California Bill To Bar Employment Urine and Hair Drug Tests for Cannabis Advances

A bill that would add protections to employees in California who consume cannabis off the clock is advancing and could head to the Senate floor shortly. The bill would disallow job discrimination from employers, in most cases, based on urine or hair tests that detect only inactive metabolites of THC.

Urine or hair tests only can detect inactive metabolites of THC days or weeks later, making them a poor indicator of impairment—or even recent use. The bill would still allow the use of oral swab or computer-based performance tests—which is actually a more reliable indicator of recent use or impairment.

While Assembly Bill 2188 would protect employees in California who smoke off the clock from inaccurate drug testing formats, it would continue to allow an employer to take action against employees who are impaired on the clock. There are also exemptions, of course, for federal workers and construction workers.

The bill is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Nurses Association, CA Board of Registered Nursing, and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930. In addition, the California Employment Lawyers Association, United Cannabis Business Association, Cannabis Equity Policy Council, Americans for Safe Access, and California Cannabis Industry Association, also support the bill.

Employers can’t test for THC—only for THC metabolites, the waste product of THC, which urine tests and hair tests look at. Urine tests are not a reliable indicator of impairment based on THC metabolites, nor do they have any value for employers who might have bigger things to worry about, such as alcoholism or opioid abuse. 

“This whole piss-testing regime is really the result of government fraud in the first place,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer tells High Times. “There was never any good evidence that piss testing, in particular looking for metabolites, had anything to do with public safety.”

It’s nothing more than a remnant of the Reagan-era Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, which picked up amid the peak of “Just Say No” fever.

Gieringer continues, “There’s never been an FDA study to show that that’s true. I mean, if I had a new drug, or medical device, that I said, ‘If you give this to your employees, they will have fewer accidents, and they’ll be more reliable and better employees.’ If I had such a medical device, or drug, the FDA would require me to do doubleblind controlled clinical studies proving that that’s the case.”

“That was never, ever done for urine testing. It was basically a scam by former Reagan drug officials who—after leaving the government—went into the urine-testing business, and were well-connected, in general, with the government, who sort of decided that it would be profitable to require these tests a long time ago—the late ‘80s. And so we’re just putting an end to that fraud.”

California NORML issued a press release, urging Californians to reach out to their state senators. “Scientific studies have failed to show that urine testing is effective at preventing workplace accidents. Numerous studies have found that workers who test positive for metabolites have no higher risk of workplace accidents.”

“Ironically, under current drug testing rules, workers may use addictive opiates for medical use, but are forbidden to use medical cannabis, which has been shown to reduce opiate use,” Gieringer continued.

The California Assembly approved the bill, as well as the Senate Judiciary and Labor committees, and the bill was assigned to the Appropriations suspense file.

In the event that the bill is approved at a committee hearing on August 11, it will move to the Senate floor for a vote. California NORML is urging residents to write a letter to your state senator in support of AB 2188.

Twenty-one states currently have laws protecting employment rights for medical cannabis users, and five states (Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Montana and Connecticut) plus several cities (New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Kansas City MO, Rochester NY and Richmond VA) protect recreational cannabis consumers’ employment rights,” added Cal NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp. “California, a global leader in progressive causes, still has no protections for its workers who consume cannabis. It’s high time to change that and protect California’s workers.”

California could be next on the list to provide protections for employees who consume cannabis off the clock.

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Honoring the Legacy of Michigan Advocate Zahra Abbas

The cannabis community suffers great losses in the passing of its community members, but today it is with great regret that we report the passing of Michigan cannabis advocate and political activist, Zahra Abbas, who was 35 years old.

The Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party for which she held the position of Chair announced her passing on July 28. “Without Zahra the Cannabis Caucus would not be what it is today and the world is a lonelier place without her presence,” the Caucus wrote online. “Our deepest condolences to her family and friends. We know she touched many all across this great state and beyond.”

Abbas was a prominent figure advocating for cannabis as a patient herself, and sought to spread the word about cannabis and its medical benefits. “Zahra was dedicated to teaching the world about the health benefits of cannabis and helping lead the progressive movement action to remedy the catastrophic consequences of the war on drugs,” the post continued. “Zahra was frequently failed by our healthcare system and cannabis prohibition that would at times deny her the only medicine that could bring her seizures under control.”

Detroit’s Metro Times reported on Zahra’s passing, describing an interview they conducted with her in 2017. At the time, she suffered from daily seizures that were not solved through brain surgery or prescription medication—but cannabis was a game changer for her.

“As soon as I started it, within a few days my seizures stopped,” Abbas told Metro Times in 2017. “Before I started looking into it for epilepsy I was very much against marijuana because there was so much misinformation around it. It came to the choice between using that and having another brain surgery to control my seizures. … Turning to cannabis was kind of my last resort.”

She volunteered to gather signatures for the legalization ballot that appeared before voters in 2018, in hopes that others could utilize cannabis just as she did. “I’m doing this because I think more people should have access to cannabis because it helps all people,” she told Metro Times. “It should be everybody’s right to use it,” she added.

But her journey into the cannabis industry had only just begun. Her advocacy grew, and she later became Vice Chair and, later, Chair of the Cannabis Caucus, and also Vice president of the Detroit chapter of Motor City NORML. She had an instrumental role in commuting the sentence of Michael Thompson, a man convicted of a cannabis crime who had survived 60 years in prison.

Fellow advocate Jamie Lowell told Metro Times that at one point, Abbas had to quit cannabis in order to pass a drug test for a new job, but her seizures returned. “She soon had a major seizure and vowed to not quit again for anything,” Lowell said. “After resuming, she was again seizure-free. This was her powerful and amazing testimony.”

Speakers at a rally featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders, which was held in Pontiac, Michigan on July 29, took a moment to honor Abbas’s memory. Rep. Rashida Tlaib called Abbas “an incredible warrior.” “Her heart was full of love for community, and there wasn’t a cause that she did not take on … 100%,” Tlaib said. “She was one of our biggest advocates for health care and access to alternative approaches, including cannabis … and she never gave up the fight. She will be sorely missed. I know that she is with us today.”

Also present was Dr. Abdul El-Sayeda who previously ran for Michigan governor in 2018, whose spoke about Abbas’s selfless dedication to the cause. “She took her pain and she used it to bring people together, to fight for all of the things that she herself was denied, recognizing that it could have been anyone else,” El-Sayeda said. “She took that pain and decided to make the world that much better.”

“Zahra didn’t have very much time, but Zahra put all of herself into the time she had,” he added.

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First Cannabis-Themed NFT Gallery to Debut in Arizona

The cannabis-themed NFT gallery in Phoenix, Arizona is set to open to the public at a special event held on July 22, featuring NFT artwork by Elise Weiland. The event is in partnership with Plant. Body. Soul., a creative marketing agency that focuses on cannabis, which is hosting the debut of the NFT gallery, called Owls After Dark.

