school campus.”

Myhers is one of several California school district officials who have met with state Senator Mike McGuire to advocate for a new state law that would allow medical cannabis at schools. Similar laws exist in Maine, Colorado, and New Jersey, where parents, legal guardians, or primary caregivers can be authorized to administer medical marijuana to students. California’s new cannabis legalization law prohibits any cannabis possession in schools, as do the state’s health codes, but pressure from advocates like Adams, Rogoway, and Myhers could help enact a change to these laws.

Unfortunately, while changes to state laws could resolve the issue on a local level, federal law still blocks all cannabis use on school grounds. The states that have passed laws to protect student use of medical marijuana are still in full violation of federal law, and are at risk of losing federal funding, especially under the staunchly anti-cannabis Trump administration. It will require a change to federal law to ensure that children suffering from epilepsy and other illnesses are granted unfettered access to one of the most effective treatments available today.

Bitter Sweet: Denver Shuts Down 11 Dispensaries for Double-Dealing Weed

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All photos by Taryn Nation

On Thursday, Dec. 14, the Denver Police Department shut down 26 cannabis operations licensed under Sweet Leaf, one of Colorado’s largest dispensary chains. The raids led to the arrests of 13 budtenders, who were charged with allegedly “looping” weed sales in violation of state law. Looping is selling marijuana to customers beyond allotted limits.

The owners of Sweet Leaf weren’t mentioned in Denver P.D.’s arrest records, nor were they mentioned in the department’s public statements released last Friday, according to The Cannabist.

As of press time, all 11 of Sweet Leaf’s dispensary locations in Colorado are temporarily closed, and the company’s cultivation and processing facilities are suspended while the investigation (and pending audit from the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division — MED) is underway.

Sweet Leaf location on W 38th Ave. in Denver, CO; closed for business.

WTF Happened?

In Colorado, recreational weed customers may purchase up to 1 oz. of flower (or, for edibles and concentrates, the equivalent in THC-milligrams) per transaction. State law limits adults 21 and over to possessing only 1 oz. of bud at a time.

Under Amendment 64, anyone legally in possession of weed can give it away to another adult 21 or over, so long as the transfer doesn’t involve trading cash. In theory, a person could walk into a dispensary, buy 1 oz. of weed, take it outside, give it to their buddy, then walk back into the store and purchase another ounce.

Some pot shops have assumed that a “transaction” resets once the customer leaves the store. If the customer returns to the store, even that same day, they’ve initiated a new transaction. A new transaction permits the sale of another ounce, and so on and so on. What a so-called looper did with the ounce was on the looper, not the seller.

In Sweet Leaf’s case, an undercover cop returned to the store that same day and bought more, often from the same budtender, multiple times. According to Denver P.D., the sting operation against Sweet Leaf took place over the span of a year, and they claim an undercover detective returned as many as 16 times to a single location in a day. Some budtenders allegedly made multiple 1 oz. sales to the same customer two or more times a day.

But Is Looping Illegal?

Warren Edson, a cannabis attorney based in Wheat Ridge, CO, has been closely following this “what is a transaction?” issue. During a phone call with MERRY JANE, he cited a position statement from the Marijuana Enforcement Division dated May 22. The statement was made in response to an attorney’s inquiry requesting a clear definition for “a single transaction”:

The Division will seek administrative action against licensees attempting to circumvent the statutory and rule requirement imposing the limitation of one ounce per transaction of Retail Marijuana. Sales that are structured as multiple, stand-alone transactions may be viewed by the Division as an attempt to evade quantity limitations on the sale of Retail Marijuana, resulting in recommendation for administrative action. [Ed. Note: emphasis added]

“It’s really confusing, because [MED] just changed the regulations again,” says Edson, referring to revisions that were adopted in November. “Both sets of rules are pretty ambiguous. If you’re just a poor budtender, how’re you supposed to know?”

The rule change regards section R402.C of the retail marijuana regulations. The original rule reads:

A Retail Marijuana Store and its employees are prohibited from selling more than one ounce of Retail Marijuana flower or its equivalent… in a single sales transaction.

Yet changes to the rule, adopted Nov. 17, 2017, made an addendum to the original:

A single transaction includes multiple Transfers to the same consumer during the same business day where the Retail Marijuana Store employee knows or reasonably should know that such Transfer would result in that consumer possessing more than one ounce of marijuana.

