New York Cannabis Regulators Expand Licenses to Disabled Vets, Women, Minorities

Cannabis regulators in New York state gave the green light to pass updated and expanded regulations Tuesday, signaling a more inclusive shift in the application process for licensed cannabis shops. Until now, such licenses were primarily limited to “justice-involved” people with prior convictions related to cannabis that occurred when the drug was still illegal.

Under the updated rules, “social equity” applicants, including disabled military veterans, minority and women-owned businesses, and struggling farmers, will also be eligible to apply for licenses to operate marijuana dispensaries starting on October 4th, the New York Post reports. In policy, social equity aims to ensure fairness and justice by addressing systemic inequalities and providing equal opportunities for all. It acknowledges existing disparities and works to eliminate them. But, despite all the hardships that vets endure, this label hasn’t always applied to them. The new laws acknowledge the sacrifices veterans have made and the lack of support when trying to start a business after returning to civilian life. 

In August, a group of four disabled veterans sued Governor of New York Kathy Hochul’s administration and the state Cannabis Control Board. Their lawsuit challenged the exclusion of disabled veterans from applying for the initial round of licenses, which the board focused on giving to folks with prior marijuana convictions.

“The MRTA [Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act] had already established a goal to award 50% of all adult-use licenses to social and economic equity applicants. But instead of following the law, OCM and CCB created their own version of ‘social equity’ and determined for themselves which individuals would get priority to enter New York’s nascent adult-use cannabis market,” reads a statement on behalf of the veterans bringing the legal action.

Many veterans have a passion and personal connection to cannabis for its role in treating PTSD. Back in June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that includes an amendment allowing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis for their patients in legal states. It is slated to move forward as part of the approved legislation that funds the VA for the 2024 Fiscal Year.

“It’s about time,” said Carmine Fiore, a disabled vet and one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We finally have an equitable playing field. We are finally being prioritized — as we should have been under the law.”

The potential ramifications of the new rules on the ongoing litigation remain uncertain. Following their Tuesday meeting, the cannabis regulators involved in the lawsuit met for an executive session behind closed doors. This private talk could offer insights into their future course of action.

Fiore said while he’s now allowed to apply for the cannabis store license, it didn’t “stop the harm” from being kept from applying for a Conditional Adult- Retail Dispensary (CAURD). “They gave the justice-involved an unfair advantage,” he said.

But now, the Cannabis Control Board rules dramatically expanded the eligibility requirements for entrepreneurs applying for licenses. Cannabis farmers, cultivators, distributors, processors, and micro-businesses can now have a piece of the pie. 

New York’s legal cannabis market has faced a messy and problematic launch. While technically, there are only 23 cannabis stores statewide, nine of which are in New York City, an estimated 1,500 unlicensed smoke shops sell weed. While these legal gray areas, often more affordable stores with easy access, can be a dream come true to cannabis consumers. However, the red-tape-wrapped situation has left farmers feeling left behind, as they end up stuck with massive quantities of harvested cannabis, given the limited means of legal sale.  

But on Tuesday, state officials said they plan to fix that and expand the cannabis market. 

“Today marks the most significant expansion of New York’s legal cannabis market since

legalization, and we’ve taken a massive step towards reaching our goal of having New Yorkers being able to access safer, regulated cannabis across the state,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, reports the New York Post

“We are immensely proud to be building the fairest, most competitive cannabis industry in the nation — one that puts those most harmed by prohibition first and offers a true opportunity for all New Yorkers — not just large corporations — to compete and thrive,” he added.

Multi-state cannabis companies currently serving only New York medical marijuana patients will have the chance to expand their offerings to all New Yorkers for adult use, not solely medical, starting at the end of the year. However, several individuals and small operators raised concerns at the Tuesday meeting. They fear that such larger firms would establish dominance in the market before they could even start their operations. Many in attendance requested that state regulators postpone the entry of multi-state operators into the market.

A group backed by medical cannabis businesses welcomed the opening of the application process as a positive first step. However, they also expressed concern that the state isn’t doing enough to speed up the process of allowing them to sell recreational weed sooner.

“The rules passed today are a step forward. But until the State actually issues these licenses and these dispensaries get open and operational, New Yorkers will continue to be denied the tax revenue, safe cannabis, and equitable system they were promised,” said Kirsten Foy of the Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis.

The post New York Cannabis Regulators Expand Licenses to Disabled Vets, Women, Minorities appeared first on High Times.

Pittsburgh Advocates Unite To Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania’s second-largest city, advocates are busy working to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Last month, two lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 846 to legalize adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania. The bill currently waits for review from the Senate Law and Justice Committee for further deliberation. Next Pittsburgh reports that advocates at a local Pittsburgh branch of NORML are gearing up for legalization efforts in the state.

“This is a much bigger issue than just cannabis—it’s about giving people the right to be able to find health and wellness in the way that they want to and to not have to feel like the government will tell them how they’re allowed to heal,” says Gina Vensel, a cannabis educator and advocate in the area. Vensel is also on the executive committee of Pittsburgh NORML, the Pittsburgh branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

SB 846 is a bipartisan effort and was spearheaded by Sens. Daniel Laughlin and Sharif Street. The bill would establish a Cannabis Regulatory Control Board, and allow adults 21 and over to purchase cannabis from retail locations. It would additionally allow medical cannabis cardholders to grow cannabis at home. Lastly it would expunge nonviolent cannabis-related convictions.

“Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity,” Laughlin said in a statement. “With neighboring states New Jersey and New York implementing adult use, we have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult use marijuana to avoid losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs.”

Problems Remain in Pittsburgh

High Times reported in 2018 that Solevo Wellness was the city’s first medical dispensary, and is the fourth operating medical cannabis dispensary in the entire state of Pennsylvania. The process of establishing, licensing, and opening Solevo Wellness took about 18 months. The company credits much of their success in obtaining the proper permits to their hired industry consultant, Sara Gullickson.

Pittsburgh, located in Allegheny County, decriminalized cannabis in 2015. Part of the policy shift involved giving law enforcement a choice between arresting people for suspected cannabis offenses or simply giving them a citation. Further downstream the criminal legal system, prosecutors in Pennsylvania’s major cities enacted “decline to prosecute” policies for minor cannabis cases that went to trial.

Despite decriminalization locally, arrests for cannabis increased since Pittsburgh enacted decriminalization policies. Many officers at police departments are having a hard time letting go of the old policy, continuing to arrest rather than ticket suspected offenders.

 Analyzing all the criminal dockets filed in Allegheny County from 2016 to 2017, The Appeal broke down the 2,100-some cases where the top charge was possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis. They also looked at the thousands of arrests for minor possession police made over the same period.

Of the 2,100-plus cannabis-related cases in Allegheny County where the defendant received a misdemeanor possession charge, 51 percent of the people charged were Black. According to the most recent U.S. census data from 2017, 13.4 percent of all Allegheny residents are Black. And the dramatic racial disparity across the county is even more acute in Pittsburgh: Black people were charged in more than 400 of the 600 cases filed by the Pittsburgh Police Department. Black people comprised two-thirds of all cannabis cases in the city, despite representing just 24.3 percent of the city’s population. In other words, Pittsburgh police charged Black people for cannabis twice as much as white people.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Decriminalization

On a few notable occasions, Pittsburgh Pirate games provided a stage for decriminalization efforts and awareness.

Wiz Khalifa, a Pittsburgh native, is an advocate for both cannabis and psilocybin. He tossed the ceremonial first pitch on Monday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Guardians. “Finna get stoned af and throw this first pitch at the pirates game,” he tweeted, before following it up with more specifics. “Shroomed out throwin a baseball is crazy,” Wiz said in another tweet moments later.

Former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis pulled off a pitch on acid as well on June 12, 1970. 

It was on that day that Ellis reputedly threw a no-hitter while tripping on LSD. 

“According to Ellis (and, it should be noted, all of this is according to Ellis), he went to visit a friend in Los Angeles the day before his start, took some acid and stayed up late into the night drinking and doing drugs, subsequently losing track of which day it was,” Sports Illustrated wrote in 2017. “The day of his start, he woke up and, thinking he was supposed to pitch the next day, took another hit of acid at noon, only to learn two hours later from his friend that he was, in fact, supposed to be on the mound against the Padres that evening in San Diego. Ellis got on a plane an hour later and made it to the park 90 minutes before first pitch.”

For the time being, advocates in the city remain busy at work.

The post Pittsburgh Advocates Unite To Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in Pennsylvania appeared first on High Times.

New York Supreme Court Judge Lifts Injunction for Small Number of Cannabis Licenses

New York Supreme Court Justice Judge Kevin Bryant recently lifted a temporary injunction that previously halted approval for any state cannabis licenses on Aug. 25. However, only 30 licensees are currently affected by the decision compared to the statewide total of more than 400 applications that are still on hold. 

“As such, those licenses identified by the office of cannabis management will be deemed exempt from the injunction,” Bryant said about his decision.

Those 30 licensees were labeled “ready to open” by both the Cannabis Control Board and the city in which they will operate. According to a PIX11 news report, applicants could potentially become exempt from the injunction if they need their dispensary income to help them financially. “The Judge’s August 18 order outlined certain factors and our job as attorneys representing CAURD licenses is to ensure that our clients are protected and that they fit within an exemption so we need to work to make sure they’re in line with the judge’s order,” said Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) attorney Jorge Luis Vasquez.

In response to Byrant’s most recent decision, the Office of Cannabis Management issued a statement regarding exemptions for those provisional licensees. “While today’s ruling is a disappointment, we are committed to working with the Cannabis Control Board to find a way forward that does not derail our efforts to bring the most equitable cannabis market in the nation to life.”

The lawsuit began on Aug. 2 when a group of military veterans introduced a lawsuit against the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and New York Cannabis Control Board, claiming that those agencies did not set up a properly working cannabis industry as stated in the state’s CAURD license, state officials prioritized “justice involved” applicants over disabled veteran applicants.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was originally signed in March 2021 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and includes a list of five “social and economic equity” groups that would receive priority for a cannabis license: distressed farmers, individuals who live in areas disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, minority-owned businesses, service-disabled veterans, and women-owned businesses.

The lawsuit includes Carmine Fiore (who served eight years in the Army and National Guard), Dominic Spaccio (who spent six years in the U.S. Air Force), William Norgard (a former Army veteran), and Steve Mejia (with six years spent in the Air Force), who are represented by attorneys Brian Thomas Burns, Selbie Lee Jason, and Patrick Joseph Smith, of Clark Smith Villazor.

