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Cannabis 2021 News 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Legal Cannabis Comes to Connecticut

Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the 19th state to legalize marijuana, with the bill now on its way to the governor’s desk. 

S.B. 1201 would legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and over. The effort passed the Senate by 16-11 and House of Representatives by 76-62 votes. Governor Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill, after previously claiming that it didn’t go far enough to address the wrongs of the war on drugs. The opposing side argues that Lamont’s preferred language doesn’t clearly cement the victims of the drug war as the actual participants in the equity program. 

“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war.” Governor Lamont said yesterday in a statement after the bill cleared its final hurdles on the way to his desk. “The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety. That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs.”

Governor Lamont went on to point out that opening Connecticut’s market makes sense given the fact that the state is surrounded by legal cannabis. While the legalization debate has stalled to the east in Rhode Island, Massachusetts is already absorbing Connecticut’s would-be tax revenue into its own adult-use market, and Albany certainly looks like it will beat Hartford to the finish line in getting dispensary doors open. 

“The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets. By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states.” 

The D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project has played a crucial role in the legalization process in many states and now adds Connecticut to its list of success stories. The MPP spoke to the ways in which social equity was embedded in the plan. S.B. 1201 includes expungement of lower-level cannabis records and dedicates the bulk of excise tax revenues to a Social Equity and Innovation Fund, which will be used to promote a diverse cannabis industry and reinvest in hard-hit communities. Half of new cannabis business licenses will be issued to social equity applicants, who can receive technical assistance, start-up funding, assistance from an accelerator program, and workforce training.

But the center of much of the debate in the week prior to the victory was who actually would qualify for equity programs. Many argued that the language Lamont favored made things a lot murkier around delineating a clear line of ownership from the communities impacted by the war on drugs to the state’s forthcoming legal market. One of the big problems with equity rollouts over the years has been investors using those who qualify for the advantages of the programs as figureheads to front their businesses. Fear of deep-pocketed speculators taking advantage of the situation is still there, but if you block them out, do you at the same time inadvertently prevent people who were impacted by enforcement from taking part?

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The devil’s advocate argument in Lamont’s favor is that not everyone impacted personally by the drug war ended up in handcuffs. Some argue that just the PTSD of living in overly policed communities should qualify a person for social equity programs. Even having to listen to the sirens go by your window more frequently than others while you were trying to study could be considered another challenge put in front of people by the war on drugs.  

But apart from the ownership debate in equity, as critical as those finer points may be, advocates had plenty of positive things to say about the rest of the bill. 

“So, in the beginning of the campaign, we had seven demands that we outlined, which was the difference between HB 6377 and the Governor’s bill, including home grow, priority licenses for equity, including our native tribes, protection for students, and we got all seven of them,” said Jason Ortiz, a longtime Connecticut cannabis advocate who also helped found the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “And so I’m pretty happy, especially around the home grow for everyone. That was one that was definitely up for debate and wasn’t in a lot of the original bills but did make it in the end.”

But Ortiz admitted that it wasn’t quite perfect when speaking to the social equity debate. 

“The one thing that we didn’t get that we did fight for was the thing that caused the governor to almost veto, it was the criminal history as a qualifier for the equity programs,” Ortiz says. The argument in favor of using criminal history as a main qualifier in equity programs is that it is the most surefire way to make sure the program’s resources are being dedicated to people who directly had their lives impacted by enforcement. Most advocates would group the children who lost their parents to drug-related incarceration into this group of people who qualify based on history. “So aside from that,” Ortiz says, “even though I truly believe that should be a foundation of any equity program, we were able to get $50 million in state bonding to jumpstart the equity programs, which I don’t think any other state has done thus far.”

Ortiz was quick to focus on the positives, in closing, commenting on components of the law where he felt Connecticut was ahead of the pack. “There’s just a tremendous amount of different types of protections for families and for students and for housing and for employment, that just aren’t in most bills.”

Advocates in the nation’s capital shared the joy of their peers in Hartford. 

“Connecticut is on the cusp of becoming the latest state to legalize cannabis. This year has shown us that state legislatures are capable of rising to the challenge to end cannabis prohibition. A supermajority of Americans have made it clear that they favor a system of legalization and regulation rather than the status quo. This victory will add to the momentum towards cannabis policy reform in other states and at the federal level,” says Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

NORML joined MPP in applauding the effort and focusing on the positives. 

“Connecticut is just the latest domino to fall as states begin to repeal their failed prohibition of marijuana and replace it with a sensible system of legalization and regulation. Never before has the momentum for legalization looked as strong as it does in 2021, with four state legislatures already approving bills to ensure state law reflects the overwhelming will of their state residents in just a few short months,” says Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director. “Federal lawmakers need to stop dragging their feet and get the message: it is time to take swift action to end our federal prohibition and allow states to legalize marijuana as they see fit.”   

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Cannabis 2021 News 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Talking Cannabis Industry Financing with Casa Verde

We chatted with Casa Verde, one of the most talked-about venture capital firms in the cannabis field, to see how things played out for their well-positioned investments over the course of the pandemic.

Beyond the hype of being founded by Snoop Dogg, any group of investors would be thrilled to have the stuff in Casa Verde’s portfolio. Names like Eaze and METRC are competitive or dominate their respective spaces within cannabis.

We caught up with managing partner Karan Wadhera and started the conversation by asking about their plans for the $93 million dollars they reported in their coffers. Since then, they took part in Bespoke Financial’s $8 million program to provide financial services to a cannabis industry that continues to wait for regulatory relief from lawmakers.

“You know, to that degree, on what you’re referring to, that was like an official SEC filing. So, from our standpoint, obviously, we have not announced anything but of course that’s a government thing we did file,” Wadhera told us with a laugh. We quickly moved to current events, which generally have not been going bad for the VCs at Casa Verde.

Even with the perils of life over the last 15 months, Wadhera basically kicked off the conversation explaining life is pretty dope. He’s particularly enthusiastic about the pace of change in cannabis.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much momentum before from investors, from entrepreneurs, from even consumers,” he told us. “It feels like a completely different landscape and I’ll have to say that the regulatory momentum is probably some of the most interesting. Just how quickly states are now coming online in a way that they never have before.”

Wadhera was particularly excited that it doesn’t need to happen at the ballot box anymore. This is an important aspect of things because not all states even feature a ballot initiative process in their constitution.

Federally, banking reform seems to have the most steam at the moment. We asked what it meant to a company like Casa Verde.

“It will depend on exactly how SAFE banking fully shakes out,” Wadhera said. “For example, it seems unlikely that SAFE banking will be a conduit to, let’s say, capital markets activity in terms of listing on U.S. exchanges. It also looks like SAFE banking may not be a direct conduit to payments in the space. But, you know, it will help solve a real major issue which is that so many businesses in the cannabis space are still unable to open bank accounts at a minimum. Just that change will be incredibly useful.”

Wadhera admits the legislative stuff on the table at the moment doesn’t fix everything, but at the very least, it’s certainly a sign of the momentum we’re seeing right now. He noted it’s been pretty clear each one of those steps gets investors, consumers, and legislators more comfortable with the industry.

With much of the cannabis pie chopped up already, we asked Wadhera how much trickier it is to evaluate new talent for the portfolio.

“It’s a great question,” he replied. “I think there continues to be lots of areas we have yet to touch. And while it may seem like we’ve hit many areas, I think the cannabis industry is super nuanced. And it’s very complex from a compliance and regulatory perspective, which always makes room for technology to come in and help solve some of those issues. So I think there are still a number of areas where we are super excited.”

Data compliance and consumer-facing brand development are a couple of places he’s keeping an eye on.

A lot of people believe that if you had your ducks in a row going into the pandemic, and you were a cannabis company, it probably went pretty good for you. We asked Wadhera if that was the general spirit for the companies in their portfolio.

“Yeah, I think so. Again, I think it depends on where you were, but I think largely, for 90% of our businesses, that was true,” Wadhera replied. “Some of the obvious ones are businesses like Dutchie which saw a huge transition to delivery, and it helped their business tremendously. And then, obviously, anyone who was sort of involved in the retail side. You just saw so much more consumption.”

Wadhera felt like things in the space looked a little weird at times in 2019, so those companies that battened down the hatches early were in good shape for what was to come.

“We were already prepared for what we felt was a potentially dire scenario. You would cut a lot of the fat. You had gotten more efficient. You were putting yourself in a really strong position for any kind of volatility.” This put cannabis businesses in a much stronger position, Wahhera argues. Then the icing on the cake was obviously the fact that cannabis became “essential.” He reasonably believed that such a designation was a large inspiration for the amount of reform we’ve seen in the year since.

As we noted, Casa Verde certainly raised a lot of cash during the pandemic. But the early goings weren’t always as easy.

