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How do you move mountains of unwanted weed?

Oregon farmers have grown three times what their customers can smoke in a year, causing bud prices to plummet and panic to set in

A recent Sunday afternoon at the Bridge City Collective cannabis shop in north Portland saw a steady flow of customers.

Little wonder: a gram of weed was selling for less than the price of a glass of wine.

The $4 and $5 grams enticed Scotty Saunders, a 24-year-old sporting a gray hoodie, to spend $88 picking out new products to try with a friend. Weve definitely seen a huge drop in prices, he says.

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Across the wood and glass counter, Bridge City owner David Alport was less delighted. He says hes never sold marijuana this cheap before.

We have standard grams on the shelf at $4, Alport says. Before, we didnt see a gram below $8.

The scene at Bridge City Collective is playing out across the city and state. Three years into Oregons era of recreational cannabis, the state is inundated with legal weed.

It turns out Oregonians are good at growing cannabis too good.

In February, state officials announced that 1.1m pounds of cannabis flower were logged in the states database.

If a million pounds sounds like a lot of pot, thats because it is: last year, Oregonians smoked, vaped or otherwise consumed just under 340,000lb of legal bud.

That means Oregon farmers have grown three times what their clientele can smoke in a year.

Yet state documents show the number of Oregon weed farmers is poised to double this summer without much regard to whether theres demand to fill.

The result? Prices are dropping to unprecedented lows in auction houses and on dispensary counters across the state.

Wholesale sun-grown weed fell from $1,500 a pound last summer to as low as $700 by mid-October. On store shelves, that means the price of sun-grown flower has been sliced in half to those four-buck grams.

For Oregon customers, this is a bonanza. A gram of the beloved Girl Scout Cookies strain now sells for little more than two boxes of actual Girl Scout cookies.

But it has left growers and sellers with a high-cost product thats a financial loser. And a new feeling has descended on the once-confident Oregon cannabis industry: panic.

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The business has been up and down and up and down, says Don Morse, who closed his Human Collective II dispensary in south-west Portland four months ago. But in a lot of ways it has just been down and down for dispensaries.

This month, WW spoke to two dozen people across Oregons cannabis industry. They describe a bleak scene: small businesses laying off employees and shrinking operations. Farms shuttering. People losing their lifes savings are unable to declare bankruptcy because marijuana is still a federally scheduled narcotic.

To be sure, every new market creates winners and losers. But the glut of legal weed places Oregons young industry in a precarious position, and could swiftly reshape it.

Oregons wineries, breweries and distilleries have experienced some of the same kind of shakeout over time. But the timetable is faster with pot: for many businesses, its boom to bust within months.

Mom-and-pop farms are accepting lowball offers to sell to out-of-state investors, and what was once a diverse and local market is increasingly owned by a few big players. And frantic growers face an even greater temptation to illegally leak excess grass across state lines and into the crosshairs of US attorney general Jeff Sessions justice department.

If somebody has got thousands of pounds that they cant sell, they are desperate, says Myron Chadowitz, who owns the Eugene farm Cannassentials. Desperate people do desperate things.

In March, Robin Cordell posted a distress signal on Instagram.

The prices are so low, she wrote, and without hustling all day, hoping to find the odd shop with an empty jar, it doesnt seem to move at any price.

Cordell has a rare level of visibility for a cannabis grower. Her Oregon City farm, Oregon Girl Gardens, received glowing profiles from Dope Magazine and Oregon Leaf. She has 12 years of experience in the medical marijuana system, a plot of family land in Clackamas county, and branding as one of the states leaders in organic and women-led cannabis horticulture.

She fears shell be out of business by the end of the year.

The prices just never went back up, she says.

The
The prices just never went back up.

Cordell ran headlong into Oregons catastrophically bountiful cannabis crop.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) handed out dozens of licenses to new farmers who planted their first crop last spring. Mild weather blessed the summer of 2017 and stretched generously into the fall. And growers going into their second summer season planted extra seeds to make up for flower lost to a 2016 storm, the last vestige of a brutal typhoon blown across the Pacific from Asia.

That storm naturally constrained the supply even though there were a lot of cultivators, says Beau Whitney, senior economist for New Frontier Data, which studies the cannabis industry.

It kept supply low and prices high in 2017 even though the state was handing out licenses at an alarming rate.

It was a hot new market, Whitney says. There werent a whole lot of barriers to entry. The OLCC basically issued a license to anyone who qualified.

Chadowitz blames out-of-state money for flooding the Oregon system. In 2016, state lawmakers decided to lift a restriction that barred out-of-state investors from owning controlling shares of local farms and dispensaries.

It was a controversial choice one that many longtime growers still resent.

The root of the entire thing was allowance of outside money into Oregon, Chadowitz says. Anyone could get the money they needed. Unlimited money and unlimited licenses, youre going to get unlimited flower and crash the market.

As of 1 April, Oregon had licensed 963 recreational cannabis grows, while another 910 awaited OLCC approval.

That means oversupply is only going to increase as more farms start harvesting bud.

The OLCC has said repeatedly that it has no authority to limit the number of licenses it grants to growers, wholesalers and dispensaries (although by contrast, the number of liquor stores in Oregon is strictly limited).

Since voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, many industry veterans from the medical marijuana years have chafed at the entrance of new money, warning it would destroy a carefully crafted farm ecosystem.

The same problem has plagued cannabis industries in other states that have legalized recreational weed. In 2016, Colorado saw wholesale prices for recreational flower drop 38%. Washington saw its pot drop in value at the same time Oregon did.

The OLCC remains committed to facilitating a free market for recreational marijuana in which anyone can try their hand at growing or selling.

[The law] has to be explicit that we have that authority to limit or put a cap on licenses, says OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger. It doesnt say that we could put a cap on licenses. The only thing that we can regulate is canopy size.

The demand for weed in Oregon is robust the state reeled in $68m in cannabis sales taxes last year but it cant keep pace with supply.

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A cannabis harvest at East Fork Cultivars, Oregon.

Whitney says its not unusual for a new industry to attract speculators and people without much business savvy.

