Vermont Lawmakers File Several Bills To Legalize Psychedelics, Other Drugs

Lawmakers in Vermont have introduced several bills aimed at making sweeping changes to the state’s drug laws. 

The website Psychedelic Spotlight has a primer on the four separate pieces of legislation that would “decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, expand harm reduction services, remove criminal penalties for using and selling psilocybin and decriminalize certain psychedelic plants and fungi.”

In the case of bill H.423, lawmakers are seeking a monumental reform. The measure, which has a companion bill in the Vermont state Senate, would decriminalize all drugs.

The text of the bill reads: “This bill proposes to change the penalties for possession of a personal use supply of drugs from a misdemeanor or low-level felony to a civil offense subject to a $50.00 penalty. A person cited for such an offense may avoid paying the penalty by agreeing to participate in a screening for substance use disorder treatment and related services. The bill would also establish the Drug Use Standards Advisory Board for the purpose of determining the benchmark personal use dosage and the benchmark personal use supply for regulated drugs with a goal of preventing and reducing the criminalization of personal drug use. Individuals previously arrested for or convicted of possession of a regulated drug in an amount under the benchmark personal use supply amount would also be eligible for immediate sealing of criminal history records. Additionally, to prevent overdose, the bill would also authorize the operation of drug-checking programs to allow individuals to obtain analysis of a regulated drug previously obtained by an individual for purposes of determining the chemical composition of the substance and identifying chemical contaminants. The bill would establish a pilot project to support the development and operation of such programs.”

According to Psychedelic Spotlight, “nearly a third” of Vermont’s House of Representatives has sponsored that bill. 

Two other bills, one filed in the House and the other in the Senate, specifically address psilocybin mushrooms. 

The bill H.439, sponsored by a handful of House members, would “decriminalize some chemical compounds found in plants and fungi that are commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.” 

S.114, introduced in the state Senate, would go even further. That measure would remove “criminal penalties for possessing, dispensing, or selling psilocybin,” while also establishing the Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group.

The group would “examine the use of psychedelics to improve physical and mental health and to make recommendations regarding the establishment of a State program similar to Connecticut, Colorado, or Oregon to permit health care providers to administer psychedelics in a therapeutic setting,” according to the text of the legislation.

As that bill referenced, other states have already changed their laws around psychedelic substances such as mushrooms––and more are sure to follow. 

Earlier this month, lawmakers in Nevada introduced a bill that would open the door for research into psilocybin and MDMA.

Specifically, that measure would set up “procedures for a research facility to obtain the approval of the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct certain studies involving certain controlled substances; decriminalizing certain conduct by persons who are 18 years of age or older involving psilocybin and MDMA if conducted in connection with and within the scope of an approved study; decriminalizing certain conduct by persons who are 18 years of age or older involving 4 ounces or less of fungi that produces psilocybin or psilocin; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

But advocates in Vermont may want to temper their expectations. As Psychedelic Spotlight noted, the state’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, “famously vetoed two more restrained drug policy reforms last year, so who knows what he’ll do with this month’s proposals.”

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Deputy Fends of Five Armed Robbers at Dispensary in St. Vincent

The cannabis industry in the Caribbean mirrors the danger of the U.S. cash-only industry and the lure for criminals given the large amounts of cannabis and cash. In the town of Vermont (not to be confused with the U.S. state) on the island country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in the Caribbean, five would-be armed robbers were thwarted on Friday, Jan. 27 by a deputy guard at a dispensary. Due to quick thinking and a fast response, the perpetrators were caught mid-robbery while they were still at the site. 

Green Lava Labs is a medical cannabis company and dispensary in the Queensbury area of Vermont. As one of the first Class-C license holders in the country, a great deal of cannabis and a steady cash flow made it a prime target.

St. Vincent Times reports that five men, one brandishing a gun and another brandishing a “cutlass,” allegedly entered the dispensary at 2:00 am at night forcefully and injured at least one person. The five assailants allegedly attempted to break into the dispensary’s storage area. But a deputy from an armed security agency was quickly dispatched, returning fire and forcing the robbers to flee before they could make off with the loot.

“Our armed security operative engaged the bandits directly, firing several shots, causing the bandits to flee, without being able to break into the building and storage rooms,” Sheriff PSS Inc stated.

