New Jersey Gives Licensing Priority to Convicted Offenders

New Jersey is making headlines with their policy of prioritizing folks with prior cannabis convictions when it comes to working legally in the industry. 

While putting social equity first and allowing people of color and those affected by the War on Drugs a chance to enter the industry is nothing new, this state is taking things one step further and actually giving priority to those with convictions. 

According to a video by VOA News, Tahir Johnson and Jon Dockery, two lifelong friends, have been arrested multiple times for cannabis possession. Now, thanks to this new law, they will be some of the first who will be able to sell cannabis legally in the state. 

The program was set up by New Jersey’s cannabis regulatory commission, and it also creates priority status for other folks, including minority-, woman-, disabled-, and veteran-owned businesses certified as such by the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, and those who have businesses owned by folks located in an impact zone, a low-income area more impacted by the War on Drugs.

Then there is the social equity piece. This includes businesses owned by people who live in economically disadvantaged areas of the state, as well as those who have expunged or non-expunged prior cannabis convictions. 

“Social equity businesses, diversely owned businesses, and impact zone businesses will be prioritized in the licensure process so that their applications are reviewed before other applicants—regardless of when they apply,” the state’s website explains. “Applications from entities that meet criteria for more than one priority status will be reviewed, scored, and approved in accordance with the status of highest priority.” 

Johnson and Dockery received two of the 11 priority licenses given out so far because of prior cannabis convictions. Both men have been arrested multiple times for cannabis possession. 

“We’ve been arrested for cannabis, and now we have a chance to share in the market and the wealth being created here,” Dockery says regarding their second chance and their new foray into the industry. 

According to the ACLU, Black people are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis use, possession, and sale. This is why many states are taking this disparity into account when it comes to laws and regulation. 

Wesley McWhite of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission says in the video, “We wanted to make sure that we are addressing the negative social impact of cannabis prohibition, so it was important to make sure that those who have the most barriers have an easier time getting licenses and into the industry.”

However, not everyone is happy with this rule. Unsurprisingly, a police group spoke out against this allowance. Patrick Phelan of the New York Association of Chiefs of Police feels that doing this is “rewarding if not encouraging criminal activity.”

Of course, this argument ignores the fact that most people would much rather have never gotten a life-impacting cannabis conviction, whether or not it helps them get into the legal industry now, and that the whole point of measures like this is to rebuild a society in which cannabis is a legitimate industry and not a criminal one.  

New Jersey’s closest neighbor, New York, has set aside a social equity fund of $20 million for similar reasons, hoping to rebuild an industry in the image of the folks who were the most impacted. 

While this will in no way completely erase the harm done by the War on Drugs in New Jersey, it is a positive step towards filling the industry with the folks who are already familiar with it and suffered because of illegal cannabis in the past. 

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Recreation or Wellness? At Canna River, They’re the Same.

Canna River prioritizes both cannabis health and recreation with their unique approach to the plant.

When states began legalizing cannabis, it was a huge gain for everyone who consumes it—no matter the reason. The same can be said for the 2018 Farm Bill. However, the legalities of cannabis also created divisions that don’t exist beyond the law. For instance, hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, except hemp contains less than .3% THC. Their names are a legal distinction, not a scientific one. 

Similarly, laws formalized the distinction between medical and recreational cannabis. Now the assumption is that if someone consumes it for fun, it is not supportive. Hemp wellness brand Canna River would argue this reasoning does not reflect the big picture, and they are doing their part to break down this division with their affordable selection of high quality Farm Bill compliant delta 8, delta 10, and HHC products.

Courtesy of Canna River

CBD Beginnings

Canna River started out with a handful of low-cost, high potency full spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD tinctures. Their goal was to make premium lab tested CBD affordable.

“During the initial mainstream CBD boom, it seemed like people had two choices: buy something of questionable quality cheap from a fly by night or buy expensive products with barely any CBD in them from vetted brands. I wanted to do things differently,” said Canna River co-founder Grant Boatman. “Instead of a few hundred milligrams a bottle for $75 to $200, our CBD tincture strengths start at 1000mg for $35. That’s full price, and we still do lots of sales.” 

The brand grew quickly, expanding tincture flavors and adding CBD products like topicals and capsules within the first few months of launching in 2019. Early adopters remember their rustic earth tones. These days, Canna River has colorful branding and over 100 SKUs, including hemp-derived alternative cannabinoids.

“Our messaging stayed the same, but our new look was huge for us. It helped make our vibe more reflective of the diverse products we carry,” said Boatman. 

