Week in Review: Ric Flair’s Wooooo! Energy Drink to Power Cleveland Cavaliers

In this week’s cannabis news round-up,Ric Flair’s Wooooo! energy drink teams up with Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio; Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians votes to legalize cannabis; a NYC mother awarded $75,000 following a dispute over cannabis use and child custody; and Illinois is set to host its first-ever cannabis-friendly music festival.

Photo courtesy of Ric Flair

Ric Flair’s Wooooo! Energy Drink Teams Up with Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio

WWE legend Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair’s latest creation, Wooooo! Energy Drink has secured an exclusive partnership with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I’m from Cleveland, so you know it’s exciting for me. Woooo! Energy has been gaining tremendous momentum,” Chad Bronstein, Chairman and President of Carma HoldCo, said. “Ric had a productive meeting with Giant Eagle, a store I’ve been familiar with my entire life. After several months of negotiation, we struck a partnership. Given their role as grocery partners for the Cavs, we decided to establish a collaboration with the Cavaliers as well.”

Flair will make special appearances in Ohio this week to promote Wooooo! Energy Drink and the newfound partnership at Giant Eagle and Market District supermarkets, starting Monday, September 11 in Cleveland.

Woooo! Energy has disrupted the energy drink scene with its unique mushroom-based beverage, designed to enhance immune and cognitive function while providing clean energy without the dreaded sugar crashes. The beverages are formulated using Taurine, L-Theanine and Gotu Kola Extract, along with a medley of functional mushrooms, including Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, Chaga, Turkey Tail, Shiitake, Maitake and Reishi.

PHOTO Pbroks13

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Votes to Legalize Cannabis

In a milestone move, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee have overwhelmingly supported the legalization of cannabis for individuals aged 21 and above. This historic decision paves the way for North Carolina’s first legal recreational cannabis sales.

More than 2,400 people voted in favor of the referendum, showing strong support for legalization and the development of regulations by the Tribal Council, while approximately 1,000 members voted against it. The vote doesn’t immediately make cannabis available on the Boundary; it marks the beginning of the process for the Eastern Band Tribal Council to create adult use regulations.

As a sovereign nation and federally recognized tribe, the Eastern Band can enact cannabis measures independently, regardless of state or federal restrictions. The tribe had previously legalized medical cannabis in 2021, enabling cultivation and sales on the Qualla Boundary.

Joey Owle, EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, expressed his excitement about the outcome, highlighting that change at the federal level should have occurred earlier.

“For us, as the EBCI, as a sovereign nation, we are going to move forward with the results of tonight with an adult use program, and really the way that I see it is that we are putting an issue to bed,” Owle said.

PHOTO konstantant

Bronx Mother Awarded $75,000 Following Dispute Over Cannabis Use and Child Custody

New York City’s child welfare agency has agreed to pay $75,000 Chanetto Rivers after her newborn son was briefly removed from her custody due to her legal cannabis use. Rivers sued, alleging racial bias by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which has faced criticism for its treatment of Black families and cannabis-using parents.

This is the first case holding ACS accountable for violating a provision in New York’s cannabis legalization law that forbids child removal solely for a parent’s cannabis use. A federal judge approved the agency’s compensation offer.

In August 2021, after New York legalized adult use cannabis, Rivers smoked at a family gathering, leading to contractions and a hospital visit for childbirth. During delivery, she and her baby tested positive for cannabis and ACS initiated a neglect case, seeking to place the child, referred to as TW, in foster care.

Rivers had to go through a legal process to regain custody of TW and ACS continued unannounced home visits and required parenting classes and drug tests for months. Rivers’ lawsuit alleged racial discrimination, emphasizing a pattern documented in a 2020 audit. The city’s settlement does not admit wrongdoing but signifies a resolution in both parties’ best interests.

This case serves as a model for challenging family separations by ACS based on cannabis use and highlights documented disparities in the treatment of Black families by the agency. Rivers emphasized her lawsuit was for all affected Black families, signaling a call for change.

Photo courtesy of Miracle in Mundelein

Illinois to Host Its First-Ever Cannabis-Friendly Music Festival

Illinois is set to host its first-ever concert allowing on-site cannabis consumption this weekend, marking a historic occasion for music fans in the Prairie State. The concert features cannabis-friendly headlining artists, including Cypress Hill, Stephen Marley and Action Bronson.

The Miracle in Mundelein festival will provide attendees with complimentary rolling papers, lighters, grinders and even dab bars and rolling stations. Cannabis products will be available for purchase from a nearby dispensary.

