California Bill To Bar Employment Urine and Hair Drug Tests for Cannabis Advances

A bill that would add protections to employees in California who consume cannabis off the clock is advancing and could head to the Senate floor shortly. The bill would disallow job discrimination from employers, in most cases, based on urine or hair tests that detect only inactive metabolites of THC.

Urine or hair tests only can detect inactive metabolites of THC days or weeks later, making them a poor indicator of impairment—or even recent use. The bill would still allow the use of oral swab or computer-based performance tests—which is actually a more reliable indicator of recent use or impairment.

While Assembly Bill 2188 would protect employees in California who smoke off the clock from inaccurate drug testing formats, it would continue to allow an employer to take action against employees who are impaired on the clock. There are also exemptions, of course, for federal workers and construction workers.

The bill is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Nurses Association, CA Board of Registered Nursing, and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930. In addition, the California Employment Lawyers Association, United Cannabis Business Association, Cannabis Equity Policy Council, Americans for Safe Access, and California Cannabis Industry Association, also support the bill.

Employers can’t test for THC—only for THC metabolites, the waste product of THC, which urine tests and hair tests look at. Urine tests are not a reliable indicator of impairment based on THC metabolites, nor do they have any value for employers who might have bigger things to worry about, such as alcoholism or opioid abuse. 

“This whole piss-testing regime is really the result of government fraud in the first place,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer tells High Times. “There was never any good evidence that piss testing, in particular looking for metabolites, had anything to do with public safety.”

It’s nothing more than a remnant of the Reagan-era Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, which picked up amid the peak of “Just Say No” fever.

Gieringer continues, “There’s never been an FDA study to show that that’s true. I mean, if I had a new drug, or medical device, that I said, ‘If you give this to your employees, they will have fewer accidents, and they’ll be more reliable and better employees.’ If I had such a medical device, or drug, the FDA would require me to do doubleblind controlled clinical studies proving that that’s the case.”

“That was never, ever done for urine testing. It was basically a scam by former Reagan drug officials who—after leaving the government—went into the urine-testing business, and were well-connected, in general, with the government, who sort of decided that it would be profitable to require these tests a long time ago—the late ‘80s. And so we’re just putting an end to that fraud.”

California NORML issued a press release, urging Californians to reach out to their state senators. “Scientific studies have failed to show that urine testing is effective at preventing workplace accidents. Numerous studies have found that workers who test positive for metabolites have no higher risk of workplace accidents.”

“Ironically, under current drug testing rules, workers may use addictive opiates for medical use, but are forbidden to use medical cannabis, which has been shown to reduce opiate use,” Gieringer continued.

The California Assembly approved the bill, as well as the Senate Judiciary and Labor committees, and the bill was assigned to the Appropriations suspense file.

In the event that the bill is approved at a committee hearing on August 11, it will move to the Senate floor for a vote. California NORML is urging residents to write a letter to your state senator in support of AB 2188.

Twenty-one states currently have laws protecting employment rights for medical cannabis users, and five states (Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Montana and Connecticut) plus several cities (New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Kansas City MO, Rochester NY and Richmond VA) protect recreational cannabis consumers’ employment rights,” added Cal NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp. “California, a global leader in progressive causes, still has no protections for its workers who consume cannabis. It’s high time to change that and protect California’s workers.”

California could be next on the list to provide protections for employees who consume cannabis off the clock.

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California Lawmakers Approve Bill Authorizing Safe Consumption Sites

The California Senate took new strides in the effort to control the steep increase in drug overdose deaths this week with the passage of legislation to authorize safe consumption sites in the state. The measure, Senate Bill 57 from Democratic Senator Scott Wiener, was passed by the Senate on Monday after receiving the approval of the California State Assembly a month earlier. The bill now heads to the desk of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom for consideration.

“Every overdose death is preventable,” Wiener said after the legislation was passed by the state Assembly on June 30. “We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB 57 is long overdue, and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

SB-57 authorizes four local jurisdictions to operate overdose prevention programs, also known as safe consumption sites or safe injection sites, as a five-year pilot program. The legislation provides approval for such facilities in Los Angeles County and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. A statement from Wiener’s office noted that the city councils or board of supervisors in all four jurisdictions had requested to be included in the legislation.

Overdose Prevention Centers Save Lives

Safe injection sites offer places where people can inject or otherwise consume drugs under the supervision of trained healthcare professionals, who can intervene in the event of a drug overdose or other medical emergency. The facilities also offer other services including referrals to drug treatment, housing assistance, and HIV prevention services. Safe injection sites have operated successfully in Switzerland, Canada, and eight other countries for years, with no overdose deaths among people using the facilities recorded.