Whenever you have these emerging markets, theres going to be a lot of people entering the market looking for profit, he says. Once it becomes saturated, it becomes more competitive. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to cannabis. There used to be a lot of computer companies, but theres not so many anymore.

Across rolling hills of Oregon farmland and in Portland dispensaries as sleek as designer eyewear shops, the story plays out the same: Business owners cant make the low prices pencil out.

Nick Duyck is a second-generation farmer and owner of 3D Blueberry Farms in Washington county. I was born and raised on blueberries, he says.

But last June, Duyck launched Private Reserve Cannabis, a weed grow designed to create permanent jobs for seasonal workers.

By starting up the cannabis business, says Duyck, it keeps my guys busy on a year-round basis.

He invested $250,000 in the structural build-outs, lighting, environmental controls and other initial costs to achieve a 5,000 sq ft, Tier I, OLCC-approved indoor canopy.

Ongoing labor and operational costs added another $20,000 a month.

Weed prices were high: Duyck forecast a $1,500 return per pound. If Duyck could produce 20lb of flower a week, hed make back his money and start banking profits in just three months.

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A gram of weed was selling for less than a glass of wine.

Octobers bumper crop tore those plans apart.

We got in at the wrong time, Duyck says. The outdoor harvest flooded the market.

By the start of the new year, Duyck was sitting on 100lb of ready-to-sell flower an inventory trickling out to dispensaries in single-pound increments.

So he turned to a wholesaler, Cannabis Auctions LLC, which holds monthly fire sales in various undisclosed locations throughout Oregon.

Weed auctions operate under a traditional model: sellers submit their wares, and buyers dispensary owners, intake managers and extract manufacturers are given an opportunity to inspect products before bidding on parcels awarded to the highest dollar.

Duyck sent 60lb of pot to the auction block in December. He had adjusted his expectations downward: he hoped to see something in the ballpark of $400 a pound.

It sold for $100 a pound.

The price per pound that it costs us to raise this product is significantly higher than the hundred dollars a pound, says Duyck. (A little light math points to a $250-per-unit production cost.) Currently, were operating at a $15,000-per-month loss, Duyck says.

If prices dont improve soon, Duyck says he wont be able to justify renewing his OLCC license for another year.

The dispensaries that are out there, a lot of them have their own farms, so they dont buy a lot of product from small farms like us Duyck says. If you really want to grow the product, you almost have to own the store also.

Middlemen store owners without farms are also suffering. Take Don Morse, who gave up selling weed on New Years Eve.

Morse ran Human Collective II, one of the earliest recreational shops in the city, which first opened as a medical marijuana supplier in 2010. At times, Morse stocked 100 strains in his Multnomah Village location.

A
A cannabis crop. I think if we let it be a painful moment, and not try to cover it up, were going to be better off for it.

Morse lobbied for legal recreational weed and founded the Oregon Cannabis Business Council.

The shift to recreational was costly. With his business partner Sarah Bennett, Morse says he invested more than $100,000 in equipment to meet state regulations.

By last summer, new stores were popping up at a rapid pace. Morses company wasnt vertically integrated, which means it did not grow any of its own pot or run a wholesaler that might have subsidized low sales.

Competition around us was fierce, and the company started losing money, and it wasnt worth it anymore, Morse says. At our peak, we had 20 employees. When we closed, we had six.

Prices went into free fall in October: the average retail price dropped 40%.

Morse couldnt see a way to make the numbers work. Human Collective priced grams as low as $6 to compete with large chains like Nectar and Chalice, but it struggled to turn a profit.

When youre the little guy buying the product from wholesalers, you cant afford to compete, he says. Theres only so far you can lower the price. Theres too much of everything and too many people in the industry.

So Morse closed his shop: We paid our creditors and that was that. That was the end of it.

Despite losing his business, Morse stands behind Oregons light touch when it comes to regulating the industry.

Its just commercialism at its finest, he says. Let the best survive. Thats just the way it goes in capitalism. Thats just the way it goes.

Just as mom-and-pop grocery stores gave way to big chains, people like Morse are losing out to bigger operations.

Chalice Farms has five stores in the Portland area and is opening a sixth in Happy Valley. La Mota has 15 dispensaries. Nectar has 11 storefronts in Oregon, with four more slated to open soon.

Despite the record-low prices in the cannabis industry, these chains are hiring and opening new locations, sometimes after buying failed mom-and-pop shops.

The home page on Nectars website prominently declares: Now buying dispensaries! Please contact us if you are a dispensary owner interested in selling your business.

Nectar representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Mason
Mason Walker, the CEO of East Fork Cultivars.

Because the federal government does not recognize legal marijuana, the industry cannot access traditional banking systems or even federal courts. That means business owners cant declare bankruptcy to dissolve a failed dispensary or farm, leaving them with few options. They can try to liquidate their assets, destroy the product they have on hand and eat the losses.

Or they can sell the business to a company like Nectar, often for a fraction of what theyve invested.

This time last year, it was basically all mom-and-pop shops, says Mason Walker, CEO of Cave Junction cannabis farm East Fork Cultivars. Now there are five or six companies that own 25 or 30%. Stores are selling for pennies on the dollar, and people are losing their life savings in the process.

Deep-pocketed companies can survive the crash and wait for the market to contract again.

What this means is, the market is now in a position where only the large [businesses] or the ones that can produce at the lower cost can survive, Whitney says. A lot of the craft growers, a lot of the small-capacity cultivators, will go out of business.

Oregon faces another consequence of pot businesses closing up shop: leftover weed could end up on the black market.

Already, Oregon has a thriving illegal market shipping to other states.

US attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, has said he has little interest in cracking down on legal marijuana businesses, but will prosecute those shipping marijuana to other states.

That kind of thing is whats going to shut down our industry, Chadowitz says. Anything we can do to prevent Jeff Sessions from being right, we have to do.

Ask someone in the cannabis industry what to do about Oregons weed surplus, and youre likely to get one of three answers.

The first is to cap the number of licenses awarded by the OLCC. The second is to reduce the canopy size allotted to each license Massachusetts is trying that. And the last, equally common answer is to simply do nothing. Let the market sort itself out.