A deputy was dispatched to the premises promptly within 15 minutes, while the suspects were still on-site, officials said.

“Operations Control was contacted and our Executive Director Mr. Jason Greene and Operations Commander Mr. Cox responded immediately to provide additional support. The police [were] contacted and responded promptly within 15 minutes,” the release reads.

A caretaker who was on the premises was injured during the incident. 

“The live-in caretaker on the estate was injured during the incident and taken to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital by Sheriff PSS Inc for medical attention,” the report continued.

“Sheriff takes this opportunity to remind the nation that we are serious about asset protection as SVG’s only tactical security agency. We stand ready to serve citizens and the business community as the #1 source for reliable, competent and efficient Asset Protection Agents and Security solutions.”

Government officials at SVG issued the first licenses to cultivate medical cannabis in 2019. 

Green Lava Labs Leader in the Caribbean

Green Lava Labs was launched in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Nov. 15, 2019. Green Lava was among the first companies to be granted a Class-C Medical Marijuana Cultivation license in the country. The license allows them to extract, import, export, dispense, and cultivate up to 25 acres of cannabis.

Green Lava has the capacity of over 8,000 pounds of cannabis per year and future plans to reach the full capacity of its allowed 25 acres that should allow the company to produce over 35,000 pounds of cannabis per year.

The company’s grand opening was significant enough to attract Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves; Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar; a Senior Official of the Medical Cannabis Authority; and officials to attend.

The company offers flower, pre-rolls, CBD-infused products, and more.

The company also has other locations including one in Jamaica.

Business is once again booming in SVG’s medical cannabis industry, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves reported earlier this year. This follows a slow, discouraging period due to COVID pandemic restrictions and devastation caused by the La Soufriere volcano eruption.

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Vermont Sells Over $2.6 Million in Adult-Use Cannabis

Vermont’s adult-use cannabis industry took off with a bang. According to the Vermont Department of Taxes, Vermont cannabis stores sold $2.6 million worth of product in October, the first month of legal cannabis sales.

“It really is just kind of tracking pretty closely with what our projections were,” Brynn Hare, executive director of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board told Seven Days. “If you carry those numbers out—if we continue to get licenses out, we get the tourist revenue that we were anticipating into the state—then I think we’re on track to hit our projection for [fiscal year 2023].”

According to James Pepper, chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board—$2.1 to $2.4 million in excise taxes could be collected during the first nine months of cannabis sales. That translates to around $233,000 to $267,000 per month. “They look pretty much like our projections were accurate,” Pepper said.

Seven Days reports that Vermont legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office predicted higher numbers, with annual sales estimates ranging from $3.3 million to $9.1 million, translating to monthly excise tax revenues of $275,000 to $758,000.

In 2020, Vermont became the 11th state to tax and regulate cannabis. Two years later, sales figures are beginning to show the rewards. Adult-use cannabis sales officially launched in Vermont recently, with stores in three communities opening their doors to customers.

The three retailers to open this weekend were FLORA Cannabis in Middlebury, Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland, and CeresMED in Burlington, according to the Associated Press, which noted that a “fourth business has been licensed to sell recreational pot but isn’t ready to do so yet.” 

Vermont’s 2018 law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, did not establish a regulatory framework for an adult-use cannabis market, making Vermont an outlier compared to other states with legal cannabis. That changed two years later in 2020, when lawmakers in the state approved a bill that set up a regulated marijuana industry.

Vermont’s Cannabis Tax Structure

Officials also say the state has collected $329,231 in excise tax revenue—set at 14%—in the past two months since sales began. Patrons must also pay Vermont’s 6% sales tax on general sales, which amounted to another $144,000 for the state.

“Those numbers are actually right on track with our projected numbers from our financial model,” Nellie Marvel with the Vermont Cannabis Control Board told WCAX. The state now has two dozen stores and Marvel says they are expecting tax dollars to steadily increase. “The number of retailers that are open, the price of cannabis—and the price of cannabis, of course, is a function of the number of cultivators that are licensed, the size of their harvest—and the state’s tourism numbers.”

