New York Cannabis Regulators Expand Licenses to Disabled Vets, Women, Minorities

Cannabis regulators in New York state gave the green light to pass updated and expanded regulations Tuesday, signaling a more inclusive shift in the application process for licensed cannabis shops. Until now, such licenses were primarily limited to “justice-involved” people with prior convictions related to cannabis that occurred when the drug was still illegal.

Under the updated rules, “social equity” applicants, including disabled military veterans, minority and women-owned businesses, and struggling farmers, will also be eligible to apply for licenses to operate marijuana dispensaries starting on October 4th, the New York Post reports. In policy, social equity aims to ensure fairness and justice by addressing systemic inequalities and providing equal opportunities for all. It acknowledges existing disparities and works to eliminate them. But, despite all the hardships that vets endure, this label hasn’t always applied to them. The new laws acknowledge the sacrifices veterans have made and the lack of support when trying to start a business after returning to civilian life. 

In August, a group of four disabled veterans sued Governor of New York Kathy Hochul’s administration and the state Cannabis Control Board. Their lawsuit challenged the exclusion of disabled veterans from applying for the initial round of licenses, which the board focused on giving to folks with prior marijuana convictions.

“The MRTA [Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act] had already established a goal to award 50% of all adult-use licenses to social and economic equity applicants. But instead of following the law, OCM and CCB created their own version of ‘social equity’ and determined for themselves which individuals would get priority to enter New York’s nascent adult-use cannabis market,” reads a statement on behalf of the veterans bringing the legal action.

Many veterans have a passion and personal connection to cannabis for its role in treating PTSD. Back in June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that includes an amendment allowing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis for their patients in legal states. It is slated to move forward as part of the approved legislation that funds the VA for the 2024 Fiscal Year.

“It’s about time,” said Carmine Fiore, a disabled vet and one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We finally have an equitable playing field. We are finally being prioritized — as we should have been under the law.”

The potential ramifications of the new rules on the ongoing litigation remain uncertain. Following their Tuesday meeting, the cannabis regulators involved in the lawsuit met for an executive session behind closed doors. This private talk could offer insights into their future course of action.

Fiore said while he’s now allowed to apply for the cannabis store license, it didn’t “stop the harm” from being kept from applying for a Conditional Adult- Retail Dispensary (CAURD). “They gave the justice-involved an unfair advantage,” he said.

But now, the Cannabis Control Board rules dramatically expanded the eligibility requirements for entrepreneurs applying for licenses. Cannabis farmers, cultivators, distributors, processors, and micro-businesses can now have a piece of the pie. 

New York’s legal cannabis market has faced a messy and problematic launch. While technically, there are only 23 cannabis stores statewide, nine of which are in New York City, an estimated 1,500 unlicensed smoke shops sell weed. While these legal gray areas, often more affordable stores with easy access, can be a dream come true to cannabis consumers. However, the red-tape-wrapped situation has left farmers feeling left behind, as they end up stuck with massive quantities of harvested cannabis, given the limited means of legal sale.  

But on Tuesday, state officials said they plan to fix that and expand the cannabis market. 

“Today marks the most significant expansion of New York’s legal cannabis market since

legalization, and we’ve taken a massive step towards reaching our goal of having New Yorkers being able to access safer, regulated cannabis across the state,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management, reports the New York Post

“We are immensely proud to be building the fairest, most competitive cannabis industry in the nation — one that puts those most harmed by prohibition first and offers a true opportunity for all New Yorkers — not just large corporations — to compete and thrive,” he added.

Multi-state cannabis companies currently serving only New York medical marijuana patients will have the chance to expand their offerings to all New Yorkers for adult use, not solely medical, starting at the end of the year. However, several individuals and small operators raised concerns at the Tuesday meeting. They fear that such larger firms would establish dominance in the market before they could even start their operations. Many in attendance requested that state regulators postpone the entry of multi-state operators into the market.

A group backed by medical cannabis businesses welcomed the opening of the application process as a positive first step. However, they also expressed concern that the state isn’t doing enough to speed up the process of allowing them to sell recreational weed sooner.

“The rules passed today are a step forward. But until the State actually issues these licenses and these dispensaries get open and operational, New Yorkers will continue to be denied the tax revenue, safe cannabis, and equitable system they were promised,” said Kirsten Foy of the Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis.

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Connecticut Cannabis Sales Continue To Rise in August with $25 Million in Sales

New data on monthly cannabis sales in Connecticut shows that numbers have increased yet again. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) said in a press release that between Aug. 1-31, the combined total of both adult-use cannabis and medical cannabis sales reached almost $25 million.

“The adult-use market recorded more than $14 million in sales during the month of August, while the medical marijuana market recorded almost $11 million in sales for the same period,” the press release stated.

Medical cannabis patients purchased 278,395 cannabis products (with an average price of $39.36), while recreational consumers purchased 354,700 (with an average price of $39.49).

By product type, most sales (about 53%) included flower, followed by vape cartridges (27%), edibles (10%), extracts (7%), and “other” (4%) which pertains to products such as pills, tinctures, topicals, and more.

Adult-use cannabis was initially signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in June 2021, making it the fourth state to legalize recreational cannabis. Sales were initially expected to begin in 2022, and more than 15,000 dispensary applications were received in May that year.

In January, Lamont announced that he would clear approximately 42,964 cannabis convictions, as required by the state legislation that legalized adult-use cannabis. “On Jan. 1, thousands of low-level cannabis convictions in Connecticut will be automatically erased due legislation we’ve enacted,” said Lamont. “Especially as employers seek to fill job openings, an old conviction for low-level possession should not hold someone back from their aspirations.”