Up
Up in smoke: opinions vary about what Oregon must do to address its weed surplus.

Farmers, such as Walker of East Fork Cultivars, argue that limiting the number of licensed farms in Oregon would stunt the states ability to compete on the national stage in the years ahead.

Were in this sort of painful moment right now, says Walker, but I think if we let it be a painful moment, and not try to cover it up, were going to be better off for it.

Walker and other growers hope selling across state lines will someday become legal.

Every farmer, wholesaler, dispensary owner and economist WW talked to for this story said that if interstate weed sales became legal, Oregons oversupply problem would go away.

Under the current presidential administration, that might seem a long shot. But legalization is sweeping the country, Donald Trump is signaling a looser approach, and experts say Oregon will benefit when the feds stop fighting.

The thing about Oregon is that it is known for its cannabis, in a similar way to Oregon pinot noir, Whitney says. For those who are able to survive, they are positioned extremely well not only to survive in the Oregon market but also to take advantage of a larger market assuming things open up on a federal level.

Looking for more great work from the Portland, Oregon, alt-weekly paper and website Willamette Week? Here are some suggestions:

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Marissa SafontHow do you move mountains of unwanted weed?
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Im a pot evangelist: meet America’s dope queens

As more US states legalise marijuana, more women are stepping up to meet the need for weed. Meet the entrepreneurs cutting through the stigma

Like most other American industries, marijuana has traditionally been dominated by men. Overwhelmingly they grew it, they dealt it and they smoked it. Hopes that the legal marijuana industry would be more egalitarian than others have largely deflated. According to a 2017 survey, women hold 27% of executive positions in cannabis, only slightly more than in the country at large. Nevertheless, the plants status as a quasi-legal drug has created an opportunity for women to forge groundbreaking careers.

Cannabis businesses are obsessed with tearing down the stigma that continues to dog the plant. Many of the most ambitious companies want to make inroads with affluent adults and parents who dont use, or no longer use, cannabis; if the prevailing stereotype is that weed is a drug used by low-achieving men, the thinking is that women will be better at getting their husbands and boyfriends to use pot.

Thirty US states have legalized medical marijuana and it is among the countrys fastest-growing industries. Sales rose 33% last year, topping $10bn, even though only a few states, including California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon, have robust industries, and product cant be transported across state lines. But compared with other lucrative industries, such as tech, it is far more open to people who lack highly specialised education and have lived unconventional lives.

There is immense interest in marijuanas potential as a medicine, but in most cases the evidence is more anecdotal than confirmed by mainstream science. Its far easier for a pot business to enter the more nebulous wellness category. Today, in every dispensary in the US, there are cannabis products packaged like high-end personal care products; and even pharmaceuticals, designed to convince women its OK to try cannabis.

Female entrepreneurs believe legalization will bring immense medical and social benefits. The five women who share their story here all photographed by Pietro Chelli in recent years are a doctor, a mother of a young child with cancer, and three very different entrepreneurs. Each in her own way is cutting through the stigma.

Cheryl Shuman, 57, Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, Los Angeles, California

I first tried cannabis in 1996, after I was sexually assaulted. Doctors had put me on anti-anxietals and antidepressants and they turned me into a zombie. I had got to the point where I didnt want to get out of bed. Eventually, my therapist said to me: Cheryl, with all due respect, you just have to smoke a joint. Only in LA, right? Until then Id been a good girl. Ive still never had a beer, never had a cigarette.

My therapist had his plants in his back yard and kept his stash in mason jars. He rolled a joint. I was impressed he could roll it with only one hand. I took the first puff and almost coughed my lungs up. By the second puff, I said: You know what, this is really great. I felt instantly better.

Instead of taking pills, I would just roll a joint every day. I told my kids, as I didnt want to lie to them. It was an entry to an underground society of professional, smart, dynamic, educated people, who use this for wellness. Who knew?

Today Im a pot evangelist. Ive spoken all over the world Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. Last year, I was only home in Beverly Hills for 16 days, and those were for events. My business now is basically being a matchmaker, pairing investors with exciting opportunities, ranging from biotech companies to branding, to a music festival. Its like being a real-estate broker I make things happen: What do you need?

Back when I first got involved in cannabis it was largely used by gay men to deal with the nausea and wasting of Aids. Ultimately, cannabis was legalized because of love for them. Many in the cannabis community have also had an experience similar to coming out of the closet the grass closet. Now we can hold our heads up high and lead an authentic life.

Tracy Ryan, 42, CannaKids, Los Angeles, California

Tracy
Tracy Ryan with her daughter Sophie: This wasnt a secret we could keep to ourselves. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

I got into this four and a half years ago, when my daughter Sophie was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. She was eight and a half months old. The doctors told us Sophies only chance to survive was a 13-month course of chemotherapy. Confronting this extremely difficult situation, my husband and I began to research ways to save our daughter. We decided that cannabis treatment was something we wanted to do alongside chemotherapy.

Sophie took her first dose of cannabis at nine months. It was on camera for a documentary, Weed the People, which premieres at the SXSW festival in Texas this March. Over the first 13 months, a tumor that wasnt supposed to shrink shrank by 95%. Thanks to the shrinkage, much of Sophies vision has been saved.

My husband and I knew this wasnt a secret we could keep to ourselves. Today, our company CannaKids has provided medical-grade cannabis to more than 2,000 children and adults in California. We dont look like what people imagine stoners to be. We love our kid and take care of her, and people listen to us.

Weve also partnered with Cure Pharmaceutical to fund cannabis and cancer research at the Technion Institute in Israel. We still dont know the right formula of cannabis and chemotherapy to address cancer. But research we support in mice has eliminated one type of pediatric cancer with cannabis alone. We hope to finalize the human tissue phase soon, then advance to human trials.

Since she was first diagnosed, Sophie has had several recurrences of her cancer. She has taken concentrated cannabis oil for four and a half years now. When her doctors at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles put her on an experimental drug that required her to stop additional supplements and medications, they advised that she continue taking cannabis.