The legislation passed this week also includes protections for professionals who work at the authorized safe injection sites, exempting them from professional discipline, civil liability, and existing criminal penalties due to good-faith conduct and actions under the overdose prevention program. The Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California would still be permitted to take disciplinary action against licensed medical professionals under the bill.

Wiener’s bill was passed as California and the nation continue to suffer the effects of an epidemic of overdose deaths, largely fueled by the opioid crisis and the introduction of fentanyl into the illicit drug supply. In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 107,000 people died of a drug overdose last year, setting a grisly new record for drug-related deaths in the country. And in California, overdose deaths spiked by 83% from 2017 to 2020, according to CDC data.

Safe Injection Sites Opened in NYC Last Year

Late last year, civic officials in New York City announced that the city had opened the first publicly recognized overdose prevention centers. Since then, research published by the American Medical Association found that New York’s safe consumption drug sites have decreased overdose risk, encouraged people not to use illicit drugs in public and provided ancillary health services to people who use illicit substances. As in other safe injection sites around the world, no overdose deaths have occurred at New York’s facilities, leading city leaders to call for nationwide support for overdose prevention centers from the Biden administration.

But opening safe injection sites has been a challenge in many communities because of provisions of federal law that prohibit providing a location for the use of illegal drugs. Shane Pennington, an attorney with the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, said that action on authorizing safe consumption sites across the country is needed at the federal level.

“The Biden administration promised to bring harm-reduction strategies to the fight against the U.S. overdose epidemic. Safe consumption sites are one such strategy that mountains of evidence proves saves lives,” Pennington wrote in an email to High Times. “The fact that the Federal government is inexplicably dragging its feet in implementing that strategy should not cause the states to do the same. Safe consumption sites save lives. I hope the Governor signs the California bill into law and other states pass similar life-saving measures as soon as possible.”

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Retailers Complain Weedmaps is Advertising Illegal Dispensaries Again

Weedmaps is under fire for advertising illegal or unlicensed cannabis retailers on its site in California. Several businesses have filed complaints that claim Weedmaps is working with these businesses despite their lack of legal backing.

These complaints were filed last month and in May with the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). They claim that Weedmaps is “allowing vast amounts of black market activity through their website, and they know about it but won’t do anything about it.”

These illegal businesses have long been an issue in California, and now, businesses are fed up that they are even getting a legal leg up with advertising despite their status. Those upset about it claim that the legal marketplace is being undermined by the massive cannabis advertising and content company. 

If it is determined that Weedmaps is guilty of this, they could face serious fines, which would be a major blow, since they are traded in the stock exchange, but it’s not clear whether or not they will be found guilty. Four years ago, the company got in trouble for something similar regarding illegal ads, and successfully removed the ads from its website in 2020 before its parent company went public. 

The new complaints from this year were filed by Canex Delivery, a Los Angeles-based cannabis company. The company claimed that they initially went to Weedmaps with their concerns, but no action was taken. CEO Jim Damask and Chief Financial Officer Joseph Bitzer provided documents and screenshots to back up these claims once they took legal action, and alleged that the ads promoted the illicit market. 

The official SEC complaint reads that their company “suffered significant losses due to Weedmaps – quite possibly into the tens of millions (of dollars).”

They also claimed that Weedmaps is selling ads to these illegal companies to turn a profit, and wrote that “by allowing illegal operators to advertise on their site they are misleading investors by unethically increasing their revenue, which is being reported as legitimate in quarterly reports.”

In response, Weedmaps simply went on the record with MJBizDaily as saying  “We have not received any communications from the DCC or SEC regarding complaints made by Jim Damask and/or (Joseph) Bitzer of Canex Delivery.”

The company declined to provide further comment, despite repeated requests from MJBizDaily.

A spokesperson for the DCC said California regulators are investigating, and the SEC declined to comment.

It also has been confirmed that as of June 28, Weedmaps had live web pages advertising for multiple illegal retailers and products. The nature of those ad deals, how this impacts the competition, and whether or not the official report will find the company at fault, has yet to be determined. 

The ads were for Southern California delivery companies, but unlike Canex, they are not legally licensed businesses. 

The ads also appear to violate California, and even Weedmaps, policies. They do things like claim illegally strong edibles, including 1,000 milligram brownies and gummies, and don’t show a state license number, or if they do, it’s a number that doesn’t match the business posting the ads. They also advertise illegal operating hours such as delivery until midnight or later. 

