All posts tagged: marijuana

Jeff Sessions Marijuana Adviser Wants Doctors to Drug-Test Everyone

A adviser on marijuana policy to Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to see doctors make drug testing a routine part of primary-care medicine and force some users into treatment against their will, he told The Daily Beast.

Dr. Robert DuPont was among a small group of drug-policy experts invited to a closed-door meeting with Sessions last month to discuss federal options for dealing with the rapid liberalization of state marijuana laws. California became the sixth state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use on Jan. 1.

DuPont, 81, is one of the most influential drug warriors of the past century. He began his career as a liberal on drug control in the 1970s, calling then for the decriminalization of marijuana possession and launching the first U.S. methadone treatment program for heroin in Washington, D.C. in 1971. By the 1980s, he shifted to the right, popularizing the claim marijuana was a gateway drug.

At the December 2017 meeting with Sessions, DuPont was slated to present on the effect of marijuana on drugged driving, a topic on which he has proposed some radical ideas.

A national model bill he helped write in 2010 called on law enforcement to test anyone stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence for all controlled substances, and arresting them if any trace at all shows up in their systemregardless of the amount. While the bill includes an exemption for drivers who consumed a drug pursuant to a prescription, it would not apply to medicinal-marijuana users because doctors are not currently allowed to prescribe pot, only offer a recommendation for its use.

The bills language makes clear that these people will still face sanction even if they live in a state in which medical marijuana is legal.

[The] fact that any person charged with violating this subsection is or was legally entitled to consume alcohol or to use a controlled substance, medication, drug, or other impairing substance, shall not constitute a defense against any charge, it reads.

But even thats not the worst of it.

The bill includes a section prohibiting the Internal Possession of Chemical or Controlled Substances.

Any person who provides a bodily fluid sample containing any amount of a chemical or controlled substance… commits an offense punishable in the same manner as if the person otherwise possessed that substance, it reads, adding in a footnote: This provision is not a DUI specific law. Rather, it applies to any person who tests positive for chemical or controlled substances.

Asked to comment on whether Sessions was aware of DuPonts proposal to penalize drug users who may not even be under the influence behind the wheel, and if he supports it, a Justice Department spokesperson chose to focus on the dangers of driving while intoxicated.

"The Controlled Substances Act was enacted by Congress to comprehensively restrict and regulate numerous drugs, including marijuana, said DOJ spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam, in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. Further, the attorney general agrees with the Centers for Disease Control that driving while impaired by marijuana is dangerous as it negatively affects a number of skills required for safe driving.

Futile for Addicts to Help Themselves

On closer inspection, DuPonts proposal is part of a plan to expand the use of drug-testing technology to root out users, and the threat of prosecution to compel them into treatment, where they will be tested even more.

Early last year, The Daily Beast conducted a lengthy interview with DuPont as he was shopping around a radical proposal called the New Paradigm for Long-Term Recoveryto address Americas festering overdose crisis. It would include a massive expansion of drug testing in addiction medicine.

Drug testing is the technology of addiction medicine, but its underutilized, he said. We want [drug screens] to be routine in all medicine. The health-care sector in general should approach addiction in the same way as diabetes, and that includes monitoring. Doctors already check for things like cholesterol and blood sugar. Why not test for illicit drugs?

Calling his platform the opposite of harm reduction, DuPont said the goal of his plan is to promote long-term results… and greater accountability in the treatment sector.

Among other things, he proposed giving doctors the authority to compel suspected substance abusers into treatment against their will. Once in treatment, patients could face as much as five years of monitoring, including random drug tests.

People dont understand that referral to treatment is futile for an addict on their own, DuPont told The Daily Beast. Right now, the public really thinks that if we provide treatment the addicts will come and get well… thats not true. So lets use the leverage of the criminal-justice system, thats what the programs in the New Paradigm want to do.

Turning a Profit Off Drug Testing

DuPont presents his proposal as evidence-based, but its hard to separate his strong promotion of drug testing from his close personal and financial connections to the drug testing industry.