According to plaintiff Fiore, he and other veterans helped get cannabis legalized, but now are being denied an opportunity to take part in the state’s legal industry and “cast aside for a separate agenda,” Fiore told CBS News.

“From the beginning, our fight has always been for equal access to this new and growing industry,” a joint statement from all four veterans said. “We look forward to working with the state and the court to open the program to all eligible applicants.”

As a result, Judge Bryant issued an injunction on Aug. 7 that prevented the New York Office of Cannabis Management from approving licenses for any new cannabis stores temporarily. In a hearing on Aug. 18, Bryant extended the injunction and said that the CAURD program is in “legal jeopardy,” and predicted that the OCM’s decision not to award licenses to the veteran defendants caused “irreparable harm.”

Clark Smith Villazor released a statement on LinkedIn in response to Bryant’s decision last week. “In a ruling today in favor of Clark Smith Villazor LLP’s four service-disabled veteran clients seeking to enter New York’s nascent retail marijuana industry, a New York State Supreme Court Justice issued a preliminary injunction that largely halts the processing of allegedly unconstitutional conditional adult-use retail dispensary (CAURD) licenses in the cannabis industry,” the firm wrote about the ruling on Aug. 18. “In a 16-page decision, Justice Kevin Bryant found that CSV’s clients ‘presented persuasive and compelling authority’ that the state regulators ‘failed to follow the clear language of the applicable legislation’ by failing to open the retail-dispensary application period to everyone at the same time, including to priority groups like service-disabled veterans.”

Currently, only 23 licensed cannabis stores are open for business in New York, and the decision has halted all progress and is negatively impacting cannabis owners across the state.

Last week, CEO of CONBUD, Coss Marte told High Times how prior to cannabis legalization in New York, 94% of cannabis-related arrests included Black and Latino residents. “We’ve paid our dues. We’ve done the time, and if there’s one thing we hope for the world and the court to know, it’s that like cannabis, we’re here for good and we are here to stay,” Marte said. “We had the opportunity to be heard and to fight on behalf of all of our fellow CAURD licensees who will experience irreparable harm if they’re barred from operating their businesses, and we are confident and hopeful that the court wants a swift resolution that honors the original promises made to justice-impacted license holders.”

The Cannabis Control Board is set to hold a meeting on Sept. 12 to vote on state licensing regulations. “I want this to be as easy as possible, I don’t want to waste unnecessary time,” Bryant said, who also scheduled the next hearing of the case for Sept. 15.

The post New York Supreme Court Judge Lifts Injunction for Small Number of Cannabis Licenses appeared first on High Times.

Ron DeSantis Confirms He Would Not Legalize Adult Use if Elected President, Warns of Fentanyl-Laced Pot

On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he would not legalize adult-use cannabis if elected president, confirming what he said in June, and warned about the danger of fentanyl-laced pot at the Never Back Down Super PAC in Iowa.

Florida Politics reports that the presidential hopeful is gearing up for the 2024 presidential election, and taking a harder stance against adult-use cannabis.

“Yeah, I would not legalize,” DeSantis said at Never Back Down. “I think what’s happened is this stuff is very potent now. I think it’s a real, real problem and I think it’s a lot different than stuff that people were using 30 or 40 years ago. And I think when kids get on that, I think it causes a lot of problems. And then, of course, you know, they can throw fentanyl in any of this stuff now.”

DeSantis launched a bus tour scheduled last month to hit Chariton, Osceola, and Oskaloosa in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports that it’s part of his plan to “barnstorm” small towns in Iowa, an early voting state, as he ramps up his campaign to tackle GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. Polling averages by FiveThirtyEight show DeSantis with about 18% of Republican voter support while Trump carries over 50%.

“The drugs are killing this country,” DeSantis added, though cannabis itself cannot cause a fatal overdose. “While a fatal overdose caused solely by marijuana is unlikely, marijuana is not harmless,” the CDC says cautiously. Fentanyl, of course, is another story: drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids—primarily fentanyl—continued to rise with 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 2021.

“We have medical in our Constitution, we have medical marijuana, we enforce that, you know, we abide by it, but to take action now to make it even more available, I would not do that,” DeSantis said, adding that Colorado adult use just led to black market sales. DeSantis, however, supported smokable medical cannabis early in his first term, citing people with Lou Gehrig’s disease and other conditions, when it’s unknown which delivery method works best. 

But in 2022 he went hard against cannabis: “What I don’t like about it is if you go to some of these places that have done it, the stench when you’re out there, I mean, it smells so putrid,” he said. “I could not believe the pungent odor that you would see in some of these places. I don’t want to see that here. I want people to be able to breathe freely.”

On the campaign trail in North Augusta, South Carolina in June, DeSantis was asked by a man claiming to be speaking on behalf of military veterans living with sickness and injury after serving their country, whether he would decriminalize cannabis if elected president.

DeSantis said he would not, saying that it would impact employee performance. “I think that we have too many people using drugs in this country right now,” the Florida governor said. “I think it hurts our workforce readiness. I think it hurts people’s ability to prosper and, just in my experience in growing up in the Tampa Bay area in Florida, the kids in high school who got involved in that that I went with, you know, all suffered. All their activities, all their grades, and everything like that.”

By Sunday, DeSantis was back in Tallahassee.