Inside the event, cannabis consumption is permitted for those 21 and older, while any usage outside the event’s perimeter is strictly prohibited. Organizers emphasize the importance of adhering to these regulations to set a responsible and respectful example within the cannabis community.

Attendees are required to follow possession limits applicable to nonresidents of the state, which include 15 grams of flower, 250 milligrams of infused edibles and 2.5 grams of concentrates. All cannabis products must be bought from licensed Illinois retailers and remain in their original packaging.

Smoking devices, such as glass, metal, wood or ceramic pieces under six inches in length, are allowed. Vape pens are also permissible if they adhere to the state’s 2.5-gram concentrate limit.

Illinois legalized cannabis through its state legislature in 2019, with the first legal sales commencing a year later.

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First Cannabis Ads Coming Soon to Spotify

Chicago-based marijuana company Cresco Labs Inc. announced on Thursday that it will become the “first cannabis company to launch cannabis advertisements on Spotify, the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service with more than 551 million users and 220 million subscribers.”

The ad campaign will promote Sunnyside, a chain of dispensaries operated by Cresco Labs and will include “30 second audio and in-app digital banners that drive to the retailer’s proprietary e-commerce platform,” the company said in a press release.

Those ads will be specifically targeted to Spotify listeners (and would-be Sunnyside customers) in Illinois, where recreational cannabis is legal.

“Audio streaming services represent a major opportunity for brands to reach large audiences in a targeted manner, and we’re excited to collaborate with Spotify to launch the first-ever cannabis ads from our Sunnyside national retail brand,” Cory Rothschild, Cresco Labs’ National Retail President, said in a statement on Thursday. “Our Sunnyside advertising strategy is built on a data ecosystem enabling best-in-class targeting and measurement. Spotify’s platform will enable our marketing team to target our ads compliantly and profitably to our core shoppers in Illinois where we have a leading share in retail. This important partnership is not only a step in normalizing cannabis, but it also showcases the sophistication and quality of marketing that we have unlocked at Cresco Labs.”

Advertising has been a tricky area to navigate for cannabis companies looking to market in the United States, where marijuana remains subject to federal prohibition. 

Marketing Brew ran a story in 2021 detailing those challenges, and highlighted how the publicly traded Cresco Labs “has a podcast advertising strategy that is just as nuance-filled as you’d expect,” and that its “core strategy hits at the intersection of host-read and programmatic ads.”

The outlet reported that the company “only advertises in states where cannabis—and therefore, marketing cannabis products—is legal.”

“We follow the letter of the law in terms of our content in our delivery,” Matt Pickerel, senior director of performance marketing at Cresco Labs, told Marketing Brew. “So, because we’re dynamically inserting podcast ads, we only serve in the states where we have a footprint and where we have all the licenses that we need.”

Pickerel explained that the podcast company Headgum allowed Cresco Labs to “dynamically insert pre-recorded host-read ads in states Cresco wants to advertise in.”

“Because podcast measurement is still ‘in its infancy,’ Pickerel said, Cresco tracks success with ‘some pretty elementary metrics.’ Those include number of impressions, completes, discount-code redemptions, and website visits if the podcast mentions Cresco’s URL,” Marketing Brew reported at the time.

“While Cresco hasn’t jumped into the podcast advertising landscape headfirst due to those measurement concerns, Pickerel told us it’s doing more than dipping a toe in, with about 15% of its marketing budget going toward podcasts.”

Cresco says that its mission is to “normalize and professionalize the cannabis industry through a CPG approach to building national brands and a customer-focused retail experience, while acting as a steward for the industry on legislative and regulatory-focused initiatives.”

“As a leader in cultivation, production and branded product distribution, the Company is leveraging its scale and agility to grow its portfolio of brands that include Cresco, High Supply, FloraCal, Good News, Wonder Wellness Co., Mindy’s and Remedi, on a national level. The Company also operates highly productive dispensaries nationally under the Sunnyside brand that focus on building patient and consumer trust and delivering ongoing education and convenience in a wonderfully traditional retail experience. Through year-round policy, community outreach and SEED initiative efforts, Cresco Labs embraces the responsibility to support communities through authentic engagement, economic opportunity, investment, workforce development and legislative initiatives designed to create the most responsible, respectable and robust cannabis industry possible,” the company said in Thursday’s press release.

According to Business Insider, Cresco Labs CEO Charlie Bachtell “is a keynote speaker at the upcoming Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago on September 27 and 28, where he will undoubtedly share more insights regarding the new partnership with Spotify.”

