Week in Review: Minnesota Legalizes Adult Use Cannabis

In this week’s cannabis news round-up, Minnesota legalizes adult use cannabis—including Delta-8 THC products; New York announces plans for cannabis farmers’ markets and medical cannabis could be on the cards for Iceland.

Minnesota State Capitol. PHOTO Ferrer Photography 

Minnesota Legalizes Adult Use Cannabis

The governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, has signed into law a bill that allows the adult use of cannabis. This makes Minnesota the 23rd state in the country to end the plant’s prohibition.

After a long process of discussing and voting in committees, Governor Tim Walz signed the bill, known as HF 100, on Tuesday. Starting from August 1, Minnesota residents aged 21 and over can possess and grow cannabis at home without breaking the law. However, it will take about 12 to 18 months for the government to set up a retail system.

“This has been a long journey with a lot of folks involved,” Walz said. “What we know right now is prohibition doesn’t work. We’ve criminalized a lot of folks who are going to start the expungement process on those records. It’s going to take us a bit of time to get this up and going. We’ll be getting some people into the positions to be able to run this, but I assure Minnesotans that a lot of thought has gone into this. A lot of the things learned in other states are incorporated into how we do this and the thoughtfulness around this legislation gives us a good guiding principle.”

Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, the House sponsor, said that “while Minnesota might be the 23rd state to legalize cannabis, I think we’ve passed the best bill in the country that Minnesotans can be proud of. We’ve built a model that will work for Minnesota specifically and I think Minnesotans will be really pleased with the results of that work.”

Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota (and celebrity wrestler), who has been a strong advocate for the law change, attended the signing ceremony. He spoke passionately during the legislative hearings about his personal experience of illegally obtaining medical marijuana to treat his wife’s severe epilepsy.

“This was a huge day in our family’s life because prohibition will now end. It’s gone on longer than I’ve been alive, the prohibition of a plant made by God,” Ventura said. “We were always told everything was here for us to use. Now in Minnesota, we will be able to use this plant after years of prohibition. We didn’t want any families to go through what the first lady and I went through,” he said. “Now, today, they will never have to because prohibition will end today on cannabis.”

One interesting addition is that Minnesota will stand out as an exception by embracing hemp-derived cannabinoids, such as the debated Delta-8 THC, within the state’s legal cannabis industry. In contrast, 14 other states, including those with well-established cannabis markets that perceive hemp-derived products as a significant challenge, have either banned or implemented strict regulations on such products sourced from hemp.

farmers market in the city

Cannabis Farmers Markets Coming to New York

State regulators in New York announced plans to introduce cannabis farmers’ markets in the state, potentially within a month. During a virtual town hall meeting, John Kagia, the director of policy at the New York Office of Cannabis Management, shared details about the proposed model called the “New York Cannabis Growers Showcase.”

“The solution we’re working on right now … are what we’re calling the New York Cannabis Growers Showcase,” Kagia said.

The idea is to create a farmers’ market-like setup where licensed growers can come together and organize events in partnership with a retailer. A minimum of three growers and a retailer would collaborate to host these markets. However, there are a couple of requirements for setting up and running such markets. Firstly, the local town or city where the event is planned must approve it; secondly, a retailer must be involved to facilitate the actual sales.

One of the main motivations behind this initiative is to enable growers to sell their remaining inventory from last year’s harvest. Currently, there are only 13 operational retailers in the state, creating a significant bottleneck for approximately 200 farmers who cultivated outdoor cannabis in 2022. These farmers have been eagerly waiting to bring their products to the market.

According to Kagia, if growers have a farm or any other suitable location where they want to organize an event, the office will provide support. Additionally, they are open to the idea of collaborating with existing events such as concerts, festivals, or agricultural gatherings, allowing cannabis vendors to participate.

While an exact timeline for launching cannabis farmers markets remains uncertain, Damian Fagon, the Chief Equity Officer of the Office of Cannabis Management, expressed optimism about making the markets operational within a month after the meeting. He emphasized that the responsibility for organizing these markets will largely rest with the farmers themselves.

“A lot of this is going to be on you guys to organize, to self-organize,” Fagon said to the farmers. “A lot of what we want to do here is to create guidelines for this pilot and see what you do with it, let you run with it.”

Fagon reassured farmers that they can be confident about maintaining their current ability to ship their cannabis, even though it’s a temporary arrangement that’s set to expire on June 1. If the deadline is not extended, it could disrupt the entire cannabis supply chain in the state.

To address this concern, Fagon mentioned that Assembly Bill A7430 is anticipated to be passed by state lawmakers before the end of the month. This bill is crucial in resolving the issue. “It’s a must-pass bill,” he said. “That’s what’s been communicated.”

