MJ News for 01/09/2015


Jul 25, 2008
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2 Ohio ballot measures propose to legalize marijuana​

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Two proposed ballot measures to legalize medical and recreational marijuana have emerged in Ohio in less than a month.

The latest, on Thursday from Ohioans to End Prohibition, would legalize the purchase, possession and use of cannabis and cannabis products for Ohioans, ages 21 or older. The group hopes to get the Cannabis Control Amendment before voters in 2016.

Vice President Jacob Wagner said the measure differs from a proposal announced in December by Responsible Ohio, which calls for establishing 10 authorized growing locations around the state. The Ohioans to End Prohibition measure would not restrict individuals who want to grow marijuana at home for personal use, only retail sales.

Responsible Ohio hopes to put its ballot measure before voters this fall. The measure also would allow adults, 21 or older, to access marijuana as they do alcohol -- through a market system that's taxed and regulated by the state. Tax proceeds would be distributed to local communities, whose residents would have the power to approve or deny future retail locations through the ballot box.

Ohioans to End Prohibition favor a system where those with authorized medical conditions could get a patient identification card for buying medical marijuana tax-free. Wagner said language that's being drafted would set up a hybrid system like no other in the country.

"We really just want to help Ohio get control over cannabis - production, retail, revenues," Wagner said. "We want to give the people of Ohio a grip on this problem."

Wagner said the announcement by Responsible Ohio prompted his group to accelerate rollout of its proposal, which has been under development for about a year and a half. The group aims to launch a revamped website and finalize the ballot language within the next few weeks.

A team of young professionals is behind the effort -- combining expertise is law, cannabis policy, web design and grassroots political organization, said Wagner, a 29-year-old graduate of Case Western University's law school.


Jul 25, 2008
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Venture capital firm gives marijuana industry a shot of credibility

Despite growing momentum toward marijuana legalization, big-name investors have largely stayed on the sidelines of the budding industry, content to hold out until federal prohibition is one day repealed.

But legal cannabis now has the backing of a major tech investor — one that could inspire other established financial players to join the green rush.

Founders Fund, a leading San Francisco venture capital firm partly run by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, said Thursday that it was making a multimillion-dollar investment in a cannabis-focused private equity firm called Privateer Holdings.

The announcement gives the legal pot sector a shot of credibility as it continues to grapple with conflicting state and federal laws, limited access to banks and no shortage of fly-by-night investors who have sullied the industry with pump-and-dump schemes.

"This is a milestone," said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Assn. in Denver. "It says there are real opportunities within this industry for outsiders to benefit, and it shows the industry is solid enough that an investment firm like this is comfortable stepping in."

Founders Fund is a heavyweight in Silicon Valley circles. The firm's $2-billion portfolio includes Airbnb, Lyft and Spotify. It's known for its moonshot investments — it backs SpaceX, Elon Musk's private spaceflight company.

Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis said Privateer was chosen because it had broad, long-term ambitions and owned vertically integrated brands that handled many aspects of the business, including growing marijuana and reviewing strains.

"Privateer Holdings has emerged as the market leader in legal cannabis, which we believe will become a massive industry within the next decade," Lewis said. "We've been evaluating the cannabis industry for several years, and we haven't seen another company that comes close to Privateer Holdings in terms of strategy, professionalism, talent, expertise and potential for growth."

Privateer's chief brand is Leafly, a website that operates much like Yelp by reviewing dispensaries, strains and doctors. Site visitors contribute to a valuable trove of growing user data that could help market cannabis products down the road.

Privateer, a Seattle company run by three business school graduates (two from Yale), has also invested in Marley Natural, a premium cannabis brand founded by family of the late reggae legend Bob Marley, and Tilray, a Canadian grower, processor and distributor of medical marijuana.

Privateer hopes to accumulate more cannabis brands and position itself as a market leader if federal prohibition is lifted — exactly the kind of game-changing gamble Founders Fund is banking on.

"The investment into Privateer actually fits pretty closely with Founders Fund's M.O.," said Mike Dempsey, an analyst at CB Insights. "They used to have a quote on their website that read, 'We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters' [A reference to the maximum number of characters permitted in a tweet]. That spoke pretty well to their penchant for bold investments and disdain for the average tech companies of today."

Tech industry expert Jonathan Roubini said Founders Fund typically likes to invest in sectors in which there's little established knowledge and the regulatory environment is evolving, such as Airbnb and Lyft.

