New Landmark $5.5 Million Study Will Explore Effects of Legal Cannabis

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As state-legal medical cannabis programs are becoming the rule rather than the exception, researchers are looking to replace long-held myths about cannabis users with scientific facts. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is stepping in to fund one of the largest studies on cannabis use to ever be undertaken in the U.S. In the $5.5 million study, researchers will look at 5,000 twins to determine how cannabis legalization has shaped their lives.

University of Colorado researchers will be partnering with the University of Minnesota to conduct the study, with each university looking at 1,250 pairs of twins located in their own state. Researchers hope to compare the impact of legalization by comparing twins from the canna-legal state of Colorado to twins from Minnesota, where the drug is still illegal. By looking at pairs of twins, the researchers will be able to better assess whether genetic or environmental factors are influencing any possible negative outcomes of cannabis use.

“Increasing numbers of states are legalizing recreational marijuana, but we know almost nothing about the health and social consequences of this dramatic and rapid shift in public policy,” said John Hewitt, director of the Institute of Behavioral Genetics at CU Boulder and co-lead of the study. “There is clear need for solid scientific evidence, and the experiment now unfolding in Colorado provides a rare opportunity to accumulate such evidence.”

A long-term study of this scale can literally take a lifetime, but the researchers have already been studying these twins for 15 to 20 years in other longitudinal studies. As part of this research, the twins have already been asked about their use of cannabis, along with alcohol and other drugs. The research team plans to conduct additional surveys among the twins in Colorado to determine how their cannabis use has changed since legalization. “There is a big cultural change of how marijuana is being used as a result of legalization,” Hewitt said. “Dabbing is just as legal as smoking your grandmother’s grass but the consequences could be very different.”

Researchers will ask the twins, who are between the ages of 23 to 29, about their relationships with family members, whether they are facing any legal or psychological problems, and whether or not they are fulfilling their career goals. Hewitt said that he expects that “some people will be fine” and that “some people will benefit” from cannabis use. “But for a subset of people, we suspect there will be adverse consequences,” he added.

The researchers say that although twice as many adults have reported past-year cannabis use over the past 15 years, there is still very little information on maximum doses of cannabis, or whether certain groups of individuals should abstain altogether. “If you go to a doctor’s office, there are established guidelines for what you might call safe and appropriate use for alcohol, but doctors have no idea what they should be telling patients when it comes to marijuana use,” said CU psychiatry professor and co-lead researcher Christian Hopfer.

Plans for a Weed-Themed Town in the California Desert Have Environmental Experts Worried About Water

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Lead photo via Flickr user Ken Lund

After decades of economic toil under the desert sun, the town of Nipton on the edge of California’s Mojave Desert is ready for a facelift, and it’s all thanks to legal weed. Earlier this year, Arizona-based American Green  the largest publicly traded cannabis company in the United States  purchased the entire town, with plans to turn Nipton into America’s first and largest cannabis-themed resort destination. As more information trickles out and the Nipton remodel comes into focus, some California environmentalists are worried that the built-from-scratch tourist business could exacerbate the desert region’s already pressing public water problems.

According to an in-depth report from News Deeply, American Green will rely on Nipton’s groundwater to not only construct a fully-functioning town and cannabis cultivation operation, but also an infused bottled water business. To irrigate their crops, satiate the thirst of their guests, and fill bottles with CBD-infused water, the well-funded ganjapreneurs will be pulling from an ancient aquifer beneath the town.

While American Green representatives are confident that the 420-friendly resort will go off without a hitch, the green rush prospectors could run into trouble with California’s recently enacted Sustainable Groundwater Management protocol that requires groundwater-dependent regions to halt overdraft and bring basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge.” In other words, California groundwater users must now prove to the state that they are not irreversibly damaging local aquifer levels — a possible problem for the perma-dry desert town.

