Colorado Hits New Record with $423 Million in Annual Revenue From 2021

The state of Colorado is reporting a new record amount of revenue collected during 2021, including update sales data in overall tax and fee revenue collected since 2014 when legal sales began.

The Colorado Department of Revenue (DoR) announced on January 11 that the state has made a new record with total annual cannabis sales. “New record alert! In 2021, Colorado collected over $423 million in revenue from marijuana sales (compared to the previous record of over $387 million in 2020). Colorado also surpassed $2B in tax and fee revenue and $12B in marijuana sales to date,” the agency wrote on its social media pages.

A detailed press release shared that monthly data for December 2021 reached $30,609,563 in tax and fee revenue (with a total of $423,486,053 between January and December 2021) and $2,018,933,005 since February 2014.

Similar in cannabis sales, the latest data revealed $158,462,549 was collected in November (with a total of $2,060,952,959 collected between January and November 2021) and a massive total of $12,039,747,032 collected since legal sales began in January 2014.

These figures are based off of the state sales tax (2.9 percent), cannabis retail sales tax (15 percent) and retail cannabis excise tax (15 percent). The DoR notes that for cannabis sales data, the official sales figures won’t be released until sometime in February 2022.

Sales data from October, November and December were reported to have decreased, with both cannabis sales and prices dropping below the usual rate. The price of smokeable flower per pound in the last three months of 2021 dropped by 28 percent ($1,316 to $948, according to Westword) in reference to the average market rate (AMR). In comparison, the AMR for the end of 2020 reported $1,721 in price per pound.

The states of Washington and California, however, have collected $3 billion and $3.1 billion in tax revenue, compared to Colorado’s newly achieved $2 billion. Of course, Washington’s sales tax is up to 46 percent in certain regions, and California’s sales tax reaches up to 38 percent. Colorado’s tax percent is the third highest in the country.

According to Marijuana Policy Project Policy Director Karen O’Keefe, Colorado’s cannabis industry is more consistent, which leads to steady flow of funds for the state. “When you have that kind of funding, economists say you have what’s called a multiplier effect, where you not only have the initial investment in the stores, the jobs and the tax revenue, but then that money is in people’s pockets who spend it again,” O’Keefe told Westword. “So it’s as if each dollar is two or three dollars, which is the way economists usually look at it.” She also notes that this long-term investing has led to the creation of 40,000 jobs and over 1,000 Colorado businesses.

“Some of the more recently taxed states are focusing on specifically investing a good chunk of the revenue in communities that have borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition and that have had disproportionate marijuana arrests,” O’Keefe continued. “You’ll just continue to see more tax revenue, more people working in the cannabis industry, operating cannabis businesses.”

Colorado’s cannabis industry is thriving in many other ways overall as well. At the beginning of the year, Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order to pardon 1,351 cases relating to cannabis possession convictions of two ounces or less. Psychedelic decriminalization is also ramping up in Colorado, with two potential ballot measures being proposed through New Approach PAC. One bill proposes legalization of multiple different psychedelic substances such as ibogaine, DMT, mescaline, psilocybin and psilocin, whereas the other bill focuses just on psilocybin and psilocin.

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Budtenders Are Holding Back Cannabis—but It’s Not Their Fault

Some pregnant and breastfeeding women aren’t listening. Despite health professionals’ warnings, the number of pregnant women using cannabis at least once a month doubled over the last decade to seven percent of women surveyed, according to one recent study. Though this upwards trend is partially a result of healthcare professionals’ reluctance to talk about weed with their patients, researchers from Washington State University’s College of Nursing identified another culprit: budtenders.

In interviews with ten healthcare professionals, the researchers noted universal opposition to using cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding—the same advice given about drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco, though the issue isn’t as black-and-white as one would think. But when the researchers asked ten people who worked the sales counter at the local dispensary, they discovered “much more positive” attitudes around cannabis. In fact, a cannabis study revealed states where marijuana is legal had a higher birth rate when compared to other states.

PHOTO Lightfield Studios

Though the budtenders tended to recommend products lower in THC and identified (correctly) that tobacco and alcohol were much more harmful than weed, this was still problematic. According to one budtender, most advice given at the dispensary counter amounted to anecdotal and unverified “stoner science” or quickly Googled tidbits. One takeaway, as the researchers wrote in a recent study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, is that America needs better budtenders.

Workers at the counter ought to trained “on cannabis products” and “how to best serve perinatal customers” before dispensing medical advice, they said.

For an understanding of why they aren’t—and why, under current circumstances, this is a reasonable expectation—you could take a quick trip to Denver, where Andrew Mieure broke into the cannabis industry as a budtender during Colorado’s medical-cannabis era.