In addition to the Benzinga conference in Chicago later this month, Cresco Labs said that Bachtell will also appear at the ATB 2023 Life Sciences Institutional Investor Conference on September 20 in New York City, and the AGP Annual Virtual Cannabis Conference on October 4.

Sunnyside has dispensaries across seven states: one in Arizona, 33 in Florida, ten in Illinois, four in Massachusetts, four in New York, five in Ohio and 14 in Pennsylvania.

Sunnyside opened a new location last month in Palm Bay, Florida.

“We continue to expand the Sunnyside brand and increase access to top-quality cannabis products in the most meaningful Florida markets,” Bachtell said at the time. “Palm Bay is the most populous city in Brevard County with over 129,000 residents, and the city’s location just southeast of Orlando will enable Sunnyside Palm Bay, along with our many other stores in the East Central Florida region, to serve tens of thousands of patients with their cannabis needs.”

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First Annual Cultivate Festival, a Celebration of Cannabis Culture, Comes to Chicago’s West Loop

Chicago, a city known for its rich musical heritage and progressive spirit, is about to witness an extraordinary event that will redefine the intersection of music, cannabis, and community. Organizers are thrilled to unveil Cultivate, the first-ever three-day cannabis music festival produced by Turnstyle Productions and Riot Fest. This groundbreaking collaboration, in partnership with the Last Prisoner Project, promises an unparalleled experience that has never been seen before. Cultivate will take place from August 25th to 27th at The Nursery, a cutting-edge venue adjacent to the Green Line stop at 1800 W Lake Street.

Chicago rapper and cannabis brand leader Vic Mensa will be joining the Cultivate lineup, where he will do a short intro set before GZA’s performance of Liquid Swords, as well as a full after party show at the nearby Cobra Lounge. Last summer, Mensa launched 93 Boyz, the first Chicago-based, Black-owned brand in the recreational cannabis industry. 

Cultivate stands as a testament to the power of music and the transformative potential of the cannabis movement. This trailblazing festival aims to celebrate both the cultural significance of cannabis and the vibrancy of Chicago’s music scene. By teaming up with the Last Prisoner Project, an esteemed non-profit organization fighting for the release of individuals incarcerated for non-violent cannabis offenses, Cultivate seeks to create awareness, drive advocacy, and foster positive change within the community.

The artist lineup for Cultivate boasts an impressive array of musical talent that spans genres and captivates audiences. Headlining the festival will be the legendary GZA, founding member of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan. GZA’s lyrical genius and powerful stage presence will undoubtedly elevate the festival to new heights, delivering an unforgettable performance.

Joining GZA will be a diverse roster of acclaimed artists, including the psychedelic sounds of Crumb, the infectious energy of Lucky Boys Confusion, and the reggae-infused melodies of Julian Marley. These incredible acts, along with a carefully curated selection of emerging and established artists, promise to create an immersive sonic journey that resonates with attendees.

In addition to the musical offerings, Cultivate will provide a range of engaging experiences and educational opportunities. The festival will also feature workshops, panel discussions, and art installations, offering a holistic experience that celebrates the intersection of music, cannabis, and community. Plus! All 3 days: Catch a shuttle from the festival to Dispensary 33 to pick up.

For more information, visit ChicagoCultivate.com

Courtesy Cultivate Festival

Cultivate Festival Full Line-up

Andy Frasco & the U.N.
Murphy’s Law
Lucky BC
Mac Sabbath

The Record Company
Graveyard (Exclusive U.S. performance)
Black Lips
The Pharcyde
Brant Bjork
Dry Reef

GZA w/ The Funky Nomads (Performing Liquid Swords), intro’d by Vic Mensa
Julian Marley and the Uprising
The Crombies
Holiday Highball


We have a special offer for all High Times readers, a buy one get one free ticket offer. The buy one get one free ticket code is: WEEDISTIGHT

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Illinois Cannabis Among Most Expensive Weed in America

If you’re facing sticker shock in Illinois, you’re not alone and your suspicions have been confirmed: Illinois ranked among the states with the most expensive retail cannabis markets in America, according to a new report by Headset.

During the first six months of 2023, Illinois sold over $950 million in total cannabis sales, making Illinois home to the third largest cannabis market in the U.S., with only California and Michigan with larger markets. Population-wise, Illinois is the sixth largest state in the country, however a limited number of brands pose several challenges to the state.

