Cops May Soon Be Able To Scan Your Eyeballs To See if You’re Driving Stoned

A Montana-based company called Gaize has developed a device which can scan the user’s eye and utilize crazy futuristic robot intelligence to detect THC impairment.

According to the company’s founder, Ken Fichtler, American law enforcement agencies have already agreed to use the technology, though he could not specify which ones. 

“I’ll preface all of this by saying I am pro cannabis. I’m pro cannabis legalization. I’m doing this because I see a distinct need at the federal level to have some product to detect impairment so we can keep roads safe,” Fichtler said.

The device is akin to a virtual reality headset of sorts that a police officer would hypothetically place on the head of a driver suspected of reefer smoking. It shrouds the suspect in darkness for a few moments before shining a bright light to electronically scan the movement of the suspect’s eyeballs.

“The eyes are the window to the soul. The eyes offer a remarkably clear picture into the mental state of a person. They’re full of involuntary micro-movements and reflex responses that transmit information about someone’s impairment or sobriety,” the Gaize website states.

According to Fichtler, the scan cannot be used as evidence in court, much like a traditional breathalyzer, but police officers can use it in the field if they suspect someone is high so as to take their own bias or out of the equation completely. Gaize cannot yet quantify impairment like a traditional breathalyzer does, but it can essentially indicate if the person is intoxicated enough for their eye to respond to stimulus differently than it normally would.

“You can’t simply measure THC and say, ‘Yeah, okay, this guy’s high because he’s got five nanograms of THC in his body,’ right? It just doesn’t work that way,” Fichtler said. “What we’re doing is actually directly measuring how impairment manifests in the body, which I think is a much more rational, measured and fair path forward.”

Fichtler said the test is based on several different studies which have spanned the last 40 years, including a 350-participant clinical trial Gaize conducted themselves. A cursory search of “how cannabis affects eye movement” does indeed show several peer-reviewed studies on the matter dating back to at least 1979. As with most scientific studies there’s a lot of room for misinterpretation or error but try as I might I could not find much to dispute the science behind this technology. It turns out eyeballs are just dirty little snitches that will sell stoners out at every turn.

“There’s a lot of changes that happen and a lot of them happen at a scale that a human couldn’t necessarily see unless they were looking really close or even using a magnifying glass or something. Our product is sensitive enough that we can detect these really minute changes,” Fichtler said.

Fichtler did make a point of saying Gaize will not be selling the technology arbitrarily to be used for nefarious purposes but if you work a dangerous job or like to get high on your morning commute, you may find yourself staring into the bright light of a Gaize headset soon. 

Fichtler was not able to provide High Times with an estimated date that law enforcement agencies might begin to roll out the use of these headsets but for what it’s worth he seemed to speak with the voice of a man who had signed one or more non-disclosure agreements, rather than a man waiting for orders to start coming in.

“It’s being evaluated by some really high profile departments,” Fichtler said. “They haven’t all adopted it yet, but some have. My hope is that within a couple of years, maybe this is sort of standard practice.”

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Cannabis Telemedicine Launches in Montana

Telemedicine is a modern-day solution to healthcare problems for those in rural parts of the world, and now cannabis telemedicine also exists. Folks in Montana now have access to a platform called NuggMD that connects state licensed medical marijuana doctors to patients virtually. 

NuggMD, an already-established medical cannabis telemedicine platform, is launching its service in Montana. People who wish to be patients simply have to cough up the barrier of entry of $129 to be able to use the service. The platform is already being used by doctors and patients in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Despite its rural population, Montana is doing well when it comes to legal cannabis. They made record sales in June of over $17.2 million spent on recreational pot and over $7 million spent on medical cannabis, totaling almost $25 million in cannabis sales just for the month. The total for the year so far is $148 million. The highest cannabis sales are in Yellowstone County, which hit $4.1 million in June, 32% of those being recreational. On opening weekend of legal cannabis sales in the state, the total was already at $1.5 million.

“Yellowstone’s success makes it obvious that cannabis has been a huge boon for the tourist industry in Montana,” says Alex Milligan, CMO and co-founder of NuggMD. “But the medical market is still running strong in the state because the program provides powerful advantages for Montana patients.”

In Montana, medical patients can purchase the same amount of cannabis as recreational users, but there are still some perks. They can purchase more potent cannabis and save 16% on their sales taxes. They can also grow twice as many plants and, like in many other legal and medical states, go to special, medical-only dispensaries, which is a major bonus for those who don’t live close to a bigger town or city with lots of recreational spots.

“It’s easy to see why so many Montanans still carry medical marijuana cards, despite recreational legalization,” says Collin Mann, CEO and NuggMD co-founder. “We’re excited to join the cannabis community in Montana and provide them with the best service in the state.”

Those who want to utilize the NuggMD platform can log in seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time. No appointment is necessary, and those who don’t end up qualifying for a medical cannabis card are not charged for their meeting with doctors. 

In addition to taking medical patients seriously, the state is also working on overturning past convictions in order to heal the harms done by the War on Drugs. As such, the state has been doing the work to clear those charges and provide resources to those who are struggling. An expungement ruling passed by the state’s Supreme Court claims “anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense.”

