MJ News for 05/30/2014


Jul 25, 2008
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House votes to block feds from targeting medical marijuana in states where it's legal

The GOP-controlled House voted early Friday in favor of blocking the federal government from interfering with states that permit the use of medical marijuana.

The somewhat surprising 219-189 vote came as the House debated a bill funding the Justice Department's budget.

The amendment by conservative GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California -- the first state to legalize medical marijuana -- came as almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical uses, such as improving the appetites of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

"Public opinion is shifting," Rohrabacher said, noting a recent Pew Research Center that found 61 percent of Republicans support medical marijuana. The numbers are higher for independents and Democrats.

"Despite this overwhelming shift of public opinion, the federal government continues its hard line of oppression against medical marijuana," he said.

Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer told opponents that "this train has already left the station."

Opponents said that marijuana is regulated too loosely by the states and harms the brain.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., cited a recent Drug Enforcement Administration study that said that many in the medical marijuana movement are using it as "a means to an end," meaning legalization for recreational use.

"Congress is officially pulling out of the war on medical marijuana patients and providers," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

The measure now heads to the Democratic Senate.


Jul 25, 2008
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(Delaware) Bill in Legislature would legalize marijuana

Delawareans could legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana for "personal use" under new legislation backed by Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly.

The legislation would set the minimum age for marijuana possession at 21 and would only impose a $100 civil fine on anyone found consuming marijuana in a public place, including streets, parks and sidewalks.

Under current Delaware law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is currently prosecuted as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,150.

Rep. Helene Keeley, a Wilmington Democrat, is sponsoring the bill. The measure could be difficult to move through the Legislature with just a month left in the current session, but at least 14 other Democratic lawmakers have joined Keeley as co-sponsors. No Republicans were listed as sponsors on Thursday.

"This is to start dialogue," Keeley said. "I think that society is evolving just like it evolved when it came to same sex marriage," Keeley said.

Sen. Bryan Townsend, a Newark Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation, called the measure the "first step" in the direction of full legalization and regulation of marijuana sales.

"So many people's entry into the criminal justice system involves possession or use of very small amounts of marijuana," Townsend said. "There are very serious drugs, we need to treat people's addictions and we need to penalize drug dealers. In my mind, marijuana is not in the same grouping as a lot of the drugs we need to be focusing our efforts on."

Republicans, who are in the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly, are likely to oppose the effort.

"I don't believe we need to legalize marijuana," said Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, calling marijuana a "pathway to greater drug use. There was some merit, I thought, to marijuana for medical use for people that are sick. But as far as recreational marijuana, I just don't think we need to go down that path right now. I think my caucus members would feel the same way."

The marijuana proposal comes after a March poll showed more than two-thirds of Delawareans supported the removal of criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, with criminal penalties replaced by civil fines. The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group, and conducted by Public Policy Polling.

If passed, the measure would place Delaware among the most liberal states on marijuana policy. Eighteen states have eliminated jail time for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, though some still impose criminal penalties for repeat offenders.

Maryland lawmakers approved decriminalization legislation this year that imposes $100 fines on anyone found possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana, with mandatory drug education for third-time offenders.

"It is time to stop branding people as criminals for using marijuana, and marking them with a criminal conviction that can derail dreams by making it difficult to get a job, education or housing," said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This sensible measure would allow police to focus on serious crimes instead of people who choose a substance that is safer than alcohol."

Gov. Jack Markell has said he would not support a move toward full legalization of marijuana, but a spokesman for the governor said he is "willing to discuss" changes that would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the drug.

Markell signed legislation in 2011 legalizing marijuana for medical purposes but delayed the program under threats from the federal government. The state recently took bids from seven companies to operate its first medical marijuana dispensary.

Kelly Bachman, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Markell had not seen specifics of the bill on Thursday and has not discussed the measure with Keeley.

"He has expressed interest in ongoing dialogue regarding changing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana," Bachman said, "and this bill provides another opportunity to do so. He looks forward to those conversations."


Jul 25, 2008
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Marijuana Activists Hoping D.C. Won't Leave Legalization Effort High And Dry

“I have to say, I’m a little nervous," Adam Eidinger admits. "Based on the stack I saw downstairs, that's under 2,000 signatures." It's Memorial Day and Eidinger, the chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, is fretting over the amount of signatures his petitioners have turned in for the week. His goal is to have at least 10,000 signatures by day's end in order to be on pace with the July 7th deadline to collect at least 22,373.