Fentanyl and Cannabis Are Very Different

Headlines about fentanyl-laced pot cause alarm, yet frequently fall apart: The Brattleboro Police Department (BPD) in Vermont told the media they revived a patient using CPR and several doses of Narcan after cannabis the person smoked reportedly tested positive for fentanyl, and found more in a second incident. Then they had to retract their statement:

“The seized marijuana in both incidents was submitted to a forensic laboratory where testing was conducted,” the Brattleboro Police Department said in a statement. “BPD was notified no fentanyl was found in the marijuana in either case.”

The same thing happened in 2020 in New York when officials said they found the drug in cannabis, and then a week or so later determined it wasn’t. “Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl has not been found mixed into cannabis in New York City,” the city health department clarified. The New York State Department of Health also clarified “it is unlikely to be in weed.” 

But is smoking fentanyl-laced pot even feasible considering how it burns? It’s a topic High Times has explored many times. “It’s unclear if you can consume fentanyl in that way—by smoking,” Peter Grinspoon, M.D., an Internist and medical cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Instructor at Harvard Medical School told High Times in 2021. “Some drugs you can smoke, like cocaine, freebased as crack. But fentanyl tends to disintegrate starting at about 500 degrees [F], and it fully disintegrates at about 1000 degrees. When you smoke—you’re talking about 2,000 degrees.” 

While it could have happened some place, it would make little sense for drug dealers to lace pot with fentanyl if it’s smoked considering how much could be wasted.

The post Ron DeSantis Confirms He Would Not Legalize Adult Use if Elected President, Warns of Fentanyl-Laced Pot appeared first on High Times.

Harlem Set To Open First Legal Dispensary

It is a celebratory time in one of New York City’s most historic neighborhoods, which will open its first legal marijuana dispensary next week. 

The dispensary, known as Gotham Buds, has a “tentative grand opening” scheduled on September 5 at its location just across the street from the iconic Apollo Theater, according to CBS New York.

The local news station noted that the opening of the business has faced “some pushback from the community.”

A Harlem-based business group called the 125th Street Business Improvement District filed a lawsuit in April with the New York Supreme Court, claiming that the “the process was conducted secretly in order to avoid opposition from the community.”

“We’ve taken this action to really create transparency and to create a channel of communication to understand why this location,” Mukaram Taheraly, chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, said at the time, as quoted by CBS New York.

The station explained that it was “the first case challenging the process state regulators use to choose dispensary locations,” and that the lawsuit “accused the state of violating its own law against having a dispensary within 500 feet of a school, with Touro College, which teaches high school students, just a few doors away.”

But in a statement this week ahead of the scheduled opening of Gotham Buds, the 125th Street Business Improvement District hit a more welcoming note.

“We want all of our Harlem businesses to thrive, so we will do everything in our power to help make this be a success for Gotham Buds and our community,” the group said, as quoted by CBS New York.

New York legalized recreational cannabis for adults in 2021, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure into law. 

Many parts of the law took immediate effect, most notably the provision that enabled those 21 and older to have weed in their possession and to toke up wherever smoking is permitted. 

After Cuomo resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct in August of that year, he was succeeded by Kathy Hochul, who made it a priority to get the regulated marijuana market up and running.

The state’s first legal marijuana dispensary opened in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood in December of last year.

“We set a course just nine months ago to start New York’s adult-use cannabis market off on the right foot by prioritizing equity, and now, we’re fulfilling that goal,” Hochul said in a statement at the time. “The industry will continue to grow from here, creating inclusive opportunity in every corner of New York State with revenues directed to our schools and revitalizing communities.”

Under an unprecedented social equity initiative, at least the first 100 dispensary licenses awarded in the Empire State are being awarded to individuals with previous cannabis-related convictions.

“New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabis industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past,” Hochul said in her announcement of the initiative last year. “The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind. I’m proud New York will be a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building.”

Known as the Seeding Opportunity Initiative, the program “guarantees support for future equity applicants, and secures an early investment into communities most impacted by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” the governor’s office said at the time.

“Our state’s Cannabis Law sets a high goal for creating an equitable industry that puts New Yorkers first,” Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright said in the announcement at the time. “The Seeding Opportunity Initiative puts us on a path for achieving that goal and hopefully models a way forward for reaching those goals while building a stable market. I am thankful for the support of Governor Hochul and the Legislature, which made it possible for us to get this initiative off the ground quickly, establish a supply chain from our farmers to equity, retailers, and generate the resources to help revitalize communities that were harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.” 

The allocation of dispensary licenses has so far been delayed by legal challenges. In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, a group of military veterans challenged the policy of awarding licenses to those with prior convictions. As a result of the lawsuit, a New York judge extended an injunction on the issuing of additional cannabis dispensary licenses until the matter reaches a resolution. 

“That pushes this from being late to the party to potentially exiled from the process,” Brian Burns, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said earlier this month.

“I don’t think you can quantify how being subjected to an unconstitutional program impacts a person,” Burns added.

The post Harlem Set To Open First Legal Dispensary appeared first on High Times.

We Need to Chill Out About Categorizing ‘Medical’ Versus ‘Recreational’

I used to wake up in the middle of the night, every night, with a nightmare. In it, my body was frozen, and trigger warning: In the nightmare, I was fading in and out of unconscious, but someone was raping me. They were textbook PTSD nightmares, and I had no idea what to do about them.