The report, “A Deep Dive into the Illinois Cannabis Market,” is designed to examine the state’s cannabis market with analytical data on thousands of products to determine how it compares to other states. Headset focused on a few key areas, including sales growth, product category popularity, pricing, basket analysis, and demographics.

Since Illinois is home to only 118 brands, the state is home to high market consolidation with 68% of sales coming from only 10 top brands. Illinois will soon be issuing 55 new retailer licenses to expand access to its domestic market. Currently, the state is home to 120 licensed retailers—very low compared to other states.

Headset reports that the category of pre-rolls—typically one of the fastest-growing categories—is the most underrepresented category in this market, clocking in at over four percentage points lower than the national average. “The category represents an area of opportunity in Illinois as Pre-Rolls in the state have seen sales increase 5.6% in the last year,” Headset reports. “In Illinois, 27% of total sales come from vertically integrated products. This is the third highest of any currently tracked state behind only Colorado (28%) and Massachusetts (44%).

“Prices in Illinois are among the highest in the country,” Headset reports. “The average item price in Illinois is currently 89% higher than the rest of the US market. Consumers over the age of 41 typically account for 36.4% of sales, however, in Illinois they capture 42.1% of total sales.”

The data was collected from real-time sales reporting by participating cannabis retailers via their point-of-sale systems. Headset stipulates, however, the potential does exist for misreporting in the instance of duplicates, incorrectly classified products, inaccurate entry of products into point-of-sale systems, or human error.

State leaders, however, are taking action to fix some of the problems that are evident in the Illinois market. For example, Illinois is the next state to allow licensed cannabis businesses to take tax deductions under Section 280E.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a budget bill on June 7 that includes provisions for the cannabis industry, specifically regarding establishing funds dedicated for cannabis businesses and allowing them to take tax deductions.

The Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget bill includes the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act which addresses issues with cannabis businesses not being allowed to make tax deductions under Section 280E.

The budget bill also includes a provision that creates the Cannabis Business Development Fund that is aimed at helping cannabis business owners in Illinois, a fund would “provide low-interest rate loans to Qualified Social Equity Applicants” to pay for expenses such as “starting and operating” a cannabis business (and compensate the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for costs related to those low-interest loans or grants). 

The fund would also pay for outreach “targeted to attract and support” social equity applicants, as well as research involving “minorities, women, veterans, or people with disabilities in the cannabis industry.” 

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Illinois Cannabis Market

What’s going on with the Illinois cannabis market? The Land of Lincoln legalized cannabis in 2019 after having medical cannabis for six years. With 12.7 million people, Illinois is one of the largest cannabis markets in the country. A recent report from Headset focused on sales, product popularity, pricing, and demographics. Key Takeaways Regarding the Illinois cannabis market, there are some key takeaways from the Headset report. Namely, Illinois has a lot of market consolidation. 68% of the state’s sales […]

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High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice Edition 2023 Kicks Off

The time is upon us, so pack your bowls and fire up your torches, and if you’re a brand with the best, may the odds ever be in your favor. High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice Edition is coming to town. For over 35 years, High Times Cannabis Cup events—often imitated but not duplicated—have showcased the finest cannabis and cannabis products on the planet. But like all People’s Choice events, Judge Kits are open to the public.

The High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice Edition aims to identify and award the best cannabis products across Illinois, representing the many facets of cannabis in a wide range of categories, to be judged by the great people of The Prairie State. This year, new concentrate and edible categories have been added to the mix to crank it up a notch.

This event will be the fourth-ever competition that is open to the Illinois public and will see one of the largest pools of judges in history. This is a sampling dream if you’re a connoisseur of exquisite cannabis profiles. 

New flower products will face off what’s new in town in three categories, as well as infused and non-infused pre-rolls. But if it’s concentrates you’re after, solventless and non-solventless offerings will face off as well as edibles, vape pens, sublinguals, capsules, and tinctures. Flower and other products are judged on Aesthetics/Visual Appeal of product, not the packaging, as well as Aroma/Scent, Taste/Flavor Profile, Burnability, Effects/Effectiveness, and Terpene Profile.

Last year at High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice Edition, some notable winners include the unforgettable and psychedelic Fig Farms Figment (Purple Fig x Animal Mints 199 #4, First Place Sativa Flower) with a lavender and confetti cake taste, which is now emerging in the Illinois market, and RYTHM Brownie Scout (Platinum Girl Scout Cookies x Kosher Kush, First Place Indica Flower) that has “a blazingly intense initial surge, then dives into an exultant indica trance.”