The proposed measure, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, aims to extend the temporary distributor license expirations for farmers and processors by a full year, moving the deadline to June 1, 2024.

Aurora Borealis reflected between two fjords in Tromsø
PHOTO jamenpercy

Proposed Pilot Project Could Legalize Medical Cannabis in Iceland

After a recent debate in the Alþingi (Icelandic parliament), officials have put forward a proposal for a four-year pilot project that would allow the use of medical cannabis, as well as the cultivation, production and distribution of cannabis-based medicinal products.

If the proposal is approved, the country’s Ministry of Health will collaborate with the Minister of Culture and Trade to establish a working group. This group will be responsible for preparing a bill that would enable companies to apply for licenses to produce and distribute cannabis medicines. To proceed with the pilot program, the ministry must present the bill by December 31. It’s expected that the four-year program will commence on January 1, 2024.

Currently, the only legally prescribed cannabis-based medicine in Iceland is Sativex. Sativex contains CBD and THC in isolated forms and is used to treat side effects associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) and muscular dystrophy. However, access to Sativex is highly regulated and only licensed neurologists can prescribe it. CBD products without THC are already legal in Iceland.

Documents released by Alþingi reveal that the proposed project will adopt a structure like the one implemented in Denmark in 2018. The primary objectives of this model are to enhance understanding of the impacts of cannabinoids and to ensure that patients don’t have to resort to obtaining cannabis products through illegal means. By following this approach, the project aims to promote safe and legal access to cannabis-based products while advancing research and knowledge on the plant’s potential.

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Justin Esquivel Keynotes Vibrant Cannastock NY Event in Poughkeepsie

There was definitely something in the air Saturday, May 13, as Cannastock NY kicked off its day-long festivities inside Poughkeepsie, NY’s cavernous Majed J. Nesheiwat (MJN) Convention Center in the heart of the Hudson Valley, a region one hour north of New York City. President and Geneticist at Green Luster Phenos, Justin Esquivel, delivered the event’s keynote address.

Hudson Valley High

The anticipated event took on a celebratory, carnival atmosphere inside the venue as the 50-plus participating exhibitors showcased the very best of the Hudson Valley cannabis community to more than 3000 cannabis aficionados. The upbeat, electric vibes were certainly not only palpable, but also infectious at this second Cannastock NY event. It’s safe to say that the Hudson Valley generally—and Poughkeepsie, in particular—are very happy indeed that the plant took center stage at Cannastock NY.

“The interest and the anticipation from the Hudson Valley cannabis consumers was through the roof,” said Martin Mills, Cannastock NY’s co-founder and co-producer. “But that’s the mission behind Cannabis NY: to bring authentic cannabis culture to New York where we can come together and have fun.”

Attendees of Cannastock NY. PHOTO Mickey Deneher

Mills, a long-time New York marketing cannabis professional based in Woodstock, sums up the eclectic event succinctly: “Cannastock NY is, at its core, an immersive cannabis event.”

Esquivel, a world-class geneticist, largely agrees with Mills’ assessment of the current state of New York and Hudson Valley cannabis.

“I know Cannastock NY is focused on the whole state, but I understand that the cannabis culture here in the Hudson Valley is very predominant,” Esquivel says. “And the Hudson Valley cannabis market is one that will see a lot of consumers interacting and engaged—something consumers have to be in order for the cannabis industry to have a chance to be successful.”

California Dreaming? Not So Much.

When asked how New York will fare when compared to California’s decidedly spotty cannabis experience, Esquivel is unequivocal in his bullish belief in the Empire State’s success.

“The state of New York is going to have a bigger green rush than the West Coast—absolutely,” he says. “You have vertical farmers that are in New York City who are cultivating acres of cannabis, but doing so vertically. They might only have 500 square feet; but they’re four, five, up to a dozen tiers of cultivation. These vertical farmers are able to really maximize their square footage. But I strongly believe that the New York City market as well as the New York State marketplace will far surpass what California has done genetically.”

Cannastock NY Keynote speaker Justin Esquivel, President & Geneticist of Green Luster Phenos
Cannastock NY keynote speaker Justin Esquivel, President & Geneticist, Green Luster Phenos.

The self-described “genetic engineer” sees a clear-eyed future for cannabis. “I truly believe that in ten years we’re going to see federal cannabis legalization,” Esquivel says. “And that will change the way growers cultivate in general, and it’s going to completely change the cannabis marketplace in this country.”

During Esquivel’s keynote address to the Hudson Valley cannabis lovers, he honed in on specific genetics truisms he wanted to impart, speaking about genetics, tissue culture and clean cultivation. “The main point I wanted people to take away was that tissue culture can be implemented by even a homegrown individual for a very low cost, and it allows you to grow without ever watering or feeding your plants ever,” Esquivel says. “So, whether you’re a home grower, and you grow in your closet or a tent, and you’re just growing one plant, you can still take advantage of tissue culture, as well as your commercial cultivators.”

