Kevin Saunders, a mayoral candidate for the city of Marina, just south of the San Francisco Bay, has filed a proposal that would exempt adults over the age of 21 from any penalties over possessing, growing, selling or transporting psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms.
Saunders thinks that now is the right time because, he says, the drug can help bridge the current political divide and restore a sense of community.
The world is really hurting and everybody is at a loss about whats going on right now with Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis and everything else. Im at a loss at what to do politically, but the only thing I feel like we could do is get psilocybin into more peoples hands, he said.
It deflates the ego and strips down your own walls and defences and allows you to look at yourself in a different light, he said, adding: It could allow people to figure out what to do and could revolutionise the way we treat those with depression, addiction and cluster headaches.
A profound magic mushroom experience helped Saunders get over a debilitating five-year heroin addiction in 2003, when he was 32. I got to the root of why I made a conscious decision to become a heroin addict; Ive been clean almost 15 years.
California is one of eight states where voters have legalised marijuana for recreational use, even though its still included in the federal governments list of schedule 1 drugs. Saunders and Kitty Merchant, who is co-author of the measure and his fiancee, believe that magic mushrooms also listed as schedule 1 drugs are the next logical step.
I think we have learned a lot from marijuana and we are ready as a society, he said.
So far, they have about 1,000 signatures, but plan to ramp up signature-gathering efforts in early December at college campuses and events like the medical marijuana summit The Emerald Cup. Eighty-five thousand signatures will trigger hearings at the state capitol.
They have taken a more conservative approach than Saunders has, aiming for a 2020 ballot and seeking to legalise the drug to be taken only in licensed centres under the supervision of a certified facilitator. Individuals would not be able to just buy the mushrooms and consume them at home as they can with marijuana.
Their efforts run in parallel to several promising clinical trials in which psychedelic mushrooms have been used to successfully treat severe depression, anxiety and addiction.
Robin Carhart-Harris, who has been studying the use of psilocybin to tackle treatment-resistant depression at Imperial College London, believes that it is a logical inevitability that the drug will become available to patients.
However, such legalisation will only take place once final phase 3 clinical trials are completed and the drug is approved by the FDA and the European Medicines Agency. To standardise the dose, the psilocybin would have to be administered in capsule or pill form.
Depression is such a major problem and its not being treated effectively at the moment. A lot of patients arent seeing results with traditional antidepressants, Carhart-Harris said, adding that psilocybin could be a legal medicine to be administered in clinics within the next five years.
They are drugs with very low toxicity and very low abuse potential, said psychiatrist Adam Winstock, founder of the Global Drug Survey, who said that if you take into account how often people take them, they are safer than cannabis.
The only difference being the potential for mushrooms to distort your perceptions, cognition, emotions in a way that is totally outside of most peoples real of normal experience. For a minority of people, taken in the wrong situation, that could be terrifying.
Winstock said hed prefer to see a well-regulated market for magic mushrooms where youd have to show a letter from a doctor saying you were not receiving any acute mental health care or medications. Buyers should also be given advice on how to use the drug, what the effects are and given links to online services to manage difficult situations if they arise.
I would get people to treat mushrooms with the respect they deserve, he said.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a not-for-profit group focused on ending the war on drugs, would not comment on the specific proposals in California and Oregon, but its director of legal affairs, Tamar Todd, said: We certainly agree that nobody should be arrested or incarcerated simply because they possessed or used drugs.
An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Robin Carhart-Harris works at University College London. He is at Imperial College London.
If you’ve spent time with marijuana—any time at all, really—you know that the high can be rather unpredictable. It depends on the strain, its level of THC and hundreds of other compounds, and the interaction between all these elements. Oh, and how much you ate that day. And how you took the cannabis. And the position of the North Star at the moment of ingestion.
OK, maybe not that last one. But as medical and recreational marijuana use spreads across the United States, how on Earth can law enforcement tell if someone they’ve pulled over is too high to be driving, given all these factors? Marijuana is such a confounding drug that scientists and law enforcement are struggling to create an objective standard for marijuana intoxication. (Also, I’ll say this early and only once: For the love of Pete, do not under any circumstances drive stoned.)
Sure, the cops can take you back to the station and draw a blood sample and determine exactly how much THC is in your system. “It's not a problem of accurately measuring it,” says Marilyn Huestis, coauthor of a new review paper in Trends in Molecular Medicine about cannabis intoxication. “We can accurately measure cannabinoids in blood and urine and sweat and oral fluid. It's interpretation that is the more difficult problem.”