In the 1970s he was the nations drug czar under Nixon and Ford, and was the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, until his increasingly radical views (he called for drug testing all parolees and sending them back to prison if they failed) forced his resignation in 1978.

After leaving federal service, DuPont joined the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Pete Bensinger, to cash in on urine testing. The firm they founded, Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, provided drug testing services to some of Americas largest corporations.

Doctors already check for things like cholesterol and blood sugar, why not test for illicit drugs.
Dr. Robert DuPont

In 1991, while running the firm, DuPont introduced the idea of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients in a policy document published by the Heritage Foundation. DuPont recommended not only testing the adults on public assistance but also their children.

Later that decade, DuPont co-authored research with the founder of a firm called Psychemedics promoting the companys new hair testing technology.

In 2000, while he was a shareholder and a paid consultant for the company DuPont testified before a Food & Drug Administration panel on drug testing where he advocated for expanding hair testing into federal workplaces. Dismissing the appearance of a conflict of interest DuPont told the panel: I don't think of myself as an employee or an advocate particularly for Psychemedics, but for drug testing generally.

The FDA approved the companys first hair follicle test two years later, and today Psychemedics is a multi-million dollar a year business that's in the process of a profitable expansion into South America.

This is a running theme for DuPont. For instance, Stephen Talpins, an attorney who helped DuPont author his model drugged driving bill, formerly was a vice president at Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., which makes the SCRAM alcohol and location monitoring system used by many courts.

Now DuPont is listed as a scientific adviser on the website of global drug-testing startup called CAM International Ventures. That company was founded in 2013 by David Martin, former president of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, and includes among its staff other prominent members of the drug testing industry.

Still, DuPont rejects the idea that there is any financial motivation behind his fixation drug testing.

I find it bizarre to think that my interests after all these years were financial, he told The Daily Beast. I just think, there is a financial incentive in drug testing, but the reason Im interested in drug testing is that there is an interest from the disease standpoint.

With a dozen more states expected to consider legal marijuana measures in 2018, and even Republican lawmakers like Trey Gowdy questioning the federal governments hard stance on the drug, its unlikely even a die hard anti-pot crusader like DuPont can turn back the tide, but that doesnt mean he cant make a few more bucks trying.

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Marissa SafontJeff Sessions Marijuana Adviser Wants Doctors to Drug-Test Everyone
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Why It’s So Hard to Dose Weed

Cannabis is a notoriously finicky drug. Take the right amount and you get relaxation or euphoria, but take too much and it’s a long ride of paranoia. Which makes marijuana tricky for casual users, and potentially problematic for new users who want to use cannabis to treat ailments like pain.

It's difficult to quantify just how much of the drug you’re inhaling through a bong or vaporizer—especially because marijuana contains some 500 chemicals that interact in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. And really, how you end up feeling depends as much on your physiology and state of mind as it does on the plant.

But, some good news. For one, science only has more to learn about how marijuana works on the human body. And two, companies making cannabis devices are figuring out ways to tackle the dosing problem.

Take the Resolve One smart inhaler (formerly known as Breeze) for medical marijuana users who also happen to be data nerds, coming out in May. Think of it like the Keurig of cannabis: Insert a “Smart Pod” of marijuana and the device administers a precise blast of vapor. The device pairs with a smartphone app, where users begin by inputting their pain level. The inhaler calculates the right dose, followed by a drag. Ten minutes later, once the cannabis has kicked in, the app pings them to rate their pain again. This helps the user determine how effective the dose was.

And it helps Resolve One's maker, Resolve Digital Health, do the same: By gathering more and more data, it can build pain profiles. Some folks wake up in pain, for instance, while for others the pain builds throughout the day. So how might cannabis help mitigate these different experiences? How might the drug interact with other medications the person is taking? (Users are encouraged to log these in the Resolve One app.) How do other medical conditions factor into the pain problem? (You log these too.)

Resolve’s goal is to use data from Resolve One to help not only individual users, but to build a better understanding of how cannabis can treat pain. “I think patients of the future, and we're seeing it right now with cannabis patients, are data-empowered patients,” says Rob Adelson, president and CEO of Resolve. “They want information, they want to collect it, they want to share it, they want to compare it.”