This is where confusion arises: until recently, pot shops had only the MED’s posted rules to go by, which state 1 oz. caps per sales transaction. MED’s position statement regarding “a single transaction” came nearly six months after Denver P.D.’s first visit to Sweet Leaf, which took place in early December 2016. The addendum wasn’t adopted by the MED until a month after Denver P.D.’s final undercover visit to Sweet Leaf, which the department’s affidavit lists as Oct. 5, 2017.

MED’s updated rules, which go into effect January 1st, 2018, include a narrower definition of “single transaction” and the weight limits, but Edson says the newest regulation is still somewhat vague.

Which begs the question: were budtenders and their supervisors aware of what the MED considered a transaction – and, therefore, knowingly looping – prior to November?

Elizabeth, whose real name has been changed to protect her identity, worked as a budtender for another chain dispensary in Colorado from 2014 to 2015. She claims the industry was fully aware of what constituted looping since recreational weed sales began in January 2014.

“It was kind of bad,” she says. “I had heard before I got on board that the looping had no limit. Lots of people came in and out to buy ounces.” Initially, her dispensary encouraged its employees to loop as a way to maximize sales, but the managers eventually banned the practice a year into her employment.

“It was pitched as a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing,” she recounts. The incentive for budtenders to loop were bigger tips, which she says could fetch as much as $8 per looped ounce.

“When you have a dispensary with multiple budtenders,” says Edson, “how are you supposed to keep track? You’re not supposed to keep track” of sales to specific customers. Amendment 64 only requires presentation of an ID to prove a customer’s age; weed stores are not required to record personal information about a customer.

Notice of suspension from city of Denver at Sweet Leaf location.

Blockchain May Offer a Solution

Blockchain, the encrypted technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, may provide a solution to looping. For years, cannabis companies have eyed blockchains as a way to store value (read: money), since many national and state banks refuse to manage accounts for still federally illegal marijuana businesses. Besides storing and tracking monetary transactions, blockchain can act as a digital chain-of-custody system for marijuana inventories, too.

Conventional seed-to-sale tracking systems like METRC in Colorado allow authorities to trace the movement of weed products within the industry. However, METRC tracking stops at the point-of-sale, when the weed enters a customer’s hands and leaves the dispensary. The customer’s name isn’t attached to the sale. Vetting customers is the responsibility of budtenders and ID checkers at the door.

Besides, if someone really wanted to circumvent the rules, they could simply buy an ounce at Dispensary A, then drive over to Dispensary B across town and buy another ounce. There’s no system in place to trace who buys what, when, or where.

Michael Kramer believes blockchains could prevent looping while taking the burden of memorizing everyone’s IDs off budtenders. Kramer is CEO of 420 Blockchain, a cannabis tracking system company based in Boca Raton, Florida. 420 Blockchain is based on Augusta High-Tech’s Framework Hyperledger running on the Google platform, and they just launched beta tests in California and Rhode Island, with Kramer expecting the full-fledged system to go online sometime in the next month.

“Blockchain is an irrefutable ledger,” Kramer told MERRY JANE by phone. “It can never be changed. It can never be hacked.”

He says blockchain technology can prevent shady pot shop employees from scoring quick, dirty kickbacks. “We can put in provisions that prevent looping,” he explains. Transactions on 420 Blockchain can follow “permissions,” which set specific parameters for purchases or transport of weed products. Permissions don’t require human guidance; they’re guided and ensured by the blockchain itself.

For example, a driver’s license would be scanned at the dispensary, recording the customer’s name and purchase amount. Permissions could automatically assess weight limits based on the types of products sold (flower, concentrate, edible, topical, etc.), then approve or decline the sale. Additionally, the blockchain would lock into a statewide (or hypothetically, even a nationwide) network, so a customer would not only be capped from looping at one dispensary location, but any and all dispensary locations for the day.

“The blockchain will know if I go into any other [dispensary], that I already bought my allotted amount,” Kramer continues.

“The fact that legacy ERPs” — or enterprise resource planners, like METRC — “aren’t tracking [customer purchases with blockchain]…. I just don’t understand that,” says Kramer. He sees 420 Blockchain eventually coordinating with legislators and regulators to balance the concerns of protecting customer privacy while ensuring weed products aren’t diverted to black markets or across state lines.

“We can trace down every penny to every gram,” he says. “Every transaction is recorded.”

The Debate Continues

On social media, members of Colorado’s cannabis community have taken sides, either in support of Sweet Leaf and its employees under the “ounce-per-transaction” interpretation, or others backing the busts under the “ounce-per-day” banner.