Under Vermont law, a portion of the excise tax revenue is allocated to fill any deficit in the control board’s budget. Regarding the rest of the excise tax revenue, 70% goes to the state general fund, and 30% goes towards substance abuse and prevention funds. Cannabis sales tax revenue is earmarked for after-school and summer learning programs.

According to the latest count, the control board approved licenses for 36 cannabis shops throughout the state.

Cannabis stores are stocking up in anticipation of busier days during the holidays. “Wednesday was awesome,” Sarah Coshow, director of retail operations at Green State Dispensary, told My Champlain Valley. “Everyone preparing to go home to the family. They did a lot of preparation by standing in line and picking up some pre-rolls and edibles.” 

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Recreational Pot Sales Kick Off in Vermont

Recreational marijuana sales officially launched in Vermont over the weekend, with stores in three communities opening their doors to customers on Saturday.

The three retailers to open this weekend were FLORA Cannabis in Middlebury, Mountain Girl Cannabis in Rutland and CeresMED in Burlington, according to the Associated Press, which noted that a “fourth business has been licensed to sell recreational pot but isn’t ready to do so yet.”

The Burlington Free Press reported on the grand opening at Ceres in Burlington, where the newspaper said that “a line of a couple hundred people stretching from the storefront around the corner and down an alley” had gathered for the occasion.

You would be forgiven if you assumed that recreational pot sales were already underway in the Green Mountain State, which legalized personal possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults back in 2018. The state legalized medical cannabis in 2004; according to the Free Press, Ceres “has been in business for about a decade catering to medical-marijuana customers, and that established infrastructure helped the company get going smoothly.”

But the 2018 law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, did not establish a regulatory framework for an adult-use cannabis market, making Vermont an outlier in the legalization movement.

That changed two years later in 2020, when lawmakers in the state approved a bill that set up a regulated marijuana industry.

“Ten of the eleven states that have legalized adult-use marijuana possession have also wisely regulated the retail cannabis market; until today, Vermont had been the sole exception,” NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf said at the time.

With Saturday’s openings in Middlebury, Rutland and Burlington, Vermont now becomes the 15th state with legal adult-use cannabis sales.

In signing the bill back in 2020, Scott said that the bill had been “a top priority for the majority in the Legislature for four years, but their work is not complete.”

“They must ensure equity in this new policy and prevent their priority from becoming a public health problem for current and future generations,” Scott said in his signing statement. “For these reasons, I am allowing this bill to become law without my signature.”

According to the Associated Press, the state’s Cannabis Control Board “prioritized review and waived licensing fees for social equity applicants,” such as “[applicants who are] Black or Hispanic, or from communities that historically have been disproportionately affected by cannabis being outlawed or who have been or had a family member who has been incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense.”

Other states that have established a regulated marijuana market have enacted similar social equity measures. In New York, where legal sales could launch by the end of this year, the first round of recreational dispensary licenses will go to individuals who have previously been convicted of a pot-related offense.

The Associated Press reports that “more than 30 social equity applicants, mostly growers, have been approved.”

When he signed the bill that established Vermont’s new cannabis market, Scott noted that it “requires cities and towns to authorize these businesses before retail establishments may open,” and “ensures local zoning applies to cannabis cultivation and production.”

He also said that the law “dedicates 30% of the excise tax, up to $10 million per year, to education and prevention efforts,” and that “the sales and use tax on cannabis would fund a grant program to expand afterschool and summer learning programs.”

Scott said at the time that the state’s ensuing budget “includes language I proposed to move toward a universal afterschool network, which is based on a successful model from Iceland and is focused on preventing drug use and improving academic and social outcomes.”

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National Coalition Formed to Protect Small-Scale Cannabis Growers

The National Craft Cannabis Coalition, comprised of state-level advocacy groups from Oregon, California, Washington, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, was formed with the goal of promoting state and federal policies that support small-scale growers, starting with the SHIP Act introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).

The SHIP (Small and Homestead Independent Producers) Act would allow craft growers to ship and sell weed directly to their consumers if and when marijuana is federally legalized. If passed, the bill would take effect once marijuana is removed from its current Schedule 1 status and once all criminal penalties are removed under federal law concerning marijuana.

“Too often, the federal government falls behind, and the gears of Congress work too slowly to keep up with the pace of a changing economy,” Representative Huffman said.