Adult-use sales didn’t go live until January 2023, but the state collected $250,000 in sales on the first day with eight operational dispensaries. “Today marks a turning point in the injustices caused by the war on drugs, most notably now that there is a legal alternative to the dangerous, unregulated, underground market for cannabis sales,” Gov. Lamont said of the program’s success. “Together with our partners in the legislature and our team of professionals at the Department of Consumer Protection, we’ve carefully crafted a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. I look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure that this industry remains inclusive and safe as it develops.”

For adult-use cannabis, sales in January reached a total of $5 million, followed by $7 million in February, $9.5 million in March, $10 million in April, $11.5 million in May, $12.5 million in June, $13 million in July, and finally, $14 million in August.

Medical cannabis was legalized by former Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, but sales tracking was not required and is not available prior to 2023. Now the state uses BioTrack for its seed-to-sale tracking data.

As seen in other states with both medical and adult-use cannabis, medical cannabis sales began to decrease the longer that adult-use sales are established. In January, $8 million in medical cannabis sales were collected, followed by $11.5 million in February, $12.5 million in March, and then a steady decrease in April with $11.5 million, May with $11 million, a slight increase above $11 million in June, followed by $10.6 million in July and finally $10.9 million in August.

In June, residents were finally permitted to start growing their own cannabis plants, up to six per home (three mature and three immature). “Adults who choose to grow their own cannabis should use safe and healthy gardening practices for growing any products they intend to consume,” said DCP Commissioner Bryan T. Cafferelli. “Plants should also be kept indoors, out of reach and out of sight from children and pets.”

According to the CT Insider, one of the state’s two cannabis testing laboratories is officially closed. The report stated that AltaSci Labs closed in March and its license became inactive, however the reason for this is “not due to any disciplinary or other action by the state,” according to DCP spokesperson Kaitlyn Krasselt.

The one remaining lab, Northeast Laboratories, is currently managing all incoming cannabis, which “continues to operate and test cannabis in Connecticut, and there has been no impact to the cannabis program.” However, some advocates believe that soon it will become an issue.

Recently, the California-based cannabis education college Oaksterdam University held a graduation for numerous Connecticut cannabis business owners. Oaksterdam received $1 million in a contract to provide an education specifically for Social Equity Council-approved students in an accelerated program.

CEO of Nautilus Botanicals, Luis Vega, shared insight about his experience in the program. “This was a valuable lesson,” Vega said. “This was awesome. There were growing pains. But I really do appreciate that the state put together a partnership with somebody.” Vega is currently working on opening two dispensaries, as well as two cultivation sites.

A total of 32 participants started the program, and 11 graduated (with eight more expected to graduate soon). As part of the deal for participation, graduates receive a 1.5% reduction off of their APR percentage rate.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz attended the graduation and told CT Insider that “the equity component of cannabis legalization is absolutely critical” in relation to the state’s cannabis industry. “Now we’ve got the opportunity to see entrepreneurs and small businesses hopefully develop into big businesses with people of color, women of color,” Bysiewicz added. 

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We Need to Chill Out About Categorizing ‘Medical’ Versus ‘Recreational’

I used to wake up in the middle of the night, every night, with a nightmare. In it, my body was frozen, and trigger warning: In the nightmare, I was fading in and out of unconscious, but someone was raping me. They were textbook PTSD nightmares, and I had no idea what to do about them.

I was raised in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, surrounded by ganja culture. While millennial “statesiders” my age I’d meet later when I moved to the South for school and then New York for my forever home, I realized that my childhood was different. Far from the “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E rhetoric my contemporaries experienced, many of my friend’s parents were Rastafarians. I grew up understanding that cannabis was a sacrament. So I spent high school, during the Bush era, on the debate team arguing for its legalization, and college majoring in journalism, reporting on cannabis. I’ve always been vehemently pro-legalization. But the reason cannabis didn’t become a big part of my personal life until a decade ago, in 2013, was because I was a total boozehound. 

But alcohol made my PTSD stemming from my assault worse. Sometimes, back in the day, to be perfectly honest, it made me downright nasty or even suicidal. So my ambition kicked in, having seen what alcoholism can do to others (it runs in my family), and I quit. I haven’t had a drink in 10 years. I’ve been Cali Sober since before the term existed, baby. 

So, a few years into sobriety, when a stoner close to my heart told me that people used cannabis to treat anxiety, PTSD and that THC could even suppress nightmares, at first, I was skeptical. Sure, it should be legal, just like alcohol, and the government is full of shit, but would it affect me like liquor did? Personally, 12-Step programs did more harm than good. I’m a big believer that a one-size-fits-all model is not suitable for recovery, something society finally seems ready to talk about.

Especially in the first few years after my assault, I needed to be shaken and reminded of my power — which had been robbed from me — instead of admitting I was powerless, which is, in so many words, the first step of AA. I’m glad the program works for many, including people I love, and I won’t even get into the fact that its founder, Bill W., fully embraced psychedelics at the end of his life, adamant that they could treat alcoholism. Because this story is about why recreational use and medical use have more overlap than the establishment makes them out to.