According to Mills, the Cannastock NY organizers are already planning a third event, slated to be held in the fall later this year. The first event, held at The Colony in Woodstock in October 2022, had some 800 participants, a number vastly surpassed by last week’s Poughkeepsie event.

“New York’s cannabis industry is going in the right direction,” Mills says. “We’re currently firing on half-a-cylinder out of five, but we’re moving in the right way. The interest from cannabis consumers has never been higher in the state.”

Esquivel, a native of Belize, concurs. “Green Luster Phenos is all in on New York,” he says. “My company—and I—want to make an impression in this industry. Look, in 2009, I lost a grandfather to cancer. He was given the only THC derivative pill available then because it was the only thing that helped keep food down during his intense radiation treatment. So, yeah, he’s a big reason why I have hard roots here in New York, and I want to come back here. And you know something else? I’m going to make a mark in the industry.”

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New York Initiates Clampdown on Unlicensed Cannabis

In a paradox, New York authorities are finally unleashing the long-anticipated crackdown on the state’s legion and proliferating unlicensed cannabis retailers—while the licensing program continues to be slowed by obstacles, including legal challenges.

The free-for-all in the cannabis market that has ensued since legalization in New York State two years ago has been dubbed the “Wild East.” But with authorities long threatening a crackdown, there has been a sense of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Now, that boot is starting to come down.

The Empire State Strikes Back 

With the New York state budget typically weeks late at the end of April, Gov. Kathy Hochul insisted on including one more measure in the package—a plan to target unlicensed cannabis shops. She prevailed. 

The official statement on the April 27 deal included this bullet point: “Expanding the enforcement powers of the Office of Cannabis Management and Department of Taxation and Finance to further grow the legal marketplace for cannabis, including levying fines on illegal retail operations and closing those shops down.”  Hochul’s plan jacks up the fines for retail outlet violations—$10,000 per day for illegal sales, and up to $200,000 if unlicensed cannabis is found in a store’s inventory. A crackdown had already been underway at the local level—especially in New York City, where upwards of 1,400 unlicensed outlets are said to be operating. 

At a press conference back on December 15, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the creation of a Cannabis NYC Interagency Enforcement Taskforce—bringing together the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the NY Police Department and the state Office of Cannabis Management. At a January 18 City Council hearing on the matter, NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda testified that “teams will be dispatched to all five boroughs on different days of the week. We’re conducting long-term and short-term investigations.”  In February, Adams’ administration announced a related effort in partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. In a first action, Bragg sent letters to more than 400 landlords warning them to evict unlicensed cannabis outlets before marshals were sent in to do so.

Raids Across Five Boroughs

And there have indeed been results on the ground. The most recent shortly followed the unofficial international day of cannabis celebration, April 20—which saw joyous crowds happily and openly toking in the iconic Greenwich Village park, Washington Square, a de facto HQ for marijuana lovers. Four days later, the “Happy 420” balloons were still on display in the front window of the Myrtle Smoke Shop in Ridgewood, Queens, as investigators from the Task Force and cops from the 104th Precinct swooped in for a raid. Two store clerks were arrested, and the outlet was slapped with 63 violations, totaling some $45,000 in fines.

March 28 saw a major raid on Staten Island, with authorities reporting the seizure of nearly 100 pounds of cannabis, as well as 69 “magic mushroom candy bars.” Staten Island’s conservative District Attorney Michael E. McMahon apparently acted with local cops independent of the Task Force and took the opportunity to opine in a statement: “No one is naïve enough to believe that these establishments are financially thriving exclusively from snacks and soda alone. Yet, with NYPD manpower at historic lows not seen in a generation and a toothless Office of Cannabis Management designed by idealistic and unrealistic legislators, a black market has been allowed to balloon across the five boroughs posing a threat not just to our children but to legitimate customers as well.”  He added on Twitter, with photos of the haul: “Unlicensed shops selling illegal drugs & THC products are a stain on our communities & undercut law abiding businesses.”

On January 5, the Task Force raided several smoke shops on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, seizing more than $200,000 worth of “unregulated THC vapes, edibles, untaxed cigarettes and flavored vapes.” Some $16,000 in fines were issued to the offending outlets. City Council member (and former Manhattan borough president) Gale Brewer boasted that she “rode along” for the raids.

A December 14 raid on a mobile dispensary dubbed Beach Boyz Budz in the Queens neighborhood of Rockaway Beach similarly became a politician platform. Councilmember Joann Ariola was on hand as the two men operating the van were arrested—charged with criminal sale of cannabis in the second and third degrees, and criminal possession in the third degree. “Crime doesn’t pay in District 32,” said Ariola. “The owners of this unlicensed operation were thumbing their nose at local law enforcement for months as they peddled their goods.” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz added: “Stores, trucks and other outlets currently selling recreational marijuana are doing so illegally.”