“Under my bill, folks in our state will be able to ship their products straight to consumers when the antiquated federal prohibition on cannabis is finally repealed. As large, commercial cannabis operations squeeze out local producers from the market, this legislation is critical for farmers to survive and expand their small businesses.”

Under the SHIP act, a qualifying cannabis grower would be anyone who cultivates:

  • One acre or less of 18 mature flowering marijuana plant canopy using outdoor cultivation
  • 22,000 square feet or less of marijuana plant canopy using greenhouse cultivation
  • 5,000 square feet or fewer of mature flowering marijuana plant canopy using indoor cultivation

Small and craft growers have lamented they don’t stand a chance in markets dominated by large multi-state operators capable of growing exponentially more canopy space for a fraction of the cost, especially when the final product has to be packaged and sold through third-party businesses. This results in a lot of large, vertically-integrated companies essentially pricing out the little guys who can’t afford to buy and operate their own dispensary, grow facility, and packaging facility.

“These producers operate on a much smaller scale than traditional agriculture with many cultivating less than an acre of total canopy,” said Amanda Meztler of F.A.R.M.S. Inc Oregon.

“With federal legalization on the horizon, it’s critical that craft cannabis producers organize across state lines to ensure that federal policy includes a level playing field for small and independent businesses.”

Thus, members of the NCCC have collectively proposed that the only way small growers can survive is if they are allowed to sell directly to their customers.

“The direct-to-consumer model is a necessary resource for any small-scale craft-producing community that is deeply tied to the land on which it creates — whether it produces wine, whiskey, cheese, beer, cannabis, or honey,” said Genine Coleman, Executive Director of Origins Council in a prepared statement.

“The legacy cannabis community that has worked so long in the shadows should have the opportunity to join the ranks of other artisan producers across the United States and enjoy the privilege of connecting personally with their adult customers.”

To date the NCCC represents over 1,000 small and independent commercial cannabis growers through their state-level organizations including Origins Council (CA), F.A.R.M.S. Inc (OR), Washington Sun & Craft Growers Association (WA), Vermont Growers Association (VT), Maine Craft Cannabis Association (ME), and Farm Bug Co-Op (MA).

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Retailers Count Down to Legalization in Vermont

It has been a long time coming, but Vermont is poised to finally enjoy cannabis legalization, and retailers are getting ready to be able to join the thriving new industry.

The Cannabis Control Board is gearing up to start giving out licenses beginning October 1, a date that is quickly coming into view. With this in mind, businesses have been getting ready and preparing for months now for the big day. 

Scott Sparks of Vermont Bud Barn, a retailer who is aiming to open in West Brattleboro, Vermont, is preparing and hopeful. He would like to see his business open as soon as legal cannabis can move ahead in the state, and he plans to become one of the first retailers in the industry. 

“Yeah, things are definitely moving forward,” he says of his work so far to get ready and open his doors. “I was planning on running it for two weeks. In three days, I had over 150 applications.” 

Sparks is no stranger to the world of cannabis. He has been in the CBD market for years, and now, if all goes well, he is preparing to also enter the legal cannabis market. His license for retail is being reviewed by the Cannabis Control Board in Vermont, and he has even begun the process of interviewing hopeful candidates to work at the dispensary.

While he has had no trouble locking in interviews and getting interested staff on the hook, he has had trouble with banking, not surprisingly. For the time being, he has opted to work with a virtual bank if he is able to open, as local banks have put a hold on working with cannabis clients. VSECU, the bank he was hoping to work with, said they will not be taking on future cannabis businesses. 

“Even though I got in all the paperwork on time and I have a longstanding relationship, I was not allowed to get an account,” Sparks says about his banking challenges. 

In the meantime, he is focusing on the construction of his business and installing a safe and security system, as well as meetings with farmers and growers. 

“A lot of the—I will call them top-tier growers—have actually approached us because they want to be a part of my continued branding down here, and they want to have a presence in southern Vermont,” he says about the folks he is trying to work with. 

And others in the area, even outside of the cannabis industry, are equally excited about the opportunities they hope it will bring. 