“There was just a halt on any kind of conversation around any funding from anyone. People just got nervous and didn’t know what to do,” Wadhera said. “But I would say as we hit into the fall and the numbers were clear — how well some of these businesses were doing — a lot of activity sort of picked up. And I think you saw within our portfolio and the businesses that raised some pretty significant rounds, Dutchie and LeafLink in particular. It showed that there was still a tremendous amount of excitement.”   ❖

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News 2021 SPRING PRINT EDITION 2021 Uncategorized

Selling Pot Is Still Not Easy

March 31, 2021, was a historic day for New Yorkers, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis. Cuomo sweetened the pot for two groups of people with a lot of crossover: Over the next two years, the state will expunge the records of approximately 150,000 New York residents previously convicted on cannabis charges; it will also address an issue that most cannabis-legal states have done a poor job with—providing social equity to Black and Brown people who’ve been excluded from the industry.

While the majority of states where medicinal or recreational cannabis, or both, are legal have largely ignored this disparity, a handful (California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and, now, New York) have created programs to provide a path for people of color to own plant-touching businesses such as a dispensary, a grow facility, or a manufacturer of extracts. Unfortunately, the solution is more complex than states simply promising to prioritize applications from people who’ve disproportionately been affected by the war on drugs.

It’s very expensive to buy into the cannabis business. For example, it costs approximately $1.5 million (plus or minus, depending on the state) to own a dispensary. This covers licensing and application fees, building permits, construction, and enough cash in the bank for future operating costs. Even with social equity programs, and states offsetting some of these costs, most people need investment money.

Cannabis sales in the U.S. are expected to reach $45 billion by 2025, and, as is the case in most industries, wealth is consolidated in just a few hands. In the cannabis industry, many of these people are known as multi-state operators (MSOs). Unless investors are moved to invest in Black and Brown people, even the most well-drafted social equity programs are no match for these large-scale MSOs.

 Between January and June 2020, $2.57 billion was raised to fund North American cannabis ventures. Of this amount, 93% ($2.13 billion) went to white people, with the balance ($437 million) split by people of color. Sal Ali owns AgroSelect hemp farm, Dr. Terpz dispensary, and a staffing agency that vets potential employees in the industry. He remembers how difficult it was getting investors to give him the time of day, let alone money.

“In 2015, I went to MJ Bizcon [the Marijuana Business Conference] hoping to find investors. Usually I was the only Brown guy in a sea of white people. I approached one investor with my pitch deck, and he looked at me and laughed. He turned to the white dude next to him. ‘Yeah right, I’m gonna invest in this guy.’ Meanwhile, I talked to many white guy entrepreneurs who told me they secured millions for their projects without even trying.”

Reginald Stanfield, owner of JustinCredible Cultivation, concurs. “I had a realistic model and a proof of concept to capture brand recognition and expand. I was open to all equity investors. I was repeatedly passed over. The only time they look at Black people is to help expand the few who’ve already made it.” 

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One investor I interviewed (who preferred anonymity) believes the fault lies with the Black community, not with discrimination. “There aren’t enough minority leaders to serve as examples to up-and-coming minority entrepreneurs. And because most have records, I won’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. I’m here to make money, not waste it on someone with no experience or ethics.” 

Such attitudes are precisely why, as a woman of color, I teamed up with two other marginalized people to form 420 Equity Labs, whose mission is to amplify Black voices in cannabis. Sometimes these social equity programs are exploited by predatory investors who seek out less savvy members of BIPOC communities to use as props, so they can line their own pockets. For those who are successful at securing funding and qualifying for a social equity program, their fight is far from over; they still have to market themselves and set up relationships with vendors. Our goal is to use our combined expertise (both in and out of the cannabis industry) to better compete against members of the “good ole boy network,” and win. 

Kaisha-Dyan McMillan is co-founder of Let’s Sesh, which provides educational workshops for people new to the cannabis industry. She has examined social equity from multiple angles and believes the problem is more involved. “Along with not having the money needed to enter the industry, Black people are at a disadvantage because many lack information. I’ve interviewed two high-profile social equity participants in the Bay Area, and both told me they initially heard about the social equity program via word of mouth—not through the city or state.” 

McMillan continued, “It’s wonderful to have programs like this, but unless it’s well-publicized, people have no idea whether they qualify, how to apply, etc. Looking at the policy and regulations, the language is complex and hard to understand for most people—I’ve been in this industry for over five years and this year alone I’ve attended two workshops to help me understand the MORE Act [the bill decriminalizing marijuana]. There needs to be more and better education overall.”

If wealth in the industry continues consolidating and shutting out Black and Brown people, it may require some ingenuity and creativity to create change. Mss Oregon and her family own the National Cannabis Diversity Awareness Convention (NCDAC) in Portland, Oregon. “I gave up the idea of owning a dispensary when I tried getting hired and repeatedly had the door slammed in my face,” she says. “The only way I was going to be part of the industry was by creating an ancillary business. The NCDAC connects people in the entertainment and cannabis industries. We’re already planning NCDAC 2024, in Atlanta. We believe that creating a cannabis network is important to industry and societal growth.” 

Devin Jones manages Elev8 dispensary in Eugene, Oregon. He and inventory manager Alonzo “Zo” Medley are providing social equity in a small yet sustainable way. As they build their list of extracts and flower suppliers, they prioritize Black- and Brown-owned companies. They started in the summer of 2020, and today 68% of their inventory comes from BIPOC-owned businesses. Of those, 25% are Black-owned. As Zo explains it, “We stock both high-end, expensive weed and high-quality, less expensive weed, so we can help everyone at every socioeconomic level. It may sound simple, however, Devin and I can tell you these relationships take time to cultivate, but the rewards are so sweet.” 

So long as large-scale MSOs and investors are disinterested in doing their part to uphold state and local government-enacted social equity programs, as with everything else in life, Black and Brown people are ready, able, and willing to create our own social equity and legacy.   ❖

 

From the Village Voice 2021 Spring print edition

 

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES News 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Time Has Come for Cannabis Equity

As cannabis legalization enters its newest phase with social equity dominating the conversation, Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law hosted an advocate and regulator-packed panel to map out a path to  Social Equity 2.0.

The Tri-State was well represented on the panel. Incoming New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission chair Dianna Houenou spoke to how the issue had been embedded from the start in her new state agency. Minority Cannabis Business Association President Jason Ortiz spoke about the current effort in Connecticut to put equity front and center in the conversation. 

The pair were joined by Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker’s senior advisor for cannabis control, Toi Hutchinson, and former Massachusetts Cannabis Commission member Shaleen Title. Both have championed the issue in their respective states over the years. Politico’s Natalie Fertig led the conversation. 

New Jersey
The talk got local quickly with Houenou offering a  fresh perspective on bringing equity to New Jersey by learning from five years of effort elsewhere around the country. “Our cannabis Regulatory Commission is just over two weeks old. We just launched. Not long ago, we had our first public meeting on April 12. And then our second public meeting just last week, so we are hitting the ground running here,” she said.

Houenou related that even with the excitement and pace of change in New Jersey, a large part of the job has been about managing expectations and facilitating the wider public conversation. Houenou wants to emphasize to stakeholders that the new agency’s goal is to get the ball rolling on important relationships at every level. Before becoming a regulator in New Jersey, she was an advocate who watched equity percolate into the cannabis mainstream and now she said that she was most struck by the pace of change in the conversation.“These are years-long efforts, but it has surprised me how quickly the social equity component has felt sped up and become a requirement, and a far-reaching requirement,” Houenou said, “But in a very short time, it has become so much more than that in the public discourse. And it has really become mandates for aggressive reinvestment in communities and restoring communities. Making them whole again. And really acknowledging the fact that it’s not just like cannabis legalization isn’t going to cure or solve systemic oppression, it’s not going to tackle 90 years of damage that was done by the war on drugs.”

One benefit of the New Jersey legalization plan is that Houenou has essentially been given a blank slate to create the most workable program possible. While the panel’s name — Social Equity 2.0 is very apt — the process will be encumbered by already existing layers of state bureaucracy. 

But there is hope for progress: Stakeholder input on equity issues will be the main topic at the next meeting of the New Jersey commission. 

Connecticut
After many years involved in wider drug policy issues following a cannabis arrest as a teenager, Jason Ortiz found himself involved in the early east coast conversation around equity. From the time Supernova Women originally introduced the idea at a Boston event in 2016, Ortiz would have a seat at the table with folks who were moving on the equity idea. 