Canna River
Courtesy of Canna River

High-Potency Delta 8  

The Canna River Delta 8 Tincture was the first alternative cannabinoid product to hit their site. They make it at their state-of-the-art facility in Southern California using the same premium materials in their CBD tinctures—organic MCT oil and food grade flavoring like berries, strawberry lemonade, guava, and their best-selling lemon raspberry. They are lab-tested, sugar-free, vegan, and non-GMO. 

At the time of the tincture’s release, they didn’t think of delta 8 in terms of recreational use. “We’re big proponents of the entourage effect, and delta 8 just felt like the latest and greatest in hemp support. But everyone who tried our tincture said ‘Whoa. This is strong!’ It was hilarious.”

For context, their premium delta 8 tinctures come in impressive 1500mg and 3000mg bottles for just $35 and $65, respectively. “We discovered when it comes to delta 8, our love of crafting high-potency products meant a powerful experience people weren’t getting elsewhere.”

For Canna River, this discovery also meant expanding product offerings to be more inclusive of their customers’ needs. “Some people want a mix of CBD and alternative cannabinoids, but others only want delta 8 or only want THC-free broad spectrum CBD. The same goes for the type of product. Some people love capsules but hate tinctures, don’t like to vape but love gummies. We say there’s no wrong way to get hemp support.” On a mission to let people do hemp their way, they added delta 8 gummies and cartridges. 

The Canna River Delta 8 Gummy comes in 20 piece 500mg bottles (25mg delta 8 per gummy). They are available in six delicious flavors, including Blue Razz, Dragon Berry, Hazy Apple, Caramel Pear, Island Splash, and Major Melonz. The edibles secured their place as a top stop for delta 8, but their Delta 8 Cartridges were the brand’s first real gamble on the expansion. “Even though our delta 8 tinctures are powerful, they’re still tinctures. The connotations are different from vape,” said Boatman. “Once we introduced carts, it was a new day.”

Their 1 gram cartridges come in classic strains like Blue Dream, Banana Split, Cherry AK, Hawaiian Snowcap, Sour GMO, and Watermelon Zkittles for just $35. They also sell them in discounted boxes of 10 and 60 units. Although the cartridges launched as faithful strain replications, they have evolved into proprietary terpene blends inspired by their namesakes. This transition is all thanks to Canna River’s latest leap into the alternative cannabinoid game—their ultra-popular Highlighter pens. 

Canna River
Courtesy of Canna River

Game-Changing Disposable Pens

In the hemp-derived alternative cannabinoid space, pens reign. “It isn’t easy to sell it and CBD under the same roof, just from a regulatory red tape aspect. CBD is in department stores, while laws and attitudes toward stuff like delta 8 or HHC are constantly changing,” said Boatman. “But despite our low prices, we spare no expense in manufacturing compliant goods. People can trust they are getting a quality product.” 

Canna River Highlighters are disposable rechargeable neon-colored 2.5 gram vape pens. They cost $40 and are currently available in HHC and a delta blend. The HHC Highlighter comes in Blue Dream, Mango, Lemon Raspberry, Green Crack, Dragon Berry and Watermelon Zkittles. The Delta 8 + Delta 10 Highlighter comes in Blue Dream, Cherry AK, Green Crack, Hawaiian Snowcap, Sour GMO, and Watermelon Zkittles.

While the effects are notable, the flavors also set them apart. These are not direct strain copies. The Green Crack is a bold caramel apple. The Hawaiian Snowcap? It tastes like a slushie. “How it tastes is part of the experience,” said Boatman. “I wanted our terpene profiles to be memorable and stand out from the crowd, even if that meant straying from tradition.” 

Canna River
Courtesy of Canna River

Why Not Both?

With so many recreation-friendly products, it may be hard for some to believe that Canna River is still the same support-centric brand it was when it first launched with a few CBD tinctures. They are, and they are proud of it.

“Our mission hasn’t changed. We believe in the power of hemp and craft everything we carry using the highest quality materials then sell them at low prices. We don’t take shortcuts, no matter which cannabinoids we’re working with,” said Boatman. 

So how does a company that sells Broad Spectrum CBD Multivitamin and Immunity gummies also sell powerful delta 8 edibles with ease? “Our slogan is: Hemp Wellness Redefined. It is about taking care of yourself and feeling good, not just physical support. Many people enjoy cannabis recreationally as a form of self-care in a chaotic and stressful modern world. How is that not wellness?”

