The maker of Marlboro cigarettes is considering getting into the cannabis industry. Utah passed a medical marijuana compromise bill that replaces the voter-passed legalization initiative. How legalization in California unwittingly strengthened the black market. Also: Minnesota will add Alzheimer’s to the medical marijuana program. 🌳
Marlboro maker looks to cannabis. Altria Group Inc, the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, is in talks with Canadian cannabis producer Cronos Group Inc about a possible investment. “A deal would mark one of the largest combinations between mainstream tobacco and the booming but volatile marijuana sector.” Both Cronos and Altria shares were up on the report. Reuters Cronos confirmed the report in a statement, saying that it is indeed “engaged in discussions” but “no agreement has been reached with respect to any such transaction and there can be no assurance such discussions will lead to an investment.” BBC
Utah governor signs marijuana compromise bill. Late last night, Utah governor Gary Herbert signed a bill to replace the voter-passed medical marijuana legalization initiative. The legislation passed in the state legislature with wide margins, but controversy continues to surround the bill. One patient advocacy group has threatened to sue. Most opposition came from Democrats: “For us to come in a few days after an election and say, we know better than 52.75 percent of the citizens who went and voted… I think is a level of arrogance we ought not to display,” said state senator Jim Dabakis, (D-Salt Lake City). Cannabis Wire Supporters of the bill like House speaker Greg Hughes believe that legislation would make the medical marijuana program “structurally stronger and politically stronger” than leaving the ballot initiative in place. Deseret News
Criminal justice reform efforts stall in Congress. Although president Trump has expressed support for the criminal justice reform bill, advocates fear that he isn’t fully behind the effort. “I keep hearing that he’s all for it. I haven’t seen any evidence of that,” said one Republican senator who supports the measure. Criminal justice reformers on both sides of the aisle are hoping that the president throws his weight behind the bill like he has done with other legislative priorities. “Could Trump be tweeting about the First Step Act as much as he tweets about [special counsel Robert] Mueller? Sure. But outside of tax reform and immigration, I can’t think of an issue he’s been more supportive of,” said one person working on the bill. Politico
EU agency says evidence for medical marijuana is thin. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the EU agency that monitors illicit drugs, said that the evidence for medical cannabis “is currently quite limited and fragmented, which needs to be borne in mind when considering any evidence review.” The agency urged more research on medical marijuana as an increasing number of European countries move to legalize the drug. The agency found “moderate” evidence for cannabis helping with multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and pediatric epilepsy. It found “weak” or “insufficient” evidence for helping with nausea, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. Reuters
Good job, Oklahoma! An Oklahoma court ruled in favor of an employee who tested positive for marijuana after sustaining an injury while on the job. The court found that Dillon Rose’s worker’s compensation claim should be approved because “the presence of an intoxicating substance in the blood does not automatically mean that person is intoxicated.” That’s a more evidence-based decision than intoxicated driving laws in states with legal recreational marijuana, some of which have per se limits on THC levels in the blood. The company in question is now weighing whether it should appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. Insurance Journal
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How legalization strengthened the black market. As California’s legal marijuana market takes root, the illicit market is only growing stronger. Marijuana entrepreneurs who were once hopeful about joining the regulated industry find themselves forced into the black market thanks to a patchwork of bureaucratic hurdles. Long-time cannabis business operators who complied with medical marijuana laws find themselves unable to secure a license, prompting them to go underground: “A lot of people would like to be full-on legitimate… [But] you have to pay rent, you have to be able to eat, so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” One longtime cannabis farmer in Mendocino describes how “he knows people who’ve spent their life savings trying to comply with state rules, only to discover some barrier to entry they can’t overcome.” Press Telegram
Former cannabis business execs land in jail. Two former executives of the Colorado dispensary chain Sweet Leaf are serving their 30-day sentences in Denver County Jail. Former VP Nichole West and retail operations manager Ashley Goldstein pleaded guilty to felony drug charges after an investigation revealed that the company engaging in an illegal “looping” scheme. “While the legal battles faced by Sweet Leaf’s ownership group and former budtenders have been well-documented, Goldstein and West are the first employees to be sentenced in connection with the case.” Charges against the budtenders have been dropped and no charges have been filed against Sweet Leaf’s owners, though a grand jury is looking into their involvement with the business. Westword