"They invest in companies that are not popular and are difficult to assess," he said. "Privateer hasn't been a popular investment among large VCs because of marijuana's bad image as well as the difficulty in assessing an industry that has been recently legalized in a handful of states," he said.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have some form of legalized marijuana or have decriminalized marijuana possession.

Privateer's chief executive, Brendan Kennedy, said momentum has shifted toward legalization, and the investment by Founders Fund signals greater acceptance of cannabis in the financial sector.

"Six to 12 months from now there will be investment banks who will have analysts following cannabis like they follow healthcare or agricultural commodities," Kennedy said.

Legal marijuana sales reached $2.6 billion last year, a 68% increase from 2013, according to the ArcView Group, an Oakland marijuana investment and research group. By 2018, sales could reach $10.2 billion.

Founders Fund began courting Privateer in 2013 after a friend of Lewis' used Leafly to fulfill her doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana.

The two firms met for 1 1/2 years before deciding to go through with the investment.

Lewis said there was serious but brief soul-searching about the morality of investing in a cannabis firm. But he and his colleagues ultimately decided throwing their weight behind the professionalization of the industry was a positive gesture.

"Ending prohibition is a moral imperative for the U.S.," said Lewis, who objects to drug laws that crowd prisons and favors legalization that creates regulations, labeling and greater tax revenue.

Both Privateer and Founders Fund declined to provide details on the investment amount. Privateer has raised $50 million in its Series-B round so far and is aiming for $75 million. The firm previously raised $22 million in Series-A fundraising and a convertible bridge note, a type of loan.

Until now, cannabis investors were largely wealthy individuals, friends and family.

Troy Dayton, CEO of the ArcView Group, said Founders Fund "is the first really high-profile, decent-sized fund to come in." Large, institutional funds and investors won't risk putting money into pot companies until such firms are safe to list shares publicly — something that likely requires federal legalization, Dayton said.

"When it comes to getting the industry to the next phase, you need to get out of the private market," he said. "Right now, all the good opportunities exist in smaller seed-stage companies that are private. There still needs to be some maturation to take place before we see Wall Street money."


Jul 25, 2008
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Oklahomans protest decision to sue Colorado over marijuana laws

OKLAHOMA CITY – Protesters gathered Thursday outside of Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, in an effort to stand up against Oklahoma’s decision to sue Colorado.

Despite temperatures staying below freezing, protesters withstood the cold to spread their message.

“The cold is not going to keep us from standing up for an important issue,” said Steve Long, with the Libertarian Party.

The protesters weren’t loud but they had a clear message.

“States have the right to govern themselves and Scott Pruitt, while claiming to support the Constitution, is clearly violating it,” said Chelsea Kennedy, who organized the rally.

Last month, Pruitt and Nebraska’s attorney general decided to sue Colorado, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the state’s legalization laws.

Pruitt said Oklahoma is “being impacted by Colorado’s decision to legalize and promote the commercialization of marijuana which has injured Oklahoma’s ability to enforce our state’s policies against marijuana.”

The original statement goes on to say, “Federal law classifies marijuana as an illegal drug. The health and safety risks posed by marijuana, especially to children and teens, are well documented. The illegal products being distributed in Colorado are being trafficked across state lines thereby injuring neighboring states like Oklahoma and Nebraska. As the state’s chief legal officer, the attorney general’s office is taking this step to protect the health and safety of Oklahomans.”

Protesters say Pruitt’s decision to sue Colorado, claiming the state’s decision has led to more illegal drugs entering Oklahoma, is off base.

“It’s not impacting us. It’s not impacting our laws. It’s not our place to step into another state’s business,” said Kennedy.

“This lawsuit is coming from a state attorney general that has claimed to champion state rights and government overreach, yet at the same time, now he’s fighting against state rights. It’s just hypocrisy at the highest order,” said Long. “It’s just hypocrisy at the highest order.”

Attorney General Scott Pruitt was not available for a comment, but a spokesperson for his office sent us the following statement:

“Civil discourse is a hallmark of our democracy and the attorney general respects those who take advantage of their First Amendment rights to free speech to voice their opinions. To be clear, the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska does not challenge in any manner or form Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for use and possession in that state. Rather, the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska challenges only the portion of Colorado’s law that legalized the commercialization of marijuana because those actions by Colorado have led to an influx of illegal drugs entering surrounding states like Oklahoma in violation of our state laws.”