Experience your own float down the river. Browse Canna River’s full suite of premium lab tested hemp products at CannaRiver.com, and be sure to join their loyalty program for even deeper discounts on their already low prices. 

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New York Regulators Approve Marketing Rules for Legal Cannabis

New York state regulators voted on Wednesday to approve draft rules for the packaging and marketing of legal cannabis products. The proposed regulations establish parameters for the sale of recreational weed products, which are expected to go on sale by the end of the year following the legalization of adult-use cannabis by state lawmakers in 2021.

Under the draft regulations from the New York Cannabis Control Board, companies will be permitted to advertise their products via television, radio, social media and other platforms. But the rules also include strict provisions designed to protect children from being influenced by cannabis marketing.

“Protecting public health, reducing harm and promoting sustainable industry practices are key components of legalizing cannabis for adult use and I look forward to considering these regulations as we develop the industry,” Cannabis Control Board Chair Tremaine Wright said in a statement quoted by the New York Post. “We are committed to building a New York cannabis industry that sets high standards for protecting children and keeping products safe and sustainable.”

Rules Designed To Protect Kids

Labels for cannabis products must include the serving size, potency, ingredients, and directions for usage and storage. Packaging and advertising that contain cartoon characters, bubble lettering, neon colors, references to candy, or other elements likely to appeal to people younger than 21 years old are not allowed.

The regulations also forbid the use of endorsements from celebrities who appear to be younger than 21 and ban the use of common terms in the cannabis culture lexicon including “weed,” “pot,” “stoner,” and “chronic.” Misleading claims of health benefits and indications that the product is “safe” or “organic” are also prohibited, as are actual images of marijuana or people vaping or smoking.

Katrina Yolen, chief marketing officer of multistate cannabis operator Acreage Holdings, applauded New York regulators for updating the guidelines for cannabis marketing and advertising in advance of the launch of adult-use sales.

“Recognizing that cannabis operators need to be able to communicate better with consumers to educate, inform and build awareness about the benefits of cannabis is vital for the state and industry,” Yolen wrote in an email. “We look forward to supporting and working with the Office of Cannabis Management on the final guidelines over the coming weeks.”

All cannabis product packaging must include the state symbol of approval that includes the universal cannabis symbol with a cannabis leaf and the letters “THC,” plus an indication that the product is for consumers 21 and up and the New York state logo. The stipulated label is reserved for products that have been produced by licensed cannabis companies and lab tested for safety in accordance with state law.

Packaging for cannabis products must also be child-resistant, meeting standards that make the product difficult for a child younger than 5 to open. Additionally, the regulations require that cannabis advertising be no closer than 500 feet to schools, libraries, daycare centers, and playgrounds.

The draft regulations also call for a rotating series of warning labels to be placed on packaging for cannabis requirements, such as “Cannabis can impair concentration, coordination and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of cannabis” and “Keep out of reach of children and pets.” 

Marketing Rules Set a High Bar in New York

The regulations forbid marketing and promotional tactics commonly used by companies in other industries. Price promotions, coupons, customer loyalty programs, and other discounts are not allowed under the rules.

In an email to High Times, Katelin Edwards, senior regulatory analyst at Simplifya, a regulatory and operational compliance software platform serving the cannabis industry, said that a particular aspect of New York’s regulations may prove to be especially burdensome for weed businesses.

“Although it is true that a NY cannabis licensee can advertise cannabis products, cannabis paraphernalia, or goods or services related to cannabis or cannabis products by means of television, radio, print, internet, mobile applications, social media and other electronic communication,” said Edwards, “the licensee has to have reliable evidence that at least 90%, unless otherwise determined by the Office, of the audience for the advertisement is reasonably expected to be twenty-one years of age or older.”

Edwards notes that the composition requirement is more stringent than most states that have legalized recreational pot, including Colorado, California, and New Jersey, where audience composition requirements that call for about 70% of the audience to be 21 and older are the norm.

“Getting reliable and up-to-date audience composition data to prove that at least 90% of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older may be challenging; especially when ‘reasonably expected’ is so ambiguous and the burden of proof is on the licensee.”

The new proposed regulations will now undergo a 60-day public comment period beginning on June 15 before coming up for a final vote by the board.

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Rhode Island Lawmakers to Vote on Cannabis Legalization

Lawmakers in Rhode Island are expected to vote on cannabis policy reform this week, with legislative committees in the state Senate and House of Representatives scheduled to consider identical bills to legalize recreational pot for adults. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2430 sponsored by Democratic Senator Joshua Miller on Wednesday afternoon, according to a report in local media. And later the same day, the House Finance Committee will vote on House Bill 7593 from fellow Democrat Representative Scott A. Slater. If passed, the companion bills would legalize the possession and purchase of up to one ounce of cannabis by adults 21 and older and create a regulatory framework for the commercial production and sale of recreational cannabis.

