MJBizCon CEO Chris Walsh Talks Success After Pandemic

As CEO of MJBizCon, the largest cannabis industry trade show in the world, Chris Walsh sure looks like a happy man past the halfway mark of this year’s iteration of the must-attend expo.

“I’m excited,” he said, looking around at the more than 1,000 exhibitors spread out over the cavernous 250,000 square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center. Just as he says this, boxing icon and cannabis super entrepreneur Mike Tyson walks by with a small army of security guards and handlers en route to the Futurola booth (the former heavyweight champ signed the first international cannabis co-branding deal for Tyson Farms with the Dutch company in 2019).

In 2021, for the first time in its history, the city of Las Vegas designated “MJBizCon Week” as the conference continues to earn its reputation as a best-in-class expo. In fact, many continue to refer to MJBizCon as the “Comic Con of weed” for its scope and importance to the cannabis industry.

As for this year’s conference, the first in two years due to the global pandemic, Walsh is clearly pleased.

“The enthusiasm at this year’s event is off the charts,” he said. “Not only is excitement a couple of levels higher than ever before, but so many of the attendees this year are the true decision makers in the industry. More than ever, the leaders of these companies are here in person.”

When asked about any lingering misconceptions about MJBizCon out there, Walsh shrugs his shoulders and said, “Some people believe that MJBizCon is a stereotypical stoner event or festival — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

As evidenced by Tyson’s entrance moments earlier, Walsh says that a few years ago when rock legend Gene Simmons attended the award-winning conference that, too, created quite the stir. “He was something else,” Walsh said.

Walsh, who’s also the founding editor of the conference’s publication, “MJ Biz Daily,” says he’s very happy the conference is Las Vegas-based, but there may be a chance of expansion outside the U.S. “Right before the pandemic, we were having conversations about possibly holding events in Bogotá, Copenhagen and Canada. We’ll see what happens.”

When asked for something he hasn’t told anyone yet about this year’s conference, the executive laughs and says, “Well, let me think about that for a moment. I’ve had 17 Red Bulls since the event started, and I should hit 19 by the end making it approximately a 27% increase from the number I had in 2019.”

As Walsh concludes the conversation, the glint in the executive’s eye can’t be denied: MJBizCon is back—and how.

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Cameron Forni Pushes Innovation With Rolling Stone Cannabis Collab

Pulling up to entrepreneur turned cannabis mogul Cameron Forni’s Las Vegas home feels like driving up to the entrance of a Las Vegas Strip hotel. In his driveway, a custom-decalled Ferrari stands out with a monopoly-esque art themed wrap. The wrap showcases his consulting company, an eco-friendly crypto currency, and also pays homage to the brand that started it all—Select. Parked next to it is an all-black Rolls Royce Ghost. On first impression, Cameron Forni has built quite a life as an entrepreneur.  

“I’m glad you found the house!” He says jokingly as I hop out of my car and walk up his impressive driveway to the door. The 35-year-old can’t be any taller than 5-foot-9, and his unassuming black t-shirt and navy-blue shorts suggest that, even with this level of success, he’s still relatable.

We are greeted by a pair of medium-sized Pomsky’s, Meso and Cali. We make our way through the striking entryway to the kitchen where we all sit together to become more acquainted. Forni passes around a plate of avocado toast for us to snack on while we discuss his latest device for Select in the cannabis space.  

We’re here to talk about the recent partnership Select launched with Rolling Stone magazine on co-branded vape pens and Select’s first-ever pre-rolls. Forni explains that his goal is to create a smooth, enjoyable experience for all cannabis users. Further, he is excited about the reach and cultural alignment between the Rolling Stone brand and music. 

Rolling Stone’s president and COO Gus Wenner also speaks to the larger purpose driving the new co-branded product line.  

“There’s a mission here that’s been a part of our DNA since the beginning. Music and cannabis are so connected, and we set out to make a product that is A) really good and B) strikes right at the heart of what makes experiencing great music so special,” Wenner told Cannabis Now, adding that the Rolling Stones team has spent the past three years exploring ways to create this opportunity.

“In CuraLeaf and Select, we found a perfect partner who could design innovative and exciting products that elevate the music listening experience and so much more,” he said. “We both recognize cannabis’ place in music and in history. We’ve covered the health benefits and some of the incarceration issues around how cases are treated for non-violent crime offenders in our reporting and will continue to do so.”

If legal cannabis was a baseball game, Forni insists we’d still be in the second inning of a typical nine-inning game. The black market remains too powerful for the legal industry to reach its full potential, he says. Forni also comments on the tumultuous hemp-based Delta-8 market, which he believes “is finally being cracked down on.” 

The Select founder contends legal weed’s biggest boon will happen when Congress passes the SAFE Banking Act and the STATES Act, opening the way for cannabis companies to list on the New York Stock Exchange. 

“It’ll change the entire financial landscape of the cannabis industry,” he says. “That’s what we’re waiting for.” 

The legal cannabis Green Rush has been good to entrepreneurs like Forni, who got involved early and worked tooth-and-nail to earn significant market share. Forni founded Select back in 2015 after puffing on a marijuana vape and coughing his lungs out. This experience inspired his first business venture, and he set out to develop a smoother cartridge. Select was born. 

Forni built this company from the ground up and filled his first cartridges by hand. From his living room, Forni managed to turn Select into the fastest growing cannabis brand in history. This caught the attention of the world’s largest cannabis company, Curaleaf, which purchased his company for $948 million dollars in 2019. Since the sale, Forni has stayed on as a special advisor to Curaleaf’s CEO Joe Bayern. Expanding the product line beyond its staple cartridge products, Select now also offers THC oil, gummies, tinctures and drink mixers.