“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte says regarding bringing legal cannabis to the state. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”

As more cannabis resources continue to make their way to Montana, the already booming legal and recreational cannabis industries will keep surviving and thriving, paving the way for even more revenue and patient access. 

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Montana Pot Sales See Increase in June

Recreational pot sales continue to soar in Big Sky Country, with Montana reporting a record high total last month.

The state’s Department of Revenue reported that adult-use cannabis sales in Montana totaled more than $17 million in the month of June—the highest figure since recreational pot sales began in January.

Between recreational and medical pot, Montana has generated nearly $150 million in combined cannabis sales this year. According to local news station NBC Montana, the combined recreational and medical sales have generated nearly $21 million in state taxes so far this year.

Recreational cannabis is taxed at 20% in Montana, whereas medical cannabis has only a 4% state sales tax.

Not surprisingly, recreational pot sales have outpaced medical cannabis sales in the state.

From January through June, Montana’s new recreational cannabis program has generated $93,747,110, compared with $54,324,681 in medical cannabis sales.

The state had previously projected $130 million in recreational cannabis sales this year, and more than $195 million in 2023.

Recreational pot sales in Montana kicked off to great fanfare on New Year’s Day. It was one of four states that passed ballot measures legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2020 (Arizona, South Dakota, and New Jersey were the other three).

On the opening weekend, cannabis sales totaled more than $1.5 million in Montana.

The local newspaper, the Independent Record, reported at the time that dispensaries in the capital city of Helena “had lines of people packed inside to avoid cold temperatures, while others saw a small but steady stream of foot traffic through noon.”

Local television station KTVH reported that the program launched in January with an “estimated 380 dispensaries in 29 counties are now able to sell marijuana to both medical and recreational customers.”

Following the successful passage of the legalization ballot measure, lawmakers in Montana promptly passed a bill in 2021 that set a framework for recreational cannabis sales in the state.

For Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, perhaps the most important component of that legislation was the HEART Fund, which will use revenue from the recreational pot program to subsidize substance abuse treatment in the state.

“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Gianforte said after signing the legislation. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”

The new law also includes a legal mechanism by which individuals previously convicted of certain pot-related offenses can petition to have those records expunged.

In March, the Montana Supreme Court issued temporary rules governing those expungement procedures.

According to the Missoula Current, the new law “says anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense.”

The biggest clarification issued by the state Supreme Court “was letting people know they could submit their expungement request to the court where they were originally sentenced,” according to the Missoula Current.

Beth McLaughlin, the Montana state court administrator, told the Missoula Current, “there had been some confusion because of a separate expungement procedure for misdemeanors that requires all defendants to go through district courts,” but that the law “says courts should presume someone is eligible for expungement unless the county attorney proves otherwise.”

“The interest is to make it easier for litigants,” McLaughlin said, as quoted by the Missoula Current. “The point is to make them as readily available as possible.”

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Montana Regulator Restricts Tribal Cannabis Grow Licenses

Native American tribes in Montana have been reluctant to apply for cannabis licenses set aside for them by the state’s marijuana regulation bill after a government regulator placed restrictions on the size of cultivation operations allowed by the permits.

In 2020, Montana voters passed Initiative 90, a measure to legalize pot for use by adults and allow for the production and sale of cannabis. The following year, state lawmakers passed House Bill 701 to establish a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis production and retail sales. HB 701 set aside cannabis licenses for the state’s Native American tribes, with each tribe automatically allocated a single combined-use license to cultivate and sell cannabis. Under the provisions of the measure, the facilities authorized by the licenses must not be on tribal land, and the cultivation and retail operations must be in the same location.

Following the 2021 legislative session, the Economic Affairs Interim Committee attempted to confirm with the Department of Revenue that the licenses, while defined in state statute as tier 1 licenses limited to 1,000 square feet, could be eventually upgraded to a license allowing for a larger cultivation operation. But in a reply letter sent to the committee on June 2, Brendan Beatty, director of the Department of Revenue, wrote that tribes are not permitted to expand beyond the cultivation space permitted by tier 1 license.

Montana Lawmakers Dispute Restriction

But lawmakers including state Sen. Jason Small, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, say the restriction to tier 1 grows, the state’s smallest permitted facilities, will limit the tribes’ success and serve as a barrier to entry into Montana’s regulated cannabis industry.

“During the last legislative session, a lot of the tribes and the legislators saw this as an opportunity, finally, for the tribes to get in on equal footing on the ground floor of the marijuana industry, and start bringing in additional revenue for themselves,” the lawmaker told the Montana Free Press.

Small was a supporter of including the automatic combined-use licenses in House Bill 701. Since the legislation passed, he has been advising other members of the Northern Cheyenne community who are considering a foray into the legal cannabis industry. So far, none of Montana’s tribes have applied for the licenses reserved for them by House Bill 701. Small believes that the restriction to tier 1 licenses is at least partly responsible for the tribes’ hesitancy.

“Unfortunately, it seems the Department of Revenue has been trying to hamstring our efforts,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with a couple of different tribes that say, ‘Why even bother if they’re handicapping us here?’”