“This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities,” Miller said when the legislation was unveiled earlier this year. “To help address those past wrongs, and to ensure all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to share the economic benefits associated with legalizations, equity is a central focus of this legislation.”

“The time for Rhode Island to move forward with cannabis legalization is now,” Miller, a longtime supporter of cannabis legalization, said in a statement when the legislation was unveiled earlier this year. “This historic shift in public policy will create a vibrant new marketplace in our state and end the failed practice of prohibition, which has caused such harm to so many in our communities.”

In addition to permitting public possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, the bills allow adults to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis in a private location. The legislation also permits adults to grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants at home.

The legislation authorizes up to 33 cannabis retailers, including nine hybrid dispensaries that would carry both medical and recreational cannabis. Cannabis would be taxed a total of 20%, including a 10% cannabis excise tax, 7% sales tax, and a tax of 3% that would go to local governments hosting licensed cannabis businesses. Local jurisdictions could opt out of allowing retail cannabis businesses by placing a ballot question on the ballot for this year’s general election, but communities that vote not to allow dispensaries will not be eligible for revenue generated by cannabis taxes.

The bills would create a three-member cannabis control commission to oversee Rhode Island’s regulated cannabis industry. Once the new agency is formed, it would also take on oversight of the state’s medical canabis industry. The legislation also establishes a cannabis regulatory office and a cannabis advisory board within the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation.

Governor’s Office Objects to Bill’s Details

Although legalizing cannabis for adult use is supported by Democratic Governor Daniel McKee, his administration has expressed “significant constitutional concerns” about how the three members of the cannabis control commission would be appointed and, if necessary, removed from the panel. The most recent version of the legislation, which has the support of leadership in both the House and Senate, would give lawmakers a say in the commission’s appointments. But Claire Richards, the governor’s executive counsel, wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that such appointments are usually made by the governor.

“Such pervasive control by the legislature impermissibly enlarges its constitutional role at the expense of the executive,” Richards wrote in the letter quoted by the Providence Journal.

Under the Rhode Island Constitution, Richards noted, only the governor has the authority to appoint “all members of any commission” that exercise executive functions such as approving rules for cannabis retailers, issuing licenses to dispensaries and inspecting retail businesses.

But the most recent version of the legislation allows the governor to appoint members to the commission only from a list of candidates recommended by the Senate President and the House of Representatives. Additionally, the bills allow the governor to remove someone from the commission only with the approval of the Senate.

After Richards made the administration’s concerns known, spokesmen for the House and Senate disputed the contention that the legislation is unconstitutional.

“This bill, and specifically the appointment process, is consistent with Rhode Island’s separation-of-powers principles and the law flowing from the Rhode Island Supreme Court,” the spokesmen wrote in a joint statement.

They added that the appointment process “is similar to the process used in the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and the Judicial Nominating Commission.”

Social Equity Built into Legislation

Miller noted when the bill was introduced in March that “equity is a central focus of this legislation.” The measure includes provisions to use licensing fees and penalties to fund grants and technical assistance to applicants from underserved communities and those harmed by the War on Drugs. The legislation also reserves one license in each of six retail districts for social equity applicants, and another in each district for a co-op form of retail dispensary.

“It is the right public policy for Rhode Island to make cannabis possession and sales legal. We have been studying legalization proposals here for many years, and we now can look to our neighboring states’ experiences and see that taxing and regulating cannabis makes sense,” Slater said in March. 

“I’m especially proud that we have made a very deliberate effort to address social equity through this bill,” he added. “We have to recognize the harm that prohibition has done to communities, particularly minorities and poor, urban neighborhoods and ensure that those communities get the support they need to benefit from legalization.”

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Driving High is Illegal: But What is Driving High?

In April 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and a coterie of other state lawmakers and public-safety officials launched a firm yet nebulous public-safety campaign warning people that they shouldn’t be driving high. The initiative pulled off the neat trick of informing citizens that certain behavior is prohibited, without telling citizens exactly what that behavior is.

Called “Cannabis Conversations,” the campaign will be emphasized in an upcoming series of billboards, commercial sports and other public service announcements (PSAs) to complement similar warnings against drunk driving. But what, exactly, is “driving high?” Unlike drunk driving, that’s not something Hochul—nor anyone else in states where cannabis is legal—has been able to satisfactorily define.