Forni brings us to his office and hands over a pack of his newest edibles, “Nano Gummies.” The citrus-flavored edible is made of strain-inspired terpene formulas and are infused with cannabis oil. They are also water soluble which allows the THC to digest quicker. Their new gummies will surely be a hit across the 2,000 dispensaries in 21 states that carry Select’s products. However, Forni isn’t completely satisfied quite yet. “You can taste hints of cannabis, we can make it better,” he says. 

How does a guy in Forni’s position not let all of this get to his head? We ask him how he’s changed, besides the new house and luxury lifestyle. The answer? Not much. Forni says he’s always had a bit of an edge to him. But in a good way. 

“You got to keep it,” he says of his ego. “I always try to be myself; I always try to be kind to everyone around me, and I always try to teach and mentor people to bring them up to the next level. Success follows success, and I always wanted to follow the people that had success before me. I just hope I can inspire people—whether that’s a role model or a mentor—to do and achieve incredible things for themselves, their family and the planet.”  

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VA Still Punishes Veterans for Using Medical Cannabis

One of the reasons John Penley moved out to Nevada from his native North Carolina last year was for the legal cannabis, which he uses to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to his military service in the 1970s. 

He didn’t anticipate that his use of state-legal cannabis could result in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cutting off the pain killers that he also needs.

“Here I don’t have to worry about getting arrested for using medical marijuana,” Penley tells Cannabis Now, “but it could cause me to lose all my veterans’ benefits.” 

Pain Killers Cut for Medical Cannabis Use

Penley’s chronic back pain started to come on about 10 years ago, and it continues to get worse. He’s been diagnosed with spinal stenosis which the VA designates as a “nonservice-connected disability.” The agency has been sending him a codeine-acetaminophen mix to control the pain.

“I’m taking one a day to make ’em last,” he says. “I won’t get any more till I stop using cannabis, test again and come back clean for THC.”

The pills arrive by mail, but Penley must check in personally at the VA hospital in Las Vegas once month to have his urine tested. He says he believed this was just to monitor levels of the blood thinner Warfarin, which he also takes now following a heart attack, and to make sure his prescription was at the appropriate levels.

But after his last test in early Sept., he received a call his VA doctor’s nurse—informing him that he had tested positive for THC and his pills were being cut off until he tested clean.

“It took me by surprise,” he says. “I’ve been open with my VA doctors about using medical marijuana.”

Penley worries that cutting off opioids could drive vets to the illegal market where they face the threat of an overdose from fentanyl. He points out that the Las Vegas area is currently witnessing an explosion of fentanyl-spiked painkillers on the illicit market. Last month, local health officials reported five overdose deaths related to street sales of the synthetic opioid over a 24-hour period.

Cannabis Eases Nuclear Nightmares

In addition to his back pain, Penley suffers from PTSD, which he says is related to his service in the Navy from 1972 to 1976. Working as an air traffic controller at the Souda Bay base on the Greek island of Crete, he was responsible for aircrafts carrying nuclear weapons. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the base served as a “forward operating airfield” for U.S. operations in support of Israel. 

“I was extremely worried about a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia, which were backing opposite sides in the war,” Penley recalls. “The whole area was swimming with Russian submarines, and Nixon put the U.S. on the highest nuclear alert ever. I was afraid I was gonna get nuked in that control tower.”

Nonetheless, he made petty officer second class before his honorable discharge. But Penley says he still has nightmares about being back in the control tower. And cannabis is what prevents the memories from haunting his waking life.

State-Federal Disconnect

Penley takes oral doses of THC oil to manage both the PTSD and back pain. Although he still needs the codeine-acetaminophen mix, he believes cannabis use obviates the need for the far more powerful oxycontin—or surgery. “I’m considering a back operation that I don’t really want to get, but I can’t take the pain,” he says.

Ironically, Penley had just been just re-approved for codeine earlier this year after having been cut off during the VA’s crackdown on prescriptions in response to the opioid epidemic a few years ago.

In the intervening years, he had no alternative but to take large quantities of over-the-counter acetaminophen. “I was taking too much acetaminophen, a 500-milligram pill three times day,” he says. In contrast, the combination pills he received from the VA contained just 300 milligrams of acetaminophen, and he only has to take one twice a day. Penley was recently diagnosed by the VA with kidney damage, which he attributes to overuse of acetaminophen during the last period when his codeine had been cut off.

“I don’t like the fact that they’re treating me as a criminal,” Penley says. “Why should testing positive for cannabis affect the medicine I’m getting from VA—especially in a state where it’s legal?”

And he points out another irony. “I receive a discount for veterans at the dispensaries here in Las Vegas,” he said. “You have the VA punishing veterans for using medical marijuana in the same states where vets are getting a discount.”

Illusion of Progress?

The VA has been under growing pressure on this question, but there has actually been some recent progress—at least on paper.

The Missouri Independent reported earlier this month that VA policy does not allow discrimination against veterans who enroll in state medical marijuana programs—although they must do so with their own resources, outside the purview of the VA’s Veterans Health Administration

In Dec. 2017, the VA issued Directive 1315, which states: “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.”

The Missouri Independent quoted Derek Debus, an Arizona attorney and Marine veteran who specializes in VA benefit issues. “I’ve had clients in the past that, if they admit to medical marijuana usage, won’t get any medication at all through the VA,” Debus said. “I’ve had clients that have gone to the VA for acute injuries like kidney stones, or even a broken arm, who were denied pain medication because they tested positive for cannabis and or have a state medical marijuana card.”