You see, different people handle marijuana differently. It depends on your genetics, for one. And how often you consume cannabis, because if you take it enough, you can develop a tolerance to it. A dose of cannabis that may knock amateurs on their butts could have zero effect on seasoned users—patients who use marijuana consistently to treat pain, for instance.
The issue is that THC—what’s thought to be the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana—interacts with the human body in a fundamentally different way than alcohol. “Alcohol is a water-loving, hydrophilic compound,” says Huestis. “Whereas THC is a very fat-loving compound. It's a hydrophobic compound. It goes and stays in the tissues.” The molecule can linger for up to a month, while alcohol clears out right quick.
But while THC may hang around in tissues, it starts diminishing in the blood quickly—really quickly. “It's 74 percent in the first 30 minutes, and 90 percent by 1.4 hours,” says Huestis. “And the reason that's important is because in the US, the average time to get blood drawn [after arrest] is between 1.4 and 4 hours.” By the time you get to the station to get your blood taken, there may not be much THC left to find. (THC tends to linger longer in the brain because it’s fatty in there. That’s why the effects of marijuana can last longer than THC is detectable in breath or blood.)
So law enforcement can measure THC, sure enough, but not always immediately. And they’re fully aware that marijuana intoxication is an entirely different beast than drunk driving. “How a drug affects someone might depend on the person, how they used the drug, the type of drug (e.g., for cannabis, you can have varying levels of THC between different products), and how often they use the drug,” California Highway Patrol spokesperson Mike Martis writes in an email to WIRED.
Accordingly, in California, where recreational marijuana just became legal, the CHP relies on other observable measurements of intoxication. If an officer does field sobriety tests like the classic walk-and-turn maneuver, and suspects someone may be under the influence of drugs, they can request a specialist called a drug recognition evaluator. The DRE administers additional field sobriety tests—analyzing the suspect’s eyes and blood pressure to try to figure out what drug may be in play.
The CHP says it’s also evaluating the use of oral fluid screening gadgets to assist in these drug investigations. (Which devices exactly, the CHP declines to say.) “However, we want to ensure any technology we use is reliable and accurate before using it out in the field and as evidence in a criminal proceeding,” says Martis.
Another option would be to test a suspect’s breath with a breathalyzer for THC, which startups like Hound Labs are chasing. While THC sticks around in tissues, it’s no longer present in your breath after about two or three hours. So if a breathalyzer picks up THC, that would suggest the stuff isn’t lingering from a joint smoked last night, but one smoked before the driver got in a car.
This could be an objective measurement of the presence of THC, but not much more. “We are not measuring impairment, and I want to be really clear about that,” says Mike Lynn, CEO of Hound Labs. “Our breathalyzer is going to provide objective data that potentially confirms what the officer already thinks.” That is, if the driver was doing 25 in a 40 zone and they blow positive for THC, evidence points to them being stoned.
But you might argue that even using THC to confirm inebriation goes too far. The root of the problem isn’t really about measuring THC, it’s about understanding the galaxy of active compounds in cannabis and their effects on the human body. “If you want to gauge intoxication, pull the driver out and have him drive a simulator on an iPad,” says Kevin McKernan, chief scientific officer at Medicinal Genomics, which does genetic testing of cannabis. “That'll tell ya. The chemistry is too fraught with problems in terms of people's individual genetics and their tolerance levels.”
Scientists are just beginning to understand the dozens of other compounds in cannabis. CBD, for instance, may dampen the psychoactive effects of THC. So what happens if you get dragged into court after testing positive for THC, but the marijuana you consumed was also a high-CBD strain?
“It significantly compounds your argument in court with that one,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a cannabis lab. “I saw this much THC, you're intoxicated. Really, well I also had twice as much CBD, doesn't that cancel it out? I don't know, when did you take that CBD? Did you take it afterwards, did you take it before?”
“If you go through all this effort and spend all the time and money and drag people through court and spend taxpayer dollars, we shouldn't be in there with tons of question marks,” Raber says.
But maybe one day marijuana roadside testing won’t really matter. “I really think we're probably going to see automated cars before we're going to see this problem solved in a scientific sense,” says Raber. Don’t hold your breath, then, for a magical device that tells you you’re stoned.
The Future of Legal Marijuana Explained with Marijuana
Twenty-three states have decriminalized marijuana to some degree. And with privateer holdings investing nearly $82 million in weed startups, the industry is poised to pull in a lucrative—and legal—profit.
(CNN)Vermont, the “Green Mountain State,” has become the first state to legalize marijuana by passing a law in the legislature rather than by use of a ballot measure.
Long one of the most liberal states in the country, Vermont legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2004 and recently decriminalized possession of a small amount.
