California Gov. Gavin Newsom To Review 17 Cannabis, Psychedelics Bills

As of the California State Legislature ended on Sept. 14, more than 17 cannabis or psychedelic bills were sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom to potentially be signed. The bills include a wide variety of proposals, which Newsom must either sign, veto, or refuse to sign and allow them to be approved without his signature.

In the past, Newsom has expressed support for cannabis and psychedelics, but it is currently unclear which of these 17 bills he will support. However, he has under one month, or until Oct. 14, to address the following bills.

SB-51: Cannabis provisional licenses: local equity applicants

Social equity applicants would be permitted to apply for or renew their provisional licenses between now and January 1, 2031. Currently, provisional licenses are not being accepted in California.

SB-58: Controlled substances: decriminalization of certain hallucinogenic substances.

This bill was passed on to the Gov. on Sept. 13, and would legalize possession, cultivation, and transportation of substances such as psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, and mescaline. The bill is led by Sen. Scott Weiner, who believes that it will help many patients, especially military veterans, within the state. “California’s veterans, first responders, and others struggling with PTSD, depression, and addiction deserve access to these promising plant medicines,” said Wiener when the bill passed in the Assembly. “SB-58 has prudent safeguards in place after we incorporated feedback from three years of deep engagement with a broad array of stakeholders. We know these substances are not addictive, and they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most intractable conditions driving our nation’s mental health crisis. It’s time to stop criminalizing people who use psychedelics for healing or personal well-being.”

SB-302 Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act

While only terminally ill patients are currently allowed to use medical cannabis at healthcare facilities, this bill would allow anyone over 65 to treat chronic illness with medical cannabis if they choose. The bill is an expansion of the currently existing Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act, or Ryan’s Law.

SB-540: Cannabis and cannabis products: health warnings

If passed, SB-540 would instruct the Department of Cannabis Control to make an education brochure that would be given to consumers when they purchase products from a dispensary for the first time (both at a retail store or upon delivery). The info would be updated on January 1, 2030, and every five years after that date.

SB-622: Cannabis regulation: plant identification program: unique identifier

A proposal from Sen. Ben Allen and Juan Alanis would change how cannabis products are identified with “a unique identifier to be recorded in a manner as determined by the department by regulation.” The bill doesn’t directly mention removing the plastic tags that are currently used to track cannabis plants, but it could allow digital tags to be utilized in the future for a more sustainable, ecofriendly approach.

SB-700: Employment discrimination: cannabis use

This bill would ban employers from inquiring about an applicant’s personal cannabis use, which is added to current applicant protections from the already existing California Fair Employment and Housing Act. According to Sen. Steven Bradford, 

SB-753: Cannabis: water resources

With the preservation of groundwater and environmental harm, this bill would make it a felony to grow and harvest more than six cannabis plants, especially if it is grown “Intentionally or with gross negligence causing substantial environmental harm to surface or groundwater, public lands, or other public resources.”

SB-833: Cannabis licensing: cultivation licenses: changing license type: inactive status

Currently, cannabis cultivators who wish to change their license status to a smaller grow to inactive (whether permanently or just temporarily), must redo the complete process through the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC). This bill would allow them to make this change through the DCC without resubmitting their application in its entirety.

AB-374: Cannabis: retail preparation, sale, and consumption of non cannabis food and beverage products

Presented to the governor on Sept. 15, AB-374 would make “Amsterdam-style” cannabis cafes legal. With approval, dispensaries will be able to offer non-cannabis food and drinks, as well as “live musical or other performances on the premises of a licensed retailer or microbusiness in the area where the consumption of cannabis is allowed.” According to the bill sponsor, Assemblymember Matt Haney believes the bill would benefit consumers and also cities. “Lots of people want to enjoy legal cannabis in the company of others,” Haney said. “And many people want to do that while sipping coffee, eating a scone, or listening to music. There’s absolutely no good reason from an economic, health or safety standpoint that the state should make that illegal. If an authorized cannabis retail store wants to also sell a cup of coffee and a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible and stop holding back these small businesses.”

AB-623: Cannabis: citation and fine

According to current California law, cannabis laboratory testing is conducted by testing a batch of products to ensure that “the chemical profile of the sample conforms to the labeled content of compounds.” In order for licensed labs to test edibles and issue a certificate of analysis, the report must show “that the milligrams of THC per serving does not exceed 10 milligrams per serving, plus or minus 10%.” In other words, the certificate excludes products with less than 10 mg THC (such as low-dose edibles with only 5 mg THC). If passed, AB-623 would require new DCC regulations that keep low-dose edibles in mind.

AB-993: Cannabis Task Force

This bill would add representatives from the Civil Rights Department and the Department of Industrial Relations, the existing cannabis task force in California.

AB-1021: Controlled substances: rescheduling

This bill would allow California health care professionals to prescribe cannabis if it reschedules any Schedule I substance. Current Schedule I substances include cannabis, as well as LSD, heroin, peyote, ecstasy, and more.

AB-1126: Cannabis: citation and fine

This proposal would ban the use of the universal cannabis symbol on cannabis packaging for products that are not authorized to use it. Any companies using the symbol without approval will be seized by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

AB-1171: Cannabis: private right of action

Legal action would be permissible for cannabis business license owners against illegal cannabis businesses in the California Supreme Court.