The VA website touts an April 2021 study from its own National Center for PTSD noting “growing interest and concern” over increased cannabis use among veterans, as more states legalize. The study states that “research to date does not support cannabis as an effective PTSD treatment, and some studies suggest cannabis can be harmful, particularly when used for long periods of time.” 

Yet there certainly seems to be plenty of countervailing research. For instance, a 2015 study of veterans in New York City, conducted by scholars at New York University, found: “Veterans’ comparisons of cannabis, alcohol, and psychopharmaceuticals tended to highlight advantages to cannabis use as more effective and less complicated by side effects. Some participants suggested that cannabis can be part of an approach-based coping strategy that aids with introspection and direct confrontation of the sources of personal trauma.”

Contacted by Cannabis Now, VA public affairs specialist Gary J. Kunich offered this explanation for how vets can still be cut off from receiving prescription meds for medical cannabis use despite Directive 1315: “Veterans will not lose access to VA financial or medical benefits because of medical marijuana use, but it may affect clinical decisions about other prescriptions, including those for pain management. These are clinical decisions that practitioners make according to a medical evaluation and are not determined by VA policy.”

In any case, Penley says he is not enrolled in the Nevada medical marijuana program because he is a relatively new arrival in the state, and cannabis is available freely on the adult-use market. If enrolling in the state program was necessary to keep his painkiller prescription from the VA, “nobody here advised me of that,” he says. “Not even in the orientation when they prescribe your opiates. You’d think they would have informed me.”

Veteran Organizations Embrace Right to Medical Cannabis

In 2009, New Mexico became the first state to make PTSD sufferers eligible for medical marijuana. The condition has since been included in most state medical marijuana programs.

The effort to get the VA to take a more tolerant stance got another boost in 2016 when the American Legion, a veterans organization of 1.8 million members known for its conservative politics, urged Congress to remove cannabis from the federal list of prohibited drugs and allow research into its medical applications. Lawrence Montreuil, the organization’s legislative director, told Stars & Stripes, “I think knowing an organization like the American Legion supports it frankly gives [lawmakers] a little bit of political cover to do something that they may have all along supported but had concerns about voter reaction.”

The organization Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which actually donated the vehicle that picks up Penley for his VA doctor appointments, has also embraced exploring “medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids for veterans.”

A Legislative Solution?

In recent years, The Veterans Equal Access Act has repeatedly introduced legislation to facilitate medical cannabis access for military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions. This bill would allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis under state medical marijuana programs and assure that vets do not lose any benefits for enrolling.

This April, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) joined with Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) to introduce another version of the bill, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.

But as the cannabis advocacy group NORML notes, Congressional conservatives have repeatedly blocked such efforts despite the growing evidence of the medicinal value of cannabis for PTSD sufferers.

NORML points out that a 2014 retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found a greater than 75% reduction in Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale (CAPS) symptom scores following cannabis therapy.

Vets Stand Up

John Penley has been a part of the activist effort around this issue.

On Veterans Day 2018, he was among a group of vets who camped out at the national offices of the VA to demand access to medical marijuana. 

He was also arrested for crossing police lines while protesting lack of action on veteran suicides at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. 

In July 2014, when the Veterans for Peace national convention was held in his hometown of Asheville, NC, he pushed for a resolution which was adopted, stating that “it is the right of any Veteran to discuss with his/her health care provider any and all possible treatment options…including the use of medical cannabis, without the threat to the Veteran or provider of disciplinary action, regulatory loss of privilege and/or benefits, or criminal sanctions.”

As for the response to his own cut-off of painkillers, Penley affirms: “They say it’s federal policy and they don’t have a choice in the matter, but the feds shouldn’t be punishing people for using medical marijuana.” 

“I should be able to get medical marijuana from the VA,” he said. “I think the vet suicide rate would go down if they supplied it.”

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Lume’s Kevin Kuethe Awarded for Leadership

Kevin Kuethe went through childhood thinking he’d be a fitness trainer or a professional athlete. He landed in cannabis instead, but his upbeat personality and cheek-to-cheek smile suggests he found his true calling.

Kuethe, 36, is part of an executive team that oversees 870 employees across 22 retail stores, 50 acres of outdoor grows and 250,000 square feet of indoor grows at Lume. He joined the Evart, Michigan-based company in 2017, and worked his way up to his current position as the company’s chief cultivation officer. 

At this year’s annual Cannabis Conference, held Aug. 24-26 in Las Vegas, the Montana native was honored with one of six leadership awards given to the some of the industry’s most influential and successful people.

“I’m really grateful, honored and motivated,” Kuethe said of receiving the award. “I appreciate that I’m being recognized for the things I’m doing in my community and to my employees.”

PHOTO Keene.Media

From Fitness Trainer to Cannabis Grower

Many leaders in legal cannabis have taken unique paths to the industry, and Kuethe is no exception.

He admitted that growing marijuana was never in his plans when he majored in exercise science at the University of Montana. He was more interested in body-building and personal training. Within months of graduating, he’d built up a clientele of 40 people who he worked with one-on-one, helping them lift heavier and live healthier.

Kuethe liked the job, but he wanted more. He didn’t know what that next step was, though, until a childhood friend invited him down to Arizona.

Matt Morgan was the CEO of Bloom Dispensaries and wanted Kuethe, just 28-years-old at the time, to be the company’s chief operating officer. Kuethe says his first time laying eyes on a cannabis grow was inside Bloom’s 30,000 square-foot cultivation center — one of the country’s largest legal marijuana operations back in 2012.

The job, if he took it, would entail figuring out ways to spend less money, grow more weed and improve the quality of Bloom’s flower. 

Whether he realized it or not, the stars had aligned for Kuethe to join the cannabis industry.