For the past several years, Eidinger and what's now known as the Cannabis Campaign have been working diligently to get marijuana legalized in the District of Columbia. In January, they introduced a ballot initiative to legalize the possession and home cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. After some delay from the Board of Elections, the ballot initiative was approved and the group started collecting signatures on April 23, several months after they hoped to begin.

So far, the collection effort has been difficult. At their headquarters—a residential townhouse nestled inconspicuously on Embassy Row between the South Korean embassy and the Mexican delegation to the Organization of American States—a chart tracking their progress is regularly updated. They had collected 18,934 signatures as of Monday, which might seem like they've nearly hit their goal. But of those nearly 19,000 signatures, 16,734 have been processed and only 5,360 are valid.

"It's already been decided that if we bring in less than 15,000 signatures this week we're going to hire more signature collectors," Eidinger says. "Everyone wants to get ahead of the pace." The Cannabis Campaign already has dozens of part-time and full-time signature gatherers—many of whom have traveled from out-of-town for the effort. But the biggest hurdle the Campaign has faced—one that Eidinger didn't fully anticipate—is just how hard it is to gather valid signatures.

In order for a signature to be valid, the signer must be a D.C. resident and a registered voter, which makes collecting a lot more difficult, since many people who want to sign are either Maryland or Virginia residents, or not registered to vote in D.C. The Cannabis Campaign hands out voter registration cards, and Eidinger says they go through them like wildfire.

"We've registered about 1,000 people [to vote]," he says.
But there are other issues that have hindered the process. Some clerical, like if the address doesn't line up with what's in the Board of Election's database, or if a signature gatherer writes down the wrong Ward number. "We're data-entering everything, so we can re-check the validity at the end," Eidinger says. "We're getting a new list of registered voters [from the Board of Elections] every two weeks." And then, of course, there's just the inevitable passage of time: As time goes on, and more people sign the petition, it gets hard to find people who haven't.


The Cannabis Campaign operates on a Monday to Monday schedule, which means their petitioners must turn in their signatures for the week by close of business each Monday. On Memorial Day, no one in the Campaign headquarters is taking a vacation. There's about a dozen people in the house going through each signature, entering them into a database and checking their validity. As they're doing that, collectors are stopping by, handing in a week's worth of signatures and filing their paperwork to get paid.

Each signature gatherer is getting paid for their work. Originally, Eidinger said he would pay people $1 per valid signature, but he's since upped the rates. For a part-timer—meaning someone who's pulling in less than 500 signatures a week—the Campaign pays $1.25 per valid signature for anyone that has a 30 percent or higher validity rate, $1.50 for anyone with a 40 percent or higher validity rate, and $1.75 for anyone with a 50 percent or higher validity rate.

For full-timers—anyone who brings in more than 500 signatures a week— the Campaign pays $2.25 per valid signature, $2.50 if their validity rate is over 45 percent, and $2.75 if it's over 50 percent. The Campaign will give someone a $100 bonus if they pull in 1,000 signatures in a week with a 40 percent or higher validity rate. One person who Eidinger recruited to help gather signatures collected 600 signatures in less than a week, with about a 40 percent validity rate. “He’s the LeBron James of collecting signatures,” Eidinger jokes.

So where is all this money coming from? Part of it is funding from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, who Eidinger has worked with for many years, as well as from the Drug Policy Alliance. About $20,000 has been raised locally from small donors. "I think total what we've raised so far is about $150,000," says Eidinger, "but we haven't filed the report yet so i'm not even sure if that number is correct."

Recently, the Drug Policy Alliance hired Dr. Malik Burnett, a physician and advocate from Montego Bay, Jamaica by way of Atlanta, Ga., to help work on the legalization effort in D.C. Since starting his new job, he's been working closely with Eidinger on ensuring the ballot initiative actually makes it to voters in November. “I think things are going pretty well overall," Burnett says. "Hopefully we’ll be well on our way by the time July 7th rolls around.”

Apart from helping fund the signature gathering efforts, Burnett and the DPA are working on long-term strategies: Bringing in the necessary resources to gear up for the general election in November; working with the D.C. Council, specifically Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on his own marijuana legalization bill, which differs from the Cannabis Campaign's ballot initiative as it also introduces taxation and regulation laws; and working on other drug policies in the city. “Who are our [political] allies? That’s where Malik comes in. He plays an important role in figuring that out," Eidinger says.