In his letter, Beatty cites language from HB 701 stipulating that “a combined-use marijuana license consists of one tier 1 canopy license and one dispensary license allowing for the operation of a dispensary.” He added that the restriction limits the licenses set aside for the tribes to a cultivation operation of no more than 1,000 square feet.

“Regardless of this committee’s stated desire to allow combined use licensees to increase beyond a tier one, the statute is clear and unambiguous and limits a combined use licensee to a single tier one canopy license,” he writes.

State Sen. Shane Morigeau, a member of the Economic Affairs Interim Committee, also supports the licenses for tribes and collaborated with the Department of Revenue to clarify HB 701. He says that the restriction Beatty is calling for is not consistent with the intent of the bill.

“Obviously tier 1 is the entry point, not the ceiling,” said Morigeau. “Among Democrats and Republicans alike on the committee, we’ve agreed that’s not what the bill language says and [the restriction to tier 1] is not what we wanted.”

Morigeau believes that an administrative rule approved after HB 701’s passage clarifies the lawmakers’ intent, noting it says that the licenses reserved for Native American tribes “are subject to the marijuana laws” that govern all of the state’s cannabis licenses.

“The rule anticipated what the Legislature wanted,” said Morigeau. “The Economic Affairs Interim Committee has been very clear about it.”

Regulators’ Views Inconsistent

During a meeting of the Economic Affairs Interim Committee in April, Kristan Barbour, the administrator of the Department of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, acknowledged lawmakers’ desire to allow the licenses to expand in the future.

“We’ve been given direction by this body that you would like to treat this license like other licenses,” said Barbour.

But Beatty argues that Barbour’s position is not consistent with HB 701.

“Ms. Barbour’s testimony attempted to navigate what she understands this committee would like to see happen with combined use licensees, versus what is codified in statute,” Beatty wrote. “During her testimony, Ms. Barbour may have mistakenly led this [committee] to believe that combined use licensees operate like any other license.”

Although the restrictions put in place by the Department of Revenue are impacting the licenses set aside for tribes by the legislature, they do not permanently block Native American communities from participating in Montana’s regulated cannabis industry. When the state moratorium on new cannabis licenses expires on July 1, 2023, members of tribal communities will be allowed to apply for licenses that do not include the revenue department’s limitations.

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Billings, Montana Lowers Minimum Age to Work at Weed Shops

Turning 18 means being able to vote, buy a lottery ticket, and—now in Billings, Montana—own a cannabis dispensary.

The city council there on Monday night “brought its marijuana laws in line with state marijuana laws and lowered the age a person can work for or own a marijuana business from 21 to 18,” according to local television station KTVQ.

Montana’s recreational cannabis law permits adults aged 21 and older to possess and consume pot, but the statute also allows anyone 18 and older to own or work at a cannabis retailer.

The law also allows cities in Montana to set up their own age threshold, prompting Billings, the state’s most populous city, to establish 21 as the minimum age for cannabis businesses there under a new ordinance passed by the city council last year.

That didn’t sit well with Montana Advanced Caregivers (MAC), a dispensary in Billings that filed a lawsuit against the city late last month.

The suit, filed by MAC and three employees, alleged that the “ordinance regulating the sale of medical marijuana in Billings unlawfully restricts the age of those who work at the business,” according to KTVQ.

The plaintiffs sought “a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ordinance and an order declaring the city ordinance invalid and unenforceable,” KTVQ reported, arguing that “the city ordinance is more restrictive than the state laws established to regulate medical marijuana sales which allow a person not ‘under 18 years of age’ to work for a licensed marijuana provider.”

The city ordinance made it “unlawful for the Employee Plaintiffs to work in MAC, or any other marijuana business within the jurisdiction of the City of Billings,” the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit, as quoted by KTVQ.

“As a result, the Employee Plaintiffs will be forced to lose their jobs, even though each of the Employee Plaintiffs meets all the requirements to be an employee in a medical marijuana business under the laws of the State of Montana,” the lawsuit said, according to the station.

On Monday, members of the Billings City Council essentially sided with the plaintiffs, voting 8-3 to lower the age to 18.

The change doesn’t sit well with everyone, with some, like Billings Mayor Bill Cole, noting an obvious discrepancy in the state law, which says that individuals under the age of 21 cannot enter the establishment.

“Even if we allow 18-year-olds, assuming they are in a marijuana business, there is still an issue, isn’t there? On whether to do so is a violation of state law. And that’s between the marijuana business owner and the state of Montana, not us,” Cole said, as quoted by KTVQ.

Montana continues to work out the kinks with its new recreational cannabis law. In March, the state Supreme Court approved temporary rules regarding the expungement protocol for individuals who were previously convicted of pot-related offenses.

As local news outlet KPAX explains, the new cannabis law in Montana “says anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense.”

In its approval, the court offered procedures for individuals to seek expungement.

Voters in Montana approved a measure ending prohibition on pot in 2020, and sales began there on New Year’s Day.

In the first weekend, the state generated more than $1.5 million in cannabis sales.

Earlier this month, the state reported that the new adult-use cannabis program had generated $8.7 million in tax revenue in the first three months of the program.

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New York and Montana: Contrasts in Cannabis Equity

New York and Montana, two states to have recently legalized cannabis, provide a study in contrasts in the question of equity.