“Back then I couldn’t fully comprehend the value of what I was walking into,” Kuethe recalled, “but I knew it was a big deal. Now, I look back and realize I was incredibly lucky to get in at a place of that size at that point, and to get the experience I did.”

The biggest challenge was diving into an industry he hardly knew anything thing about. But his lifelong mentality of being “an optimization person” took command. Kuethe didn’t need a master’s degree to have success in marijuana. His passion and self-described obsession with detail proved sufficient.

“I just love to make things better,” he said. “Even when I was a kid, I was trying to find the best way to do things. I used to love root beer floats, and I made it my mission to try and pair the best root beer with the best ice cream.”

When Kuethe joined Bloom, he was one of just three company employees. Six months later, the company had 120 people on staff.

Leaving Las Vegas to Roll the Dice in Michigan

PHOTO Courtesy of Lume

Kuethe left Bloom after just two years, when Morgan sold the company in 2014. He found his next pair of jobs in nearby Las Vegas, Nevada, where cannabis was on the verge of becoming recreational and the industry was scaling up to prepare for a surge in demand. He started at Blossom, a boutique cultivator near the Las Vegas Strip, then after just 12 months, took an offer to be the chief cultivation officer at GB Sciences — a larger cultivator in south Vegas that was publicly traded on over-the-counter markets.

He didn’t last long in Sin City, though. 

Lume founder Dave Morrow toured GB Sciences’ cultivation and was blown away with the Vegas company’s young COO, according to Noelle Skodzinski, Cannabis Business Times editorial director who presented Kuethe with his leadership award last month. Above all, Morrow was drawn to Kuethe’s positive attitude and motivational effect on his employees.

Morrow waited just a few days to offer Kuethe a job, which was quickly accepted. It wasn’t long before Kuethe had worked his way up to an executive role.

“He’s unique in the sense that he really pays it forward,” Skodzinski said. “He’s making changes within his company but also within society. That’s what makes him special.”

Joy wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind for most people considering a move to the tiny town of Evart, population 1,500, in the rural center of the Mitten State. Located 80 miles north of the closest major city, it lacks basic amenities like fresh food. Its average high temperature in the winter is below 32 degrees.

But Kuethe saw potential. He viewed his new company and city as opportunities to make his mark — both as a business leader and a member of the local community. 

His mother, Kimberly Lugthart, raised him to believe true leaders give back to the neighborhoods they work and live in. Lugthart brought young Kevin and his sister to volunteer with her every summer in his hometown of Missoula when he was growing up. Together, the three cleaned up state parks and handed out food and medical kits to people affected by natural disasters. They also served at local soup kitchens and planted trees.

When Kuethe graduated high school, he spent eight months in AmeriCorps and donated 2,000 hours of community service. He continues to volunteer each year, and is now encouraging his employees to do the same.

Lume staffers get paid for up to eight hours community service each year on the company’s dime. Kuethe has shown the residents of Evart, most of whom stringently opposed a cannabis company putting its headquarters in the city, that he’s serious about giving back.

“I’m so proud of him, because he’s sincerely and legitimately a good-hearted person,” Lugthart said of her son. “He’s a positive force in the world, and this award is just one more expression of that.”

Finding the Right Lights

Fohse Grow Lights
PHOTO Courtesy of Fohse and Keene.Media

Kuethe credits much of his success to the lighting he uses across Lume’s 250,000 square-feet of indoor cultivation. Just like the root beer floats he made as a kid, Kuethe experimented with hundreds of different light combinations at varying frequencies, powers and positions before choosing high-powered LED lights from Las Vegas-based Fohse

While Lume also harvests on 50 acres of outdoor grows, Kuethe said he relies exclusively on the Fohse lights for several months of the year when Michigan’s snowy winter season makes growing outside impossible.

Choosing Fohse wasn’t an overnight decision. Kuethe tested well over a dozen different LED products from different companies, placing them side-by-side in his grow rooms under the same conditions. He claims the conditions were carefully controlled to the point that he could produce “scientific studies with legit data.” The Fohse lights were the first to exceed the setup already in place when he arrived at Lume.

Kuethe said the other LEDs he tried produced great results from the top of the plant, but the results weren’t as strong in the middle and bottom portions. The ‘popcorn’ buds produced by the non-Fohse lights were only good enough to grind up and sell in prerolls.

“There’s more bud and it’s higher quality,” Kuethe said of his plants with the Fohse lighting. “And it’s denser and lower in the canopy, so there’s real light penetration all the way through.”

His tinkering over the past three years has resulted in Lume producing almost four times the yields Kuethe was putting out when he first started. As he demonstrates for his employees, his company and the tiny town of Evart, Kuethe says he works tirelessly to help his plants reach their full potential.

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Consumption Lounges on the Horizon for Nevada

By the middle of next year, Nevada is poised to offer a new type of venue to get high.

State lawmakers on Wednesday approved funding for the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board to oversee so-called “cannabis consumption lounges” there.

Members of the Interim Finance Committee “unanimously approved three items that will provide the [Cannabis Compliance Board] with funds to hire more staff, work with the state attorney general’s office to hammer out regulations, and direct cannabis revenue toward education funding,” according to the Nevada Independent.

The Independent reported that the committee “would direct $10.9 million to fund 23 new full-time employees at the regulatory agency,” which “would include positions responsible for cannabis lounge licensing, pre-opening and ongoing compliance checks, background checks, lounge suitability determinations and criminal investigations.”

Tyler Klimas, the executive director of the Cannabis Compliance Board, told the committee on Wednesday that the additional funding places the new businesses on track to open their doors early next year.

“All goes as planned, we’re looking at—at least the first quarter, or the first half of 2022,” Klimas said, as quoted by the Nevada Independent. “Not only to see the lounges open, but then also the first part is where we would start to realize that revenue.”