“I’m excited for this part of West Brattleboro,” says Larisa Volkaeichyute, owner of an art gallery in the same building that Vermont Bud Barn is hoping to open in. “I feel like that will give the opportunity to showcase my work and showcase the work of other artists.”

As soon as cannabis licenses are approved by the Cannabis Control Board, retailers can begin selling cannabis. So, interested retailers are gearing up and getting ready to sell as soon as they are able. Officials so far say they are on target to meet the October 1 deadline. 

“The day I get to turn the key on that door will be one of the best days of my life,” Sparks says about his hopes for the future. “Just very exciting to finally get to this point after all these years.”

In Sparks’ case, he is planning on having product available and for sale within four days of getting his license. As long as the process continues to go smoothly, Vermont can expect many recreational businesses to follow suit, and the local industry to explode. 

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New Vermont Guidance Looks to Eliminate Plastic Waste From State’s Cannabis Industry

While witnessing the legal cannabis industry continually blossom over the years has been an exciting and invigorating experience for many, it’s also becoming increasingly challenging to ignore the amount of plastic waste involved. As states are required to enforce cannabis compliance, which generally means child-proof packaging for any products leaving the building, the result is often an abundance of single-use plastic that is more challenging to recycle than materials you might find at the grocery store.

Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board is looking to change that. In new “Guidance on Packaging,” released earlier this month, the board states that “packaging that is intended for consumer purchase at a retail location shall be reusable and shall not be plastic.” The guidance gives examples for acceptable reusable materials, including glass, tin, cardboard, and bamboo.

The packaging for cannabis must be child-deterrent and opaque. The guidance defines cannabis as all parts of the plant, including seeds; resin extracted from any part of the plant; and any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative or preparation of the plant, its seed or resin.

This is a new clarification, as “child-deterrent packaging” means tear-resistant packaging that can be sealed in a way that “would deter children under five years of age from easily accessing the content of the package within a reasonable time” while still being simple for adults to properly use and access.

Child-resistant packaging, on the other hand, includes packaging designed or constructed to be “significantly difficult for children under five years of age to open,” or to obtain a toxic or harmful amount of the substance in the container “within a reasonable amount of time,” also that adults can easily use.

It may seem like a small distinction, but child-deterrent packaging is generally a less burdensome requirement from a packaging standpoint, usually requiring less use of plastic or other hard materials.

The packaging for cannabis products, meaning concentrated cannabis and product that is “composed of cannabis and other ingredients,” intended for use and consumption, including edibles, ointments, tinctures and vaporizer cartridges with cannabis oil, must be child-resistant and opaque.

It’s a rational distinction to make, given that there are less risks of danger for a young child accessing cannabis flower than a cannabis edible. For example, a child would have to figure out some way to smoke the flower to experience its effects, whereas an edible or anything with activated THC would have a psychoactive effect upon consumption.

The new guidance also says that a licensee may seek a waiver to the prohibition on plastic consumer packaging if they can demonstrate a hardship in securing non-plastic packaging, including unavailability of non-plastic packaging; inability to achieve child-resistance; or the necessity to preserve shelf-life stability, prevent cannabis or cannabis product contamination or avoid exposure of cannabis/cannabis products toxic or harmful substances.

For those attempting to secure a waiver, a licensee must propose a packaging alternative that uses “de minimis plastic,” meaning only the amount of plastic “reasonably needed” to overcome the hardship identified in the waiver petition.

Vermont became the 11th state to regulate adult-use cannabis sales and the second state to do so legislatively, rather than through a voter initiative, nearly two years ago. Governor Phil Scott announced on October 7, 2020 that he would allow S. 54—the bill that would regulate and tax cannabis sales in the state—to become law without his signature.

“I know it is difficult to take on these complex issues remotely and during this unprecedented Pandemic,” Scott said in a statement at the time. “Again, I thank the legislators who worked to move toward me over the past two years on this issue. Nevertheless, the Legislature has much more work to do to ensure equity in this new policy and to prevent their work from becoming a public health problem for current and future generations. For these reasons, I am allowing this bill to become law without my signature.”

In 2021, the legislature moved forward to act on the promise of centering social equity, as the House and Senate passed S. 25, which looks to strengthen social equity provisions, requiring regulators to reduce or eliminate licensing fees for applicants who have been negatively impacted by federal enforcement of cannabis laws.