This is Vermont’s second attempt at passing a marijuana bill in the past year. State lawmakers last spring passed a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
But Scott vetoed the bill, saying it did not adequately protect public safety. He said he was generally a “libertarian” on the issue but asked for more protections against stoned driving and children’s access to marijuana, which this bill provides.
“As I said when I vetoed S. 22 in May, I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children,” Scott said in a statement following the bill signing.
“While this legislation decriminalizes, for adults 21 and older, personal possession of no more than 1 ounce, and cultivation of two mature plants on their private property, marijuana remains a controlled substance in Vermont and its sale is prohibited,” the statement added.
“Also, consumption of marijuana in public places is prohibited. Consumption of marijuana by operators and passengers in a motor vehicle is prohibited. Schools, employers, municipalities and landlords are also empowered to adopt policies and ordinances further restricting the cultivation and use.”
Although several states have legalized possession, cultivation and distribution of pot in recent years, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
In the US, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
(CNN)Conventional wisdom told us that we should have lost all hope for any federal criminal justice reform after President Donald Trump was elected. His law and order rhetoric as a candidate and his nomination, as President, of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General were alarming.
Prior to Trump’s nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidency, both political parties had been moving in a positive direction on fixing our broken criminal justice system. In 2015, I co-hosted a Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform with Newt Gingrich, Pat Nolan and Donna Brazile. Speakers ranging from then-Attorney General Eric Holder to conservative Georgia Governor Nathan Deal all agreed that the system was unnecessarily funneling people struggling with addiction, mental illness and poverty into our prisons and jails.
And over the past several years, a few brave Republican governors and party leaders led the charge in making a three-pronged conservative argument against a criminal justice system that encroaches on individual liberties, wastes financial resources and infringes on Christian values of redemption and mercy.
The Bipartisan Summit and several other bipartisan efforts spurred intense debate on Capitol Hill — nearly resulting in an overhaul of the federal justice system during the last Congressional session.
Jeff Sessions’ conservative agenda
And while a comprehensive criminal justice overhaul fell short, progress was made through the 21st Century CURES Act in a lame-duck compromise. That bill bundled $1 billion in spending to fight the opioid epidemic with $2 billion in funding for Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer research “moonshot” and alternatives to incarceration for people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. It also established training programs for law enforcement officers and prison guards in identifying and effectively responding to individuals with mental illness.
But the election of Trump seemed to have killed all hope of progress — and introduced the specter of a rapid rollback to the worst days of the ill-considered drug war.
Within the first months of Trump’s presidency, his administration reversed much of the progress made during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Doubling down on the use of private prisons, rolling back consent decrees and oversight of some of America’s most troubled police departments, and promising to seek the harshest punishments even in the case of low-level drug crimes.
And Sessions recently rescinded an Obama-era memo to judges discouraging them from incarcerating people for not being able to pay fines and fees, and announced he would give US attorneys discretion on prosecuting marijuana cases in states where the drug had been legalized. Because of these actions, the federal prison population is predicted to increase this year, after a period of steep decline under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, we know communities of color will be disproportionately harmed.
And yet, Kushner brought conservatives to the White House on Thursday to make the case to Trump himself.
Kushner’s commitment to this issue seems personal. Having watched his father, Charles Kushner, sentenced to prison, he is likely to have an intimate understanding of how brutal and dehumanizing the criminal justice system can be. Kushner’s Office of American Innovation is tasked with bringing “new thinking and real change” to some of America’s most pressing challenges. There is no shortage of innovative ideas when it comes to fixing our criminal justice system.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of these efforts. The Trump administration zig-zags famously and seems to be at war with itself on this issue. But there’s also some room for hope. Evidence-based policies to reduce prison time while boosting public safety have been championed by leading conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
The question is how far Kushner can or will go. Some issues like mental health care, prison conditions and re-entry won’t run afoul of Sessions’ hard line. But real sentencing reform might create a showdown inside the administration and within the Republican caucus during what’s shaping up to be a heated midterm election year.
Reformers on both sides have some reason to be optimistic. The present disaster that is America’s criminal justice system offends the highest values and deepest values of both political parties. Our criminal justice system has grown so out of control that an estimated 70 million Americans have a criminal record — meaning virtually every American has a friend, neighbor or loved one who’s been impacted. And according to a poll by the Charles Koch Institute, even 54% of Trump voters know someone who is or has been incarcerated.
One area that is bringing all sides together is a campaign led by #cut50 to provide better treatment of women behind bars, thereby reducing the harmful consequences of incarceration on women, children and families.
Another area where there is agreement is better support and economic opportunity for individuals returning to their communities after incarceration. Both parties agree that public safety is best served when people leaving prison have meaningful opportunities to obtain housing, employment and education.