The opening night event is called Friday Highday After Dark, which according to a press release, will be the “first phase of the [Plant.Body.Soul.] agency’s NFT roadmap.”

Plant.Body.Soul. Managing Partner and Co-founder, Jennifer Miles, explained her hopes for the future with this new NFT project. “The minting of the Owls After Dark NFT gallery marks the first step in our community access utility project that seeks to unite members through innovation, art, music, and real-life experiences,” said Miles.

The gallery’s other Co-founder, Gordon Ogden, also commented on the exciting prospects for these unique NFT offerings. “We are committed to the continual expansion of our NFT community,” said Ogden. “In the months following the launch we plan to hold exclusive events curated for registered NFT holders, create a Discord server for members, and incorporate additional features and virtual reality experiences.”

Weiland’s digital artwork often centers around the psychedelic, abstract digital sculptures, and exploring unique fantasy environments. Some of Weiland’s influences include “internet culture, design culture, tattoo culture and counterculture,” which are usually depicted with many colorful elements that they describe as fun, dreamy, and perhaps a little bit dark”. Last year Weiland crafted a 3D procedural techno forest for the Fall 2021 issue of Broccoli Magazine’s mycophiles magazine, called Mushroom People.

Those who purchase NFTs featured in the Owls After Dark gallery will also receive real-world benefits as well. These rewards include access to swag drops, a high-quality art print of their NFT, and regular access to Plant. Body. Soul.’s ongoing Friday Highday Happy Hour and Friday Highday After Dark events. The NFTs will be available on OpenSea, one of the largest NFT marketplaces, after the event begins.

Courtesy of Owls After Dark

Friday Highday After Dark embraces multiple facets of local cannabis culture. Food will be made by High Vibe Kitchen Collective, and an “intimate, yet highly curated” wellness lounge from Cannakula will be present. Local cannabis brands such as Aeriz, Curaleaf, Select, Good Things Coming, and Sunday Goods will be in attendance to promote their products, and members from Arizona NORML will also be there to educate attendees about consumer rights and their ongoing effort to help expunge cannabis convictions. Music will also be performed by Phoenix Crews, Record Bar Radio, and Melrose House.

Recently NFTs and cannabis have become a popular partnership, with some cannabis brands featuring NFT artwork on their packaging. But it’s also being used as a collaborative effort to promote advocacy in the industry as well.

In January, Burn1, the Black Comics Collective, and The Weldon Project worked together to create an NFT project that would benefit those who have been negatively affected by the War on Drugs. Original art was presented by John Jennings, and even an unreleased Snoop Dogg song was offered.

The Weldon Project’s Founder, Weldon Angelos, praised the merging of cannabis and art for the community. “I began The Weldon Project and launched the MISSION [GREEN] initiative to raise the bar for awareness, social justice, and social equity around cannabis and provide relief to those who have been negatively impacted by unjust drug laws,” said Angelos. “This NFT project with the Black Comics Collective and Burn1 is exciting because it allows me to further our mission while creating an exciting new blend of art, music, and activism.”

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California Bill to Require Cannabis Warnings About Mental Disorder Risks Advances

Should cannabis products in California come with warnings about rare, adverse reactions for people living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, or does it fuel false or exaggerated beliefs about cannabis?

Senate Bill 1097, the Cannabis Right to Know Act, was introduced February 16 by Sen. Richard Pan, and is sponsored by the Public Health Institute, a nonprofit. On June 21, it was amended in the Committee on Business and Professions, as support for the bill gained steam.

Some researchers say people must already have a predisposition for a mental disorder like schizophrenia for these types of negative reactions to occur, while others disagree. Others say certain types of products shouldn’t be a big concern.

“Cal NORML agrees that consumers should be educated about the risks of psychotic reactions, especially in connection with high-THC concentrates and dabs,” Dale Gieringer told High Times. “Cyclical vomiting syndrome is another concern. We doubt whether label warnings are a useful way of informing them, though. Consumers are already jaded by the proliferation of inane Prop. 65 warnings.”

Gieringer has been the state coordinator of California’s NORML branch since 1987, before adult-use regulations took effect, ramping up safety efforts. Requiring warnings like this on products like topicals and CBD products isn’t the solution, he says.

He continued, “We don’t think SB 1097 is the right answer. It doesn’t make sense to be posting these warnings on harmless products like topicals or high-CBD varieties. Consumers weren’t consulted by the authors of SB 1097. We think more research is needed to determine the best way of informing consumers about the risks of THC over-consumption.”

On June 30, the Kaiser Health News profiled an instance of a teen who had an adverse reaction to pot, and it was later revealed that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Liz Kirkaldie’s grandson didn’t have a good experience with cannabis, but he suffered from schizophrenia. The pot appeared to enhance delusions like hearing voices. “They were going to kill him and there were people coming to eat his brain. Weird, weird stuff,” Kirkaldie said. “I woke up one morning, and no Kory anywhere. Well, it turns out, he’d been running down Villa Lane here totally naked.”

“The drug use activated the psychosis, is what I really think,” she said.

Seek and ye shall find, and there are plenty of peer-reviewed studies that show the negative outcomes from cannabis use. According to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry on March 19, 2019, the focus is on high-potency pot, and the risk is over four times greater for people who use high-potency pot daily than for those who have never smoked. But often these risks are blown out of proportion.

Fearmongers have banked on studies like these, such as Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence—who was permanently banned from Twitter for you guessed it, the spread of misinformation. The way arguments are presented makes it seem as though schizophrenia is common.

Other researchers say drugs, nicotine, and other factors that aren’t pot muddy up the results in studies searching for a real correlation between pot and schizophrenia, nor other mental disorders.

A 2014 study, led by Ashley C. Proal and Dr. Lynn E. DeLisi of Harvard Medical School recruited pot smokers with and without a family history of schizophrenia, as well as non-smokers with and without such a history. But this time, the pot users did not use any other drugs, so they could rule out those factors. What they actually found was a heightened schizophrenia risk among people with a family history—regardless of cannabis use.

“My study clearly shows that cannabis does not cause schizophrenia by itself,” Dr. DeLisi told the New York Times in 2019. “Rather, a genetic predisposition is necessary. It is highly likely, based on the results of this study and others, that cannabis use during adolescence through to age 25, when the brain is maturing and at its peak of growth in a genetically vulnerable individual, can initiate the onset of schizophrenia.”

Other experts backed up Dr. DeLisi’s guess that schizophrenia warnings could be a bit inflated. “Usually it is the research types who are doing ‘the sky is falling’ bit, but here it is switched,” said Dr. Jay Geidd, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. “The researchers are wary of overselling the dangers, as was clearly done in the past. However, clinicians overwhelmingly endorse seeing many more adolescents with ‘paranoia’”

SB 1097 now heads to an appropriations committee, sent on June 22, for another reading.