The new rules for plastic packaging will be in place when adult-use sales begin in Vermont, sometime later in 2022.

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Vermont Lawmakers At Odds Over THC Limit on Cannabis Concentrates

Vermont lawmakers are at loggerheads over a measure that would establish a cap on the level of THC in solid cannabis concentrates sold at the state’s regulated cannabis retailers. 

Local publication VTDigger has the background, reporting that members of the Vermont state Senate “bristled Friday at a last-minute change to a key cannabis bill during a House vote Thursday—and speculated as to why the Vermont Department of Health abruptly reversed its recommendation to lawmakers on the measure last week.”

Members of the House “on Thursday imposed a 60% cap on the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in solid cannabis concentrates to be sold at retail establishments when they open in October,” according to VTDigger.

“They held the damn thing for over a week and a half and then come up with this,” said Democratic state Senator Dick Sears, as quoted by VTDigger. “There isn’t much time to call for a conference committee.” 

Sears said he was “frustrated” with Democratic state House Representative John Gannon, who proposed the amendment imposing a 60% cap. 

Sears and other lawmakers contend that caps are counterproductive and will only prompt customers to seek products elsewhere––be it on the illicit market or in neighboring states with adult-use cannabis sales.

Calling the measure passed by the House a “stupid decision,” Sears said that Vermont continues “to invite people to go out of state.” 

“It gives the illicit market a monopoly on supplying the demand for these products,” Vermont Cannabis Control Board chair James Pepper told a state House committee during a hearing, as quoted by VTDigger

“There is a very broad consensus among regulators that caps are a bad idea,” Pepper told the publication. “A black market will fill this gap. They’ll do so using very dangerous products.”

Amid the back-and-forth among lawmakers has been a series of inconsistent guidance on the issue from Vermont’s Department of Health. 

VTDigger reported that the department’s senior policy and legal adviser, David Englander, told members of a state House committee late last month that the department agreed with the Cannabis Control Board in opposing the cap.

“The primary reason is that there is a likely significant market for high THC concentrates, and it is more dangerous for people to buy unregulated versions of these products as opposed to buying products that are regulated and tested in accordance with Board rules. Regulating instead of banning THC substances is in line with one of the purposes of creating a regulated market as envisioned by the General Assembly,” Englander said in a letter to the committee. 

“In addition, a complete ban on concentrates above 60% requires manufacturers to keep products below that limit at all times during the manufacturing process. Doing so will require the addition of additives to dilute the product down to a 60% concentrate or below. You may recall that there were recent illnesses and deaths that appeared to be associated with the ingestion of such additives.”

But the very next day, Englander pulled a 180, telling lawmakers that, upon “further consideration, with the lens of prevention and safety as the cornerstone for the coming adult use market in Vermont, the Department does not concur with the lifting of the THC limit and maintains that a foundational component of the original legislation remain in place.”

“The risk to users of high levels of THC are significant and we should not risk contributing to the known risks to consumers physical and mental health,” Englander said. “My communication of yesterday to you was based on incomplete information. All errors are mine, and please accept my apologies to you and the committee.”

Vermont legalized recreational pot use in 2018, but sales did not begin in the state until 2020.

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Claim of Fentanyl-Laced Cannabis Overdoses in Connecticut was False

Another alleged case of fentanyl-laced cannabis in Connecticut has gone up in smoke. 

In this case, the false alarm came out of Connecticut, where an investigation has revealed that “nearly 40 Connecticut overdoses [that] were possibly linked to fentanyl-laced marijuana—sparking widespread attention and concern—turned out to be one confirmed case and was probably caused by accidental contamination,” according to a story by CT Insider.

That marks a major walk back from a bulletin in November issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which said that it had “recently received reports of overdose patients who have exhibited opioid overdose symptoms and required naloxone for revival,” and that the “patients denied any opioid use and claimed to have only smoked marijuana.”

That press release detailed a total of 39 overdoses in the state between July and November of last year. In one such incident that took place in October, police in Plymouth, Connecticut were said to have responded to one overdose scene where they secured a sample of cannabis that later tested positive for fentanyl.