Among the concentrate winners of last year, Gorilla’d Cheese Rosin (GG#4 x Clementine, First Place Concentrates & Extracts) by Revolution Cannabis snagged for its cheesy, earthy flavor with Limonene, Beta-Caryophyllene, Beta-Myrcene, Linalool, and Elemene.

Competitor product submissions will be accepted August 7-11 across Illinois. Judge Kits will be available across Illinois Saturday, August 19, including official intake partners RISE Dispensary, nuEra, and Zen Leaf locations. Judges simply login to the Judging Portal and select the corresponding event to begin judging. The judging deadline is October 22, and on November 5, winners will be announced via digital Awards Show.

May the best products win.


  1. Indica Flower (3 entries Max per Company)
  2. Sativa Flower (3  entries Max per Company)  
  3. Hybrid Flower (3 entries Max per Company) 
  4. Non-Infused Pre-Rolls (2 entries Max per Company) 
  5. Infused Pre-Rolls (1 entry Max per Company)
  6. Solvent Concentrates (2 entries Max per Company) 
  7. Non-Solvent Concentrates (2 entries Max per Company) 
  8. Vape Pens & Cartridges (1 entry Max per Company) (Category may split)
  9. Edibles: Gummies & Fruit Chews  (1 entry Max per Company)
  10. Edibles: Chocolates & Non-Gummies  (1 entry Max per Company)
  11. Edibles: Beverages (1 entry Max per Company)
  12. Sublinguals, Capsules, Tinctures + Topicals (1 Entry Max per Company) 
  13. Medical: Flower (3 entries Max per Company)
  14. Medical: Vape Pens (2 entries per Company)
  15. Medical: Edibles (1 entry Max per Company)

Now’s the time to visit the High Times Cannabis Cup website to see how you can get involved with the The High Times Cannabis Cup Illinois: People’s Choice Edition this year.

A special thank you to our partners!

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Pot Use Lower Among Illinois Teens Who Live Near Medical Dispensaries

An Illinois teenager living in a zip code with a medical cannabis dispensary is less likely to have used pot, according to new research.

The findings, which come from researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, showed that “about 18.3% of the youths living in Illinois ZIP codes with medical dispensaries reported they used cannabis during the prior year compared with 22.4% of those who lived in ZIP codes without these businesses,” according to Illinois News Bureau, a news service at the university.

“Likewise, fewer students – 12% – with medical dispensaries in their ZIP codes reported they had used cannabis during the prior 30 days, compared with 15.6% of their peers who lived in other ZIP codes, the researchers found,” the Illinois News Bureau reported.

The findings were based on the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey, a “biennial assessment conducted by the Center for Prevention Research and Development” at the university that included a sample of 10,560 young people in the state. 

According to the news bureau, the “anonymous survey [asked] students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades at schools across Illinois about various health and social issues, including their alcohol, tobacco and drug use,” while the data “were collected between January and June 2018,” when there were 53 operational medical cannabis dispensaries in the state. The survey was conducted before Illinois legalized recreational cannabis, which launched in January of 2020.

“There’s good news, and there are still reasons to be cautious and continue monitoring things,” said Doug Smith, the director of the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the university who is also a professor of social work and an expert on substance use in teens and young adults. “The good news is that it looks like in Illinois there was no immediate impact on adolescent substance use rates after medical dispensaries came on. In fact, we found that across the whole sample, those who lived in a ZIP code with a dispensary were less likely to have used cannabis during the past 30 days or one year.” 

Smith admitted that the findings of the survey did not invite an obvious explanation.

“It’s a head-scratcher to be honest,” Smith said, as quoted by the news bureau. “The only reason I can think of is that in 2018 there were only 53 dispensaries in operation across the state of Illinois. It could be that the state was just not saturated enough with these facilities to see an effect at that time.

“However, we need to combat the hysteria that legalizing cannabis is going to have a wild and resounding impact on teens in terms of substance use rates and prevalence,” Smith added. “That’s simply not the case.”

The news bureau has more on the survey’s findings:

“The average age of the students surveyed was 15 years old. Most of the students in the sample were white (43%) or Latino (26%). Consistent with national data, cannabis usage significantly increased as Illinois students progressed from eighth to 12th grade, regardless of whether there was a dispensary in their ZIP code, the researchers found. Most of those surveyed – 47% – were from suburban Chicago, while 21% were from other cities, about 18% lived in rural areas and 14% resided in the city of Chicago. About 32% of the Chicago youths in the study lived in ZIP codes where medical cannabis dispensaries were operating compared with 3.5% of those living in rural areas. Cannabis usage was more prevalent in more populated areas, the data indicated. Overall, 29% of students living in the city of Chicago reported they had used cannabis, compared with 19% of those from the Chicago suburbs, 22% of students from other urban areas and 19% of rural students, according to the study.”