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From the Archives: Hemp Tour ’90 (1990)

By Steve Bloom

“The bus was busted!” HIGH TIMES Executive Editor John Holmstrom informed me as I walked into the office, only hours before my train to Toledo was scheduled to leave. It was March 28th—just four days before the Hash Bash, the main event on the spring Hemp Tour. I was planning to catch up with the bus in Toledo, Ohio, then hitch a ride to Lansing, Michigan, for a rally on March 30.

“What happened?” I asked. John had spoken to Ben Masel, the Hemp Tour’s primary organizer. “They tried to search the bus in Bowling Green [Ohio]. Someone was arrested and they towed the bus away,” John explained. “That’s all I know.”

The white Hemp Tour school bus had made the rounds during the previous fall’s Hemp Tour.

It wasn’t exactly psychedelic, but it certainly stood out. I was worried that the bust would grind the three-month Hemp Tour to a halt. I was also concerned that one of my friends had been arrested. With this sketchy information in mind, I left the office, walked over to Grand Central Station, and boarded my train. Next stop, Toledo.

March 30

Before leaving, I call a number in Toledo that was given to me by Doug McVey, who along with Rick Pfrommer and Debbie Goldsberry (one of the Hemp Tour’s key coordinators) wrote up the Hemp Tour ’90 Organizer’s Manual. A woman named Lara answers and promises that someone from the Tour will meet me at the train station when I arrive at 7 AM. I find that hard to believe. But believe it or not, a familiar white VW van is waiting for me as I walk out of the Toledo station that rainy morning. Ben is driving, and Monica, Shan, and Kevin are crowded into the back. Sort of a guest of honor, I’m given the passenger seat.

I quickly learn that the bus is in the possession of Debbie and members of Red Fly Nation, a hot new band from Kentucky that joined the tour in Lexington a week ago. But there’s another problem: The bus won’t run. Fortunately, Amazin’ Dave (from last year’s HIGH TIMES psychedelic bus trip to Ann Arbor) is on the scene, fixing the transmission so the bus can at least make it to Ann Arbor by the 1st.

So what happened in Bowling Green? Shan Clark, a veteran of the fall Tour, explains: “We had to park pretty far away from the rally, near a school. A cop named Cowboy, who wears a cowboy hat around Bowling Green, watched us unloading our material. Paul [Troy] was asleep on the bus while the rally was going on, and two cops knocked on the door at about 2:45 PM. They said they were coming on the bus. Paul said, ‘No, you’re not. I’m afraid you need a search warrant.’ They threw him out of the bus, onto the ground, and handcuffed him—when we saw him, he had a bloody nose and his hands were purple from the cuffs. They impounded the bus and then went ahead with a search. When we got to the tow yard the next day, the bus was trashed. They ransacked our bus, went through all our bags, and found two seeds. That’s been the low point so far.” Paul was freed on $100 bail (he pleaded no contest and accepted a year’s probation); the bus was fined $10 for a crack in the windshield and charged $50 for the tow. As far as the rally on the campus of Bowling Green State University was concerned, 500 people came to hear the news about how hemp can save the world and why marijuana should be legalized.

As we drive north to East Lansing for today’s rally, the rain subsides. Somehow, Ben finds Valley Court Park, where the rally is being held. Large black-and-white banners proclaiming HEMP FOR THE OVERALL MAJORITY OF EARTH’S PAPER * FIBER * FUEL * FOOD * PAINT * VARNISH * MEDICINE AND TO LIVE LONGER, OR THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT-CHOOSE ONE and the simpler HEMP FOR VICTORY (as well as a huge American flag) are already hanging from a baseball cage. These signs can only mean one thing: Jack Herer is here.

The burly, gruff-voiced author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes preceded our arrival by half an hour. His team, which includes Maria Farrow, Willie, Nelson, J.S. and Brenda, quickly posted the signs and are already selling books, stickers, and hemp clothing. In a particularly impassioned fashion, Shan introduces Jack to the spring break crowd. Waving a copy of The Reign of Law, which was printed on hemp paper, Jack ignites sparks with this fiery commentary: “We only have to be committed to the ideal that no human being on earth will ever go to prison again for a natural substance. People aren’t aware that the government has outlawed vegetables. There should be no laws against natural things. We have to drive a stake through the heart of prohibitionism.”

NORML’S National Director, Don Fiedler, also speaks, as do Ben and several locals. A band named 47 Tyme follows the speakers. This causes a problem. Seems that just beyond the park is a senior citizen’s residence. After receiving a few calls about the noise, the police decide to make their presence felt. Ben engages in conversation with them, then is told that someone has to accept the charge of disturbing the peace. Like a good Hemp Tour trooper, Ben takes the fall instead of the local organizers. He’s driven to the stationhouse, pays a $25 fine, and returns to the rally. No big deal. But it’s another reminder that there’s always a price to pay in the rally business.

March 31

It’s Hash Bash weekend, and Freedom Fighters from all over the country are beginning to converge on Ann Arbor. The first sight we see when we leave our hotels is a shiny purple bus in the parking lot. We decide to investigate. Inside is the West Virginia Freedom Fighter contingent, led by Roger the shaggy-bearded driver. Kind bud they call “hackweed” is being passed around. A coughing siege ensues. Now we know why they call it hackweed.

The morning papers bring good news. “Judge OK’s U-M Pot Rally Permit-Says U-M Violated Free Speech,” reads the front-page headline of the Ann Arbor News. In October, the University of Michigan granted NORML a permit to hold the Hash Bash at its traditional location—on the campus’ Diag. But in February, the school rescinded the permit. Fortunately, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Donald Shelton recognized the impropriety of that decision and restored the permit literally at the 11th hour. “The University’s mishandling of the NORML permit application completely undermines its contention that any danger presented by the NORML rally is ‘clear’ or ‘present,’” the judge ruled.

But first things first. Saturday’s reserved for the first annual Freedom Fighters convention. Roger’s purple bus carts dozens of FFs to the picnic-style meeting, where spliffs are smoked, state chapter heads are elected, Chef RA’s rasta-riffic eats are chowed, and networking and partying are generally accomplished.

April 1

The Hash Bash begins at noon—without amplification. But thanks to the boys in Red Fly Nation, a PA is set up. Herer, Fiedler, Masel, Hash Bash organizer Rick Birkett, and Gatewood Galbraith, who introduces himself as the next governor of the state of Kentucky (he’s running in the 1991 race), all speak. Red Fly Nation plays a few songs before the PA is cut off at 2 PM. Even a midday downpour and numerous arrests can’t dampen the spirit of the 5,000-plus ralliers.

After the rally concludes at 6 PM, the scene shifts to the Heidelberg, where the HIGH TIMES contingent stages a high-energy benefit concert for NORML, featuring the Soul Assassins, the Nozems, and anti-folk artists Bobby Belfiore and Dave Herrera. The revelry continues through the night. Once again, the Hash Bash is a blast.