As the earliest equity debates played out on the west coast, MCBA released its model language in 2017. Over the years as the legalization battle moved from state to state, the local MCBA coalition would fan the flames of equity into the roaring fire that is now intertwined with the national legalization conversation. “And quite frankly, any bill that doesn’t have equity is not going to be able to pass moving forward,” Ortiz said. He believes that legislators of color have begun to communicate with each other and work together to say, “if there’s no equity it’s not happening.” He’s watching that very battle play out now in Connecticut. “We are exactly in that position right now. There are two bills, one that is very focused on cannabis equity, that was drafted by myself and State Representative Robin Porter of New Haven, HB 6377,” Ortiz explained, “There’s been a whole lot of press over the last few months because we’re competing with SB 888, which is Governor Lamont’s bill.”

Advocates who had been working on the cannabis equity issue in Connecticut were shocked to see what Lamont first brought to the table. It seemed an attempt to reduce equity to a figurehead. “When the governor’s effort was first introduced it had equity in the title but to the distress of advocates it didn’t actually define equity in the bill,” Ortiz said, “That was not something that was received well by the folks that were paying attention and so we’ve definitely been having a very concrete conversation on the details — but it is one in which the equity applicants are the go-to faction that must be appeased for legalization to happen.” 

Ortiz argued that this is an incredibly different power position than five years ago. He noted one of the most important fights through the entire process is the definition of equity applicants. He argued that success would be measured by clearly identifying how the programs work and who would have access to them — he hopes to look back and see that the communities who were intended to benefit actually did so. 

One of the things that Ortiz and all advocates are constantly struggling with is how wide to make the definition of the typical equity applicant. It’s essentially a catch-22, where more communities are ideally included, but without diluting the available resources so that those who do take part can be successful. Ortiz noted that while the social justice arguments around cannabis, race, and equity have been successful, helping communities impacted by the drug war find their own piece of the industry is more complex. 

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Illinois
Hutchinson, like Houenou, spoke to the layers of bureaucracy she had to deal with in Illinois. While much of the chat focused on the business side of policy and equity, Hutchinson pointed out that past offenders face many challenges in clearing their records — a vital first step toward improving their quality of life in this new age of legal cannabis. 

“We have 102 counties, we have 102 different states attorneys,” Hutchinson said, “There are a bunch of them that are like, ‘You broke the law, it was illegal when they did it, there’s no reason we need to go back and undo this,’ and they actively fight against some of these things.”

Local newspaper records in smaller towns and rural areas are significant. Hutchinson found that  places more off the beaten path by Illinois standards tend to have hostile state attorneys and court systems, “that don’t want to work with this.”

Even with the power of Code For America helping the state clear many records swiftly, smaller municipalities might well argue they don’t have the manpower and resources to finish the job. 

But even so, Hutchinson had an open-door policy on bringing those naysayers, excuse finders, and less traditional individual rights allies into the conversation. “I’m looking for all those folks to create relationships with,” she said, “When you come to the criminal justice space, like, I don’t care if you’re coming because you realize it is too expensive, the way we did it. Or if you’re coming in because you realize we’ve been essentially lynching black and brown bodies. How you get to the conversation, I don’t care. Just come to the conversation.”

Hutchinson said that not all the components needed to fix all these people’s lives are in one place, pointing out that it’s not as if a governor or legislature can address the past inequities, and simply say, “ ‘You know what, it’s all gone now.’ That’s not the way it works.” She said all of it is a constant reminder to people undoing 90 years of disproportionately targeting people of color. “The reason it’s called systemic and structural racism is because it’s built into the fabric and the structure of our systems, and dismantling that requires multiple bites of the apple —  constant staying on top of it,” Hutchinson said, “We all have to understand the systems produce what they are designed to produce.”

Massachusetts
Shaleen Title has been one of the main voices on equity issues for years and helped make it a keystone of the implementation conversation in Massachusetts after voters decided to legalize. Even with all the progress, she thought it was important to remind people that despite the money and some control of the narrative, the execution component is far from perfect. “I just want to note for Social Equity 2.0, you now have the data from Massachusetts, California and so many other places,” Title said. She then pointed out that this information continues to show that this growing industry is, “at best, very disproportionately favoring white people and not diverse enough and not really reaching this goal.”

Title hopes people will reflect on early lessons to build something better for this new era of social equity in the cannabis industry. “Don’t just copy ours,” Title said, “I think the one deal-breaker, not to be a broken record is, don’t allow corporations to get too big. Put strict limits on that. And the nice thing is, we have language in Massachusetts that evolved over the years, that’s one of the few things that I would say you can just copy it wholesale.” Politico’s Fertig noted that the Massachusetts program took a lot of flack early on and that while more people are getting their foot in the door, it is still not enough.  

Title pointed out that there was still much to figure out, but that the equity programs were helping people of color and women-owned businesses, adding, “It’s not enough, but the rate is rapidly accelerating and what is important about those limits, is it kind of saved us that we had them in place because the bigger corporations got as big as they could get very very quickly, and then they had to kind of pause there.” Preventing the big fish from eating up the entire industry gave Mass regulators time to help the other companies that are starting from so much further back. “So you know I would have done it differently, of course, if I could, but I still think like having those limits in place saved us, and that’s why I say it’s the one thing that is a deal-breaker,” Title said. 

New York’s Impact
After the group finished, we chatted with Ortiz about how recent events in New York are now playing into the local and national equity conversation. “The fight that was happening in New York … the whole nation was watching to see how that was gonna fall, and whether or not true equity was going to win that fight — and it did, right?” Ortiz told the Voice, adding, “And so, the momentum that it gives equity throughout the nation is just incredible and it’s immediately crossing over into Connecticut, and now Connecticut policies are changing.”

We asked Ortiz if watching what happened in New York turned the Connecticut plan into something more equitable. “Oh absolutely,” he replied, ”We saw the fight over what community investment means. How many licenses should we give to equity applicants, all of those conversations I was having with the governor’s office. But when New York finally did it, it affirmed that the equity movement has the correct approach. There’s a lot of work put into it, a lot of investigation and it’s just better policy.”

Ortiz added that without a doubt, New York represents the best model in the northeast for trying to clean up the mess the drug war left behind: “We’ll start to see the implementation of what they put on paper, but it’s clear they intended to advance the cause of equity and all of New England really should be looking to New York, as far as what the bare minimum will be and how far we can take it, because they took it pretty far.”   ❖

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From The Archives News 2021 NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Out of the Shadows: New York Legalizes Adult-Use Marijuana

Albany was all about cannabis on Tuesday, with New York lawmakers debating the issue across three committee meetings, a few more hours in the senate, and a marathon, almost seven-hour session in the assembly. This morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted that he had signed the three-way deal, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act

For hours on Tuesday, State Senator Liz Krueger passionately defended the seven years of effort she’d devoted to New York’s legalization plan leading up to its 40-23 victory in the Senate. In the Assembly, Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes oversaw the day-long defense of the effort. Late in the day doubters in the senate formed what seemed like a firing line to pepper Krueger with the same questions she’d heard for the better part of a decade of working on the issue.

The Governor would applaud the efforts of Albany’s cannabis champions in an evening statement prior to singing. “Tonight, the New York State Legislature took the first step in a major leap forward for the Empire State by passing legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis,” Cuomo said. “I thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and the many legislators who worked tirelessly on this issue for securing passage of this historic legislation.”

Cuomo went on to offer a final reminder of New York’s troubled past with cannabis enforcement on the eve of putting his signature on the bill. “For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences and after years of hard work, this landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public,” he said.

But the road to get to those congratulations yesterday was a long one.

During the debate in the Senate, State Senator Fred Akshar was Kreuger’s first sparring partner. He started by questioning the bill’s stated intention to reduce violent crime. How would it accomplish this? Krueger quickly pointed to the reality that much of the drug trade in New York is currently controlled by violent criminals.

“When people go to buy their marijuana they don’t know who it is they’re buying from, there’s no licensing. They don’t know if they’re organized crime,” Krueger said. “They don’t know if that same person is selling other much more dangerous drugs.”

While Kreuger did not claim the bill as a fix-all to criminal elements currently involved in the cannabis supply chain, she argued that its provisions will help. “I do think that people will choose within the two options, an illegal dangerous option, and a legal regulated option, to buy marijuana through our legal regulated options,” she said, pointing to the resources that would remain after legalization to target serious threats to society. “We expect to actually save up to $500 million in our criminal justice system simply because we have legalized marijuana. So we won’t be using our police to pick up kids.”

Akshar went on to question Kreuger on whether she’d been in the room for the final negotiations between the Assembly, Senate, and Governor. She said most of it had been left to staff, but she had been readily available at all hours to provide input to everyone taking part in that negotiating process until the deal got done. 

The conversation turned to who else was in the room for that final language deal. Akshar wanted to know if mental health professionals, substance use disorder professionals. Parent-Teacher associations, school leaders, or police officers had a seat at the table.