AB-1207: Cannabis: labeling and advertising

This bill would potentially alter the definition for cannabis product packaging, by “prohibiting the sale, distribution, or manufacture of cannabis, cannabis products, packaging, or labeling that are attractive to children, as defined.” It further prohibits imagery including cartoons, toys, robots, real or fictional humans, fictional animals or creatures, as well as fruits or vegetables (unless it’s used to describe the flavor of the product).

AB-1448: Cannabis: enforcement by local jurisdictions

A person currently engaging in illegal cannabis without a license is subject to civil penalty funds ($10,000 per day per violation but not to exceed $30,000 per day). This bill would take some of those civil penalty money and move them to treasurers of local jurisdictions.

AB-1684: Local ordinances: fines and penalties: cannabis

In this bill, fines attributed to illegal cannabis cultivators would also apply to other illegal businesses such as processors and distributors.

In the past, Newsom has expressed support for cannabis and psychedelics, but it is currently unclear which of these 17 bills he will sign. However, he has under one month, or until Oct. 14, to address these bills.

Newsom has signed three bills since July that are cannabis-related. In July, he signed SB-250 which provides immunity to people who test positive for a controlled substance, such as fentanyl, specifically in regards to working with law enforcement and sharing where they received the drug. Also in July, Newsom signed AB-128, which added cannabis event organizers to the list of license classifications, and updated requirements for background checks for cannabis-related businesses. He also signed SB-756 on Sept. 1, which allows the California State Water Board to investigate and take action against illegal cannabis cultivation.

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Bill To Ban Chemicals in Peeps Advances in California, Exposing Food Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

The original recipe for bright pink Peeps is at the center of a controversy involving potentially problematic chemicals found in many foods. While it’s generally understood that junk food contains poor ingredients, now we know more about which ones are particularly problematic, more specifically, potentially carcinogenic.

A bill to ban four food-related chemicals including red dyes advanced in California’s state Senate, after dropping a fifth chemical as the legislation was amended. 

While many candies across the board need to change their recipes to something healthier—pink-colored Peeps are among the ones that need it most. The bright pink color of Peeps is achieved through the dyes including erythrosine, a chemical that shows up on ingredient labels as “Red No. 3.” Other chemical dyes like titanium dioxide for white—also found in Peeps—have been linked to cancer. (To be fair, Skittles, Starburst, Ring Pops, Hot Tamales, and Trolli also use titanium dioxide to achieve bright colors in candy.) Peeps were introduced in 1953 as yellow marshmallow chicks designed for children, and the other bright colors with those ingredients followed decades later.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, (D) representing California’s 46th State Assembly district in San Fernando Valley authored Assembly Bill 418, saying he wants to ban the chemicals—not necessarily the candy. According to Gabriel, the aforementioned chemicals have already been banned by the European Union (EU) and other countries. 

“It is unacceptable that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to food safety,” Gabriel said. “This bill will not ban any foods or products—it simply will require food companies to make minor modifications to their recipes.”

Gabriel listed potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propyl paraben, which also have been banned in the EU, also as ingredients that need to go. An earlier draft of the bill would also have banned titanium dioxide, but amendments in the state Senate removed that chemical from the ban. Some of these ingredients can be found in practically any processed food including bread, Jell-O, and so on.

One case study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 involves a man who had growths on his fingers, pictured here, after consuming brominated vegetable oil in Ruby Red Squirt. (However, he drank eight liters per day.) 

Gabriel said last summer that alternative ingredients are readily available. Through expensive, albeit minor modifications to their recipes, the candy makers can do what’s already been done in the EU.

Gabriel quoted Mercury News, posting on X, “If candy makers won’t do the right thing, lawmakers must. The scientific studies provide sufficient concerns that California should not keep putting its children at risk.” 

The Food Industry’s 30-Year-Old Dirty Secret

Researchers have known the pigments to be carcinogenic for at least 30 years: In 1990, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of Red Dye No. 3 in cosmetic products like lipsticks, powders, blushes and skin care lotions, based on research suggesting that it can lead to cancer. If something isn’t safe for your skin, it might not be good to eat either.

If that makes you unsettled—considering how widespread the use of erythrosine and titanium dioxide is—you’re not alone: Last year, a consumer filed a lawsuit against Mars for knowingly allowing a “known toxin” to be used in candy products. The class-action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and attorneys for San Leandro resident Jenile Thames said Skittles are unsafe for consumption, having what they say are heightened levels of titanium dioxide.

In 2016, Mars said it would be phasing out titanium dioxide, aka E171, however that plan doesn’t appear to have materialized in full. Jaydee Hanson, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Food Safety said at the time, “We are pleased to see that MARS has taken a positive step toward eliminating toxic, unnecessary nanomaterials from its line of food products. We urge the company to speed up the removal of these additives, especially given the grave health concerns associated with titanium dioxide and other nanoparticles.” 

Don’t Forget Aspartame

In other recent news, other ingredients have been flagged as carcinogenic. Aspartame is used in Coca-Cola’s Diet Coke and it’s also used to sweeten Mars’s Extra chewing gum.

Last summer, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research agency said aspartame is a possible carcinogen. WHO representatives contradictorily said aspartame may possibly cause cancer but also said it is safe to consume. IARC, WHO’s research arm, classifies aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” after it was found to lead to blood cancers in rats by Italian researchers. You be the judge.