Apart from Grosso, the Cannabis Campaign hasn't received much support from the D.C. Council, other than verbal confirmation from some Councilmembers that they would follow the will of the voters. Eidinger says Democratic mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser and her campaign "have been helpful in advice," but that's about it. They haven't heard anything from challenger David Catania's campaign, but Eidinger says he'd "rather him say nothing than have him attacking it.”

On Sunday, Eidinger and the Campaign will be joined by Grosso for what they're calling a "Super Sunday Signature Gathering Blitz" in Capitol Hill for some door-to-door canvasing. They're planning to hold a small rally in Stanton Park before splitting up in teams to hit the neighborhood with the goal of obtaining 1,000 signatures in a few hours.


At any given time, there's about seven or eight people from out-of-state living in the Campaign's headquarters with Eidinger, along with even more staying with other Cannabis Campaign board members. After a dismal first week, Eidinger started reaching out to well-known signature collectors in other states that do this for a living—hopping around the country, hooking up with different campaigns to help canvass for signatures. “When the City Paper published that we were hiring people off the streets—which wasn’t exactly true—that whole article made everything here sound ridiculous," Eidinger says. "It made it sound like the worst place. There’s no smoking in the office. There’s no joint rolling going on.”

Indeed, the vibe at the Cannabis Campaign headquarters more resembles a Presidential campaign than anything else (save for Eidinger stepping outside for the occasional joint break. "But that's just who I am," he laughs). And the people he's recruited are all business. “These guys get out before I get up most of the time," Eidinger admits. "They’re out of the door by 7 a.m. and out collecting signatures until 10 p.m. or sometimes even midnight.”

A lot of them, whom Eidinger calls the "unsung heroes of American politics," make their living collecting signatures for campaigns they're politically indifferent about, because they're good at what they do and they know there's money in it. But most who traveled to D.C. for this campaign are doing so because it's a cause they believe in.

One of those gatherers, 30-year-old Levi Johnson, is doing it for more than money: Next month, he's going to prison in Iowa on a six-year sentence for possession and distribution of marijuana. Johnson, who is originally from South Dakota but has been living in Denver the past few years, is a medical marijuana card-holder in Colorado, but was caught with nine ounces of marijuana in Iowa, where marijuana—medical or not—isn't legal.

Johnson says he's been working and volunteering for marijuana legalization efforts for about five years, in both Colorado and California. He decided to spend his last days before his sentencing (he's already accepted a plea deal with prosecutors) helping the effort in D.C.

“I’ve been working my *** off," he says. "I’ve turned in something like 1,300 signatures in the two weeks I’ve been here.” Compared to his work in other states, he says that it's been a lot more difficult in D.C. "A lot of people are from Virginia and Maryland. It’s been the biggest problem in collecting signatures here.” This is Johnson's first time in D.C. and he's mostly been canvassing in Anacostia and Columbia Heights. Most of the people he's encountered have been really excited about the legalization movement and "are really pumped that it’s been decriminalized.”


The end of the day is winding down, and Eidinger is starting to feel a little less nervous. The 2,000 signatures have quickly grown to about 9,000 and more keep coming in. Eidinger just got off the phone with one of his clutch gatherers who said he's bringing in around 2,000 or so signatures Tuesday.
A few hours ago, Eidinger made some calls to out-of-state gatherers to come help out, some he turned down last week because he didn't think they'd need them. “I’m trying to get at least six more people," he said. "At first, I was thinking three, but I think we’re going to need six by the end of the week."

Now, he's starting to rethink those calls he just made. With 12,000 signatures gathered in the last week, they're back on pace for the July 7th deadline, even if only 35 to 40 percent of those signatures are valid.

Since their campaign started, Eidinger has been fielding hundreds of phone calls from people who want to come down and help out in any way they can. “I think if we pass this, this is going to help the whole climate make it so Congress is comfortable," Eidinger says. "It's not going to have the opposite effect and piss them off. It’s going to convince them that the time has come.”

As Eidinger sees it, this is marijuana's moment in D.C. and the Cannabis Campaign is leading the charge.

“I am quite pleased that we are reaching so many people," Eidinger says.

"I know there’s a dialogue starting because of this issue. Some people don’t give a ****, really, about this issue, but the more they think about it, the more they’re glad we’re doing this.”