“It’s a non-renewable resource within the timeframes that we manage groundwater on, said John Izbicki, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, to News Deeply. “Recharge from precipitation out in the desert is effectively zero, because of the high amounts of evaporation.”

Still, American Green plans to go forward with their ambitious plan, with a press release sent to MERRY JANE last month claiming that “plans for Nipton include setting the standard for energy efficiency and environmentally responsible tourism” using solar and “green” power sources to fuel the resort. As for water, David Gwyther, chairman and president of American Green, is confident that the local groundwater aquifer will suffice.

“We have access to a very large aquifer, and we’ll be using it accordingly,” Gwyther told News Deeply. “If it’s 32 million gallons, and if we take a million or two, it won’t be noticed.”

If you listen to the experts though, that reasoning might not be entirely sound. Because rain rarely lasts long enough to properly soak into Nipton’s desolate soil, geologists estimate that the future ganja town’s water was deposited over 12,000 years ago, with little natural replenishment currently taking place.

“Really, it just comes down to what’s the annual recharge in the basin, and what’s the demand,” said Eric Garner, a Los Angeles attorney and expert on groundwater law, to News Deeply. “I think it’s fine for there to be a net loss for the basin for a year or two – like during a drought – so long as it’s within the sustainable yield and the annual recharge covers it. What’s a problem is a long-term, chronic decline.”

In addition to the possible water strain, local officials are worried about the harsh realities American Green might run into in their attempt to build a series of massive infrastructure projects on land that’s mostly been home to mirages.

“Given the attention being paid to legalization, and the novelty of the idea, this may attract a whole lot of people all at once. That does bring with it some concerns about infrastructure, sanitation and things like that,” said Chris Clarke, California desert program manager at the National Parks Conservation Association to News Deeply. “It may not be the best place for a very large commercial enterprise unless that commercial enterprise has figured out really creative ways of doing without a whole lot of water.”

Given California’s large-scale concerns about the state’s public water supply as well as the continued environmental impact of cannabis cultivation, Nipton’s progress could highlight some of the Green Rush’s most intractable problems.

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Arizona Judge Rules Medical Cannabis Extracts Are Illegal

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Medical cannabis dispensaries in Arizona may have to pull vapes, edibles, and other non-flower-based cannabis products off their shelves after a local judge ruled that such products are not covered under the state’s MMJ laws. The most recent of these rulings was delivered this month, in the case of a Navajo County man who was charged with narcotics possession over a few grams of cannabis resin that he legally purchased at an Arizona dispensary.

Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson based his reasoning for these rulings on the state’s 1950s-era criminal code on pot, which curiously defines cannabis and marijuana as two different substances. The law qualifies marijuana as the plant in its traditional form, but also cannabis as the resin extracted from marijuana. This resin is officially considered a “narcotic” in Arizona, and its use is punishable by greater felony penalties than traditional marijuana use.

“After review of the statues the court finds that the [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] (AMMA) does not include cannabis,” Nielson wrote. “The court reads that AMMA language of ‘any mixture or preparation thereof’ as making reference to the dried flowers of the plant and as such, without further definition, or information that cannabis can be extracted from a ‘dried flower,’ the court cannot find that this would include cannabis.”

The inaccuracy of Arizona marijuana laws have been interfering with the state’s medical marijuana program for years. In 2013, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery charged a family with criminal possession of a narcotic over CBD oil they legally purchased at a dispensary to treat their epileptic child. With help from the ACLU of Arizona, the family sued the county for their right to continue using the medicine. In 2014, Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled that the AMMA “authorizes qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil, prepared from the marijuana plant.”

The precedent was only set for Maricopa County, however, and anti-cannabis prosecutors around the state are still using the loophole to interfere with state-legal medical cannabis users. The cannabis law was also used against Jake Ruether, a man who was arrested and charged with narcotics possession after police found THC oil and wax dabs that he had legally purchased at a dispensary. Judge Nielson ruled against Ruether in this most recent case, again repeating the reasoning that the AMMA did not allow the possession of “cannabis.”