The FDA also appeared to quell consumer alarm: “Aspartame is one of the most studied food additives in the human food supply. FDA scientists do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions,” the FDA said in a statement.

Many people in the U.S. say they actually prefer candy with slightly less sugar and sweeteners. If candy in Europe feels safer than candy in the U.S., it is, and it’s not just the excessively high sugar content you have to worry about.

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Kern County, California Cops Shut Down Seven Unlicensed Dispensaries

Seven unlicensed dispensaries in Rosamond, California were shut down by Kern County Sheriff’s office deputies Wednesday, reports the Sierra Sun Times. The dispensaries were stocked with quality pot, offered loyalty programs, and offered raffles and other promotional items. They appear to be almost indistinguishable from legal dispensaries in nearby communities that allow retail stores.

While home growing is allowed in Kern County, dispensaries are not permitted to open in most towns and communities. The latest sting reflects the constant battle to contain illegal businesses that ignore the county’s strict stance on cannabis.

“Kern County Sheriff’s Office officials report that on September 6, 2023, at approximately 7:45 p.m., the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Kern County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (KC-HIDTA), along with Investigators from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, executed search warrants on seven illegal marijuana dispensaries operating in the community of Rosamond,” the department posted on Facebook.

The post continues, “Wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Cannabis Enforcement Program (CEP), detectives from California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and officers from the Kern County Probation Department also assisted in the execution of the search warrants and arrests of numerous subjects found to be involved in operating the illegal marijuana dispensaries.”

The photos show great bargains, such as two grams for $15 or four grams for $30. Cheap shake bags are also visible in the photos.

Per usual with Facebook posts about cannabis busts, it wasn’t entirely well-received by the public. “Lame waste of county resources,” one commenter said. Another wrote, “unlicensed so Bakersfield isn’t getting their cut, that’s why they were busted.” The post also contained seven photos of the inside of the dispensaries as well as a weapon that was found on one of the suspects.

Officers List Busted Dispensaries and Suspects

All seven dispensaries were found to be in violation of County and State Health and Safety Code ordinances and laws as a result of the investigation. Investigators from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) assisted detectives from the sheriff’s office in the overall operation. The following dispensaries were found to be in violation for the illicit sales of cannabis and cannabis products:

  • Lights Out Wellness on 1739 Poplar Street
  • Wicked Weed on 2763 Sierra Hwy
  • The Location on 2613 Diamond Street
  • Mr. 5 Gramz on 2665 Diamond Street
  • AV Wellness on 2689 Sierra Hwy
  • Plum Tree Collective on 2873 Sierra Hwy
  • CBD Plus on 2753 Diamond

Sheriff deputies found numerous building code violations at all seven locations. Based on the violations, the businesses were deemed unsafe for occupancy and posted by Kern County Code Compliance.

Officers listed the suspects who were arrested with various charges of allegedly breaking the law, and booked into the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Central Receiving Facility or Mojave jail. Police listed 17 individuals, along with their ages and specific charges they received during the wave of raids. At least two of those individuals had outstanding warrants.

Kern County’s Continual Buzzkill

Not all communities in California accept cannabis, especially inland communities. Cannabis retail stores are not legal in most areas of Kern County, California Cannabis Information explains. Pursuant to Cannabis Ordinance, Section 19.08. 55, the local law explicitly bans commercial medicinal and adult-use cannabis businesses within the county—with the exception of California City and Arvin.

Neighbors in the area generally don’t like cannabis coming into their communities. In 2018, 52.38% of Kern County residents voted against Prop. 64, legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis in California. The county routinely cracks down on illegal cannabis activity, as well as hot hemp and other illegal operations.

A few years ago, Kern County officials found 10 million cannabis plants deemed too hot to be hemp with an estimated value of over $1 billion. On October 25, 2019 law enforcement descended on the fields. The growers claimed to be growing non-psychoactive hemp. They were, in fact, raising marijuana plants that clocked in at over the .3% THC content allowed under California law.

After a tip was sent to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office in 2019, police found hot hemp about 11 fields sprawling out over 459 acres in the small town of Arvin. An investigation was launched in collaboration with the FBI and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that resulted in the October 25 search warrants.

“Preliminary testing showed the levels of THC in these fields were well over the legal limit for industrial hemp production and were in fact cannabis,” announced the Kern County Sheriff’s Office in a Facebook post. “The investigation is ongoing.”

California law does allow for THC content over .3% if the hemp is being grown for research purposes.

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UC Berkeley Announces Free Online Course for Psychedelic Research

Last month, the university’s Center for the Science of Psychedelics launched a free, online course titled “Psychedelics and the Mind.” The launch of the course marks another expansion of the Center, which itself launched three years ago.

According to The Daily Californian, the course “will be taught by David Presti, neurobiology professor and one of [Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics] founders.” It will be available for free due to the largess of the Steve and Alexandra Cohen Foundation. 

Steve Cohen, the billionaire owner of the New York Mets, is a longtime advocate of psychedelic research and therapy. In June, the foundation offered a $5 million grant to MAPS, or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies, a nonprofit dedicated to researching the potential of psychedelic drugs for medical use.

Imran Khan, the executive director of the Center for the Science of Psychedelics, said that the newly launched course is “an amazing thing,” calling Presti “a legend at Berkeley.”