I was raised in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, surrounded by ganja culture. While millennial “statesiders” my age I’d meet later when I moved to the South for school and then New York for my forever home, I realized that my childhood was different. Far from the “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E rhetoric my contemporaries experienced, many of my friend’s parents were Rastafarians. I grew up understanding that cannabis was a sacrament. So I spent high school, during the Bush era, on the debate team arguing for its legalization, and college majoring in journalism, reporting on cannabis. I’ve always been vehemently pro-legalization. But the reason cannabis didn’t become a big part of my personal life until a decade ago, in 2013, was because I was a total boozehound. 

But alcohol made my PTSD stemming from my assault worse. Sometimes, back in the day, to be perfectly honest, it made me downright nasty or even suicidal. So my ambition kicked in, having seen what alcoholism can do to others (it runs in my family), and I quit. I haven’t had a drink in 10 years. I’ve been Cali Sober since before the term existed, baby. 

So, a few years into sobriety, when a stoner close to my heart told me that people used cannabis to treat anxiety, PTSD and that THC could even suppress nightmares, at first, I was skeptical. Sure, it should be legal, just like alcohol, and the government is full of shit, but would it affect me like liquor did? Personally, 12-Step programs did more harm than good. I’m a big believer that a one-size-fits-all model is not suitable for recovery, something society finally seems ready to talk about.

Especially in the first few years after my assault, I needed to be shaken and reminded of my power — which had been robbed from me — instead of admitting I was powerless, which is, in so many words, the first step of AA. I’m glad the program works for many, including people I love, and I won’t even get into the fact that its founder, Bill W., fully embraced psychedelics at the end of his life, adamant that they could treat alcoholism. Because this story is about why recreational use and medical use have more overlap than the establishment makes them out to.

When I first quit drinking shortly after my assault, I was a shell of my former self. I’d accept invitations to parties only to turn around at the door, back to the safety of my apartment, as my social anxiety was so bad even small talk was terrifying. I should add that I was prescribed a very high level of benzodiazepines, which I’m not against on principle, they have their time and place, but as anyone who’s weaned off them knows, they also have their downfalls (quite serious, benzo withdrawal can cause seizure or even death). So after doing my research and realizing that cannabis could not only quell nightmares, help me better inhabit my body, and treat social anxiety, but had a lower side effect profile than benzos, and was less physically addicting, I decided (after talking with my psychiatrist and therapist) to give cannabis a shot. It worked. It stopped my nightmares. My dissociation got better. I could socialize again; I could even goddamn do karaoke without a sip of booze or flutter of nerves. I didn’t need all that Klonopin. I was sold, even if those I knew in recovery circles at the time were not. 

So when New York legalized medical marijuana for PTSD in 2017, even though I was already using it under doctor supervision, I jumped at the opportunity and got a medical card, hitting up a dispensary right away. I was a little bummed to learn that they sold lower-dose products for much more than my dealer (I prefer the term “florist”) could offer, so like so many others in this economy, I returned to the black market and honestly eventually just let my medical card expire. 

But something else had happened by 2017. I healed. Sure, I still had anxiety, some trust issues, and enough reasons to have a therapist, but I no longer woke up every night with flashbacks. I was my outgoing, extroverted, optimistic self again. Cannabis still helped me be present, dial down any social anxiety, and only need a Klonopin if having one of those panic attacks that feel like a heart attack. Still, I started to wonder: Was I “bad” for continuing to use cannabis, not primarily for PTSD, but simply because it felt good and made life easier? And, no, to this day, it’s never made me blackout, it’s never made me say something nasty to a friend I don’t remember the next day, it’s never given me a hangover with a side of suicidal thoughts. My friends, doctors, and partner actually sometimes need to remind me to take it when I get a little bitchy now and then. 

Then I realized something even more horrifying — I was thinking like a Reagan supporter. Is it wrong to enjoy the euphoric side effects of a substance? Taking this a step further, is it morally worse to enjoy the euphoric side effects of a substance such as cannabis that’s federally illegal instead of many FDA-approved anxiety or pain treatments that also make you feel high? What was this hypocritical bullshit? I’m a Virgin Islander, goddamnit, not some regressive conservative clinging onto the bullshit the Moral Majority spent so many years spewing. 

Of course, legalization has upsides, such as fewer people in prison and more research on the plant’s benefits. But by 2017, and absolutely by the present day, I don’t just fit the bill for a medical patient; I’m a recreational (make that adult-use, a term I greatly appreciate) user. Yes, it helps my anxiety and PTSD. Yes, it plays a role in harm reduction, just like dear old Bill W. eventually supported, and it makes it easier not to drink. I never even think about alcohol. But cannabis is also just fun. Plenty of people who use cannabis recreationally also receive medical benefits as a nice side effect, such as lowered social anxiety or better sleep. Conversely, people with medical cards who use it for an ailment enjoy the pleasant side effect of euphoria. Is either team wrong? I think not. Does one need a stamp of government approval (since when do we trust them on this subject?) to use cannabis guilt-free? Dear god, I hope not. 