An administration that on the one hand wants to roll back progress on medical marijuana can’t be fully trusted to handle the issue of justice reform optimally. But the American people are tired of the Washington, DC food fight and are looking for leadership. And for the millions of people behind bars and their families, any light in the darkness should be encouraged.
(CNN)Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia. But the law is not quite as black and white regarding marijuana extracts such as cannabidiol. CBD is one of the active ingredients in cannabis, increasingly thought to offer wide-ranging health benefits, with few side effects and little risk of addiction or abuse.
“More and more evidence is coming out that CBD can be helpful for a variety of conditions, from anxiety to inflammation to seizures and epilepsy,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.
No surprise, dozens of companies are jumping on the proverbial bandwagon, peddling these products to consumers who have high hopes that they will help treat myriad ailments, from chronic pain to PTSD.
Even though medical marijuana is legal in more than half of US states, it remains illegal under federal law. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate derivatives of the plant, including CBD extracts.
Bonn-Miller believed that a “systematic evaluation” of the products on the market was needed so consumers would know exactly what they were buying. Today, “It’s the Wild West,” he said.
For a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Bonn-Miller and his team bought 84 commercially available CBD products on the internet and had them chemically analyzed by an independent lab.
The researchers found that only 31% of the products tested contained the precise amount of CBD advertised on the label (within the acceptable margin of error), while 26% contained less CBD than the label indicated and 43% contained more.
Accuracy of labeling, it turned out, was also associated with product type. About half of the CBD extract oils were labeled inaccurately. Nearly 90% of the vaporization liquids were labeled inaccurately. Tinctures (alcoholic extracts) were roughly equally likely to be over-, under- or accurately labeled.
The quick hit history of medical marijuana
“Was I shocked? No,” Bonn-Miller said. “Was I disappointed? Yeah. It just got me thinking, we need oversight of this industry. … (It’s) one thing on the recreational side, but here we’re talking about something that people are using almost exclusively medicinally. You don’t get high off of CBD.”
That’s what made another finding from the study stand out: “Concentration of unlabeled cannabinoids was generally low; however, THC was detected in 18 of the 84 samples tested,” according to the paper.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, has its own medical applications but, unlike CBD, is psychoactive and can cause a “high.”
Unknowingly ingesting THC, Bonn-Miller said, could result in side effects such as trouble sleeping and cognitive impairment. It could also have unintended consequences, such as positive drug tests.
“As things stand now, the supplement industry overall is not regulated,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said. “You don’t always know what you’re getting, how much you’re getting or even if the active ingredients are in there at all. With medical marijuana, it is almost the opposite situation at the federal level. It is highly regulated.”
Bonn-Miller said increased regulation is exactly the kind of change he hopes his study will initiate.
“If the FDA regulated this industry, we would be way better off,” he said. “They’re good at regulating things. When you go and buy a prescription at a pharmacy, you know what you’re getting. … (It’s the) same thing for food. When you get a pack of Doritos or a Hershey bar, you know what it is.”
Perhaps in a sign of what’s to come, last week the FDA issued warning letters to four companies that the agency said are “illegally selling products (derived from marijuana) online that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure cancer without evidence to support these outcomes.”
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Until these products are officially regulated, it’s buyer beware.
Before purchasing any pot pills, potions or lotions, first check the laws where you live. Then, make sure you’re ordering from a reputable dealer. Don’t be fooled by bogus offers or sham celebrity endorsements.
Unless you’re fully confident in the ingredients of the product, Bonn-Miller suggests following the adage “start low, go slow” — referring to dosage. Of course, your best bet is to always talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any medications or supplements, including CBD.
(CNN)A little girl was back in a school she loves in Schaumburg, Illinois, last week, but only after a federal judge said it was OK for her to bring her prescription medication with her.
Eleven-year-old Ashley Surin was not allowed to attend class because she wears a medical marijuana patch and uses cannabis oil and lotion to manage seizures. The medical marijuana and a special diet have worked wonders for her health, according to her parents.
“The two together are a golden cure for her,” her mother, Maureen Surin, said through tears after an emergency hearing in Chicago earlier this month. “She can think better, walk better, talk better. Her brain used to be like in a cloud. Now she can think better and is more alert and she can interact.”
Ashley was a toddler in December 2008, when she was diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her doctors gave the little girl several rounds of chemotherapy and spinal injections to fight the cancer. The treatment sent her cancer into remission, but one of the spinal injections triggered seizures. She’s been plagued by debilitating seizures since the age of 2, and remained on a number of medications with several serious side effects. The prescriptions helped, but they weren’t a cure.