“When I tell people what I do for a living, they often first respond by telling me how much they loved learning from David in person many years ago. What we’ve done is convert that class into a high-quality multimedia and interactive online version available worldwide for free. It’s a university-level course on the history and science, as we know it, about psychedelics,” Khan said in an interview with the university

According to Khan, the course might also be wholly unique.

“As far as we’re aware, there’s no other course like Psychedelics and the Mind that’s comprehensive, free and focused on psychedelic science. It feels like a uniquely Berkeley thing to be able to offer,” Khan said. “We want it to be accessible to as many people as possible, so we plan to continue promoting it. But we also want it to be a baseline so that we can then launch further courses. For example, we’re interested in explaining the medical side of psychedelics, or the connection between psychedelics and particular communities — whether that’s certain racial groups, veterans or people who come from specific professions who want to understand the nature and implications of psychedelics.”

“There’s tremendous potential there for us to continue being that link between what’s happening in research and practice and meeting the need and the desire to know more in the future,” Khan added.

University of California, Berkeley launched the Center for the Science of Psychedelics in September of 2020 thanks to $1.25 million in seed funding from an anonymous donor.

“There’s never been a better time to start a center like this,” Presti said at the time. “The renewal of basic and clinical science with psychedelics has catalyzed interest among many people.”

The Center also counts bestselling author Michael Pollan as one of its co-founders. Pollan’s 2018 book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence” was cited as “one of the inspirations for the center.”

“We’re really interested in what psychedelics can teach us about consciousness, perception, creativity and learning,” Pollan said at the time.

“Psychedelics have a particular value later in life, because that is when you are most stuck in your patterns. They give you the ability to shake them loose,” he added.

In June, the Center released a first-of-its-kind poll that showed a significant majority of Americans supporting therapeutic access to psychedelics.

“More than six out of 10 (61%) American registered voters support legalizing regulated therapeutic access to psychedelics, including 35% who report ‘strong’ support,” the university wrote in a press release detailing the poll’s results. “In addition, more than three-quarters of voters (78%) support making it easier for researchers to study psychedelic substances. Almost half (49%) support removing criminal penalties for personal use and possession.”

Khan said at the time that the poll provided “the first clear picture we have of what the American public think and feel about psychedelics.”

“The Berkeley Psychedelics Survey shows that the majority of American voters are interested in, and supportive of, the field. They want fewer barriers to research for scientists, and they want regulated, therapeutic access for the public,” Khan said. “Amidst all the stigma and the hype about these powerful substances, it’s vital that researchers, policymakers, and practitioners can understand and respond to the public’s hopes and fears. We’re excited to reveal the full results of the Berkeley Psychedelics Survey in the coming weeks.”

In the interview with the university published late last month, Khan said that the future of psychedelics in the U.S. remains unknown.

“We’re near the beginning of a journey with psychedelics. These substances have been used for decades, centuries and millennia, in some contexts, and there’s now been this fairly recent resurgence in popular, cultural and research interest in them. We’re so near the beginning of an inquiry that I hope is going to last many more decades. There are questions that we don’t even know enough to ask, at this stage,” Khan said.

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Ballot Initiative Could Crush Cannabis Cultivation in Humboldt

Small farmers in California’s famed Emerald Triangle are uniting to defeat a ballot initiative that could devastate what remains of the cannabis industry in Humboldt County. The proposal known as the Humboldt Cannabis Reform Initiative (HCRI) is a 38-page document that, if passed, would establish an effective ban on any changes to existing farms of all sizes within the county’s incorporated areas.

“HCRI has been written to effectively discourage existing permit holders from modifying their permits in any way,” the Humboldt County Planning Department explains in a report analyzing the initiative. “This includes adding infrastructure intended for environmental protections or modification of activities or site configuration to adapt to the evolving industry. These restrictions affect the smallest of farms permitted in Humboldt County to the largest cultivation sites.” 

As written in the initiative—set to appear on the ballot as Measure A—“expansion” is defined as “an increase in the number and size of any structures used in connection with cultivation.” 

Cannabis advocacy groups in Humboldt argue the language around “expansion” would “remove incentives for environmental stewardship.” Waying in on the varying impacts if the initiative were to pass, the county’s planning department states it “will have dire consequences to the cannabis industry in Humboldt County.”

“The existing Humboldt County cannabis regulations are intended to encourage a well-regulated cannabis industry in Humboldt County, but the HCRI could have the opposite effect by making compliance so difficult that the legal market is rendered not viable in Humboldt County,” the county’s analysis states.

The planning department report on the potential impacts of the initiative outlines that the largest farms in Humboldt County range between 7 and 8 acres and states that there are currently four farms at this size. 

“For comparison, in Lake County there are farms in excess of 60 acres and in Santa Barbara and San Bernardino Counties there are farms in excess of 100 acres,” the county report states. “In a statewide market context, Humboldt County does not have large-scale farms.”

Another element of the initiative seeks to cap the allowed cultivation area for cannabis farmers at 10,000 square feet.

“Capping cultivation area at 10,000 square feet will result in all existing permits over that cultivation area becoming legal non-conforming, which means the site cannot be modified,” the county’s analysis explains. “Labeling anything over 10,000 square feet as a large-scale cannabis cultivation when other parts of the state are being approved for cultivation sizes over 100 acres is arbitrary.” 

The initiative is set to be on the March 2024 ballot and small farmers in Humboldt County are working to get the word out that if it passes it will amend the general plan, meaning that the cannabis provisions could only be changed by a vote of the people.