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New Illinois Budget Includes Provisions for Cannabis Businesses

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a budget bill on June 7 that includes provisions for the cannabis industry, specifically regarding establishing funds dedicated for cannabis businesses and allowing them to take tax deductions.

The Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget bill includes the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act which addresses issues with cannabis businesses not being allowed to make tax deductions under Section 280E. Through the newly signed state budget, any licensed cannabis business will be permitted to take tax deductions on their business for “…an amount equal to the deductions that were disallowed under Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code for the taxable year…” This new provision applies to taxable years from Jan. 1, 2023 and onward.

According to the National Cannabis Industry Association, Section 280E originated from a 1981 court case involving a cocaine trafficker who “asserted his right under federal tax law to deduct ordinary business expenses. By the following year, Section 280E was created to prevent anyone from making tax deductions if their trade involves controlled substances.

An Internal Revenue Service article written by Small Business/Self-Employed Examination Commissioner De Lon Harris in September 2021 reviewed the challenges that 280E poses for cannabis businesses in Illinois and elsewhere. “While IRS Code Section 280E is clear that all the deductions and credits aren’t allowed for an illegal business, there’s a caveat: Marijuana business owners can deduct their cost of goods sold, which is basically the cost of their inventory,” Harris wrote. “What isn’t deductible are the normal overhead expenses, such as advertising expenses, wages and salaries, and travel expenses, to name a few.”

Harris included tips such as knowing and trusting investors, filing and paying taxes on time, reporting cash transactions, and keeping accurate records, as ways to stay compliant. Later in December 2021, Harris participated in a webinar further explaining how to take advantage of the IRS as a resource to navigate the law. “It’s really our mission at the IRS, not just with marijuana and cannabis industries, but with all taxpayers, to promote voluntary compliance,” Harris said. “And that can happen in different ways. When most people think of the IRS, they think of examinations or audits and they think that’s the only way that we interact or try to promote voluntary compliance with taxpayers, but we do our fair share of outreach and education as well.”

The Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget bill also includes a provision that creates the Cannabis Business Development Fund that is aimed at helping cannabis business owners in Illinois. The fund would “provide low-interest rate loans to Qualified Social Equity Applicants” to pay for expenses such as “starting and operating” a cannabis business (and compensate the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for costs related to those low-interest loans or grants). The fund would also pay for outreach “targeted to attract and support” social equity applicants, as well as research involving “minorities, women, veterans, or people with disabilities in the cannabis industry.” The provision ends by adding that by July 1, 2023, the State Controller will transfer $40 million from the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Fund to the Cannabis Business Development Fund.

Illinois isn’t the only state attempting to enact legislation to assist cannabis businesses with their tax situations. On May 8, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy approved legislation to “decouple state tax provisions from federal prohibition on cannabis business deductions.” On June 12, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also signed off on a biennial state budget that included provisions for tax deductions under 280E. 

The New York Senate also recently approved a bill to provide tax relief to cannabis businesses. “This modification to income is appropriate because, while the expenses of cannabis-related business cannot be deducted for federal purposes, New York law permits and encourages these businesses akin to any other legitimate business occurring in the State,” states a bill memo. “The City’s business taxes should similarly encourage these business activities.”

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Vic Mensa Details Books He’s Sending to Prisoners

In an interview with Book Club Chicago, Vic Mensa described the details of his Books Before Bars program, which aims to supply prisoners with books that can transform their lives. Mensa also mentioned his Books Before Bars program to High Times in 2022.

Currently, tens of thousands of prisoners are currently locked up on federal and state cannabis-related charges, which is one of the reasons why some cannabis brands and the leaders behind them aim to change that.

Mensa is one of the rappers trying to do that. He explained that Books Before Bars can trace its story back nearly a decade ago. Mensa gave a copy of Huey P. Newton’s autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, 1973, to an incarcerated friend.

The book tells the story of how Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers, “mastered his memories and, essentially, transported himself mentally beyond the walls of a prison” during his own time behind bars in the ’60s.

“I’ve seen how the right book at the right time can be a seed which, if watered and natured, can grow an internal freedom even within the walls of a modern-day plantation,” Mensa said. “I started [Books Before Bars] with the cannabis company because I wanted to provide a freedom.”