Her father said her health deteriorated and Ashley was not herself. The medicine left her with extreme mood swings, memory loss and limited energy — and she still had seizures.
One full body seizure at a grocery store last year sent her to the hospital. She hit her head on the cement floor with such force doctors had to drain the blood from her brain. “It was the most helpless feeling in the world to see her go down and not be able to help,” Jim Surin said. Recovery was slow.
When doctors wanted to try a fourth drug last August, Jim Surin said, “We drew a line in the sand.” Instead, they found a doctor who suggested a change in diet and cannabis would be a better alternative. The Surins got their medical marijuana license in December.
To the Surins, the patch and the oil seemed simple and straight forward. Ashley gets what looks like a small bandage on her foot twice a day. They rub lotion on her wrist from a tube that looks like lip balm, her dad said. If she does have a seizure, she gets a small drop of oil on her tongue.
It’s the cannabidiol in the cannabis that keeps seizures at bay, nottetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC–the marijuana drug that gets people high. But the law in Illinois, at least when it comes to schools, doesn’t allow even the prescription version at school.
Unlike with a diabetic child who needs help from an adult at school to administer insulin, a nurse or teacher could lose his or her license if they helped Ashley with her prescription. And if Ashley wore her patch to school, she or her parents could technically face criminal prosecution. Marijuana of any kind, including medical, is not allowed on school grounds, school buses or at school-related events.
While sympathetic, and a criminal prosecution would be unlikely, the district said it felt it had to follow the law the way it was written. That meant Ashley’s parents would have had to keep her out of class or take the school to court. In the mean time, she had to stay out of school, missing a couple of weeks of class.
“We, unfortunately, in some cases, have to abide by state and federal law that contradicts what the school’s job is for students and what our obligations are to serve medically fragile and ill students,” said Darcy Kriha, the district’s attorney. The morning before the hearing, Kriha said she got a call from the district superintendent and the school board president who told her the mission was to do whatever she could to make sure Ashley could come back to school. Kriha said she applauded the Surins “courage” for bringing the lawsuit against the district.
The Illinois attorney general agreed not to prosecute and said there should be no negative legal ramifications for staff who help Ashley with the medicine. The federal judge issued an emergency order to allow Ashley to go back to school.
“They’ve changed Ashley’s life today and they may’ve also changed the lives for other children for the better,” Kriha said. It’s believed this is the first case of its kind and could potentially impact other schools and the way in which they deal with children who have prescriptions for medical marijuana.
The emergency ruling technically only applies to the Surins’ case. It does not yet provide legal cover for other children in Illinois in her circumstances. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to determine where the case will go in the future. Colorado, Maine, New Jersey and Washington state allow students to use medical marijuana at school.
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And on Tuesday last week, Ashley did return to school. Her father said it felt a little “surreal.”
“There were about a dozen people there to welcome her, everyone from her aids and teachers to the principal and assistant superintendent. They were amazing and super supportive,” Surin said.
The ruling and the warm reception have left the Surin family even more determined to create change.
“I hope that we can help the state change the law to not only let our daughter get the medicine she needs, but that other students will be helped as well,” Jim Surin said.
Nina Parks bought a VIP ticket for her first cannabis business conference in early 2015.
“It was so expensive, I thought, I don’t even know how I’m going to pay for this,” she said, but she was new to the industry and hoped the meet-and-greet would offer networking opportunities with like-minded owners and operators in the growing medicinal market.
“I walked into that room, and I saw Amber, and she was the only one who had weed and the only woman of color,” Parks said.
Amber Senter, an entrepreneur and consultant in the business, was also the only woman of color on any of the conference’s panels, which delivered industry insight to an audience that seemed to have little personal or political investment in the plant and a lot more money to spend than those who did.
“I was like, what is going on? Is this what the industry looks like? It’s just white men in suits!” Park recalls asking Senter. “Many, many, many white men in suits.”
This was not a reflection of the industry as they knew it. Parks and Senter were based in California, which became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana in 1996. In 2013, the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, in a document known as the Cole memo, limited federal intervention in state-level legalization. The “Green Rush” hurtled toward the Golden State, and it was mostly white and male.
Senter was consulting for cannabis businesses when she met Tsion Lencho, an attorney, at an industry event. They both worked to help prospective businesses navigate tax and regulatory structures, and they were troubled by the lack of inclusion and how gentrified the industry could become with full legalization.
At the time, Parks, Lencho and entrepreneur Andrea Unsworth had tried to bring more of an activist focus to existing women’s cannabis industry groups. “We just saw that wasn’t going to happen, and we weren’t going to try to change that,” Unsworth said.