Better off flipping burgers than selling buds

Driving around the city during a visit in early 2020, Mieure noticed a sign outside a fast-food shop looking for workers: Now Hiring, $15 an hour, the sign said. He then compared that to job listings for budtender positions. The average pay for an entry-level counter worker at a cannabis dispensary was $13 to $14 an hour, he recalled.

“You can literally flip burgers for better pay than selling an intoxicating drug that’s still federally illegal,” said Mieure, who became co-founder of Top Shelf Budtending, an organization that curates sommelier-level cannabis experiences, but is still incredulous at the memory.

For Mieure, complaints about budtending boil down to the simple cruelty of cold economic logic. “I believe that when you’re not paid properly, you’re only going to do the work you’re paid for,” he said. And neither increased demand for cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic nor budtenders’ classification as “essential workers” has done anything to change this disparity.

Though advanced certification and worker training courses do exist, there’s little economic incentive, since the skills learned during a weeklong, $3,000 intensive training course don’t translate into higher hourly wages. At some high-volume dispensaries with strict sales quotas, answering questions from a curious patron may actually be discouraged in favor of quickly ringing up a sale and moving onto the next customer. 

Low pay coupled with a lack of health and retirement benefits—one former dispensary worker recalls being offered “medical weed” when she inquired about her employers’ healthcare plan—ensures worker turnover is high. Thus, experienced workers—and knowledgeable budtenders—are a rarity. And so, after a cordial greeting and a recitation of whatever’s on sale or on special, comes the same warmed-over “stoner science” passing for medical advice, followed by critiques from researchers complaining that budtenders are contributing to the delinquency of pregnant women.

PHOTO Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

How to break this troubling cycle? A good start would be better-paid budtenders and a re-evaluation of the role of the counter help at dispensaries, which today is understood as little more sophisticated than a mere retail clerk. But demanding medical advice from an underpaid retail clerk may require an evolution in the dispensary model itself. Instead of convenience stores, liquor stores or even Apple stores, dispensaries should act more like lounges or clinics. And that will require a reevaluation of the entire dispensary retail model, starting with government regulations.

Budtender, reimagined

Budtender jobs pay poorly in part because—like driving for Uber or Lyft or waiting tables at the local Applebee’s—it’s a job almost anyone can get. Still viewed as a “cool” job, dispensaries report being flooded with applications for every opening. In this market—and in a tough environment where every dispensary owner is trying to find efficiencies wherever possible—dispensaries can afford to skimp on the labor (or so they believe).

Few states require much in the way of qualifications (aside from, counterintuitively, a criminal record free of certain drug-related crimes). Just 56 percent of budtenders surveyed during a 2016 review received training of any kind before taking the job. What training there is doesn’t have to meet any “vetted or certified” standards,” said Mieure, who observed that other job sectors are held to much higher standards that the supposedly tightly regulated cannabis industry.

“I always like to say that the people who do your nails or your hair go through more training,” he said, when budtenders are far “beyond retail. We’re part pharmacist, part psychologist, in some cases.”

A state-certified minimum training course might help. So would worker rights won by labor unions, which have notched wins against employers who have tried to walk back certain basic rights. But so would a re-imagining of the dispensary experience. Instead of a five-minute “in-and-out,” what if a dispensary was a social gathering space—what if, instead of like a corner liquor store, it operated more like a bar?

Some cannabis aficionados bristle at comparisons to the alcohol industry. After all, Colorado legalized cannabis in 2012 on the strength of an advertising campaign that juxtaposed cannabis as a safer alternative. But with its tasting notes hinging on the finer points of climate and terroir, high-end cannabis begs comparisons to nothing more so much as fine wine.

That said, it’s wishful thinking to expect a sommelier to appear at your corner liquor store to help you choose between a jug of Gallo or a box of Franzia. However, the time and space for a discriminating selection and an in-depth conversation is a perfect fit for dispensaries that are social-consumption lounges—a concept seen during the medical-cannabis era that hasn’t quite transitioned to adult-use. “I think we’re going to see the specialty budtender come into play with consumption lounges,” Mieure predicted. Fair pay for a position like that could command as much as  $55,000 a year, with management scraping the six-figure mark. And in an industry supposedly worth tens of billions, why not? The cost of not doing so, as the Washington State researchers found, is bad advice that carries an even steeper bill.

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Colorado Governor Jared Polis Grants Slew of Pardons

Colorado Governor Jared Polis rang in 2022 with a pardon party.

Last Thursday, the governor’s office announced that he had “granted three commutations, 15 individual pardons, and signed an executive order granting 1,351 pardons for convictions of possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.”

The move was made possible by legislation that Polis signed in May, which “authorized the Governor to grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana.”

“Adults can legally possess marijuana in Colorado, just as they can beer or wine. It’s unfair that 1,351 additional Coloradans had permanent blemishes on their record that interfered with employment, credit, and gun ownership, but today we have fixed that by pardoning their possession of small amounts of marijuana that occurred during the failed prohibition era,” Polis said in a statement.