When I first quit drinking shortly after my assault, I was a shell of my former self. I’d accept invitations to parties only to turn around at the door, back to the safety of my apartment, as my social anxiety was so bad even small talk was terrifying. I should add that I was prescribed a very high level of benzodiazepines, which I’m not against on principle, they have their time and place, but as anyone who’s weaned off them knows, they also have their downfalls (quite serious, benzo withdrawal can cause seizure or even death). So after doing my research and realizing that cannabis could not only quell nightmares, help me better inhabit my body, and treat social anxiety, but had a lower side effect profile than benzos, and was less physically addicting, I decided (after talking with my psychiatrist and therapist) to give cannabis a shot. It worked. It stopped my nightmares. My dissociation got better. I could socialize again; I could even goddamn do karaoke without a sip of booze or flutter of nerves. I didn’t need all that Klonopin. I was sold, even if those I knew in recovery circles at the time were not. 

So when New York legalized medical marijuana for PTSD in 2017, even though I was already using it under doctor supervision, I jumped at the opportunity and got a medical card, hitting up a dispensary right away. I was a little bummed to learn that they sold lower-dose products for much more than my dealer (I prefer the term “florist”) could offer, so like so many others in this economy, I returned to the black market and honestly eventually just let my medical card expire. 

But something else had happened by 2017. I healed. Sure, I still had anxiety, some trust issues, and enough reasons to have a therapist, but I no longer woke up every night with flashbacks. I was my outgoing, extroverted, optimistic self again. Cannabis still helped me be present, dial down any social anxiety, and only need a Klonopin if having one of those panic attacks that feel like a heart attack. Still, I started to wonder: Was I “bad” for continuing to use cannabis, not primarily for PTSD, but simply because it felt good and made life easier? And, no, to this day, it’s never made me blackout, it’s never made me say something nasty to a friend I don’t remember the next day, it’s never given me a hangover with a side of suicidal thoughts. My friends, doctors, and partner actually sometimes need to remind me to take it when I get a little bitchy now and then. 

Then I realized something even more horrifying — I was thinking like a Reagan supporter. Is it wrong to enjoy the euphoric side effects of a substance? Taking this a step further, is it morally worse to enjoy the euphoric side effects of a substance such as cannabis that’s federally illegal instead of many FDA-approved anxiety or pain treatments that also make you feel high? What was this hypocritical bullshit? I’m a Virgin Islander, goddamnit, not some regressive conservative clinging onto the bullshit the Moral Majority spent so many years spewing. 

Of course, legalization has upsides, such as fewer people in prison and more research on the plant’s benefits. But by 2017, and absolutely by the present day, I don’t just fit the bill for a medical patient; I’m a recreational (make that adult-use, a term I greatly appreciate) user. Yes, it helps my anxiety and PTSD. Yes, it plays a role in harm reduction, just like dear old Bill W. eventually supported, and it makes it easier not to drink. I never even think about alcohol. But cannabis is also just fun. Plenty of people who use cannabis recreationally also receive medical benefits as a nice side effect, such as lowered social anxiety or better sleep. Conversely, people with medical cards who use it for an ailment enjoy the pleasant side effect of euphoria. Is either team wrong? I think not. Does one need a stamp of government approval (since when do we trust them on this subject?) to use cannabis guilt-free? Dear god, I hope not. 

We live in a culture that moralizes euphoria. From a government-approved recovery program POV, if it makes you feel good, it’s bad. Any substance use should involve honesty about its effects. For instance, while I used to use cannabis to help with nightmares, as I got older, THC started giving me insomnia. So now, unless I’m at a concert or late-night dance party, I don’t take any after a certain hour, sticking with a low dose during the day. But that’s just me. We’re all different, and everyone’s reaction to substances is different and will likely change throughout their lifetime. But in this beautiful life on this wicked world, filled with violent crimes, people in prison for non-violent crimes, pandemics, homophobes, hurricanes, cancer drug shortages, but also love, community, science, the spiritual experience of playing with a dog — I’ll take all the euphoria I can get as long as it continues to offer a positive impact on my life. Binary thinking is so Bush-era and so over. May the adult-use cannabis consumers also enjoy lowered anxiety or pain, and may the medical patients guilt-free pop an edible before a concert and dance up a sweat while enjoying a heightened sensory experience. 

Euphorically yours, 
Sophie Saint Thomas

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5 Big Moments in Cannabis History

First Known Mention in Pharmacopoeia, circa 2800 B.C.


There’s plenty of evidence to suggest the ancient use of cannabis in multiple civilizations, dating back 10,000 years and beyond. According to the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative, Emperor Shennong’s pharmacopeia Classic of the Materia Medica was one of the first to formally list cannabis as a medicine circa 2800 B.C. (It also introduced acupuncture and 365 herbal medicines like ginseng.) Emperor Fu Hsi, whom the Chinese credit with “bringing civilization” to China, mentioned “ma,” which may have referred to cannabis 100 years earlier.

First Arrest Under Marihuana Tax Act, 1937


We’re far from seeing the last cannabis prisoner, but we know who was the first. Ironically adult-use pioneer state Colorado was where the first cannabis arrest took place. One day after the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 went into effect, Moses Baca, 23, was arrested in Denver, Colorado. Police allegedly found a quarter-ounce of reefer in his drawer at a rooming house as they were arresting him for a “drunk & disturbance” charge. A few days later, bootlegger Samuel R. Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with selling marijuana. Baca served about 18 months in the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth in Kansas, the same place Caldwell was held.

First U.S. Medical Cannabis Patient, 1976


One year after getting busted for growing pot, Washington, D.C. Superior Court Judge James A. Washington ruled on Nov. 24, 1976 that Robert Randall had established a defense of medical necessity to use cannabis for his glaucoma. Randall then became the nation’s first medical cannabis patient and received a regular supply of 300 joints per month provided by the federal government from their cultivation site at the University of Mississippi. Randall’s case eventually led to the FDA’s Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program (IND Program) which allows certain people to get experimental cannabis treatments before they have gone through rigorous approvals.