The new type of businesses were put in motion last month after Nevada legislators passed a bill aimed at diversifying the state’s still-nascent recreational marijuana industry.

The legislation also included provisions for the cannabis consumption lounges: to provide “for the licensure and regulation by the Cannabis Compliance Board of cannabis consumption lounges”; to set “forth certain requirements for the licensure of cannabis consumption lounges”; and to set “forth certain requirements for the operation of retail cannabis consumption lounges and independent cannabis consumption lounges.”

Consumption Lounges Won’t Be the Only Positive Change for the Industry

The bill also requires the Cannabis Compliance Board to “adopt regulations establishing criteria to determine whether an applicant for the issuance or renewal of an adult-use cannabis establishment license for an independent cannabis consumption lounge qualifies as a social equity applicant,” defined as “an applicant that has been adversely affected by previous laws that criminalized activity relating to cannabis.”

Moreover, the bill “authorizes the Board to reduce certain fees associated with an adult-use cannabis establishment license for an independent cannabis consumption lounge for social equity applicants,” and “requires that at least 10 of the first 20 adult-use cannabis establishment licenses for an independent cannabis consumption lounge issued by the Board be issued to social equity applicants.”

A report issued by the Cannabis Compliance Board earlier this year found that the state’s marijuana industry lacked diversity, with around 65 percent of owners and managers identifying as white.

Steve Yeager, a Democratic assemblyman from Las Vegas, sponsored the legislation, which he hailed as a boon for the state’s recreational pot industry.

“It’s been a long journey from where we started, really, in the 2013 session and then launching dispensaries, so it’s really nice to see how the industry has matured,” said Yeager, as quoted by the Nevada Independent. “The legislation that we see this session is really in recognition that we’ve primarily done things right and to try to take that next step.”

The bill also provides funding from the cannabis sales to the state’s K-12 education. Yeager said Wednesday that Nevada’s marijuana business is “going to be an industry that is going to pay for itself, and then hopefully be able to fund education in a way that I think we’d all like to do here in the Legislature.”

Recreational marijuana was officially made legal in Nevada in 2017, after voters there passed a ballot measure the year before. According to CannaCon, Nevada is now one of seven states to have legislation on the books permitting cannabis lounges.

The post Consumption Lounges on the Horizon for Nevada appeared first on High Times.

CHAMPS Las Vegas 2021: Delta-8 and the DEA Raid Rumor

A significant portion of the cannabis industry is nomadic. Business conferences and trade shows fill vast convention halls with booths plugging brands. Eager pilgrims, fresh from cross-country flights or energy-drink fueled drives, wander from table to table, pockets bulging with business cards. Everyone is hoping to strike a deal at a hotel suite afterparty.

After the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the trade-show circuit, the rhythm of these show-and-hopefully-sell events appeared to be returning to normal last week with the CHAMPS Trade Show’s visit to Las Vegas. 

With its busy airport, abundant accommodations and myriad of other distractions, Vegas is the mecca for these gatherings, no matter what industry you’re in. And CHAMPS is a big one. While CHAMPS is considered a counterculture expo, it also appeals to the masses since products — primarily lifestyle accessories and ancillary goods — can be sold anywhere. Think pipes and vapes; think whatever you can find at a smoke shop, truck stop or novelty shop; think CBD supplements and smokable hemp. 

Tommy Chong was there, and so was Mike Tyson. Even Joe Exotic showed up — well, his brand did, since he’s in prison. According to TMZ, the brand was launching a cannabis seltzer called “Tiger Piss.” All extremely normal stuff for a cannabis tradeshow. But then this happened:

Starting Wednesday, July 28, breathless reports of a law-enforcement raid at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where CHAMPS had opened on July 27, started to fly around the internet, with the fires fanned by credulous Instagram accounts and unsourced blog posts.

“EXCLUSIVE,” blared Cannatechtoday.com, “Cannabis Trade Show Raided by the Feds.” A common source for this was @TheBlacklistxyz, a popular Instagram aggregator — which went even further, reporting that  in addition to the DEA, the FBI was there too — a wild, nonsensical twist picked up in turn by TheWeedBlog.

It’s been a long time since federal cops staged a major raid on the legal cannabis industry. A DEA raid would be huge news. But for some reason, no major media outlet had picked it up — and in an era saturated with smartphones, nobody had managed to snap even a blurry photo of the “raid.” 

Meanwhile, elsewhere on social media, there was a grinning Tommy Chong and a steely-eyed Iron Mike, carrying on as normal. If this was a raid, it was the chillest raid in history. What was going on?

Artist booths at the CHAMPS trade show in Las Vegas.

New Rules Arriving Fast and Furious

As it quickly turned out, not a single one of the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies was present — not the FBI, DEA, FCC or the FAA. Most of the accounts that posted otherwise quietly removed or edited their posts. 

But this isn’t to say there wasn’t lawbreaking afoot at CHAMPS. 

On June 4, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law Senate Bill 49, which outlaws “synthetic cannabinoids from being produced, sold or offered for sale” in the state. This includes Delta-8 THC, a less powerful cousin to the Delta-9 THC found in cannabis. 

Over the past year, Delta-8 has exploded in popularity, since it can be easily procured from hemp-derived CBD, and with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, it was deemed legal under federal law since it’s a hemp product. (This would be why reports of a DEA or FBI raid, at a show that did not welcome Delta-9 THC products, made no sense.) However, state law is not federal law — and anyone following SB49 would know that Nevada now bans Delta-8 THC. That meant the legal landscape for CHAMPS — and any other cannabis trade show in Las Vegas — had shifted, creating potential for significant disruption for any would-be vendors in the Delta-8 space.

