Giuliani Associates Offered Donation to Cuomo to Launch Pot Business

Politicians and associates in New York on both sides of the aisle are implicated in alleged involvement of misappropriated money to benefit the launch of a pot business. Two Rudy Giuliani associates—Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—told a Russian millionaire in 2018 they offered a $125,000 straw donation to then-Governor Andrew Cuomo to curry favor in launching a pot business in New York, court filings say.

First reported by New York Daily News, the ongoing scandal continues to reveal a web of corruption in marijuana markets in multiple states.

Cuomo signed legislation on March 31 to legalize adult-use cannabis in New York, but was criticized for dragging his feet in getting the market up and running. New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who replaced Cuomo, promised to pick up where Cuomo failed, and get the state’s adult-use cannabis market off the ground

Political infighting stalled progress in The New York State Legislature—forcing it to end its 2021 session in July without taking action on a core piece of the state’s adult-use cannabis law. New York residents and legal advisors were frustrated about the delays on a control board, among other things.

New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act provides advanced social equity provisions. Like any other state with a legal market, competition is high to obtain licenses and establish dominance in the market. 

But allegations of corruption in the approval process could include both the former governor and the former attorney of Donald Trump.

Manhattan Federal Court papers were filed on Tuesday in the criminal case against Parnas, a former associate who helped Giuliani to uncover dirt on President Joe Biden in the Ukraine. Parnas goes to trial in October on charges that he and several others illegally funneled cash from Russian millionaire Andrey Muraviev to U.S. politicians—which violates campaign finance laws that ban donations from foreigners.

The new documents claim Fruman sent Muraviev a list of which politicians had received the Russian millionaire’s money—including the alleged pot business donation. “The list includes $125,000 ‘Paid’ to then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” federal prosecutors wrote. But prosecutors admitted that there’s no solid evidence that Parnas, Fruman “or anyone acting at their behest actually made this payment” to the ex-governor.

Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi, who resigned last month amid sexual misconduct allegations, said Cuomo’s team had never heard of the donation. 

Fruman pleaded guilty earlier this month and admitted that he funneled at least $25,000 from the Russian to Democrats and Republicans to acquire marijuana distribution licenses in several states. Fruman was originally charged with 10 crimes.

Prosecutors involved in the case don’t seem to be able to determine the intentions of the Giuliani associates, and whether the offer was just a ploy. “Although [they] agreed to use Muraviev’s money to fund their joint cannabis business—primarily by donating to U.S. politicians they believed would help the business—they did not in fact use all the money for that purpose,” the federal prosecutors wrote. “Among other things, Parnas and Fruman used a portion of the money to cover expenses for luxurious hotel accommodations and airfare, and other personal expenses.”

Parnas attorney Joseph Bondy said that federal prosecutors are misinformed, and doesn’t expect the case to go far.

It’s doubtful that Giuliani himself has any interest in investing into the pot business. When Giuliani was mayor of New York City, marijuana possession arrests in the city ballooned to more than 40,000 annually, and the former mayor stated in 2014 that “marijuana can deteriorate your brain.”

Neither former governor Andrew Cuomo nor the associates of former Trump attorney Giuliani appear to be committed to fair policies in New York’s marijuana market.

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Episode 375 – What Can New York and California Learn From Each Other?

Mike Liszewski and Jeremy Berke speak with host Ben Larson about the lessons New York and California can learn from one another as their respective markets take hold and mature, as well as the status of federal legalization and cannabis research legislation. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Photo: Elsa Olofsson/Flickr

New York Governor Vows to Launch Cannabis Industry That Cuomo Stalled

New York Governor Kathy Hochul—who replaced the disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo—promised to pick up where Cuomo failed, and get the state’s adult-use cannabis market off the ground. New York residents grew wearisome, waiting for the industry to materialize as the former governor was consumed with scandals.

For background, former governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature approved the law last March that legalized adult-use cannabis in New York. But Cuomo became embroiled in a dispute with the state Senate, so he didn’t nominate an executive director for the new Office of Cannabis Management—nor did he name appointees to the Cannabis Control Board, even though the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act was passed several months ago.

This left the state’s cannabis industry in a state of limbo, because without the Cannabis Control Board in operation, licenses and new rules cannot be approved.

Cuomo’s scandals came to a head earlier this month. Within a week of a report detailing 11 substantiated women’s allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Governor Cuomo, he was gone. 