Now, it’s clear that accumulating more and more data hasn’t cured cancer or helped humans figure out how to stop aging. But in the case of cannabis, scientists have so little detailed information about user responses that it makes sense to start looking. Especially because the effects of cannabis can vary wildly from user to user. Some people, for instance, can handle higher THC content than others without having a conniption. And how marijuana affects you can even vary based on how much food you’ve had that day, especially if you’re consuming edibles.

“It's going to take a long time for us to get to the level of knowledge that we all need to be at to understand how this plant works, specifically for very specific health conditions,” says Adelson. “But what we'll do is collect that data, and then put some of those insights and findings into clinical studies where we can go deeper into it.”


The uncertainty is especially challenging given how potent cannabis has become. One study found that THC levels have gone up three-fold since 1995, thanks to selective breeding. But patients may be more interested in high levels of CBD, the non-psychoactive component that could help treat ailments like epilepsy.

“Our focus is on mitigating the intoxicating effects of cannabis, which is a very different mindset than a lot of cannabis brands,” says Gunner Winston, CEO of Dosist, which makes dose pens. “A lot of people don't want to be intoxicated.”

The trick may be something called the entourage effect, the idea that the plant’s various compounds interact with one another to put a check on the psychoactive effects on THC. Specifically, you’d want a lot of CBD in there. Yet science hasn’t proved out this effect.

“I think the anecdotal mountain of evidence says that it does exist,” says Jeff Raber, CEO of the Werc Shop, a lab that tests cannabis. “But we don't know why or how or which ones are doing what.”

And that’s just when it comes to ingesting and inhaling cannabis. “We actually know very little about other modes of administration,” says UC San Diego researcher Igor Grant, who studies cannabis. “People talk about having skin patches and various kinds of gels. The work just hasn't been done to show whether that actually delivers the cannabis in the way that you would want in an effective dose.”

But as far as inhaled marijuana is concerned, companies like Resolve Digital Health and Dosist are starting to tackle the quantification problem, the former catering to patients and the later to a more general audience. And they’re betting that demand for a more predictable cannabis experience is only going up.

“People are asking for this,” says Winston of Dosist. “We can debate all day how much science has been done and should be done, but when you look across the country people are demanding cannabis for therapeutic purposes.”

Remember: Until there’s a fool-proof system for accurately dosing inhaled cannabis—and there may never will be—go low and slow. Your brain will thank you.

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Marissa SafontWhy It’s So Hard to Dose Weed
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California weed stored serves 23,606 people in first month

Image: medmen

The first month of California’s legal recreational marijuana sales showed that weed is big business, despite local government’s reluctance to issue permits.

MedMen, a cannabis company that’s basically an Apple Store for pot products has dispensaries across Los Angeles, and found itself in an interesting position as one of the few places people could purchase marijuana in the most densely populated areas of Los Angeles when legalized sales began in California.

At MedMen’s West Hollywood location, customer traffic clocked in a 23,606 people in January alone. Revenue was up 200 percent, compared to December, and up 500 percent compared to the year before. Its Santa Ana location brought in 5,051 people, doubling December’s revenue. 

MedMen’s West Hollywood location.

Image: medMen

Since recreational pot sales began on Jan. 1, Californians have been flocking to the few dispensaries that are allowed to sell to residents without medical cards. Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis, lets local governments regulate sales. 

Some cities in Los Angeles county have been resistant to recreational weed. Santa Monica, for example, has banned non-medical marijuana storefronts entirely. Long Beach issued a 180 day ban on recreational sales at the end of 2017, giving the city time to figure out regulations. 

The city of Los Angeles set up framework for regulation, but businesses couldn’t apply for licenses until January 3. Vendors also had to apply for a separate license from the state-run Bureau of Cannabis Control.

The city of West Hollywood issued temporary permits for stores like MedMen. The California Bureau of Cannabis Cannabis Control issued only 47 temporary retail licenses, but they’ll expire by May 1. 

The unique position helped set up MedMen to be a marijuana unicorn. Canadian investment firm Captor Capital invested $30 million in the company for just 3 percent, valuing the company at about $1 billion.