According to data from the Illinois Department of Corrections, in 2019, the department banned hundreds of books including many about race and racism, before being forced to change its policy after public outcry.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Illinois has the third-highest racial disparity in cannabis possession arrests, with Black people 7.5 times more likely to be arrested than white people despite consuming cannabis at similar rates.

Some of the other books include The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by the Atlanta, Georgia-based rapper to Sister Outsider—a collection of essays and poems by Audre Lorde. Mensa told Book Club Chicago that he buys the books in bulk from the Black-woman-owned bookstore Semicolon which is in the Wicker Park area of Chicago. 

Semicolon is scheduled to be closed until August as it converts into a nonprofit model, however Mensa bought books in bulk before the store closed. 

Books Before Bars program is an initiative funded through Mensa’s cannabis line 93 Boyz. Mensa said he launched 93 Boyz to “address prison reform and equity in the cannabis space.” Books Before Bars is a big step towards that goal. “Cannabis has been used to snatch freedom from so many families,” Mensa said. “I felt it was imperative to provide freedom in whatever ways I could. It wouldn’t be responsibly aligned with my values to not have that socially minded angle within the larger framework of the cannabis business.”

A year ago, Mensa explained to High Times how he’d be launching a project with Books Before Bars, which was in the early stages at the time.

“Our first project that we’re launching […] with the release of our full strain portfolio is a project called Books Before Bars,” Mensa told High Times in the October 2022 issue. “We’re putting over one-thousand books into Illinois jails and prisons. This is an idea I had from my own experience sending literature to people in prison and seeing how their entire life experience can be—and has been—shifted by reading the right books. If you can’t attain freedom yet in the physical, you can get it in the mental while you’re still in the cage.”

93 Boyz is Chicago’s first Black-owned cannabis brand. Mensa co-founded the brand with rapper Towkio about a year ago. The brand sells eighths of flower, pre-rolls, and vape pens, and you can find strains like Jet Fuel, Gelonade, Gary Payton OG, Rainbow Belts, or The Lotto.

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Psychedelic Conversations at Madame ZuZu’s Emporium

In the 19th century, French revolutionaries gathered in salons to talk politics and philosophy. In 2023, a group of Chicago medical professionals meet at Billy Corgan’s whimsical tea salon, Madame ZuZu’s Emporium in Highland Park, IL., to talk psychedelics. 

Once a month, over cups of exotic tea and plant-based pastries, Madame ZuZu’s is abuzz with conversations about ketamine therapy, psilocybin treatments, dosing, trip-sitting, legislation, and more. The Chicago Med Psychedelics Group (as they call themselves) are a spirited bunch of practitioners whose health backgrounds zigzag across mainstream medicine and beyond: the group counts nurse practitioners, psychotherapists, internal medicine specialists, university medical directors, and cannabis pharmacologists among its nine core members. 

Like any good grassroots movement, the Chicago Med Psychedelics Group came into being to kickstart change at a local level.

“Psychedelics hold a lot of potential benefits and pitfalls in helping push healing to the next level. However, we still have much to learn,” says Leslie Mendoza Temple MD, Medical Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the NorthShore University HealthSystem and Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. 

“I knew there was a community of early adopters, and I felt we should put our heads together to help promote a rational, balanced way to share knowledge on the science and logistics of this large class of substances.”

Summer 2022 saw Mendoza Temple browsing the MAPS website and connecting with David Schwartz, a fellow Chicagoan, licensed clinical professional counselor and psychedelic integration psychotherapist. They met, hit it off, and began inviting others to join them.

“We started growing the group because I just wanted to know, who am I going to refer to [with questions about psychedelic medicine or treatments]?” explained Mendoza Temple. 

“I want to know where I’m sending patients. That’s an integral part of all of this: who do you trust, and who can be a space holder for these experiences? The psychedelic community is being built from the ground up by microcosms like ours.”

Members are drawn to join the close-knit community for a number of reasons. All want to connect with other like-minded professionals; some hope to expand their awareness of psychedelic medicine, and others want to merge firsthand psychedelic experiences with their professional expertise to support patients. 

For Katie Sullivan, a family nurse practitioner and founder of Modern Compassionate Care, a life-changing psilocybin experience crystallized her desire to become an advocate of psychedelic treatment. Sullivan became a widow when her husband, a U.S. Marine, died at age 30 following exposure to burn pits during service in Iraq.  

“Coming out of that experience, I was a young mother of a 3-year-old who was deeply traumatized and living with a significant amount of survivor’s guilt,” she explains.