“This is the first lab-confirmed case of marijuana with fentanyl in Connecticut and possibly the first confirmed case in the United States,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani.

Now, the department is acknowledging that it overstated the extent of the problem in its initial reaction. 

According to CT Insider, Chris Boyle, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said that at least 30 of the 39 documented overdose cases involved individuals with a history of opioid use. The website reported that the “the Plymouth sample was the only one that has tested positive for fentanyl,” and that the “state reviewed all marijuana samples submitted to the state Division of Scientific Services Lab from July 1 to Nov. 30 and found no other cannabis submissions that contained fentanyl.”

Boyle said that it’s believed that the contamination occurred when the dealer “failed to clean their instruments before processing the marijuana and cross-contaminated it with fentanyl.”

“Based on the information gathered since the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl, the CT ORS [Connecticut Overdose Response Strategy] assesses that the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl was likely accidental contamination and an isolated incident,” Boyle wrote in an email, as quoted by CT Insider. 

“Anything bought off the street, including cannabis, has the potential to contain other substances, one of those being fentanyl,” Boyle continued. “CT DPH has documented evidence, from not just the State Police Forensics Lab, but from the DEA lab as verification of the seized drug sample, that cannabis was contaminated with fentanyl.”

The findings are the latest splash of cold water on a mania that erupted late last year regarding this very same issue. 

Reports of fentanyl-laced cannabis emerged out of Vermont in November, with local news outlets causing nationwide hysteria over reports of the spiked weed being found in Brattleboro, Vermont.

But the following month, police in Brattleboro said that the seized cannabis “was submitted to a forensic laboratory where testing was conducted” and that the department “was notified no fentanyl was found in the marijuana in either case.”

“​BPD stands by its previous public safety advisory that it is wise for consumers of marijuana to know the source and history of any marijuana they ingest,” the Brattleboro Police Department said in a statement at the time.

The erroneous reports have left cannabis advocates frustrated. 

“Despite this claim receiving prominent headlines over the past several years, there exist few, if any, confirmed cases of these claims being substantiated,” Paul Armentano, deputy director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told CT Insider

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Can the Smell of Cannabis Get You Arrested?

The distinctive odor of cannabis has long been a give-away exploited by law enforcement to justify a search of one’s vehicle, home or person. Many lives have been destroyed by this self-revealing nature of the plant. The matter has been brought before the courts many times, with some rulings favorable and others not. But with growing legal and cultural acceptance for cannabis, is the mere smell of weed still sufficient cause for a search that could potentially land you in jail? Pennsylvania doesn’t think so; on Dec. 29, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Fourth Amendment, declaring that the smell of cannabis alone cannot be the basis to justify a warrantless search.  

Fourth Amendment Victory in Keystone State 

Last year’s ruling was prompted by events taking place in Allentown, Pa. in November of 2018, when state troopers stopped Timothy Oliver Barr II for a minor traffic violation—failing to stop at a solid white line. The officers said the cannabis smell was apparent at the car window. A loaded handgun and a small bag of cannabis—less than one gram—were found in the subsequent search of the vehicle.

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana has been in place since 2016, and both Barr and his wife (who was driving) showed their cards, indicating that they were enrolled in the state program. But the cannabis was in a plain unmarked baggie, with nothing to indicate it was purchased at a licensed dispensary. And in any event, the Pennsylvania program bars actual herbaceous cannabis. Charges were brought against Barr. 

 Swayed by the testimony of Dr. David Gordon, who had issued the medical marijuana cards and stated that smell alone could not indicate illegally obtained cannabis, the Lehigh County Court issued an order to suppress the evidence. But prosecutors argued that cannabis “has not lost its ‘incriminating’ smell by virtue of its legality for some,” and appealed to the state Superior Court to vacate the suppression order. This was granted in September 2021.

The Superior Court decision was recently reversed by the Supreme Court, and the order suppressing the evidence is now reinstated. 

According to NBC Philadelphia, Chief Justice Max Baer of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote, “The odor of marijuana alone does not amount to probable cause to conduct a non-warranted search of the vehicle, but rather, may be considered as a factor in examining the totality of the circumstances.”

The Supreme Court ordered the case remanded to the Lehigh County Court “for proceedings that are consistent with this opinion.”