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Girl Scout sells 300 boxes of cookies outside a California dispensary

Image: Getty Images

This Girl Scout knows her customers well. 

The young entrepreneur set up shop outside of Urbn Leaf, a recreational and medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego. According to local news outlet Fox 4, the girl sold more than 300 boxes in about six hours. 

Urbn Leaf posted this photo on Instagram, encouraging its clientele to grab some “Girl Scout Cookies with your GSC.” (GSC is a strain of weed named after girl scout cookies, and is known for its “sweet and earthy” flavor.)

A post shared by Urbn Leaf (@urbnleafca) on

“I think our customers loved it,” said Savannah Rakofsky, a representative for Urbn Leaf. “They went out and bought boxes.” 

According to Rakofsky, there was an “added value” to visiting the dispensary and getting the chance to buy Girl Scout cookies. Although it didn’t necessarily bring in customers, it did drum up publicity for Urbn Leaf. Rakofsky posted the photo as she was leaving for her lunch break, and there were already news teams at the store when she came back.

Rakofsky also said there’s a possibility of this becoming a trend. 

“The funny thing is, after the news story ran, we had more Girl Scouts show up over the weekend,” Rakofsky said. 

Although Girl Scouts are only allowed to sell at “approved sites” — which doesn’t include pot shops — this particular scout got around the rule by selling cookies from her wagon, and by moving up and down the sidewalk instead of staying in front of the store. Alison Bushan, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts San Diego, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that this tactic was “gray area.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a Girl Scout racked in sales in front of a dispensary. In 2014, one savvy scout sold cookies outside of a San Francisco cannabis clinic. Girl Scouts of Northern California actually condoned it, because “the mom decided this was a place she was comfortable with her daughter being at.”

Rakofsky said Urbn Leaf would be “totally open to” allowing Girl Scouts to sell cookies outside their storefronts regularly, if the organization allowed it. “We have no problem,” she said. “But unfortunately that’s not us, that’s the Girl Scouts.” 

WATCH: ‘French Spider-Man’ casually climbs Paris skyscraper in epic feat

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The Dirty Secret of California’s Cannabis: It’s Dirty

This is a story about marijuana that begins in a drawer of dead birds. In the specimen collections of the California Academy of Sciences, curator Jack Dumbacher picks up a barred owl—so named for the stripes than run across its chest—and strokes its feathers. It looks like a healthy enough bird, sure, but something nefarious once lurked in its liver: anticoagulant rodenticide, which causes rats to bleed out, and inevitably accumulates in apex predators like owls. The origin of the poison? Likely an illegal cannabis grow operation in the wilds of Northern California.


“It's a mess out there,” says Dumbacher. “And it costs taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up the sites.”

Marijuana doesn’t just suddenly appear on the shelves of a dispensary, or the pocket of a dealer. Someone’s gotta grow it, and in Northern California, that often means rogue farmers squatting on public lands, tainting the ecosystem with pesticides and other chemicals, then harvesting their goods and leaving behind what is essentially a mini superfund site. Plenty of growers run legit, organic operations—but cannabis can be a dirty, dirty game.

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences
Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

As cannabis use goes recreational in California, producers are facing a reckoning: They’ll either have to clean up their act, or get out of the legal market. Until the federal prohibition on marijuana ends, growers here can skip the legit marketplace and ship to black markets in the many states where the drug is still illegal. That’s bad news for public health, and even worse news for the wildlife of California.

If you’re buying cannabis in the United States, there’s up to a 75 percent chance that it grew somewhere in California. In Humboldt County alone, as many as 15,000 private grows churn out marijuana. Of those 15,000 farms, 2,300 have applied for permits, and of those just 91 actually have the permits.

Researchers reckon that 15 to 20 percent of private grows here are using rodenticide, trying to avoid damage from rats chewing through irrigation lines and plants. Worse, though, are the growers who hike into rugged public lands and set up grow operations. Virtually all of them are using rodenticide. “At very high doses the rodenticides is meant to kill by basically stopping coagulation of blood,” says Dumbacher. “So what happens is if you get a bruise or a cut it you would you would literally bleed out because it won’t coagulate.”