In New York, concrete steps are being taken to shape a market model that corrects the social injustices of prohibition and the War on Drugs. However, advocates are watching with a critical eye to assure that these programs will be implemented in a meaningful way. In Montana, the challenges appear to be greater. Those most excluded from the state’s economy—Native Americans—are having to fight their way into the cannabis market.

Gov. Hochul Talks the Talk 

It’s now a year since New York passed the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), perhaps the most progressive and far-reaching state-wide cannabis legalization statute in the country. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul—who faces a challenge from a field full of progressive candidates in the June primaries ahead of the November election—is building on MRTA’s measures for restorative justice.

On March 10, Gov. Hochul announced that the first 100 retail licenses to sell cannabis will go to those with marijuana convictions as part of the MRTA-envisioned Social & Economic Equity program.

Chris Alexander, executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, told the New York Times that by focusing early on “those who otherwise would’ve been left behind,” New York is in a “position to do something that hasn’t been done before.”  

Alexander said he expected between 100 and 200 licenses to go to people who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense pre-legalization, or who have “a parent, guardian, child, spouse or dependent” with a marijuana conviction.

Hochul is asking the state Legislature for $200 million in this year’s budget to be spent on finding, securing and renovating storefronts for cannabis retailers. These initial dispensaries should be up and running by the end of the year, or in early 2023, if the proposed regulations are approved by the Cannabis Control Board.

The New York Times spoke to one hopeful applicant—Baron Fajardo of Harlem, who was first arrested for cannabis when he was 16. Six more such arrests followed as he moved from smoker to dealer. “As a person you feel down, a little bit defeated, like ‘Oh, I got a stain on my name,’” said Fajardo, now 34. “Now, that stain is actually the same thing that can help you.”

Hochul made her announcement of the program two days after New York state’s Cannabis Social Equity Coalition held a rally outside the state capitol building in Albany to press the governor on the question.

The coalition is concerned that Black and other minority entrepreneurs are already being overlooked in an industry model supposedly “designed to redress what Black people have been made to endure” under cannabis prohibition, Mika’il DeVeaux, the group’s chairman, told the Albany Times-Union.

“We’ve been asking for provisional licenses since early 2021,” DeVeaux said.

The first step toward provisional licenses was taken on Feb. 22, when Hochul signed a “conditional cultivation bill” that will allow hemp farmers to grow marijuana for the legal market this year.

“I’m proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul stated then.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes added: “We’re beginning to undo the devastating impacts more than 90 years of unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibition had on too many lives and communities,” Peoples-Stokes said. “MRTA ensures that the legal adult-use market will be centered on equity and economic justice for communities of color and individuals that have been harmed most by the War on Drugs in the State of New York.”

She stressed that the new legislation calls for a Social Equity Mentorship Program, to bring prohibition-impacted communities into the cultivation sector. “The temporary conditional licenses authorized by this bill will ultimately help realize the vision and goals of the MRTA.”

But Will She Walk the Walk? 

Despite such verbiage, the advocates for an equity model in the Empire State have reason to be concerned. Big Bud is certainly poised to assume a dominant role in the market.  

Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based cannabis company, announced March 23 that it’s acquiring New York-based Columbia Care to form what will be the largest company in the US cannabis industry by revenue and the second largest in terms of retail footprint. As New York’s Gothamist notes in its coverage of the announcement, Florida-based Trulieve has 158 dispensaries, giving it the No.1 title for retail space.

The $2 billion deal will give Cresco a foothold in 17 states.

“This is how you turn brands like High Supply, Cresco and FloraCal into Miller High Life, Coca-Cola and Johnnie Walker Blue Label,” Charlie Bachtell, Cresco’s CEO, crowed to Bloomberg.

Cresco and Columbia Care, both publicly traded, already hold medical marijuana licenses in New York, and each has four dispensaries across the state. The two companies have already gobbled up valuable real estate in New York City ahead of the opening of what will certainly be the state’s most lucrative adult-use market. Cresco, operating under the brand Sunnyside in New York, plans to open its first adult-use retail outlet in Brooklyn’s hipster-haunted neighborhood of Williamsburg, while Columbia Care has its flagship shop near Union Square and a second in Downtown Brooklyn. Columbia Care also holds a medical license in New Jersey, another state on the countdown to the first legal adult-use sales. 

A slew of other industry giants already have operations in New York state, and Gothamist reports that “big names like the DIY-maven Martha Stewart, the Rockefeller family and Constellation Brands (the liquor giant that owns Corona and Svedka) will likely have a stake.”

Meanwhile, a long-anticipated crackdown seems to be imminent for the unregulated “gray market” that has been thriving in New York City—often Black and Latin legacy operators that have been setting up shop in storefronts or on tables set up in parks.

Washington Square, in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, has been the city’s premier location. Sales of pre-rolls and edibles—just barely disguised as promotional giveaways with a purchase of other merchandise, such as baseball caps with a cannabis-leaf logo—have been tolerated there since last spring. 