Nevertheless, Hochul is the latest public official to highlight a curious situation that’s proven one of the more complex and nagging problems to arise during the marijuana legalization era.

Burden of Proof, Body of Doubt

In one sense, driving while high is not unlike pornography: You know it when you see it—if “you” are a law-enforcement official who’s a drug-recognition expert, determining whether to write a ticket or make an arrest for a misdemeanor offense.

Under New York state law, drunk driving and driving high are outlawed under the same criminal statute. But unlike the first wave of states to legalize cannabis, there’s no strict “legal limit” for cannabis impairment in New York. This is because other states such as Colorado have ditched limits like the initial standard of five nanograms of cannabis metabolite per milliliter of blood—because, unlike alcohol, cannabis metabolites are detectable in the human body long after the effects have worn off. For that reason, New York state law has no “per se” standard for impairment.

So, while this standard may be workable while out on the road, where a law enforcement officer can use various metrics, i.e., erratic driving, to make a stop and other metrics to determine impairment—slurred speech, red eyes, the scent of cannabis—it’s unclear what will happen in court, where defense attorneys were winning too many “stoned driving” cases.

In an e-mail, Jason Gough, a spokesman for New York’s governor, reiterated what Hochul and other officials have said: It’s illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, to consume cannabis while driving or to have your friends burn a blunt in the back when you’re driving them around.

“We’re undertaking a public education campaign to help make sure New Yorkers know that if they drive high or impaired, they could be charged or hurt others,” said Gough, who added that the state would devote “cannabis revenue funds” towards the police: to train more drug-recognition experts to suss out the above, and to develop “emerging tools” such as cannabis breathalyzers “that could be used to accurately detect whether a driver is impaired by cannabis.”

OK, but what’s impairment? Gough referred Cannabis Now back to his original statement—which acknowledged, indirectly at least, that there’s no cut-and-dry standard, and it will be up to individual law-enforcement officers to decide. But will their word be enough to stand up in court? And what can a responsible, safety-minded citizen do?

What is Driving While High?

For one, people should be honest with themselves. If you feel too stoned to drive—if you feel impaired—you probably are. But what if you’ve had your wake-and-bake, and followed that up with coffee and a relaxing morning—and you feel fine?

According to recent research, cannabis users can expect their driving abilities to return to normal about three-and-a-half hours after getting stoned—or, in a laboratory setting, using cannabis to achieve the satisfactory effect. There’s a brief period where users feel a false sense of security, at about the ninety-minute mark, and then abilities return at around the three-hour mark before baseline returns at hour four.

That doesn’t do much good for someone who microdoses—that is, never used cannabis “to satisfaction” like the lab-test subjects. Nor does it give you a clear and satisfactory answer to the initial problem.

Legal experts say that the determining factor may be a driver’s ability prior to the stop. That is, if they were driving like a high person, and then the drug-recognition expert determines they looked like a high person, then a judge and/or a jury may be more likely to decide that yes, they were, in fact, driving high.

“I think drug-recognition experts, in addition to other things, such as glassy or red eyes and slurred speech, are going to have to say, ‘We saw them swerving, or making illegal lane changes,’” said David C. Holland, a New York City-based criminal defense attorney and executive director of Empire State NORML.

That may change, of course, if the driver was involved in an accident. In that case, tacking on an impaired driving charge may become axiomatic—or at least an easier sell in court. Which highlights a convenient truth: If you don’t want to get busted for driving high, don’t do it. In the meantime, getting busted for driving high while you’re not, will remain a very unsatisfying and quite real possibility.

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First Nation Announces Canada Farm-to-Gate Cannabis Operation

This week, Canada is celebrating Sugar Cane Cannabis, British Columbia’s first farm-to-gate cannabis facility. It is also the first facility of its kind in Canada to be on First Nations land.

The dispensary, located in Williams Lakes, is a major milestone for Canadian cannabis and First Nations people across the country. 

“It has been a very long journey when you look at what we have been through and what the staff has been able to pull together,” Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars tells Black Press Media at the May 6 opening of the state-of-the-art, 7,000-square-foot facility that will allow customers to purchase cannabis directly from the facility where it is being grown.

“They realized this craft cannabis tourism vision model. It’s still a little bit surreal but you can see how pumped they are to showcase it to the public.”