Regardless of which position Coloradans sympathize with, some feel that slapping felony charges with potential jail time on Sweet Leaf’s budtenders is too extreme, even if they did break the law. A fundraiser and gift drive will take place Saturday, December 23 to support the hundreds of Sweet Leaf employees and their families in lieu of the company’s state-enforced shutdown just before Christmas. A separate GoFundMe campaign was also started to assist with the budtenders’ attorney fees.

U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Updates Physician Guidelines, Still Rejects Use of Medical Marijuana

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In a series of events that ultimately mirrors the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs entire approach to medical marijuana, the VA released a new set of physician guidelines yesterday encouraging increased doctor-patient communication about cannabis, before quickly issuing a press statement unequivocally stating that VA doctors are still not allowed to recommend medical marijuana, and that they have not changed their policy regarding cannabis at all.

The back-and-forth began when Forbes writer and cannabis activist Tom Angell broke down the VA’s new five page directive and it’s cannabis conversation details. He also highlighted the barriers to medical marijuana access that continue to stand in veterans’ way and noted the distinction between a recommendation and prescription.

Still, no matter how many caveats Angell provided, VA officials did not take kindly to his description of the recently released guidelines as a “new policy” and quickly rebuked the Forbes article’s word choice.

“It is updated guidance to encourage veterans to let their VA physicians know if they are using marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, just as VA physicians would want to know about any other use by veteran patients of federally illegal drugs,” VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Air Force Times. “The goal is to get a full picture of patient health, including all legal and illegal medications. Calling the updated guidance document a more open approach to marijuana use is a mischaracterization.”

Semantics aside, Angell’s point, that after years of consistent denials and wholesale rebukes of medical marijuana, even the slightest hint of cannabis reform in the VA is encouraging.

Whether they return home with physical scars, mental wounds, or both, America’s veterans are often prescribed strong pharmaceuticals and opioid painkillers, drugs that can often exacerbate issues of PTSD and lead to life-threatening addiction.

In an interview with MERRY JANE last month, Sean Kiernan, President of the Weed for Warriors Project, a group dedicated to helping veterans find solace in cannabis, described the continued challenge for returning soldiers seeking help from the VA and the relief that cannabis can bring.

“If you look at the medicines the VA gives to you, what’re they giving you?” Kiernan said. “First, let’s take pain. You’re getting some type of opioid or narcotic. What’re the side effects of that? You can see addiction to synthetic heroin, basically. Beyond that? Overdose. What else do they give you? Mood stabilizers. Lithium. SSRIs, the anti-anxiety meds, Xanax and so forth. The anti-convulsants. The anti-psychotics. The anti-depressants. And the ADD meds, because those others all make you fall asleep. Then they throw in Viagra because now you’re sexually dysfunctional, too. My point being, cannabis is a substitute for all of that — for many of us. I know triple-amputees who were on 30 pills today. Now, they take none. They use cannabis heavily.”

But while the distinction between a federally sanctioned physician’s prescription and a state-sanctioned medical marijuana recommendation means that there is no actual law stopping VA doctors from acting as an unpaid medical marijuana middleman, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has made it the departments policy to ban those recommendations, even in cases where doctors believe cannabis could help a patient.

In his challenge of Angell’s recent characterization, Cashour made sure to reiterate that the department’s policy has not changed at all.

“VA physicians can also gather statistics and other information from veterans about their use of marijuana or other federally illegal drugs as part of understanding the effects of that drug use on their overall health. VA’s position on marijuana remains unchanged,” Cashour said.

So while VA doctors new approach to deeper conversation and increased understanding about patients’ cannabis use could be valuable in stopping the over-prescription of dangerous pharmaceuticals, the federal department still has significant work to do if they truly want to give America’s returning heroes the care and respect they deserve.

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Senator Ron Wyden Joins Bill to End Federal Cannabis Prohibition

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This Monday, senior Democratic Senator Ron Wyden announced that he was joining Senator Cory Booker in co-sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act, a new bill that would legalize marijuana federally and punish states that continue enforcing cannabis prohibition laws. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income individuals and people of color,” a representative from Senator Booker’s office explained, as reported by NBC affiliate KOBI-TV.

The bill would take a number of steps to update the country’s antiquated cannabis laws. The legislation would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing the drug at a federal level. Since individual states would be allowed to continue cannabis prohibition on their own, the bill would allow the government to withhold funds from states that disproportionately arrest or incarcerate low-income or minority individuals for cannabis offenses.

