MJ News for 09/29/2014


Jul 25, 2008
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Marijuana Industry Makes Political Donations

The entrepreneurs of the young U.S. marijuana industry are taking another step into the mainstream, becoming political donors who use some of their profits to support cannabis-friendly candidates and ballot questions that could bring legal pot to more states.

The political activity includes swanky fundraisers at Four Seasons hotels and art auctions at law firms. And members of Congress who once politely returned the industry's contribution checks are now keeping them.

"We're developing an industry here from the ground up. If we don't contribute politically and get out there with the candidates, we can't help shape what happens," said Patrick McManamon, head of Cleveland-based Cannasure Insurance Services, which offers insurance to marijuana growers and dispensaries.

Medical marijuana businesses have been giving to candidates since the late 1990s. With the arrival of recreational pot in Colorado and Washington, the industry and its political influence are expanding rapidly.

Pot is now legal for medical or recreational purposes in 23 states and Washington, D.C. More marijuana measures will be on the November ballot in Oregon, Florida, Alaska and the nation's capital, so many contributions are being funneled into those campaigns and the candidates who support them.

Compared with the donations of other industries or advocacy groups, the political spending by marijuana businesses is modest. But, said Tripp Keber, head of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, which makes pot-infused soda, food and lotion, "the word is out that the marijuana industry has money to give."

Keber attended a summer fundraiser for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed legalization in 2012 but has promised to regulate the industry according to voters' wishes.

"It was interesting to see how he's starting to evolve. I said, 'I'm telling you, I can get 100 people in the room who would be happy to max out,'" or give the state's maximum legal donation of $1,100, Keber said.

A few weeks later, in August, Keber threw a fundraiser at the Four Seasons in Denver with a goal of raising $16,000 for Hickenlooper. The event netted $40,000.

In Washington state, the industry's contributions are channeled into reforms that include reducing the tax rate on pot and kicking some marijuana revenue back to cities and counties to encourage more communities to allow dispensaries, said dispensary owner John Davis, who also serves as director of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics.

Not long ago, most marijuana entrepreneurs were "trying to scrape a few dollars together" to get started, Keber said. "Now this industry is becoming profitable, and we're taking that profit and investing it politically. There isn't a week that goes by where we don't make a political donation."

The Oregon ballot measure has raised about $2.3 million. A medical-marijuana question in Florida has attracted nearly $6 million. And the Alaska campaign has brought in about $850,000. A recreational pot measure in Washington, D.C., attracted few donations, perhaps because it appears almost certain to pass.

Colorado's congressional delegation alone has received some $20,000 this year from the marijuana industry, according to federal campaign-finance data. The true figure is probably much higher because many donors do not mention the drug in campaign-finance disclosures.

The largest federal spender on marijuana advocacy is the Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to donate $150,000 to federal candidates this year, up from $110,000 in 2013. The Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws have also given directly to federal candidates, and tax-exempt industry groups such as the National Cannabis Industry Association can spend an unlimited amount of untracked money.

Politicians who used to reject checks from pro-marijuana donors "aren't doing that anymore," said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance.

Still, the same candidates who cash the checks aren't always keen to talk about it. About a dozen recipients of marijuana money declined interview requests or did not return calls from The Associated Press.

A Colorado state lawmaker who accepts marijuana-industry donations conceded thinking twice before taking them.

"I always worry about what people's perceptions will be," said Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat who is the only sitting Colorado legislator who supported legalization. "But it came down to, I'm on record for where I stood before I ever took a penny from this industry."

Todd Mitchem, a Denver marijuana industry consultant, recalled a fundraiser earlier this year thrown by a maker of cannabis vaporizer cartridges for a state legislator. When the company posted photos from the event on its Facebook page, the lawmaker asked that the images be taken down.

"They just didn't want to be seen. They were still taking the money," said Mitchem, who declined to name the lawmaker.

The only member of Congress who responded to the AP was Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, a longtime ally of the marijuana industry who has proposed federal legalization.

"As long as this industry Is following our state marijuana laws," Polis said in a statement, "their contributions are the same as those from any other legal donors."


Jul 25, 2008
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Colorado rolling out 30 new tests to regulate marijuana industry

Medical and retail marijuana dispensaries in Colorado will receive about 30 new rules related to almost every aspect of their businesses.