This new farm-to-gate cannabis facility has been two years in the making, as Williams Lake First Nation have been growing their brand, Unity Cannabis, across retail stores in communities like Penticton and Merrit. They are also opening a new facility in Lac La Hache soon. The plan is to keep opening retail stores in the province, all full of cannabis grown in Williams Lake. They plan to be able to harvest their first crop soon. 

“It’s not the gold rush that everyone expected it was, but it’s a nice niche little business that provides a revenue stream for WLFN and also provides job opportunities for people not only at WLFN but around the province,” Sellars says.

The plants for the company are supplied by Life Cycle Botanicals, licensed in May 2022. They transplant and grow the plants in five different rooms within the Sugar Cane Cannabis Facility. Each room contains different flavors, strains, aromas, potencies, and pharmaceutical properties, and the rooms are full to the brim with plants. 

Master Grower Brendon Roberts relocated from Toronto to work in this special new facility, where he works around the clock to grow the best buds possible. The plants are on a schedule of 12 hours of light, 12 hours of darkness. 

“They go to bed at 7 p.m.,” he says.

The facility is still under construction, and soon, a mixed-development building called The Osprey Nest that includes a café, gathering space, and open-concept lofts will also be on-site. The company should begin breaking ground on the new building in the next couple of weeks. 

David Coney, B.C.’s director of Indigenous Government Relations BC Cannabis Secretariat, has been working with WLFN and feels this is an important next step for First Nations in the world of cannabis. “It’s fantastic; it’s a beautiful facility,” he says.

However, this didn’t happen without a rocky road forward. WLFN counselor Chris Wycotte opened up about the doubts he had surrounding the plan to open a business like this through and for the First Nations community. 

“We had to take it to the community and the community supported it. There was no opposition. Maybe there were some concerns, but no opposition.”

And this isn’t the only good news on the horizon for WLFN. Earlier in May, the First Nations group announced that they intend to hold a referendum on June 29 of this year so that members can vote on a proposed $135 million settlement with the federal government. If the agreement is accepted, a long-standing claim relating to land displacement from the traditional tribal village lands. This happened 160 years ago, so restitution has been a long time coming. As many as 400 members of the 800-plus in the community are eligible to vote.

This new, innovative cannabis facility represents a major milestone for the First Nations communities. 

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Vermont Lawmakers At Odds Over THC Limit on Cannabis Concentrates

Vermont lawmakers are at loggerheads over a measure that would establish a cap on the level of THC in solid cannabis concentrates sold at the state’s regulated cannabis retailers. 

Local publication VTDigger has the background, reporting that members of the Vermont state Senate “bristled Friday at a last-minute change to a key cannabis bill during a House vote Thursday—and speculated as to why the Vermont Department of Health abruptly reversed its recommendation to lawmakers on the measure last week.”

Members of the House “on Thursday imposed a 60% cap on the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in solid cannabis concentrates to be sold at retail establishments when they open in October,” according to VTDigger.

“They held the damn thing for over a week and a half and then come up with this,” said Democratic state Senator Dick Sears, as quoted by VTDigger. “There isn’t much time to call for a conference committee.” 

Sears said he was “frustrated” with Democratic state House Representative John Gannon, who proposed the amendment imposing a 60% cap. 

Sears and other lawmakers contend that caps are counterproductive and will only prompt customers to seek products elsewhere––be it on the illicit market or in neighboring states with adult-use cannabis sales.

Calling the measure passed by the House a “stupid decision,” Sears said that Vermont continues “to invite people to go out of state.” 

“It gives the illicit market a monopoly on supplying the demand for these products,” Vermont Cannabis Control Board chair James Pepper told a state House committee during a hearing, as quoted by VTDigger

“There is a very broad consensus among regulators that caps are a bad idea,” Pepper told the publication. “A black market will fill this gap. They’ll do so using very dangerous products.”

Amid the back-and-forth among lawmakers has been a series of inconsistent guidance on the issue from Vermont’s Department of Health. 

VTDigger reported that the department’s senior policy and legal adviser, David Englander, told members of a state House committee late last month that the department agreed with the Cannabis Control Board in opposing the cap.

“The primary reason is that there is a likely significant market for high THC concentrates, and it is more dangerous for people to buy unregulated versions of these products as opposed to buying products that are regulated and tested in accordance with Board rules. Regulating instead of banning THC substances is in line with one of the purposes of creating a regulated market as envisioned by the General Assembly,” Englander said in a letter to the committee. 

“In addition, a complete ban on concentrates above 60% requires manufacturers to keep products below that limit at all times during the manufacturing process. Doing so will require the addition of additives to dilute the product down to a 60% concentrate or below. You may recall that there were recent illnesses and deaths that appeared to be associated with the ingestion of such additives.”