Ruether’s case will advance to the Arizona Court of Appeals, and from there could be further appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which would set a statewide precedent either for or against legal medical cannabis extracts. Gary Smith of the Arizona Cannabis Bar Association told the Phoenix New Times that he will assist with Ruether’s case and believes that Judge Nielson “just plain got it wrong.” Fortunately, the state’s higher courts have consistently ruled in favor of the voter-approved medical cannabis law, so the chances of ending the state’s confusion over cannabis are good.

New York State Is Banning Indoor Use of Vaporizers

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Lead photo via Vaping360

A new rule banning e-cigarette and vaporizer use from all public indoor spaces in New York could have an unforeseen impact on a number of undercover cannabis users at bars, restaurants, and concert venues across the Empire State.

According to the New York Times, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation early this week to add vaping to the state’s 2003 Clean Indoor Air Act, expelling the battery-operated smoking substitutes from the same restaurants, bars, workplaces, and other public indoor spaces where traditional cigarettes are banned.

With cigarette use long taboo in the Big Apple, barred from not only indoor venues but also public parks and storefront stoops, e-cigs and bulky vaporizers have become ubiquitous across the city, with fruit and hookah-flavored vapor clouds hovering above all five boroughs, much to the chagrin of anti-smoking advocates in New York’s legislature.

“These products are marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, but the reality is they also carry long-term risks to the health of users and those around them,” said Gov. Cuomo in a statement. “This measure closes another dangerous loophole in the law, creating a stronger, healthier New York for all.”

But while most folks probably aren’t fond of Pina Colada e-juice vapor interrupting their night on the town, the rise of e-cigarettes has largely coincided with the popular growth of pocket-sized marijuana oil vaporizers, enabling undercover canna-fans to take their ganja on-the-go. Since bartenders, concert security, and cops often turn a blind eye to vape use, and cannabis pens generally create smaller, less intrusive plumes of vapor than their nicotine cloud cousins, the technology has allowed users to medicate wherever they please. Particularly in New York City, where the NYPD continues to arrest thousands of cannabis users every year, discreet stoners have used the perceived cover of e-cig use to disguise public pot smoking for years.

With Cuomo’s new vaporizer ban going into effect next month though, NYC’s cannabis vapers will soon have to step outside with their nicotine-blowing peers or risk getting kicked out, or worse, found out by a nosy cop.

However unlike cigarette use, e-cigs are still allowed in most of New York city’s outdoor spaces and public parks, giving low-key stoners at least one group of semi-sanctioned places for covert cannabis consumption.

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Jamaica Grants First Two Licenses to Medical Cannabis Providers

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Jamaica’s medical cannabis program is finally underway after the country’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) has granted its first two permits to medical canna-businesses. Epican Medicinals received a license to grow cannabis legally, and Everyting Oily Labs Limited received a license to process raw cannabis into oil. The two companies signed a tripartite agreement with the CLA in which Everyting Oily agreed to only purchase cannabis from Epican until other licensed cultivators are ready for operation.

The CLA has received well over 200 applications for medical cannabis licenses since they started accepting them last summer, but to date only these two licenses have been granted. But now that these companies have received an official green light, “Epican can start growing tomorrow” and “Everyting Oil can start producing,” said CLA chairperson Hyacinth Lightbourne. “We had to make sure the tripartite agreement and other issues were handled. Those have now been issued, and we signed the tripartite today, and so they are free to operate tomorrow,” she explained.

“My facility is all up and running since a year ago, and we just have to wait now for Epican, which is the other licensed to cultivate the ganja because it’s a closed-loop system,” said Rory Liu, CEO of Everyting Oily, to the Jamaica Gleaner. “So they are the only ones I can currently deal with, and when the other cultivators come online, then there will be agreements with them, too, to buy ganja.”