This was just as the Task Force was beginning its work, and over the past two weeks, the Sheriff’s Office had announced more than 600 pounds of cannabis confiscated in raids on unlicensed outlets across the city’s five boroughs. Gov. Hochul has also unveiled a “Why Buy Legal New York” media campaign to encourage New Yorkers to only purchase from licensed dispensaries—emphasizing “the potential health risks associated with purchasing cannabis products from unlicensed businesses and why regulated cannabis products are safer.”

Is The Crackdown Itself Illegal? 

However, there was a little glitch to the well-publicized crackdown, which unfortunately won little media coverage. The New York City Deputy Sheriff’s Benevolent Association on February 2 wrote a letter to Corporation Counsel, the mayor’s legal office, demanding clarity on how the Sheriff’s Office has authority to carry out cannabis raids. “We’ve been unable to find any legislation related to the inspection of unlicensed retail locations, or any cannabis legislation mentioning the Sheriff as an enforcement officer,” the letter stated.  

The Sheriff’s Office, an arm of the city’s Department of Finance, is officially authorized to inspect stores that sell cigarettes or tobacco, to ensure compliance with tax and licensing requirements. The city regulations establishing its powers haven’t been updated to include cannabis.

There may be a much more fundamental legal catch at work, however. While official press releases treat “unlicensed” and “illegal” as basically synonymous, many of the unlicensed dispensaries maintain that they’re actually operating within the law—parsing the meaning of the word “sale.” If no profit is made on the cannabis transfer, and the real money is made on club membership fees, it’s not a “sale” under New York state law. Outlets operating on this model haven’t been touched by the crackdown. The most prominent, Empire Cannabis Clubs, still operates three locations around the city—openly.  A bill by Liz Kreuger, the same Manhattan state senator who shepherded through legalization in 2021, would close this “loophole” (a word rejected by the cannabis clubs). But it hasn’t passed yet. Empire Cannabis also pledges that all its products are lab-tested, and that standards are being developed for the unlicensed sector’s self-regulation. 

Not Just Cops, But Also Robbers

In addition to the pressure from law enforcement, New York’s unlicensed cannabis operators face another challenge—they’re apparently being targeted by the city’s increasingly audacious criminal element.  

On January 18, a worker was shot in the leg in an attempted robbery of the Smoke City store on Ninth Ave. in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Media reports were unclear on whether the establishment was selling cannabis or just pipes, papers and such. But it was only the most recent of three such incidents that month. On January 4, an employee was shot in the lower back and gravely injured during an attempted robbery of Exotic Convenience smoke shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The shop was apparently selling bud and edibles as well as paraphernalia and is located on Clinton Street, a neighborhood hub for unlicensed cannabis sales. And on January 11, the Rainbow Smoke Shop on Sixth Ave in Greenwich Village was the scene of stick-up by two robbers, one brandishing a handgun. Nobody was hurt, but the duo got away with an estimated $1,800 in cannabis candy, and some $600 in cash. 

Is Gov. Hochul Keeping Her Equity Pledge? 

Meanwhile, the unfolding of the still very limited licensed market has also met with various controversies that are slowing things down. On one hand, advocates are accusing Gov. Hochul of betraying her promises on social equity in the licensed market. A little more than a year ago, Hochul announced that those who had been impacted by a past cannabis-related criminal conviction in New York State would be the first to get retail licenses. Yet the state’s first licensed dispensary which opened December 29, at a primo location on Broadway and Astor Place in the East Village, is run by a nonprofit organization, Housing Works. It does indeed do good work, advocating for housing and healthcare for people living with HIV-AIDS. However, 28 holders of licenses slated for entrepreneurs with past pot convictions were still stuck in what The City news site called a “bureaucratic holding pattern.” Specifically, the Office of Cannabis Management was tweaking its regulations on what kind of storefronts they could lease—and applicants complained about lack of communication and clarity.

A month later, the second licensed outlet opened on Bleecker Street, a main drag of Greenwich Village. Evocatively named Smacked! Village owned by an African American man with a prior cannabis conviction, Roland Conner. The Smacked! store is to receive support from the Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund, a joint venture of the state Dormitory Authority and private partner Social Equity Impact Ventures LLC. Among its leaders are former NBA star Chris Webber, tech entrepreneur Lavetta Willis and former city comptroller William Thompson. But the $200 million slated to support equity applicants statewide through the Fund has also been held up by bureaucratic inertia—specifically, the pubic and private partners being unable to reach final terms.  