First State Medical Cannabis Law, 1996


New Mexico was the first state to recognize the medical properties of cannabis, establishing a therapeutic research program for glaucoma and chemotherapy on Feb. 21, 1978. But it was California’s Proposition 215, which created the first major statewide medical cannabis program, and resulted in the biggest change. California voters approved Prop. 215 with over 55% in favor via an initiative on November 5, 1996. This established a blueprint for dozens of other states to follow. Proposition 215 was authored by Dennis Peron, Anna Boyce, John Entwistle, Jr., Valerie Corral, Dale Gieringer, William Panzer, Scott Tracy Imler, Leo Paoli, and Tod H. Mikuriya.

First Country to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis, 2013


Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale, and possession of cannabis on Dec. 10, 2013. Uruguay decriminalized possession of the plant in 1974, but it took a lot of time to move forward to the legalization of possession and sale. Nearly one year later in August 2014, Uruguay legalized the cultivation of up to six plants at home, and formed cannabis social clubs and state-controlled cannabis dispensaries. It would take about four years for the country to finalize regulations.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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Michigan Cannabis Sales Hit Record High, Profits Another Story

According to the most recent monthly report from the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency, Michigan cannabis sales reached a record in July, recording $276 million in sales, with the lion’s share of sales coming from adult-use cannabis. Local cannabis businesses say they aren’t making much in profits, however.

The state will likely surpass the $3 billion mark in revenue for the first time in 2023. It reinforces the importance of the state’s cannabis market. If the trend continues, Michigan will become the second largest market in the nation after California. 

But insiders say making a profit in this industry is an entirely different scenario, nearly impossible for businesses following the rules. In addition, the constant flow of new licenses is increasing competition to unworkable levels.

“It’s kind of a race to the bottom, as they call it,” Beau Whitney, senior economist for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Bridge Michigan. “Prices are going down, down and down because there’s so much competition, but at some point, prices won’t be able to go down any further.” 

Some locals say the current system won’t work for long under the current circumstances.

“I think that big corporate stores thought they could throw money at this and just keep throwing money at it, and it would work and it’s not working. That’s why most of your major dispensaries … are for sale,” said Jerry Millen, owner of The Greenhouse, a dispensary located in Walled Lake.

The incoming flow of new licenses doesn’t seem to be helping existing businesses much. During the past month, Michigan received 97 applications for adult-use use licenses, and issued 87 new licenses. Seventeen of the licenses were designated for class C growers, with a limit of up to 1,500 plants, per state regulations

A 10% excise tax was imposed on retailers in addition to a 6% sales tax after adult-use was legalized in Michigan in 2018. Thanks to high production costs and oversaturation of the market, consumers are happy but businesses are not. 

That average price of $99 for one ounce of adult-use cannabis is much cheaper than it was this time last year. The price for an ounce of medical cannabis is only slightly higher. 

A Boon for the Michigan Economy

While small businesses aren’t likely making much profit, local governments, however, are loving it. Tens of millions of dollars in revenue are being allocated to local governments across Michigan as a result of the state’s adult-use cannabis industry. 

According to FOX 2 Detroit, “Only 30% of total adult-use sales go to local governments, with the other 70% going to schools and roads. When contributions from last year are paired next to figures from 2021 and 2020, they show an industry that shows no signs of slowing down.”

Michigan voters legalized adult-use cannabis in 2018, when they approved Proposal 1, which made it legal for adults 21 and older to consume cannabis, and paved the way for a regulated cannabis market that launched in 2019. 

But despite strong sales numbers, Michigan, like other regulated cannabis markets, has become oversupplied with pot.

Illegal cannabis sales continue to thrive in the state, and Michigan regulators are taking action. Last October, The Detroit News reported that Brian Hanna, the acting director of the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency, told assembled media that “the agency is planning actions that will expose bad actors and serve as a warning to other regulated businesses.”

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New Report Shows Colorado Cannabis Tax Revenue Exceeds Tobacco, Alcohol

The Colorado Legislative Council Staff (LCS), described as the “nonpartisan research arm of the Colorado General Assembly,” released a report on Aug. 16 detailing how cannabis taxes are benefitting the state.

According to the analysis, Colorado annual cannabis tax revenue may have decreased in FY 2021-2022 and FY 2022-2023, but cannabis sales remain a consistent stream of funds for Colorado budget—more than any other regulated substance.

In FY 2022-2023, data shows that Colorado collected $282.3 million in cannabis tax revenue, compared to $233.9 million from cigarettes, $60.5 million from tobacco products, $56.4 million from nicotine products, and $56.1 million from alcohol.

Cannabis tax revenue comes from a 15% excise tax, 15% special sales tax, and 2.9% general sales tax. Recreational cannabis purchases are applied with the excise tax and special sales tax, but only state sales tax applies to medical cannabis sales.

In a breakdown of where cannabis tax revenue is distributed, medical cannabis 2.9% sales tax goes directly into the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund while the adult-use cannabis sales 15% special sales tax is divided into the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, State Public School Fund, and local governments. The adult-use excise tax goes directly into the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) Fund.