Jul 25, 2008
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Mississippi, home to federal government's official stash of marijuana

Walk along the narrow, brightly lit beige hallway, along the washed-out linoleum floor, around the corner to the imposing steel vault. As a scientist swings open the door, a familiar, overpowering scent wafts out.

Inside, marijuana buds are packed into thousands of baggies filed in bankers boxes. Fifty-pound barrels are brimming with dried, ready-to-smoke weed. Freezers are stocked with buckets of potent cannabis extracts. Large metal canisters sit, crammed full of hundreds of perfectly rolled joints.

The vault even has boxes of "marijuana trash" — contaminated garbage that a crafty pothead might try to steal for a cheap high.

It is one of the nation's most impressive stockpiles of marijuana — and probably the most controversial.

What makes the cannabis here on the campus of the University of Mississippi unique is that it is grown, processed and sold by the federal government. The stockpile represents the only source of pot allowed for researchers who want to conduct Food and Drug Administration-approved tests on using marijuana for medical purposes.

Researchers can't get anything from the 46-year-old Marijuana Research Project at Ole Miss unless the Drug Enforcement Administration gives the go-ahead. A panel on which the National Institute on Drug Abuse is represented often must sign off too. Some prominent researchers complain approval is unreasonably tough for scientists whose work aims to find beneficial uses for the drug.

That has made Mahmoud A. ElSohly, the scientist who heads the team here, a favorite boogeyman for legalization activists and some researchers.

"It is a bizarre situation," said Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. "The DEA is acting like this is 1935 and cannabis is this extremely dangerous substance."

Indeed, under federal law, the government classifies marijuana as a more dangerous substance than cocaine, one that has no medical use, even as consumers in 21 states and the District of Columbia can legally light up. The DEA guards the stockpile here as if it were plutonium.

Devinsky, for example, is pursuing research involving a chemical in marijuana, known as CBD, which has recently shown promise in suppressing certain types of seizures. The storage vault here contains marijuana with high levels of the substance. But physicians can't easily get at it — nor can their patients, Devinsky said.

Meantime, patients in states with dispensaries can walk up to a counter and buy pot, but with no good information about whether it includes a lot of CBD or a little.

ElSohly is currently ramping operations back up at the 12-acre farm here, which budget cuts have forced him to keep fallow since 2007. He is laying the groundwork to grow 30,000 plants. As he does, he finds himself accused of colluding with the DEA to maintain a monopoly.

But ElSohly, an Egyptian immigrant who has been in charge since 1980, is not so much a collaborator as a scientist stuck in a time warp. He is caught between marijuana researchers and a government agency that remains deeply suspicious of marijuana use even as it controls the million-dollar contract that funds his project.

Just before taking visitors on a tour of an indoor grow room, where he will roll the buds from mature pot plants between his fingers and declare "I love it" as he talks of the rich fragrance, ElSohly ponders the possibility that it will all come to an end as legalization gains momentum.

"I could lose it," ElSohly said of his contract. "But so what? It would be just another research project that is terminated. I could start another.

"Maybe if it becomes legalized, we could start producing high-quality materials for a pharmaceutical product," he adds.

Then, he clarifies.

"The liberalization of those laws really scares me," he says. "To have marijuana available just like that? I feel sorry for Colorado and Washington state. In a few years, you are really going to see the impact of the liberal laws they have there."

Unlike other cannabis researchers, ElSohly says pot should never be smoked. You do that for a high, he said, and there are ways to move the curative chemicals into your system without getting stoned.

For years, he has been trying to get approval to market a suppository. THC, the component of pot that makes people high, is "not absorbed through the rectum," he says.

Business proposals like that have been a point of concern for critics, who accuse ElSohly of exploiting his insider status for profit and failing to recognize that many patients will never be able to afford cannabis in the forms he promotes.

The scientist notes that he has to jump through the same hoops as every other researcher to get trials approved. He doesn't dare bend the rules, he says, since his contract depends on the DEA, and other institutions are eager to have it.

In 2007, a DEA administrative law judge ruled that the University of Massachusetts should also be permitted to grow pot for research. Top officials at the DEA overruled her.

Standing inside his grow room, where hundreds of small plants sit on metal grates, illuminated by industrial-scale lamps hanging from chains hooked to the 30-foot-high ceiling, ElSohly confides that he has never ingested the stuff himself.

"Never ever," he says. "And I can say that with a straight face," he adds.

"It doesn't make sense for me to be working with a controlled substance and be using that controlled substance."

That abstinence has made for awkward moments at cannabis conferences.