We live in a culture that moralizes euphoria. From a government-approved recovery program POV, if it makes you feel good, it’s bad. Any substance use should involve honesty about its effects. For instance, while I used to use cannabis to help with nightmares, as I got older, THC started giving me insomnia. So now, unless I’m at a concert or late-night dance party, I don’t take any after a certain hour, sticking with a low dose during the day. But that’s just me. We’re all different, and everyone’s reaction to substances is different and will likely change throughout their lifetime. But in this beautiful life on this wicked world, filled with violent crimes, people in prison for non-violent crimes, pandemics, homophobes, hurricanes, cancer drug shortages, but also love, community, science, the spiritual experience of playing with a dog — I’ll take all the euphoria I can get as long as it continues to offer a positive impact on my life. Binary thinking is so Bush-era and so over. May the adult-use cannabis consumers also enjoy lowered anxiety or pain, and may the medical patients guilt-free pop an edible before a concert and dance up a sweat while enjoying a heightened sensory experience. 

Euphorically yours, 
Sophie Saint Thomas

The post We Need to Chill Out About Categorizing ‘Medical’ Versus ‘Recreational’ appeared first on High Times.

Fresno, California Locals Block Cannabis Store from Opening

After bending over backwards to meet the criteria for compliance, residents in Pinedale, a neighborhood of Fresno, California, rallied in Fresno City Hall to appeal a permit and demand officials shut down a proposed adult-use retail cannabis location from opening.

Residents appealed Embarc’s Cannabis Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a proposed location at a Fresno Planning Commission meeting on August 16. The stigma surrounding cannabis lingers in many smaller communities throughout California.

Embarc CEO Lauren Carpenter led a proposal to open a dispensary at 7363 N. Blackstone Ave., home to about 15 other retailers, and had met requirements to maintain a 1,000-foot distance from Pinedale Elementary School, per local regulations. The store also met necessary security regulations and metro city requirements for parking.

Residents still complained however, saying the smell of pot would fill the nearby shopping center, and that armed guards would be a nuisance. The dispensary’s 1,000-foot distance from the school—meeting local compliance regulations—was still too close to impressionable school children.

Community group Pinedale Matters and Clovis Unified School District wrote letters demanding the proposal be shut down. The effort to appeal the permit worked.

“Embarc was issued every regulation, every ordinance, every code—everything that would be required of this business in order to be in compliance,” Carpenter tells High Times. “Twenty-six regulatory agencies all found us in total compliance. We are required by the issuance of our license to operate in district two, including the location that was vetted by the agencies and county departments.”

“Our business model is predicated on spending weeks, months, and years engaging with community members who are in support, and in opposition to cannabis,” Carpenter continues.

Planning Commission member Monica Diaz told GV Wire that store owners had done everything to meet the criteria set by the city of Fresno to open a dispensary. “She has covered everything, there’s nothing that anybody can come and say that she’s not doing,” Diaz said of Carpenter.

Since two Pinedale residents appealed Embarc’s CUP, representatives were forced to go before the Planning Commission.

“Fear is a far more powerful motivator than fact,” Carpenter says. “I think it was shocking to see a planning commission, by their own admission, [deny a business that was] fully compliant with the process that our city created. Commissioners acknowledge that.” 

Others disagreed and believed regulated dispensaries are safe, however. Five Pinedale residents spoke in favor of Embarc, saying that the store would actually make the neighborhood safer. The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union also spoke in favor of Embarc.

The meeting lasted until 9:55 p.m., with the Planning Commission’s time running out. Planning Commission members unanimously agreed to deny the permit, calling the location a “detriment” to the neighborhood. Planning Commission member Haley Wagner was not present at the meeting.

Fresno and Adult-Use Cannabis

The city has been slow to rollout adult-use cannabis retail locations. In March, Fresno faced a budget shortfall of over $3 million, partly due to the slow pace of cannabis dispensary openings in the city.

Embarc and The Artist Tree opened in the Fresno area on the same day in July 2022. The remaining businesses awarded preliminary licenses have submitted their applications for CUPs which must be approved before building permits are issued and construction or renovations of the site can begin.

Proposition 64 legalized cannabis for adult use in California in 2016. In 2018, Fresno voters approved an ordinance to tax retail sales of recreational cannabis, paving the way for adult-use cannabis dispensaries to open in the city. 

In 2019, the Fresno City Council amended civic ordinances to regulate recreational cannabis, and in 2021 the city began awarding the first of 19 preliminary retail cannabis dispensary licenses issued to date.

Officials in Fresno considered several jurisdictions for possible solutions to the city’s slow rollout of adult-use shops and are considering several options to expedite the opening of additional retailers in the city. 

Pinedale used to be an unincorporated town in Fresno County, but has since become surrounded and annexed by the City of Fresno.

The post Fresno, California Locals Block Cannabis Store from Opening appeared first on High Times.

German Cabinet Approves Plan To Liberalize Pot Laws

Germany took a major step toward marijuana reform on Wednesday when the country’s cabinet approved a bill that will liberalize its cannabis laws.

The approval comes a month after the country’s ministry of health released the draft bill of the new marijuana regulations.

After Wednesday, the measure still must be approved by the German parliament before it becomes law, but it marks a significant step.

As the Associated Press put it, the approval by the cabinet sets the stage “for the European Union’s most populous member to decriminalize possession of limited amounts and allow members of ‘cannabis clubs’ to buy the substance for recreational purposes.”