She still receives chemotherapy, once every two weeks. She never fully lost her hair, but now has a full head of it. Shes in the 81st percentile for height and weight, and is in kindergarten with healthy kids her age. She has her own business cards and is a networker, like her mother.

Forget about the word weed, forget marijuana: these children are taking medical cannabis. We dont want kids stoned. We want them happy, healthy and ready to go to school.

Kristi Lee Kelly, 40, Marijuana Industry Group, Denver, Colorado

Kristi
Kristi Lee Kelly: When we started, patients rights were not clear. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

In 2009, I left Maryland and a career in advertising and marketing to join Colorados cannabis industry. I thought it would be a way to participate in something early on that would really make a difference in peoples lives.

Its been so long since then. Someone a long time ago likened cannabis to dog years a year in cannabis is like seven years doing anything else. At first, investment options were extremely limited, and politicians were unwilling to address the issue. Ive had 23 bank accounts closed.

I started as an owner, operator and investor in a vertically integrated group of medical cannabis businesses. This meant we grew the plants, manufactured them into vaping oil and other products and sold them at our dispensaries. Eventually we accomplished what we set out to do, and I sold my shares in the company. I have since turned to helping others actualise their cannabis aspirations.

When we started, patients rights were not clear. Could you have a card, consume cannabis and work? How did a doctors recommendation interact with the other aspects of your life? Now we have thousands of patient stories. The growing body of scientific and state data has demonstrated that this plant isnt causing the harm that some people said it would.

When we look at how this plant has come and gone over centuries, this is a 3,000-year-old journey, not one that is necessarily sensitive from one administration to the next. The long-term contribution this plant can make to humankind has been documented.

In cannabis, Ive worked with aspiring business owners, policymakers and investors. Im also working with a hemp technology company. In the gold rush, some of the most successful people were the ones who sold picks and shovels to prospectors. Part of what Im doing is figuring out what the picks and shovels are.

Colorado is the most mature policy environment in the world. We tend to confront business challenges first; we continue to expand the conversation around cannabis; were looking at the social impact. Last year, the Marijuana Industry Group forged an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Lyft [a ride-share company] to offer discounted rides to impaired cannabis users. Our goal is to reduce the number of people who are dying as a result of impaired driving, no matter the substance.

Bonni Goldstein, 53, Canna-Centers and Weedmaps, Los Angeles, California

Bonni
Bonni Goldstein: Doctors are finally opening their eyes to the fact that cannabis is safe. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

My background is in pediatric emergency medicine. Its high-stress work. I was working the night shift at a major Los Angeles hospital and being a mother during the day. Eventually I got burned out and took some time off.

About 10 years ago, a friend asked me about medical marijuana. I wasnt for or against it it just wasnt on my radar. But as I looked into it, it became clear to me that it was valid science.

I watched my friend get a medical marijuana card. She was struggling with the side-effects of chemotherapy; shed take the nausea medicine and throw it back up. But she got a vaporizer and it helped. I dont feel high, I feel better, she said. The cannabis let her participate in her life. She could sit at dinner and talk to her children.

I was really intrigued, and started working part-time in another doctors medical marijuana practice. It was an established office, very nice and professional. The patients were everyday people who have problems. The vast majority had been prescribed prescription drugs for anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic pain and struggled with the side-effects. They all said the same thing: cannabis was giving them the benefits of the drugs without the side-effects. I now have my own practice in a suburb of Los Angeles.

In August 2013, CNN journalist Dr Sanjay Gupta told the story of Charlotte Figi, a little girl with a severe seizure disorder. Gupta was convinced she had benefited from taking cannabis. It generated a lot of interest. The parents of children with disorders like Charlottes wake up every day knowing their child could have 45 seizures and end up in hospital.

Earlier in my career, I was the chief resident at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles; today, children with intractible epilepsy are a large part of my practice. The goal is seizure freedom for the child: we dont always get that, but the vast majority are seeing seizures reduced by 50% or more.

There is a change under way in the medical community. Doctors who listen to their patients are hearing these people stop asking for Vicodin, sleeping pills, benzodiazepine. I think doctors are finally opening their eyes to the fact that cannabis is safe; in a lot of cases it reduces or eliminates the need for prescription medicine.

Julie Berliner, 31, Sweet Grass Kitchen, Denver, Colorado

Julie
Julie Berliner: Cannabis is the most exciting industry. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2009 with a degree in education. It was tough looking for a job in the middle of the recession, but dispensaries were opening up in town. It really was the wild, wild west back then: there were no rules for who could open a shop, or where they could open it.

A friend who had a dispensary tried some chocolate-chip cookies I made and asked if Id be willing to turn them into cannabis cookies for him to sell. When I said OK, he handed me five pounds of weed and said, Here you go.

Id never made cannabis cookies before, but decided to use the traditional method of infusing butter in a crock pot. I started baking fresh cookies and walking them over to the store for packaging. Today, with all the rules, its impossible to sell cannabis cookies the day they were baked, but back then you could.

I also worked at the shop as a receptionist, to better understand the industry. I liked helping people to feel better, or have a great time.

In the summer of 2010, it became necessary to have a license. It cost $1,000; but more significant than the money was that I knew if I went down this road I wouldnt be able to go back. There were no school principals who would be intrigued by my time baking weed cookies.

It also became necessary to create a commercial kitchen. Very few property owners were willing to lease their space to cannabis, and I decided to build a transportable kitchen in a race-car trailer. It still needed a fixed address. When I met with a potential landlord he was an older man with big bushy eyebrows. I could tell it was going to be a hard conversation, but he agreed to rent me space for our cherry red mobile kitchen. He has come to be one of our strongest supporters. We now lease the entire building and use the trailer as a smoking room and an inspiring part of the tour for visitors.

Cannabis is still the most exciting industry, but its starting to slow down. In many ways thats a good thing: were all settling in rather than hanging on.

Alex Halperin writes a fortnightly cannabis column, High Time.

Commenting on this piece? If you would like your comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).