Some of the state’s cannabis tax revenue funds went toward a variety of programs such as substance use disorder services ($16.6 million), affordable housing construction grants and loans ($15.3 million), school health and professionals grant program ($15 million), mental health services ($6.1 million), black market cannabis interdiction/state toxicology lab ($4.4 million), pesticide control and regulation ($1.2 million), marijuana impaired driving campaign ($1.1 million), and school bullying prevention and education ($1 million).

“Taking into account the statutory distributions and the MCTF [Marijuana Tax Revenue and Education] appropriations, K-12 education received about 37 percent of total spending from marijuana revenue for school funding and school construction,” the analysis states. “The Department of Human Services received about 20% for a variety of programs, including those focused on behavioral health and addiction.”

The distribution of cannabis tax revenue was divided among the Department of Human Services ($57.5  million), school construction ($55.9 million), school funding ($52.4 million), general fund ($30.7 million), Department of Public Health and Environment ($23.6 million), local governments ($21.9 million), Department of Local Affairs ($17.5 million), Department of Higher Education ($11 million), Department of Public Safety ($7.6 million), and “other” ($14.1 million) which includes a variety of smaller departments.

While FY 2020-2021 yielded a record high of $425 million, FY 2021-2022 decreased slightly to $366 million, followed by FY 2022-2023 at $282 million.

A report released by the Tax Policy Center in September 2022 noted both Colorado and Washington cannabis sales generated more tax revenue than alcohol or cigarettes in FY 2022. 

Similar reports, such as one published by the Arizona Dispensaries Association in March 2022, showed that cannabis tax revenue reached $6.3 million, which is more than the combination of tobacco ($1.7 million) and alcohol ($2.7 million) for that month.

The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) awards cannabis tax funds to a variety of approved organizations. The most recent annual awards contained more than $50 million from FY 2022-2023 split between 31 organizations, from government agencies to youth organizations. In FY 2020-2021, GO-Biz split $29.1 million between 16 awardees, and in FY 2021-2022, GO-Biz awarded $30 million to 58 chosen recipients. The state recently opened up a new grant application window between Aug. 14-Sept. 18, with chosen organizations to be announced sometime in spring 2024.

A report from Whitney Economics in May showed that the legal cannabis industry paid more than $1.8 billion in taxes in 2022. However, the chief economist at Whitney Economics stated that these taxes, which are driving many cannabis business owners into strife, are on the “brink of systemic collapse.”

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Fresno, California Locals Block Cannabis Store from Opening

After bending over backwards to meet the criteria for compliance, residents in Pinedale, a neighborhood of Fresno, California, rallied in Fresno City Hall to appeal a permit and demand officials shut down a proposed adult-use retail cannabis location from opening.

Residents appealed Embarc’s Cannabis Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a proposed location at a Fresno Planning Commission meeting on August 16. The stigma surrounding cannabis lingers in many smaller communities throughout California.

Embarc CEO Lauren Carpenter led a proposal to open a dispensary at 7363 N. Blackstone Ave., home to about 15 other retailers, and had met requirements to maintain a 1,000-foot distance from Pinedale Elementary School, per local regulations. The store also met necessary security regulations and metro city requirements for parking.

Residents still complained however, saying the smell of pot would fill the nearby shopping center, and that armed guards would be a nuisance. The dispensary’s 1,000-foot distance from the school—meeting local compliance regulations—was still too close to impressionable school children.

Community group Pinedale Matters and Clovis Unified School District wrote letters demanding the proposal be shut down. The effort to appeal the permit worked.

“Embarc was issued every regulation, every ordinance, every code—everything that would be required of this business in order to be in compliance,” Carpenter tells High Times. “Twenty-six regulatory agencies all found us in total compliance. We are required by the issuance of our license to operate in district two, including the location that was vetted by the agencies and county departments.”

“Our business model is predicated on spending weeks, months, and years engaging with community members who are in support, and in opposition to cannabis,” Carpenter continues.

Planning Commission member Monica Diaz told GV Wire that store owners had done everything to meet the criteria set by the city of Fresno to open a dispensary. “She has covered everything, there’s nothing that anybody can come and say that she’s not doing,” Diaz said of Carpenter.

Since two Pinedale residents appealed Embarc’s CUP, representatives were forced to go before the Planning Commission.

“Fear is a far more powerful motivator than fact,” Carpenter says. “I think it was shocking to see a planning commission, by their own admission, [deny a business that was] fully compliant with the process that our city created. Commissioners acknowledge that.” 

Others disagreed and believed regulated dispensaries are safe, however. Five Pinedale residents spoke in favor of Embarc, saying that the store would actually make the neighborhood safer. The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union also spoke in favor of Embarc.

The meeting lasted until 9:55 p.m., with the Planning Commission’s time running out. Planning Commission members unanimously agreed to deny the permit, calling the location a “detriment” to the neighborhood. Planning Commission member Haley Wagner was not present at the meeting.

Fresno and Adult-Use Cannabis

The city has been slow to rollout adult-use cannabis retail locations. In March, Fresno faced a budget shortfall of over $3 million, partly due to the slow pace of cannabis dispensary openings in the city.

Embarc and The Artist Tree opened in the Fresno area on the same day in July 2022. The remaining businesses awarded preliminary licenses have submitted their applications for CUPs which must be approved before building permits are issued and construction or renovations of the site can begin.

Proposition 64 legalized cannabis for adult use in California in 2016. In 2018, Fresno voters approved an ordinance to tax retail sales of recreational cannabis, paving the way for adult-use cannabis dispensaries to open in the city. 

In 2019, the Fresno City Council amended civic ordinances to regulate recreational cannabis, and in 2021 the city began awarding the first of 19 preliminary retail cannabis dispensary licenses issued to date.