“The legislation is billed as the first step in a two-part plan and still needs approval by parliament. But the government’s approval is a stride forward for a prominent reform project of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s socially liberal coalition, though significantly short of its original ambitions,” the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. “The bill, which the government hopes will take effect at the end of this year, foresees legalizing possession of up to 25 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of cannabis for recreational purposes and allowing individuals to grow up to three plants on their own.”

According to the AP, German residents “who are 18 and older would be allowed to join nonprofit ‘cannabis clubs’ with a maximum 500 members each,” while the “clubs would be allowed to grow cannabis for members’ personal consumption.”

The reform effort has been months in the making, with German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach spearheading the charge.

“This is an important law that will represent a long-term change in drug policy,” Lauterbach said on Wednesday, as quoted by The New York Times.

In April, Lauterbach and other German officials unveiled a decidedly more scaled-back cannabis reform proposal than what was originally envisioned.

The original proposal, announced by Lauterbach last fall, “foresaw allowing the sale of cannabis to adults across the country at licensed outlets,” the Associated Press reported

The revisions to the cannabis proposal came after German officials met with the European Union. EU laws are always bound to be a potential impediment to the reform effort.

German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said that European law “sets us limits we must respect, but that I will also say we are pushing,” as quoted by the Associated Press.

Still, the reform is significant for what is Europe’s largest economy.

The New York Times has more background on how the weaker measure arrived before the cabinet on Wednesday, and all the obstacles it overcame along the way:

“The socially liberal coalition announced its intent to legalize recreational marijuana when it came into power in 2021, quickly finding consensus on an issue opposed for years by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. But implementation has proved difficult. A version of the plan introduced last year by Mr. Lauterbach would have allowed the distribution of marijuana through commercial stores. That idea was scuttled after meeting resistance from the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission. Instead, the legislation approved on Wednesday allows distribution through the creation of licensed private cultivation associations with no more than 500 members. Members would be allowed to buy up to 25 grams — slightly less than an ounce — on any one day, but with a limit of 50 grams in a month. The German government also plans to launch a series of regional pilot programs that would allow the sale of cannabis through a small number of licensed specialty shops, in an attempt to gather more information about the effects of allowing individuals to purchase marijuana commercially.”

The post German Cabinet Approves Plan To Liberalize Pot Laws appeared first on High Times.

New York Judge Pauses Cannabis Dispensary Licensing

A New York judge on Monday issued a temporary injunction barring state cannabis regulators from issuing licenses for retail marijuana dispensaries in response to a lawsuit challenging the rules for obtaining the lucrative permits. A group of military veterans filed the lawsuit last week, arguing that the state’s rules limiting the first Conditional Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses to those with previous marijuana convictions violates state law and New York’s Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed by four veterans who have served a combined total of more than two decades in various branches of the U.S. military. The vets argue that restricting retail licenses to those with cannabis convictions violates the state Constitution and was not approved by the legislature when it legalized adult-use cannabis two years ago.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the 2021 law that legalized recreational marijuana in New York, includes provisions that set a goal of awarding at least half of the state’s recreational marijuana dispensaries to social and economic equity applicants. Under a program launched by New York Governor Kathy Hochul last year, the state’s first CAURD licenses for retail cannabis shops have been reserved for “individuals most impacted by the unjust enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis or nonprofit organizations whose services include support for the formerly incarcerated.” 

To be eligible for a CAURD license, applicants are required to either have had a cannabis conviction or be the family member of someone with a cannabis conviction, among other criteria. Nonprofits with a history of serving formerly or currently incarcerated individuals were also eligible to apply for a CAURD license. So far, the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), the state’s cannabis regulatory agency, has issued 463 CAURD licenses, although less than two dozen dispensaries have opened statewide.

Matt Morey, an attorney and legal analyst, says that the MRTA established service-disabled veterans as a sub-class of social and economic equity applicants who could be given priority in cannabis licensing. But so far, the OCM has only approved applications from justice-involved individuals.

“The statute specifically included those individuals as individuals that would be prioritized with respect to applying for and gaining approval of an adult use retail license,” Morey told Spectrum News.

The veterans who filed the lawsuit last week argue that the state’s implementation of the CAURD program unfairly and improperly excludes other potential social and economic equity applicants, including disabled veterans and members of minority groups.

“Individuals like service-disabled veterans, who are also social equity applicants, who should be prioritized under the MRTA – the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act – the plaintiffs are arguing that they’ve been harmed by being left out of this first mover’s advantage,” said Fatima Afia, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

William Norgard, a U.S. Army veteran and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that New York’s implementation of MRTA puts him and other veterans in the unusual position of challenging the government.

“It’s out of character for a veteran to sue the state to uphold a law,” Norgard said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. “We take oaths to defend the laws of our nation, and trust — maybe naively — that government officials will faithfully and legally execute those laws. What the Office of Cannabis Management is doing right now is in complete breach of that trust. As veterans, we know that someone has to hold the line.”

Order Bars OCM From Issuing New Licenses

The judge’s temporary restraining order bars the OCM from issuing or processing additional licenses for marijuana retailers until the court rules otherwise. When asked for comment after the lawsuit was filed, an OCM spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Later, the agency said it had received the injunction and would comply with the judge’s ruling.

“The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) is aware of the Court’s Order and is adhering to its requirements,” the agency wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “We are actively communicating with CAURD applicants and provisionally approved licensees to inform them of the impact of the Court’s order on OCM operations.”