“Our family farm has multiple environmental certifications, but the HCRI would amend the general plan to define my farm as ‘environmentally destructive’ because my farm is larger than a quarter acre,” Dylan Mattole of Mattole Valley Sungrown said in informational materials assembled by the “No on HCRI” campaign spearheaded by the Humboldt County Growers Alliance

At a recent meeting of small farmers against the campaign held in Garberville, Mattole noted that, if passed, the initiative “will be the nail in the coffin” of the cannabis industry in Humboldt County.

“This is not light, it’s offensive, we’re on the defense,” Mattole said at the meeting held in a shuttered restaurant along the small town’s main street. “Our problem has a massive effect on the economy for the whole county.”

The initiative was written by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, a law firm which also represented Calaveras Residents Against Commercial Marijuana (an anti-cannabis group that tried multiple times to get a complete ban on cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County) as well as Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods (an anti-cannabis organization that has sought to ban cannabis in Sonoma County). 

Small farmers against the Humboldt County initiative argue that the wording of the HCRI is designed to appear like it is protecting small farms when, in fact, it would do the exact opposite.

“It is likely that the public does not understand what this initiative would do and signed the petition thinking that ‘large scale’ cannabis farms should not be in Humboldt County without recognizing that most of the so-called ‘large-scale farms’ that would be outlawed if the HCRI passed are the very farms that have existed in Humboldt County for decades,” the county’s analysis of the initiative states. 

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Half a Million Fentanyl Pills Disguised as Oxycodone Confiscated by San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office in One Week

Last week was busy for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, who reported Monday that they confiscated over 500,000 fentanyl tablets that were disguised as ”M30” oxycodone pills. One of the primary reasons people overdose on fentanyl is because they think they are taking a less powerful opioid, typically disguised as an oxycodone or hydrocodone pill.

In one bust, a person at a clothing store was allegedly selling a lot more than just clothes: At 10:56 p.m. Friday, police in Hesperia, California served two search warrants at The House of Drip, a clothing store after officers caught wind of a drug operation taking place there. Officers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department suspect that M30 fentanyl pills, as well as cannabis, were being sold at the business.

“Lenin Martinez Arevalo, 29, of Hesperia, was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of possessing or purchasing drugs for sale, transportation/sales of drugs, and possessing drugs for sale,” the Daily Press in Victorville reports.

Police said they found more than 4,000 fentanyl pills, cannabis, 227 boxes of THC resin, 35 boxes of psilocybin-infused chocolate, and $1,300 in cash while searching the House of Drip.

M30 fentanyl pills are particularly dangerous because they are designed to mimic the look of prescription oxycodone pills, or to a lesser extent—Adderall, Xanax, and other drugs.

A Bigger Problem in San Bernardino County

This was just a fraction of the total number of fentanyl pills the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Gangs/Narcotics Division scooped up last week. They confiscated over half a million fentanyl tablets.

“Last week, the San Bernardino CountySheriff’s Department Gangs/Narcotics Division seized over 115 pounds of fentanyl pills, equivalent to roughly 517,500 tablets. These pills are counterfeit pharmaceuticals containing fentanyl.

Last October, the San Bernardino County Health Department issued a health advisory to spread awareness to the dangers of fentanyl due to a huge uptick in overdose deaths in the county.

In 2021, there were 354 fentanyl overdose deaths in San Bernardino County.

Local health officials launched a campaign to raise awareness due to an unprecedented rise in fentanyl overdoses and poisonings in San Bernardino County. In June, San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health officials stated that the campaign will carry out through the year, with the slogan “Fentanyl Doesn’t Care. But We Do.”

“There is a misperception that fentanyl only affects drug addicts when in reality, it’s affecting a broad segment of our community,” Board of Supervisors Chair Dawn Rowe told the Daily Press last summer “This campaign will help shed light on the reality of the fentanyl crisis and help us save lives.”

The health department joined the “Stop the Void and the INTO LIGHT Project” to develop a media campaign targeting geographic areas in San Bernardino County that are prone to a high rate of fentanyl overdoses, with special consideration for young adults and “at-risk underserved communities.”

DEA’s Battle with Fake M30 Pills

San Bernardino County is just one region in California, but the problem stretches across all of the U.S. Data shows that in 2021, nearly 70,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses involving fentanyl and fake opioid prescriptions.

“​​Counterfeit pills are nearly identical to actual prescription medications,” the DEA says in a Drug Fact Sheet. “The majority of counterfeit pills resemble oxycodone 30mg pills (M30s), but can also mimic hydrocodone, alprazolam (Xanax), Adderall, and other medications. There are indications that drug trafficking organizations are specifically targeting kids and teens by creating counterfeit pills in a variety of shapes and bright colors to appeal to that age group. Counterfeit M30 pills can vary in color from white to blue. The best way to avoid counterfeit medication is to take only medications prescribed by a licensed medical professional and dispensed by a registered pharmacist.”

As little as 2 mg of fentanyl can be deadly enough to stop breathing, and death is swift. That means taking just one counterfeit pill can result in death, especially if the person does not have a tolerance. On the other hand, 30 mg of oxycodone is maximum strength, which is strong but less likely to cause death than a smaller amount of fentanyl.