"They are always asking ElSohly and me to smoke," said Zlatko Mehmedic, who was a narcotics official in Yugoslavia before joining ElSohly as a top deputy in 1995.

Inside the vault, Mehmedic grabs one of the thousands of baggies of buds sent to him for analysis by law enforcement agencies. Researchers here have been monitoring the increasing potency of pot sold on the street. A few puffs of the rich, green product he is holding could put a novice user in the emergency room, Mehmedic warns.

By contrast, he notes, the Mississippi researchers can say almost nothing about the strength or content of the products sold in licensed dispensaries.

"I would very much like to be able to get some of the materials available in dispensaries, look at them, analyze them, compare them with everything else around," ElSohly said. "But I was categorically told by the DEA, 'You cannot receive materials from a non-DEA registrant.'"

Meanwhile, the university's pot farm remains a source of great interest on campus. Mehmedic looks into the distance at a cluster of student housing abutting the farm's outer security fence and smiles. In addition to farming, there is also some fishing that goes on at the Marijuana Research Project, he says.

"They try, you know, to fish," Mehmedic says of the students, mimicking the motion of casting a line over the fence in an attempt to reel in a pot plant.

All the anglers ever catch are visits from security.

But, Mehmedic adds, still "they try."


Jul 25, 2008
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Reality Check: MN’s New Restrictive Medical Marijuana Law

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota just became the 22nd state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana.

Without public fanfare, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill Thursday morning that legalizes medical cannabis for specific illnesses, but includes some of the strictest controls in the country.

Of the 22 states and the District of Columbia where medical cannabis is legal, Minnesota’s new law is among the most cautious.

Unlike most states with medical marijuana laws, Minnesota does not allow the smoking of marijuana leaves. Only the use of pills, oils, or vaporizing of a cannabis compound through a device similar to an e-cigarette is allowed.
In fact, Minnesota’s strict new medical marijuana law does not allow smoking, home cultivation and allows only two cannabis dispensaries statewide. It’s also a felony to transfer medical pot to a non-patient.

Medical cannabis is expected help about 5,000 patients, many of them children with debilitating illnesses and epileptic-like symptoms.

However, an estimated 33,000 patients with illnesses ranging from muscular dystrophy to PTSD won’t get help, because they’re barred from smoking the leaf.

Gov. Mark Dayton says he signed the medical marijuana law because it includes tight controls, but is adamant about preventing easy access statewide to leaf marijuana.

“It’s fraught with problems,” he said. “And I understand people are unhappy because they really want leaf marijuana grown by the state and made available at their local store. That’s not going to happen.”

The new law also creates a task force to study the effects of medical marijuana.

Patients with qualifying illnesses could begin receiving medical cannabis by summer of 2015.

Here are the qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana under new Minnesota law, taken from statute:

(1) cancer, if the underlying condition or treatment produces one or more of the
3.14(i) severe or chronic pain;
3.15(ii) nausea or severe vomiting; or
3.16(iii) cachexia or severe wasting;
3.17(2) glaucoma;
3.18(3) human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome;
3.19(4) Tourette’s syndrome;
3.20(5) amyotrophic lateral sclerosis;
3.21(6) seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy;
3.22(7) severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple
3.24(8) Crohn’s disease;
3.25(9) terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of under one year, if the illness
3.26or its treatment produces one or more of the following:
3.27(i) severe or chronic pain;
3.28(ii) nausea or severe vomiting; or
3.29(iii) cachexia or severe wasting; or
3.30(10) any other medical condition or its treatment approved by the commissioner


Jul 25, 2008
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The Colorado Symphony Orchestra staged a marijuana-friendly concert. It wasn’t easy.

If you wanted to attend the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s first-ever marijuana-friendly concert last week, you had to follow the rules.

First, you had to be one of the lucky 250 or so who scored an invitation to the event, since the May 23 brass quintet concert, the first of four “Classically Cannabis” fundraising shows in the symphony’s “High Note Series,” wasn’t open to the public. Then, you had to be at least 21 years of age and bring your own cannabis. Finally, warned a lengthy disclaimer on the Web page for the event, each of the guests who donated at least $75 to attend assumed all risk associated with using pot; concert-goers had to agree to not hold accountable “the Colorado Symphony Orchestra … and their owners, partners, employees, directors, officers, agents, affiliates and related entities” if something went horribly wrong.