Signed into law by Polis on May 20 of last year, the bill increased “the amount of marijuana that adults 21 and older in Colorado can legally possess from one ounce to two ounces,” and built upon the 2012 voter-passed constitutional amendment legalizing recreational cannabis, which gave the governor such authorization.

The governor’s office said in a press release that individuals “who are unsure whether a conviction on their record has been pardoned may fill out a form to request confirmation of a pardon on the Colorado Bureau of Investigations website.”

Colorado has been a trailblazer for the legalization movement in the United States, becoming the first state (along with Washington) to end the prohibition on pot in 2012. Since then, restorative justice measures have become a fixture of new cannabis laws, with previous low-level offenders receiving pardons.

The governor’s office said that the cannabis pardon “applies to state-level convictions of possession for two ounces or less of marijuana, as identified by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” and that “individuals who have these convictions did not need to apply for pardons, and the Governor’s Office has not conducted individual assessments of the people who have been pardoned through this process. Individuals convicted of municipal marijuana crimes, or individuals arrested or issued a summons without a conviction, are not included in the pardon.”

The new year will bring some tighter restrictions to Colorado’s medical cannabis laws, however. The Denver Post reported in November that the state’s Department of Revenue “will limit the daily purchase to two ounces of flower and eight grams of concentrate such as wax and shatter for medical marijuana patients,” and that it will drop two grams per day for patients aged 18 to 20.

Per the Denver Post, the Department of Revenue unveiled the rules after “several months of deliberation over how to execute a new state law meant largely to limit young people’s access to and abuse of high-potency THC products.”

The newspaper reported that there are exceptions to the new rules, but they apply “to a patient whose doctor affirms in writing that the patient has a physical or geographic hardship that should allow them to exceed the daily purchase limits, and that the patient has designated a store as the primary place they get their medicine.”

The limits were made possible after lawmakers passed a bill that created a task force to produce new rules.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic state House Representative Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician, who said that she wanted to ensure that young people cannot “get their hands on an incredible amount of products and very concentrated products that they can then give or sell to people their age or younger who don’t yet have access to legal market because they’re not 21.”

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National Group Submits Colorado Psychedelics Decriminalization Ballot Measures

A national advocacy group has submitted two separate proposals that would decriminalize psychedelics in Colorado in an effort to put the issue before voters in next year’s general election. New Approach PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee, filed the decriminalization proposals with the office of the Colorado Secretary of State on December 3, according to media reports.

The first proposal would decriminalize the psychedelic drugs ibogaine, DMT, mescaline (excluding peyote), psilocybin and psilocin for adults 21 and older, with a cap of four grams of the psychoactive substances. Under the measure, the governor would be required to appoint a Natural Medicine Advisory Board, which would be tasked with implementing decriminalization. The state would also license healing centers to supply psychedelic drugs and assist clients using them.

The second measure is similar to the first, but would decriminalize only psilocybin and psilocin, the psychedelic compounds found in “magic mushrooms.” Under the proposal, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies would implement decriminalization in a fashion similar to the one outlined in the first initiative.

If one or both of the proposals is approved by the Secretary of State’s office, organizers would then need to collect the required signatures to qualify the measures for the ballot in 2022.

“Our goal is to make the healing benefits of these natural medicines available to people they can help, including veterans with PTSD, survivors of domestic or sexual abuse, people with treatment-resistant depression and others for whom our typical mental-health treatments just aren’t working,” Ben Unger, psychedelic program director for New Approach PAC, told Westword.

Psychedelics for Health and Wellness

Researchers continue to study the potential medicinal applications of psilocybin and other natural psychedelic drugs, which are often also referred to as entheogenic plants and fungi. A study published last year in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. And separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

Denver was the first major municipality to decriminalize psychedelics in 2019, and similar measures have been passed by Oakland, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Cambridge, Massachusetts since then. In October, city leaders passed a psychedelics decriminalization resolution in Seattle, the largest U.S. city to approve such legislation to date. And in November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure that decriminalized psilocybin and legalized the compound for therapeutic use.

Kevin Matthews, the leader of the group that campaigned for Denver’s psychedelics decriminalization measure, is now lobbying for the statewide effort advanced by national advocates.

“We’re glad to have New Approach as a partner who can help us bring this level of change to the entire state, because we’re going to create more opportunities for so many people to receive the help they need to deal with mental health conditions that are otherwise devastating,” Matthews said. “Creating new opportunities for people to heal is what drives us, and we look forward to engaging with Colorado residents on this issue.”