Canex’s Bitzer and Damask filed the complaints with the California Department of Cannabis Control in late May and with the SEC on June 4.

A DCC spokesperson claimed that this is still an “open investigation,” saying, “Those dealing with unlicensed activity are immediately referred to our law enforcement division. DCC provides publicly accessible data, available to private companies like Weedmaps, so it is simple to follow the law by verifying whether a cannabis company is licensed in California.”

As this case continues, it will become clear whether or not Weedmaps will be held accountable for these ads and the impact they have on local businesses. 

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California City to Charge Separate Violations Per Illegal Plant

Brentwood, California officials are fed up with the uptick in home cultivation violations and did something about it.

On July 12, the Brentwood City Council intensified the rules on the home cultivation of cannabis—taking the rules beyond the legal six-plant limit inside a personal residence. Administrative citations may be issued—per plant—for any plants that are grown beyond the legal limit.

The measure was approved by the Brentwood City Council by a 4-0 vote, with Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriguez absent.

Residents should be careful about considering how many plants to grow at home. A $100 citation will be issued for the first violation, $200 for the second violation, and $500 for the third and subsequent violation. What it means is that now each plant will be considered a separate violation.

According to Code Enforcement Supervisor Roberta Portillo-Bienemann, the city has seen an uptick in cannabis cultivation violations. The new rules would give code enforcement agents additional tools to fight illegal home cultivation, putting a bit more pressure on residents who are considering defying the rules.

Typical illegal grow operations have up to 10 violations, Portillo-Bienemann said, but the new rules would add more violations, depending on the number of plants that are found by code enforcement.

Portillo-Bienemann said it usually gives the offender five to seven days to appeal the citation, however the city could issue fines per plant, per day.

“In order to give an individual their due process, right, and their ability to appeal that citation, if they choose to do so, we issue the administrative fines on a weekly basis,” she told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It is hoped these revisions will increase the city’s code enforcement capabilities and deter illegal marijuana cultivation.’’

But next door in Antioch, California, the police say there’s no actual problem taking place—at least not in their city.

Antioch Interim Police Chief Steve Ford said that in his city, they haven’t seen any grow houses in the last year, however at least one illegal warehouse grow operation was discovered months ago and punished by code enforcement.

“As crazy as it sounds, I’d like to think that that [the availability of dispensaries] has helped to mitigate the need for people to want to try and erect a weed house or weed grow because they don’t have to do that,” Ford told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Brentwood has regulated home cultivation since 2017, when it incorporated California law into its municipal code to reflect Proposition 64. City leaders are mostly worried about large-scale operations, and they say that the crop sizes reach the hundreds or thousands, and they believe it creates health and safety risks.

Brentwood Mayor Joel Bryant said he supported the new home cultivation rules.

“Having seen some of these grow houses in our community, not only is there immediate danger to the neighboring houses of fire and there are health concerns from the mold, but there also have been some violent interactions from criminal activity,” Bryant stated. “Not only from the growers but people that are criminals that found out that that grow house was there.”

Councilwoman Susannah Meyer approved the measure, saying that the enhanced rules don’t impede anyone’s rights to consume cannabis.

Some residents also agreed with the enhanced violations, saying that the issue is about protecting their property values.

Assuming you’re staying within the legal limit in your respective city, and assuming your state allows it, High Times provides guidelines, focusing on the ins and outs of growing cannabis at home.

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Is California’s Cultivation Tax Cut Too Little, Too Late?

After four years of exhaustive efforts, California leaders eliminated the cultivation tax along with other changes, providing some bit of respite for cultivators. But does the plan just move money around, and is it even close to enough to save struggling farmers?

California Governor Gavin Newsom released his 2022-2023 revised budget on May 13—most notably containing the much-needed tax cuts. On June 29, Assembly Bill No. 195 passed in the Senate by 34-0, and the California Assembly voted 66-0 in favor of the bill. The bill took effect immediately following the signature of Newsom, providing the legal cannabis industry some much-needed temporary tax relief, which began July 1.

The state’s cultivation tax at over $161 per pound was scrapped and money was reallocated: Cannabis excise rate will remain at 15% for three fiscal years—but may be increased after July 1, 2025. Equity licensees will be able to retain 20% of the excise taxes they collect to reinvest into their businesses. They will also be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit. It also includes $40 million in tax credits, of which $20 million will go towards tax credits for storefront retail and microbusinesses, and $20 million for cannabis equity operators. The bill allows qualified businesses to claim tax credits of up to $250,000 for qualified expenditures beginning in the 2023 taxable year. It also adds additional enforcement tools against the illicit cannabis market.