“The answer is yes,” Kreuger replied and went on to point out how all the years at the table with those groups informed the final language. ”And it was me sometimes, and it was staff. This bill has been percolating into a bigger and bigger, and changed —and I believe better bill —for over seven years.”

Kreuger reminded everyone that when she first introduced the bill in late 2013,  everyone thought she was crazy. And she said that may still be the case. “But the fact is we had hearings, we took meetings, endless, endless meetings with anyone who asked us. We met at the local level. I would go out to people’s communities if they invited me there to talk about their concerns. So, in truthfulness, I’m not sure I have ever met with as diverse a group of people as I did over the seven years that my Chief of Staff and I were working on this stuff.”

Kreuger mentioned advertising restrictions and other ways to avoid appealing to children as early and easy concessions to PTA groups. Also important was leaving room for municipalities to locally opt-out of the state’s legalization plan, with the option to jump into the mix when they see fit.

For much of the time, the debate in both houses centered around the impact on law enforcement. Across New York law enforcement there are only a few hundred drug recognition experts. Part of the argument revolved around law enforcement needing money upfront to get more DREs, despite the fact that the current number has already been serving New York’s millions of cannabis users, most of whom are now expected to transition to the legal market.

Despite the lack of cash upfront, Kreuger argued there’s a significant amount of resources committed to make sure we have more local police and state troopers who are trained in the skills to evaluate drivers intoxicated with marijuana and getting them off the road. More understanding of the financial aspects of that process would arise as the enforcement mechanisms are developed in the next 18 months before the market opens. Kreuger also pointed to the governor’s office commitment that police have the resources they need to combat impaired driving. 

But again, Kreuger kept things realistic saying the DRE topic was important as she addressed these question: “I don’t want anyone listening to us to imagine that we’re starting today from a place where there is zero marijuana being used by people who drive cars, because it is being used, and they are driving throughout the state of New York.”

Eventually, Senator Anthony Palumbo queried Kreuger on a variety of topics that included what happens to parents who use weed compared to alcohol use in child custody situations; the five-pound limit around homegrown pot; and police not being allowed to search a vehicle solely based on the smell of burnt marijuana.

Kreuger explained that there was indeed some confusion on the five-pound limit when talking about the gross weight of the plants compared to the usable marijuana. “The five-pound example wasn’t actually a great example,” Kreuger said. “But you might have several ounces of usable marijuana in your home. That isn’t evidence that you’re using it every day. That’s not evidence that you’re using it at all, actually. So just like, I guess in some people’s houses they have cases and cases of wine or beer or other spirits. That’s not evidence of anything other than they have a lot of bottles of liquor in their home.”

Another part of the bill Kreuger was questioned on came in regards to law enforcement being forbidden to cooperate with federal authorities on now state-legal cannabis crimes. The opposition, like that in 15 states before it, argued this lack of compliance with the federal law was a setup for failure. Kreuger compared it to law enforcement not cooperating with ICE deportation efforts in recent years.  

“I think it’s a fairly parallel situation, and every once in a while, you hear a story coming out, and something gets resolved or not, but I don’t think it’s been a huge issue,” Kreuger said, “And I don’t think it’s been a real issue in any of the other 15 states that have legal marijuana, even though they’re under the same federal laws we are.”

Senator George Borrello began with concerns that the cannabis industry seemingly wouldn’t be as strict as the hospitality business in NY. Borrello explained he was deeply versed in the licensing structure meant to prevent the shady figures of New York’s past from operating liquor establishments, pointing out that a felony was almost a guaranteed rejection. He asked if the bill would really let people with drug dealing felonies operate in the legal market.

“Yes, and of course a major portion of this bill is to expunge the records of people who got caught up in the criminal justice system involved with cannabis,” Kreuger said, basically asserting if those convictions don’t exist anymore they can’t have an impact on licensing. “So our goal is to expunge the records of people who had cannabis convictions and open them up to be able to be full citizens where they can apply to actually work legally in this business. Where they have no risk of problems with getting an education because they had a cannabis record, or being able to apply for certain kinds of jobs, or being able to live in certain places. So yes, part of the goal of this law is to ensure that people who may have been participating in an activity that was illegal will now be able to become taxpayers, owners, work in stores, etc.”

Borrello pressured Kreuger on whether people selling other drugs or with gun charges would qualify, offenses that wouldn’t get caught up in a mass expungement sweep.  Kreuger said the agency handing out licenses determines whether they believe they can be a trustworthy, reliable business person in this field and if so then they will be allowed. And it will be through a regulatory process and evaluation.

Borrello went on to ask how restaurants would be protected from edibles, adding that he has numerous concerns. “That’s because as an operator, I am responsible for you being sober. I’m responsible for your intoxication level yet someone can walk in with a handful of very potent gummies and consume them on-premise.” He proposed a situation in which people would head to bars to consume edibles, and he asked what would happen if they were to “leave that establishment, get into an accident and kill someone. In that scenario, especially with the restaurant restrictions that we now have where, you know, these people are going to be… it’s gonna be difficult to stop these people because of all the freedom that they’re going to have to consume and drive.” 

“Well, the irony is that exists right now,” Kreuger replied, “We don’t know when somebody comes in your bar, whether they have used marijuana before they got there, or popping other illegal drugs or not. They are wandering around the world they’re using what they use. And so we faced this risk and reality today.”

Although legislators argued until 10 PM, Kreuger finally triumphed when the bill was sent to the Governors desk. Twelve hours later cannabis possession became legal in NY with the Governor’s tweet. 

Various advocates weighed in on this historic day. Empire State NORML Deputy Director Troy Smit said, “We stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s taken a great amount of work and perseverance by activists, patients, and consumers to go from being the cannabis arrest capital of the world to lead the world with a legalized market dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Smit admitted things weren’t all positive, but there is plenty to work with. “This might not be the perfect piece of legislation, but today, cannabis consumers can hold their heads high and smell the flowers,” Smit said. “Senator Krueger and Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes have laid the groundwork for marijuana justice and a consumer-centric industry. Now, it’s time for the Office of Cannabis Management to take up their torch and implement regulations that protect patient and consumer rights. In the words of our late Director, Doug Greene — Cannabis Excelsior!”

NORML’s national leadership also weighed in on the big victory. “These votes are historic because they signal the beginning of the end of the racially discriminatory policies that have long made the Empire State the marijuana arrest capital of the United States, if not the world,” said Erik Altieri, NORML Executive director. “Once enacted, this measure will end the practice of annually arresting tens-of-thousands of New Yorkers for low-level marijuana offenses, the majority of whom are overwhelmingly young, poor, and people of color.”

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents workers in New York’s medical cannabis industry. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum and John Durso, President of Local 338 RWDSU weighed in on the new opportunities for working-class New Yorkers. “Today, in passing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the New York State legislature took enormous strides toward ending the decades-long war on drugs and its discriminatory impact on people of color,” Appelbaum said. “The legislature listened to calls by workers and advocates to create an industry centered on equity. From the creation of a social equity fund to requiring labor peace for cannabis license holders, this places New York on the forefront of social equity nationally. We thank the legislature for prioritizing the needs of workers and the community and look forward to swift signature into law.”

Durso spoke to how important he believes organized labor will be in helping New Yorkers get the most out of the forthcoming pot industry. “Local 338, New York’s cannabis union, has organized almost 500 workers in the medical cannabis industry in New York, setting standards across the industry that benefit workers and their families,” Durso stated. “Our contracts in the medical cannabis industry have established full-time careers with family-sustaining wages, affordable and quality health care, workplace health and safety standards, funding for retirement, and more.” He added, “It is our priority that the 30,000-60,000 jobs created in our State’s adult-use industry meet the same standard as those in the medical cannabis industry. The MRTA will help to do just that, by ensuring access to opportunity at every level of this brand-new industry, including for the thousands of New Yorkers who will be entering it as workers.”   ❖

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From The Archives News 2021 NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

New York Cannabis Legalization Deal Imminent

On Thursday, March 25, New York lawmakers reached a deal to legalize marijuana in the state. But despite early reports, advocates claim the ink is not dry.

From bits and pieces making it out of the backroom discussions, the deal sounds promising. David C. Holland of the New York City Cannabis Industry Association jumped on the phone with us to clarify where the effort stood, as the rumor mill reached its peak Thursday. The NYCCIA is currently described as a thinktank waiting to transition into an industry trade group. But it hopes to retain its ethos as it moves forward as the metro cannabis industry expands.

“I’m not reading tea leaves anymore. It’s definitely a lot of hearsay that sounds all very good,” Holland said. “It looks like the governor has sort of conceded a lot to the Legislature and its MRTA (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act) proposal.”Gov. Cuomo’s original legalization plan, the Cannabis Regulation Taxation Act, was attached to the budget in January. As lawmakers worked to hammer out a budget deal by April 1, legalization was always in play. But eventually, things progressed to where we could be talking about a vote next week after the bill has had a few days to season. Holland explained that in recent years, while the Cuomo administration worked on the legalization issue, in the end it didn’t want to leave other budget goals hostage to cannabis legalization. “He pulled it out knowing that the votes weren’t there for that. It was too big a sticking point,” he said.