“Distributors in the United States are selling counterfeit pills on social media, appealing to a younger audience that use these apps,” the DEA continues. “Minors and young adults experimenting, as well as regular substance users, believe they are buying authentic oxycodone, Adderall, Xanax, or other medicines, but are unwittingly purchasing counterfeit pills that contain lethal amounts of drugs, usually fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

Fentanyl is around 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. And how widespread is the problem? Twenty-six percent of tablets tested in a DEA laboratory contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, the agency says. 

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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.

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Pot Pride

More than any big city in America, San Francisco has always been on the cutting edge of cannabis consumption––from the beats and poets smoking “mezz” while inhabiting the 1950s North Beach “beat scene” to the openly stoned hippies of 1960s Haight-Ashbury. Cannabis consumption in the “City by the Bay” continued with the groundbreaking use of medical marijuana in the Castro District to treat those affected by HIV and AIDS, leading to America’s first dispensaries. San Francisco has likewise been the vanguard for providing consumption lounges to dispensary customers, offering a place for pot patients and weed aficionados to consume in a relaxing, safe environment.

High Times Magazine, June 2023

Big Top Pot

Marijuana was always a big part of gay culture in San Francisco, but it was purely for pleasure in those hedonistic, liberating days of the 1970s. That is, until the very first cases of AIDS were reported in the city in 1980. By the mid-’80s AIDS had developed into a genuine crisis in the SF gay community, with thousands of men being infected with HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS), and developing “wasting syndrome,” also called cachexia, characterized by an involuntary loss of body weight, with prolonged diarrhea, weakness, and fever.

But hope arrived with Dennis Peron, who began dealing weed out of his apartment in the Castro, dubbed the “Big Top Pot Supermarket.” In the mid-’80s, Peron’s partner, Jonathan West, was diagnosed as HIV-positive, and cannabis helped West deal with the symptoms. Weed’s appetite stimulating phenomenon was an obvious fit to combat AIDS wasting syndrome. People with AIDS want to avoid or delay the loss of appetite from wasting syndrome because it’s a calling card that the body’s shutting down.

West passed away from AIDS in 1990, and buoyed by San Francisco’s 1991 pro-medical cannabis initiative Proposition P, Peron opened the first public medical marijuana dispensary in America, the Cannabis Buyers Club (CBC) on Church Street in the Castro in 1994. Peron later moved the club to a more high-profile Market Street location in downtown San Francisco, where it was raided and became the subject of headlines and controversies throughout the mid-’90s.


Peron co-authored California’s Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. In August 1996 then-California attorney Dan Lungren authorized a raid on the CBC pot club and lounge in a move that some maintained was politically motivated. Lungren’s cynical ploy failed to dissuade voters, as Prop. 215 passed with 56% of the vote on Nov. 5, 1996, making California the first state to formally legalize any form of cannabis.

In October 2003 California Senate Bill 420 was passed, along with San Francisco’s Article 33: Medical Cannabis Act, establishing guidelines for regulating medical cannabis dispensaries.

David Goldman, president of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of San Francisco, along with his husband, Kenneth Michael Koehn, secretary of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club, remember the revolutionary times at the CBC.

“In 1994 Michael and I started going to the Cannabis Buyers Club, located at 194 Church Street in San Francisco, which was a very pleasant experience,” Goldman said. “I know that Dennis [Peron] always wanted to have a safe consumption space for people, where they could socialize. And so the need to have a safe space for consumption was apparent to Dennis, and that motivated him to start at 194 Church Street.”

Goldman explained that about a year later the club was moved to 1444 Market Street within “a building that had four floors, which was a big step up in terms of use of space and the number of people it could accommodate.”

“We started going to that Market Street CBC lounge location every Friday after work,” he said. “They had two different floors for the cannabis; one floor had some of the higher quality cannabis they’d call either ‘A-plus’ or ‘A-double plus’—they didn’t give them strain names back then. And patients could hang out there, and they offered snacks, and people would sing and play music. It was a very relaxed, chill environment; a wonderful way to spend our Fridays after work.”

Koehn added a sobering perspective reflecting on those uncertain years.

“There was also an element of fear in the dispensary lounges during that time,” Koehn said. “The fear of getting busted, that the AG [former Attorney General Dan Lungren] would raid the dispensary. We weren’t personally there when it was raided in 1996, but every time you went there, there was this fear hanging over your head, that this could be the day that trouble starts.”

Ultimately, Goldman associates positive memories with Peron’s club.

“There was a sense of community at the CBC because during that era of HIV, the gay community and the cannabis community highly intersected and we were able to contact and connect with one another,” he said.

Vapor Room / Jen Siska Photography

Continuing the Tradition

The 2003 SB-420 legislation paved the way for benevolent bud entrepreneurs like Martin Olive to open up his pioneering medical pot dispensary known as Vapor Room, which still exists to this day.

“We opened in late 2003 in the SF neighborhood known as Lower Haight,” Olive said. “I worked at another dispensary prior to this and it was like a lot of dispensaries back then, most of the lounges were just folding tables and plastic chairs, and not very comfortable for people.”

Olive said he outfitted the Vapor Room with 1970s furniture; big, plush couches, gaudy pyrex ashtrays, and wood paneling.

“We made it like your cool uncle’s stoner basement apartment. And it was a hit! It really was the first of its kind in San Francisco, along with the CHAMP dispensary, they had a beautiful lounge.”