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Marissa SafontIm a pot evangelist: meet America’s dope queens
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Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community and co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

  • Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community
  • Peron co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

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Marissa SafontDennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72
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Pot entrepreneur and ex-felon fights for black role in California’s budding industry

When his medical cannabis operation was raided in 2008, Virgil Grant wound up in prison. Now hes back in business, and determined to make space for people of color in an industry thats fast being whitewashed

Pot entrepreneur and ex-felon fights for black role in California’s budding industry

When his medical cannabis operation was raided in 2008, Virgil Grant wound up in prison. Now hes back in business, and determined to make space for people of color in an industry thats fast being whitewashed

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontPot entrepreneur and ex-felon fights for black role in California’s budding industry
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Legal marijuana cuts violence says US study, as medical-use laws see crime fall

Murder and violent crime found to have decreased most in states bordering Mexico as drug cartels lose business to regulation

Legal marijuana cuts violence says US study, as medical-use laws see crime fall

Murder and violent crime found to have decreased most in states bordering Mexico as drug cartels lose business to regulation

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Marissa SafontLegal marijuana cuts violence says US study, as medical-use laws see crime fall
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Is marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know

Whats the evidence behind medical cannabis? While many attest to its healing powers, research into the full potential has long been legally restricted

Is marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know

Is marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know

Whats the evidence behind medical cannabis? While many attest to its healing powers, research into the full potential has long been legally restricted

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontIs marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know
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Hippy dream now a billion-dollar industry with California set to legalise cannabis

The state that is the worlds sixth biggest economy will legalise cannabis on New Years Day and expects a boom time for jobs and investment

While Arctic conditions gripped Americas north-east, balmy sunshine bathed Los Angeles last week but that was not the only reason denizens of the Venice boardwalk were feeling mellow. An astringent, earthy aroma infused the Pacific zephyrs wafting through the buskers, joggers, skateboarders, tourists and panhandlers.

Weed is part of the culture here, said Oni Farley, 30, perched on a sandy mound, watching life go by. Its part of the LA/California scene, the laid-back vibe. He ignored a police patrol car that inched through the throng. Ive blazed in front of cops and they dont say anything. To be honest, most of the time Im so high I dont notice them.

Pot wasnt hiding. In multiple different ways it was on display.

Addicted to weed, anything green helps, said a scrawled sign tilted against the backpack of Alexander Harth, 36, a dusty member of the boardwalks homeless population.

On the pavement, Marc Patsiner hawked wooden ornaments etched with Californian symbols: sunglasses, palm trees and marijuana leaves. Its pretty bohemian out here. People associate us with the leaf.

A vape shop offered glass pipes and other pot paraphernalia. T-shirt stores peddled images of Barack Obama smoking a joint alongside other herb-themed garments saying best buds and just hit it.

On Monday, California, the USs most populous state, and the worlds sixth biggest economy, will officially hit it by legalising cannabis.

Think Amsterdam, but sunnier and vaster a watershed event for the legalisation movement. Overnight a shadow industry worth billions of dollars annually will emerge into the light, taking its place alongside agriculture, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and other sectors that are regulated and taxed.

It will answer to the newly created Bureau of Cannabis Control bureaucratic confirmation that a day many activists did not dare dream of has indeed come to pass.

A product pilloried in the 1936 film Reefer Madness will become culturally normalised and economically integrated, said Philip Wolf, an entrepreneur who runs a cannabis wedding company and a firm that pairs pot with gourmet food. Its going to help destigmatise the plant. Theres going to be a lot of people making money and people will want to tax those dollars. This is going to spread. California is a trend-setting state.

California legalised pot for medicinal purposes in 1996, ushering in a web of dispensaries, spin-off businesses and creeping mainstream acceptance. That culminated in voters last year approving proposition 64, a ballot initiative which legalised pot sales for recreation. History will mark the date it came into effect: 1 January 2018.

It is expected to unleash profound changes across the state. The Salinas Valley, an agricultural zone south of San Francisco nicknamed Americas salad bowl, has already earned a new moniker: Americas cannabis bucket. Silicon Valley investors and other moneyed folk are hoping to mint fortunes by developing technology to cultivate, transport, store and sell weed. Entrepreneurs are devising pot-related products and services. Financiers are exploring ways to fold the revenue estimated at $7bn per annum by 2020 into corporate banking.

Customers
Customers at MedMen, a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Use of the drug to ease pain and disease has already been decriminalised in California. Photograph: Richard Vogel/AP

California is not the trailblazer. Colorado grabbed that mantle in January 2014 when it became the first jurisdiction in the world beating Washington state and Uruguay by months to legalise recreational cannabis sales. California is one of 29 US states where pot is legal for medical or recreational use. With medical certificates you can criss-cross the country getting legally stoned.

But cultural, political and economic heft makes California a landmark in the global legalisation campaign. This is the state that incubated the political careers of Richard Nixon, who launched the war on drugs in 1971, and Ronald Reagan, who continued hardline prohibition policies under his wife Nancys slogan just say no.

Californias path to yes wound through Venice, a gritty beachside haven for beat poets, artists and musicians long before hippies wore flowers on their way to San Francisco. The Doors, among others, kept the counterculture torch lit in Venice: here they wrote Light My Fire, Moonlight Drive and Break on Through. A giant mural of a shirtless Jim Morrison still peers down from a wall. It was in Venice that generations of Angelenos and tourists toked illicit spliffs. They still do, though it is now a gentrifying tech enclave.

When California legalised pot for medicinal purposes many cities and neighbourhoods refused to issue licenses for pot dispensaries. In Venice they popped up like toast, as did clinics where for a fee ranging from around $20 to $40 doctors issued pot recommendation letters to ostensible patients. Some were genuine, with ailments and pain alleviated by the herb. Many just wanted to get high. Pretending you have an affliction just to smoke, thats ridiculous, said Farley, the boardwalk observer. Having served in the navy, he claimed to have post-traumatic stress disorder. I dont, but thats what I said.

The California Alternative Caregivers dispensary set up shop in 2005 on Lincoln Boulevard, on the second floor of a maze of little shops and offices. It was by design, upstairs, all the way to the back. We didnt advertise, said the manager, Jim Harrison, 46. Pot, medicinal or not, still needed to be discreet. If asked about his profession Harrison would say he was a healthcare professional.