Once Albany lawmakers enter the legislative session on April 1, they are expected to file their counter-proposal to the governor, the Marijuana Revenue and Taxation Act, as they have in years past. “The fundamental difference between them is basically the board that governs the program for the governor’s proposal is five hand-picked people that the Legislature has no say,” Holland said, expecting whatever the final compromise looks like will see the governor’s administration give some room there. “In this new hybrid we’re hearing about, the governor has three, but at least there’s mixed power. The second big difference under those proposals is not only who controls the program but how are those revenues are divided up and for what projects.”

We asked Holland if the deal that’s reached includes the effective mechanisms for community reinvestment like equity programs and homegrown, two things that felt absent in a tangible way in the budget plan. “I think it looks much better than what had been proposed by the governor, yeah,” Holland replied. “I mean, this is definitely a ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy the good’ situation, but it’s a long way from being optimal, you know? There’s still lots of room for improvement.”

Holland said every time he gets another little tidbit of detail it all sounds very positive. “You see it all in the hearsay that you’re getting there. Each time I hear something, it’s something dramatically new.”

Holland explained that whatever deal is reached, it’s not legalization that comes out of the conference room. The resulting bill from the deal then has to season for three legislative days that they’re in session on the floor before it can be voted on. “I think what they’re doing is rushing to get it out and get it voted on early next week before the budget session ends and the legislative session begins,” Holland said.

Holland spoke to whether he thought an appropriate level of stakeholder input from the grassroots level was coming in. He spoke from the activist side as director at Empire State NORML and an advocate trying to help businesses lay their foundations for what’s to come. “I definitely feel things like homegrown, things like expungement, particularly tax rates to some degree, the community investment, the opportunities, the prioritization of equity applicants, I think that’s all very much a product of the advocacy communities,” Holland replied.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s state director Melissa Moore expects to see the deal done by the end of the month. “It sounds like it’s extremely close. It’s down to just some real technicalities,” Moore told the Village Voice. “From what I understand, the conceptual agreement is there, and we’re looking forward to seeing the bill language.”

We asked Moore if she’d heard how much flexibility advocates were able to get from the governor’s office on the deal. She told us that it sounded like much of the discussion was born from the legislature’s efforts. “We’ve long supported [the Legislature’s version], which has much better provisions in terms of community reinvestment and social equity, dealing with all of the consequences, and ongoing lifelong impacts that people have had to deal with because of prior cannabis criminalization,” Moore said. “And truly, you know, ushering in a new era of marijuana justice for New York. Assuming the bill matches up with that, once it’s printed, we’re really excited about it.”

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News 2021

Safe Banking Act Reintroduced to Protect Pro-Pot Banks

The effort to provide the cannabis industry access to financial institutions and services returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday as the SAFE Banking Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives.

The bill would protect banks offering services to state-legal operators. It’s widely regarded as the most bipartisan cannabis effort in Congress and this year, two Republicans and two Democrats are taking the lead. The first-round sponsors are Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Warren Davidson (R-OH).

Many more names are expected to be added to that list. In the last Congress, 206 co-sponsors led to a very lopsided bipartisan vote of 321-103. An impressive feat for any bill during the politics of that moment. Unfortunately for the previous rendition of the bill, COVID-19 stalled its progress. But the House never let up the pressure, including the bill’s language in two pandemic relief bills.

Cannabis Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer previously told L.A. Weekly that the SAFE Banking Act was the biggest win for cannabis on Capitol Hill until the MORE Act passed in December.

“Thousands of employees and businesses across this country have been forced to deal in piles of cash for far too long,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “It is time to enact SAFE Banking to align federal and state laws and reduce the public safety risk in our communities. I appreciate the partnership of the cannabis industry and businesses across this country who have added their voice to this effort. The SAFE Banking Act is an important first step to treating cannabis businesses like legal, legitimate businesses and beginning to reform our federal cannabis laws.”

Supporters of the safe banking act have noted for years just how dangerous it is for the cannabis industry to remain a cash-only business. Even prior to the events of last summer, when thieves used the cover of protests to ransack dispensaries around the state, organized bands of criminals were using publicly available licensing information to target operators. Thieves made off with a ton of product and cash, in one instance scoring a six-figure tax payment the company was prepping for the state.

Rep. Blumenauer spoke to how bad things have got for Portland cannabis businesses.

“Addressing the irrational, unfair and unsafe denial of banking services to legal cannabis businesses is not just an economic issue, but an urgent public safety issue that will save lives and livelihoods. In the past year, Portland’s cannabis shops were robbed, burglarized or looted more than 100 times,” Blumenauer said. “During these violent attacks, cannabis workers have been threatened at gunpoint, zip-tied, and repeatedly targeted for simply doing their jobs. Tragically, we have already lost one Portland cannabis worker to this violence. Thousands more people will continue to have a target on their back if Congress does not address the lack of banking access that is posing a real danger to cannabis workers, businesses and our communities. It is a critical element of cannabis reform that can’t wait.”

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There is a lot of incentive for operators to see the bill pass beyond being able to cut a check from a reputable financial institution. It will also make it easier to access traditional forms of lending and capitol. This would have a major impact on the mom-and-pop operations that have bootstrapped this far since it would open up additional legit lines of credit and money to expand their businesses.

The National Cannabis Industry Association has been working on the bill since its inception. Aaron Smith, NCIA’s co-founder and CEO, weighed in on the news.

“At a time when small businesses need all the support they can get, and after cannabis businesses specifically have been providing essential services and generating significant tax revenues for states and the federal government with little to no financial relief, it is more imperative than ever to get the SAFE Banking Act passed into law,” said Smith.

Smith went on to not just cover the public safety side, but the simplification of oversight in attempting to track the billions of dollars in revenue flowing across the cannabis supply chain from state to state.

“Lack of access to banking services continues to create serious unnecessary issues for public safety, transparency, and access to traditional lending that smaller operators desperately need,” Smith said. “These businesses are contributing billions of dollars to the national economy every year, and need to be treated like any other legal regulated industry. We are grateful to the sponsors of this legislation who have generated strong and consistent bipartisan support year after year, and we are confident that it has a clear path to approval again.”

The newly formed U.S. Cannabis Council sent out a statement from interim President Steve Hawkins.

“While the SAFE Banking Act is not the only cannabis legislation the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) expects this session, it is integral to the success of the responsible cannabis industry of the future,” Hawkins said. “This essential step forward will positively impact social equity candidates often redlined from receiving financial backing and even access to traditional banking services. The SAFE Banking Act provides access to financial services such as small business loans, which create equal opportunity, ensuring more diverse representation within the industry. The Act also protects public safety as the billions of dollars in annual retail revenues are from mostly cash transactions, creating targets for crime and unnecessarily endangering communities.”  ❖

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News 2021

The Face of Cannabis: Treating a Disfiguring Bone Disease

For a parent, few things are scarier than when their child is diagnosed with a serious illness: the fear, the anxiety, questions that begin with “what if” and “why us?” 

For Sean and Janie Maedler, of Rehoboth, Delaware, their nightmare began in 2013, when their daughter, Rylie, was just 7 years old. Her face began growing in a malformed way, and, says Rylie, “The pain was indescribable.” In addition to developing very puffy, red blotchy skin, she felt a hollowness in her cheeks that none of the other kids — her twin brother included — appeared to have. Most of her teeth — she was already starting on her adult set — were either severely crooked or falling out. 

Rylie’s parents took her to their pediatrician, who ordered MRIs of Rylie’s face, head, and neck. A week later they had some answers but not enough for a diagnosis. The MRIs showed a series of bone tumors in Rylie’s face that had eaten away at her palate maxillary sinus, her sphenoid sinus, her left cheek, and the bottom of her eye orbits.

Following more tests, the Maedler family got their diagnosis: central giant cell granuloma (CGCG), which came with grim news. Although benign — meaning, despite the condition’s destructive nature, Rylie would not succumb to CGCG — CGCG is very aggressive. Because of Rylie’s age at onset and the fact that her bones weren’t finished forming, damage to the facial structure would likely be, as it is more often than not in such cases, permanent.

Effects of central giant cell granuloma on seven-year-old Rylie Maedler’s teeth

Given how aggressively Rylie’s tumors were growing and the rate at which they were consuming her bones, her team of doctors had her in the operating room in a matter of days to perform debulking surgery. As Rylie’s mother, Janie, explained, “They go in and they try to remove as much tumor as they can. They try to take as much of the margins around a bone — leaving an even greater hollowness than Rylie had before. So literally, when she came out of surgery, the whole left side of her face was like a potato sack because they had to take the margins, and what was left behind had no structure.