However, protesters disagree.

“It would not be a profitable measure to go to Colorado and bring it back to Oklahoma,” said Kennedy.

In addition to protesters disagreeing with Pruitt’s stance, other Oklahoma leaders are concerned about the lawsuit as well.

“If the people of Colorado want to end prohibition of marijuana, while I may personally disagree with the decision, constitutionally speaking, they are entitled to do so. Neither the commerce clause nor the supremacy clause grants the federal government the power to regulate intrastate trade or commandeer state and local resources in pursuit of a policy. If citizens of that state don’t like it, they are free to use the process to change the laws or move to another state. The last thing we need is the federal government and the UN trying to dictate our criminal codes and control our commercial activities,” Rep. Mike Ritze said in a letter to Pruitt.

Protesters are hoping the attorney general will reconsider the lawsuit.

“I’m hoping he might change his mind. I don’t have a whole lot of hope for that,” Kennedy said.

Many of the protesters also support legalization of marijuana in Oklahoma, but they say that’s an issue for another day.


Jul 25, 2008
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Potent edibles: How big is Colorado's marijuana snacks overdose problem?

DENVER – When Jordan Coombs decided to visit last year's Denver County Fair with his two little boys, his wife and his father, he never predicted his afternoon would end with a trip to the hospital and thoughts of his own death whizzing through his brain.

“I said it probably 20 times in the car,” Coombs remembered. “I’m going to die. I’m going to have a heart attack right now. I was thinking about jumping out of the car."

Unknowingly, Coombs, 34, had consumed an excess of marijuana-laced chocolates, and the end result, he claimed, was a THC overdose that caused him to projectile vomit and "freak out."

“I felt your typical effects of paranoia and things like that,” he said. “Anxiety, but to the nth degree … and I started to convulse and stuff like that.”

Even before recreational marijuana went on sale here on New Year's Day 2014, Colorado businesses sold marijuana-laced edibles for medical use. But some packages resemble other tasty sweets and have caught some adults off guard with their potency. In some cases, they've also fallen into the hands of children.

Coombs, a video game designer, was not a regular pot consumer (he admitted smoking a little in college), but he was intrigued by Colorado's new retail marijuana laws and said he supported the industry wholeheartedly. Coombs said he event wanted to try a pot edible at some point.

Jordan Coombs, seen at left when he was hospitalized for a THC overdose, said the marijuana edibles he accidentally consumed made him believe that he was having a heart attack and that he was going to die.

Jordan Coombs, seen at left when he was hospitalized for a THC overdose, said the marijuana edibles he accidentally consumed made him believe that he was having a heart attack and that he was going to die.
“It wasn’t on my list of things to do, but in the right circumstance … I might have tried something,” he said.

When he learned the fair had a Pot Pavilion, an exhibition for vendors selling marijuana paraphernalia and advertising new businesses, he asked his father to watch the kids while he and his wife visited the 21-and-up display. There were several signs posted around the pavilion indicating that no actual marijuana was on the fairgrounds, according to Coombs, since state law dictates that it has to be sold at a licensed dispensary.

“There was a lot of pipes and bongs and things like that, and a lot of Bob Marley posters and such,” he recalled. “It was kind of underwhelming.”

But a display of chocolates caught his eye.

“They had all the chocolates … like strawberry and mint-flavored ones, and so they had those ingredients all out and none of it was wrapped up, so it kind of looked like a Willy Wonka thing,” Coombs said. "There was just chocolate everywhere."

He said he took a few samples after being reassured they didn't contain any THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“I probably ate like four or five of the bars,” he said, noting that these weren't full-sized candy bars, but closer to fun-size candy handed out at Halloween. (On a related note, there were no reported cases of Colorado trick-or-treaters receiving infused candy as some had feared.)

Within about 20 minutes, Coombs felt high and told his wife as much. Then, he said, he progressively lost touch with reality and convinced his family to take him to the hospital.

His wife wasn't sure where the closest hospital was. Paranoid, Coombs accused her of trying to help kill him.