On August 10, former governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation, effective August 24—automatically making Hochul governor, who was officially sworn in on the same day his resignation took effect. That made Governor Hochul New York’s first female governor in its history. One of the things she plans on doing differently is tackling cannabis reform, which has dragged on for too long in New York.

Governor Hochul’s representatives confirmed that she plans on filling critical cannabis positions as a priority. “Nominating and confirming individuals with diverse experiences and subject matter expertise, who are representative of communities from across the state, to the Cannabis Control Board is a priority for Gov. Hochul,” the new governor’s spokesman, Jordan Bennett, told The New York Post. “We look forward to working with the legislature to keep this process moving forward,” the Hochul rep said.

According to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Hochul indicated to them also that she will move on the appointments to the Cannabis Control Board. “They have spoken about the need to make appointments to the board,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Stewart-Cousins. 

Heastie said that Governor Hochul was clear about making cannabis a priority during a private meeting that took place on August 9. “She did say that that was something that she wanted us all to concentrate on—and we agreed,” Heastie said.

However, Rochester First reported that Governor Hochul did not discuss cannabis in particular during her first-ever address, but acknowledged her team agreed that cannabis will be a priority.

The First Female New York Governor

Not only is Governor Hochul New York’s first governor, but her appointment means that there are now nine female governors currently in office—tying the record for the highest number of female governors to date.

It represents a significantly more inclusive time for state leadership. Hochul joins Governors Kristi Noem, Kate Brown, Laura Kelly, Kay Ivey, Kim Reynolds, Gretchen Whitmer, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Janet Mills.

Several of the aforementioned governors have been active in cannabis reform, for better or for worse. Governor Kristi Noem, for instance, repeatedly delayed or fought against cannabis reform including South Dakota’s disputed adult use and medical cannabis bill.

Governor Hochul has served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor since 2015. But as Hochul increasing sought to stress her distance from Cuomo it became more apparent that she would ascend to the throne.

But the new governor promised to do things very differently than the man whom she replaced in her new role. “No one,” Hochul said, “will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.”

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Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit New York City to Host Cannabis Night

The popular pop-up dedicated to the brilliant post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, called “Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit New York,” will partner with cannabis lifestyle purveyor HappyMunkey for a special bring-your-own-cannabis (BYOC) event in New York City that will allow guests experience the exhibition after indulging in the herb outside.

By now, you’ve probably seen ads in your feeds for the mesmerizing immersive experience featuring one of the most respected artists in painting history. Immersive Van Gogh exhibitions are now in nearly 30 majors cities dotting the U.S.

The exhibit is created by artist Massimiliano Siccardi and Hamilton’s David Korins and according to its site, “with the help of 60,600 frames of video, 90,000,000 pixels, and 500,000+ cubic feet of projections, this captivating digital art exhibit merges state-of-the-art technology, theatrical storytelling, and world-class animation.”

Siccardi’s installations have been seen by over two million visitors in Paris, France. The event’s first showing took place on August 11. The second “HappyMunkey After Dark” event is set to take place on August 18, from 9:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. ET. Tickets cost between $125 and $200—a bit higher than the normal $40-70 price tag for the exhibition.

Guests will gain access to a “waterfront consumption lounge experience” as smoking is prohibited inside the venue. The event will also provide access to a rental cushion in case you run out of energy, and a swag bag with event-specific merchandise—including a commemorative pin and a poster. 

“The event and waterfront consumption lounge experience is curated by HappyMunkey, a New York City cannabis lifestyle purveyor, providing its members an entrance to the New York cannabis lifestyle through events, podcasts, multimedia and editorial content,” the company stated.

You can even download the Immersive Van Gogh app from Google Play or the App Store. The Lighthouse Immersive app will give you access to “one-of-a-kind augmented reality elements at the original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit New York City.” 

A pass for Immersive Van Gogh is included in the HappyMunkey package. Cannabis will not be provided, however, but the event is BYOC. In New York, possession of cannabis is legal for adults, but the adult-use retail system is not in operation.

Artnet reports that the Immersive Van Gogh has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. Pop-up events have sprung up in more than 20 cities across the country.

The experience arrived in New York this summer, setting up shop at Pier 36 NYC. Feverish anticipation followed: More than 250,000 advance tickets were sold before the opening, the event’s organizers said in June.  