“All I am going to be doing is processing and working with other cultivators,” Liu explained. “So the raw ganja, I’ll turn that into oil that then can be mixed into tinctures, sublinguals, topicals, lotions, and stuff like that, and any other medicinal items. I will more so sell in bulk so another licensed processor could buy the [ganja] oil in bulk, or if you are a spa you can buy it in bulk and then mix it into your own lotions, and stuff like that, for therapeutic purposes, if you have your formula.”

Epican has announced that they wish to become more heavily involved in the cannabis industry, beyond simply growing the plant. “The license we received is to cultivate, so we can begin setting up plants and growing,” said Karibe McKenzie, CEO of Epican. “Our company will be doing our own processing and retailing also, eventually, when we get those licenses. We have three more we are waiting on – processing, retail, and research and development.”

Nevada Legal Weed Sales Continue to Skyrocket Past Expectations

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Photo via Jardin Dispensary Las Vegas

Nevadans can’t get enough ganja. Less than four months into the state’s move to end cannabis prohibition and welcome reefer as yet another dish on Sin City’s menu of delights, recreational marijuana sales have surpassed all expectations, with data from the first two months of legal weed sales shattering initial revenue records set in Colorado and Washington.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a report released by the Nevada Department of Taxation early this week puts the Silver State’s recreational marijuana sales at $33 million for August alone, a $6 million increase from the state’s record-breaking $27 million in first-month sales this past July.

State officials had originally anticipated only $21.5 million in August sales, with no month this year expected to exceed $28 million in total. With tourists flocking from across the world and locals quickly opting for dispensary bud over black market buys, it appears Nevada tax officials can majorly upgrade their projections.

For local dispensary owners, the continued flood of businesses is more than welcome. With original predictions already crushed, Andrew Jolly, CEO of Las Vegas’ The+Source dispensary, fully expects increasing sales to continue as totals from September and October come to the surface.

“I think it is a good indication that there was a large, pent-up demand that was being served by the black market,” Jolley told the Review-Journal.

Those sentiments were backed by State Senator Tick Segerblom, the man who brought legal weed to Nevada and made the state’s first recreational cannabis purchase. Segerblom told the Las Vegas newspaper that he was initially worried about a possible drop-off in second month sales, but was pleasantly surprised to see the steady growth.

“Obviously there’s a demand,” Segerblom said. “Everyone’s just been really been working perfectly together.”

As for Nevada’s cut of those profits, the Silver State brought in almost $5 million in tax revenue in August, approximately $1 million more than the $3.7 million that the industry added to state tax coffers in July.

Breaking down the source of those funds, $3.35 million came from the state’s 10% retail cannabis sales tax while $1.51 million was generated by Nevada’s 15% wholesale tax.

Combined, Nevada’s recreational marijuana industry has turned over upwards of $8 million in state taxes, with cash from the wholesale tax going directly to the state’s public education services, while the more than $5 million in retail tax is being stored in the state’s “rainy day fund” for use as necessary.

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California Insurance Commissioner David Jones Wants Complete Coverage for Golden State Ganjapreneurs

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Lead photo via David Jones

As the mass of wildfires blazing across Northern California have finally surpassed 90% total containment, the area has begun to rise from the ashes and start on the long road to recovery. But while Santa Rosa residents and Calistoga winemakers alike file insurance claims on their lost homes and product, the dozens of cannabis farmers affected by the uncontrolled infernos were largely not as lucky, with most insurance companies siding with banking institutions and the federal government, refusing their services to even state-approved canna-businesses.

In an effort to protect the Golden State’s ganjapreneurs from any other unforeseen forces and normalize the state’s impending legal weed industry, California Insurance Commissioner David Jones is calling on private insurers to step up and embrace legal canna-businesses with open arms.

At a public hearing and in a subsequent press statement released late last week, Jones detailed the steps he has already taken and plans for the near future, all with the expressed goal of protecting California’s cannabis industry and the people that make it grow.