Courtesy of High Times

April 2

The backdrop for the Hash Bash was today’s pot referendum in Ann Arbor. In 1972, the city established a $5 fine for marijuana use and possession. Though the $5 fine was repealed the next year, it was written into Ann Arbor’s charter in 1974. Nine years later, another attempt to repeal it was voted down by a 61 percent majority. Now, in 1990, a referendum to raise the fine to $25 for a first offense has made it to the ballot. Hopefully, the spirit of the Hash Bash will bring voters out. A vote of no on Proposal B would keep the fine at $5.

Meanwhile, Jack, Don, and Gatewood leave for Detroit early this morning to appear on the morning show Kelly & Company. A 10 AM rally at Wayne State University is next on the agenda. (Herer’s crew handles that one.) Back in Ann Arbor, we’re moving rather slowly. Our only hope is to get to Detroit in time for a 1 PM legalization debate at the University of Detroit’s Student Union. We fill up the bus and hit the road.

Everyone on the panel is wearing a suit except for Jack, who’s wearing his tan hemp shirt (he never leaves home without it) over a tie-dyed t-shirt. Zolton Ferency, a Michigan State prof who’s running for the State Senate on a legalization platform, is there along with Rep. John Conyers and several others. Ferency quotes the following National Institute on Drug Abuse figures (1988): deaths from tobacco, 346,000; alcohol, 125,000; alcohol and drugs mixed, 4000; cocaine, 2000; marijuana, 75 (HIGH TIMES would tend to question this figure). Directing himself to Conyers, Ferency says:

“Deal with the drug problem as a public-health problem. Keep it out of the criminal justice system. It is not going to be solved by police, prosecutors, criminal courts, or prisons.”

Conyers, who is black, explains that he’s “against the way William Bennett runs the anti-drug strategy because it’s racist. When you focus on crack, you focus on blacks, by and large. The profile of the average drug user is white, middle class, and suburban. I want to change the laws that deal with the prosecution of drugs. Why don’t we get a justice system that really works—in which we get the drug dealers and the government out of it, rather than making it legal? I put treatment as a higher priority than making it all legal.”

Herer hammers away with the hemp argument. “The greatest tax on earth is the harm to the environment that the fossil fuels and synthetic fibers are causing to this planet,” Jack offers. “There is one single plant on earth that replaces 100 percent of our need for any of those—something that can be grown by American farmers, not mined by oil companies. We’re talking about hemp—the safest therapeutically active substance known to mankind.” At this point, Conyers picks up a copy of The Emperor Wears No Clothes and leafs through it.

From the audience, Ben issues his chess challenge to Drug Bizarre William Bennett or any prosecutor, narcotics officer, or anyone else who believes that marijuana is harmful to the intelligence. “I’ve been smoking it for 23 years,” he says. “If it causes permanent brain damage, I must be in bad shape—so prove it.”

Fiedler walks to the podium and addresses Conyers, who serves on several House committees that deal with drug issues. “We’re not asking you to legalize marijuana at this point, but if you’re holding hearings…”

Conyers interrupts. “Would you like to be a witness?”

“I’d love to,” Fiedler says.

“I would love to discuss the matter with you—here and in Washington,” Conyers adds.

Afterwards, Ferency tells me about his plan to legalize pot. “I’m not for taxing it. We don’t tax liquor, we sell it. In Michigan, you’re allowed to make 200 gallons of wine for personal use; I’m suggesting the same thing for marijuana. You want to grow your own pot, fine—it’s the same as wine. I deliberately came up with a plan that deals with merchandising marijuana in Michigan.

“I did that in response to our Drug Czar’s suggestion that it couldn’t be done. It can be done—very easily.”

Ferency ran for governor in 1966. He headed the state’s Democratic party for five years and was the liquor commissioner 30 years ago. He’s a lawyer by trade. “I’m the state’s best known liberal. I’ve been all over the road. I’ve been at this for 40 years. I know how it goes. I was in the anti-war movement, all the movements. What you need is middle-of-the-road presentations. People are convinced that we’re losing the War on Drugs by just reading the daily papers. They’ll listen to anybody who comes along and tells them, ‘Here’s one way we might be able to get out of this mess.’ That’s been my experience.”

Ferency’s opponent has the support of the governor. “It’s a tough struggle, it’s uphill. The governor wants that seat. All my opponent will have to do is sit in it. The governor’s raising $400,000 for her. Four hundred grand for a state legislative seat? Unheard of!” If you’d like to contribute to Zolton Ferency’s campaign—the primary is in August—send a donation to: Ferency for Senate Committee, PO Box 6446, East Lansing, Ml 48826.

Following the debate, we’re invited back to an off-campus party house. That evening, Herer is feted at a book reception at Alvin’s, a club near Wayne State.

April 3-4

Tuesday’s a rare off day for the Hemp Tour. I’m hanging out with Jack, who usually goes his separate way from the bus. He spends hours on the telephone, doing radio interviews, taking care of business. He’s a bundle of creative energy and never seems to relax.

Jack loves to see himself in print, whether he’s doing the writing or is being written about. Today’s Detroit Free Press runs a profile of Jack entitled, “Rebel With an Illegal Cause.” He’s pleased. Reporters seem to be gravitating toward the hemp issue; Jack’s book and his tireless efforts to promote the plant are the primary reasons why.

But there’s bad news, too; Ann Arbor voters, by a 53 to 47 percent majority, have decided to raise their town’s pot fine to $25.

A call from Fiedler, who’s returned to Washington, swings the mood back in a positive direction. Rep. Conyers has asked that Jack testify before the House Judiciary Committee. It’s cause to celebrate. Jack lights up a bowlful and kicks back for a few moments.

“We’re gonna win this thing, Bloom,” he barks. “No fucking way we’re gonna lose.”

Jack takes particular pleasure in converting people to his hemp message. One convert is David Hamburger, an otherwise conservative fellow who met Jack last November at the “Just Say Know” rally in Athens, Ohio. Marvin Surowitz, the organizer of the Detroit events, invited him to Athens. “Before I met Jack, I was totally on the other side—talk about quick political conversions,” says David, who is a private investor and former Bush supporter. “After the conference, I saw things differently. Cannabis, used in reasonable amounts, is an excellent natural relaxant and should be legalized. I smoke pot to increase my productivity and to take away tension headaches. But, to be honest, I find marijuana politics much more stimulating than marijuana.”

Around midnight, Jack begins mobilizing his troops for an early-morning trek to Cleveland—the next stop on the Hemp Tour. He’s scheduled to appear on The Morning Exchange TV program at 8 AM. Jack designates me as the driver. It’s an excruciating ride, but we make it right on time. A middle-aged man named Bernie Baltic is responsible for setting up the morning debate. He deposits us in a hotel and rushes Jack to the studio. Except for a change of tie-dyes, Jack’s dressed the same as he was two mornings ago. We turn the TV to channel 5 and await the debate.