“Prior to surgery, the doctors prepared us that they would probably need to remove all of her teeth, leaving her to get implants when she was older. But they decided to stitch her teeth into the gums, one by one, and hope that they would live … they left like a crust. The way they described it was just like when you bake a cake and you have that crust on the top — that’s kind of how they described what they left behind around the teeth — was that crust of cake was left behind and they hoped that it was enough to hold in, and some bone over a long period of time would start to form or maybe thicken a little bit. 

“Unable to chew, Rylie was on a liquid diet for many, many months, just hoping that they would live. But [the doctors] had warned us — don’t expect any of these teeth to live — but…” Janie paused. “They all lived!”  

The damage done: Rylie’s MRI

Side Effects Include…

With debulking surgery behind them, the Maedler family’s thousand-mile journey was just beginning. Recurrence of giant cell granuloma is somewhere between 34 and 70 percent in young adults whose bones are not finished forming. Janie explained what the next few months were like for the family: “Although they did the debulking, they said that they would give us a watch-and-wait period, but they were totally expecting to have to throw her on something [like biologics that stop the progression of disease]. So, we had a follow-up scan.”

As was anticipated, the doctors told Janie that they had been unsuccessful in removing all the tumors. A tiny bit was left behind, which is very common with CGCG. The doctors discussed treatment options with Janie and her husband. 

The medical team recommended Rylie be put on two biologics, Denosumab and Interferon, plus the peptide hormone Calcitonin. Janie and her husband discussed the side effects, both the likely and common as well as the rare and possibly dangerous. 

Combining the three drugs, Rylie could reasonably expect to develop serious side effects including a compromised immune system, muscle pain, vertigo, early menopause, liver damage, loss of taste, and other debilitating complications.   

Adding insult to an already injurious situation, Rylie had developed seizures as a result of the surgery. Janie and her husband had a long talk about their now 8-year-old daughter’s future and decided that Big Pharma’s treatment could prove more dangerous than living with the tumors. 

“I had begun doing research on my own and seeing incredible outcomes of patients who consumed cannabis to treat both symptoms and grave illness,” Janie explained. “That the National Institutes of Health was funding so much research into cannabis, I believed we had to at least consider it for Rylie. We had one huge problem: Cannabis wasn’t legal in Delaware.” 

No smiles due to the disease

The Lengths a Mother Will Go to for Her Child

Janie admits to copping cannabis before she could obtain it legally. For obvious reasons, she didn’t disclose details about how and from whom she received it. She did report that because she had zero interest in compromising her daughter’s already fragile health, she didn’t get it off the street from strangers. Beyond that, she didn’t go into details. Indeed, even her husband didn’t know all the details. “I wanted him to have plausible deniability,” she explained. “We needed his salary and health insurance to survive, so we couldn’t do anything that could jeopardize that.” 

Three months after Janie started her daughter on cannabis to see if they could ease the symptoms of CGCG and slow its progression, the family received the first set of scans since the surgery. Not only was Rylie no longer feeling any discomfort or pain, the tumors had shrunk. An unintended but very welcome side effect of the cannabis was that the seizures Rylie developed after the surgery had also stopped. Several months later, they got new scans: Her face was actually filling out. In other words, the cannabis wasn’t just stopping the progression of the tumors caused by giant cell granuloma — absent any other explanation (because Rylie wasn’t on any other treatment) the cannabis was actually reversing the condition.  

Instructions not Included

Unlike the highly regulated drugs that come from Big Pharma, there are no written instructions with cannabis — regardless where you’re sourcing it from. How did Janie know how much, in what form, and how often to give her daughter cannabis? 

After Rylie’s surgery, Janie went to work. She joined groups on social media and talked with adults and parents of kids who have all sorts of cancer both those with decent cure rates and those with poor outcomes, such as multiforme glioblastoma, as well as CGCG. Many reported incredible results when they went off the Big Pharma drugs and switched to cannabis or used cannabis to complement the standard of care. Although nobody felt comfortable suggesting doses and frequency of use, Janie knew she was on the right track. 

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Next Janie spent countless hours doing research: articles about cannabis and studies into the safety and efficacy of using cannabis for illnesses, particularly breast cancer and bone regeneration. Janie explains how she arrived at dosing and frequency. “A lot of how I did it was based on the recommended dosage of dronabinol, which comes in 5mg doses. By knowing the mg per ml I figured out how to dilute it with carrier oil so that I could dose it at only 5-10 mg at a time in the beginning. 

“Because cannabis doesn’t come with instructions, figuring this was like an algebra equation. Once I confirmed the research showed promise, with my own understanding about how cannabis works, how it metabolizes in a young body and what receptors I was aiming for, I could work out a dose. I purposely started low and increased in tiny increments.

“My goal was to give her as much as I could three times a day but minimize the ‘high’ to keep her functional. I needed for her to be OK in school. Especially since it was illegal. Only twice did I mess up and give her too much before school. We also gave her citicoline powder to help counteract the high so that we could increase the doses. 

“We also took Rylie to pain management doctors (because they usually have cannabinoid training) and called ‘cannabis doctors’ hoping they would help with dosing, but once I’d contact them either they’d say they wouldn’t change anything I was doing, which was great, or offer to help (by repeating the same treatment plan) for hundreds of dollars.”

Even with doctors’ endorsement of Janie’s treatment plan for Rylie, confirmation wouldn’t come until Rylie had future MRIs. At the time of this writing, Rylie has had 17 MRIs and all have been excellent with no return of CGCG. 

From Copping Illicit Cannabis to Raising the Cannabis Industry’s Youngest CEO

Much of the criticism about cannabis comes from those who cite outdated information. In 1971, then President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, adding the cannabis plant to the Schedule 1 list, joining actually dangerous drugs like heroin. No distinction was made between hemp and cannabis, as both were considered controlled substances. This one act altered the course of cannabis, which hitherto had been touted for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years

Rylie growing up

In their criticism of cannabis, most who oppose it talk about it killing brain cells, turning people into spaced-out zombies, being a gateway drug to more dangerous substances such as heroin, cocaine and meth, and exposing consumers to a life of crime. 

At 15 years old, Rylie Maedler is a normal teenager. She has gotten straight As since she started consuming cannabis at the age of 8, to fight the tumors associated with giant cell granuloma. 

But there are a few things about Rylie that are pretty atypical for a teenager. 

As the founder of Rylie’s Smile and Rylie’s Sunshine, Rylie is the youngest CEO in the cannabis industry. She travels to cannabis conferences all over the world, including to South Africa and Australia, to share her story and explain why she feels cannabis saved her life. Rylie has addressed Congress, appealed to then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and explained why legislation around cannabis has to relax. And in 2015, Delaware passed Rylie’s Law, which permits children under the age of 18 suffering from seizures and other debilitating and grave illness to consume cannabis. 

In the past year, Rylie learned a tough lesson about access. As she explains things, “We’ve had people contact our foundation, saying that they want to get a medical card, but they can’t because they live on government property — called Section 8 housing. And who lives in Section 8 housing, right? So, from hearing stories like that — we didn’t know about this before — my foundation wrote a law that’s in Congress for consideration that will allow those in Section 8 housing to receive the same medical marijuana card I got without hesitation. Because of the pandemic, I was told Congress has put it on hold but will revisit when things calm down.” 

Access to Big Pharma’s medicines is limited to those who can afford them and those with excellent insurance. And given how drastically many in power want to reduce or eliminate access to affordable healthcare, how will we treat all that harms us? With two-thirds of Americans favoring cannabis legalization, and stories like Rylie’s, will cannabis emerge as the standard of care for much of what ails our society?  ❖

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News 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Cuomo Delivers New Cannabis Proposals

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his plans for cannabis legalization in New York. Highlights include $100 million in social equity funding, the enabling of cannabis delivery services, and, in this age of growing legalization, tweaks to laws governing unlawful sales, which have long had a disproportionate and devastating impact on communities of color. 

“As we work to reimagine, rebuild and reopen New York, we’re taking every opportunity to address and correct decades of institutional wrongs to build back better than ever before,” the governor said in the announcement. “We know that you cannot overcome a problem without first admitting there is one.” 

Cuomo has the advantage of seeing how other leaders around the country have previously approached the challenges of legalization. The equity programs he has presented take into account the pitfalls that western states have experienced in their earlier attempts to create space for communities hardest hit by cannabis enforcement.Our comprehensive approach to legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provides the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue,” Cuomo stated, adding, “But it also enables us to directly support the communities most impacted by the war on drugs by creating equity and jobs at every level, in every community in our great state.” 