At the same time, plans to open a first dispensary in Harlem are being held up by a legal challenge brought by a neighborhood business alliance. The 125th Street Business District Management Association brought suit in state court on April 26, seeking to block the opening of an outlet on West 125th Street, across from the historic Apollo Theatre—Harlem’s cultural heart. The challenge argues that the process regulators use to choose dispensary locations is improperly opaque.

“This is a naked, intentional and bold attempt to avoid community opposition,” the lawsuit charges. It argues that the 125th Street location is “irredeemable,” saying it would add to the crime, congestion and “open drug use” already upsetting merchants in the area.

Brooklyn Back in The Game—For Now

In some good news for would-be entrepreneurs, the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan on March 28 narrowed a temporary restraining order that had blocked licensed dispensaries from certain designated areas of New York state. The appeals court ruling allows dispensaries to finally open in Brooklyn, as well as the Mid-Hudson region, Central New York and Western New York (including the state’s second city, Buffalo). The Finger Lakes region remains barred, for the moment. This means 108 dispensary licenses in those administrative regions no longer under the injunction may finally start to move ahead. But 18 licenses in the Finger Lakes remain in legal limbo.

The case was brought by a would-be entrepreneur with a past cannabis conviction in Michigan, who argued that New York’s equity measures favoring those only with in-state convictions violate the US Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. However, many smelled a ploy by out-of-state money to break into the Empire State’s lucrative market—even if it means undermining the state’s equity program.

And while this case remains pending, there are other legal challenges in the works. A group called the Coalition for Regulated & Safe Access to Cannabis brought suit in state court on March 16 against the Office of Cannabis Management. The coalition represents large outfits already licensed in New York under the medical marijuana program and now seeking to enter the adult-use market. The complaint charges that the equity program is unconstitutional and contributes to “neglect of the medical program.” The coalition is calling on the state to immediately open licenses to the public at large—with no priority for those impacted by past prohibition—and to crack down on unlicensed operators. 

As of now, there are only nine licensed dispensaries operating statewide—five in New York City (four in Manhattan and one in Queens), and one each in Albany, Schenectady, Binghamton and Ithaca. So, crackdown notwithstanding, the licensed sector still has a very long way to go to catch up with the unlicensed guerilla capitalists—and the obstacles still abound.

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Becoming Hudson Cannabis

The West Coast has long been regarded as the epicenter of cannabis culture in the US. Now, the green wave is washing over the Eastern Seaboard and, like the thundering waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the changing tide of legalization brings new opportunities to the Empire State. Nothing is more proof of the plant’s continued decentralization from the Emerald Triangle to New York than Berner’s Cookies brand opening in Herald Square in the heart of Manhattan.

But there’s another indicator. In the Hudson Valley, directly north of New York City, an area traditionally known for its orchards and farms, a newly minted industry is growing as quickly as the crop—cannabis.

Hudson Cannabis is located in the picturesque Hudson Valley.

Old Mud Creek Farm is part of the largest tract of organic farmland in the Hudson Valley. Owned by philanthropist Abby Rockefeller, the septuagenarian daughter of the late David and Peggy Rockefeller, the property is a large-scale organic regenerative farm that conducts carbon research to quantify and prove the results of regenerative organic agriculture as a potential solution for the climate crisis.

“By building healthy soil and utilizing regenerative agriculture techniques, we sequester more carbon on our farm than we release into the atmosphere,” co-founder Freya Dobson says. “​​We wouldn’t do this work if we didn’t think we could have a positive effect on the environment and the way people consume products that come from farms. That’s really at the forefront of everything we do.”

Hudson Cannabis
Premium plants growing at Hudson Cannabis.

Freya’s brother, Ben Dobson, has managed Old Mud Creek Farm for more than a decade. During that time, the progressive farmer led the transition from a conventional farm to an organic, regenerative one. In 2017, New York opened a pilot program to grow hemp, and Old Mud Creek was one of the first farms to be granted a permit. Dobson’s sisters Melany and Freya came on board soon thereafter. Together, they became co-founders of Hudson Hemp and its product line, Treaty, which consists of five tinctures with supporting botanicals sourced locally for targeted effects.

​​”We wouldn’t do this work if we didn’t think we could have a positive effect on the environment and the way people consume products that come from farms. That’s really at the forefront of everything we do.”

After the passing of the landmark 2018 Farm Bill, a glut of hemp and hemp-derived CBD caused wholesale prices to plummet. From coast to coast, many farms had little choice but to pivot their plants away from hemp to avoid financial catastrophe, including Hudson Hemp. 

“We couldn’t really find our place in the market to be able to be financially viable or secure,” Dobson says. “By 2021, we knew that unless something drastically changed in the market, we wouldn’t grow hemp anymore, which definitely broke our hearts because we’re major advocates.”