But Captain Stephen Spataro, commander of the NYPD’s local Sixth Precinct, now tells The Village Sun that his officers are now taking a “zero tolerance” approach to cannabis vending. Pointing to some unfortunate instances of violence around the tables in the park, Spataro warned of the dangers of an unregulated market. 

Another story in The Village Sun foresees an imminent end to the storefront “cannabis clubs” that are operating on a similar basis at a few locations around the city. 

“Initially, there’ll be very heavy civil fines—$25,000 to $250,000,” predicted East Village attorney Stanley Cohen. “Then forfeiture of cars, houses and other licenses. You need licenses to open a store in New York. It might not be for six months or a year, but it’s going to happen. They’re serious about this shit,” Cohen said.

And it isn’t just in the big city. Such stores are starting to proliferate in Upstate locales, too. In the college town of Ithaca, in the scenic Finger Lakes region, they’re called “sticker stores”—because they ostensibly give away cannabis with purchase of a (very overpriced) decal sticker. But in February 2022, the city administration issued a “clarification that unlicensed cannabis sales remain illegal in New York.”

And in February, the state Office of Cannabis Management announced that it had “sent letters ordering businesses suspected of illegally selling cannabis, including the practice of ‘gifting,’ to cease and desist those operations or risk the opportunity to get a license in the legal market as well as substantial fines and possible criminal penalties.”

Challenges for Cannabis on Native American Lands 

Then there’s the dispute over the legality of cannabis operations on New York state’s Native American lands. About a dozen cannabis retail outlets have opened on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, also known as Akwesasne, along the St. Lawrence River in the far north of the state. They’re operating without any “sticker” subterfuge—but asserting their rights on grounds of indigenous sovereignty.

“I think this is a relief valve for our visitors, our friends, our families,” William Roger Jock, a partner in the reservation’s Good Leaf Dispensary, enthused to the Associated Press in March. “We’ve been stepped on for so long and to have something like this happen, it’s almost liberating.” 

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council adopted an adult-use ordinance in June 2021 that allows issuance of cannabis business licenses to tribal members. The council openly said in a prepared statement to the AP that “there’s a short window of time for tribally licensed cannabis businesses to open ahead of other areas in New York state.” 

But some shops have opened without licenses from the tribal government. Jock and others say their operations are approved by the Longhouse, a traditional leadership structure on the reservation that serves as a kind of parallel government. 

The smaller operations approved by the Longhouse will soon face competition from a new “superstore” called Budders, which is on track to open along the reservation’s main strip, with a license from the “official” tribal government.  

The Cayuga Nation, in New York’s bucolic Finger Lakes region, also operates several retail shops along Cayuga Lake, and is now planning to branch out into cultivation. 

As Syracuse.com reports, the Cayugas say they’ll begin indoor grow operations in a 15,000-square-foot building under development on their Gakwiyo Garden property, south of the village of Seneca Falls.  

But the Cayugas are at present bitterly divided between the “official” and “traditional” tribal governments. And on New Year’s Day this year, a retail cannabis outlet in Seneca Falls that had approval of the “traditional” government was shut down in a raid by the “official” government’s Cayuga Nation Police Department. 

Further west, the Seneca Nation of Indians has established its own Cannabis Department, and is running retail outlets in and around its reservations at Allegany and Cattaraugus, with names like Good Leaf and 420 Rez Bud.

The good news is that it looks like the state government is staying out of it. Last September, The New York Times wrote a profile of the operations at Akwesasne stating the following: “For their part, the New York State authorities seem to be taking a hands-off approach to the early entrepreneurs on the St. Regis reservation, noting that such businesses are legal on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land.” 

Bottlenecks in Big Sky Country 

In a February 2022 opinion piece for amNY, Stacey Webb, co-founder and chief equity officer of The Pantheon Collective, an LGBTQiA+ majority-owned cannabis start-up in the Adirondack Mountains, took stock of New York’s responsibilities as an example for the nation: “According to the 2021 Census, a little more than 42 percent of the US population are members of the BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] community, yet less than 3 percent of legal cannabis businesses reflect ownership by BIPOC individuals. This gap is far too wide and makes it glaringly obvious that existing plans for inclusion are currently insufficient.” 

Webb pointed out that “of the 37 states who have some form of a legalized cannabis program (medical and/or adult-use), only 13 of these states have rolled out some form of a social and economic equity program. This represents a mere 27 percent. Of those, only New York and Massachusetts have developed programs which specifically name the BIPOC community as a benefactor of these programs for inclusivity.”

Voters in Montana approved a cannabis legalization initiative in 2020, but there have been no provisions for equity. Of course, these two states are a study in contrasts. The US Census says that New York has a population of some 20 million, of which a combined 37% are Black or Latin—the two communities most impacted by the oppressions of prohibition. Native Americans, another traditionally marginalized group, constitute but 1%.

According to the US Census, Montana has just a little more than one million residents, of which some 4% are Latin and less than 1% Black. But Native Americans constitute 6.7% of Montana’s population—a far more significant share.

And in Montana, the law does include provisions that limit the participation of Indian tribes in the legal cannabis economy. One indigenous nation that wants to get in on cultivation is currently lobbying the statehouse to change the law.