And what’s bad for the rats can’t be good for the barred owl. How the poison might affect these predators isn’t immediately clear, but researchers think it may weaken them.

Scientists are used to seeing rodenticides in owl livers—but usually, those animals are picking off rats in urban areas. Not so for these samples. “When we actually looked at the data, it turned out that some of the owls that were exposed were from remote areas parts of the forest that don't have even roads near them,” says Dumbacher. When researchers took a look at satellite images of these areas, they were able to pick out illegal grow operations and make the connection: Rodenticides from marijuana cultivation are probably moving up the food chain.

The havoc that growers are wreaking in Northern California is worryingly similar to the environmental bedlam of the past. “We can't just take exactly the same historical approach that California did with the Gold Rush,” says Mourad Gabriel, executive director of the Integral Ecology Research Center and lead author of the study with Dumbacher. It was a massive inundation of illegal gold and mining operations that tore the landscape to pieces. “150 years down the road, we are still dealing with it.”

And Northern California’s problems have the potential to become your problem if you’re buying marijuana in a state where it’s still illegal. “We have data clearly demonstrating the plant material is contaminated, not just with one or two but a plethora of different types of pesticides that should not be used on any consumable product,” says Gabriel. “And we find it on levels that are potentially a threat to humans as well.”

Lab Rats

Across from an old cookie factory in Oakland, California sits a lab that couldn’t look more nondescript. It’s called CW Analytical, and it’s in the business of testing marijuana for a range of nasties, both natural and synthetic. Technicians in lab coats shuffle about, dissolving cannabis in solution, while in a little room up front a man behind a desk consults clients.

Morgan Heim/BioGraphic/California Academy of Sciences

Running this place is a goateed Alabama native named Robert Martin. For a decade he’s risked the ire of the feds to ensure that the medical marijuana sold in California dispensaries is clean and safe. But in the age of recreational cannabis, the state has given him a new list of enemies to test for. If you're worried about consuming grow chemicals like the owls are doing, it's scientists like Martin who have your back.

“We're trying to do it in legitimate ways, not painting our face or putting flowers in our hair,” says Martin. “We're here to show another face of the industry." Clinical. Empirical.

Labs like these—the Association of Commercial Cannabis Laboratories, which Martin heads, counts two dozen members—are where marijuana comes to pass the test or face destruction. Martin’s team is looking for two main things: microbiological contaminants and chemical residues. “Microbiological contaminants could come in the form of bacteria or fungi, depending on what kind of situation your cannabis has seen,” says Martin. (Bad drying or curing habits on the part of the growers can lead to the growth of Aspergillus mold, for instance.) “Or on the other side, the chemical residues can be pesticides, herbicides, things like that.”

The biological bit is pretty straightforward. Technicians add a cannabis sample to solution, then spread it on plates that go into incubators. “What we find is of all the flowers that come through, about 12 to 13 percent will come back with a high level of aerobic bacteria and about 13 to 14 percent will come back with a high level of fungi and yeast and mold,” says laboratory manager Emily Savage.

With chemical contaminants it gets a bit trickier. To test for these, the lab run the cannabis through a machine called a mass spectrometer, which isolates the component parts of the sample. This catches common chemicals like myclobutanil, which growers use to kill fungi.

Starting July 1 of this year, distributors and (legal) cultivators have to put their product through testing for heavy metals and bacteria like E. coli and chemicals like acephate (a general use insecticide). That’s important for average consumers but especially medical marijuana patients with compromised health. One group of researchers has even warned that smoking or vaping tainted marijuana could lead to fatal infections for some patients, as pathogens are taken deep into the lungs.

“This is why we have to end prohibition and regulate and legalize cannabis, so that we can develop the standards that everybody must meet,” says Andrew DeAngelo, director of operations of the Harborside dispensary in Oakland.

After testing, a lab like CW has to report their results to the state, whose guidelines may dictate that the crop be destroyed. If everything checks out, the marijuana is cleared for sale in a dispensary. “That gives the public confidence that these supply chains are clean for them and healthy for them,” says DeAngelo.