While it may be hard to connect the dots on the relationship between social equity and delivery services at first, the reality is that delivery provides entry-level access to the industry, and this is especially helpful in empowering communities that might not have the level of capital needed to get a foot in the door. 

Cuomo’s plan is spot-on in prioritizing this access, which is the governor’s basis for permitting delivery in the first place. The announcement also noted the expectation of $3.5 billion in economic activity, $350 million in taxes from that activity, and 60,000 new jobs across the state. 

But truckloads of weed aren’t for everyone, at least not yet, so individual jurisdictions would have the opportunity to opt out of delivery. 

The $100 million in social equity funding will be spread across various organizations that reinvest in the community via services such as job placement and skills training, adult education, mental health treatment, substance-use disorder treatment, and a variety of other local initiatives. 

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The governor’s statement went on to explain the thought process involved in changing certain sales laws, understanding that some operators would still sell cannabis regardless of licensing: “Cannabis, however, adds another complicating factor to this dynamic —years of outdated policies stemming from the War on Drugs have disproportionately impacted communities of color.”  The legalization plan would see the criminal sale to minors be made a class A misdemeanor, the sale of over 16 ounces of flower or 80 grams of concentrate a class E felony, and the sale of over 64 ounces or 320 grams of concentrate a class D felony.

Ongoing, the program will address the specifics of limiting the sale of cannabis products to minors, the oversight of lab testing standards, and other general safety practices. 

Morgan Fox, Media Relations Director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said, “Making the allocation of funds for restorative justice and community development more nimble and available to groups doing the on-the-ground work seems like a step in the right direction that will actually engage with the communities that have been most harmed by prohibition.”

Fox also finds the plan to revamp the laws around illicit sales to be a good one. 

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“We should absolutely be looking at ways to pivot away from a criminal justice paradigm for these types of activities and do everything possible to lower the barriers of entry for legacy operators to join the legal market and thrive,” Fox said. “Of course, exceptions can be made for irresponsible, violent, or predatory operators who endanger public health and safety.” 

As examples of public endangerment, Fox pointed to transnational drug trafficking organizations and other organized crime syndicates, such as large-scale illicit vape cart producers who knowingly put garbage into the cannabis mix to boost profits. 

Erik Altieri, Executive Director of NORML, the nation’s oldest cannabis policy organization, also weighed in on the plan: “The proposed amendments from Governor Cuomo represent a step in the right direction for New York’s legalization proposal. It is critically important as states move towards legalization that revenue is dedicated back into the communities most ravaged by our decades-long war on marijuana. This is especially true in the Empire State which has long reigned as the capital of marijuana arrests in America. In addition to investing in those communities, the new economic opportunity created by a legal market must prioritize individuals from those marginalized communities by giving assistance and some form of priority access to cannabis business licenses.” 

Altieri further explained why delivery makes so much sense for social equity operations. 

“The inclusion of delivery services also provides an entry into a market that has lower barriers to entry than brick and mortar retail, especially in urban areas such as New York, where rent and other costs are prohibitive to most anyone who isn’t a hedge fund,” he said.  ❖ 

SEE MORE CANNABIS REPORTING FROM THE VOICE ARCHIVES:

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Health THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Keep Dope Alive: Why Pot Is Hot

Reefer Redux: Why Pot Is Hot
June 22, 1993

Did you know we’re at the tail end of a drug epidemic? So says Dr. David Musto, America’s leading historian of what has come to be called “substance abuse.” (What a marvelous euphemism, suggesting that anything of substance can be dangerous.) From his perch at Yale, Musto has identi­fied two drug epidemics in American histo­ry: one at the turn of the century, when opiates and cocaine were devoured by mil­lions until government regulators stepped in; and a second in the ’60s, when, as we all know, the culture of narcissism, the death of God, and the breakdown of the family led to reefer madness, blotter burnout, and a lot of rolling around in mud. In both eras, Musto reports, dangerous drugs carried a mystique as harmless catalysts of pleasure and intensity. In both cases, an adept com­bination of enforcement and education res­cued America from its illusions. Never mind the inebriating properties of alcohol, tobacco, and even coffee, powerful drugs that are built into our economy. Never mind the signs that a new drug culture is rising from the ashes of Just Say No.

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The New York Times tells us that mari­juana and its technodelic cousin Ecstasy are now an Official Trend. Billboard docu­ments the chart-busting properties of bands that advocate pot smoking. There’s a new suburban scene, and its signature is the dance-and-trance rite known as the rave. Here, the sound is fast and heady — all the better to blitz out on X — but for a more reflective buzz, there’s a new pot music in the air. Dr. Dre sees the cannabis leaf as a symbol of resistance to vast ganja-phobic conspiracy; for the Lemonheads, it conjures up wry, plaintive ballads that recall the brief moment between folk- and acid rock.

This is a sensibility without a lot of icon­ic baggage, a movement that wants to rein­vent the psychedelic experience. And its insignia is the bright green cannabis leaf several bands — and countless teens — are daring to display. In its wacky, saw-toothed splendor, this is the perfect emblem of the New Pothead: hopeful, wary, and fragile, like a shoot.

Professor Musto hasn’t offered any comment on “My Drug Buddy” by the Lemonheads. But you’ll be glad to know that the end of a drug epidemic takes many years: according to his calculation, the ’60s plague won’t fully abate until early in the next century. By then, of course, we may be talking about virtual possession with intent to sell. But my hunch is that no technology will replace the appeal of getting stoned on a sunny day, and that every generation will find its way to chemicals that produce a roller-coaster ride of consciousness. Professorial paradigms come and go, but it’s in the schema of being human to get high.

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Perhaps the problem is in calling something so profoundly cultural an epidemic. We use drugs — and choose which drugs we do — for a wide variety of reasons, and the patterns our choices make are far more difficult to read than the progress of a germ. Reflecting this distinction, society deals very differently with disease and dependence. Consider what has happened to sex in the age of AIDS: the mad dash for “safe” behaviors, the Hollywood fantasy shift from free love to fatal attraction, the sublimation of promiscuity into politics. Now consider how drug chic has ebbed and flowed with the political tide, suggesting that our need to get high is somehow related to our enthusiasm for social change. Look closer and you’ll see a correspondence between the chic drug and the prevailing ideology.

The Reagan years, for all their pious remonstrances to the contrary, prompted massive cocaine use by yuppies who owed their status to the precariousness of a boom economy. Coke is the perfect accompaniment to culture that promotes quick killings and easy military victories — sadism and spectacle in the name of freedom and tradition. One look at William Bennett’s barbed-wire grimace and anyone would be driven to toot. By this measure, it was almost inevitable that the election of Bill Clinton would fuel interest in a very different class of drugs. Driven by a need to touch and hug; mellow, almost to the point of bemusement; saddled with the image of a head, even as he insists he’s never inhaled — this president is sending out stoner vibes. And the nation that elected Clinton did so in part because it wanted those vibes. After 12 years of coke-and-junk-bond consciousness, we’re ready for a return to con­templation and connection.

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The young, especially, have been shaped by an era that taught them all about competing; they’ve learned to clique up like dolphins and swim in perfectly synchronized strokes. But they’ve been denied the tribal sensation. They’re all connected by a hookah of technology, but that’s a very different kind of bond. And so is the solidarity of race, gender, sexuality. Useful as these categories have been in hard times, they’ve kept a generation from discovering its commonality. Marijuana can facilitate this experience in a way that alcohol and cocaine cannot. Booze turns a tribe into a mob; coke, into a hive of networking killer bees. But pot uncorks the genie of communion.

There’s a ’60s sci-fi word for this intense, undifferentiated empathy: grokking. If I’m right, the abrupt use in the number of young people experimenting with marijuana (and willing to tell a pollster about it) is a sign of the need to grok. So is the effulgence of pot leaves on shirts, shorts, and caps. Quite a shift from last year’s official fashion-rebel logo, the X, with its aura of intifada and its salute to race pride. The X is a sign of self-definition, but the pot leaf stands for a more anarchic consciousness. It points away from dogma and toward impulse, away from mobilization and toward beatitude. And it suggests a more essential basis for communion than the circumstances of caste. By rescuing the ’60s ideal that getting high is a tribal rite from the ’80s conviction that the purpose of drugs is to help you achieve, the pot leaf signifies the difference between networking and grokking: it tells the denizens of Generation X that the sum of all those dead-end kids in empty malls is not slackerhood but community.