Hudson Cannabis
Ten varietals are cultivated at Hudson Cannabis.

A lifeline came when New York legalized cannabis in March 2021. Many hemp farmers in the state took the opportunity to apply for a cannabis cultivation license, including Hudson Hemp, who called the change in the state legislature “a major godsend.” After all, adult-use cannabis is projected to reach $1.3 billion in sales in New York City alone by 2023.

“Luckily, New York state passed recreational cannabis that year and we received our cultivation license by May,” Dobson says. “We realize how our work with hemp led us to cannabis; working with both sides of the plant has been so powerful and informative.”

Hudson Cannabis is bridging the gap between agriculture and culture.

Once the license was secured, Hudson Hemp metamorphosed into Hudson Cannabis and the team recently harvested the inaugural crop of more than ten varietals. Growing exceptional cannabis ethically and conscientiously isn’t the only thing that motivates Hudson Cannabis. The beating heart of the company’s vision of success is a world where planetary and human health are interconnected, Dobson says.

“To us, success looks like a world where we’re bridging the gap between agriculture and culture. We believe cannabis is the crop that sits at that intersection, it can bring people back to land and to each other,” Dobson says. “Cannabis has a complicated and troubled past in this country. With legalization we have the opportunity for reparations and do better.”

Gavin Ziegler, one of the team members at Hudson Cannabis.

Photographer Natalie Chitwood provides the visual guide to Hudson Cannabis.

This story was originally published in issue 47 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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This Year’s Top 420 Events Across the US

From humble origins, the legacy of 420 has grown into a celebration of global proportions. Marked on April 20 each year, the festivities take many forms, though a love for cannabis and appreciation for the community remains constant. Today, parties marking weed’s unofficial high holy day range from legacy, large-scale smoke sessions to major productions headlined by reggae legends and chart-topping rappers. The day is drawing near, and with more and more states embracing legalization, there are more 420 events happening than ever. With that in mind, here’s a look at ten of the most notable 420 events happening across the nation.

The Marley Brothers at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Morrison, CO: April 19-20

The math here is simple: Add some of reggae’s biggest names to one of the most iconic venues in the entire US and it equals an unmissable 420 experience. That’s what’s on tap for Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which will host the Marley Brothers for two unforgettable nights. On April 19, Ziggy, Stephen, Damian, and Ky-Mani Marley will perform with special guests Sean Paul and Protoje. On April 20, the children of Bob Marley return for another show, this one with Steel Pulse, Lee “Scratch” Perry and more. These should be some seriously special nights—the Red Rocks’ specialty.

NY Cannabis Freedom Festival

Brooklyn, NY: April 19-20

Things should be next level at the fifth New York Cannabis Freedom Festival now that adult-use cannabis is legal in the Empire State. Featuring music, guest speakers and vendor exhibits, the NYCFF is packed with panels, events and a performance by headliner Raven International, all backdropped by the exciting prospect of seeing where legal cannabis in New York goes next.

Mile High 420

Denver, CO: April 20

Want to experience 420 in its full glory? Head to Denver for Mile High 420, which bills itself as the world’s largest free celebration devoted to smoking cannabis. Set in Civic Center Park, this year’s installment remains free but does require advanced registration, which seems well worth it given the event is set to be hosted by stoner legend Tommy Chong and feature performances from Rick Ross, Fivio Foreign  and Waka Flocka Flame, among others.

420 Hippie Hill

San Francisco, CA: April 20

Golden Gate Park’s Robin Williams Meadow is home to California’s biggest free cannabis event, where crowds flock to Hippie Hill to ring in the arrival of 4:20 pm. This year’s edition is set to feature a performance by Erykah Badu as well as plenty of top-notch people watching. And, if the city of San Francisco opts to approve pending permits, 2023 will also see the return of legal sales and consumption to the event for a second year. But regardless of that outcome, the place will undoubtedly be packed with the smell of good flower this 420.

Glass House Fest

Los Angeles, CA: April 20

Want to get in on a secret? Keep close tabs on this page from top California cultivator Glass House Farms, where specifics on their plans for April 20 will soon be revealed. Past activations and surprise pop-up events from the brand have featured the likes of Flying Lotus, Duckwrth, Guapdad 4000, Tiffany Haddish and Eric Andre, so there’s good reason to believe they have something equally amazing cooked up for this year’s installment.

National Cannabis Festival

Washington, DC: April 22

Not every 420 event happens on the exact date, making the party last even longer. One great example is Washington, DC’s National Cannabis Festival. Taking over the RFK Festival Grounds on April 22, this multi-faceted event includes a concert headlined by rapper 2 Chainz in addition to educational programming, an exhibitor fair and an aptly named “Munchies Zone.” There’s even the prospect of a catching a weed-themed wedding or two while you’re there.