Once they got to a hospital, Coombs was given an IV and a test for THC that he said came back positive. Now, he's one of seven people in a class-action lawsuit against the company that makes the chocolates and he pledges to never again try an edible. The company Beyond Broadway LLC, which does business as Full Melt Chocolate and LivWell, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“One of the problems is that they come in essentially like a Tootsie Roll or one piece of chocolate, and that implies, ‘OK, I can just eat this and I’ll probably be alright,’” Coombs said. “It’s like, ‘No, you need to eat an eighth of that and you’ll probably really feel it.’ That’s not a good way to approach things, I suppose.”

Emergency rules enacted

Colorado's Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center reported at least 56 marijuana-related calls from adults 19 and older between January 2014 and the beginning of December. And while there's no unified collection of data to show how many individuals in Colorado overdosed on marijuana edibles, some hospitals started collecting data on patients they treated.

According Children’s Hospital Colorado, 14 children younger than 10 were admitted for ingesting marijuana edibles in the first 11 months of 2014. Of those, seven were in critical condition and required ICU treatment. In 2013, before recreational pot was legalized in the state, eight kids were admitted to hospital for ingestion.

But that's a big jump from zero in 2008. While medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, storefront dispensaries didn't take off until 2007, when a judge lifted the limit on the number of patients marijuana caregivers could serve.

But in the months that followed legalized recreational sales, two edible-related deaths grabbed headlines. Congolese exchange student Levy Pongi, 19, consumed a marijuana cookie that contained more than six servings of THC during a March spring break trip to Colorado. He then jumped to his death from his hotel's fourth floor.

The Office of the Medical Examiner reported:

According to his friends, the decedent consumed marijuana cookies and soon thereafter exhibited hostile behavior (pulling items off the walls) and spoke erratically. The decedent’s friends attempted to calm him down and were temporarily successful. However, the decedent eventually reportedly jumped out of bed, went outside the hotel room, and jumped over the balcony railing resulting in him landing on the interior atrium floor. The decedent was pronounced at the scene.

In April, Kristine Kirk called 911, pleading for help, after her husband consumed marijuana-infused candy. She told operators he was hallucinating and holding a gun. She was shot and killed before help could arrive.

In the wake of those cases, Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue State Licensing Authority, signed a series of emergency rules in July affecting retail edible marijuana products' sales, labeling and packaging to “help ensure the public is adequately protected when they purchase retail marijuana products.”

The new rules, some of which go into effect this year, declare that 10 milligrams of THC is a serving size and require products to be easily divided into obvious servings. And when the Colorado Legislature reconvenes this week, regulation of edibles is expected to be on the agenda.

Ron Kammerzell, who was one of the people charged with implementing legalized marijuana retail sales in Colorado, acknowledged to America Tonight that he didn't anticipate the issue of overconsumption of edibles when it came to recreational consumers.

"The average consumer for medical marijuana is extremely knowledgeable about the effects of THC, the effects of how edible products interact with their bodies," said Kammerzell, the senior director of enforcement at Colorado Department of Revenue.

"Some of the edibles that are produced are a cookie," he continued. "Well, the cookie might have 60 to 100 milligrams of THC in it. For a retail user who doesn't know about the effects of THC ingestion, he views that cookie as if anyone would a cookie: as a single serving."

For Tripp Keber, the head of Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, one of Colorado's largest edibles manufacturers, the new rules required expensive changes on his production line.

“We lost about 30 percent of our product line to this new set of emergency rules,” said Keber, whose company was not the one named in Coombs' lawsuit.

The Colorado Bar, one of Keber's best-selling products, was available in 100 milligram recreational doses and 300 milligrams for medicinal patients. It couldn't be easily divided into 10 milligram recreational doses, so it will be retired in February and replaced with the 10 milligram White Chocolate Peppermint Bar.

“It cost the company between $310,000 and maybe $350,000. We’re still tallying up, so an incredibly expensive move,” he said, adding that edibles make up about half of Colorado's marijuana industry.

“Of course, there’s a knee-jerk reaction, which is just, ‘Rats!’ But the fact of the matter is that, like most people in this industry, we want to do better. And so that $350,000 – if we can save one or 100 lives, obviously there’s a [return on investment] there.”

To minimize the risk of kids eating marijuana edibles, some wonder whether they could look like something other than candy and cookies. Keber said his team is focused on developing innovative deliverance systems that will allow adult consumers to "embrace cannabis in any form he or she wants," while continuing to "work hand-in-hand with the state however to ensure that that's done responsibly."