If you were a member of the media who showed up at the large, modern art gallery hosting the concert last Friday night, there were more rules to follow—such as, according to the press advisory, not going on the gallery’s open-air patio, the only place at venue where people could actually consume marijuana.

This is what happens when you put on a pot-themed classical music concert: you get a lot of rules—not to mention a lot of attention. Reporters from the New York Times and the Times of London prowled the gallery before the show and a camera crew from CBS This Morning zoomed in on the brass quintet as they straightened the special green ties they were wearing for the event. Well-dressed patrons—many of whom were associated with marijuana-related law firms, consulting companies or similar businesses—perused the modern art on the walls, then braved the evening drizzle to grab gourmet tacos and popsicles from the squadron of food trucks stationed out back for the event. In a corner near the front entrance, the dispensaries that, along with a soil company and Leafly, a Yelp-like site for marijuana strains, together shelled out $30,000 in event sponsorships manned schwag tables offering up promotional rolling papers, lighters, and glass storage jars. “We have vape pens as well!” announced Evan Butman, general manager of Wellspring Collective, producing a thin black device from his pocket. Just then, one of the event organizers hurried over. “You cannot give those out to anyone here,” she warned sternly, gesturing at the offending vaporizer.

Ever since Colorado became the first place in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana on Jan. 1, one “first-ever” marijuana-related event after another has drawn crowds and attention. The first day of recreational marijuana sales. The first marijuana tourism junkets. The first recreational marijuana job fair. But the first-ever marijuana symphony concert wasn’t just novel, it was also controversial.

“Of course, we knew we would get some pushback, said Evan Lasky, the symphony’s chief operating officer, of the press release the organization sent out in late April announcing the Classically Cannabis shows, which they were organizing with a local cannabis company called Edible Events. But the ensuing pushback came not from the general public (which, in an informal Denver Post poll, came out two-to-one in favor of the concerts), but instead from Denver officials. The shows, warned city lawyers, risked violating laws prohibiting public marijuana use. So the symphony refunded all ticket sales and made the events invitation only—and in the meantime drew even more media interest, turning the shows into the hottest events around.

“My wife is a publicist, and she’s never seen anything quite like this,” said Lasky of the attention the concerts have generated. Of course, concedes Lasky, the symphony needs that sort of attention, especially if it translates into ticket sales and donations. “We are a typical performing arts organization; we are always struggling financially, that is just the nature of the beast,” he says. Those financial struggles have become increasingly dire. Around the country, several regional symphonies have recently shut down, the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy in 2011, and the Colorado Symphony is struggling with how to make rent for its own symphony hall. To bring in new supporters, the Colorado Symphony has been pursuing various innovative events: joint concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with acts like DeVotchKa and the Lumineers, “Remix” happy-hour concerts geared towards young professionals, and “Beethoven and Brews” performances sponsored by the local craft beer industry. So why not partner with one of the newest and the most lucrative industries in town, even if the product it sells is still illegal under federal law?

Marijuana business stakeholders likewise seemed eager to collaborate. While their industry might be flush with cash, it’s lacking the one thing the symphony could provide: cultural cachet. “What’s great about the event for both the marijuana industry and the symphony is they both suffer from a similar stigma: ‘This is not for me,’ ” said Shawn Coleman, a former principal clarinetist of the Wyoming Symphony who now works as a marijuana lobbyist, as he made his way about the Classically Cannabis event with a glass of punch in his hand and a stylish straw hat perched on his head.

These concerts, however, are about more than just shattering stereotypes about marijuana smokers and symphony goers. Thanks to city lawyers getting involved, the performances are also forcing people to confront a major lingering question about the legal pot industry: Since public pot consumption is still prohibited, how can you hold marijuana-related events? “It’s obviously a huge issue in this state, since we are now telling people from around the world that you can come here and buy cannabis here, but there is nowhere they can smoke it legally,” said marijuana businessman and consultant Kayvan Khalatbari, who produces a invite-only marijuana-friendly Denver stand-up show called Sexpot Comedy. “The discussion about marijuana and public events had to be had at some point, and I would rather have this discussion over an insanely talented group like the symphony rather than a Snoop Dog or Wiz Khalifa concert.”

Maybe that discussion will lead to Khalatbari’s preferred solution: bring-your-own-cannabis “consumption cafes” all around Colorado, similar to venues now operating in Vancouver.