But it wasn’t until July 17, about ten days before CHAMPS’s doors opened, that show vendors — some of whom paid around $3,200 each for one of the show’s 1,500 tables — received an URGENT email from organizers. 

The night before, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) informed CHAMPS that SB49 was indeed in effect. No vendor at CHAMPS would be allowed to sell or even advertise anything Delta-8-related — not so much as a brochure saying Delta-8 would be available somewhere else. Even mentioning Delta-8 was problematic.

“While we know this may be disappointing to you, we are required to abide by the decision made from the state and the LVCVA,” the email stated. “We hereby ask that you make absolutely sure that all displays you have, including logos, merchandise or any other visual imagery does not promote Delta-7, Delta-8 or Delta-10 products, as you will be fined and then removed from the show by the authorities.”

But that wasn’t the only federally legal product banned at CHAMPS.

CBD Edibles Banned

On July 23, attendees received another email with more rules. Anything edible with CBD in it was also banned. You could hand out all the CBD lotion, vaping oil or flower you wanted, but “No food and beverage containing any CBD will be permitted to be distributed anywhere on the convention grounds” due to rules set by Centerplate, the company contracted by LVCVA to provide concessions at the convention center. The email invited vendors with any outstanding questions to a Zoom meeting later that day. Additionally, upon check-in, all vendors were notified both verbally and in writing about the updated rules.

Despite at least four email notifications, as well as a personal phone call to everyone that CHAMPS believed to have Delta-8 products, not everyone heeded the memo. 

On the morning of July 28, the show’s second day, vendors received yet another message — this time instructing vendors that they “MUST be at the Convention Center today, no later than 10 a.m. to discuss issues.”

The day prior, someone from the LVCVA had been offered “both a D8 product and a CBD food product,” CHAMPS President Jeff Hirschfield told Cannabis Now. CHAMPS was not informed of which vendor gave out the samples, but CHAMPS staffers did ask two vendors to leave that failed to follow numerous requests to clean up and adhere to all guidelines, Hirschfield said. This delayed the show’s opening until 12 p.m., one hour later than scheduled.  

That 10 a.m. meeting “to discuss issues” had somehow morphed into a “DEA and FBI raid” by the time weed Instagram was done playing a game of telephone. 

Representatives from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority did not return several telephone and email messages seeking comment. 

Hirschfield had nothing but kind words to say about LVCVA — after all, the Delta-8 ban wasn’t their idea. Some vendors, however, were less than impressed — and figure they’ll be dropping Las Vegas from their trade-show tour itinerary.

What’s the Point?

“CHAMPS was extremely transparent — you could not have any kind of Delta-8 products at the show,” said Shawn Honaker, the owner of Yeti Farms, a Colorado-based manufacturer of Delta-8 gummies

Honaker was in Las Vegas to find new distributors — whom he had to woo, somehow, without being able to offer any product or even any brochures saying he had a product. He’d made 70,000 non-medicated gummies to put into 7,000 packages, he said. By the time LVCVA passed on the bad news to CHAMPS, it was too late for Delta-8 vendors to find a plan B. 

“Part of my gig is handing stuff out,” he said. “I called CHAMPS, and I said, ‘What am I supposed to do, just have my business cards and lanyards there?’”

“This is a gummy I can buy at a gas station. And they’re treating it like it’s a kilo of cocaine,” he said, adding that the new Nevada ban on Delta-8 made the legal landscape… a little weird, and not at all conducive to a successful big-tent cannabis industry” trade show.

“I can sell all the kratom and all the nitrous whip-its I want. And I cannot give away a single, unmedicated, sugar gummy,” he added. With that law, “What’s the point of the show?” he asked. “At the end of the day, it’s a black eye on the Las Vegas cannabis scene. I won’t be investing any more money on Nevada cannabis and hemp shows.”

Hirschfield disputed that analysis, pointing out that Las Vegas’s only shortcoming (aside from the ban on CBD food and beverage) is with Delta-8 THC. All Delta-8 vendors were offered half price booths in Atlantic City or any other state CHAMPS is in, providing Delta-8 is legal in that state, he added.  

The next CHAMPS show is later this summer in Atlantic City, New Jersey where, for now, Delta-8 THC is legal. As it stands, cannabis trade shows will have to stick to the familiar when visiting Las Vegas: Tommy Chong products and autographs, Joe Exotic’s Tiger Piss, and Mike Tyson’s latest blunt wrap collab.  

The post CHAMPS Las Vegas 2021: Delta-8 and the DEA Raid Rumor appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Nevada Gives Green Light to Cannabis Consumption Lounges

Cannabis consumption lounges will be coming to Nevada next year under a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak earlier this month. The measure, Assembly Bill 341 (AB341), was signed by Sisolak on June 4 after being passed by lawmakers in both houses of the state legislature in May. Currently, onsite cannabis consumption is only allowed at the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace on Las Vegas Paiute tribal land north of downtown.

The legislation permits two types of cannabis businesses. Retail cannabis lounges will be operated by licensed marijuana dispensaries, while independent cannabis consumption lounges will not be connected to a retailer. Both types of businesses will sell ready-to-use or single-use cannabis products for onsite consumption by adults 21 and older. Live entertainment is permitted, but alcohol will not be allowed.

“You can think of it like a bar, except obviously there will be no alcohol,” Assemblyman Steve Yeager, the sponsor of the legislation, said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, as quoted by Forbes. “It could be a joint, an edible, it could be an infused food or infused soda, whatever the concept might be.”