That safety comes at a price, though. To fund the oversight of recreational marijuana, California is imposing combined taxes of perhaps 50 percent. “They're too high,” says DeAngelo. He’s worried that the fees will push users back into the black market, where plants don’t have to hew to the same strict safety standards. “This shop should be a lot fuller than it is right now.”

And the black market gets us right back to the mess we started off in. Illegal cultivation is bad for consumers and bad for the environment. The only real solution? The end of prohibition. At the very least, the owls would appreciate it.

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Marissa SafontThe Dirty Secret of California’s Cannabis: It’s Dirty
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Lawyer Promised Their Weed Was Legal, But It Landed Them in Jail

Marsha Yandell was getting ready for lunch when a SWAT team appeared on her lawn and shouted over a bullhorn to smoke her out.

It was February 2015, and the former registered nurse tried to tell Florida cops that she had paperwork for her cannabis plants. The documents, she claimed, showed she and her hubby Scott were allowed to grow medical marijuana.

Yandell was tackled and zip-tied once she emerged, while her husband phoned their attorney from inside the house. The lawyer, Ian James Christensen, had legally greenlighted their home-grow operation and provided them with a patient ID card.

Scott, then an engineer, was cuffed and charged, too. The couple faced a slew of felonies, including manufacturing cannabis and possession of cannabis with intent to sell or deliver, and decades behind bars.

The Yandells lost their home and their jobs. They took a plea deal in return for $15,000 in fines, three years of probation, and 100 hours of community service, court records show.

Nine months after their arrests, Christensen closed his law firm. He eventually left Florida and faces a federal lawsuit by the Yandells accusing him of legal malpractice. (A default judgment against Christensen was entered this month.)

Last week, the 30-year-old one-time barrister was disbarred for falsely telling his sick clients they could possess, use, and grow cannabis. Christensen claimed cops couldnt touch them as long as they had his Official Legal Certification and (phony) patient ID cards. At the time, medical marijuana wasnt even legal in the Sunshine State.

Two other peoplean Iraq War contractor with PTSD and his girlfriendwere arrested and prosecuted after following Christensens advice, a state bar investigation found.

Along with the Official Legal Certification, Christensen provided clients with grow signs they could post at their homes to announce they were cultivating medical marijuana, a Florida Supreme Court ruling stated.

In a Jan. 18 decision, the court ruled that Christensen erroneously advised his clients and gave them legally meaningless certifications based on determinations made by a physician not licensed to practice medicine in the State of Florida.

Christensen continued to insist on the correctness of his clearly erroneous legal positions even when facing disciplinary proceedings, the document states.

We will not tolerate such misconduct by members of The Florida Bar, the panel wrote in their decision.

Christensens attorney, D. Gray Thomas, released a statement suggesting his client never intended to harm anyone.

A young lawyer thought at the time that he was serving his clients rights and best interests, and was advising them appropriately, Thomas said. He thought he was raising a valid position on their behalf supported by existing Florida legal precedent on the defense of medical necessity.

In court papers, Thomas wrote that Christensen opened his own solo firm, unmonitored by an experienced law firm or attorney.

Christensen, in an affidavit, said, …I am extremely remorseful for the harms caused to my clients based on my naive persistence and misplaced confidence in what I was doing harms which I did not intend.

But Andrew Bonderud, an attorney for the Yandells, called Christensen a scam artist.

He has demonstrated a level of intransigence and arrogance that is remarkable, Bonderud told The Daily Beast. He had lots of opportunities to be persuaded that what he was recommending was hazarding all of his clients, and he ignored them.

Its a level of recklessness that cannot be explained away by an innocent misunderstanding, Bonderud added.

While Marsha Yandell is happy with the disbarment, she says her life is still in pieces. She and her spouse moved to Oregon for a fresh start, but her criminal record bars her from being employed as a nurse. I dont want this to ever happen to another vulnerable patient, ever again, she told The Daily Beast.