Hardly a Long-Term Solution

Doug Chloupek, CEO and founder of Juva Life, faced many of these tax woes as a manufacturing permit holder in California. When Newsom proposed his revised budget back in May, Chloupek said the cannabis cultivation tax cuts failed to fix several key problems. Keep an eye on those excise tax rates in the next three years, for instance.

“​​It’s slightly better than a three-card shuffle and a nice little pretty Band-Aid on its surface,” Chloupek tells High Times. “Those who are entrenched in the industry would think, ‘Wow, this is an amazing thing.’ But at the end of the day, it’s more generally a bandaid to stop the inevitable bleeding that can only be fixed by the elimination of IRS Tax Code 280E—which is systemic to federal issues, and leaving it to a state like California, which has some of the highest taxation on a commodity that’s lost 80% of its value is just intrinsically the wrong move for our industry as a whole.”

In recent years, California’s price per pound of cannabis plummeted, and some growers faced what Johnny Casali from Huckleberry Farms described as “an extinction event.” A pound of cannabis—once worth up to $1,500 or more for some farmers—plummeted as low as $300 per pound. And when you shave off the $161+ per pound cultivation tax, that gobbles up half its value. Part of this price drop has been blamed on the advent of light deprivation weed.

“A good portion of the cultivation tax—which was being passed down by distributor to distributor to distributor and lost in the supply chain,” Chloupek says. “So it was never being paid anyway. So in terms of a cultivator materializing, an extra $160 a pound in value to help bridge the gap of the intrinsically broken system that we fundamentally have. At its core, it’s going to do nothing to help us cultivators that are dropping like flies right now.”

Chloupek’s 12-year background in the legal market began when he says he became the first permit holder in the state of California for cannabis manufacturing. Juva Life received a license to operate a storefront in Redwood City, where during the application process Juva was the highest-scoring applicant. The retail store is already under construction, and planned to open in Q3. Juva Life is focusing on cannabis research to create longevity for their business, and recently closed $11.8 million in funding.

What Businesses Say

“It’s a fundamentally broken problem,” Chloupek adds. “And they’re just looking at the industry as a cash cow, which is designed to fail, which is following the repetitive steps of every big transitional industry from big AG and Monsanto to a handful of them that have their monopoly to alcohol, tobacco, to form a they it’s a it’s a control consolidation is what you’re seeing right now. And by squeezing the industry at such a point by design or by unintentional or by thinking, all that’s doing is [hurting the people] who built it for the last 30 years, and who are being squeezed out of the industry. And unless you’re an MSO with a half a billion dollar market cap with, you know—$100 million in the bank to weather the next two years of storm, or you’re vertically integrated and you can barely squeak by your chances of surviving the next 2 to 3 years are next to nil.”

Members of the California Cannabis Industry Association seemed to agree that more steps are needed if the state is actually going to save the cannabis industry.

“The survival of the regulated industry is vital to providing ongoing tax revenues for the State and the advancement of public health and safety. Eliminating the cultivation tax is just one step towards stabilizing our industry but it’s an important one,” relays Lindsay Robinson, CCIA Executive Director.

Others say the legislation doesn’t go far enough regarding social equity measures.

“CCIA has worked for the past four years to eliminate the cultivation tax and we’re extremely proud of this important first step,” Robinson added. “Stability of the cannabis supply chain brings jobs and much needed tax revenue to the state while also protecting public health and safety and keeping cannabis out of the hands of children.”

While dropping the cultivation tax was a step in the right direction, it’s hardly a fix for an industry that is still fundamentally flawed.

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California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Announces Enforcement for Illegal Cannabis Growing Season

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) and State Water Resource Board (SWRCB) announced in a press release on July 1 that it would be collectively authorizing enforcement teams for the 2022 cannabis growing season. This is an annual announcement, as the CDFW also announced its preparation for the 2021 growing season in July last year.

This effort is funded by Proposition 64 which enables these government agencies to focus on protecting “priority watersheds and areas with sensitive habitat and/or threatened or endangered species.” The agencies will work with local county, state, and federal groups to ensure enforcement is properly handled.

“The environmental impacts of illegal cannabis operations can last decades and cause irreparable harm to our natural resources,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess. “Those not complying with state laws and disregarding the environmental impacts associated with illegal cultivation practices will be subject to enforcement actions.”

The water streams of California, and the wildlife that depends on them, suffer when illegal cannabis grow operations divert water. “Tributary streams are often critical in providing clear, cold water for larger waterways,” the press release states. “Many sensitive aquatic species such as southern torrent salamanders, coastal tailed frogs, steelhead and coho salmon rely on these tributaries in the late summer months to maintain water quality and temperatures necessary for survival.”