Yeager added that more original concepts would also likely arise, noting that ideas such as fine dining restaurants serving cannabis-infused dishes, cannabis-friendly yoga classes, and comedy clubs offering marijuana products could all become reality. 

“Whatever you could think of could be possible,” Yeager said.

Ben Kovler, the CEO and founder of multistate cannabis operator Green Thumb Industries, said that the company is planning a lounge for the dispensary opened on the Las Vegas Strip by GTI in May under a licensing deal with the founders of the brand Cookies, rapper Berner and his cultivation collaborator Jai.

“When people come to Vegas for a bachelor party, a wedding, or just to see friends they haven’t seen in 15 months, they’re going to want to get together and consume cannabis and pretty soon there will be consumption lounges and they’re going to want to come to Cookies,” Kovler said. “What better place than Las Vegas? It’s an experience city in the middle of the desert.”

Consumption Lounges And Social Equity

Nevada’s foray into cannabis consumption lounges will bring a measure of equity to the state’s efforts at marijuana policy reform. Before AB341, cannabis consumption was legal under state law only in private residences with the owner’s permission, leaving renters and visitors open to the disparate enforcement of drug laws that has been repeatedly documented. Consuming cannabis in hotels and casinos is not allowed.

“Consumption lounges are important because they help protect people from prejudicial law enforcement or being fined or sanctioned in a way that causes real harm, that perpetuates the War on Drugs,” cannabis and social equity advocate and Las Vegas resident Noel Gordon told Filter.

The legislation also has social equity provisions built into the licensing regulations for cannabis consumption lounges. Nevada’s legalization initiative, passed in 2016, is lacking in robust equity measures. Such oversights are likely to doom or delay legalization proposals today, a fact seen in recent and eventually successful reform efforts in New Jersey and New York.

Qualified social equity applicants who wish to open a cannabis consumption lounge will receive up to a 75% reduction in application fees, which can cost as much as $30,000. Under the bill, a social equity applicant is a person “who has been adversely affected by provisions of previous laws which criminalized activity relating to cannabis, including, without limitation, adverse effects on an owner, officer or board member of the applicant or on the geographic area in which the applicant will operate,” according to the legislation.

Additionally, the number of independent cannabis consumption lounge licenses will initially be capped at 20, with half reserved for social equity applicants. But despite the efforts, Gordon is uncertain the social equity provisions will work as intended.

“I’m not all that optimistic we will still deliver on the social equity pieces,” Gordon said. “We still live in a prohibition lite version of legalization here in Nevada whereby you can purchase and consume cannabis in your home, but short of that, if you were to consume it on the sidewalk, in a hotel room, at a friend’s place, you will still be subject to some kind of criminal penalty or sanction.”

AB341 goes into effect in October, and state regulators are expected to begin accepting applications for cannabis lounges in July. But with regulations still being drafted, it is likely to be next year before the first consumption clubs open.

“The Cannabis Compliance Board is continuing to review the bill and its requirements in establishing consumption lounge licenses in Nevada,” said Tiana Bohner, public information officer for the agency. “The Board will aim to promulgate regulations and begin issuing licenses by early 2022.”

Bob Groesbeck, the co-CEO for Planet 13, a 112,000-square-foot Las Vegas dispensary billed as the world’s largest, said that his company has been planning a cannabis lounge for the site since AB341 was introduced two years ago.

“Our SuperStore is one of the only dispensaries with the space on site and the proximity to the Las Vegas Strip to create a truly Vegas style club,” Groesbeck said in a statement from Planet 13. “As with the rest of our dispensary we look forward to setting the bar and showing the industry what is possible when your goal is to Out Vegas, Vegas.”

The post Nevada Gives Green Light to Cannabis Consumption Lounges appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Rolling Stone and Curaleaf Partner On New ‘Rolling Stone by Select’ Cannabis Brand

International cannabis powerhouse Curaleaf announced on Tuesday that its Select brand will market co-branded cannabis products under a new strategic partnership with pop culture and music authority Rolling Stone. The deal will initially bring “Rolling Stone by Select” branded vaporizer products and pre-rolled joints to Nevada, with plans to expand to other regulated cannabis markets in the future.

Rolling Stone and Select are creating a groundbreaking partnership that will showcase our next generation hardware [and] America’s best-selling premium cannabis oil while curating an exclusive relationship between music, cannabis and culture,” Select founder and president Cameron Forni wrote in an electronic message to Cannabis Now.

The new line of Rolling Stone by Select products will include Select’s newest proprietary cannabis oil vaporizer pod system, The Cliq, as well as Select’s first ever pre-rolled joint. Both product formats will feature three different “strains and flavor profiles hand-selected by Rolling Stone to celebrate some of the most well-known and genre-defining artists and sounds in music history,” Curaleaf wrote in a press release. The line includes Overdrive, berry-forward sativa; a complex and full-bodied indica known as Reverb; and a fruity, calming hybrid marketed under the moniker Phaser. The products will be distributed through Select’s wholesale partners and at Curaleaf dispensaries, including Acres by Curaleaf and Curaleaf Las Vegas Boulevard.

Rolling Stone by Select Cliq Vaporizer

“Music and Cannabis go hand in hand,” said Rolling Stone president and chief operating officer Gus Wenner, noting that the company has a legacy of celebrating this connection and a history of covering cannabis policy reform efforts.

“We are thrilled to have found a perfect partner in Curaleaf who gives us the opportunity to design a product that elevates the music listening experience and celebrates the deep connection between the two.” 

Music Icon Teams with Cannabis Powerhouse

Curaleaf and Select made headlines in 2019 when they joined forces in what was at the time the cannabis industry’s largest merger deal in history. Today, Curaleaf operates in 23 states with 106 cannabis dispensaries, 23 cultivation sites, and more than 30 processing sites, with a workforce of nearly 5,000 in the United States. Curaleaf International is the largest vertically integrated cannabis company in Europe, conducting pioneering scientific research integrated with a unique supply chain including cultivation, extraction and production, as well as a distribution network across the European market. 