The four women founded Supernova Women to fill the gap: a nonprofit organization by and for women of color in the emerging cannabis industry. The four women, each experts in their fields, work to lower barriers to entry for people of color in the emerging cannabis industry and advocate on their behalf in California’s rapidly expanding market.
Unsworth, who has an MBA and was a cannabis entrepreneur when the group began, said she wanted to advocate for those who were very present in the gray-market industry ― women and people of color ― but who were largely missing from conversations about the policies that would shape it.
“We saw that there was more to be done than just networking,” Unsworth said. “We wanted the same women attending those events to come to city council meetings and have their stories told, not just in these women’s meetings.”
Around the same time Supernova Women formed in 2015, California cannabis policy went into overdrive, and legalization seemed inevitable.
Lencho studied cannabis prohibition and policy in law school at Stanford. When she entered the field as an attorney providing guidance for cannabis businesses, she was surprised how little consideration was given to addressing the harms that had been caused by criminalization.
“When you came to the business side of things, there was a complete dearth of conversation about inclusion, even though social and racial justice were at the forefront of the talking points around why you should legalize and why you should allow local jurisdictions to give permits,” Lencho said. “But no one was talking about providing permits for those who actually went to jail for cannabis.”
In November 2016, California passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational, or “adult use,” marijuana and included sweeping measures to address harm caused by its prohibition. Localities would establish their own rules for approving licenses to sell recreational cannabis beginning on Jan. 1, 2018.
Lawmakers and advocates began to discuss what it might look like if legalization policies embraced restorative justice. How can communities of color, whose access to the networks and means required to start a business for cannabis had long been oppressed by the rules governing it, now benefit from what is projected to be the largest and most profitable market in the U.S.?
The existing industry was already “inclusive of a lot black and brown faces,” Unsworth said. “We knew that people were just going to run in here and buy up all the property and just take it over. If nothing else, we wanted to slow it down and make sure that these other considerations were on the table.”
Supernova Women, based in Oakland, attended city council meetings across the Bay Area to advise localities on how they might preserve and promote the diversity in the industry, address disparities and even implement legalization policies that consider the disproportionate effect of criminalization on people of color.
No one was talking about providing permits for those who actually went to jail for cannabis.”Tsion Lencho, attorney, Supernova Women co-founder
In early 2017, Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks put forward a radical “equity permit” plan to address the harmful effects of prohibition on communities of color: When handing out permits, prioritize those who had been hit the hardest by marijuana criminalization.
“When you look across this country, the people who are making money in respect to cannabis and recreational marijuana are white men,” Brooks told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “The people who have historically gone to jail for the same activity are predominantly African-American and Latino.”
Prior to Jan. 1 and the implementation of Proposition 64, California state licensing policies prohibited anyone with a felony conviction for cannabis from starting a cannabis business, so any person previously in possession of a plant the state now considered legal was excluded from the legal market.
Oakland’s newly created department of race and equity, led by Darlene Flynn, produced an equity analysis to see how outcomes for people of color might be improved by the kind of equitable cannabis policy Brooks had proposed.
“We did outreach through the network of cannabis folks in the city of Oakland and sat with folks and asked them questions about what the barriers were and what it would take for them to overcome those barriers and to engage in the legalized cannabis market,” Flynn told HuffPost.
Supernova Women provided expertise and stakeholder perspectives for Flynn’s equity analysis. The city finalized and adopted its equity permit program in May of 2016.
The program reserves half of medical and recreational marijuana business licenses for applicants who meet certain criteria: They must live in Oakland, make less than 80 percent of the area median income, and had either been convicted of a cannabis crime or live in an area of the city with disproportionately high marijuana arrests.
It also creates incentives for applicants who don’t meet those criteria to “incubate” equity applicants and provide capital and real estate for their businesses. Those who qualify receive no-interest loans from the city.
Supernova Women urged lawmakers in San Francisco to consider a similar program. Without equity language in place on Jan. 1, when cities could officially license adult-use cannabis businesses, the city might lose a chance to ensure that those who had been hurt by the racist criminalization of the plant were first in line to create wealth from it.
“We sat down with every single one of the board members and their staff, and every day for almost three months,” to create the guidelines Parks said.
City Supervisor Malia Cohen fiercely advocated for an equity program in San Francisco. When serving as acting mayor last September, Cohen halted approvals for new cannabis permits until steps were taken to ensure a more equitable process. She fought for and won continuances to set the city’s cannabis policy, urging her colleagues to consider the consequences of letting a privileged minority sail ahead.
The city ultimately adopted Cohen’s proposed equity program, which goes a step further than Oakland’s by requiring existing businesses to reapply for licenses. Los Angeles has since adopted its own set of equity guidelines.