The state Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) released the new rules Thursday. They change such things as the start-up licensing fees, and rules for cultivation, production, edibles, sales, employee training and product testing. Right down to a hand-washing requirement.

State officials have contended that Colorado's recreational marijuana industry is a work in progress, and these new standards underscore that fact.

"I think the new rules make a lot of sense," said Mark Slaugh, CEO of iComply, a cannabis industry compliance and consulting firm. "We're putting out consumer education and teaching business owners and workers how to be responsible vendors, from a business decision, it's a no-brainer."

Among the new rules is a revision of a proposal that caused an uproar at a hearing earlier this month, production caps on greenhouse or outdoor grows. The proposed rule would have allowed greenhouses to produce only half the amount of plants allowed at indoor or warehouse operations. The new rules do not make that distinction and allow the same number of plants, 3,600, for the first-level cultivation process.

"I think that the state really listened to the greenhouse workers and was responsive to the impassioned testimony," said Meg Collins, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association, and a member of the work group committee writing the production rules.

The enforcement division also established minimum "responsible vendor training" requirements along with minimum public health and safety requirements for anyone manufacturing edible marijuana products. The state has issued 18,666 marijuana occupational licenses. Each individual with a license will be required to meet new minimum training standards if hired by a shop, cultivation center, testing facility or product manufacturer. There are 496 licensed medical shops and another 242 recreational stores in Colorado. The state has received 177 additional applications for recreational stores and grow operations that could be approved by Oct. 1.

"I believe it's our responsibility to be as safe as we can be and make sure every bud tender and customer knows what to expect," said Brian Ruden, a retail and medical marijuana store owner in Denver, Louisville and Colorado Springs. "It's just better for the industry to err on the side of caution when the whole country is looking at the industry now."

Aside from safety and health training, new rules will normalize the amount of marijuana found in any edible - ensuring that a single serving size has no more than 10 milligrams of active THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana. "So that could be something as small as a peanut butter cup or bonbon or as large as a soda," said iComply's Slaugh. "If there is more than one serving in the product, it has to be easily identified."

The serving size rule is meant to ensure a more safe consumption of edible marijuana. Edibles have a greater risk for over consumption because the digestion of marijuana causes a later onset of the effects. Some people respond by eating more.

Testing requirements have also changed. MED will not only require testing for potency in edibles, but also for chemicals like pesticides and for the presence of fungi.

"I already spend a small fortune every month testing, and that is only going up because of all the other things they are testing," Ruden said. "I'm excited for more responsible regulation, but frustrated with the expenses, the licensing fees, taxes and testing."

Others expressed concern with what the new rules don't include.

Marijuana testing facilities will only test product from licensed cultivation centers, not home growers or medical marijuana caregivers.

"We're still not able to know how to dose," said Ashley Weber, medical marijuana patient and caregiver advocate. "From a caregiver's side, not being able to test means you don't know what you're giving your patient and you are never going to be able to be on a consistent level. And for parents with kids with epilepsy, (they) can't know if they are overmedicating their children (or) when (to) give the medication."

MED has not yet considered expanding testing services to caregivers.

Others were concerned that the mass of new regulations might mean more costs, and continuing competitions from the black or gray markets.

"The more rules you have the more challenging it is because we are driving up the price," Slaugh said.

"We can offer a consistent, safe product and a wider variety and you don't have to deal with a drug dealer - I think legitimate market will always drive away the black market - except for the price."


Jul 25, 2008
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(Colorado) 1000 Veterans Line up for Free Marijuana

A marijuana giveaway for veterans attracted about 1,000 people to a Colorado hotel.

The "Grow 4 Vets" giveaway in Colorado Springs aimed to bring cannabis-based treatments to veterans with service-related conditions as an alternative to pain medications.

The Gazette reports ( http://bit.ly/1xsCAFJ ) that veterans were given a bag of items that included cannabis oil, an edible chocolate bar and seeds to grow plants.

Marijuana activists have tried unsuccessfully to have post-traumatic stress disorder added to the Colorado list of medical conditions that qualify for joining the medical marijuana registry. Now that pot is legal for all adults over 21, organizers are free to give away marijuana.

Not all who received the bags were veterans. A $20 dollar donation from nonveterans was encouraged.

A similar event was held last weekend in Denver.


Jul 25, 2008
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PA Senate approves Medical marijuana; future in House uncertain

Pennsylvania is one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana, but time is running short for the legislation this year.