Yandell was a registered nurse for 25 years and lost her license after pleading guilty to possession of cannabis with intent to sell and possession of paraphernalia. Her husband, an engineer for 15 years, also lost his job at Verizon, she says.

Were very educated people, however, we are not educated in law, Yandell said.

Before she found Christensens firm, Yandell was suffering from fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, and spinal stenosis. Desperate to ditch the daily pharmaceuticals she took to ease the pain, she attended a cannabis seminar and learned of Christensens business, Health Law Services (HLS).

Indeed, Christensen launched the IJC Law Group in July 2013, less than three months after being admitted to the bar. At the time, he had no training in the area of medical marijuana, the Florida Supreme Court found.

The attorney launched HLS in February 2014, and incorporated the Cannabinoid Therapy Institute five months later, court papers state.

Christensen charged HLS clients $799 a pop for a medical necessity evaluation. If his firm determined a need for weed, it would provide patients with the Official Legal Certification and a homemade ID card claiming the clients had a marijuana prescription.

The identification was not affiliated with any government agency.

HLS website erroneously claimed Floridas medical necessity doctrine would protect patients from law enforcement if they could prove they used pot for medical reasons. Therefore, if a patient can prove to a law enforcement officer that cannabis is the safest medication available to treat their diagnosed condition, they are NOT subject to arrest, the website stated.

Meanwhile, Christensens Facebook page boasted of being the first law firm to develop a process to assist you TODAY so you may rest easy knowing you have a valid legal option to use this safe non-toxic medicine.

He claimed to have a team of expert physicians, attorneys, and experienced marijuana professionals. Yet, according to the Yandells lawsuit, one of those experts claimed to be a lawyer but didnt even have a bachelors degree.

The Yandells met Christensen in June 2014 and paid him $799 each after they received a medical interview by a doctor, whom they later learned wasnt even licensed to practice in the state of Florida.

At the time, Marsha Yandell was desperate for a cure.

I was eating 15 pills a day with every doctor in Jacksonville saying, Im sorry youre feeling so bad, but theres not a lot I can do, Yandell said.

When I met these people, and they told me they had a way out of that whole rat race that I was living I was like, Hell yeah, I will try anything, Yandell recalls. If somebody would have told me to scrape asphalt off the left side of the highway and eat it, I would have done that.

The couple later showed Christensen their home cannabis plants, and the budding attorney allegedly restated that the operation was legal.

Christensen found ways to add validity to his practice by creating a website where law enforcement could search for and confirm whether patient ID cards were valid, Yandell told The Daily Beast.

She and her husband continued to cultivate marijuana until January 2015, when a former friend and HLS patient made a false 911 call about them, the lawsuit states. (Yandell said the pal was angry when she stopped growing his medicine for free. He allegedly told police he heard gunshots at the Yandell residence.)

According to the lawsuit, Christensen told the Yandells they had nothing to worry about and that his firm would contact the Saint Johns County Sheriffs Office to discuss the couples marijuana operation. There is no record, however, that Christensen ever contacted the agency.

One month later, the SWAT team raided their home and seized their vehicles and other valuables.

The Yandells paid HLS $3,000 in cash, in addition to filing fees, to have Christensen represent them after their first arrest.

When cops busted the couple a second time in March 2015, they hired a new attorney. They pleaded guilty to avoid lengthy prison sentences, becoming homeless, broke, convicted felons, their complaint states.

Their landlord later won a $25,000 judgment against them for lost rent and damages to the home from the police raid.

The Yandells werent the only victims of Christensens alleged scheme, court papers filed in the disbarment case reveal.

In June 2014, Matthew Young and his girlfriend, Lynne Nesselroad, sought advice on Floridas medical marijuana laws.

Christensen sent Young to his Cannabinoid Therapy Institute for an exam. Afterward, Christensen told Young he could grow and use weed for his medical conditions which include PTSD and brain injury.

Three months later, Christensen provided Young with a patient ID card and Nesselroad with a card identifying her as his qualified caregiver. Christensen was listed on both ID cards as their Licensed Florida Counsel.

In November 2014, Young and Nesselroad were arrested for trafficking marijuana and possession and manufacture of cannabis. Cops laughed when Young showed them Christensens paperwork, court papers state.