Officials in Fresno considered several jurisdictions for possible solutions to the city’s slow rollout of adult-use shops and are considering several options to expedite the opening of additional retailers in the city. 

Pinedale used to be an unincorporated town in Fresno County, but has since become surrounded and annexed by the City of Fresno.

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Pot Pride

More than any big city in America, San Francisco has always been on the cutting edge of cannabis consumption––from the beats and poets smoking “mezz” while inhabiting the 1950s North Beach “beat scene” to the openly stoned hippies of 1960s Haight-Ashbury. Cannabis consumption in the “City by the Bay” continued with the groundbreaking use of medical marijuana in the Castro District to treat those affected by HIV and AIDS, leading to America’s first dispensaries. San Francisco has likewise been the vanguard for providing consumption lounges to dispensary customers, offering a place for pot patients and weed aficionados to consume in a relaxing, safe environment.

High Times Magazine, June 2023

Big Top Pot

Marijuana was always a big part of gay culture in San Francisco, but it was purely for pleasure in those hedonistic, liberating days of the 1970s. That is, until the very first cases of AIDS were reported in the city in 1980. By the mid-’80s AIDS had developed into a genuine crisis in the SF gay community, with thousands of men being infected with HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS), and developing “wasting syndrome,” also called cachexia, characterized by an involuntary loss of body weight, with prolonged diarrhea, weakness, and fever.

But hope arrived with Dennis Peron, who began dealing weed out of his apartment in the Castro, dubbed the “Big Top Pot Supermarket.” In the mid-’80s, Peron’s partner, Jonathan West, was diagnosed as HIV-positive, and cannabis helped West deal with the symptoms. Weed’s appetite stimulating phenomenon was an obvious fit to combat AIDS wasting syndrome. People with AIDS want to avoid or delay the loss of appetite from wasting syndrome because it’s a calling card that the body’s shutting down.

West passed away from AIDS in 1990, and buoyed by San Francisco’s 1991 pro-medical cannabis initiative Proposition P, Peron opened the first public medical marijuana dispensary in America, the Cannabis Buyers Club (CBC) on Church Street in the Castro in 1994. Peron later moved the club to a more high-profile Market Street location in downtown San Francisco, where it was raided and became the subject of headlines and controversies throughout the mid-’90s.


Peron co-authored California’s Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. In August 1996 then-California attorney Dan Lungren authorized a raid on the CBC pot club and lounge in a move that some maintained was politically motivated. Lungren’s cynical ploy failed to dissuade voters, as Prop. 215 passed with 56% of the vote on Nov. 5, 1996, making California the first state to formally legalize any form of cannabis.

In October 2003 California Senate Bill 420 was passed, along with San Francisco’s Article 33: Medical Cannabis Act, establishing guidelines for regulating medical cannabis dispensaries.

David Goldman, president of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of San Francisco, along with his husband, Kenneth Michael Koehn, secretary of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club, remember the revolutionary times at the CBC.

“In 1994 Michael and I started going to the Cannabis Buyers Club, located at 194 Church Street in San Francisco, which was a very pleasant experience,” Goldman said. “I know that Dennis [Peron] always wanted to have a safe consumption space for people, where they could socialize. And so the need to have a safe space for consumption was apparent to Dennis, and that motivated him to start at 194 Church Street.”

Goldman explained that about a year later the club was moved to 1444 Market Street within “a building that had four floors, which was a big step up in terms of use of space and the number of people it could accommodate.”

“We started going to that Market Street CBC lounge location every Friday after work,” he said. “They had two different floors for the cannabis; one floor had some of the higher quality cannabis they’d call either ‘A-plus’ or ‘A-double plus’—they didn’t give them strain names back then. And patients could hang out there, and they offered snacks, and people would sing and play music. It was a very relaxed, chill environment; a wonderful way to spend our Fridays after work.”

Koehn added a sobering perspective reflecting on those uncertain years.

“There was also an element of fear in the dispensary lounges during that time,” Koehn said. “The fear of getting busted, that the AG [former Attorney General Dan Lungren] would raid the dispensary. We weren’t personally there when it was raided in 1996, but every time you went there, there was this fear hanging over your head, that this could be the day that trouble starts.”

Ultimately, Goldman associates positive memories with Peron’s club.

“There was a sense of community at the CBC because during that era of HIV, the gay community and the cannabis community highly intersected and we were able to contact and connect with one another,” he said.

Vapor Room / Jen Siska Photography

Continuing the Tradition

The 2003 SB-420 legislation paved the way for benevolent bud entrepreneurs like Martin Olive to open up his pioneering medical pot dispensary known as Vapor Room, which still exists to this day.

“We opened in late 2003 in the SF neighborhood known as Lower Haight,” Olive said. “I worked at another dispensary prior to this and it was like a lot of dispensaries back then, most of the lounges were just folding tables and plastic chairs, and not very comfortable for people.”

Olive said he outfitted the Vapor Room with 1970s furniture; big, plush couches, gaudy pyrex ashtrays, and wood paneling.

“We made it like your cool uncle’s stoner basement apartment. And it was a hit! It really was the first of its kind in San Francisco, along with the CHAMP dispensary, they had a beautiful lounge.”

CHAMP opened at the Market Street location after the CBC departed in 1998 and closed in 2002. In opening the Vapor Room, Olive sought out to build community through cannabis.