The state Senate approved a medical marijuana bill in a 43-7 vote on Wednesday, sending the bill toward an uncertain future in the state House. Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the legislative session in November, senators on both sides of the aisle celebrated the historic vote — the first time in state history either chamber approved a bill to allow the chronically ill to access cannabis as part of their treatment.

Leach has also sponsored legislation to make recreational marijuana legal in Pennsylvania.
The bill would legalize consumable forms of medical marijuana such as oils, edibles and tinctures but does not legalize smoking or vaporized forms of the drug. It would allow up to 60 licenses for growers and up to 130 licenses for distributors.

“This is going to do a lot of good for a lot of people,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery. “It is cruel and heartless to deny people the best medicine that is available to treat whatever condition they have, as decided by a doctor.”

Leach had introduced medical marijuana legislation in previous sessions — and also offered bills to fully legalize the drug in Pennsylvania — but finally scored success after a sustained effort to persuade majority Republicans medical marijuana has merit.

The bill’s success in the state Senate was the result of an unlikely political alliance between Leach, one of the chamber’s most progressive voices, and state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, known as one of the most conservative members.

Folmer has acknowledged he was originally opposed to legalization until he began studying the issue a few years ago.

“We’ve come a long way from where we started, but we can help people with this bill — people who previously had no hope,” said Folmer.

Both senators gave credit to a group of advocates known as “The Moms” for their efforts to persuade lawmakers.

Members of the group spoke at a hearing in January, giving emotional testimony about the difficulties of treating their children, who suffer from a variety of neurological diseases. Some have risked arrest and imprisonment by obtaining marijuana from the black market or from states where it’s legal to treat their children in Pennsylvania.

“I would like the opportunity to try medical cannabis for my son’s seizures, but I can’t because there are outdated laws that prevent me from doing so,” said Deena Keeney, whose son Christopher suffers from hundreds of seizures each week because of a rare neurological condition.

Kenney doesn’t know whether medical marijuana would improve her son’s condition, but she knows it won’t damage his kidneys, turn his skin blue or cause blindness — all potential side effects of legal pharmaceutical drugs Kenney has used in one failed effort after another to bring Christopher’s condition under control.

Even after the powerful testimony from Keeney and others, the bill seemed stalled in the state Senate. Changes made by the Appropriations Committee on Monday gave it new life and it sailed through the upper chamber later in the week.

Those changes included limiting how the medical marijuana could be consumed and the list of diseases eligible for a pot prescription.

As passed by the Senate on Wednesday, people suffering from cancer, epilepsy, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, MS, PTSD and other brain and neurological diseases would be eligible for medical marijuana.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed those suffering from glaucoma, AIDS, diabetes and recurring migraines to obtain the drug. Those were removed from the bill on Monday, when senators also struck language that would have allowed vaporization and smoking as treatment options, leaving only consumable forms of cannabis in the legislation.

Even with those limitations, an expected 250,000 Pennsylvanians would sign up for a medical marijuana license, according to an analysis from the Senate Appropriations Committee. To obtain cannabis, consumers would have to pay $100 for a special license.

Polls indicate a vast majority of Pennsylvanians — as much as 85 percent in one recent survey — support the legalization of medical marijuana.

Gov. Tom Corbett has voiced tentative support for the bill, as well, but there are no guarantees it will reach his desk.

In the House, the bill will be referred to a committee and will be the subject of at least one hearing, said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

“House members, as well as the general public, need to understand what is in this bill,” Miskin said. Some Republicans have concerns about the bill’s creation of a new state agency to oversee and license growers and distributors, he added.

Most House Democrats support the bill and want to see it pass before the end of the session, said Bill Patton, spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.

“This is a work in progress to help as many as we can,” Folmer said Wednesday. “We have momentum and can build on the firm foundation we’ve laid.”


Jul 25, 2008
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Colorado Supreme Court to hear case of man fired over medical marijuana

Tomorrow, Colorado's Supreme Court will consider whether employers should be able to fire workers for using medical marijuana. Brandon Coats, the plaintiff, is suing Dish Network for firing him in 2010 from his job as a telephone operator after he tested positive for marijuana.
As a teenager, Coats was injured in a car accident, which left him unable to walk.

"I use marijuana at nighttime, and just a little bit gets my spasms to where my body’s not going out of control," he says.