The Crow Tribe, who have a large reservation just south of Billings, voted to enter the cannabis industry with its own tribal ordinance in April 2021. “We’re moving forward. We’re diversifying our economy throughout the tribe. Coal was the name of the game for the tribe for a while, but for good business we have to diversify within the reservation,” tribal chairman Frank White Clay told the Billings Gazette.

The state regulations then being drawn up by the Legislature granted one cannabis business license to each tribal government, but the state’s eight recognized tribes have been slow to respond. This is because, in the words of the Helena Independent Record, “hurdles emerged from the law’s fine print.” 

Adult-use cannabis sales topped $12.8 million just in their first month, January 2022. The following month, Crow Nation representatives testified before the state Economic Affairs Interim Committee in Helena.

“The intention is there to help the tribes, but the follow-through failed,” White Clay told the committee.

While other cannabis businesses are free to expand their footprint throughout the state, licenses for tribal enterprises are far more restricted. Such enterprises are allowed to operate a single combined cultivation and retail site within 150 miles of the borders of the reservation in question.

Operating off-reservation is a means of dodging potential problems with the federal government, which still considers cannabis an illegal drug and asserts jurisdiction on the reservations of federally recognized tribes. The 150-mile limit also allows tribes to enter the market in more populous areas of the state. But it’s still a limit not faced by other businesses. And it isn’t the only one.

Some have already been addressed. House Bill 701, the legalization enabling law passed by the statehouse in April 2021 and signed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte the following month, only allowed issuance of “Tier 1” licenses to tribes—the smallest cultivation capacity level. The law allowed general license holders—not tribal ones—to start at Tier 1 and scale up to expand capacity. In December 2021, the Economic Affairs Committee, with approval of the Department of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, voted to reject that rule, and later approved a revised rule allowing tribes to similarly expand their capacity.

But Crow officials in their February 2022 testimony asked lawmakers to further revise the rules—allowing tribal businesses to operate on the same terms as any other cannabis business. They also called for a provision allowing the state to enter into “compacts” with tribal governments, allowing indigenous nations to operate a cannabis business on their own terms—not the state rules. Such “compacts” are already in place for tribal tobacco and alcohol businesses.

In his testimony, Crow Tribe secretary Levi Black Eagle noted that Interstate 90 and Highway 212 intersect at the heart of the reservation, and that most of traffic passes through in the summer tourist season.

“If we’re unable to take advantage of an economic opportunity such as that, it’d be wrong,” he told lawmakers, according to the Independent Record.

New York and Montana alike can take timely action to assure that cannabis legalization lives up to its promises, for a more just post-prohibition world.

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Montana Adult-Use Sales Top $43 Million For First Quarter of Year

Three months in, the new adult-use cannabis program in Montana has generated tens of millions of dollars in sales, netting $8.7 million in tax revenue.

That comes via the state’s Department of Revenue, which detailed recreational pot sales in the state for the first quarter of the year.

In total, the adult-use market that launched at the start of the year has produced $43,537,110.29 in sales. For comparison, the state’s medical cannabis program generated $29,373,731.81 worth of sales during the same time period.

Montana voters legalized recreational cannabis for adults during the 2020 election, one of four states to end pot prohibition on the ballot that year (Arizona, South Dakota and New Jersey were the other three).

Getting the program ready in time for the start of this year was tight.

Officials in the state didn’t propose their final rules to govern the new regulated cannabis marketplace until October, leaving the Department of Revenue very little time to iron out all the regulations.

“The deadlines are aggressive,” Kristan Barbour, administrator of the Department of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, said at the time. “Really, the rules are our biggest challenge.”

“Our focus was really to be business-friendly and to try to work with the industry in a fashion that makes the rules adaptable to their current business structure and that they’ll be able to evolve into without a whole lot of pain,” Barbour added.

But despite the time constraints, the regulated cannabis market was open for business as scheduled on New Year’s Day.

Local television station KTVH reported that an “estimated 380 dispensaries in 29 counties are now able to sell marijuana to both medical and recreational customers.” In the program’s opening weekend at the beginning of January, Montana reported more than $1.5 million in cannabis sales.

The legalization effort in the United States has been buoyed by the economic incentives of regulating sales of pot. A report issued this week by the Marijuana Policy Project drove that point home, revealing that states that legalized adult-use cannabis sales generated more than $3.7 billion in total revenue last year.

That figure represented a 34% uptick from 2020, when states with recreational pot sales generated $2,766,027,570 in revenue. Since 2014, states have generated $11.2 billion in tax revenue from adult-use cannabis sales, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

“The legalization and regulation of cannabis for adults has generated billions of dollars in tax revenue, funded important services and programs at the state level, and created thousands of jobs across the country. Meanwhile, the states that lag behind continue to waste government resources on enforcing archaic cannabis laws that harm far too many Americans,” said Toi Hutchinson, the president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, who said that the group’s findings serve as “further evidence that ending cannabis prohibition offers tremendous financial benefits for state governments.”

Legalization isn’t just about the money brought in, of course. States that have ended prohibition on pot have also sought to remedy the past injustices brought on by the War on Drugs.

Last month, the Montana Supreme Court issued temporary rules for procedures through which individuals may have past cannabis-related convictions expunged from their records.