Keber said demand for his products is enormous. And when Colorado health officals raised the idea of banning edibles in October, it was quickly skewered by industry advocates and others as bad policy and unconstitutional. When the Colorado Legislature reconvenes this week, regulation of edibles is expected to be on the agenda.

But Keber also said it was tragic that people had been sickened by overconsuming edibles.

“Really, what it represents is the immense need for additional consumer education. That means [for the] first-time user of [a] cannabis-infused edible – no more than 5 milligrams," he said, echoing a piece of advice from his company's website: "Go low. Go slow.”


Jul 25, 2008
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The Cannabis Queen of Beverly Hills

Cheryl Shuman, founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, arrived at the Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, an upmarket medical-marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, in a red 2010 Ferrari California, a gift, she said, from a friend. She had come to get supplies for a “mansion party” that she was hosting the following evening, one of the semiregular events she organizes with her daughter, Aimee, to promote their marijuana enterprises.
Shuman, a tall 54-year-old blonde with the unflagging cheer of someone accustomed to being noticed, handed the keys to Perennial’s valets with a Mae West-inflected “Careful, boys.” She headed inside to present her state-issued Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

“Did you miss me?” she asked the receptionist. A polite, potbellied man who appeared to be under the influence of Perennial’s offerings, he brightened at her greeting. “Always,” he replied, as he reached under his desk to buzz her into the marijuana room.

Shuman uses marijuana for a variety of medical conditions, including hypertension and a benign mass on her liver. She typically begins each day with a “power smoothie” of marijuana, wheatgrass and vegetables. She ingests the drug regularly via a vaporizer and seasons her food with it as well.

Shuman says the B.H.C.C. supplies its 50 members from a 68-acre marijuana farm in Northern California that she started in 2008. (She has another 1,700 “social media” members who can attend club parties but can’t sample the goods.) Today, however, Shuman wanted a wider variety for her event: a dinner that would feature a “cannabis tasting” paired to each course.

‘Growing up, I knew I was going to start a family business. I just didn’t know it would be in pot.’

A strong aroma, floral and skunky, pervaded the marijuana room, which was dominated by three fluorescent-lit display cases. One was stocked with an array of “edibles,” including marijuana-laced brownies, pretzels and goldfish-shaped crackers. Another contained 13 small jars, each filled with one of the marijuana strains available that day. The third case held Shuman’s line of Beverly Hills Cannabis Club products: golf shirts in long and short sleeves; ashtrays; hemp-infused shampoo and olive oil; and a line of hand-held marijuana vaporizers.

Shuman conferred with her friend Sam Humeid, Perennial’s owner, about which strains to bring to the party. A former financial planner with heavy-lidded eyes and spiky hair, Humeid was unabashedly stoned. Shuman showed him the dinner menu for the event, which she had printed on heavy-stock paper and embossed with the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club logo. He scratched his chin with one finger for a few seconds, lost in thought.

“Now I’m really hungry,” he said. “Thanks, Cheryl.”

From the first case, Shuman chose 3.5 grams each of Juicy Fruit, Super Lemon Haze, Maui Wowie, Cannatonic and her favorite, Phyllis Diller, so named because once ingested, everything seemed funny. She studied a photo of Diller on the display case, dressed in a florid pantsuit and brandishing a cigarette holder. “I need to get one of those for my next photo shoot,” she said of the cigarette holder.

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Shuman’s entrepreneurial approach to marijuana has not endeared her to her peers more firmly rooted in the activist world, many of whom view advocacy as a cause, not a market opportunity. In 2011, for example, Shuman was forced off the steering committee of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml) Women’s Alliance, after it was discovered that she used the group’s email list to promote her marijuana interests. (Shuman denies using the list improperly.) Diane Fornbacher, a founding member of the alliance who has clashed repeatedly with Shuman, told me: “She may be good at publicity and things like that. But she’s not interested in reform.”

Shuman draws little distinction between business and activism, and in fact regards the former as a more effective approach to the latter. “I can stand on a corner waving a sign, and no disrespect to the people who do that,” she told me. “Or I can go on national television and reach millions of people.” Her most prized guests for the event the following evening would be the executives from FremantleMedia, the production company that brought to the United States the franchises that “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” are based on. Fremantle had entered into a partnership with the documentarian Morgan Spurlock to co-produce a reality show (working title: “High Society”) starring Shuman and Aimee. Ultimately, Shuman’s ability to generate publicity means that she cannot be excluded from activism conversations. “Cheryl Shuman is always selling herself,” Allen F. St. Pierre, executive director of Norml, told me. “When I see her fluffing it up on television, it drives me crazy. But she’s leading the discussion.”