Activists Disagree on Best Path to Psychedelics Decriminalization

But not all psychedelics activists in Colorado agree with the New Approach proposals. Nicole Foerster, head of Decriminalize Nature Boulder County, said that she is concerned about some of the language in the potential ballot measures.

“They’re looking to create these top-down, restrictive policies in places where grassroots community has been the strongest and where policy has been passed by grassroots community,” Foerster said at a virtual meeting of the group held on December 16.

Foerster noted that local activists were not involved in drafting the proposals from New Approach, but said they are now trying to cooperate with the national group.

“We are trying to push and influence them to only include psilocybin and psilocin, because they said they’re unwilling to do anything that”s not going to set up a regulatory framework,” she added.

Unger said that the New Approach initiatives include a regulatory framework so that psychedelics can help as many people as possible safely.

“We believe more people will be served and treated by making psychedelics available in a safe, regulated and consistent way,” Unger said. “These natural medicines can be life-changing for so many, and we want people to be confident that the treatment they’re receiving is high-quality and held to clear standards of accountability.”

Some local activists at the Decriminalize Nature Boulder County virtual meeting expressed concerns that New Approach may be moving too quickly, but Matthews disagreed.

“We’ve been discussing the possibility of statewide reform since this spring, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far to ensure this initiative will be ready on the timeline necessary to set it up for success,” Matthews said. “We still have more outreach and collaboration to do in the coming weeks, and it’s been exciting working alongside so many of my colleagues and friends from our successful effort in Denver in 2019.”

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OKC Connection: Where Does America’s Illegal Cannabis Come From?

Just as it was since Richard Nixon and the dawn of the War on Drugs, almost a decade into the United States’ experiment with marijuana legalization, cannabis remains America’s favorite illicit drug. This is because—according to police, politicians, and most everyone in the struggling, overtaxed and underperforming legal cannabis industry—the majority of the cannabis consumed in the country is still “illegal.”

Most of what the roughly 45 million Americans who used cannabis in the last year, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used cannabis produced and sold outside of the legal marketplace: away from taxes, away from regulators, and—to hear law enforcement tell it—in the clutches of dangerous multinational criminal organizations (whom the police never can seem to catch, despite bust after bust after bust!).

The remarkably resilient status quo here begs a question: These days, where is the illegal weed coming from? And should you care?

Mistrust the Police

For some, marijuana legalization meant the end of the underground cannabis trade (although in fairness, legalization advocates rarely—if ever—said this; what they said was that legalization would create a competing regulated market). In retrospect, this was an ambitious but unrealistic over-promise. Halting alcohol prohibition didn’t end the mob any more than it discouraged bootleggers from evading taxes and the law.

Due to a combination of over-taxation and over-regulation, bootleg cannabis is often simply cheaper and easier to access. Though some $17.5 billion worth of legal weed was sold in the United States in 2020, as per Forbes, the illicit market is anywhere from three to eight times larger, depending on whose estimate you choose to believe. (And, if you ask some connoisseurs, because some legacy growers who have been producing top-end cannabis for decades have been shut out of the legal market, illicit cannabis may in some cases be better.)

But to hear police tell it, every state is the country’s leading trap state, as long as it’s their state (and thus their job to do something about it, a task that requires an ever-growing portion of your tax dollars).

Sooner Kush

Ever since Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana and opened what’s considered the most laissez-faire cannabis marketplace in America—it’s very easy to obtain a medical recommendation, and only slightly more difficult to get a license to cultivate and sell—the state Bureau of Narcotics has claimed that the Sooner State has become the nation’s top trap state, with as much as 60 percent of that pot destined for the illicit market, mostly by organized crime.

“You’ve got the cartel; you’ve got the Chinese drug ring; you’ve got the biker gangs,” as Oklahoma state Rep. Josh West told a Tulsa newspaper. “Pretty much every criminal organization is operating in the state of Oklahoma right now.”

That sounds scary—but as usual, hard facts are hard to come by. (Oklahoma newspapers are full of reports of neighbors complaining about “Chinese-speaking newcomers” growing pot; as POLITICO and other media reported, at least some of these are simply Americans with Chinese last names getting started in a new industry.)

But according to cannabis industry advocates and players, there’s reason to believe Oklahoma cannabis is absolutely reaching the growing demand in East Coast markets once supplied by legacy West Coast states like California and Oregon. For one, prices on both the legal and illegal markets are dropping in those states—signs that there’s competition coming from somewhere. And logic dictates that a state physically closer to high-demand markets may be better positioned to supply those markets.

“It’s hard to get any real facts about the Oklahoma thing, but I definitely know we’re getting stuff [in New York] from Oklahoma,” said Allan Gandelman, the co-founder of a New York state organic hemp farm and president of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. (New York, though a very established cannabis marketplace, traditionally has been an importing state, and so may be a decent bellwether of trap patterns nationwide.)