The sky failed to fall in on Venice, or other areas with dispensaries, and little by little pot became more mainstream, even respectable. Harrison, who wears a white coat and calls his patrons patients, is proud that his dispensarys protocols, such as sealing and labelling bags and containers, have been replicated in the new state regulations for recreational pot.

Full legalisation feels historic, he said. Its pretty amazing. The cats out of the bag. His dispensary will create a new space for recreation customers and keep a separate room for patients. Tax on medicinal pot is lower so dispensaries expect that market segment to dwindle but not disappear.

The new era may begin with a whimper. State authorities have given counties and cities authority and responsibility to govern the new industry. The result is a patchwork. Some places, such as Kern county, are still banning all commercial pot activity. LA and San Francisco only recently approved local regulations so it could be weeks or months before newly licensed pot shops start sprouting. Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Diego have licensed operators ready to open on Monday.

Golden
Golden State Greens budtender Olivia Vugrin (right), serves a customer in San Diego, California. Dozens of shops in the state will be selling marijuana for recreational use from tomorrow. Photograph: Elliot Spagat/AP

Donald Trumps administration casts a shadow because pot remains illegal under federal law. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has compared the herb to heroin and threatened a crackdown. Fearful of federal prosecution, banks are shunning pot businesses, leaving the industry stuck with mounds of cash which must be transported under armed guard.

Venices bohemians helped pave the way to Californias big experiment but it is another California, that of boardrooms and city halls, which stands to gain.

Based on Colorados experience politicians across the Golden State are expecting tax windfalls. Labour unions are hoping to recruit tens of thousands of workers to cultivate and sell pot.

Wealthy investors are snapping up land in Salinas and other cultivation areas with a view to mass production. Others are forming pot-focused business accelerators and management firms. Start-ups are devising new apps, products and services.

Corporate expansion felt a world away from the patch of sand that Harth, the Venice panhandler, called home. Despite the sunshine drawing big crowds to the boardwalk he stuffed his sign Addicted to weed, anything green helps into his backpack. The dollars werent coming.

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Marissa SafontHippy dream now a billion-dollar industry with California set to legalise cannabis
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Im a pot evangelist: meet America’s dope queens

As more US states legalise marijuana, more women are stepping up to meet the need for weed. Meet the entrepreneurs cutting through the stigma

Like most other American industries, marijuana has traditionally been dominated by men. Overwhelmingly they grew it, they dealt it and they smoked it. Hopes that the legal marijuana industry would be more egalitarian than others have largely deflated. According to a 2017 survey, women hold 27% of executive positions in cannabis, only slightly more than in the country at large. Nevertheless, the plants status as a quasi-legal drug has created an opportunity for women to forge groundbreaking careers.

Cannabis businesses are obsessed with tearing down the stigma that continues to dog the plant. Many of the most ambitious companies want to make inroads with affluent adults and parents who dont use, or no longer use, cannabis; if the prevailing stereotype is that weed is a drug used by low-achieving men, the thinking is that women will be better at getting their husbands and boyfriends to use pot.

Thirty US states have legalized medical marijuana and it is among the countrys fastest-growing industries. Sales rose 33% last year, topping $10bn, even though only a few states, including California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon, have robust industries, and product cant be transported across state lines. But compared with other lucrative industries, such as tech, it is far more open to people who lack highly specialised education and have lived unconventional lives.

There is immense interest in marijuanas potential as a medicine, but in most cases the evidence is more anecdotal than confirmed by mainstream science. Its far easier for a pot business to enter the more nebulous wellness category. Today, in every dispensary in the US, there are cannabis products packaged like high-end personal care products; and even pharmaceuticals, designed to convince women its OK to try cannabis.

Female entrepreneurs believe legalization will bring immense medical and social benefits. The five women who share their story here all photographed by Pietro Chelli in recent years are a doctor, a mother of a young child with cancer, and three very different entrepreneurs. Each in her own way is cutting through the stigma.

Cheryl Shuman, 57, Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, Los Angeles, California

I first tried cannabis in 1996, after I was sexually assaulted. Doctors had put me on anti-anxietals and antidepressants and they turned me into a zombie. I had got to the point where I didnt want to get out of bed. Eventually, my therapist said to me: Cheryl, with all due respect, you just have to smoke a joint. Only in LA, right? Until then Id been a good girl. Ive still never had a beer, never had a cigarette.

My therapist had his plants in his back yard and kept his stash in mason jars. He rolled a joint. I was impressed he could roll it with only one hand. I took the first puff and almost coughed my lungs up. By the second puff, I said: You know what, this is really great. I felt instantly better.

Instead of taking pills, I would just roll a joint every day. I told my kids, as I didnt want to lie to them. It was an entry to an underground society of professional, smart, dynamic, educated people, who use this for wellness. Who knew?

Today Im a pot evangelist. Ive spoken all over the world Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. Last year, I was only home in Beverly Hills for 16 days, and those were for events. My business now is basically being a matchmaker, pairing investors with exciting opportunities, ranging from biotech companies to branding, to a music festival. Its like being a real-estate broker I make things happen: What do you need?

Back when I first got involved in cannabis it was largely used by gay men to deal with the nausea and wasting of Aids. Ultimately, cannabis was legalized because of love for them. Many in the cannabis community have also had an experience similar to coming out of the closet the grass closet. Now we can hold our heads up high and lead an authentic life.

Tracy Ryan, 42, CannaKids, Los Angeles, California

Tracy
Tracy Ryan with her daughter Sophie: This wasnt a secret we could keep to ourselves. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

I got into this four and a half years ago, when my daughter Sophie was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. She was eight and a half months old. The doctors told us Sophies only chance to survive was a 13-month course of chemotherapy. Confronting this extremely difficult situation, my husband and I began to research ways to save our daughter. We decided that cannabis treatment was something we wanted to do alongside chemotherapy.

Sophie took her first dose of cannabis at nine months. It was on camera for a documentary, Weed the People, which premieres at the SXSW festival in Texas this March. Over the first 13 months, a tumor that wasnt supposed to shrink shrank by 95%. Thanks to the shrinkage, much of Sophies vision has been saved.