“Part of my job at Curaleaf is building brands people love. Select is a brand built around the relentless pursuit of progress and going to great lengths to create the best possible experience for our consumer,” Curaleaf CEO Joe Bayern said in a statement from the company. “This is a synergy we are honored to share with Rolling Stone. They are known for having one of the most authentic and discerning voices in modern journalism, and, as part of that, they’ve included cannabis in their coverage for the past 50 years – something many other publications are only just starting to do today. We’re honored and thrilled that the Rolling Stone team believes in our vision, our products and our people to create and deliver the highest-quality cannabis products and experiences in the industry.”

Putting Social Equity into Practice

Bayern told Cannabis Now in an email that Rolling Stone and Curaleaf have an opportunity to use their combined platforms to advance social equity issues including reducing mass incarceration and ensuring that all entrepreneurs, especially those belonging to communities adversely affected by the War on Drugs, have an opportunity to participate in the legal cannabis economy.

“Since our inception, Curaleaf has been dedicated to putting its best foot forward for each other, our customers and our communities. We truly believe in shaping a healthy, inclusive, well-regulated cannabis industry that provides for social, financial and environmental benefits shared by all,” Bayern said. “Throughout Curaleaf’s network and supply chain, we’re constantly looking for ways to support equal access and opportunity for communities impacted by the War on Drugs so that everyone has the chance to participate in the regulated cannabis industry.”

Bayern noted that Curaleaf’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, called “Rooted in Good,” is grounded on three core pillars: social equity; sustainability; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Through the program, Curaleaf strives to deliver social impact through focused efforts that match the company’s capabilities and prioritize resources for social equity programming that deliver real opportunities.

“As a part of that work, we engage in strategic partnerships activating programs that foster opportunity and remove systematic barriers for communities most harmed by the War on Drugs and cannabis criminalization,” Bayern said. “Regarding our partnership with Rolling Stone, we are excited to explore conversations with their CSR team around future endeavors to further advance cannabis social equity issues and bring about change in a positive way.”

Curaleaf also revealed that the partnership would launch a new retail concept inspired by “Select’s commitment to enriching communities and creating inclusive, meaningful experiences and Rolling Stone’s world class storytelling and culture-defining content.” The retail location is expected to open in Las Vegas in 2022, with further details to be announced later.

The post Rolling Stone and Curaleaf Partner On New ‘Rolling Stone by Select’ Cannabis Brand appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Nevada Gearing Up For Cannabis Consumption Lounges

The long-awaited bill to allow people a place to consume cannabis in public, which has been in the works since before pandemic restrictions, has finally passed the Nevada legislature with bipartisan support.

Until now, people were only permitted to consume cannabis on private property, which is fine for residents but left roughly 40 million tourists who visit Nevada annually out of luck, with no where to smoke the flower they bought legally at local dispensaries. Not only was it a burden on consumers, but dispensaries were losing money because people were either using less flower than they otherwise would, or not buying it at all.

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This bill, AB 341, will create two different types of cannabis lounges – independent lounges, which are consumption lounges and nothing more, and retail lounges, which are attached to a dispensary. Both of these categories will be regulated by the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board.

The Vegas Tasting Room, owned and operated by NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, is located on the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe’s land just north of Downtown Las Vegas, currently offers the only legal consumption lounge in the state. The Vegas Tasting Room offers 90-minute time slots with options such as pipes, bongs, dab rigs, and other consumption methods.

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Planet 13 Marijuana Dispensary has already drafted plans to open a consumption lounge at its dispensary on Desert Inn Road. “We’ve long believed that tourists needed a safe, legal, and enjoyable place to consume cannabis and have been planning for a consumption lounge at the superstore since the bill was originally proposed two years ago,” Bob Groesbeck, co-CEO of Planet 13, says in a press statement.

Las Vegas, a city almost entirely dependent on tourism for financial survival, has been struggling since the pandemic began in early 2020. City officials have been eager to get things back on track, and on June 1, Las Vegas will revert to pre-pandemic guidelines, lifting all capacity limits and social distancing requirements.

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Tuesday April 6, 2021 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Tuesday, April 6, 2021 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Cops Can’t Arrest You For Smoking Marijuana On Sidewalks NYPD Says In Post-Legalization Memo (Marijuana Moment)

// New Mexico Takes First Step On Marijuana Implementation Before Governor Even Signs Legalization Bill (Marijuana Moment)

// Schumer says the Senate will act on marijuana legalization regardless of Biden’s position (Report Door)


These headlines are brought to you by MJToday Media, publishers of this podcast as well as our weekly show Marijuana Today and the most-excellent Green Rush Podcast. And check out our new show Weed Wonks!


// Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears Key Senate Committee With Floor Vote Expected This Month (Marijuana Moment)

// Recreational marijuana sales in Illinois smash record in March – $109 million (Chicago Tribune)

// Trulieve Buys Keystone Shops In $60 Million Deal (New Cannabis Ventures)

// Planet 13 Q4 Revenue Increases 22% From a Year Ago to $20.1 Million (New Cannabis Ventures)

// Jushi Completes $9 Million Nevada Acquisition ()

// D.C. Is ‘Ready’ To Legalize Marijuana Sales As Soon As Congress Gets Out Of The Way, Mayor Says (Marijuana Moment)

// Colorado Is Auctioning Marijuana-Themed License Plates To Raise Money For People With Disabilities (Marijuana Moment)

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