“For people shipping out of state, the northeast is a lot closer to Oklahoma than it is to California,” he added. “That’s what happens when you have an almost totally unregulated market.”

But figuring out which state supplies the underground market also requires identifying the underground market. According to NORML, the states with the highest per-capita cannabis consumption are Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Maine, and Alaska.

All of those states allow adult-use cannabis (though Vermont does not have retail dispensaries).

And both Oregon and Colorado have been identified by law enforcement as havens for illegal trafficking—again, due to the fact that legalization makes it relatively easy (or at least legal) to grow weed there. Oregon also has lower labor and land costs than California—so much so that it’s rumored Oregon cannabis floats south across the border to enter the California legal market.

Though cannabis consumers are everywhere, the country’s most sophisticated—and thirstiest—consumer marketplace is its oldest marketplace. And that’s a very familiar usual suspect.

According to state lawmakers, California’s illicit cannabis market is five times bigger than the legal market. One simple cause is that adult-use legalization made several thousand existing medical-marijuana retailers illegal, in part because of new permit fees and taxes, but also because of new zoning and licensing restrictions. But the effect is that there’s significant domestic demand for cannabis in a state that also produces it.

All that demand had to go somewhere—so it went underground. Note that the nation’s biggest illicit pot busts by volume all seem to happen in California. Over the summer, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva claimed his deputies had busted what he described as a billion-dollar cannabis grow out in the Mojave Desert. In October, drug agents in the San Francisco Bay Area reported what they described as that region’s biggest-ever bust. Where is all this weed going? Some of it is going out of state, surely. But some of it is also surely supplying the domestic demand that the legal market can’t meet.

Demand is also related in part to branding. California has decades of cultural and marketing power behind it; the same can’t be said (yet) for Oklahoma Kush (though consumer choice is also dictating by price points). At high-end cannabis speakeasies in New York City, shelves are stocked with jars and bags bearing names of familiar West Coast brands—and if the cannabis inside is an imitator, it’s a talented impersonator.

But can this really be known—and does it really matter? Without quantification, the exact origin of the U.S.’s off-market weed can’t ever be “known” in the way the market for wine grapes and other commodities is “known.” And until legal cannabis can reliably compete with illegal cannabis on price and availability, there will always be an appetite for trap cannabis—no matter where it comes from.

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Colorado Senator Says Lack of Cannabis Banking a ‘Recipe for Disaster’

Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado last week called for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act, saying that the nation’s refusal to allow cannabis businesses access to traditional financial services is a “recipe for disaster.”

While addressing a virtual policy conference last Wednesday, Colorado Sen. Hickenlooper said that federal regulations that deny banking services to state-licensed cannabis businesses are a magnet for criminal activity and are contrary to the goals of marijuana legalization.

“If you really wanted to create an industry that’s dependent on gangs and cartels, make it all cash,” Hickenlooper said at the Regulating Cannabis event hosted by The Hill. “It’s almost like the system that is there now is oriented towards promoting things that we don’t want.”

Under current federal regulations, banks are subject to penalties under money laundering and other laws for servicing cannabis businesses, even those legal under state law, forcing the licensed cannabis industry to operate in a risky environment heavy in cash. Hickenlooper, who served as Colorado’s governor when the state’s voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, said the cash-only system that dominates the cannabis economy is “a recipe for disaster” and a “blueprint for catastrophe.”

“If you de-schedule it, banks can start banking it so it’s no longer a cash business,” Hickenlooper said. “There are multiple negative consequences of having it be a cash business. One is that businesses themselves can’t get loans.”

Colorado Supports the Pending SAFE Banking Act

Under pending federal legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in compliance with state law. The legislation was initially introduced in the House in 2013 by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who has reintroduced the bill each subsequent congressional cycle.

Hickenlooper noted on Wednesday that the SAFE Banking Act would not “oppose the will” of states that have not yet legalized cannabis in any form, adding that the reform would benefit the states that have instituted cannabis policy reforms.

“In terms of banking, I don’t think there’s any benefit to penalizing those states where their citizens have voted to legalize,” he said.

In April, the SAFE Banking Act was approved as a stand-alone bill by the House of Representatives. And in September, the House approved the legislation as part of a must-pass defense spending authorization bill. The House and Senate are currently working toward a consensus on the defense spending bill, leaving the fate of the cannabis banking provisions up in the air.

Bill Has Bipartisan Support

The SAFE Banking Act has bipartisan support in Congress, passing in the Democratic-majority House in May by a vote of 321 to 10 with the support of 106 Republicans, including Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. Last month, Mace unveiled a separate bill, the States Reform Act, which would legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. 