“Cannabis businesses face insurance availability and insurance gaps – which means that cannabis customers, workers and business owners won’t have access to insurance to help them recover if there are accidents, injuries, property damage, or any of the things commercial insurance typically covers,” Commissioner Jones said. “As insurance commissioner, my goal is insurance protection for all Californians, which includes California cannabis businesses, workers and customers.”

Earlier this year, Jones began a campaign to shore up the cannabis industry’s insurance shortfalls, organizing meetings between commercial insurers and leaders in California’s cannabis industry. Jones said those meetings have been integral in getting insurance executives to recognize marijuana’s multi-billion dollar fiscal impact.

To give the insurance bigwigs a better idea of what they would be working with, Jones has put together a number of tours around marijuana cultivation centers and production businesses, showing the tentative executives just how serious the state’s canna-businesses are.

Going forward Jones has pledged to work directly with both commercial insurers and cannabis companies to craft symbiotic products and policies for both industries, making California Department of Insurance resources available to both parties.

“The voters have spoken so now it’s our job as state officials to make sure that we successfully implement the legalization of cannabis,” Jones said. “This includes working with the insurance industry and cannabis industry to encourage commercial [insurers] to fill the insurance gaps faced by cannabis industry.”

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Seed-To-Sale Software Delay Burdens Cannabis Industry in Washington State

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Canna-businesses in Washington State are going to be facing an extra burden of paperwork during this fall’s harvest season, thanks to a delay in the state’s adoption of a new seed-to-sale tracking system. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) selected MJ Freeway to replace BioTrackTHC as the state’s cannabis compliance software contractor this spring, but announced this week that the company will not be ready to takeover operations by the deadline of October 31st.

The state’s seed-to-sale system tracks all cannabis plants from when they are eight inches tall through harvest, processing, and all the way until they are packaged and sold. Until the new software is ready, canna-business owners will be forced to manually handle all of this reporting via Excel spreadsheets. Businesses will now only need to report weekly, rather than daily, but the additional work is a great burden for businesses already working hard to harvest their current crops. Industry insiders are also concerned that the lack of an online seed-to-sale system will draw the unwelcome attention of federal authorities looking to crack down on legal cannabis sales.

The delay is not a surprise to many industry insiders, who warned that the state did not budget enough time to make the transition between the two companies. “We’re predicting disaster,” wrote David Busby, of cannabis software firm WeedTraQR, in a blog post this July, noting that the tracking system “is a pretty large software project and has a very, very aggressive schedule.” Busby wrote that MJ Freeway’s software was “barely ready for prime time” and that there are “thousands of businesses to migrate, three years of data, and at least six third party API vendors.”

The WSLCB apparently offered BioTrackTHC a chance to extend its contract for four more months, which the company declined over security concerns about collaborating with MJ Freeway. “Though the WSLCB insists that no security breach [at MJ Freeway] occurred, BioTrackTHC finds the evidence presented by other third parties compelling enough that it cannot extend the contract and continue to risk its security and reputation without conclusive assurances that the alleged breach either did not happen or did happen but has since been remedied,” wrote CEO Patrick Vo in a recent statement.

Peru Votes to Legalize Medical Cannabis

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Last week, Peru voted to legalize medical cannabis, joining South American countries like Colombia, Chile, and Brazil in allowing the sale of cannabis products to treat specific medical conditions. The bill received support from the majority of the country’s Congress, passing with 68 votes, with only five opposing and three abstentions. “Science is on our side, the regional current is on our side,” said Congressman Alberto de Belaunde, the author of the bill, to his fellow legislators before the vote. “Let’s not let our fears paralyse us.”

The bill will become law in 60 days, giving legislators two months to draft regulations for the production and sale of medical cannabis. Lawmakers are planning to introduce a confidential registry for patients that allows doctors to diagnose an individual’s illness and recommend a form and dose of medical cannabis. Cultivation and production licenses will be granted to state institutions and universities, who will also be permitted to conduct medical research on the drug.