The first question asked is: “Can hemp really reverse the Greenhouse Effect?” Jack rattles off all the glorious uses for hemp. The anti-drug advocate weakly challenges Jack’s hemp information and then begins reciting the standard litany about marijuana: it kills brain cells, it’s a “gateway drug,” and so on. Jack flicks these arguments away like so many marijuana ashes. From my point of view, the debate’s not even a contest.

There’s hardly any time to catch a few minutes sleep before the noon rally at Cleveland’s Public Square. Surrounded by tall office buildings and buffered by traffic, the location is perfect: No one can complain about the noise. And no one does. The rally runs five hours—Red Fly Nation plays for nearly two—without a hitch. What makes this event special is the turnout—not so much the numbers (about 400 total), but the mix of people who stop by for a quick listen. “In many ways, this has been our most successful date yet,” Ben says. “We were in front of the whole city, not just a student crowd—we had business people coming through, it was a much more mixed reception.” Even blacks, who are notably absent on the Tour, were in attendance. Thank Red Fly Nation’s funkadelic sounds for that.

John Hartman, Ohio NORML’s North Coast coordinator, who along with Ohio NORML leader Cliff Barrows organized the rally, is also excited about the “variety of people” who turned out. So where do people who attended the rally go from here? “I want them to write their representatives, take some of our literature and xerox it, pass out 100 copies here, 100 copies there—just get it out,” John says. “There’s nothing illegal about going door-to-door or standing on a street corner and handing pamphlets out. It’s a standard way of soliciting people—and the cheapest. Right now we don’t have the dollars, so it just comes down to getting out in the streets and informing people—leafletting or making calls or taking opinion polls, any contact with people.”

John invites the Hemp Tour back to his house to party and spend the night. Without people like John, the Hemp Tour would be forced to run up some pretty high hotel bills. Considering that the Tour runs on whatever it makes in sales of t-shirts and assorted products, this hospitality is invaluable.

Courtesy of High Times

April 5

Today’s headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer reads, “Hemp is Given a New Twist—Fair Promotes Pot’s Many Uses.” In the article, a botanist from Case Western Reserve University admits he doesn’t know much about hemp other than its fiber is tough and it grows at a phenomenal rate. He suggests Flax, which is used to make linen and linseed oil, has similar properties to hemp.

During the ride down to the next stop—Kent State University—with Ben and Cliff, Ben says, “I want to reach the farm press and the farm researchers on this tour—make a particular effort to touch base at the agriculture schools, find the professors who might be motivated to take a closer look, and meet the kind of people who can convince the agriculture departments to give them permits to study the plant.”

Ben Masel is a professional activist. He not only runs the Hemp Tour, he also publishes The Zenger, an underground newspaper, out of his home base of Madison, Wisconsin. Ben’s style is more academic and less charismatic than Jack’s. He’s an expert polemicist and quite a good storyteller (his country twang and ironic outlook reminds me of Arlo Guthrie). Ben was the HIGH TIMES’ 1988 Counterculture Hero of the Year. I ask him to tell me when he first became politically active.

“One turning point was during the fourth grade, when we did Inherit the Wind as a class play. I was the teacher who was on trial for teaching evolution,” he laughs. “In the sixth grade, we were the first kids in the country to be bussed to integrate a black school. This was in Teaneck, New Jersey. By the 10th grade, we had been resegregated. While we were all in the same building, the classes weren’t integrated anymore. This led us to occupy the principal’s office in the spring of 10th grade. We held it for three days, and won most of our 13 unconditional demands. The principal resigned on the third day.

“Upon hearing about the shootings at Kent State, we got together a meeting of 150-200 students in the auditorium after school and we decided to call a strike. Next we heard that the Student Council wanted to join us. Then the principal came by and offered to cooperate with us if we called it a teach-in instead of a strike. A couple of days later, the Board of Education wanted to can the principal because one of the speakers at the teach-in had referred to ‘that motherfucker Nixon.’”

Appropriately, we arrive in Kent as Ben’s discussing his reaction to the events that devastated this small college town 20 years ago. Ben has a lot of personal history connected to Kent State University. He joined the May 4th Coalition in the late 70s in its efforts to prevent the University from building a gym over part of the area where the 1970 shootings occurred. They lost that battle. Perhaps today would be another.

The Hemp Tour was unable to obtain sponsorship from a student group for the rally. The Progressive Student Network balked out of fear that it would lose its registration if a legal problem arose. In addition, the school only allows use of a PA system in the plaza outside the Student Center for one hour a day—from noon to 1 PM. At 12:30, Ben plugs in the PA and begins to speak into a microphone. A crowd of about 100 congregate. By 1 PM, the local police are about to close in. Debbie warns Ben that they mean business, but he keeps talking until the police pull the plug at about 1:25. Ben races over to the PA and plugs it back in. The police grab him; the battle is on.

Ben clearly resists. They pull his hair. It takes four cops to lead Ben to their car, which is waiting about 200 feet away at the curb. The crowd chants, “Bullshit!” and “Let him go!” The cops don’t listen. In the chaos, a female frosh named Sharon Burns gets caught up in the activity. She and Ben are both arrested and taken to the nearby police station.

Sharon is charged with disorderly conduct and released on her own recognizance. Ben is hit with three charges: obstructing offical business, resisting arrest, and assault (they claim he kneed a cop in the groin). At first, we’re told that bail will be $1,250. After we make the necessary arrangements to pay a bail bondsman and drive six miles to Portage County, where Ben has been taken, we’re told the bail has been raised to $12,500. It’s fairly common to require 10 percent of the bond, but because of Ben’s long “rap sheet” and the fact that he’s from out-of-state (no doubt his previous run-ins at Kent State are also a consideration) they refuse to reduce the bond—at least until the morning. So Ben has to spend the night in jail.

Meanwhile, the Hemp Tour people are waiting for Debbie and me at a gallery on Water Street. Later on, Red Fly Nation and some local bands are supposed to play across the street at J.B.’s. There’s some anger over Ben’s decision to get arrested, but some good smoke mellows everyone out.

Water Street, it turns out, was where the calamitous events at Kent State began almost 20 years ago to the day. On May Day, 1970, Nixon announced that the US had invaded Cambodia. That night students poured out of J.B.’s and other clubs and into the streets; then they lit a bonfire and began smashing store windows. The next day, the ROTC building on the Kent State campus was firebombed. Two days later, the National Guard opened fire on the students.

Alan Canfora was there. He was shot in the wrist. He stood 50 feet in front of his friend, Jeff Miller, who took a bullet in the head. “As the guard got to the top of the hill and they stopped and they started to fire, I heard the guns go off and took a step away from them,” he tells me. “I thought, ‘Well, just in case they’re firing live ammunition, I’ll get behind a tree.’ I got behind one at the last possible second before a bullet went through my right wrist. It was the only tree in the line of fire. I’m convinced that that tree saved my life, because it was hit by several bullets and I could see many other bullets zipping through the air and ripping through the grass.”