“There’s nothing really controversial about cannabis except for here in Washington where you have some members who are afraid of it, or afraid to touch it,” Mace said last Wednesday. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Mace’s bill serves as an alternative to the MORE Act, a comprehensive proposal advanced by Democrats that would also legalize cannabis at the federal level. The legislation also includes wide-reaching social equity provisions including expungement for federal cannabis crimes. The MORE Act would levy higher taxes than those in Mace’s bill, with revenue raised dedicated to investments in communities harmed by the War on Drugs.

Mace agreed with Hickenlooper that cannabis banking regulations must be changed, saying that the current system offers an incentive to criminals while putting the owners of legal businesses at risk.

“We’re funding the cartels by having all-cash businesses,” Mace said. “It’s dangerous.”

The SAFE Banking Act also has broad support from governors of jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana. In November, a bipartisan group of 24 governors from states and territories with legal cannabis sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for the passage of the legislation. 

The governors noted in the letter that while cannabis has been legalized in some form by a majority of U.S. states, the continued lack of traditional banking services and large amounts of cash throughout the supply chain leave legal marijuana businesses at increased risk of robbery and other crime. Additionally, the lack of access to loans inhibits the growth of the booming industry.

“The SAFE Banking Amendment will remedy these harms and help keep communities in our states and territories safe by allowing legitimate and legal cannabis companies to access banking services,” the governors wrote. 

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Colorado University Announces Groundbreaking Study on Cannabis and Exercise

Should pot really be considered a “performance-enhancing substance”? A “first-of-its-kind study” at the University of Colorado in Boulder aims to find out. 

When American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was denied a chance to compete at the Tokyo Olympics this summer due to testing positive for marijuana, it brought attention—and plenty of skepticism—to the reasoning behind the prohibition of cannabis in the world of competitive athletics. 

The so-called SPACE study (“Study on Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects”), announced on Monday, “will enlist more than 50 paid adult volunteers who already mix cannabis and exercise for a study involving three sessions,” the university said in a press release.

“In the first, researchers measure heart rate, have subjects answer a questionnaire and take some baseline fitness measurements. Then, participants are assigned to go to a local dispensary and pick up either a specific CBD-dominant strain or THC-dominant strain,” the announcement said. “On one follow up visit, they return, sober, to run on the treadmill for 30 minutes, answering questions every 10 minutes to assess things like their perception of the passage of time, how hard the workout feels, what they’re thinking about, and how much pain they’re in. On another visit, they do the same, only they get high before they come.”

Laurel Gibson, a PhD student in the University of Colorado’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and principal investigator of the study, said that the study will help fill in a gap in cannabis research. 

As the university’s announcement explained, due to a dearth of research in the area, “scientists are unsure just how Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)—the two primary active ingredients in marijuana—influence physical activity.”

“To date, there are no human studies on the effects of legal market cannabis on the experience of exercise,” Gibson said. “That’s where we come in.”

“Cannabis is often associated with a decrease in motivation—that stereotype of couch-lock and laziness,” Gibson continued. “But at the same time, we are seeing an increasing number of anecdotal reports of people using it in combination with everything from golfing and yoga to snowboarding and running.”

The federal prohibition on weed has prompted the researchers to make certain accommodations with their subjects. 

Due to the law, which “prohibits the possession or distribution of marijuana on college campuses,” the press release explained, the subjects will consume the pot at home “before a researcher picks them up in a mobile laboratory—a white Dodge Sprinter van sometimes referred to as the ‘cannavan’—and brings them safely to the lab.”

The runners will also don a safety belt around their waist while using the treadmill, as an extra precautionary measure.

Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado who is serving as the faculty advisor on the study, said that the research could yield a breakthrough for older individuals for whom exercise is too painful.

“If cannabis could ease pain and inflammation, helping older adults to be more active, that could be a real benefit,” Bryan said.

Gibson, meanwhile, said that the research could shed light on the link between cannabis use and the “runner’s high” that has been romanticized by joggers the world over.

“It is possible that exogenous cannabinoids like THC or CBD might activate the endocannabinoid system in a way that mimics the runner’s high,” Gibson said.

Richardson failed a drug test less than a month before the Olympics kicked off in Tokyo, keeping her out of the summer games. Marijuana is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

In September, the World Anti-Doping Agency said that it would reconsider its ban on cannabis. 

The USADA has said that pot is banned both because it could present a safety risk to athletes, and that it could potentially enhance performance. 

The latter explanation was widely mocked, including by Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, who came to Richardson’s defense.

“Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July,” Cohen said at the time. “To take her right to appear, her dream, away from her, is absurd.”

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Industry and Activists Call On Western Governors to Explore Cannabis Interstate Commerce

A group representing cannabis businesses and activists is calling on the governors of four western states to explore receiving federal approval for interstate trade in cannabis, a move that could help set the stage for the eventual national legalization of cannabis. 