My husband and I knew this wasnt a secret we could keep to ourselves. Today, our company CannaKids has provided medical-grade cannabis to more than 2,000 children and adults in California. We dont look like what people imagine stoners to be. We love our kid and take care of her, and people listen to us.

Weve also partnered with Cure Pharmaceutical to fund cannabis and cancer research at the Technion Institute in Israel. We still dont know the right formula of cannabis and chemotherapy to address cancer. But research we support in mice has eliminated one type of pediatric cancer with cannabis alone. We hope to finalize the human tissue phase soon, then advance to human trials.

Since she was first diagnosed, Sophie has had several recurrences of her cancer. She has taken concentrated cannabis oil for four and a half years now. When her doctors at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles put her on an experimental drug that required her to stop additional supplements and medications, they advised that she continue taking cannabis.

She still receives chemotherapy, once every two weeks. She never fully lost her hair, but now has a full head of it. Shes in the 81st percentile for height and weight, and is in kindergarten with healthy kids her age. She has her own business cards and is a networker, like her mother.

Forget about the word weed, forget marijuana: these children are taking medical cannabis. We dont want kids stoned. We want them happy, healthy and ready to go to school.

Kristi Lee Kelly, 40, Marijuana Industry Group, Denver, Colorado

Kristi
Kristi Lee Kelly: When we started, patients rights were not clear. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

In 2009, I left Maryland and a career in advertising and marketing to join Colorados cannabis industry. I thought it would be a way to participate in something early on that would really make a difference in peoples lives.

Its been so long since then. Someone a long time ago likened cannabis to dog years a year in cannabis is like seven years doing anything else. At first, investment options were extremely limited, and politicians were unwilling to address the issue. Ive had 23 bank accounts closed.

I started as an owner, operator and investor in a vertically integrated group of medical cannabis businesses. This meant we grew the plants, manufactured them into vaping oil and other products and sold them at our dispensaries. Eventually we accomplished what we set out to do, and I sold my shares in the company. I have since turned to helping others actualise their cannabis aspirations.

When we started, patients rights were not clear. Could you have a card, consume cannabis and work? How did a doctors recommendation interact with the other aspects of your life? Now we have thousands of patient stories. The growing body of scientific and state data has demonstrated that this plant isnt causing the harm that some people said it would.

When we look at how this plant has come and gone over centuries, this is a 3,000-year-old journey, not one that is necessarily sensitive from one administration to the next. The long-term contribution this plant can make to humankind has been documented.

In cannabis, Ive worked with aspiring business owners, policymakers and investors. Im also working with a hemp technology company. In the gold rush, some of the most successful people were the ones who sold picks and shovels to prospectors. Part of what Im doing is figuring out what the picks and shovels are.

Colorado is the most mature policy environment in the world. We tend to confront business challenges first; we continue to expand the conversation around cannabis; were looking at the social impact. Last year, the Marijuana Industry Group forged an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Lyft [a ride-share company] to offer discounted rides to impaired cannabis users. Our goal is to reduce the number of people who are dying as a result of impaired driving, no matter the substance.

Bonni Goldstein, 53, Canna-Centers and Weedmaps, Los Angeles, California

Bonni
Bonni Goldstein: Doctors are finally opening their eyes to the fact that cannabis is safe. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

My background is in pediatric emergency medicine. Its high-stress work. I was working the night shift at a major Los Angeles hospital and being a mother during the day. Eventually I got burned out and took some time off.

About 10 years ago, a friend asked me about medical marijuana. I wasnt for or against it it just wasnt on my radar. But as I looked into it, it became clear to me that it was valid science.

I watched my friend get a medical marijuana card. She was struggling with the side-effects of chemotherapy; shed take the nausea medicine and throw it back up. But she got a vaporizer and it helped. I dont feel high, I feel better, she said. The cannabis let her participate in her life. She could sit at dinner and talk to her children.

I was really intrigued, and started working part-time in another doctors medical marijuana practice. It was an established office, very nice and professional. The patients were everyday people who have problems. The vast majority had been prescribed prescription drugs for anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic pain and struggled with the side-effects. They all said the same thing: cannabis was giving them the benefits of the drugs without the side-effects. I now have my own practice in a suburb of Los Angeles.

In August 2013, CNN journalist Dr Sanjay Gupta told the story of Charlotte Figi, a little girl with a severe seizure disorder. Gupta was convinced she had benefited from taking cannabis. It generated a lot of interest. The parents of children with disorders like Charlottes wake up every day knowing their child could have 45 seizures and end up in hospital.

Earlier in my career, I was the chief resident at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles; today, children with intractible epilepsy are a large part of my practice. The goal is seizure freedom for the child: we dont always get that, but the vast majority are seeing seizures reduced by 50% or more.

There is a change under way in the medical community. Doctors who listen to their patients are hearing these people stop asking for Vicodin, sleeping pills, benzodiazepine. I think doctors are finally opening their eyes to the fact that cannabis is safe; in a lot of cases it reduces or eliminates the need for prescription medicine.

Julie Berliner, 31, Sweet Grass Kitchen, Denver, Colorado

Julie
Julie Berliner: Cannabis is the most exciting industry. Photograph: Pietro Chelli/Institute

I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2009 with a degree in education. It was tough looking for a job in the middle of the recession, but dispensaries were opening up in town. It really was the wild, wild west back then: there were no rules for who could open a shop, or where they could open it.

A friend who had a dispensary tried some chocolate-chip cookies I made and asked if Id be willing to turn them into cannabis cookies for him to sell. When I said OK, he handed me five pounds of weed and said, Here you go.

Id never made cannabis cookies before, but decided to use the traditional method of infusing butter in a crock pot. I started baking fresh cookies and walking them over to the store for packaging. Today, with all the rules, its impossible to sell cannabis cookies the day they were baked, but back then you could.

I also worked at the shop as a receptionist, to better understand the industry. I liked helping people to feel better, or have a great time.