While the state decides how to address such matters, the orchestra had its own tricky question to answer: What, exactly, should an envelope-pushing symphony perform at an ostensibly pot-themed concert? The five-piece brass ensemble seemed to be heralding a brave new world of music by beginning their program with Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra Fanfare,” the ominous, swelling overture that begins Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. But in truth, admitted Justin Bartels, the principal trumpet player who programmed the music, the selections weren’t designed around any sort of marijuana theme at all.

“The thought crossed my mind,” he said before the show. “But then I remembered, you never know when an audience member is actually partaking in alcohol or marijuana anyway.”

So no Led Zeppelin?

“No,” said Bartels, “But we will be doing Zeppelin on June 8 at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre.”*

Maybe it’s for the best the ensemble didn’t try to come up with psychedelic chamber music. As the quintet played through a greatest hits of Debussy, Bach, and Wagner, those in attendance struggled to come up with any examples of marijuana-related symphony music. One classical music fan suggested Hector Berlioz’s hallucinogenic 19th-century epic Symphonie Fantastique, although admittedly, that symphony was based on an opium dream, not getting stoned.

And while everyone from Louis Armstrong to Carl Sagan has sworn that marijuana makes music better, science is divided on the matter. On one hand, being stoned is a state of euphoria, which seems like a pretty good for appreciating music. On the other hand, recent studies have suggested marijuana reduces intelligence, not to mention users’ appreciation of context, and there’s general agreement that during use, marijuana impairs short-term memory and cognition. So even if marijuana primes your brain to embrace the pleasures of a symphony concert, you may be too zonked out of your skull to appreciate its subtleties—or remember much about it the next day.

Whether the cannabis helped or not, the music at the symphony performance was a hit. “I am watching history being made!” exclaimed a gray-haired woman named Roxanne Prescott as she sat on the patio packing an ample amount of “Flo” into her glass pipe. (The symphony never bothered enforcing its no-media policy for the smoking patio.) “I don’t like those I call punk-*** dead-head stoners,” she adds between puffs. “This is more comfortable for me. It feels upper class.”

A few days after the performance, Lasky admitted the successful but staid event “was a little anticlimactic.” (The good news is that the series has already raised $50,000, on target to hit its four-show goal of $200,000.) Maybe the festivities will get feistier at the two other bring-your-own-pot chamber-music shows scheduled at the art gallery later this summer, or at the High Note Series’ big finale: a full symphony performance at Red Rocks on Sept. 13. Yes, the final show isn’t technically marijuana friendly, since Red Rocks is a public venue. But as anyone who’s ever attended a Phish or Widespread Panic concert at Red Rocks can attest, that is one marijuana rule that’s made to be broken.

Correction, May 29, 2014: This piece originally misstated the date of the Led Zeppelin-themed concert. It will be on June 8, not June 4. (Return.)


Jul 25, 2008
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Branstad to Sign Cannabis Oil Bill Today

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is signing into law a bill that legalizes the use of cannabis oil to treat severe epilepsy and one that lessens the penalties for people who unknowingly expose someone to HIV. He’s also signing bills that offer additional tax credits for installing wind and solar energy systems.

The cannabis bill is a victory for mothers of children with epilepsy who persistently lobbied lawmakers.

The HIV bill changes current law and imposes a 25-year prison sentences only when someone intends to transmit a disease without a partner’s knowledge.

The wind energy bill extends the deadline for putting in place wind energy projects and the solar bill increases the annual tax credits available for installing solar energy systems to $4.5 million from the current $1.5 million.


Jul 25, 2008
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Cannabis funding goes legit with pitches to Rockies Venture Club

Legal marijuana's only solution to its banking crisis is an act of Congress, bank and industry experts say, one that will let Colorado's newest and hottest business sector handle its finances like all others.

Speaking Thursday at the first Cannabis Capital Summit, sponsored by the typically conservative Rockies Venture Club, industry leaders said efforts to legitimize the relationship between banks and marijuana businesses isn't the same as legalizing it.

"Put simply, these are businesses that very much want and need a banking relationship, but will continue to press on and succeed even without one," said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, during a panel discussion about banking issues.

The first summit was a day-long, standing-room-only gathering at Mile High Station, whose location near the stadium is an echo of the subject matter's dark past — tucked into a corner of the city, under a highway overpass, rather than in downtown's mainstream.

Nevertheless, venture capitalists swarmed the event, eager to hear industry insiders offer tips, pitches and insight to the multimillion-dollar business that is cannabis and hemp.