In a letter posted online, the Alliance for Sensible Markets called on the governors of California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington to seek guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice on how the government would react if two or more states with legal medical or adult-use marijuana decided to regulate cannabis trade across their state lines. The letter notes that federal legalization of cannabis, which at this point seems inevitable, will present an economic opportunity to cannabis-producing states in the West.

“When the federal government legalizes cannabis, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that producers across our four states will have non-discriminatory access to every legal adult-use and medical market in the country,” the letter reads. “That will be worth billions of dollars per year to our states’ economies, increasing state revenues and spurring investment, expansion, business formation, and jobs and could, if it happens soon, save thousands of small farms and businesses from extinction.”

The Alliance for Sensible Markets is a Portland, Oregon-based coalition of cannabis activists and producers including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Washington Sun and Craft Growers Association, the Weed for Warriors Project, and the Colorado Cannabis Manufacturers Association. Formed last year, the organization has two primary goals to achieve interstate cannabis commerce.

First, the group is working to bring two or more states with legal marijuana together to join in an interstate compact outlining the parameters for legal cannabis commerce between them. Secondly, a path to federal approval of the plan would have to be drafted and set into motion.

Interstate Commerce to Set the Stage for a National Cannabis Industry

Paired with a federal policy that would permit state-legal cannabis businesses to operate without interference, interstate cannabis commerce could be a more politically viable path to many of the goals of full legalization. Adam Smith, the founder and president of the Alliance for Sensible Markets, believes that interstate commerce in cannabis can connect consumers in newly legal markets with western cannabis producers, who have recently seen wholesale prices plummet.

“Thousands of small farms and businesses across the Pacific Northwest, in communities that have depended on the economics of cannabis for generations, face economic catastrophe as they choke on a glut of some of the world’s best and most efficiently produced cannabis,” Smith wrote in an email to High Times. “This is not an oversupply problem, it’s a market access problem. Meanwhile, millions of patients and consumers in legal states where cannabis is expensive and environmentally costly to grow will be stuck in illicit markets for years, and thousands of potential retail, distribution, delivery and other businesses will be stuck on the sidelines waiting for a steady but limited and overpriced supply chain to emerge in their states.”

The group maintains that the current system of regulated cannabis trade, with each state that has legalized marijuana operating its own contained market of production, manufacturing, distribution and sales, is unsustainable. By seeking guidance from the federal government now instead of waiting for national legalization, the coalition hopes to create a more sustainable cannabis industry that better serves the needs of all stakeholders.

“We believe that the simple act of asking the question will significantly advance the national conversation around the future of legal cannabis, and that positive guidance from DOJ will spur changes beneficial to both producer and consumer states, as well as to patients, consumers, public safety, social equity, small businesses and environmental sustainability in any legal or medical states that choose to regulate and engage in commerce in advance of federal legalization,” the letter concludes.

Smith says that California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, four states that were early pioneers in the cannabis legalization movement, are uniquely positioned to help shape national policy with federal regulators.

“Federal Legalization will open markets, but waiting for the federal government to ‘fix’ cannabis has never been a winning strategy,” Smith explained. “It has always been the states taking the lead on reform. Positive DOJ guidance will open the path to a more rational, just, and sustainable industry now, in states that choose to participate in commerce.”

The Alliance for Sensible Markets is currently encouraging additional cannabis consumers, businesses, and other interested parties to sign the letter and plan to deliver it to the four western governors next month.

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The New Year will Bring Harsher Cannabis Rules to Colorado

When the calendar flips to 2022 in a little more than a month, patients in Colorado will face more stringent rules for acquiring medical cannabis.

In an announcement spanning nearly 500 pages that was handed down last Tuesday, the state’s Department of Revenue outlined new rules and restrictions that came after “several months of deliberation over how to execute a new state law meant largely to limit young people’s access to and abuse of high-potency THC products,” according to the Denver Post.

The newspaper reported that Mark Ferrandino, executive director of the state’s Department of Revenue and a former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, had “final say” on the new rules, but that he “received heavy input from state marijuana enforcement officials and a task force that included parents, health professionals and marijuana industry representatives.” The task force was the byproduct of legislation passed and signed into law earlier this year.

So, what are some of these changes for Colorado’s medical marijuana law? 

Perhaps the most notable deals with the amount patients can purchase. Under the new rules, the state “will limit the daily purchase to two ounces of flower and eight grams of concentrate such as wax and shatter for medical marijuana patients,” per the Denver Post, with the limit dropping to two grams per day for patients aged 18-20. 

There are, however, exceptions, though they apply “only to a patient whose doctor affirms in writing that the patient has a physical or geographic hardship that should allow them to exceed the daily purchase limits, and that the patient has designated a store as the primary place they get their medicine,” according to the newspaper.

Colorado Rules Have Been a Long Time Coming

The new rules also require dispensaries to provide an educational pamphlet to customers buying concentrates, while prohibiting the retailers from marketing to would-be customers younger than 21.