Dish Network did not respond to Colorado Public Radio News' requests for comment, but has said in court that the firing is in line with a policy that complies with federal law making marijuana illegal. Lower courts in Colorado have sided with Dish Network.

Coats has appealed to the Supreme Court because, he says, he wants to work again.

"There’s a lot of people out there like me who would like to have a job but cannot, because their impairment requires them to use marijuana, and because marijuana’s looked down on for employment, they’re not able to get jobs," he says.

Despite the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, Colorado law does not require employers to allow marijuana use. The statute authorizing medical use of marijuana states, "Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place." Amendment 64, which approved recreational marijuana use for Colorado adults, has a similar provision.

But Coats' attorney has cited a Colorado law called the "Lawful Activities" statute, which prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for engaging in lawful activity off the premises of the business during nonworking hours.

Lara Makinen says most employers in Colorado have drug-free workplace policies spurred by the federal Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988. Makinen is on the board of the Colorado chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management. And she says, only a very small portion of employers have relaxed those policies since the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado. Many employers have actually tightened their drug testing policies, according to a survey by the Mountain States Employers Council.

Makinen holds regular phone calls and writes a newsletter for other human resources professionals in the state, and she says she has gotten a lot of questions about marijuana. "They want to know whether to stop drug testing, whether to change their policies," she says. "They want to know, if someone’s smoking pot in their car at lunch, do I have to let them keep working after lunch?"

She says she's sympathetic to Brandon Coats' case, but worries that a ruling in his favor would open up employers to more lawsuits, and potentially embolden some employees to show up at work impaired. "Especially in jobs that have high safety standards, physicians, operating machinery… we have to be able to say as an employer, you have to come here clean and clear-headed," Makinen says.

Coats' attorney, Michael Evans, says his case isn’t about recreational marijuana, nor about using medical marijuana at work.

"We're looking for something that both employers and employees can find a reasonable, working, practical solution," he says. "For somebody in Brandon's situation, who uses it after work, and who's in a safe position answering phone calls from a desk... I think we can find a way to live together and not terminate these people."

The Coats v. Dish case has gotten significant national attention. Makinen says there is no precedent, despite the fact that 22 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. "The bottom line is there’s no one else who has policies on this stuff," she says.


Jul 25, 2008
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(New York) Cuomo seeks U.S. waiver on medical marijuana

ALBANY – Less than a year after he opposed the use of medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is now asking the U.S. Justice Department for a waiver to permit the state to import limited amounts of marijuana for the treatment of seriously ill children and young adults who suffer from rare seizure disorders.

A mid-August letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., followed by another correspondence Friday to the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, seeks federal permission for New York to work with private companies to supply special strains of marijuana that have been found to offer relief for children with the rare forms of epilepsy that can result in hundreds of seizures a day and, in some cases, death.

The letters were obtained by The Buffalo News.

Since Cuomo signed a law in July making New York the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana, at least three children with the seizure disorders have died, including 9-year-old Anna Conte of Orchard Park, whose mother, Wendy, tirelessly worked the halls of the Capitol with other advocates to get the law passed.

“This is an extremely important issue to us, and it will help many children and young adults,” the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, wrote Friday to Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.

“As a pediatrician myself, I cannot urge you enough to consider this exception to the present law as we all only want the best for these young patients,” Zucker added.

While Cuomo signed the medical marijuana legislation in July, a host of hurdles – from its many restrictions to developing a system for dispensing to how the crop can be grown in New York – will keep the program from being up and running until January 2016 or later, state officials told Holder in an Aug. 13 letter.

On Friday, the state told Justice Department officials that it is seeking to identify one or more manufacturers now operating out of state to dispense the drug to eligible children and young adults; it said dispensers would have to meet a variety of New York and federal legal standards and be deemed to have “sufficient moral character” to participate.

While it awaits word from Washington, the state Health Department is already trying to determine how to identify eligible patients. Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they did not know how many children or young adults might be eligible under the temporary program.

The News previously has chronicled efforts of parents to obtain marijuana for their children, including moving to Colorado to get access to Charlotte’s Web, a strain available in an oil-based or pill format that does not get patients high but has provided some seizure relief. New York officials are not believed to be looking at that specific strain, which is proprietary to its not-for-profit grower and dispenser in Colorado Springs. Instead, they are seeking a marijuana compound already produced out of state by several manufacturers that is especially strong in cannabidiol, or CBD, which appears to provide relief to some children, but without the psychoactive effects.