Furthermore, the health of these streams directly affects the “physical, biological, and chemical impact” of the entire local area, which is home to countless creatures whose habitat needs to be maintained.

The drought in California has hit a historic low once again, making it imperative to protect these waterways. “Complying with the state’s cannabis regulations is even more critical in drought conditions when limited water supply is available and water quality impacts are magnified,” said State Water Resources Control Board Office of Enforcement Director Yvonne West. “I am proud to work with so many individuals in the cannabis community dedicated to regulated and environmentally conscientious cultivation. The State Water Board is committed to taking enforcement action against those who harm our precious water resources.”

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley also provided a statement, addressing the need for enforcement of illegal cannabis growing operations. “My office is committed to criminal and civil enforcement to protect the environment and public safety,” said Dudley. “Environmental harms from cannabis cultivation can be severe and long-term, including exposure to dangerous pesticides, water quality degradation, and wildlife injury. Moreover, cultivators who violate the law should not have an unfair competitive advantage over lawful cultivators who expend time and resources to stay in compliance. My office will continue to collaborate with our local and state agency partners to ensure compliance with the law.”

Other California counties, such as San Bernardino, are also supporting legislation aimed at both protecting groundwater as well as eliminating illegal grows. The County sponsored Assembly Bill 2728 and Senate Bill 1426, which would implement fines for violations. According to researchers, cannabis plants (depending on their stage of growth) could need up to six gallons of water per day during the growing season, which spans June through October.

At a press conference in May, Assemblymember Tom Lackey addressed illegal cannabis growers who are polluting local water reserves. “To any of those who are engaged in the illicit grows: I want you to know there’s a collective effort, and we’re coming after you,” said Lackey. “You come after a very sacred thing: our community. You come after our desert, and you’re stealing our water. You’re poisoning our land, and enough is enough.”

Outside of the growing season, Los Angeles County has also worked on targeting illegal grows. In July 2021, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made one of its largest seizures of illegal cannabis, which was valued at $1.2 billion.

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California Bill to Require Cannabis Warnings About Mental Disorder Risks Advances

Should cannabis products in California come with warnings about rare, adverse reactions for people living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, or does it fuel false or exaggerated beliefs about cannabis?

Senate Bill 1097, the Cannabis Right to Know Act, was introduced February 16 by Sen. Richard Pan, and is sponsored by the Public Health Institute, a nonprofit. On June 21, it was amended in the Committee on Business and Professions, as support for the bill gained steam.

Some researchers say people must already have a predisposition for a mental disorder like schizophrenia for these types of negative reactions to occur, while others disagree. Others say certain types of products shouldn’t be a big concern.

“Cal NORML agrees that consumers should be educated about the risks of psychotic reactions, especially in connection with high-THC concentrates and dabs,” Dale Gieringer told High Times. “Cyclical vomiting syndrome is another concern. We doubt whether label warnings are a useful way of informing them, though. Consumers are already jaded by the proliferation of inane Prop. 65 warnings.”

Gieringer has been the state coordinator of California’s NORML branch since 1987, before adult-use regulations took effect, ramping up safety efforts. Requiring warnings like this on products like topicals and CBD products isn’t the solution, he says.

He continued, “We don’t think SB 1097 is the right answer. It doesn’t make sense to be posting these warnings on harmless products like topicals or high-CBD varieties. Consumers weren’t consulted by the authors of SB 1097. We think more research is needed to determine the best way of informing consumers about the risks of THC over-consumption.”

On June 30, the Kaiser Health News profiled an instance of a teen who had an adverse reaction to pot, and it was later revealed that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Liz Kirkaldie’s grandson didn’t have a good experience with cannabis, but he suffered from schizophrenia. The pot appeared to enhance delusions like hearing voices. “They were going to kill him and there were people coming to eat his brain. Weird, weird stuff,” Kirkaldie said. “I woke up one morning, and no Kory anywhere. Well, it turns out, he’d been running down Villa Lane here totally naked.”

“The drug use activated the psychosis, is what I really think,” she said.

Seek and ye shall find, and there are plenty of peer-reviewed studies that show the negative outcomes from cannabis use. According to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry on March 19, 2019, the focus is on high-potency pot, and the risk is over four times greater for people who use high-potency pot daily than for those who have never smoked. But often these risks are blown out of proportion.

Fearmongers have banked on studies like these, such as Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence—who was permanently banned from Twitter for you guessed it, the spread of misinformation. The way arguments are presented makes it seem as though schizophrenia is common.