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I suppose every generation must invent its own name for a drug that is as timeless, ubiquitous, and malleable as cannabis. So welcome to the wonderful world of hemp, as marijuana is currently called by discern­ing stoners. Hemp is a word for cannabis from the days before dealers realized that the plant could be smoked. In temperate climates, it was widely grown and used for rope, paper, fabric, analgesics, and even birdseed. The word hemp has returned as a way to place marijuana in a naturalist context, evoking a world of products and plea­sures that could be derived from its unfet­tered cultivation. This strikes me as a sounder utopian vision than the idea that soldiers wouldn’t kill if they got stoned. We were thoroughly disabused of that notion in Vietnam.

In the ’60s, we called it grass, herb, or weed to signify the fact that we were smok­ing a hearty, ordinary plant. We spoke of boo to connote the funhouse scariness of getting high; dope when we wanted to send up the idea that marijuana was a dangerous drug; or reefer when we wanted to tap its jazz-age roots. Back in the ’30s, a joint was also called a mezz (for Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, the jazz musician, who once fan­cied lending his name to a legal brand of marijuana cigarette). Still further back, at the turn of the century, marijuana entered American culture as an emblem of negritude, replete with exotic Creole names like mootah. Once this racialist mystique was in place, the drug attained an overlay of evil: Moocher, viper, even fiend all once referred to pot smokers. My generation preferred the sobriquet head, with its image of the user as a devotee, rather than an addict: no one ever spoke of having a pot habit, since that concept was reserved for narcotics, a class of drugs we abhorred almost as much as alcohol.

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When the counterculture collapsed, so did the tribal rationale for getting high. It didn’t take long for these finely honed dis­tinctions between good and bad drugs to break down. Many of us returned to the bottle — which was readily available and not so demanding on the ego — and some of us took to the needle. The result has been a proliferation of 12-step programs, spurred, I suspect, not just by the growing problem of dependence but by the need for some institution to replace the commune and the tribe. Others simply absorbed the psyche­delic experience into their identities, with no particular desire to keep on getting high. But for millions more, smoking a joint be­came part of a routine; something done in private, with a few close friends, or in the intimate setting of sex. The more successful pot smokers became, the less likely they were to admit it, even to a pollster; and so, I’m convinced, millions of casual users eluded the statistics, and much of what passed for success in the war on drugs was simply the silence of those who can func­tion on drugs.

I belong to this latter category. My rela­tionship with marijuana is a long-term, sta­ble one, and more or less monogamous — ­which is to say, I’m not drawn to other drugs, rarely drink, and don’t smoke tobac­co. My habit (which I guess it is) seems to regulate itself; a few tokes in the evening and the day’s tensions dissolve. I suppose I could get the same effect from a cocktail or two, but without those flights of intellectual intensity, those moments of joyous immer­sion in music, moonlight, and dinner. Not to mention that feeling of being susceptible to the touch of a significant other. As a bonus of sorts, I usually sleep quite sound­ly, making sedatives unnecessary. And if I smoke too much or too often, the groggi­ness and irritability are unpleasant enough to make me regret it. Am I drug dependent? I guess so, but as habits go, grass is a pet jones. I walk it; it doesn’t walk me.

I make this confession because our drug policy won’t change until everyone who uses marijuana comes out and says so. Only when accountants and schoolteachers, base­ball players and astronauts, report exactly what they feel when stoned and how they function when they aren’t will the killer­-weed mystique be shattered. And only when ordinary citizens march on legisla­tures and precinct houses will the spurious basis for classifying marijuana as a danger­ous drug and filling the prisons with small-time dealers, be apparent.

The government’s case against pot is so absurd when placed against most word-of-­mouth accounts that it’s tempting to extol the drug’s virtues, if only to strike a blow against unjust authority. The result has been a tradition of lyrical odes to cannabis, from Baudelaire’s lushly documented hallu­cinations (probably induced by hashish) to Mezzrow’s contention that reefer made him able to “hear my saxophone as though it was inside my head” to Allen Ginsberg’s simple claim that marijuana is a “useful” tool for aesthetic perception. That it surely is. But if I’ve demanded that every head come out, then it’s also incumbent on me to own up to my disappointments with the drug. The problem for me isn’t reefer mad­ness, but reefer mundanity.

I get high to suspend the rules of consciousness imposed by my environment and my housebroken ego. But in getting high, I also lower my capacity for exhilaration at other times. Sex, music, even ordinary relaxation seems vaguely dull without the company of cannabis. Over time, my feelings cor­respond to the rhythm of getting stoned. Life itself becomes a space to be occupied by activities that prevent or distract me from that catalytic experience. As for the ultimate trip, dreaming: when I go to bed stoned, I don’t dream, at least as far as I can remem­ber. This loss of intrapsychic connection produces a subtle numbness, sort of like living without weather. It may be a small price to pay for those perceptual goodies Ginsberg speaks about, but it belies the reason I get stoned, which is to put me in closer touch with my subconscious.

As for grokking: did you ever try to walk down a New York street in a state of red-­eyed empathy? Most of your energy is spent trying to act like you aren’t stoned. Times have changed since euphoria felt safe.

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Let me tell you about the first time I got high. It was 1966, and I was a young reporter convinced the music coming out of San Francisco would usher in the revolution. One day, a company freak — which is what we called hippies who worked for record labels — urged me to meet two unknown local bands he was about to sign. We drove to a house in a tract development on the edge of the city. There, sitting on the floor of an unfurnished living room, were Cree­dence Clearwater Revival and Big Brother and the Holding Company. I remember being introduced to Janis Joplin, who was holding a baby to her bare breast. A huge spliff was passed around. I had learned by then that toking up was a test of credibility, especially for a journalist, so I always took a few puffs, though it never did much for me. But this time the setting, and maybe the shit, were just right. My body felt suf­fused with warmth; the eyes of the people around me glistened and their faces seemed full of feeling. We sat there talking for per­haps an hour, and then it was time to go. They piled into a Day-Glo van, which coasted down an impossibly steep hill, long hair flying in every direction. “We shouldn’t be doing interviews,” I shouted after them. “We should be friends.”

I was thinking about that the other day when I lit up preparatory to attending a Ravi Shankar concert at Carnegie Hall. I’d skulked through Central Park in search of a refuge for this by no means decriminalized act, and ended up in a deserted close, where I could easily have been mugged. Then, when the drug kicked in, I tried to navigate the dinner-hour madness in the streets, cir­cumventing heavy traffic and voluble cra­zies. Seized by the munchies, I searched desperately for a greengrocer in that tour­isty milieu, and finally succeeded in buying an overpriced brownie, which I devoured on the run. Now I was ready to battle the box office and the crowds in a tiny lobby, maneuvering with great effort into my seat. Intensely aware of how cramped it was, and suddenly hungry again, I sat there in a stew of misfiring neurons as the Master ap­peared. By the time he settled into place, tuned up, made an explanatory speech, and began to play, the drug was taking me on a long, slow slide. I knew this feeling well enough to be patient about it, but I also knew it would prevent me from following a complex 40-minute raga, even as it made the first few cycles of notes sound like a rush of summer wind coming up from be­hind my neck.

It’s my own fault, I suppose, for getting caught in a time warp. Turning on at a Ravi Shankar concert has become archaic — and for that matter, getting stoned anywhere is an act of psychic sedition. It requires that you work in a profession where your urine is your own, and that you keep a very low profile. (I always douse my stash in cologne when traveling, on the theory that drug-­sniffing dogs will mistake it for a copy of Vanity Fair.) Over the years, I’ve located nooks and crannies for dope smoking in the vicinity of every major concert hall. But there’s no doubt that this stealth operation affects the quality of my high.

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Which is why the new satori-seekers have found it necessary to reinvent the scene. Whether it’s called a Be-In or a rave, the only way to create a safe space for getting stoned in public is to gather together in numbers so great that the law must be sus­pended. And there’s an ancillary benefit to making pot part of a social ritual. You’re less likely to let the drug run your life if you go someplace to use it, and more likely to have a mellow time if you don’t get high alone.

This is the rationale for the Dutch ap­proach to drug control. In Amsterdam, you can saunter down to a café and toke up in the company of friends. But back in the U.S.A. the strategy is to force users into a solipsistic relationship with their drugs. The aim is to assure that the worst-case scenario comes to pass: that pot leads to paralysis rather than growth, and that managing its effects is as difficult as possible. The actual result of this strategy is to preserve the marijuana mystique, and to assure that every generation will see this pesky weed as an emblem of rebellion.

To break this cycle, tell the truth: intoxication transcends the ordinary only when it isn’t ordinary. With marijuana — as with alcohol, tobacco, and even coffee — the less you use, the higher you get. Taken rarely, it can expand, relax, and stimulate. But taken regularly, even in small doses, cannabis loses its capacity to produce wonder, and the very act of assimilating its intensity ends up depressing the desired effect. The key to preserving what North Africans call al kief — “the blessed state” — is preventing the drug from becoming mundane. So, by all means, keep dope alive — but overuse it and you’ll lose it.