When California passed the first medical-marijuana law in 1996, the legal landscape for marijuana has undergone a significant transformation. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia currently have medical-marijuana programs. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to enact recreational-marijuana laws; Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia passed similar measures in November. (Congress blocked portions of the district’s law a month later.) This legal shift, and the broader cultural one surrounding it, can be attributed, at least in part, to the increased acceptance of marijuana by women.

“Before 1996, women were the hardest group to get traction with,” St. Pierre told me. “But over time, the narrative changed with them, from ‘Just Say No’ to compassion, to marijuana as a medicine, as something you shouldn’t go to jail for using.” Women are like the battleground states of marijuana: Any bill that hopes to pass must be framed in terms likely to appeal to them. All of which means that women like Shuman — highly visible members of the still-small cadre of women willing to talk publicly about marijuana — are power brokers. They also act as a counterbalance to all the unsophisticated stereotypes of the marijuana user: the glazed-eyed hippies, the bong-ripping frat boys and the blunt-huffing hip-hop stars. Shuman is none of these things. She likes to refer to herself as “the Martha Stewart of marijuana” and holds the trademark on the phrase “Stiletto Stoners,” injecting a note of female glamour into the pot debate.

Shuman spoke of her holding company, Cheryl Shuman Inc., as the base from which to start a profusion of future marijuana-related ventures, some of them more plausible than others. There would be Stiletto Stoners, a clothing line for fashion-conscious marijuana users; the Hautevape vaporizer for women (gold-plated, pavé-set diamonds); Cannalebrity, a digital marijuana-celebrity magazine; and Shaman Therapeutics, which would retail cannabis-and-herbal remedies in pill, salve and other forms. “I want to do 420-friendly resorts,” she said, using a slang term for marijuana, “420-friendly yoga studios, Internet cafes, assisted-living centers.” There is, she said, “no limit to how big this can be.”

For the party, Shuman rented a faux-Italian villa on a winding private-access road in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. She hadn’t arrived when I got there at noon, but one of her “brand ambassadors,” an athletic college student from New Jersey named Briana, took me on a quick tour of the house — vast kitchen, vaulted ceilings, elevator — before depositing me at the poolside gazebo.

Shuman showed up in the early afternoon. After a quick inspection of the house and a chat with the chef, she settled into a chair in one of the bathrooms to have her makeup and hair done. Shuman knew the stylist from the “old days,” before marijuana, and they chatted amiably about her hair, their mutual friends and how satisfying she found it to work with her daughter. “Growing up, I knew I was going to start a family business,” she said. “I just didn’t know it would be in pot.”

Shuman was born in Buena Vista, Ohio, a tiny farming hamlet in the rural Appalachian corner of the state. “We literally grew up in a holler,” she said. Her father, a musician, left when she was a child. As a young woman, she parlayed a self-published coupon-clipping newsletter into a recurring segment as the Coupon Queen on a nationally syndicated TV news program called “P.M. Magazine,” after the producer dispatched to do a story on her got lost. “I ended up on camera, presented the stuff,” she said. “My attitude was ‘No one knows this better than me.' ” In 1983, however, she was badly injured in a car accident and lost her spot on the show during her recovery.

Twenty-three, unemployed and a single mother (she had divorced her husband, her high-school sweetheart, with whom she had Aimee), Shuman searched for her biological father in Los Angeles, where she knew he was living. She found him after three weeks spent living in her car. “Knocked on dad’s door,” she said. “But his wife wasn’t too thrilled to see me.”

Shuman ended up working a $5-an-hour job at an eyeglass store in Encino. She made friends with a prop master working on a film starring Shirley MacLaine. MacLaine’s character wore glasses, and Shuman offered to go to the set to do measurements for the frames and lenses. “In Appalachia, everyone made house calls,” she said. “It was as normal as breathing for me.” Shuman turned that chance encounter into a million-dollar business, Starry Eyes Optical Services, which provided eyewear for movies and TV shows like “Malcolm X,” “Terminator 2,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Murphy Brown,” “Cheers” and many other productions. She also did a turn on the QVC shopping network as the Optician to the Stars, demonstrating her natural affinity for both cross- and self-promotion. “I was the only one doing this, and people were really captivated by my story,” Shuman said. “The coupon queen, the car crash, a single parent living in her car. I was an urban legend.”