Other researchers say drugs, nicotine, and other factors that aren’t pot muddy up the results in studies searching for a real correlation between pot and schizophrenia, nor other mental disorders.

A 2014 study, led by Ashley C. Proal and Dr. Lynn E. DeLisi of Harvard Medical School recruited pot smokers with and without a family history of schizophrenia, as well as non-smokers with and without such a history. But this time, the pot users did not use any other drugs, so they could rule out those factors. What they actually found was a heightened schizophrenia risk among people with a family history—regardless of cannabis use.

“My study clearly shows that cannabis does not cause schizophrenia by itself,” Dr. DeLisi told the New York Times in 2019. “Rather, a genetic predisposition is necessary. It is highly likely, based on the results of this study and others, that cannabis use during adolescence through to age 25, when the brain is maturing and at its peak of growth in a genetically vulnerable individual, can initiate the onset of schizophrenia.”

Other experts backed up Dr. DeLisi’s guess that schizophrenia warnings could be a bit inflated. “Usually it is the research types who are doing ‘the sky is falling’ bit, but here it is switched,” said Dr. Jay Geidd, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. “The researchers are wary of overselling the dangers, as was clearly done in the past. However, clinicians overwhelmingly endorse seeing many more adolescents with ‘paranoia’”

SB 1097 now heads to an appropriations committee, sent on June 22, for another reading.

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California State Fair Announces Cannabis Awards Winners in First-Ever Competition

The first-ever cannabis tournament officially sanctioned by the state of California announced its first lineup of winners ahead of this year’s festivities at the California State Fair.

The California State Fair Cannabis Awards announced on June 23 the top cultivars and cultivators in California with a full list of award winners. Over 300 entries were whittled down to 60 trophies and medals, with gold and silver medals, as well as the coveted Golden Bear Award for the “Best of California” overall winners.

The Cal Expo Fairgrounds is home to the California State Fair, an independent state agency established by law under state statutes. This year’s State Fair runs from July 15 through July 31, however consumption won’t be allowed.

The science-based competition divided up cannabis flower entries across three divisions: indoor, mixed light, and outdoor. Beyond that, categories were separated by terpenes and cannabinoids rather than traditional divisions like sativa or indica.

Lab testing was provided by SC Labs to determine the winners in 10 categories: Cannabinoids consisting of CBDa, CBGa, and THCa, as well as Terpenes including Myrcene, beta-Caryophyllene, Limonene, Ocimene, Terpinolene, Pinene, and a “co-dominant” category. Every entry had to undergo California compliance testing requirements to maximize public safety and identify the genetics accurately. Each award winner provides a PhytoFact report.

MOCA Humboldt Head Cultivator Sarah Wright / Photo by CEO Matt Engel

At first glance, MOCA Humboldt, Esensia, and Greenshock Farms took home the most wins at this year’s competition. MOCA Humboldt took home gold wins for Wookies, Grape Cookies (2x), and ZOG in various categories, organized according to terpenes and cannabinoids. Ridgeline Farms also took home three silver wins for Apples & Bananas, Green Lantern, and Ridgeline Runtz.

Perhaps among the most interesting finds, Emerald Spirit Botanicals took home the special Unique category in outdoor for Pink Boost Goddess, which is rich in THCV. Joseph Haggard serves as Farm Manager and Public Relations at Emerald Spirit Botanicals, and his mother Katie Jeane bred Pink Boost Goddess.

“It is with deep gratitude and honor that we are recognized as a winner in the inaugural year of the California State Fair Cannabis Awards,” Jeane told High Times. “Pink Boost Goddess represents patient, meticulous, and prayerful breeding work to bring forward new medicine for humanity.”

Jeane continues, “Six years ago, I asked the spirit of cannabis how I could support its evolution forward and was guided to focus on THCV. Through intentional, spiritual, and scientific breeding work, I was able to identify and strengthen THCV in Pink Boost Goddess. To me, THCV represents focus, joy, a shift in perspective, and an opportunity to reflect on how we consume. THCV is known to help regulate appetite, improve focus, help regulate blood sugar for diabetics and reduce neuropathic pain in some situations. I think it’s important to recognize that cannabis has so much more to offer than THC, and THCV is an example of that.”

It’s through these lesser known cannabinoids that consumers can truly reach better healing. “By understanding minor cannabinoids we can better understand the healing powers of the cannabis plant. It’s amazing to see Pink Boost Goddess receive seven major awards over the last two years including two 1st Place Emerald Cup Awards, a most unique cannabinoid profile award, an exotic terpene profile award, the highest THCV flower in California award and now this award for most unique flower in California.”