The state’s new cannabis law says “anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense,” according to local television station KPAX.

In the rules laid out last month, the state Supreme Court made it clear that they may submit their request for expungement to the court where they were originally sentenced.

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Montana Supreme Court OKs Temporary Rules For Cannabis Expungement

The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday issued temporary rules related to expungement procedures for individuals previously convicted for a pot-related offense.

As reported by local television station KPAX, the new adult-use recreational cannabis law in Montana “says anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense.”

On Tuesday, per Montana Public Radio, the high court “approved temporary rules that outline procedures for expunging or revising marijuana-related convictions.”

Those temporary rules “are effective upon approval and adoption by the Montana Supreme Court,” the state said, adding that they will remain in effect until “a marijuana conviction court is created as authorized by the [Montana Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act].”

KPAX, citing a state court administrator, reported that “the biggest clarification [the state] wanted to make was letting people know they could submit their expungement request to the court where they were originally sentenced.”

The administrator said there “had been some confusion because of a separate expungement procedure for misdemeanors that requires all defendants to go through district courts.”

Montana voters passed a legalization initiative in the 2020 election, and the new law took effect last summer when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 701 to implement the new adult-use cannabis program.

Gianforte said he was particularly impressed with the HEART Fund, which will use revenue from the recreational pot program to fund substance abuse treatment.

“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Gianforte said after signing the legislation. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”

Recreational pot sales began in January, and the state raked in $1.5 million in weed sales on its opening weekend. By the end of the opening month, recreational pot sales had generated almost $12.9 million in Montana.

Kristan Barbour, an administrator with the revenue department’s Cannabis Control Division, said in January that the “rollout of the adult-use program went off without any issues from the department’s supported IT systems.”

“We were able to successfully verify with (the) industry that our licensing and seed to sales systems were working on Friday to ensure a successful launch on Saturday, January 1, 2022. The successful launch was a result of staff’s hard work and planning over the past six month to meet the challenges of implementing HB 701,” Barbour told the Independent Record at the time.

But the expungement process has seen a few hiccups since the law began. A report from the Associated Press in January noted that while some lawyers in Montana have said that “expungement cases have sailed through the courts and that the process has been accessible,” others say “expungement petitions are still facing a roadblock: stigma against cannabis that lingers in some of the state’s district courts.”

According to the AP, the new cannabis laws in the state “tell judges hearing expungement petitions that they must presume the case qualifies unless a prosecutor can raise a legitimate issue against it,” and that the “entire proceeding may include a hearing, but state law doesn’t require one to obtain an expungement.”

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Montana Launches Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales

Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in Montana with the new year on Saturday, less than 14 months after voters in the state legalized adult-use cannabis use and commerce.

Montana voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana and regulated sales of adult-use cannabis with the passage of Initiative 190 in the November 2020 general election, when 57% of the electorate voted in favor of the ballot measure. A companion measure to set the legal age to purchase cannabis in Montana at 21, Constitutional Initiative 118, was also passed by a margin of 58% to 42%.

Under Initiative 190, the use of recreational marijuana and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis became legal for adults 21 and older on January 1, 2021. But regulated sales of cannabis were delayed until January 1, 2022 by House Bill 701, legislation passed by lawmakers last year to implement the successful ballot measure. HB 701 also allows adults to cultivate up to two mature and two immature cannabis plants at home, with a cap of four mature plants per household.

Recreational marijuana products sold in Montana are subject to regulations under the legislation, including a 35% THC cap on cannabis flower. Edible products are limited to 100 mg of THC per package and a maximum serving size of 10 mg of THC. The Montana Department of Revenue is tasked with developing and regulating the state’s new recreational marijuana market and will be responsible for licensing adult-use cannabis cultivators, processors, distributors and retailers.

Brisk Start to Retail Cannabis Sales

In its first weekend, Montana’s recreational cannabis market pulled in $1,566,980 in sales. Chris Fanuzzi, founder and CEO of Lionheart Caregiving and Dispensaries, which currently operates five medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana, attests to the weekend’s success. 

With 2022 already marking 15 years of cannabis cultivation, extraction, infusion and retail sales for the company, the onset of recreational marijuana sales in the state made New Year’s Day a particularly memorable occasion for Lionheart this year.

“I was extremely excited, indeed,” Fanuzzi told Cannabis Now. “It’s been super hectic, but there’s been a lot of activity. Lots of hustling, moving, shaking and getting things done.”

A selection of top-shelf Indica strains at Lionheart Caregiving in Billings, Montana. PHOTO courtesy Lionheart Caregiving

To protect Montana’s existing medical marijuana infrastructure, only dispensaries that were licensed before November 3, 2020 will be permitted to make retail sales of adult-use cannabis for a period of 18 months. Fanuzzi said that on the first day of recreational marijuana sales, Lionheart saw a mix of adult-use customers and medical marijuana patients, with approximately 30 cars parked at the company’s Billings location by 8:30 a.m. on January 1.

“There seemed to be a lot of new users,” Fanuzzi said. “Probably half and half. Most people were looking for flower and then concentrates, followed by edibles.”