Colorado lawmakers took the first steps toward imposing limits on cannabis concentrates in June, when they passed a bill that was then signed into law by Democratic Governor Jared Polis.

The legislation, which created the task force that helped formally produce the new rules announced last week, was pushed by Democrats in the state House of Representatives. 

One of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic state House Representative Yadira Caraveo, who is also a pediatrician, said that the measure is designed to ensure that young people do not “get their hands on an incredible amount of products and very concentrated products that they can then give or sell to people their age or younger who don’t yet have access to legal market because they’re not 21.”

Another supporter of the bill, House Speaker Alec Garnett, pointed to a loophole in the state’s tracking system through which people, namely young people, were exceeding their daily limits.

“This bill will close that loophole,” Garnett said at a signing ceremony for the bill. “This bill will make sure that we aren’t creating a gray market on our high school campuses and that our high school kids, their developing brains aren’t flooded with the most high-potency products when they don’t need them.

“The reality is that it’s too easy for Colorado’s youth to access high-potency marijuana when they shouldn’t be able to, and we don’t have the full picture of how these products impact the developing brain,” he continued. “This law will help educate consumers about high-potency cannabis, and it will advance critical research that will give us a better understanding of how high-potency products impact developing brains.”

Not everyone is on board with the changes, however. NORML objected to “several explicit provisions included in House Bill 1317,” saying that the bill “places additional and unreasonable hurdles for those patients ages 18 to 20 who are now eligible to receive medical cannabis authorizations.”

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Cannabis Flower Most Popular Form of Consumption in Colorado

New Frontier Data reviewed Colorado sales data and found that among the wide variety of product available to consumers, flower still reigns supreme.

A new analysis of Colorado’s cannabis sales data was presented by New Frontier Data on November 2. Using data from the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, the company found that between 2014 and 2020, cannabis flower sales have increased exponentially. 

In terms of pounds of flower sold to consumers within that seven-year period, the state sold 148,000 pounds in 2014 and gradually increased to 584,000 pounds by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of 26 percent.

New Frontier Data defines an average-sized joint as one-third of a gram of cannabis, and at that size, Colorado sold 201 million joints in 2014. By 2020, the state sold approximately 795 million joints. During the seven years since Colorado has had an established recreational cannabis law, the state has sold over 3.4 billion joints. 

“That flower sales continue to increase at such a pace seven years since the market launched suggests that smoking flower will remain a durable preference for the foreseeable future,” New Frontier Data Chief Knowledge Officer and author John Kagia wrote in his analysis. “However, the dominance of flower belies the seismic changes happening to consumer behavior and highlights the imperative for producers and brands to understand the tides of evolving consumer preferences.”

Although Colorado shows strong growth in flower sales, the individual breakdown of consumer preference is in flux. New Frontier Data’s 2021 Cannabis Consumer Evolution report notes that 57 percent of consumers use both flower and non-flower products, with only 19 percent saying they don’t choose flower over other options. 

Seventy percent of younger consumers (defined in the range of 18-34) were two times more likely to consume both flower and non-flower products than older consumers (defined as those over 55 years of age), at 35 percent. However, for age ranges that only consume flower, the older group was twice more likely than the younger crowd, at 40 percent and 15 percent respectively.

Those who consume cannabis products less frequently were found to only use flower, whereas those who consumed often were more likely to use a variety of cannabis products. Additionally, in gender demographics, women were less likely to choose flower in comparison to men. Medical cannabis patients also reported not using flower when treating their ailments, due to the increased risk of smoking on their health. 

Black market sales also have an interesting effect on flower popularity. New Frontier Data found that 33 percent of consumers who live in illegal markets are more likely to smoke flower exclusively, whereas only 22 percent of those who live in regulated markets will choose flower. Twenty-eight percent of consumers who purchase their cannabis products from physical retail stores or delivery services were more likely to buy non-cannabis flower products, in comparison to only 13 percent who would purchase from “informal sources.” 

The availability and promotion of new cannabis companies and products in Colorado present a thriving legal impact. “That dynamic reflects the regulated market’s power in introducing consumers to new, alternative product forms: not only is the legal market far more effective in innovating new product forms than is the illicit market, but the retail experience by which consumers can speak with knowledgeable budtenders regarding their needs and preferences is hastening the adoption of value-added products in regulated markets,” Kagia wrote.

Cannabis flower may be the most prominent form of consumption, but in the years to come, New Frontier Data predicts that it will slowly become less popular in favor of the growing variety of non-flower products. “The fragmentation of the product landscape is quickly reshaping the flower-dominant segment of the market; based on current trends, consumers who use flower exclusively are likely to become increasingly dominated by older, male and less-frequent users.”

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