Pink Boost Goddess provides an uplifting, joyful, and focused experience with smooth floral notes and a hint of peppery gas. Their flower is available through Farm Cut locations throughout California and through a few other brands listed on

Others shared the fine qualities about cannabis that make them award winners, and how the event itself is helping to elevate the cannabis experience. “Adding cannabis cultivation, alongside wine, craft beer, cheese and olive oil, was a perfect fit with the CA State Fair’s history of celebrating California’s rich agriculture history,” said California Exposition and State Fair Board of Director Chair Jess Durfee. “We are excited for our inaugural winners.”

KOLAS Technology SBM, a subsidiary of KOLAS, will provide each winner with a registered digital certification via blockchain technology to authenticate and protect the award-winning product.

“We love the science-based lab testing involved with this competition and are honored to be a part of the legendary CA State Fair,” said MOCA Humboldt Vice President of Marketing and Sales Aaron Salles. “This relationship lends legitimacy to our industry and provides us an opportunity to educate people about the many benefits of the cannabis plant.”

There will be a non-consumption ceremony for winners at the upcoming fair’s CA Cannabis Exhibit at the Cal Expo Fairgrounds in Sacramento, California.

Esensia Co-founders Marley Lovell and Ben Blake / Photo by Syra McCarthy (@syranara)

“We are honored and humbled to be recognized for our craft, amongst top notch California cultivators and alongside the best agricultural products the state has to offer,” said Esensia Co-founder Ben Blake. “It takes three-to four years of meticulous work for us to develop a strain from scratch to sale, akin to winemaking, it is truly a craft process.”

Click here for a full list of award winners.

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Cannabis Drinks Expo to Hit Chicago and San Francisco

The cannabis drinks market is among the fastest-growing industries, and now there are events that represent that rapid growth. Hosted by the Beverage Trade Network, the 2022 Cannabis Drinks Expo will kick off next month and spotlight the legal cannabis market and provide insight into the true potential for business, according to a June 20 press release.

Expo themes include increasing the overall category list by showcasing successful exhibitors, creating networking opportunities, and exploring current “multi-state bottlenecks.”

So why all the buzz? The global cannabis beverages market is predicted to grow from $503.58 million in 2020 to $2958.60 million by 2028, representing a CAGR of 24.5% during the forecast period of 2021-2028. This includes the psychoactive drinks as well as hemp-infused drinks. Beyond cannabis alone, the beverage sector is experiencing radical change in and of itself with a push towards wellness drinks with natural ingredients.

The show will have an international and national focus that offers multistate operators synergistic opportunities to do business with each other.

Cannabis Drinks Expo provides the cannabis and drinks industry with a unique platform to expand business, explore the category, and source amazing brands. The theme for the 2022 show is “Growing the Category.”

Drink makers could use the boost of visibility in a competitive playing field. At the expo, you’re likely to find the full spectrum of brands.

“The Cannabis Drinks Expo offers brands like mine a view into a very early stage waltz,” famed Master-Mixologist Warren Bobrow told High Times. Bobrow is also known as “the Cocktail Whisperer,” who is behind the made-to-drink cannabis-infused beverage Klaus. “Two steps forward. One back. Two forward one back, and networking with those you can’t meet on [LinkedIn] nor Instagram.”

While other cannabis drink brands are focused on sweet ingredients, Bobrow is instead more interested in the refined ingredients that make his terpene-forward drink Klaus. His drinks list ingredients such as Picketts ginger syrup and fine fruit extracts sourced from France. It’s also designed to kick in fast, making it a viable alternative to other recreational delivery systems.

The expo also picked up the attention of local media outlets. “From hemp-based sports drinks to cocktails that get you high, science has finally cracked the code to making cannabis beverages that don’t taste awful,” reported Jonathan Bloom for NBC Bay Area News.

The world of cannabis drinks can get confusing fast, which is why part of the program is designed to make things easier to understand. At the expo, experts will be available to clarify and explain the process of infused foods while industry panels will go over facts to demystify the cannabis-infused beverages procedure. Top names in the cannabis industry will offer a full day of presentations, which have not yet all been announced. Attendees can also browse the expo floor and connect with companies on the cutting-edge of the industry.

Exhibitors will include medical cannabis producers, growers, cannabis producers, product developers, processors, distributors/transporters, wineries, breweries, distilleries, branded drinks companies, drinks manufacturers, Pharma companies, equipment and service providers, CBD manufacturers, edibles providers, testing and laboratory services, logistics, and supply chain operators, drinks distributors/wholesalers, drinks importers, lobbyists/public affairs businesses, and political advisors.