Elsewhere in cannabis business news… Aphria, one of Canada’s largest pot producers, saw its stock fall 23 percent after a short seller said the company is worthless. The founder of an investment firm alleged that Aphria had “diverted funds into inflated investments held by insiders,” which the company said were “false and defamatory.” Bloomberg The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America briefed members of Congress on marijuana, emphasizing its pro-legalization stance. The association was the first major alcohol group to call for federal legalization. Marijuana Moment A Boston-based cannabis company is set to go public in Canada on Wednesday, “calling itself the 7-Eleven or UberEats of marijuana.” Mass Live
Cannabis in Canada. Unlike surveys, wastewater testing for drug use doesn’t lie. A new study from Statistics Canada found that Halifax had the highest rate of cannabis consumption per capita based on wastewater analysis. Montreal and Toronto came in second and third, respectively. Meanwhile, the government agency cautioned that the results are “preliminary and experimental.” The study was launched in response to concerns that individuals were underreporting their cannabis use, leading to lower estimates of the size of the black market. CTV News Cannabis companies are hiring temp workers from other countries amid a labor shortage as the industry staffs up. A lack of qualified workers led Aphria to dispose of $750,000 worth of cannabis plants because they couldn’t be harvested in time. Bloomberg
Elsewhere around the world… A look at marijuana advocacy efforts in New Zealand as the country moves towards a cannabis legalization referendum. “I’m not a prostitute but I supported prostitution law reform. I’ve seen my friends treated as criminals and it affects their whole life. And I’ve also seen my Māori friends so much more likely to end up in that system than my non-Māori friends. It’s unjust and pointless,” said one advocate. RNZ The Parliament of Georgia has approved amendments to a marijuana law that would prohibit the public use of marijuana, among other offenses. Georgia Today A day after his controversial cannabis joke, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his support for medical marijuana legalization through his spokesperson. Philippine Daily Inquirer Some Philippine lawmakers also expressed their support. A bill to legalize medical cannabis is still pending before the House. ABS-CBN
Word on the States
- In Minnesota, the health department is adding Alzheimer’s to the list of medical marijuana-qualifying conditions.
- In Massachusetts, the attorney general rejected attempts by three towns to extend their marijuana moratoriums.
- In California, a look at where the recreational marijuana supply comes from.
- In Michigan, the new marijuana legalization law raises questions for municipal officials. A new bill would release prisoners with marijuana convictions. Gaylord moves to ban recreational marijuana businesses.
- In Ohio, physicians can now register patients for the medical marijuana program.
- In Nevada, most cannabis lab test fails are due to microbials, not pesticides.
- In Pennsylvania, regulators will begin accepting petitions to add additional medical marijuana-qualifying conditions.
- In New York, lawmakers held their final public hearing on marijuana legalization.
- In Rhode Island, marijuana legalization in the Northeast will impact how lawmakers view the issue next session.
- In Missouri, entrepreneurs focus on hemp.
- In Indiana, the governor thinks the feds need to act on marijuana before the state does.
- In Washington, a citizen-led effort to remove Richland’s ban on cannabis has stalled but city councilmembers agreed to talk about the issue.
- In Texas, a look at the effort to install independent oversight of the criminal justice system.
Word for Word
“By every measure, America’s 41st president George Herbert Walker Bush, who passed away Nov. 30, was a fine man, father, patriot, civil servant and elected policy maker, decent and moderate, certainly by today’s standards. However, likely due more to his age than social disposition… President Bush was a committed drug warrior in the worst way, overseeing during his tenure as president the implementation of Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ drug war by dutifully rolling out mass drug testing, controversial civil forfeiture enforcement, enhanced policing and the ensuing swelling of prosecutions and incarcerations… While the War on Drugs reached new heights under Bush, a counterculture effort surrounding public interest in cannabis and the need for medical patients to have legal access… started to take shape.” – Former executive director of NORML Allen St. Pierre for Freedom Leaf
“The past few years have seen a psychedelic renaissance thanks to the progress of clinical trials of substances such as LSD, psilocybin, and even ayahuasca to treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, and addiction… And so, an increasing number of people who’ve been following the progress of these trials have gone off-grid and found sympathetic therapists to facilitate illegal sessions… One psychotherapist in her 60s, Friederike Meckel Fischer, was arrested by Swiss police back in 2010 and received a 16-month suspended sentence for giving her patients LSD and MDMA as tools to help them reconnect with their feelings. Her case wasn’t helped by the fact that she’d supplied the illegal highs.” – Jenny Valentish for Vice