But the very next day, Englander pulled a 180, telling lawmakers that, upon “further consideration, with the lens of prevention and safety as the cornerstone for the coming adult use market in Vermont, the Department does not concur with the lifting of the THC limit and maintains that a foundational component of the original legislation remain in place.”

“The risk to users of high levels of THC are significant and we should not risk contributing to the known risks to consumers physical and mental health,” Englander said. “My communication of yesterday to you was based on incomplete information. All errors are mine, and please accept my apologies to you and the committee.”

Vermont legalized recreational pot use in 2018, but sales did not begin in the state until 2020.

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More Than 15,000 Dispensary Applications Submitted in Connecticut

The state of Connecticut said last week that it received north of 15,600 applications from prospective recreational cannabis retailers, according to local news reports.

Central Maine reports that “State Department of Consumer Protection figures released Friday show that 8,357 applications were submitted before Wednesday’s deadline for the first six licenses that are reserved for social equity applicants—those located in mostly urban and low-income areas that were disproportionately impacted by the government’s war on drugs,” while the state also “received 7,245 license applications to the general lottery for adult-use cannabis retailers.”

The publication said that the “state did not set a limit on how many applications one entity could submit, but under its rules will not give more than two licenses to any one applicant.” 

“The department also received 1,896 applications to become micro-cultivators of marijuana, which will allow a licensee to grow in spaces between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet (3,048 meters). Other licenses will be available to sell medical marijuana, operate delivery services, make cannabis infused food and beverages and other cannabis products, as well as package and transport products,” Central Maine reported.

Recreational cannabis use for adults aged 21 and older has been legal in Connecticut for nearly a year now, with Democratic Governor Ned Lamont signing legislation into law last June.

“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war. The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety,” Lamont said in a statement at the time.

“That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs,” the governor continued. 

“By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states,” Lamont added.

But while the law took effect last summer, regulated retail sales are not expected to begin in Connecticut until later this year. 

Central Maine reported that the “first lottery for the social equity slots is expected within the next week,” with the winners undergoing “an eligibility review before the general lottery is held.”

The state began accepting social equity applications in January. 

Connecticut is one of a handful of northeastern states to legalize recreational cannabis use in recent years. The proximity to other regulated cannabis markets has caught the attention of some lawmakers in Connecticut, with members of the state House last month approving a bill that would prohibit out-of-state cannabis advertisements within its own borders.

Lawmakers were motivated to act after a number of billboards for Massachusetts cannabis retailers began to appear on the border. 

“Look, I’m sick of seeing these billboards with cannabis leaves splayed all across them, within 1,500 yards across from a school or church or whatever. Can’t we do something more about that?” said Democratic state House Representative Mike D’Agostino, as quoted by the Associated Press.

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Is Recreational Cannabis Reform Coming to Ecuador?

About 500 people staged a peaceful march through Quito, the capital of Ecuador last week, demanding that authorities decriminalize cannabis for recreational purposes, and further to allow public consumption.

Many attendees at the march were smoking cannabis openly. This an act of courage no matter where you are on the planet, not to mention a dangerous proposition anywhere—even as a patient—as pro-legalization demonstrators in Melbourne found out recently. 

In Ecuador, possession of up to 10 grams has been decriminalized, although authorities can charge one with a crime if found with even 1 gram of cannabis. This is highly controversial because the local police do not carry scales. The decision to charge, in other words, is entirely up to the officer at the scene.

Beyond this, according to the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador, Article 364 states that drug consumption is not a crime—rather, a health concern. Further, medical cannabis was legalized here by the National Assembly of Ecuador in September 2019. In fact, federally regulated medical cannabis production just kicked off in March of this year.

There is a reason people are taking to the streets demanding further cannabis reform this spring—and it is not just limited to this Latin American country. Marches have been held all over the world (even after 420), demanding that cannabis be fully and finally normalized and legalized. In Germany, for example, much like Ecuador, medical use is “legal,” and the country is cultivating medical cannabis. However, just like in Ecuador, patients and recreational users can be charged with a crime at the whim of the police.

This is a situation that is intolerable everywhere simply because of the massive injustice it creates—not to mention the continual criminalization of large segments of the population for a “crime” that is rapidly disappearing.

Ecuador is a country of 16.8 million people, located on the northwest coast of South America and bordering both Columbia and Peru. Once upon a time, Ecuador put itself on the map exporting “Panama hats” to manual laborers working on the Panama Canal and other agricultural work.