Canfora puts today’s confrontation with the police in perspective when he explains: “Kent State remains now as it has been during the last 20 years—a very repressive institution which is controlled by the Republican interests in Ohio.”

April 6

Ben has a 9 AM hearing. A public defender named Bill Carroll shows up and asks for a reduction of the bond to $5,000. The judge agrees to that, plus he allows for 10 percent payment. Debbie counts out $500 and Ben is free.

Ben doesn’t exactly get a hero’s welcome when he returns to our Kent crash pad. There’s a noon rally slated for Athens in Southern Ohio at Ohio University. Herer has gone ahead and will run the rally. Cliff, Ben, and I again travel together; the bus is the last to leave.

For the first time on the Tour I get to see some pretty country. Southern Ohio is full of rolling hills. We take a few small roads to get there, with Ben doing the navigating. Does he regret the arrest? “Only that I resisted,” he says, proudly noting that it was his 106th arrest.

We get to Athens just as Jack is wrapping up. He applauds Ben’s arrest—’That’s how Ben teaches the kids,” Jack says. Plus, it got good press.

That evening, the University’s history and political science departments are sponsoring a debate/teach-in. It’s Jack and Gatewood versus Lois and Robert Whealy, a husband and wife prof team. The debate turns out to be quite a hoot.

The profs aren’t all that opposed. One point is well-taken: Don’t look for simplistic answers to our environmental problems. Gatewood proclaims, “I don’t apologize to anyone anymore about smoking pot. Any society that can accommodate alcohol and tobacco has room for pot.”

Later that night, Vicki Linker invites us all to her backwoods digs for a well-deserved and desperately-needed party (the type where dessert is served first). Red Fly Nation sets up in the living room and jams (I even get to play percussion on my fave songs—”Do the Feelin’” and “Strictly Wet”). Gatewood unknots his tie and opens his collar. Maria rolls the ugliest joints ever. Ben tries to recruit me to leave immediately for Indianapolis, where Farm Aid is scheduled to start in a few hours. He wants to leaflet the concert. Good idea, bad execution (the van barely made it to Vicki’s). Everyone sleeps it off.

April 7

Last stop for me—Columbus, Ohio. Everything I’ve been told to expect about the Columbus rally is right. This is one stop where there was little or no advance work, and it shows. The rally, tucked away on the campus of Ohio State University, fizzles. Hey, the Hemp Tour was due for a dud.

I’m ready to head home.

Tomorrow, Dayton hosts a rally, and then it’s off to a swing through Indiana (the Tour runs through May). Jack is packed and ready to roll. “C’mon, Bloom, you’re driving to Dayton,” he yells. Sorry, Jack, I’m booked on a flight back to New York. But he has me thinking. Should I spend just a few more days on the Hemp Tour?

At that moment, the bus pulls up; it’s being tailed by a cop. Apparently, Dean hopped a curb and is getting written up. Hey, you know what? This is one nutty Hemp Tour.

High Times Magazine, July 1990

This article appears in the July 1990 issue of High Times. Subscribe here.

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Bill Maher Thinks Republicans Will ‘Steal’ Pot Legalization

Time is ticking, and political commentators are starting to wonder about the president’s inaction on cannabis reform—an issue with high support among Democrats. And since Democrats are currently in control of the White House and Congress, it’s on them to push a bill to the finish line.

During a June 3 “Overtime” segment on YouTube, the Real Time with Bill Maher host read an audience-submitted  question to his guest, former Attorney General Eric Holder, about why President Joe Biden hasn’t pushed for the federal legalization of pot. After all, decriminalization of cannabis at the federal level was one of President Biden’s promises on the election trail.

Maher—who denies alignment with any party—said that dealing with the issue would be “dealing with reality,” and it would also bring political benefit. But if Democrats continue to fail to legalize cannabis at the federal level, Maher thinks Republicans will take up the slack.

“Republicans are gonna steal the issue. I think eventually,” Maher told Holder. “I mean, someone like John Boehner works for a marijuana company now. I mean, it could be one of those freedom issues. And, of course, Republicans smoke lots of pot too.”

“Not enough,” Holder said to instant laughter in the audience. “They need to mellow out just a little more.”

Some Republicans have used cannabis as a freedom issue. Politico reported on leaders who are joining the fold, viewing cannabis “through the prism of states’ rights, personal freedom, job creation and tax revenue.”

In a survey, conducted by Pew Research Center from April 5-11, 2021, the majority—72%—of Democrats said cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational purposes versus 47% of Republicans. Only among “conservative” Republicans, the majority of people surveyed said they aren’t in favor of legalizing cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes. While it’s less popular among Republicans, there are some leaders launching their own bills such as Congresswoman Nancy Mace, with her States Reform Act.

Maher pointed out the recent push for social equity measures transforming the industry slowly, but it is an issue Republicans aren’t onboard with. It’s the social equity provisions that are one of the few dividing points when it comes to cannabis bills. On the other hand, leaders like Senator Cory Booker believe social equity provisions are critical for any cannabis reform bill.

“Now I understand the impetus to want to, like, for example, if you’re gonna have new businesses that are legal in the marijuana field, yeah, they probably should go to the people who suffered the most during the drug war,” Maher said. “Republicans, of course, are saying this is a deal-breaker.”

Maher acknowledged that leaders are not aligning with certain details on the issue, but didn’t exactly provide a full solution.

“What do you want, half a loaf? If they said okay, no equity, is it better to have the law passed or changed or is it better to hold out for equity?” Maher asked.

“It’s better to have the law changed,” Holder responded. “And as I said, deal with the societal reality that we have and, you know, and try to make it as equitable as you possibly can, but I wouldn’t want to stop the movement that I think makes sense for the sake of equity.”

Maher serves on the advisory board with NORML and is a longtime known advocate for cannabis, and is known for slamming religion and political correctness in general. Maher was in the same room as High Times this past May, when the political talk show host made an appearance at Woody Harrelson’s grand opening of The Woods in West Hollywood.

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DEA Reports Ongoing Decline in Federal Pot Arrests

Federal law enforcement continues to make fewer and fewer arrests for weed, according to data released by the Department of Justice, a trend that dovetails with the new cannabis laws that have bloomed in the last decade.

From 2010 until 2020, there was an 11% decline in cannabis-related arrests by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers, the report from the Justice Department said.

That same time period saw a seven percent decline in arrests for crack cocaine, and a six percent decline in arrests for powder cocaine.

In raw numbers, the DEA made 8,215 arrests for cannabis-related offenses in 2010, compared with 2,576 in 2020. 

The number of pot-related arrests declined each year in that decade.

The cannabis reform advocacy group NORML also pointed to data from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), which reported that “federal convictions for marijuana-related activities have similarly declined over the past decade.”