The Grass is Greener Gathering

Hadley, MA: April 21-22

Invading Hadley, Massachusetts from April 21-22, the Grass is Greener Gathering doubles as a celebration of 420 and Earth Day (April 22) with a stacked music lineup headlined by Action Bronson on Friday and Fugees’ founder Wyclef Jean on Saturday. Featuring three music stages, 75+ vendors, pro wrestling exhibitions and hot air balloon rides, GGG is an annual East Coast stoner’s paradise that also makes a point of using their proceeds from ticket sales to support worthy causes.

Pocono 420/Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival

Where: Longpond, PA: April 22-23

The Scranton-based festival is one of the largest on the East Coast. For its ninth installment, the PA Cannabis Festival is hitting the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, where it will host two stages and 300+ vendors for a wild weekend of weed-themed fun. Presented by CuraLeaf, the 2023 edition will feature performances from Bong Hits for Jesus, Space Kamp, and Kottonmouth Kings. This year also introduces the option to camp on-site for those seeking a more immersive, scenic excursion.

420 Golf Tournament

Suquamish, WA: April 22

Agate Dreams in gorgeous Suquamish, Washington has found a perfect marriage with their annual 420 Golf Tournament. Set to return for its second installment in 2023, the event offers a chance to hit the links with your pot-loving peers for a scramble format completion in pursuit of a cash prize. Naturally, registration costs $420 per four-person team, which includes meals and swag.

Sweetwater 420 Fest

Atlanta, GA: April 22-23

Atlanta’s Sweetwater 420 Fest takes place at Sweetwater Brewery. There’s an old-school rave vibe to this brewer’s warehouse that doubles as a venue for the annual occasion. Beyond having a blast with good bud and brews, you can also enjoy a lineup of musical talent topped by Shakey Graves, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Ghostland Observatory. It’s a testament to this fest’s appeal that they can snag such a dazzling mix of acclaimed artists to come through.

The post This Year’s Top 420 Events Across the US appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Litigation Blocks New York Cannabis Retail Licenses

More than a year-and-a-half after New York cannabis became legal in the state, the first retail licenses have finally been issued, but several more have been blocked by court order. The legal case appears to be a ploy by out-of-state money to break into the Empire State’s lucrative market—even if it means undermining the state’s ambitious “equity” program.

Michigan Meddling

The Cannabis Control Board of the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) on Nov. 21 awarded 36 Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses. It was a first step toward what is projected to be a $5 billion market—potentially the largest in the country. And not one of the licenses went to multi-state operators (MSOs) with 28 awarded to people with past cannabis convictions, or family members with such convictions. Another eight went to non-profit organizations involved in questions of social justice—such as Housing Works, which helps provide housing for HIV-positive individuals. The first 150 license-holders are to be chosen for such criteria, and will be eligible to receive aid from a $200 million Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund.  

In a statement to the press, Control Board chair Tremaine Wright said: “With the first adult-use retail dispensary licenses in the hands of businesses and eligible nonprofits, we’ve ensured the first sales will be made at dispensaries operated by those impacted by the unjust enforcement of cannabis prohibition.”   

However, the state is temporarily blocked from issuing 63 licenses because of an injunction in a federal lawsuit filed by what appears to be a Michigan-based company. The plaintiff, Variscite NY One, is challenging the eligibility requirements under the equity program on the basis that they violate the so-called “Dormant Commerce Clause” of the US Constitution. An interpretation of the Commerce Clause rather than an actual constitutional text, this refers to the prohibition against states passing laws that discriminate against or excessively burden interstate commerce. Variscite maintains that the equity program criterion of a cannabis conviction in New York falls into this category.  

Bad Break for Brooklyn 

In the Nov. 10 decision, Judge Gary L. Sharpe of the US District Court in Syracuse barred the state from issuing retail licenses in five regions of the state—Brooklyn, Central New York, the Finger Lakes, the Mid-Hudson area and Western New York. So under those 28 licenses issued 11 days later, four New York City boroughs are to get dispensaries—Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. But not Brooklyn, the most populous borough, with 2.6 million people. 

These five regions were chosen by Variscite as areas it seeks to operate in but supposedly faces discrimination. The company is 51% owned by Kenneth Gay, who indeed has a past cannabis conviction—but in Michigan, not New York. And while Variscite is registered in Albany, the owners don’t seem to live in the state of New York. The CAURD program requires applicants to have a “significant presence” in the Empire State. Judge Sharpe’s ruling only applies to licenses issued under the CAURD program, so Brooklyn and the other regions covered by the injunction still stand to get eventual dispensaries, even if Variscite prevails in the courts.