Wendy Conte was among those making moves to relocate to Colorado with her daughter to get access to the marijuana strain, which is only available to Colorado residents. She had obtained a Colorado driver’s license and was preparing to move there next year, when her specific crop was grown and processed, but her daughter died a couple of weeks after the New York law was signed in July. Anna’s story, and her parents’ push for the legislation, was considered instrumental in moving Cuomo and some lawmakers from opposition to support, according to sponsors of the bill.

Lawmakers had a provision in the medical marijuana bill to permit the state, on an emergency basis, to provide limited access to the drug by manufacturers who grow and make the specific strain for children with the seizure disorders while the broader program was being developed by Zucker and the Health Department. Cuomo, however, did not go along with that provision in the final bill.

In July, after Anna’s death, Cuomo wrote to state health officials telling them to find ways to expedite access to marijuana for children with “refractory epilepsy” who have not responded to conventional treatments that parents say can often have their own debilitating side effects.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and transporting it across state lines, as New York is now seeking to do, would require a waiver from the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. None of the states with medical marijuana laws transport marijuana across state lines,, at least openly, New York officials say.

State officials are seeking a “narrow, time-limited” waiver from the federal government that would expire when New York’s broader medical marijuana-dispensing program begins.

That program is highly restrictive. It limits the drug’s dispensing, at least in the beginning, to 10 specific diseases or conditions, including AIDS, cancer, Parkinson’s and certain spinal cord injuries. Unlike all but one other state, it bans the sale of medical marijuana in a smoking form, limiting its distribution to pills, oils, extracts, edibles and vapor-based formats. A total of 20 dispensing sites across the state will be operated by four private companies that will grow and provide the drug to patients who have been preapproved by their physicians and the state Health Department.

Cuomo, at any time, could halt the program on his own if his Health Department or law enforcement advisers raise red flags about its implementation, such as diversion of the drug for recreational instead of medicinal use. Unlike other medications sold in New York, medical marijuana sales will be subject to a 7 percent tax.

In its pitch to the Justice Department, the Cuomo administration said the new medical marijuana law in New York complies with the edicts set down in an August 2013 by Cole to U.S. attorneys nationwide. That memo reiterated that marijuana is illegal and considered dangerous and that the Justice Department will continue to prosecute marijuana-related cases, although its focus would be on a number of specific areas, including preventing its distribution to minors or as ways for criminal operations to make money or drug-related violence.

But the Cole memo, coming with the legalization of the drug in Colorado and the State of Washington, recognized that states can take some steps regarding local law enforcement of marijuana within its borders in some cases so long as they implement “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement system” to address threats to public safety and public health.

The acting health commissioner’s letter to Cole on Friday was sent a day after Holder announced he would be stepping down as attorney general after a successor is confirmed. Cole is among those being discussed as a possible successor.

In the letter last month to Holder, Zucker acknowledged that marijuana is not a cure for the seizure disorders but that there is “objective medical evidence” to show that serious seizure cases can be helped with CBD, the medical marijuana strain.

Officials declined to identify the companies under consideration to import the drug in the temporary program, but advocates have pointed to possible suppliers such as Tilray, owned by Seattle’s Privateer Holdings, with a major growing and distribution center in British Columbia. The company is among the private growers participating in Canada’s medical marijuana-distribution program.

In June, The News reported the state signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, to develop clinical trials to study the use of a CBD marijuana compound, available in an oil format, on children diagnosed with epilepsy and suffering from seizures, who have not obtained relief from conventional medications. While the clinical trials are one way to more quickly get the drug to eligible children, officials stress that GW Pharmaceuticals would not be the company to supply New York with marijuana if the federal waiver is approved.

If a federal waiver for interstate shipment of the drug is approved, sources say, the timing of its availability to patients in New York would depend upon identifying a source of the drug, which would also need federal approval, and then setting up a temporary dispensing system for eligible patients to obtain it.

Anna, who died in July, had been diagnosed with Dravet syndrome before she turned 1 year old. Her parents tried numerous medical treatments, but the girl continued suffering debilitating – and eventually lethal – seizures.

The day after Anna died, her mother vowed to continue fighting to get New York to speed up access to the drug for children suffering from such conditions.

“This is a travesty,” Wende Conte said in July. “Three children passed away this week in New York. How many more children need to die before something is expedited?”

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