According to Fanuzzi, Lionheart is already reaping the benefits of recreational marijuana legalization in Montana, including the ability to sell cannabis products to all adults 21 and older. The result is a much broader marketplace for the industry.

“It’s easier to do business not having such a small, restricted customer base,” Fanuzzi said. “One of the biggest pros is that more people have access to quality medicine that’s safe. That’s the biggest pro for everybody.”

Recreational Sales Only Allowed in ‘Green Counties’

But not all residents will have easy access to recreational marijuana, despite this week’s launch of legal adult-use cannabis in Montana. Under the terms of HB 701, cannabis possession and use are legal statewide. But retail sales of recreational marijuana are permitted only in those counties where a majority of voters supported the 2020 legalization initiative in the general election. As a result, Montana has 28 “green counties” where recreational marijuana sales are now allowed and 28 “red counties” with a ban on sales of adult-use cannabis.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries located in red counties are protected by a grandfather clause in the legislation and will be allowed to continue operating. Recreational marijuana sales can be authorized in red counties with the passage of a countywide referendum to permit adult-use cannabis commerce.

Approximately 380 medical marijuana dispensaries were expected to begin serving adult-use customers with the launch of recreational marijuana sales, according to media reports. Leise Rosman, CEO of the new Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, says that the company has been hard at work preparing for Montana’s new adult-use cannabis market, and plans are underway to open dispensaries in Bozeman, Butte and Livingston in the near future.

“We doubled down our efforts in the last two months to make sure it was perfect for opening day,” Rosman told Cannabis Now. “We figured on January 1, it might be a lot of people’s first time in a dispensary, so we wanted to make sure that first impression was right for them.”

Opening day cannabis purchases at Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, Montana. PHOTO Raphael Pierson

Betty’s Roadside Provisions is a boutique dispensary where visitors can feel welcome and enjoy the shopping experience as much as the product itself. 

“When we looked at creating a curated experience, we wanted to make sure all the years we spent working with other dispensaries and talking to customers all got into Betty’s stores,” said Rosman, whose family has been in the cannabis business for the better part of a decade. 

“Cannabis isn’t behind glass or counters, or in the back,” she explained. “It’s an experience where we want you to touch and feel the product you are about to take home with you.”

Betty’s Big Sky location strategically appeals to the millions of tourists traveling to Montana each year.

“In Montana, the domestic population isn’t high, but the tourism effect is incredibly high,” Rosman said. “It felt like a great place to meet people where they are in an environment to unplug and recharge. Our product makes perfect sense for that.”

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Recreational Cannabis in Montana Brings in $1.5M

The opening weekend of recreational cannabis sales in Big Sky country brought in big profits.

That’s according to Montana’s Department of Revenue, which said that cannabis sales brought in more than $1.5 million last weekend, the first days that the state’s legal weed market opened for business.

According to the Helena Independent Record, the “Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning projected $130 million in recreational sales in 2022, climbing to $195.5 million in 2023 once the moratorium on new businesses ends.”

The state is imposing a 20 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis. (Medical marijuana, for comparison, is taxed at only four percent in Montana.)

Kristan Barbour, an administrator with the revenue department’s Cannabis Control Division, told the Independent Record that the “rollout of the adult-use program went off without any issues from the department’s supported IT systems.”

“We were able to successfully verify with (the) industry that our licensing and seed to sales systems were working on Friday to ensure a successful launch on Saturday, January 1, 2022. The successful launch was a result of staff’s hard work and planning over the past six month to meet the challenges of implementing HB 701,” Barbour said in a statement to the newspaper.

HB 701 was the bill that was passed by Montana lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte last year after voters in the state approved a ballot initiative in 2020 legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults aged 21 and older.

Montana was one of four states where voters approved legalization proposals at the ballot in 2020, joining Arizona, South Dakota and New Jersey. 

HB 701 established a framework for the new marijuana marketplace and also established the so-called the HEART Fund, which will use revenue from the recreational pot program to fund substance abuse treatment.

“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Gianforte said at the time. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”

Sales began on New Year’s Day, with local television station KTVH reporting that an “estimated 380 dispensaries in 29 counties are now able to sell marijuana to both medical and recreational customers.”

Regulators in Montana were working up until the end of 2021 to iron out rules for the new marijuana program, issuing a slate of proposals as late as October. Barbour said at the time that the goal of the proposals was “really to be business-friendly and to try to work with the industry in a fashion that makes the rules adaptable to their current business structure and that they’ll be able to evolve without a whole lot of pain.”

Last month, members of the state’s Economic Affairs Interim Committee approved a slate of the proposals. 

Montana Took the Plunge

When recreational pot sales kicked off in Montana on Saturday, there were eager customers waiting to make history (and maybe alleviate their New Year’s hangovers with some bud).

The Independent Record reported that some “dispensaries in Helena had lines of people packed inside to avoid cold temperatures, while others saw a small but steady stream of foot traffic through noon.”

Medical cannabis has been legal in Montana since 2004. J.D. “Pepper” Petersen, the owner of the Cannabis Corner dispensary in Helena and a leading advocate for the 2020 legalization campaign, told the Independent Record that 99 percent of the customers to his shop on Saturday were there for recreational weed, not medical.

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