“Marijuana law enforcement is becoming less of a federal priority in an age where the majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “It is vital that Congress takes action to amend federal law in a manner that comports with this reality,” he continued.

The decline in weed arrests coincided with a period in the country that has seen a growing number of states and cities end prohibition and legalize recreational pot use for adults.

Polls consistently show broad, bipartisan support for cannabis legalization.

But despite the change in laws and attitudes, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level as a result of its status on the Controlled Substances Act.

With Democrats controlling Congress and the executive branch, there is hope among advocates that legalization will finally go national.

In April, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, a measure that would remove pot from the Controlled Substances Act.

Democrats in the Senate have said that they will offer up their own legalization bill. That was initially supposed to happen by the end of April, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer later said that the bill will likely be unveiled before the Congressional recess in August.

Schumer has made no secret of his desire to pass a legalization bill.

Last year, he said that the party was eager to move on the issue, despite President Joe Biden’s own misgivings about ending prohibition.

“We will move forward,” Schumer said at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, ‘Well what changed?’ Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” he added. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

There were other notable takeaways in the report from the Department of Justice, which noted that “U.S. marshals made 120,112 arrests [in Fiscal Year 2020], a 42% decrease from the 206,630 bookings in FY 2019.”

The report also said that the “coronavirus pandemic drove an 81% decline in arrests and 77% decline in cases charged from March to April 2020,” and that of “the 26,696 Drug Enforcement Administration arrests in FY 2020, the most common drug type involved was methamphetamine (8,783 arrests), followed by powder cocaine (4,474 arrests).”

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Not One California Dispensary Caught Selling to Minors, Study Shows

The perpetual myth that dispensaries are selling weed to minors refuses to die, but evidence shows this isn’t the case in California. Instead, adult-use dispensaries in the state are proving the system works by checking IDs as required by state law.

A new study disproves the theory that dispensaries make it easier for teens to get cannabis. Researchers sent out undercover patrons who looked underage to 50 randomly selected dispensaries in California to see if they could get weed without first furnishing an ID, as required. All dispensaries involved passed the test, which researchers admitted was “somewhat surprising.”

In California, people 18-20 with a doctor’s recommendation and any adult 21 and over can purchase cannabis.

The study, entitled “What is the likelihood that underage youth can obtain marijuana from licensed recreational marijuana outlets in California, a state where recreational marijuana is legal?” was published in the Journal of Safety Research and made available online on May 18.

“It appears that licensed recreational marijuana outlets in California are checking young patrons for identification of their age,” said the researchers involved in the study. “Therefore, it is unlikely that youth are purchasing marijuana directly from these outlets. It is more likely they are using other sources, such as asking an adult to purchase it for them, obtaining it from older friends or siblings, and using it at parties where the marijuana use might be shared. These sources will be difficult to monitor and control.”

According to NORML, in California, “sale or delivery of any amount of marijuana by someone who does not possess a state licensed permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.”

The data supports previous studies showing that Colorado and Washington also check patrons for their IDs to ensure that they are old enough.

“It was somewhat surprising that there was 100% compliance with the ID policy to keep underage patrons from purchasing marijuana directly from licensed outlets,” researchers continued. “However, that was consistent with what was observed in two other states, Washington and Colorado. One factor may be that underage youth are not allowed into the outlets—that is typically not the case at the state level for alcohol outlets.”

During 2020, youth cannabis use dropped—not increased—according to recent data. A recent survey from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that teen past-year cannabis use dropped around 3%.

Another research study published in Substance Use and Addiction arrived with similar results, finding that youth cannabis use did not increase, even as states legalized the plant. Several more studies arrived at similar conclusions, finding no changes or a decrease in teen or youth cannabis use as states legalize cannabis.

The theory is that by regulating cannabis in dispensaries, fewer teens and youth would be able to get their hands on cannabis from a dealer on the street. This would be the case even more if legal dispensaries that charge taxes didn’t have to compete with cheaper prices off the street.

The argument that dispensaries are somehow selling to kids is persistent in a number of states.

Meanwhile, opponents to cannabis in Princeton, New Jersey claimed that a proposed dispensary there would provide expanded access to cannabis for minors.

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Study Finds Cannabis Legalization Source of Decreased Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption

A new study published on May 9 in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows evidence that cannabis legalization has brought down the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes in youth consumers. Entitled “Trends in Alcohol, Cigarette, E-Cigarette, and Nonprescribed Pain Reliever Use Among Young Adults in Washington State After Legalization of Nonmedical Cannabis,” the study includes the analysis of six waves of survey data collected between 2014 and 2019. Researchers from the University of Washington reviewed data which covered approximately 12,500 adolescents.

“Prevalence of past-month alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking (HED), and cigarette use and prevalence of past-year pain reliever misuse decreased, while the prevalence of past-month e-cigarette use increased since 2016 (the first year assessed),” researchers wrote about the results. “Across years and age groups, the prevalence of substance use other than cannabis was higher among occasional and frequent cannabis users compared to cannabis nonusers.”

As the years continued and more states began working on legalization programs, many of these consumption habits began to decrease over time. “However, associations between both occasional (1–19 days in the prior month) and frequent (20+ days) cannabis use and pain reliever misuse and between frequent cannabis use and HED weakened over time among individuals ages 21–25.”

“Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized nonmedical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse,” researchers concluded.

However, it is commonly recommended that more studies be conducted to better understand the effects of legalization on youth consumption. “The weakening association of cannabis use with the use of other substances among individuals ages 21–25 requires further research but may suggest increased importance of cannabis-specific prevention and treatment efforts,” researchers wrote.

Many other studies have evaluated the influence of cannabis on young adults from a variety of perspectives. A study published earlier this week questioned the effect of cannabis being portrayed positively on TikTok as a concern for the youth who frequently use the app.

In March 2022, a policy paper released by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation (CPEAR) analyzed youth cannabis consumption as well, and also reported that youth cannabis consumption hasn’t increased since legalization began. Results claim that continued work in creating a federal framework to help curb cannabis misuse by youth in the U.S. is essential and recommended a focus on eliminating access to illegal cannabis in the process.

In March 2021, another study was published, with an analysis of 46 states and data collected between 1991-2015. “This study found no evidence between 1991 and 2015 of increases in adolescents reporting past 30-day marijuana use or heavy marijuana use associated with state MML (medical marijuana law) enactment or operational MML dispensaries,” the authors wrote in their abstract.

Back in 2020, yet another study explored the effects of legalization, and found that there was little impact on youth specifically in California. “Contrary to the claims of many legalization opponents, changes in states’ marijuana policies have not led to any significant rise in cannabis use among young people,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said about the study. “Overall, most voters believe that these adult-use policies are operating as intended, which is why no state that has legalized the use of cannabis for either medical or adult-use purposes has ever repealed their law.”