In the summer of 2010, it became necessary to have a license. It cost $1,000; but more significant than the money was that I knew if I went down this road I wouldnt be able to go back. There were no school principals who would be intrigued by my time baking weed cookies.

It also became necessary to create a commercial kitchen. Very few property owners were willing to lease their space to cannabis, and I decided to build a transportable kitchen in a race-car trailer. It still needed a fixed address. When I met with a potential landlord he was an older man with big bushy eyebrows. I could tell it was going to be a hard conversation, but he agreed to rent me space for our cherry red mobile kitchen. He has come to be one of our strongest supporters. We now lease the entire building and use the trailer as a smoking room and an inspiring part of the tour for visitors.

Cannabis is still the most exciting industry, but its starting to slow down. In many ways thats a good thing: were all settling in rather than hanging on.

Alex Halperin writes a fortnightly cannabis column, High Time.

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Marissa SafontIm a pot evangelist: meet America’s dope queens
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How Uruguay made legal highs work

The South American countrys move to full legalisation of cannabis has so far proved a success, especially for its 17,391 users

Every afternoon a long queue of people gathers outside a tiny neighbourhood pharmacy in Montevideo. The shop is so small that they can only be let in one at a time. Its a slow process but the mostly young clients dont seem to mind. They stand outside or sit on doorsteps chatting in groups of twos and threes as they wait their turn in the warm southern spring.

A chemist inside in a green medical coat asks them each to press their thumb on a fingerprint scanner. The electronic device is connected to a central government computer that will either authorise or deny the purchase of their allotted 10 weekly grams of legal marijuana. It is a state-controlled, high quality product guaranteed to provide excellent highs.

On the street 25 grams of marijuana would cost you 3,000 pesos, thats about $100 for something with probably a large amount of pesticide, seeds and stems, says Luciano, a young buyer who is next in line. But here the same amount would cost you only $30, and it comes in guaranteed, premium quality, thermosealed 5g packs.

In July this year, tiny Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise the sale of marijuana across its entire territory.

The most important thing has been the change of paradigm, says Gastn Rodrguez Lepera, shareholder in Symbiosis, one of the two private firms producing cannabis for the governments Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. Uruguay dived in at the deep end without too much international support. They said it wouldnt work. Well, its working now.

With a population of only 3.4 million, squeezed in between its two giant South American neighbours Brazil and Argentina (population 208 million and 43 million respectively), Uruguay has long been at the forefront of liberal policies not only in South America but worldwide.

A divorce law that allowed women to separate from their husbands simply by asking a court for permission was passed as far back as 1913. Abortion was legalised in 2012, with Uruguay the only country in Latin America to do so apart from Cuba.

Part of the reason for Uruguays liberal temperament is a longstanding separation of church and state in a region where the Catholic Church remains dominant. There is no official Christmas day on Uruguays state calendar. Most Uruguayans refer to the holiday by its government denomination of family day. Easter week is referred to as tourism week.

Uruguay locator map

Uruguays switch to a legal marijuana market has not been without its hitches, however, notably the resistance of most pharmacists to act as outlets for the recreational marijuana (medical marijuana remains illegal in Uruguay).

Only 12 of the countrys 1,100 pharmacies have signed up so far to supply the 17,391 government-registered consumers served by the system, which explains the long queues outside. The low price and slim profit margin partly explain their reticence. But the main problem is that banks have threatened to close the accounts of pharmacies selling marijuana, said one chemist who sells marijuana in Montevideo, but who did not want to reveal his name for fear of such bank intervention.

Although sales of the drug have been legalised in various US states, they remain illegal at federal level, leading to a situation where most banks refuse to handle marijuana-related accounts anywhere in the world. Even now that sales in Uruguay have been completely legalised, the fear of running into trouble with the US federal authorities has become concrete.

The problem with the banks was an unforeseen hitch, says Eduardo Blasina, president of Montevideos cannabis museum, set in an old house in the artsy Palermo district of the capital city. But these bumps will get smoothed out eventually.

The potency of the original government-licensed marijuana also failed to satisfy consumers at the start. The government made a mistake because the first batch they released to the market in July had a potency level of only 2% THC, says Blasina.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis content. This is much lower than the levels found in legal recreational weed in US states like Colorado.

The government quickly got the message and has now upped the content to 9% THC, says the Montevideo pharmacist. A consumer himself, he adds: Ive tried it and I can assure you that it provides a most satisfactory experience.

Registered
Registered users queue outside a pharmacy to buy legal marijuana in Montevideo. Photograph: Andres Stapff/Reuters

For those who would rather not buy their legal weed at a pharmacy, Uruguays marijuana law allows consumers to plant their own at home (up to six plants) or join special privately run cannabis clubs with a maximum of 45 members who are allowed to withdraw 40g per month from the clubs crop.

The transformation of consumers has been astounding, says Blasina. Theyve gone from buying low-quality products from street dealers to becoming gourmet experts who compete with the crops at their clubs.

Confident that pharmacists will eventually find a way to work round the refusal of banks to handle their accounts, Blasina is more worried about the ban on selling legal marijuana to visitors from abroad in a country where tourism keeps growing, partly due to Uruguays beautiful beaches, but also because of its growing reputation as a liberal haven in South America.

Visitors arrive here hoping to enjoy freedom in one of the most liberal countries in the world, so they feel disappointed when they find out they cant buy legal marijuana, says Blasina. They end up buying it on the street, which contradicts the whole point of the law, which is to cut traffickers out of the business.

Blasina and others have started pressing the government for the passports of tourists to be stamped with a permit to purchase a small amount of marijuana during their stay. A record number of visitors will arrive this summer and what will we say to them? Sorry, you cant smoke? he says.

There are ways round the problem, however. The quality of the marijuana is so high that the 40 monthly grams permitted by the government far exceeds what I could smoke on my own, says one Uruguayan who works with foreigners travelling here. So I always have enough to share around with visitors.

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Marissa SafontHow Uruguay made legal highs work
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Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community and co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

Dennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72

  • Activist was prominent in San Francisco gay community
  • Peron co-wrote California Proposition 215, legalizing medical pot

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Marissa SafontDennis Peron, father of medical marijuana in California, dies at 72
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