State Senator Jeremy Cooney, the chair of the New York State Senate Subcommittee on Cannabis, released a statement on Monday evening in response to the judge’s temporary injunction.

“I am deeply disappointed in today’s court decision, which temporarily stops the awarding of conditional cannabis retail licenses in New York State,” said Cooney. “It is no secret that New York’s adult-use cannabis roll-out has been slower than expected, and now is not the time to stand in the way of progress made. We must focus on awarding non-conditional licenses, which will prioritize social equity candidates and allow more businesses to open.”

The judge’s restraining order will cause further delay in the rollout of New York’s regulated marijuana industry, which is already facing steep challenges and an entrenched illicit cannabis market.

“This is going to drag things out even further,” Morey said. “This has not been a smooth rollout by any means with respect to these programs.”

Morey said that the dispensary licenses already issued face no immediate jeopardy from the judge’s ruling. But if the regulations governing licensing are ruled invalid, the fate of current licensees could be uncertain.

“If the creation of the entire CAURD program is deemed to be unconstitutional, then that would then raise the question as to whether or not previously issued licenses are in fact invalid at this point under the program, and that remains to be seen,” he said.

The post New York Judge Pauses Cannabis Dispensary Licensing appeared first on High Times.

Military Veterans File Suit Against New York’s Cannabis Licensing Rules

A group of four military veterans last week filed suit against New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), claiming that the agency’s rules that prioritize applicants with prior marijuana convictions for cannabis dispensary licenses violate the state’s 2021 marijuana legalization statute. In a complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court, the four plaintiffs argue that state regulators failed to follow the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) when it did not issue cannabis retail licenses to disabled veterans and members of other minority groups. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order barring the state from issuing further licenses under the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program, which have been reserved for applicants with a marijuana-related criminal conviction.

The MRTA included provisions that set a goal of awarding at least half of the state’s recreational marijuana dispensaries to social and economic equity applicants. Under an initiative spearheaded by New York Governor Kathy Hochul last year, the state’s first licenses for retail cannabis shops have been reserved for “individuals most impacted by the unjust enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis or nonprofit organizations whose services include support for the formerly incarcerated.” 

To be eligible for a CAURD license, applicants are required to either have had a cannabis conviction or be the family member of someone with a cannabis conviction, among other criteria. Nonprofits with a history of serving formerly incarcerated or currently incarcerated individuals were eligible to apply for a CAURD license. So far, the OCM has issued 463 CAURD licenses, although less than two dozen dispensaries have opened across the state so far.

“The MRTA had already established a goal to award 50% of all adult-use licenses to social and economic equity applicants. But instead of following the law, OCM and CCB created their own version of ‘social equity’ and determined for themselves which individuals would get priority to enter New York’s nascent adult-use cannabis market,” reads a statement on behalf of the veterans bringing the legal action.

Lawsuit Argues OCM Rules Unconstitutional

The lawsuit was filed by four U.S. veterans who have served a combined more than two decades in various branches of the military. They argue that restricting retail licenses to those with cannabis convictions was not approved by the legislature and violates the state Constitution.

“It’s out of character for a veteran to sue the state to uphold a law,” William Norgard, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a U.S. Army veteran, said in a statement quoted by the Olean Times Herald. “We take oaths to defend the laws of our nation, and trust — maybe naively — that government officials will faithfully and legally execute those laws. What the Office of Cannabis Management is doing right now is in complete breach of that trust. As veterans, we know that someone has to hold the line.”

“Service-disabled veterans are the only social equity group in the law not born into priority status, but a group to which anyone could belong,” said Carmine Fiore, who served eight years in the U.S. Army and New York Army National Guard and is also one of the four plaintiffs in the case. “We are also the only priority group in the (law) that achieved its status by helping communities.” 

“It feels like we were used to get a law passed — a good law, one that helps a lot of people, as well as the state,” Fiore added. “Then, once it was passed, we were cast aside for another agenda.”

The other plaintiffs are Steve Mejia and Dominic Spaccio, who both served six years in the U.S. Air Force.

Lucas McCann, co-founder and chief scientific officer at cannabis compliance consulting firm CannDelta Inc., notes that there is no mention of the CAURD program in the MRTA. When the program was created, the definition of social equity was defined to exclusively include those with previous cannabis-related convictions and previous business experience. But a broader definition of social equity may be appropriate, and future rounds of licensing could include members of other groups, McCann says.

“The grievances brought forward by the four military veterans highlight another facet of the ‘social equity’ conversation that cannot be ignored. Veterans, particularly disabled ones, face their own set of challenges and hurdles,” he wrote in an email. “Their dedicated service to the nation warrants recognition and inclusion in the emerging industry, especially when considering the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for a myriad of health issues commonly faced by veterans.”

Michelle Bodian, a partner at the leading cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, said that is too early to determine how the lawsuit will affect the continuing rollout of New York’s regulated marijuana industry. 

“There is always a chance the lawsuit will succeed, and the CAURD program will be halted; however, it’s equally as likely the state will settle with the plaintiffs and award them a license,” Bodian said in a statement to High Times. “As the TRO hearing is scheduled for later this week, we should know in short order whether the CAURD program is frozen in place or whether new provisional or final licenses can be awarded.”

When asked about the legal action, an OCM spokesperson told local media outlets that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The post Military Veterans File Suit Against New York’s Cannabis Licensing Rules appeared first on High Times.