In 1995, Shuman’s already cinematic story line veered to the bizarre, in the person of Steven Seagal, whom she had fitted for glasses on several films. The tabloids learned that Shuman had sued Seagal, the pony-tailed martial-arts expert and action-film star, for sexual harassment and breach of contract after an alleged sexual liaison. Shuman further accused him of hiring thugs to threaten her life, in retaliation for bringing the suit, which was ultimately dismissed. (At the time, Seagal’s lawyer called Shuman’s claims “frivolous and without merit.”)

Shuman’s eyewear business collapsed after the scandal. She says she spent several years in semihiding, worried that Seagal was out to get her. Shuman was reluctant to tell me much about her time underground, describing it only as “a strange nomad space where I lost everything.” She broke into tears on the phone when I asked where her children were. (Shuman has another daughter from her second marriage, which also ended in divorce.) “I didn’t see my kids for a couple of years,” she finally said. “It still breaks my heart.”

In 2006, Shuman found out she had ovarian cancer. She underwent a radical hysterectomy, but the cancer spread to her colon and bladder, and she believed her condition was terminal. “I’d clipped a coupon from Pennysaver for my own cremation,” she said. Shuman had been using marijuana since 1996, when she started the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club to help alleviate the stress from the Seagal debacle. Now, though, she began treating herself with high-doses of marijuana oil, which at first she had to smuggle into the hospital. “I was bedridden, catheterized, totally dependent,” she said. “Then, in 30 days, I was off my IV morphine pump and all the pharmaceuticals I was being given. I was able to bathe myself and walk. At 60 days, I was able to drive. At 90 days I was back to work full time.”

Many people expressed doubt about Shuman’s illness. Some even suggested that she had invented her diagnosis and recovery as a means of self-promotion. (The American Cancer Society warns of “serious health consequences” for those who rely on marijuana for treatment.) Shuman laughs off her doubters: “Yes, I made up having cancer to get a reality show seven years later.”

Dinner began just past sunset with a beet salad and a tutorial from Shuman on how to operate the FlowerMate Vapormax V, a hand-held vaporizer designed to resemble an iPod Mini. She unscrewed the white silicone mouthpiece from the top and sprinkled a pinkie-size amount of Juicy Fruit — her suggested accompaniment for the salad course — into the exposed heating chamber below. A Vapormax awaited each of Shuman’s 13 guests, positioned on their place settings next to the wineglasses.

“You have to click the button five times in a two-second period, until the light turns red,” she said, indicating a power button that activated the heat, which would convert the marijuana to a vapor. Shuman sipped ruminatively from the gadget, then exhaled a fine white mist toward a low-hanging chandelier. One of the Fremantle executives, a sharp-eyed man in his 40s, fumbled with his Vapormax.

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“Take the mouthpiece and screw it in the top,” Shuman said, coaxing him along.

“I’m basically smoking beet juice here,” he said.

A waiter circulated among the tables with a Cannador, a walnut-and-cherry-wood box designed to store marijuana at the proper humidification levels. He offered the guests a choice from among the strains Shuman had brought.

“Do we only get to choose one?” David Dinenberg asked. Dinenberg, a suntanned transplant to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, and his wife, Jen, who had dressed for the party in a clingy black dress and rakishly angled fedora, were the co-founders of KindBanking, a financial-services enterprise for marijuana businesses. They had hired Shuman to do PR work for the company. “We did our research,” Jen said. “And she was everywhere.”

Aimee Shuman assured David Dinenberg that he could have as much as he liked. “In that case, I’ll do Juicy Fruit,” he said, picking up his Vapormax. “I just suck?” he asked.

Shuman provided tasting notes and a brief botanical history for each strain. Super Lemon Haze was a crossbreed of “Lemon skunk and Super Silver Haze, grown from greenhouse seeds”; it was, she warned, “not the best strain for people wound tight.” Maui Wowie “leaves you energetic and inspired,” while Cannatonic, she said, lived up to its appellation. “Do not drive home on this.” Most of the guests, however, gravitated toward Phyllis Diller, which one of the Fremantle executives described as the “Red Bull and vodka” of marijuana.