The Marijuana Justice Act would also create a community reinvestment fund to support communities that have been hit hardest by the War on Drugs. The funds would be allocated to job training and reentry services; libraries, youth, and community centers; health education; and financial assistance for individuals seeking expungement of cannabis convictions. The bill would also immediately expunge any federal cannabis use and possession convictions, and allow anyone currently imprisoned for these offenses to petition for resentencing.

The two Senators announced their support of the bill during a Facebook live event held on Monday. “Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are still trying to fight a 1980s drug war that is socially unjust, economically backward, and against the will of the American people,” Senator Wyden said. “It’s more important now than ever to update outdated policies, right the wrongs against communities of color, and continue our work to lift up the voices of the many Americans who are speaking out in favor of legalization.”

“I’m thrilled that my colleague, Senator Wyden, has joined me on this groundbreaking bill,” Senator Booker said at the event. “It’s long past due that we reform our nation’s deeply broken drug laws, which disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color. This is more than a marijuana reform bill — it’s about ensuring equal justice for all, and we won’t stop fighting until we fix our broken criminal justice system.”

Both Senators are also sponsoring several other bills to advance cannabis reform. Booker re-introduced the bipartisan CARERS Act earlier this year, which would make the temporary protections established by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment permanent, preventing the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal medical cannabis. Wyden introduced the Path to Marijuana Reform in March, a package of three bills which include provisions to deschedule, tax, and regulate cannabis on a federal level. This package also includes the Small Business Tax Equity Act, which would allow canna-businesses to have the same access to banking institutions that other businesses have.

A Brief History of Rohrabacher-Farr: The Federal Amendment Protecting Medical Marijuana

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Photo via Ryan Lackey

The federal government has a budget issue. The last comprehensive spending plan, signed two years ago by then-President Barack Obama, expired in September of this year, but a two-month continuing resolution, followed by another two-week extension, were passed to keep things afloat until December 22nd. Now, it’s crunch-time on Capitol Hill: In between legislative battles over infrastructure, Obamacare subsidies, and the fate of America’s immigrant ‘Dreamers,’ the standing budget amendment popularly known as Rohrabacher-Farr — which protects the country’s state-legal medical marijuana patients, producers, and caregivers from federal interference — is on the chopping block, with U.S. Attorney General and noted cannabis critic Jeff Sessions possibly chomping at the bit to get past the enforcement muzzle.

First introduced in 2001, but tabled until it ultimately passed on the eighth try in 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (now titled Rohrabacher-Blumenauer since Rep. Samuel Farr’s retirement earlier this year) prevents the Department of Justice from spending federal funds to prosecute cannabis-related activities if they are permitted under state-specific medical marijuana laws.

Since then, the amendment has kept the DEA out of medical dispensaries across the country. and has been re-inserted into every subsequent federal budget, including in 2016, when House Republicans Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions (no relation to Jeff) shut down the entire amendment process as a way to shield themselves from conservative backlash over gay rights and cannabis protections passing. Barely hindered, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was approved by the Senate, and eventually made it into the federal budget anyway.

But with Donald Trump now in the White House, drug warrior Sessions heading the DOJ, and a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, those same medical marijuana protections are no longer a no-brainer at federal spending debates, raising concern for not only the growing cannabis industry, but the millions of patients who rely on THC and CBD to help combat their cancer, epilepsy, opioid addiction, and countless other ailments — a prospect that has cannabis-friendly lawmakers gearing up to fight back.

“I will push back on any federal effort to interfere with our laws and not share information if it’s not related to a criminal investigation under our own law or ordered by a court,” said Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and fierce advocate for marijuana legalization, said in a recent Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread. “So as long as we don’t cooperate it would be hard, almost impossible, for there to be a major federal-only enforcement action.”

If the government does shutdown over spending disagreements on December 22nd, or if legislators pass a federal budget without the medical marijuana protection amendment, as the GOP threatened to do in September, Jeff Sessions could push the DEA to disrupt medical cannabis business from California to Massachusetts, with nothing but local politicians standing in his way.

In the almost four years since Rohrabacher-Farr first passed into law, the amendment has not only stopped our current anti-cannabis Attorney General, but also reversed at least one case of prosecutorial misconduct, freeing three of the so-called Kettle Falls Five, a group of Washington State residents arrested for growing cannabis in 2012. Arrested for federal cannabis crimes, but adamant that their cultivation was legal under Washington’s medical program, an appeal this year overturned the still lingering consequences of the five-year-old arrest, with the Ninth Circuit Court ruling that Rohrabacher-Farr’s 2014 passing should have prevented any federal spending used to prosecute and punish the Kettle Falls Five.