Christensen charged the couple $8,000 to defend them, but a judge disqualified him as their attorney because he was a witness in the case. When Young and Nesselroad tried to get a refund, Christensen allegedly told them the money was gone.

The State Attorneys Office dropped all charges against the couple in July 2015, and they became cooperating witnesses in an ongoing investigation, the Tampa Bay Times reported. That month, a judge also ordered Christensen to repay the $8,000.

Young had spent 1,600 days in Iraq as a military contractor. His tour left him with broken bones, PTSD, and brain injury from concussions he sustained during explosions. His attorney, Shawn Gearhart, told the Times that he also contracted HIV while working as a field medic and was later diagnosed with AIDS.

It calms everything, Young told the Times. Without cannabis my head is like a tornado and a hurricane all at the same time.

According to the Times, state attorney Bruce Bartlett said that without Christensens guidance, Young and Nesselroad wouldnt have faced their predicament. These people have been punished enough, Bartlett said.

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Marissa SafontLawyer Promised Their Weed Was Legal, But It Landed Them in Jail
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Why No Gadget Can Prove How Stoned You Are

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.

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Marijuana-friendly states ask Congress to make banking legal for the weed industry

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.

You can read the full letter, embedded below.

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Men are calling this gynecologist to try to get medical marijuana

Weed, dude.
Image: Shutterstock / Atomazul

Getting medical cannabis in some states is harder than others. Apparently it’s so difficult in Pennsylvania that dudes are calling up an OB-GYN in an attempt at getting their hands on the stick icky. 

After some local press revealed that Dr. Liang Bartkowiak of Altoona, Pennsylvania was licensed to prescribe medical marijuana, her office became inundated with phone calls from potential patients looking to book an appointment. The problem? Bartkowiak works at a gynecologist’s office, which treats women exclusively, and most of the phone calls were from men, the Alatoona Mirror reports

“I was shocked,” Bartkowiak, told the Mirror. “We’re fielding phone calls from male patients who want to schedule appointments.”

While states like California operate relatively relaxed medical marijuana laws, allowing patients to access the plant with symptoms such as migraines, anxiety, and insomnia, the state of Pennsylvania has much stricter laws, and patients must have a “serious medical condition,” such as Epilepsy, cancer, and severe chronic or intractable pain.

Because of this, and due to the fact that the program is still quite new, only a number of doctors are allowed to prescribe cannabis as a treatment. Bartkowiak told the Mirror that she sought certification because she treats women with endometriosis and severe pain from surgeries. 

With the opiate epidemic in full force, doctors like Bartkowiak are seeking alternative medicines in order to help treat pain.

While providing access to medical marijuana is a big step for Pennsylvania, the state is playing it quite safe by banning the use of smokable flower, following in the footsteps of states like New York. So it’s likely those dudes looking for medical cannabis wouldn’t be able to get access to the pot they were expecting, even if they did qualify.

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Vegas stoners can now pick up weed from a drive-thru

Image: Shutterstock / Atomazul

The largest recreational marijuana store in the country just opened what it claims is the first fast food-style weed drive-thru.

NuWu Cannabis Marketplace aims to serve customers in less than a minute from the time they place their orders from their cars, store representatives told the Las Vegas Sun. The dispensary poached drive-thru managers from fast food chains to handle the parking lot chaos and take orders while customers are in line.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that NuWu’s drive-thru is a converted $30,000 bank teller window, made of bullet-proof glass and framed with bullet-proof Kevlar material. Surveillance cameras monitor both inside and outside of the impenetrable window. 

This massive weed marketplace, located on Native American tribal lands in Las Vegas, opened its doors on Oct. 16. Benny Tso, the chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, told the Los Angeles Times at the end of the month that the dispensary was drawing in 300 to 500 customers each day. 


Customers in vehicles will be able to choose from a limited selection of the dispensary’s expansive inventory. The drive-thru will offer about 15 flower, edible and concentrate products. 

Licensed dispensaries have been legally able to sell marijuana for recreational use to anyone over 21 years old since July 1. 

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