Urban Smedeby, a fair-haired investment banker originally from Sweden, surveyed the gathering with an incredulous smile. He was not a marijuana user. “I’m in the twilight zone,” he said. “This is a little bit far out for me.” His firm, Bridgewater Capital, was based in Irvine, and he had driven up to vet Shuman for investment. “We don’t have a clear view of her, what her revenue model is, frankly,” he told me over the phone a few days earlier. “We need to find out if we give her five or 10 million dollars, what will she do with it.”

At another table, Jen Dinenberg was telling Shuman and another guest, the founder of an activist group called Moms for Marijuana International, about “the talk” she recently had with her two young children. “They need to know what Mommy and Daddy do,” she said.

Her husband smiled his agreement, and plucked at his Vapormax, which was empty. Shuman refilled it with Super Lemon Haze, noting that this strain had been a Cannabis Cup winner. She asked if Jen had ever been to the Cannabis Cup, a large marijuana festival and competition organized annually by the magazine High Times. She laughed and said, “No, I don’t get down with the hippies.”

The conversation shifted to whether the rapidly growing marijuana industry had entered a bubble. The consensus was that it had not. David Dinenberg, whose company planned to offer a debit card called the KindCard, envisioned a future suggested by the party, in which marijuana and high-end cuisine were commingled. “You’ll see it in Aspen first,” he said. “Because it’s legal.”

During a break between courses, Shuman called her guests to attention. She thanked everyone for attending and predicted great things for the coming “pot-com boom.” She teared up for a second as she praised the “fine cannabis, fine food and fine company.” She paused to collect herself and looked intently at her daughter. She seemed unsure what to say next, stunned by the effort to fathom the benevolent and strange forces that had led to this moment in her life.

“That’s an amazing speech,” Aimee said, breaking the moment. “But you didn’t mention me.”

Not long after the party, Shuman began exploring a move to Nevada, which is expected to vote on a recreational-marijuana ballot measure in 2016. “Nevada is the promised land for us,” she told me. “I want to be in Vegas when it goes live.” The show with Fremantle never did get off the ground, though. The cable networks declined to take a chance with family advertisers on a mother-daughter pot team. But Shuman didn’t mind, claiming that Fremantle wanted to make her into “the Kim Kardashian of pot.” She added: “And that’s the last thing I would want.”


Jul 25, 2008
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United Cannabis of Denver to help Calif. Indian tribes grow marijuana

Denver-based United Cannabis Corp. is proposing to team with Native American tribes in California to grow and manufacture medical marijuana products.

United Cannabis has signed a consulting and licensing deal with a company that will build up to three cultivation and processing facilities on tribal lands.

FoxBarry Cos. LLC, a firm that helps tribes with economic development projects such as farms and casinos, has pledged $30 million to develop the facilities. FoxBarry, in turn, will have exclusive distribution rights for United Cannabis products in California.

"We will bring our proprietary products and consulting expertise out to the tribes in California," said Chad Ruby, chief operating officer of United Cannabis.

Among other products, United develops pot strains with varying ratios of THC — the psychoactive ingredient that makes users high — and non-psychoactive cannabidiol, or CBD, which has purported medical benefits.

Ruby said that "active" and "inactive" products would be developed at the tribal facilities. Products would be shipped to and sold at licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in California.

The first proposed grow and manufacturing facility under the United-FoxBarry deal would be on Pinoleville Pomo tribal land in northern California's Mendocino County. Future facilities would be built in central and southern California.

The licensing agreement calls for United to receive $200,000 in prepaid royalties and 15 percent of net sales.

The U.S. Justice Department said last month that Indian tribes can grow and sell marijuana on their lands as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug.

Ruby said the new venture was not a direct result of the DOJ ruling. However, he said that federal approval gives the project a measure of protection in a state where some dispensaries and grows have been raided and where regulations vary from community to community.

United last year announced the creation of the Jamaica-based Cannabinoid Research & Development Co. Ltd. with a mission to "help restore the purity of (Jamaican marijuana) strains and standardize the breeding process."

Jamaica has drafted legislation to decriminalize marijuana, a cultural icon of the Caribbean island, even though its use and cultivation is illegal.

In a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, publicly traded United reported that in the first nine months of 2014 it had revenue of $91,113 and expenses of $1.2 million, resulting in a loss from operations of $1.1 million.

United's stock closed Thursday at 70 cents. In the past year, it has traded in a range of 6 cents to $10.50.