More recently, the country is a major exporter of petroleum—and has an increasing profile as a tourist destination. This is in no small part due to its stunning geography. Located on the Ring of Fire—a horseshoe shaped seismically active belt of earthquake epicentres, the country has three distinct regions consisting of coastal, highland, and piedmont zones. It straddles the Andes Mountains and occupies part of the Amazon basin. Offshore, it also includes the Galapagos Islands.

Unlike other Central and South American countries, Ecuador has taken the step of implementing medical cultivation. Now its citizens demand the right to consume the drug for whatever reason.

That logic is pretty global right now. 

The question is, when will authorities catch up?

The Privatization of Medical Cures

Tragically, what the situation in Ecuador illustrates in spades is that the medicalization of the cannabis plant, although overdue, is creating two levels of “legalization.”

The first, usually described as “medical reform” places regulations on who may cultivate, distribute, sell, and ultimately consume the plant. It increasingly means, at least in north-south terms, that the production country can still prosecute its citizens for both medical and recreational use, while pricing it out of the reach of everyday people.

This is a problem even in developed economies. Indeed, it seems to be one of the issues that is finally driving the German government to begin focusing on recreational reform.

The bottom line is that when a country begins cultivation—even for medical purposes—but insists on criminalizing everyone without a license who may grow or use it, the days of criminalization are numbered.

And while the certification of both the medical and recreational industry is a long overdue development, there are plenty of casualties along the way, no matter where you are on the planet.

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Delaware House Passes Historic Cannabis Legalization Bill

Members of the Delaware state House on Thursday passed legislation that would eliminate all penalties for adults aged 21 and older having up to an ounce of weed in their possession, a move that local media is describing as “a historic first step” toward cannabis legalization in the state.

Lawmakers in the chamber passed the bill early in the evening “with a vote of 26-14, which included bipartisan support from Republican Representatives Michael Smith of Pike Creek and Jeffrey Spiegelman of Clayton,” according to the Delaware News Journal.

The bill’s passage on Thursday comes nearly two months after a separate legalization measure failed to make it out of the Delaware House, where Democrats hold the majority. 

Lawmakers in the House voted for that bill 23-14, but as the Associated Press noted at the time, “it required a three-fifths majority of 25 votes.”

That bill would have legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older, and would have established a state-regulated cannabis industry. 

After the bill fell short in March, lawmakers went back to the drawing board and decided to separate the main components of the bill—the legalization of possession and the creation of a market—into two separate pieces of legislation. 

As the Delaware News Journal reported, “there are some early signs that [splitting the measures into two bills] could be a successful approach.” 

According to Delaware public radio station WHYY, the bill dealing with cannabis regulation and taxes “has cleared a House committee but no vote has been scheduled yet,” although the station indicated that the vote “is expected in the coming weeks.”

The bill pertaining to possession now heads to the state Senate, where Democrats also hold the majority. 

According to WHYY, “Representative Ed Osienski, the lead House sponsor, predicts the bill will pass the Senate.” 

Osienski was also the sponsor of the larger cannabis bill, HB 305, that failed to make it out of the House earlier this session, which prompted him to split the measure into two.

“HB 305 had the whole regulatory system in there for the industry of cultivating, manufacturing, and selling marijuana in the state of Delaware and it had a tax on it, which meant it would require 25 [votes], which is a hard threshold to meet,” Osienski said last month. “I figured, at least we can move forward with legalization with a simple majority of 21. I do have 21 House co-sponsors on the bill, so I think I’m pretty fairly confident that, unless something dramatically changes, that will pass and end prohibition.”

But even if either of the bills make it out of the legislature, there is no guarantee that they will be signed into law.

The state’s Democratic governor, John Carney, has made it clear previously that he is no fan of cannabis legalization.

“Look, I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Carney told Delaware Public Media last year. 

“If you talk to the parents of some of these folks that have overdosed and passed away they don’t think it’s a good idea because they remember the trajectory of their own sons and daughters,” he continued. “And I’m not suggesting that that’s always a gateway for all that, but if you talk to those Attack Addiction advocates they don’t think it’s a very good idea.”

“As I look at other states that have it, it just doesn’t seem to me to be a very positive thing from the strength of the community, of the economy in their states,” Carney said. “Is it the worst thing in the world? No, of course not.”

The cannabis possession bill that passed the House on Thursday might have enough support to overcome Carney’s opposition. Per WHYY, “the 26 yes votes in the House are one more than needed to override a veto.”

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