“We had a couple tables set up, so it was about 1,500 square feet, not super-big but big enough,” he said. “And [the lounge] really created a communal aspect; medicinal cannabis was this great unifier of all different types of people.”

Even after Vapor Room was forced into a change of location, Olive adapted and made the lounge experience even better.

“Due to some city regulations, we had to move in the building next door around 2006-07,” Olive said. “We took that opportunity to up our game a little bit, so we created a French cafe/apothecary atmosphere; marble tables, nice wooden chairs, with really nice subdued color pallets. It was a little bit more sophisticated than the typical lounge. We had Volcanoes on every table, bongs available, fresh water, hot tea, things like that. So we were giving people more than just a place to access medical cannabis, we were giving them a safe, clean comfortable space in a community setting.”

Even though medical marijuana continued making great strides in San Francisco, this was not acceptable to the federal government.

“In 2012, we got caught up in the Department of Justice crackdown on dispensaries throughout the state of California, and we were evicted without much compassion,” he said. “Leaving Lower Haight was a deep loss for the community, not only for the patients, but for the local businesses that were being supported by the 300 to 400 people we brought into our dispensary on a daily basis. That’s why I think dispensary lounges are so important, they really do support the neighborhoods they’re in.”

Over half of a decade passed until Olive resurrected Vapor Room.

“When we finally reopened in 2018, we found a location in a downtown ‘corporate corridor’ where Twitter, Uber, and Dolby are. So we definitely miss the residential community small business aspect of Lower Haight, but this is what was available. It’s about 700-800 square feet and we are making it work, with a couple of benches for people to smoke at. We do have a beautiful location; it’s nice, clean, and crisp with a big window, and a lot of sunlight and plants.”

But the fact that the club is located within a business district means people generally aren’t hanging out all day.

“It’s more like people on their lunch breaks or in for a meeting,” Olive said. “They’ll come in to buy a joint, take a few puffs and be on their way. Usually we’ll have anywhere from five to 15 people hanging out and chatting. And it is a really good communal atmosphere because you’re basically sitting right next to another person consuming cannabis, regardless if they’re a stranger or not, so you’re buddied up by default.”


The Continued Transformation of Social Consumption

Goldman and Koehn have seen the dispensary lounge landscape morph over the years.

“After CBC closed we didn’t go to dispensary lounges till at least 2006, when I became a medical cannabis patient because I was already using it medicinally and I wanted access to the highest quality cannabis,” Goldman said. “We began to see each lounge had a different vibe. Lounge 847 above the Green Door, on Howard street in SoMa [South of Market district], was our favorite lounge and easy to get to.

“Lounge 847 opened in 2012 and Michael and I held meetings there for Americans for Safe Access and the Brownie Mary Democratic Club. We had a lot of politicians visit there and they were impressed that we had such a great space to hold meetings.”

The Green Door is currently closed but may be reopened pending a multi-million dollar renovation.

“I’m glad we have a diversity of lounges in the city, but most of the new dispensaries don’t get a lot of business, so the lounges are going to waste in that they aren’t being used, which is a shame.”


One Commonality

For Olive one top aspect a cannabis lounge should provide is a comfortable and safe atmosphere for all.

“There’s no room in this concept for any kind of bigotry or racism or classism,” he said. “You can have your fancy Apple store style dispensary and lounge, but if you’re not making the regular guy and girl on the street and low-income people feel comfortable and safe and valid for being there, then you’re doing something wrong. A lounge should contribute to the culture of the cannabis community where people are meeting one another. The one commonality they all have is their love for cannabis, that’s the key element.”

In terms of what’s next Olive wants to go back to the future.

“Remember what the lounge is for amidst all the spreadsheets and profit margins; to provide high quality weed for people who use it for a variety or reliefs, be it symptoms issues, or for just feeling better about their day,” he said.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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A 15-Year Court Case Recently Came to an End for Maltese Cannabis Consumer

In the Mediterranean island of Malta, one man who was caught with cannabis 15 years ago and recently saw his case come to an end.

In June 2008, Conray Azzopardi’s apartment was raided by local police. According to Times Malta, he attempted to escape, and dropped “a bag containing cannabis wrapped in individual packets.” Police also found €250 (or approximately US$264). Azzopardi was charged for possession with the intent to traffic drugs.

According to a translated court document published on December 28, 2018, which covered the extent of Azzopardi’s case, ending with a conclusion from Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras sentencing Azzopardi to one year in prison and a fine of €1,000 (USD$1,096).

However, Azzopardi and his legal counsel appealed the decision, and five years later both the Malta Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board and Caritas Malta (an organization that supports inmates who are imprisoned for crimes related to addiction) made recommendations in support of Azzopardi following the conclusion of his rehabilitation program.

The Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board closed his case after he successfully completed his care plan. Azzopardi sought to apply for medical cannabis to treat undisclosed conditions but was rejected. The board added that if an individual receives treatment from a detox or rehabilitation center, they are no longer eligible for medical cannabis. Ultimately it recommended that Azzopardi be given assistance so that he wouldn’t resort to consuming illegal substances.

Appeals court Judge Neville Camilleri reviewed the recommendations of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board and Caritas Malta and ruled that Azzopardi’s one-year prison sentence be overturned, and that, instead, he undergo a two-year probation order.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Malta since March 2018, and it became the first country in the European Union to legalize recreational cannabis in October 2021.

Azzopardi’s legal defense counsel included lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb. In November 2022, Debono posted about the state of cannabis on Facebook, noting the lack of progress for cannabis sales. “As far as I know, there aren’t any legal outlets from where one buy cannabis, which would mean that Malta is the only country in the world where you can possess cannabis but cannot purchase it legally,” Debono wrote. “I hope the government understands the gravity and the ugliness of this situation and how much responsibility should be shouldered.”