Without deliberate action from Congress, those protections could be gone before the week is up.

But while the medical marijuana industry waits with bated breath for their future to unfold under the federal budget, America’s continually expanding recreational cannabis industry is only protected by the Obama-era Cole Memo — a suggested, but not legally binding, moratorium on federal interference in state-approved recreational cannabis. Because the Cole Memo can be rescinded by Sessions at will, the country’s ever-expanding adult-use cannabis community has been waiting for the other foot to drop since Sessions’ confirmation. With no such federal crackdown materializing in the first year of Sessions’ DOJ reign, it’s also possible that Rohrabacher-Farr could rescinded in the federal budget, but without any DOJ action in canna-legal states thereafter.

“With respect to the Cole Memo, even if Rohrabacher-Farr was not renewed, we still have that small save, assuming that all stayed in place,” Denver cannabis attorney Garrett Graff told MERRY JANE last month. “Despite the rhetoric from Attorney General Sessions, it’s an interesting anecdote that, as of right now, there are not necessarily any protections afforded to recreational marijuana businesses. Sessions could withdraw the Cole Memo protections and immediately come into Colorado to enforce federal law against adult-use businesses. And he’s not done so as of yet.”

Even in the face of Sessions’ vicious bark but dormant bite, Capitol Hill’s cannabis champions aren’t ready to give up legislative protections and trust the prohibitionist top cop. With cannabis collecting bipartisan support in huge swaths of the country, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the amendment’s new co-sponsor, is confident that Sessions’ efforts will be thwarted before the budget is completed.

“It’s more trouble than it should be, but I think it will ultimately be protected,” Blumenauer told Politico. “And what’s going on right now is going to accelerate further reform…The public is behind us. Both chambers of Congress are behind us, and if they choose to make it a partisan issue, it won’t go well for them.”

Texas Man Served Eight Months in Jail for Being a Cannabis-Using Gun Owner

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Image via M&R Glasgow

As medical and recreational cannabis become increasingly legal across the United States, a decades-old piece of federal legislation banning drug users from owning and operating firearms has been creating complications for gun-owning marijuana consumers with greater frequency, while serving as one more tool for the criminal justice system to continue waging its War on Drugs.

Even before Hawaiian police sent letters to medical cannabis patients requesting their legally obtained guns (a policy which has since been rescinded), and lawmakers in Delaware started debating whether to block medical marijuana users from buying firearms, one Texas man found out the hard way that there can be very real consequences for violating the federal statute.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Steven Boehle, a cannabis user suspected but not convicted of planning an attack against local police earlier this year, has served eight months of jail time and will be under probation for the next five years — all because he is a toking gun owner.

The incident unfolded when earlier this year, police in Austin, Texas got a tip from a confidential informant who told them that Boehle was planning to celebrate his 50th birthday by shooting at police. Law enforcement responded by raiding Boehle’s home and an offsite storage unit, finding at least 13 firearms, 1,100 bullets and 6 grams of cannabis.

The cops may have stopped an attack on their own, but prosecutors never found enough evidence to prove the alleged plot. Yet they ultimately didn’t need a smoking gun to convict Boehle, choosing instead to prosecute him only for the crime of owning guns while possessing cannabis.

Passed in 1993 as an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act bans gun ownership by illicit drug users — language that has become problematic as more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis despite continued federal prohibition.

Without further cause to hold Boehle, prosecutors successfully pursued the weed and guns connection, denying Boehle bond and forcing him to serve 8 months in jail before the case was resolved with a punishment of probation.

For Bruce Margolin, a California attorney and executive director of Los Angeles NORML, the Texas case is the first such use of the 1993 Violence Prevention Act he can remember.

“Have not had that come to my attention in my 50 years of practice,” Margolin told the Statesman. “Seems very arbitrary, unjust, unfair to say people who use marijuana shouldn’t have the same rights as other people in our society to protect themselves and their families.”

Boehle’s case is complicated further by his reported history with epilepsy. Texas recently passed a law allowing residents to access and use low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana products for the specific treatment of epileptic seizures, but it’s not clear if Boehle’s probationary status will allow him to use the newly legal medicine.

So while Hawaii’s move to retract their cannabis-fueled gun grab has given momentary solace to firearm-owning stoners, with no end in sight to federal prohibition, the conflict between federal and state laws on cannabis as well as gun possession will continue to cause concern for Americans who believe ownership of both items is their legal right.