“The programs are slightly different, but they all have the same basic themes,” Lencho said. “You can’t exclude people who have been formerly incarcerated, you can’t fail to provide certain technical assistance, financial assistance or real estate assistance to those people. And you have to figure out a system to prioritize those businesses getting into the market.”
Reese Benton, a cannabis entrepreneur who owns a delivery service in San Francisco, said she’d thought about shutting down when she got a call from Malia Cohen’s office to advise on an equity program.
“That’s when all the tables turned,” she said. “They told me, Oh, you cannot give up. You have to do this. You don’t know what you have. Let us help you. I thought, this is a dream, this is the answer I’ve been waiting for.”
Benton, whose father was incarcerated on drug-related charges, is reapplying for her permit through the equity program and meeting with investors who want to help expand her business.
Women, and women of color specifically have led the charge in advocating for cannabis policy that allows for restorative justice and healing from the war on drugs.
Outside of California, Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council, worked with the Minority Cannabis Business Association to develop a model equity bill. In 2017, Shaleen Title, a marijuana attorney and legalization activist, was appointed to lead the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
Despite their leadership in advocacy and policy, women of color are still largely absent from mainstream images of the cannabis industry, where say they experience casual sexism and blatant racism.
“As a black woman attorney who was educated at Stanford twice, I am repeatedly having to prove to people that I know what I’m talking about. I recognize that I may be viewed as a unicorn, but it’s astounding that people aren’t used to women attorneys,” Lencho said.
“What you see in the general business sector with regard to sexism is exacerbated by cannabis because it’s an ever-changing environment,” she added.
Unsworth said the greatest challenge women of color face when entering the cannabis industry is lack of access to networks and capital. For some, these issues are closely related to the war on drugs.
“It’s about who you know, just like any other industry. Whether it’s telecom or cannabis. If you want to be a big player, you have to know folks and you have to commit capital. And when every male in your family has been in jail at one point in their life, it’s very hard to build up capital,” she said.
Remembering those women of color who have been left behind when their men have fallen is another aspect of the war on drugs that gets forgotten about.Andrea Unsworth, Supernova Women
Nina Parks opened Mirage Medicinal after her brother, an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur, was arrested on a cannabis charge in 2014 and sentenced to a year at Riker’s Island in New York.
“He had a vision for a delivery service and lifestyle brand called Mirage Medicinal. He had all the paperwork done,” she said. But under licensing laws at the time, his conviction would disqualify him from entering the legal market.
“I didn’t want him to sit in jail thinking everything was lost,” Parks said.
Parks procured the license for Mirage Medicinal in her name. Because of her brother’s previous conviction, they’ll be applying for a new license through San Francisco’s equity permit program this year.
Other sisters, daughters and wives of men targeted by the war on drugs are among those prioritized to receive permits to sell legal cannabis this year.
“Remembering those women of color who have been left behind when their men have fallen is another aspect of the war on drugs that gets left behind or forgotten about,” Unsworth said.
Shanita Penny is the president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the CEO and founder of Budding Solutions, a cannabis financial consulting firm. She described women’s outsized participation in industry activism as a “necessity.”
“The movers and shakers in the industry and activist space are phenomenal women who broke down barriers in corporate America, politics and in every other aspect of life, out of necessity,” she said. “These women are mothers, partners, wives, sisters and daughters of the men killed and imprisoned and left with few options in life as the War on Drugs rages on. We don’t have the option of not actively pursuing restorative justice in addition to creating an equitable industry. ”
Ultimately, these minority business owners hope the industry will respect their claim to the plant they helped bring out of the darkness.
“You are going to respect this plant. You’re not just going to come in here and grab on us. You’re going to respect what we have to bring to the table, and we’ve been doing this a really long time, and you’re not just going to come in here and grab it,” Unsworth said. “As women, we’re finally getting the chance to scream that as a group.”
Attorneys general from over a dozen states where some form of marijuana use has been legalized are urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow banks to provide services to cannabis businesses without risking federal prosecution.
In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Tuesday, attorneys general from 17 states, Washington D.C. and the U.S. territory of Guam said they shared “a strong interest in protecting public safety and bringing grey market activities into the regulated banking sector.”
“To address these goals, we urge Congress to advance legislation that would allow states that have legalized medical or recreational use of marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system,” the letter stated.
Such a law “would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions,” the letter said. It added that “compliance with tax requirements would be simpler and easier to enforce with a better-defined tracking of funds. This would, in turn, result in higher tax revenue.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and several U.S. territories, including Guam. Eight of those states and the District of Columbia have also passed laws legalizing recreational cannabis use by people who are at least 21 years old. The new year ushered in a newly legal recreational weed market in California.