The Maltese Cannabis Authority released the details of opening a cannabis club in February 2023, and began accepting applications as of February 28, according to El Planteo.

In May 2023, Malta Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Rebecca Buttigieg and leader of the Malta Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) spoke at a press conference covering new rules regarding non-profit associations who want to obtain a cultivation or distribution license for non-medical purposes.

However, cannabis business owner Andrew Bonello, who is president of ReLeaf Malta, told Business of Cannabis that ATUC is treating “cannabis like plutonium” and that more action is necessary to get the ball rolling.

“While it is positive to see totally unnecessary costs being reviewed, the overall effectiveness of the ‘fine-tuned’ regulations is yet to be seen,” Bonello said. “Many of the grassroots community and legacy growers are still finding it next to impossible to be able to set up an Association. One wonders how the aims of tackling the illicit market and implementing social justice can be achieved when the needs of those who fought for this reform are being ignored.”

As of May, there were only seven associations that had submitted applications, and 11 that had reserved the association name. Bonello stated that he expected more associations to have submitted applications and would already be operating by now. “However, we augur that the core principles of the reform are respected, acting in the best interest of the community with efforts genuinely focused on addressing social justice and human rights,” Bonello said.

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Military Veterans File Suit Against New York’s Cannabis Licensing Rules

A group of four military veterans last week filed suit against New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), claiming that the agency’s rules that prioritize applicants with prior marijuana convictions for cannabis dispensary licenses violate the state’s 2021 marijuana legalization statute. In a complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court, the four plaintiffs argue that state regulators failed to follow the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) when it did not issue cannabis retail licenses to disabled veterans and members of other minority groups. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order barring the state from issuing further licenses under the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) program, which have been reserved for applicants with a marijuana-related criminal conviction.

The MRTA included provisions that set a goal of awarding at least half of the state’s recreational marijuana dispensaries to social and economic equity applicants. Under an initiative spearheaded by New York Governor Kathy Hochul last year, the state’s first licenses for retail cannabis shops have been reserved for “individuals most impacted by the unjust enforcement of the prohibition of cannabis or nonprofit organizations whose services include support for the formerly incarcerated.” 

To be eligible for a CAURD license, applicants are required to either have had a cannabis conviction or be the family member of someone with a cannabis conviction, among other criteria. Nonprofits with a history of serving formerly incarcerated or currently incarcerated individuals were eligible to apply for a CAURD license. So far, the OCM has issued 463 CAURD licenses, although less than two dozen dispensaries have opened across the state so far.

“The MRTA had already established a goal to award 50% of all adult-use licenses to social and economic equity applicants. But instead of following the law, OCM and CCB created their own version of ‘social equity’ and determined for themselves which individuals would get priority to enter New York’s nascent adult-use cannabis market,” reads a statement on behalf of the veterans bringing the legal action.

Lawsuit Argues OCM Rules Unconstitutional

The lawsuit was filed by four U.S. veterans who have served a combined more than two decades in various branches of the military. They argue that restricting retail licenses to those with cannabis convictions was not approved by the legislature and violates the state Constitution.

“It’s out of character for a veteran to sue the state to uphold a law,” William Norgard, one of the plaintiffs in the case and a U.S. Army veteran, said in a statement quoted by the Olean Times Herald. “We take oaths to defend the laws of our nation, and trust — maybe naively — that government officials will faithfully and legally execute those laws. What the Office of Cannabis Management is doing right now is in complete breach of that trust. As veterans, we know that someone has to hold the line.”

“Service-disabled veterans are the only social equity group in the law not born into priority status, but a group to which anyone could belong,” said Carmine Fiore, who served eight years in the U.S. Army and New York Army National Guard and is also one of the four plaintiffs in the case. “We are also the only priority group in the (law) that achieved its status by helping communities.” 

“It feels like we were used to get a law passed — a good law, one that helps a lot of people, as well as the state,” Fiore added. “Then, once it was passed, we were cast aside for another agenda.”

The other plaintiffs are Steve Mejia and Dominic Spaccio, who both served six years in the U.S. Air Force.

Lucas McCann, co-founder and chief scientific officer at cannabis compliance consulting firm CannDelta Inc., notes that there is no mention of the CAURD program in the MRTA. When the program was created, the definition of social equity was defined to exclusively include those with previous cannabis-related convictions and previous business experience. But a broader definition of social equity may be appropriate, and future rounds of licensing could include members of other groups, McCann says.

“The grievances brought forward by the four military veterans highlight another facet of the ‘social equity’ conversation that cannot be ignored. Veterans, particularly disabled ones, face their own set of challenges and hurdles,” he wrote in an email. “Their dedicated service to the nation warrants recognition and inclusion in the emerging industry, especially when considering the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for a myriad of health issues commonly faced by veterans.”

Michelle Bodian, a partner at the leading cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, said that is too early to determine how the lawsuit will affect the continuing rollout of New York’s regulated marijuana industry. 

“There is always a chance the lawsuit will succeed, and the CAURD program will be halted; however, it’s equally as likely the state will settle with the plaintiffs and award them a license,” Bodian said in a statement to High Times. “As the TRO hearing is scheduled for later this week, we should know in short order whether the CAURD program is frozen in place or whether new provisional or final licenses can be awarded.”

When asked about the legal action, an OCM spokesperson told local media outlets that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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