Sullivan tried therapy, support groups, meditation and EMDR to help manage her grief and PTSD. While they helped reduce some of her pain, a deep well of grief persisted. So she turned to psilocybin.

“I spent time consciously preparing for my solo trip and then went on a journey inside to meet the pain that I couldn’t release.” 

Sullivan reflects that her psilocybin journey provided catharsis and a new perspective that allowed her to let go of the burden of guilt she’d been carrying. It’s now been six years since that single transformative trip. Sullivan describes it as one of the most significant moments of her life, spurring her to become involved with psychedelic advocacy. She counts the support she receives from the Chicago Med Psychedelics Group as invaluable, since she now offers ketamine therapy treatments in her clinic.

“I really wanted to be part of a community of providers and clinicians that I could turn to. This is a new space, and I want to be ethical, safe, and provide really good education for people,” she says.

For David Schwartz, involvement in the group was another step towards embracing a psychedelic-friendly professional persona.

“In my public-facing role now, I’m open about providing preparation and integration for psychedelic therapy, ” he explains. “So that’s one way I’ve decided to step out of the psychedelic closet.” 

Schwartz is also happy to speak with curious clients about his personal experiences with psychedelics. 

“I think it’s an important part of this type of work and advocacy to also normalize the benefits of these medicines,” he said. ‘I eventually decided that my psychedelic experiences mean that I have a responsibility to be a source of information and conduit for people who want to talk to someone openly.”

When the group descends upon Madame ZuZu’s for their monthly meeting, it’s high vibes with everyone chatting enthusiastically about new research findings, events, conferences, and personal or professional experiences. 

“There’s so much conversation going on and so much excitement,” said Schwartz. “Everyone just wants to talk, share, ask questions, and connect.”

Special guests occasionally join in, ushering their unique area of expertise or perspective into the fold. Last month Billy Corgan stepped out from behind ZuZu’s tea counter and sat down with the group to debate whether U.S. society was ready to handle complete psychedelic legalization. 

Other meetings have included guests such as Jean Lacy, founder of the Illinois Psychedelic Society, Anne Berg of the Psychedelic Pharmacists Association, and Rachel Norris MD, the owner and operator of ketamine-focused clinic Imagine Healthcare in Chicago. The airy art-deco emporium of Madame ZuZu’s is the ideal space holder for this eclectic, knowledge-hungry bunch who are pumped to meet with like-minded individuals. 

However, beyond the thrill of connecting and learning, there’s also an awareness of contributing to the changing legislative landscape in Illinois. In January 2023, Illinois legislator La Shawn Ford introduced the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens Act, or the “Illinois CURE Act”. If passed, this act would regulate and license the provision of psilocybin products in Illinois. At this stage, while the bill is still under consideration, events promoting debate and education around psychedelics can help to play a role in promoting awareness. 

Some Chicago Med Psychedelics Group members have become involved with sister groups, such as the Illinois Psychedelic Society, to share educational resources and further the cause. Leslie Mendoza Temple, Lisa Solomon, and Karolina Mikos MD will participate and present in panels at the Illinois Cannabis and Psychedelic Symposium in late September. Other group members have lined up to join in discussions at the upcoming Illinois Psychedelic Society Summer Networking Mixer, which will welcome 300 people. The last mixer the group was involved with sold out within 48 hours. 

While involvement in these larger events is meaningful, at this stage, the prevailing sentiment among Chicago Med Psychedelics Group is to keep their gatherings at Madame ZuZu’s intimate, informal, and supportive.

“I like keeping it small,” comments Mendoza Temple. ”I don’t know that we’d even have a vision or mission statement as that makes it very formal, then you start to invite more people, and you need an agenda…Don’t we have enough of those big, formal groups already?”

“Tend to the part of the garden you can touch,” reflects Schwartz. “Personally, I’m just thrilled to tag along for the ride as everything evolves with legislation and things like that, but what really interests me is actually changing the culture from the bottom up.”

Photo from far left, clockwise:

Maerry Lee MD ACEP, Joseph Friedman RPh MBA, David Schwartz LCPC, Anne Berg PharmD (guest), James T. O’Donnell PharmD MS FCP, David Schwartz LCPC, Leslie Mendoza Temple MD ABOIM, Lisa Solomon, Clinical Education Council Co-Chair of the Illinois Psychedelic Society, Karolina Mikos MD, Luba Andres RPh (guest)

Absent Chicago Med Psychedelics Group members: Katie Sullivan, APRN, FNP-C, David Kushner MD DO FASAM FACP, Rebecca Abraham RN BSN.

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