Pitches ranged from a commodity exchange for cannabis-related products — much like the corn, soy and pork-belly futures markets work — to a seed-growing operation for a genetically modified product.

"This is more successful than I had hoped," Rockies Venture Club executive director Peter Adams said, noting more than 300 registrants came from as far away as Alaska and Florida.

"Investors are saying it's legal and they're all in," Adams said. "They're treating it like the dot-coms, where some will succeed wildly and others will not."

The tell-tale was a pitch by a cannabis industry supplier that attracted a lot of investor interest at a monthly club meeting earlier this year.

"So much so, one member who missed the meeting made sure not to miss the opportunity and left a $50,000 check under the doormat of my home," Adams mused. "That's when I knew we needed to explore this more."

One of the summit's keynote speakers, Troy Dayton of ArcView Group, a San Francisco angel-investment firm whose members fund cannabis-related projects and businesses, said businessmen and women in the legalized industry are in a better position to impact politics.

"To change the world, there's no need to select one or the other," he said. "But when you're choosing between prison and regulation, regulation looks pretty good."

Politics is what bankers said will be required to change federal laws that keep marijuana illegal and, as such, a headache for them to bank its dispensaries and growers.

"It will take an act of Congress to change things," said Alan Peppers, president and CEO of Westerra Credit Union. "The way it is now, it's simply insufficient for us to knowingly bank the sector."

New legislation in Colorado that would create a credit-union-like cooperative for marijuana businesses to work within is unlikely to gain the federal approval it needs, Colorado Bankers Association CEO Don Childears told attendees.

"As long as it remains illegal under federal law, it cannot be banked legally," he said.


Jul 25, 2008
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House Gives A Raise To DEA As Congressman Asks Why

WASHINGTON -- Members of the House of Representatives from both parties took aim at the Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday, even as the House voted to give the agency $35 million more than it requested.

Members from both parties were set to offer amendments on an appropriations bill that would restrict the DEA from obstructing state industrial hemp programs, and from cracking down on medical marijuana facilities. As of Thursday evening, the only amendment that would have curbed DEA spending was defeated by a vote of 339-66. The amendment by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) would have reduced DEA's budget by $35 million, to the amount of the agency's original request.

"What has the DEA done to deserve a $35 million raise?" Polis asked on the House floor Thursday afternoon. "Why are we singling out the DEA to receive funds above what the DEA itself requested in the president's budget? The DEA has demonstrated time and time again that it can't efficiently manage the resources it already has. It's diverting funds to ridiculous things like impounding industrial hemp seeds, which have no narcotic content, intimidating legal marijuana businesses in states like mine, wasting money on marijuana infractions that are legal in states where they occur."

Polis called DEA chief Michele Leonhart "a terrible agency head" who has embarrassed herself and her agency.

But the DEA has a strong defender in Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the agency. Wolf, who is retiring from Congress, gave the DEA a boost it didn't ask for on his way out the door.

In a House appropriations subcommittee hearing last month, Leonhart said the agency was "on track" after a hiring freeze and would add agents graduating from three training academy sessions this year. Wolf asked whether she could use additional funds, telling Leonhart he "would like to [help]" increase the budget. After consulting with an aide, Leonhart tossed out a $175 million figure that would allow the DEA to expand, saying the agency was only hiring one agent for every two who retired or left.

On the House floor on Thursday, Wolf suggested that House members questioning the DEA budget sent the wrong message to a hypothetical DEA agent watching on C-SPAN in Afghanistan. Wolf also gave personal support to Leonhart, saying she "has given her life to law enforcement for the last 30 years."

"I think she's represented the DEA well," Wolf said. He previously defended Leonhart in a letter to her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, after HuffPost reported that Holder had asked Leonhart to clarify a previous statement that seemed to be out of line with the administration on sentencing reform.

"I think there's been an effort by some in the administration to attack her in a way, it almost reminds me of the Nixon administration," Wolf said Thursday. "I was in the Nixon administration, they had policies whereby they would go after civil servants and career people."

The House is likely to vote on three other amendments Thursday night, including those that would prohibit the DEA from spending money to arrest state-licensed medical marijuana patients and providers, and to block states from importing hemp seeds for industrial hemp research programs made legal in the latest federal farm bill.

UPDATE: 12:40 a.m. -- The House voted early Friday to restrict the Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to go after medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws. The House also approved two amendments to the DEA budget preventing the agency from using funds to interfere in state-legal industrial hemp research.

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