These studies go back to the earlier years of adult-use legalization, as seen in published findings from 2016 from the Colorado Health Department who found teens saying that four out of five high school students “say they don’t use marijuana, even occasionally.”

While these studies help show that youth cannabis consumption has not increased, there is still the question of how cannabis consumption affects young adults’ minds. Some studies claim that cigarettes cause the decline of grades more than cannabis does, according to a 2016 study. However, in 2018 a study found evidence that kid’s cognitive development can be affected, followed by another study in 2019 that found no link between adolescent cannabis consumption and adult brain structure. Due to the conflicting information, more studies are necessary in order to learn more about how cannabis affects adolescents.

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Georgia’s War on Delta-8 THC

Leigh Ann LaDuke was picking up her kids from school on the afternoon of Friday, March 4, when she heard the police had paid her business a visit while she was out. LaDuke is the sales manager of The Shoppe, a vape-supply and CBD store in Fort Oglethorpe, GA. In addition to CBD oil and tinctures, vaporizer batteries and e-juices, The Shoppe also stocked products containing Delta-8 THC.

An increasingly common and somewhat controversial cannabinoid, Delta-8 THC is derived from source material originating in the federally legal hemp plant. However, since Delta-8 produces a high similar to federally illegal cannabis’ Delta-9 THC—and since you can buy it online, at smoke shops, gas stations or anywhere else a merchant stocks it on shelves—Delta-8 products are popular in states where cannabis is still illegal, such as Georgia

This also means Delta-8 is very unpopular with law enforcement. And in at least three jurisdictions in Georgia, local sheriff’s offices and district attorneys appear to have launched an all-out assault on Delta-8 THC—despite state and federal laws allowing the drug, advocates and attorneys told Cannabis Now. 

It all adds up to what increasingly looks like a desperate, last-ditch War on Drugs battle in the final years before nationwide legalization, waged by what even a state judge worries are “rogue” law enforcement officials.

The Letter and the Law

Upon her return to work, LaDuke discovered a letter left from a detective from the local Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office. The communication, signed by Catoosa County Sheriff Gary R. Sisk, informed her that sheriff’s representatives had “purchased items from your store and had them tested,” and that they contained a “significate [sic] level of Delta 9.”

“It’s your responsibility to know what you are selling and what it contains especially when I’m telling you it’s a violation of Georgia law,” Sisk’s letter continued, adding that The Shoppe had until April 30 to remove “these illegal items” and if they didn’t, “We already have the evidence needed to move forward with prosecutions and seizures.” 

Puzzled and upset, LaDuke and Joe King, owner of The Shoppe, went to the sheriff’s office to sort things out. They had certificates of authentication showing their products were well within state limits, which say anything derived from hemp, cannabis with 0.3% Delta-9 THC or less, is legal to sell.

They were told that the county has an ongoing problem with “people actively overdosing on cannabis.” The sheriff’s office had purchased products from The Shoppe and sent them off for their own testing, and “they tested higher than the Georgia law allowed,” said LaDuke, who didn’t believe a word of what she heard.  

“We asked for proof and what was purchased that day, and we were refused,” she said. “We also offered COAs for our products and were told that ours do not matter because they tested our products.” 

The Catoosa Sheriff’s Office didn’t  return a call for comment to Cannabis Now. But according to Ryan Ralston, the executive director of Peachtree NORML, the Georgia branch of the organization, The Shoppe is one of several stores in at least three Georgia jurisdictions to be subjected to a Delta-8 crackdown: Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta; and Madison County, in northeast Georgia, in addition to Catoosa County, in the northwest of the state on the border with Tennessee.

In these places, local law enforcement seem to be waging a sort of war of choice, a last stand of the War on Drugs.

Rogue DAs and a Rearguard Action

“The vast majority, if not 99 percent, of the DAs and sheriffs and chiefs of police have recognized that Delta-8 is, in fact, lawful,” Ralston said. What’s happening, he says, is that “a couple of rogue DAs or sheriffs have taken it upon themselves to declare Delta-8 unlawful and then [move to] take enforcement action.”

Ralston has a theory on why this is ramping up now.

“You have the reinvention of Reefer Madness here in Georgia,” he said.

Ralston noted that 2022 is an election year, and conservative sheriffs up for re-election (such as Sisk) may be trolling for a wedge issue. In several instances, law enforcement officials have claimed—so far, without showing any proof—that children have been accessing Delta-8 products. 

Others speculated that Sisk may also have encouragement from a local multi-jurisidictional drug task force. But what he doesn’t have is support from the state of Georgia itself. 

After Patsy Austin-Gatson, the district attorney in Gwinnett County, declared in January that selling Delta-8 was a felony offense and tried to enforce a county-wide ban—staging at least two raids, filing felony charges against at least one individual and seizing millions of dollars’ worth of product, according to estimates—two local vape shops sued to stop her. 

In response, a state judge imposed a monthlong restraining order, staying Austin-Gatson’s hand.

“I have concerns that this may or may not be a rogue DA,” said Judge Craig Schwall, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Austin-Gatson’s office didn’t return a telephone message to Cannabis Now seeking comment. 

Tom Church, one of the attorneys handling the cases on behalf of the offended vape shops, confirmed on April 22 that the monthlong temporary restraining orders imposed on Austin-Gatson, have been appealed by the state attorney general’s office. 

That means the legality of Delta-8 in Georgia may ultimately hinge on a judge’s order. In the meantime, Austin-Gatson has declared Delta-8 products OK if they’re not food products—meaning anyone selling Delta-8 gummies, possibly the drug’s most popular form, is still at risk, Church said.

“A lot of people are paying attention to this lawsuit, which is good—we need clarity in the law,” he said. “Of course, we think it’s unambiguous that Delta 8, Delta-10 and other cannabinoids as long as it’s not Delta-9 can be put in all types of products.”

The War on Drugs Continues in Georgia

In the meantime, The Shoppe is teetering on the brink of viability. Though the letter was the only warning LaDuke received, that was enough.

Rightly fearful of a raid, LaDuke and King pulled all their Delta-8 products, severely reducing their sales, but even that hasn’t ended their problems with the law. The Shoppe’s remaining customers “are getting pulled over” on their way in or out of the store, she said, further discouraging business. 

According to Peachtree NORML’s Ralston, the Delta-8 campaign could be a politically motivated distraction. All the areas where the crackdowns have occurred have something in common: violent crime rates “3% to 5% higher” than statewide rates, he said, plus the ever-worsening opioid overdose crisis. 

Looking decisive or tough on something easy—such as federally legal products sitting on a shelf in a store—might be a good way to direct attention elsewhere. The same week LaDuke received her letter, a neighboring county recorded five fentanyl overdoses, she said. 

“Yet, we’re the issue,” she said. “Busting several prominent businesses wouldn’t only make them look good, but fund them.”

“I feel like we’re all in a movie or a dream.”

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