CHAMP opened at the Market Street location after the CBC departed in 1998 and closed in 2002. In opening the Vapor Room, Olive sought out to build community through cannabis.

“We had a couple tables set up, so it was about 1,500 square feet, not super-big but big enough,” he said. “And [the lounge] really created a communal aspect; medicinal cannabis was this great unifier of all different types of people.”

Even after Vapor Room was forced into a change of location, Olive adapted and made the lounge experience even better.

“Due to some city regulations, we had to move in the building next door around 2006-07,” Olive said. “We took that opportunity to up our game a little bit, so we created a French cafe/apothecary atmosphere; marble tables, nice wooden chairs, with really nice subdued color pallets. It was a little bit more sophisticated than the typical lounge. We had Volcanoes on every table, bongs available, fresh water, hot tea, things like that. So we were giving people more than just a place to access medical cannabis, we were giving them a safe, clean comfortable space in a community setting.”

Even though medical marijuana continued making great strides in San Francisco, this was not acceptable to the federal government.

“In 2012, we got caught up in the Department of Justice crackdown on dispensaries throughout the state of California, and we were evicted without much compassion,” he said. “Leaving Lower Haight was a deep loss for the community, not only for the patients, but for the local businesses that were being supported by the 300 to 400 people we brought into our dispensary on a daily basis. That’s why I think dispensary lounges are so important, they really do support the neighborhoods they’re in.”

Over half of a decade passed until Olive resurrected Vapor Room.

“When we finally reopened in 2018, we found a location in a downtown ‘corporate corridor’ where Twitter, Uber, and Dolby are. So we definitely miss the residential community small business aspect of Lower Haight, but this is what was available. It’s about 700-800 square feet and we are making it work, with a couple of benches for people to smoke at. We do have a beautiful location; it’s nice, clean, and crisp with a big window, and a lot of sunlight and plants.”

But the fact that the club is located within a business district means people generally aren’t hanging out all day.

“It’s more like people on their lunch breaks or in for a meeting,” Olive said. “They’ll come in to buy a joint, take a few puffs and be on their way. Usually we’ll have anywhere from five to 15 people hanging out and chatting. And it is a really good communal atmosphere because you’re basically sitting right next to another person consuming cannabis, regardless if they’re a stranger or not, so you’re buddied up by default.”


The Continued Transformation of Social Consumption

Goldman and Koehn have seen the dispensary lounge landscape morph over the years.

“After CBC closed we didn’t go to dispensary lounges till at least 2006, when I became a medical cannabis patient because I was already using it medicinally and I wanted access to the highest quality cannabis,” Goldman said. “We began to see each lounge had a different vibe. Lounge 847 above the Green Door, on Howard street in SoMa [South of Market district], was our favorite lounge and easy to get to.

“Lounge 847 opened in 2012 and Michael and I held meetings there for Americans for Safe Access and the Brownie Mary Democratic Club. We had a lot of politicians visit there and they were impressed that we had such a great space to hold meetings.”

The Green Door is currently closed but may be reopened pending a multi-million dollar renovation.

“I’m glad we have a diversity of lounges in the city, but most of the new dispensaries don’t get a lot of business, so the lounges are going to waste in that they aren’t being used, which is a shame.”


One Commonality

For Olive one top aspect a cannabis lounge should provide is a comfortable and safe atmosphere for all.

“There’s no room in this concept for any kind of bigotry or racism or classism,” he said. “You can have your fancy Apple store style dispensary and lounge, but if you’re not making the regular guy and girl on the street and low-income people feel comfortable and safe and valid for being there, then you’re doing something wrong. A lounge should contribute to the culture of the cannabis community where people are meeting one another. The one commonality they all have is their love for cannabis, that’s the key element.”

In terms of what’s next Olive wants to go back to the future.

“Remember what the lounge is for amidst all the spreadsheets and profit margins; to provide high quality weed for people who use it for a variety or reliefs, be it symptoms issues, or for just feeling better about their day,” he said.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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Former Mayor of Adelanto, California Sentenced to Federal Prison for Accepting Pot-Related Bribes

On August 4, former Adelanto, California mayor Richard Kerr was found guilty of taking cannabis-related bribes while in office. According to coverage from the Los Angeles Times, Kerr was sentenced to federal prison for 14 months.

Initially, federal prosecutors sought to sentence Kerr to 46 months, but U.S. District Judge John W. Holcomb reconsidered the sentence because of Kerr’s age at 66 years old, in addition to his two decades of service in the Marines, as well as family-related responsibilities.

Kerr was elected as Adelanto’s mayor in 2014, a small desert city in southwestern San Bernardino County. Kerr claimed that 40% of Adelanto residents lived in poverty at the time (as of data from 2014-2018, that percentage has decreased to 26.5%) and he wanted to make the city the “Silicon Valley of medical marijuana.”

In 2017, Kerr was arrested by federal officials for taking a $10,000 cash bribe, and also trying to find someone to burn down his restaurant (called Fat Boyz Grill) so he could collect the insurance. The following year in 2018, Kerr’s house was raided by the FBI and he was seen in handcuffs outside of his home.

Later in 2021, he was charged with accepting $75,000 in bribes while in office, which influenced approval for cannabis-related ordinances and permits.

Finally in February 2023, Kerr pleaded guilty to fraud. The most recent case revealed that he considered bribery funds as donations to a charity fund.