Van Gogh and Absinthe

There is no evidence that Van Gogh smoked any cannabis, however he chain-smoked tobacco out of his trusty pipe—often having only coffee and a cigarette for meals. He even believed that tobacco’s stimulant effects combined with coffee would manifest in his manic painting style.

But Van Gogh drank the mysterious green drink called absinthe to the point of excess. Absinthe was also believed to cause the drinker to see yellow hue around objects, which some say can be seen in paintings such as “Starry Night.” But many skeptics are doubtful that enough absinthe could have been consumed to create this effect.

Back in 1977, High Times profiled the “Green Fairy”, which was believed to induce hallucinations. However, experts have debunked many of the exaggerated effects of absinthe, saying that psychoactive effects due to thujone—the active ingredient in absinthe—are minimal at best, and that most of the effects are due to alcohol.

Nowadays, absinthe is more or less a novelty drink that is consumed using a specially designed spoon and sugar cubes to complete the ritual.

Buy tickets for “Immersive Van Gogh New York” here

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Lawmakers Want to Impose THC Limits

Signed into law in March, cannabis legalization is still very new in New York State. Possession is legal, but dispensaries may not open until summer of 2022. Before that can happen, state Rep. Mike Lawler, an upstate Republican, wants to create exceptions to legalization and restrict what products are available.

Claiming that “[f]requent consumption of high-potency cannabis can result in serious health conditions, including neurotoxicity and substance use disorders,” in June, Lawler introduced a bill that, if passed, would ban cannabis flower with more than 15 percent THC. It would also ban edibles and concentrates with more than 60 percent THC.

If Lawler has his way, most of the products found in dispensaries in Colorado, California and elsewhere would be illegal in New York. And this is a trend. Even as Congress and states across the South consider legalizing marijuana — following the lead of Virginia, which legalized as of July 1 — lawmakers in other states are making similar pushes to restrict high THC products.

Demonizing THC appears to be the latest effort from reliably anti-legalization organizations and activists — who, so far, have failed to thwart marijuana legalization’s strong popularity among voters or slow down legalization’s political momentum. With both New York, the country’s most populous and most-visited city, and Virginia, the first state in the south, legalizing via the legislative process rather than voter initiative, 2021 is arguably legalization’s best year yet.

So far, these efforts have been mostly unsuccessful. But critics in the cannabis industry say this coordinated effort to demonize THC is possibly the most significant push yet to undo cannabis legalization, and it is also darkly reminiscent of the drug war’s worst impulses.

“It’s no accident that this popped up in several statehouses all at once,” said Steven W. Hawkins, the interim CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council, a major Washington, D.C. lobbying organization, and the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Banning high-potency THC means that dabs and powerful flower will fall into the same race-based buckets as cocaine-based drugs did in the 1980s. Demand for high THC products, separated from “good” and “acceptable” legal cannabis products, will not abate; this demand will be fulfilled by the illicit market, thus creating new opportunities for police and the criminal justice system to reappear in cannabis.

“It becomes the ‘new crack,’” Hawkins said. “And the only people who are going to suffer are going to be people of color in huge numbers.”

War on Wooks

There is precedent for some restrictions on the potency of cannabis products. For example, most states limit the amount of THC allowed in edible cannabis products to no more than 100 milligrams per package — and require these to be divided into “individual servings” of 10 milligrams.

Though most cannabis advocates believe these are reasonable restrictions and discourage accidental over-consumption, the underground market is replete with “super strength” edibles of 200 milligrams and much more. And some medical patients with severe symptoms require higher dosages, which means they must simply purchase more product to consume.

“I don’t agree with potency caps at all — they’re a ridiculous waste of time, and at the end of the day, all they do is hurt patients,” said Amber E. Senter, a Bay Area-based entrepreneur and CEO of Breeze Distro, a licensed California distributor. In California, THC caps triggered a massive disruption of the edibles market, forcing some companies to end business.

And in Illinois, home of some of the biggest publicly traded cannabis companies in the U.S., the state taxes high-THC products more heavily than mids, which also encourages off-books cannabis activity.

But lawmakers in even established cannabis markets are proposing laws that would remove legal products from dispensary shelves.

Earlier this year in Colorado, home of the oldest legal adult-use market in the country, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo and state Sen. Paul Lundeen introduced a bill that would have capped THC levels in legal cannabis at 15 percent and slapped a host of other restrictions on edible products and concentrates, according to Colorado NORML. Medical patients would be completely banned from buying concentrates, and adult-use customers would not be able to buy concentrates sold under “national brands.”