Fortunately, the expo is being provided in California as well as Illinois with two events. Check below for individual events times and places.

San Francisco: July 28, 2022, South San Francisco Conference Center, 255 South Airport Boulevard, South San Francisco, California 94080.

Chicago: August 2, 2022, Midwest Conference Center, 401 W. Lake St., Northlake, Illinois 60164.

Visitor Registration is open, so get your passes now to save on tickets. Click below to register as a trade show visitor:

San Francisco Tickets  

Chicago Tickets 

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Four Cops Cleared of Charges in Fatal Shooting of Man Driving Weed Truck

A Siskiyou County, California district attorney announced on June 14 that four police officers will be cleared of charges after shooting and killing a man who drove a truck full of cannabis through a wildfire checkpoint.

But over the past year, witnesses and cops provided conflicting stories about what happened that day, which involved an Asian American worker.

In June last year, lightning ignited the devastating Lava Fire, and amid the chaos, things unraveled when they pulled over a man driving a truck with over 100 pounds of cannabis inside.

Officers were directing a line of vehicles leaving the area to escape the torrent of flames. Soobleej Kaub Hawj, 35, of Kansas City, Kansas, was driving a pickup truck that was loaded with 132 pounds of cannabis. He was most likely working for one of the many illegal greenhouses in the area. He also had firearms in the truck.

Police say that Hawj ignored orders to turn west onto County Road A-12, a main road at a checkpoint on June 24, 2021 as a fire ravaged a rural Big Springs area near the California-Oregon border, District Attorney Kirk Andrus said.

Officers say he panicked, fired a round at one of the officers, then they returned fire and shot him in the head, chest, arms, and legs. The police say they found a loaded .45 caliber Colt 1911 handgun on Hawj’s lap. Other assault rifles were found later.

However witnesses say over 60 shots were fired at the victim and that dash cam footage wasn’t released. The incident led to national outcry over suspicions about a possible anti-Asian American hate crime with the #StopAsianHate hashtag.

Officers attempted to clear their names. The Sacramento Bee reports that District Attorney Kirk Andrus sent out a nine-page letter Tuesday that outlined his findings to the officers’ supervisors at the Sheriff’s Office at the Etna Police Department and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In his letter, Andrus said the point of the checkpoint wasn’t to find cannabis but simply to get people out of the area before it was engulfed by flames. Hawj, however, may have thought he would be stopped and searched, Andrus said.

“He had a cash crop in the back of his truck that he apparently was willing to defend,” Andrus wrote. “He may have had the misapprehension that residents were being funneled into an area where they would be searched for marijuana. He would have been wrong.”

Police say Hawj also had an arrest warrant in Mesa County, Colorado, on a cannabis and gun-related charge.

Siskiyou County already banned large-scale cannabis cultivation, but as of last year estimated there were 5,000 to 6,000 illegal greenhouses growing weed in the Big Springs area.

Locals in the Big Springs area say the farms typically involve immigrant workers of Hmong and Chinese descent. Because of the renewed focus due to the case of Hawj, The Daily Beast profiled “the embattled Hmong community in Northern California” that typically end up trimming or working in cannabis fields.

Not everyone was buying the police story, which is what led to the investigation in the first place. The Southeast Asia Resource Action center released a joint statement with Hmong Innovating Politics last August when the case was still fresh.

“One witness said over 60 shots were fired at Hawj during the incident,” the organizations wrote. “In response, Zurg Xiong held an 18 day hunger strike pushing for the release of body and dash camera footage from the shooting and an independent investigation from a different agency. On July 21, Oakland City Councilmember Sheng Thao, Elk Grove School Board Trustee Sean Yang, Sanger Unified Board President Brandon Vang, and Sacramento City Council Member Maiv Yaj Vaj sent a letter to California Attorney General Rob Bonta requesting an independent investigation into Hawj’s death.”

“The shooting is the result of escalating racial discrimination against the Hmong and Asian American community in Siskiyou County, CA. In 2016, multiple incidents of voter suppression against Hmong residents by the Siskiyou Sheriff’s Office were reported. More recently, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors enacted water ordinances targeted at Hmong and Asian American farmers while being aggressively and disproportionately enforced by the Sheriff’s Office.”

You can read the letter in its entirety to California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Also, check out the petition to support Soobleej Kaub Hawj’s family, which ended up receiving over 14,000 signatures.

For the time being, it appears the officers are off the hook and will not face any criminal charges in the matter.

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