Carlos L. Juarez, Kerr’s attorney, defended his client by claiming that he didn’t have a college education and was naïve. “He did his darnedest to serve the people but along the way got caught up in a web of political corruption,” Juarez stated. 

Kerr called his actions the result of “stupidity” and “doing dumb things.” However, he praised how the cannabis industry benefited the city, bringing “thousands of jobs and hundreds of new homes.”

However, U.S. Attorney Sean Peterson addressed the seriousness of Kerr’s actions. “It’s not that there was just one bribe. It’s serious conduct,” Peterson said, asking the judge for Kerr to serve four years in prison as an example of the consequences for others who choose a similar path.

Many witness came forth to discuss Kerr’s behavior. One local, Edwin Snell, said that Kerr promised him and his partner that they would be permitted to open a dispensary in the city, but Kerr sold the permit “to the highest bidder.” “He promised us a dispensary and Semper Fi’d it,” said Snell. “Every person that voted for him was betrayed. Every person that voted for him was hornswoggled.”

Another resident, Diana Esmeralda Holte, said in 2017 that she applied for a dispensary license, but her attempt was rejected because she wouldn’t pay a $7,000 bribe. “I think he deserves a million years, but 20 would be reasonable,” Holte said.

In his defense, Juarez said the court case and ruling is “a complete embarrassment to Kerr.” While once well-renowned and respected in the community, he has brought his family name to shame,” he described.

Kerr’s supporters wrote letters to the judge, explaining that he grew up in poverty, has issues with alcohol, suffers from emphysema (a lung disease that causes breathlessness), and supports five of his grandchildren. Kerr’s wife in particular spotlighted his more positive decisions as mayor, which included movies in the park, a public rodeo event, and food and toy drive donations during the holidays.

Former Adelanto mayor pro tem Jermaine Wright was convicted in 2022 for accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover federal official claiming to be a cannabis business owner. Wright was sentenced to five years in prison.

A recent podcast called “Dreamtown: Adelanto,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, covers the city’s history and corruption, as well as Kerr’s involvement in the cannabis industry. “…reporter David Weinberg delves into what happened when a newcomer on the local council helped the city legalize weed production, and documents the fallout that happened next,” wrote High Times author Molly Lipson.

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San Francisco Cops Have Already Seized More Narcotics Than All of 2022

Police in San Francisco said last week that they have already seized more narcotics this year than in all of 2022, representing what they described as an “unprecedented amount.”

The city’s police department announced in a news release on Friday that its officers have seized more than 123 kilograms of narcotics so far in 2023, saying that the drug seizures “come amid an ongoing focus by SFPD and partner agencies to dismantle the open-air drug markets in the [Tenderloin District],” one of the city’s art and music enclaves that has been plagued by crime, and other adjacent neighborhoods. 

The department said that 80 kilograms of the seized narcotics were fentanyl. 

Officers at Tenderloin Station “have arrested 533 people for selling narcotics so far in 2023, nearly surpassing the 566 total arrests for narcotics sales in all of 2022,” the San Francisco PD said in the release.

“I want to thank our officers for their incredible work,” San Francisco police chief Bill Scott said in a statement. “We are committed to getting these drugs off our streets, and we are holding these dealers accountable. San Francisco should be a safe place for residents, businesses, and visitors to enjoy. Together with our partner agencies, we are making a difference in our downtown corridor.”   

In a statement, San Francisco Mayor London Breed noted that drug enforcement in the Tenderloin District remains a high priority for the city.

“I applaud the San Francisco Police Department and all of our public safety partners for their focused work to get fentanyl and other drugs plaguing our communities off the streets,” said Breed. “Their collaborative efforts demonstrate the City’s commitment to making the neighborhood safer for residents, families, and children who call the Tenderloin home. We will continue to build on this momentum to disrupt open-air drug markets and the sale of illegal goods to make San Francisco safe for everyone.”  

Friday’s news release noted that, since late May, the San Francisco Police Department “has worked collaboratively with other city, state, and federal partners to increase enforcement efforts in the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods.”

“SFPD officers have been increasing patrols, buy-busts, warrant operations, and larger narcotics investigations, leading to more deadly drugs being taken off the streets amid an ongoing overdose crisis in San Francisco,” the release said. “The introduction of fentanyl into the city’s drug supply has caused fatal overdoses to dramatically increase in San Francisco in recent years. The SFPD recognizes that we must take a more aggressive approach to combat the crisis and improve street conditions and public safety.”

Fentanyl-related overdoses have risen significantly in the United States in recent years. A report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May showed that 69,943 died of a fentanyl-induced overdose in 2021, representing a rate of 21.6; in 2016, 18,499 died of an overdose from fentanyl at a rate of 5.7.

“The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl more than tripled over the study period, from 5.7 per 100,000 standard population in 2016 to 21.6 in 2021, with a 55.0% increase from 2019 (11.2) to 2020 (17.4), and a 24.1% increase from 2020 to 2021 (21.6). The rate of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine more than quadrupled, from 2.1 in 2016 to 9.6 in 2021,” the report said. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine more than doubled, from 3.5 in 2016 to 7.9 per 100,000 in 2021. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin decreased by 40.8%, from 4.9 in 2016 to 2.9 in 2021, although this decrease was not statistically significant. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving oxycodone decreased 21.0%, from 1.9 in 2016 to 1.5 in 2021.”

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