But the federal government still classifies cannabis as an illegal substance, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month rescinded four Obama-era memos that discouraged enforcement of the federal ban. The abrupt announcement sparked confusion among banks on how to work with cannabis businesses without running afoul of federal money laundering laws.
Under current federal regulations, banks that provide services to state-licensed weed businesses ― such as establishing deposit accounts or providing loans ― are liable for criminal and civil prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act.
“This risk has significantly inhibited the willingness of financial institutions to provide services to these businesses,” the attorneys general’s letter said.
That has left some cannabis businesses scrambling to find ways to secure their money, while the roughly $7 billion global weed industry rapidly continues to grow. Some have used apps like CanPay, which offers digital debiting services. And about 400 banks and credit unions, most of them small institutions operating in states where cannabis has been legalized, currently do business with the U.S. marijuana industry.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who was among those signing the letter to Congress, said in a statement that “the future of small and local licensed [cannabis] businesses has been clouded by the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on progress, in conflict with the will of voters.”
He added that “Congress has the power to protect a growing $6.7 billion industry and the public safety of our communities.”
As more states legalize marijuana, a certain percentage of the population is interested in joining the fun. But if they’re not sure how to purchase pot from a legal dispensary.
A San Diego-based rapper is helping to weed out any concerns.
MC Flow, a medical marijuana user since 2009, has just released “Welcome to the Dispensary,” a hummable how-to that explains the process of purchasing legal cannabis.
Some of her roach clip-riddled rhymes include:
Walls and walls of green buds, jugs full of flower
Indicas for the in da couch, sativas for the power
Bow to the bud tender cuz he’s paid by the hour
As your concierge of cannabis, with OG sour
Flow (real name Abby Dorsey) recorded the video at URBN LEAF, a dispensary in San Diego.
“We tried to reflect the diversity of clients that pass through the shop on any given day,” she said in a release. “It was important to me that we show that the dispensary has something for everyone, and that today’s customer doesn’t usually fit the traditional stoner stereotype. That outdated stigma needs to go.”
Whether you’re an old hand with a joint or just weed-curious, the chorus to her song will definitely get stuck in your mind:
This isn’t Flow’s first attempt at a weed-centered video. Her Hanukkah-themed ditty, “Pot In My Latkes,” went viral in 2015.
Recreational marijuana might be having its moment, but that doesn’t mean that all the kinks are worked out. Because of laws that still classify it as an illicit substance on the federal level, the banking industry has yet to warm up to the burgeoning weed business for fear of criminal liability.
To alleviate those fears, a bipartisan group of 18 attorneys general from states with recreational and medical marijuana wants to bring the industry’s financial side out of the shadows, and they’re asking Congress for help in a new letter:
The grey market makes it more difficult to track revenues for taxation purposes, contributes to a public safety threat as cash intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity, and prevents proper tracking of large swaths of finances across the nation.
To address these challenges, we are requesting legislation that would provide a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to a covered business in a state that has implemented laws and regulations that ensure accountability in the marijuana industry such as the SAFE Banking Act (S. 1152 and H.R. 2215) or similar legislation.
This would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions.
The weed industry still largely relies on cash — every dispensary has an ATM in the corner — but a few creative solutions exist. One, a company called CanPay, heralds itself as the “first legitimate debit payment solution for the cannabis industry,” offering consumers an app-based debit account linked to their regular banking accounts that circumvents the laws that discourage banks from working with marijuana retailers.
In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra cited the Trump administration’s increased pressure on states with legal marijuana as a significant obstacle to an industry that is already generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue across states that enacted legalization.
“Congress has the power to protect a growing $6.7 billion industry and the public safety of our communities,” Becerra said in a statement today. “My team at the Department of Justice is committed to implementing and enforcing the law in California in a way that most effectively protects the health and safety of our people.”
The industry was shaken recently by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind Obama-era Justice Department guidance around state and federal tension around the issue, informally known as the “Cole memo.” That guidance acknowledged that while marijuana remained illegal on the national level, federal prosecutors could deprioritize enforcement on the issue, leaving the states to handle legality for themselves.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about what enforcement priorities the Justice Department will implement,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman said in a statement at the time. “I expect, however, that the federal government will continue to focus their enforcement efforts and resources on combatting the gray and black markets and diversion, and not target marijuana businesses who abide by our state’s laws.”
While some state leaders aren’t nervous yet, the shift has made skittish some marijuana-focused businesses and states that are enjoying the tax benefits. Without protective legislation from Congress, a working relationship with the banking industry is out of reach and increased scrutiny from the Justice Department seems imminent.