The debate over medical cannabis began in earnest this February, after Peruvian law enforcement raided a makeshift lab where marijuana was being made into oils for medical use. The lab was created by Buscando Esperanza, a group of mothers who were preparing the cannabis concentrate to treat children suffering from epilepsy, cancer, and other illnesses. The raid on the mothers and their children’s medicine kicked off a public outrage, and protesters and celebrities alike demanded that the country legalize medical cannabis.

Although pleased by the passage of the law, Buscando Esperanza is concerned the legislation does not go far enough. “We feel dissatisfied with the law because it doesn’t prioritize the patient’s needs,” said Dorothy Santiago, one of the founders of the organization. “They are authorizing the imports that don’t benefit us because only the wealthy will be able to afford these benefits, as usual.” Santiago also expressed concerns that pharmacies will not be able to prepare a custom blend of cannabis strains for each child, like her group had been doing before the raid.

De Belaunde said that he hopes to include a provision in the regulations that would allow patients’ organizations like Buscando Esperanza to produce their own oils, possibly in partnership with educational institutions. The legislator said he is also working to clear the criminal records of mothers from the organization who were prosecuted for drug trafficking.

Cannabis Businesses in California Only Have a Few Months Left to Get Their Taxes Together

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Lead photo via Flickr user Dave Dugdale

We’re still a long way off from mid-April, but in California, an impending shift in the cannabis industry is creating a second busy season for the state’s Department of Tax and Fee Administration. With thousands of cannabis businesses trying to update their administrative processes to fit new regulations, and countless others trying to hop in the game as soon as midnight strikes on December 31st, the tax agency is doing its best to make sure everyone involved in the Golden State’s legal weed industry knows exactly how much they’ll have to kick back to the state if they want to stay in business.

To make California’s tax info a little more cannabis-friendly, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration has released a comprehensive pamphlet to inform ganjapreneurs and legal weed customers alike about what kind of cut each type of industry player will need to fork over to California state coffers.

First, no matter what kind of canna-business you own or run, you are required to register with the state tax agency and, if your business sells marijuana in any form, obtain and maintain a state-approved seller’s permit.

Once a cannabis businesses is approved for operation, the tax fun starts.

For growers, a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce, or $148 per pound, will be imposed on dry flowers, while trim and leaves typically used for concentrate production will see significantly lower tax rate of $2.75 per ounce, or $44 per pound.

If you’re a distributor that’s planning on bringing legal weed from cultivators to retail stores, you’ll still have to register with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration and then do double the tax work. Distributors will become responsible for collecting the cultivation tax and a retail excise tax, as well as funnelling those funds back to the state agency, even if the distributor doesn’t make any sales themselves. For distributors that are amassing product and then reselling it to other dispensaries or producers, a separate resale certificate is required.

At the retail level, California’s legal weed customers will have to fork over an excise tax set at 15% of the state’s average market price of the individual sale. In addition to the excise tax, California’s legal weed sales will be subject to the standard state sales tax of 7.5%.

Certain medical marijuana sales will still be exempt from the state’s sales and use tax, but a simple sign-off from a beachside doctor won’t do the trick. To qualify for tax-free weed, medical patients must have certification paperwork specifically granted by the California Department of Health.

Once a canna-business figures out how much money they’re required to pay and who to pay it to, the question then becomes how. Even with state tax regulators accepting payment by cash, check, or online payment portal, the lack of banking options available to the cannabis industry is expected to fill state tax coffers with more cash than the Tax and Fee Administration has ever seen.

If that sounds like a lot to remember, you’re absolutely right. And with recreational cultivation, sales, and production licenses going out in just over two months, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration is encouraging everyone involved in the cannabis industry to keep detailed records, receipts, and accounts of all business transactions to better smooth the transition.

For a more detailed look at California’s cannabis tax code, check out the CDTFA’s full marijuana tax guide here.

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