A fierce backlash gutted the bill, but some restrictions did pass. Earlier this summer, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law an amended version that caps the daily limit for concentrate sales at 8 grams — 20 percent of what was legal beforehand.

In Florida, still medical only but widely considered to be the next major adult-use market, lawmakers earlier this year introduced a bill that would have capped THC in flower — which was initially banned outright in the state —  at only 10 percent.

That bill died after opposition from major elected officials including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, but DeSantis, a front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, kept the door open for future cannabis potency restrictions when he repeated a baseless talking point pushed by anti-legalization activists.

“If you look at some of the stuff that’s now coming down, there’s a lot of really bad things in it,” he said, according to reports.

And in the United States Senate, as senators consider a recently introduced federal legalization bill, they are also discussing a national THC cap — and it’s bipartisan.

In March, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called on the National Institutes of Health to “make a recommendation, jointly with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as to whether states should cap the potency of products that may be sold.”

Cannabis insiders like Senter doubted that hard caps would become law in markets like California, where cannabis use has been widespread and accepted for years — and where there was an established commercial marketplace under medical cannabis, years before adult-use legalization.

“But some of the places that don’t have great advocates, like Florida, this may end up getting through,” she warned.

Legalization Rollback

Policy experts who pushed for legalization say that potency caps are inspired by prohibition-minded lobbyists looking for a win, even if it’s an arbitrary rollback of legalization that will encourage illicit market activity without any practical advantages.

“THC limits were never intended to be applied to inhalable forms of cannabis,” said Mason Tvert, a longtime cannabis lobbyist who helped pass Amendment 64 in Colorado and a partner at VS Strategies, a major policy consulting firm.

“These types of potency limits aren’t workable when it comes to inhalable forms of cannabis like flower and concentrates, and they really raise a lot of concerns,” he added. While potency limits on edibles may be appropriate in order to reduce the likelihood of accidental over-consumption, “you don’t have that type of situation with inhalable products.”

A “Concerted Effort”

According to the U.S. Cannabis Council’s Hawkins, the nationwide push for potency caps is a “concerted effort” that’s partially a sign of legalization’s success but could also be an ill omen for the future.

“It’s a sign that our adversaries realize that they cannot stop us, either at the ballot box or in the legislative chambers, and so they’re thinking of other ways to slow down the progress,” he said.

THC caps should be expected from legalization opponents like New York State’s Lawler, who resisted legalization throughout the legislative process (and issued a press release lamenting the lack of THC caps when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law).

The real trouble will come if an otherwise well-meaning moderate lawmaker accepts a potency cap in order to appeal to conservatives — or if a potency cap is otherwise negotiated into a law as a sign of compromise. The illicit market will continue to thrive, and police and prosecutors would have a brand-new excuse to involve cannabis producers, sellers and consumers in the criminal justice system.

“It could really hurt a lot of the progress we’ve made reversing some of the disparity caused by our criminal justice system,” Hawkins said. “We think it will ultimately backfire.”

If it doesn’t, there are signs of what may happen. Before COVID-19, the biggest scare around lung health in the United States was EVALI, a lung condition triggered by vaporizers. The culprit was illicit market high potency cannabis oil — exactly the products Lawler and other lawmakers want to remove from the legal adult-use cannabis industry.

The post Lawmakers Want to Impose THC Limits appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Episode 61 – How New York and New Jersey Are Legalizing Marijuana with Evan Nison

Activist and entrepreneur Evan Nison speaks with hosts Jordan Wellington and Andrew Livingston about how their home state of New Jersey as well as New York as legalizing marijuana, as well as some of the work he’s done and is doing through his PR company NisonCo. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Episode 364 – A Tribute to Steve Fox

Betty Aldworth, Andrew Livingston, Jordan Wellington, and Mason Tvert join host Kris Krane to talk about the life and legacy of our friend and activist Steve Fox, who passed away at the age of 53 in April. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Photo: Nancy Lane/Boston Globe

Episode 363 – New York’s Big Marijuana Moves

Jeremy Berke joins host Ben Larson to talk about the rumored embrace of cannabis companies by the Toronto Stock Exchange, the substantial cannabis reform enacted in New York and the business opportunities soon to flow, and the latest news out of international cannabis. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Photo: Elsa Olofsson/Flickr