Queried about Variscite’s chances, the OCM only issued the following terse statement to Albany’s News10: “We don’t comment on pending litigation. The Office of Cannabis Management is committed to the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act’s goals of including those impacted by the state’s enforcement of cannabis prohibition in the market that we’re building and we’re additionally committed to getting the New York cannabis supply chain fully operational. The Cannabis Control Board will soon have before it applications for the Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary license which will start closing that supply chain.”

300,000 Pounds in Warehouses

This isn’t the first such legal battle for Michigander Gay—which has raised questions about his motives by voices in the cannabis industry. In 2020, he filed a similar suit via a company called Peridot Tree against the city of Sacramento, CA—again claiming its licensing program ran afoul of interstate commerce protections. He didn’t prevail in the district court and is currently taking the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

 Meanwhile, this hold-up is slowing down an already tortuous process in New York that has implications for cultivators as well as retailers. As Bloomberg reports, the state began issuing cultivation licenses to more than 200 farms this spring, and New York’s first legal harvest is now in—constituting some 300,000 pounds of cannabis flower. But with no legal dispensaries yet operating, it’s all being warehoused—and is in danger of deteriorating.

 Supporting In-State Operators

The state’s commitment to social equity and favoring small operators over MSOs is proving to pose some challenges. As The New York Times reports, companies already operating under the state’s medical cannabis program (including big-name MSOs such as MedMen) would need to pay $5 million to get in on the adult-use market as wholesalers, and at least $3 million as retailers—with a wait of some three years.  The New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association has raised “a number of serious concerns” over these regulations and vowed to push for changes. 

Neil Juneja, a Seattle-based attorney specializing in cannabis, told Cannabis Now that he does view New York’s limitation on out-of-state residents as burdensome: “This was first provided in Washington state and greatly reduced the ability to raise capital. Early state legalization, such as in Washington, had reasons to limit out-of-state access to the industry, such as questions of federal law. But it’s no longer desirable to consider this kind of prohibition. Without adequate access to capital, the New York cannabis market is hobbled in its growth to a robust industry.”

As for more general limitations on vertical integration, Juneja has mixed views. “This provides both benefits and drawbacks. It creates a very competitive market for products, providing the consumer with a great deal of choice and better products. On the downside, it adds in additional costs, which hits the consumer in the wallet, and increases the cost gap between the black market and the (soon-to-be) regulated market.” 

Double Standards and the Commerce Clause 

In a final ironic postscript to all this, Advance Media reports that MedMen brought suit in a New York federal court in October, arguing that its Gotham-based landlord Thor Equities couldn’t demand back rent on a Chicago retail space because cannabis is illegal under federal law. The case was unceremoniously laughed out of court on Nov. 21. 

It seems that for MSOs, cannabis is a legitimate interstate commodity only when they want it to be.

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New York State – Latest to Ban Delta 8 THC

If you like Delta 8 THC products, stock up because they might get a lot harder to find. Last week, the State of New York agreed to ban products that contain Delta 8 THC. New York becomes the seventeenth state to ban Delta 8 THC in a massive blow to the CBD market. It’s a […]

The post New York State – Latest to Ban Delta 8 THC appeared first on Latest Cannabis News Today – Headlines, Videos & Stocks.

It’s official—recreational cannabis is now legal in New York State

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in New York State. Effective immediately, smoking recreational cannabis is now to be lawfully treated with the same approach as cigarettes. Law enforcement has been given new orders on how to respond to cannabis use and for the cannabis community. It’s a breath […]

The post It’s official—recreational cannabis is now legal in New York State appeared first on Latest Cannabis News Today – Headlines, Videos & Stocks.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Canopy Growth Plans Hundreds of Hemp Jobs in New York State (Green Market Report)

// Oregon Senate OKs Freeze on Cannabis Cultivation (Leafly (AP))

// Judges deny request by Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby to dismiss thousands of marijuana convictions (Baltimore Sun)

Today’s headlines are brought to you by our friends over at Eaze.com, California’s top one stop website for legal marijuana delivery. If you live in the golden state, swing over to Eaze.com to see if they are active in your area. With deliveries taking place in less than an hour, it’s never been easier to get legal California marijuana delivery. And of course, if you don’t live where Eaze delivers, you can still benefit from all the useful bits of industry insight and analysis they’ve developed using their properly aggregate and anonymized sales data stream.

// Colorado lawmakers approve marijuana bill to attract outside investors (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Marijuana Legalization Debated At Pennsylvania Joint Policy Hearing (Marijuana Moment)

// Connecticut Lawmakers Discuss Using Marijuana Tax Revenue For Community Reinvestment (Marijuana Moment)

// Poll: Plurality of Texans want full legalization of marijuana (Fox 4 News)

// Missouri to license 60 medical marijuana growers, 190-plus dispensaries (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Ontario’s legal adult-use cannabis sales hit new low (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill (Forbes)

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