Confused Case Law 

This matter has been batted about by the courts for years—with widely varying results among states. In a ruling hailed as landmark by rights advocates in the Green Mountain State, the Vermont Supreme Court in January 2019 found unanimously in favor of an African American motorist who challenged a March 2014 stop by a state trooper as unlawful and racially motivated. The ruling found the police may be held liable for the improper search, which was carried out with the justification that the officer smelled cannabis.

The motorist, Gregory Zullo, was pulled over in Rutland County for a minor traffic violation. But again, the state trooper said he smelled cannabis, and on that basis had the car towed and searched. The search turned up a small pipe with cannabis residue. Zullo was not charged, but he had to pay $150 to recover his vehicle. 

The case wound up before the state Supreme Court when Zullo, represented by the Vermont ACLU, sued for damages, arguing that the stop was racially motivated. The high court remanded the case back to the lower court for reconsideration in light of its ruling.

In June 2019, the state of Vermont reached a $50,000 settlement with Zullo.

On the other hand, in December 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a cannabis conviction in a case that similarly relied on supposed olfactory evidence to justify a search. Worse, this case actually extended to a private home the accepted police practice in Kansas that the odor of cannabis can justify the search of a vehicle.

Douglas County resident Lawrence Hubbard was found guilty of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, which led to a term of probation. Thanks to the state’s high court ruling, his conviction stands.

The case began in November 2013, when a police officer followed Hubbard home, mistaking him for someone with an outstanding arrest warrant. But as they cleared up the misunderstanding at his front door, the officer allegedly detected the smell of cannabis and carried out a “security sweep.” This turned up a roach and bongs—which were then used to justify obtaining a warrant for a more complete search, which uncovered 25 grams stored in a closed Tupperware container locked inside a safe in Hubbard’s bedroom closet.

Then there was the horrific case of Bob and Teresa Almond, who had lived in their home in the Alabama town of Woodland for 27 years, raising children and running a small business there, with back-yard chicken coops. Their modest dream of comfortable retirement in the house came crashing down on Jan. 31, 2018. That day, the Randolph County Drug Task Force raided their home, supposedly on the basis of cannabis smell.

Their home was ransacked during the raid, which revealed a small quantity of cannabis, estimated to be worth $50. The charges brought against the couple were all dismissed, but the home was forfeited—seized by the county. The Almonds have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department, which remains pending.

There have been two relevant US Supreme Court rulings—and they went different ways. In March 2013 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Florida v. Jardines that evidence from a search warrant obtained on the basis of a drug-sniffing dog alerting to a home from the outside was inadmissible. Charges were dropped against Joelis Jardines, whose Miami indoor grow operation was uncovered in the search.

But in an April 2014 decision in Navarette v. California, the US high court ruled 5-4 that a traffic stop leading to a cannabis arrest was constitutional because police had reasonable suspicion the driver was intoxicated. Charges for 30 pounds of cannabis found in the truck were upheld against Lorenzo Prado Navarette of Mendocino County.

The firm Pot Brothers at Law, based in California’s Orange County, really is made up of a couple of brothers—Marc and Craig Wasserman, specializing (as one might imagine) in cannabis cases. They’ve developed a seminar on the “etiquette of engaging with law enforcement and how to shut the fuck up when cops ask questions,” in the words of Marc Wasserman. He tells Cannabis Now that they most recently gave the presentation earlier this month at the CannaCon Northeast Cannabis Expo in New York’s Javits Center. “We’re looking to do our seminar all over the place,” he says.

Asked about the cannabis smell factor, he says: “The case law is divided, and it varies from state to state. Here in California, smell alone is no longer considered probable cause for a search. And when legalization passed in New York last year, a directive similarly went out to the police that they can no longer use smell to justify search.”

“That’s why it’s so important to not consent to a search, and to keep your mouth shut,” he continues. “If you consent to a search, you will never be able to fight the search. The more someone talks or consents, the more you wipe away defenses that you might be able to use.”

Marc went on to explain the importance of knowing what your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights are. 

“The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth Amendment protects us against self-incrimination,” he said. “But people have to learn to utilize their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. It’s so important. Even when you think you’re doing something legal, you’ve got to shut the fuck up.”

In a video posted to the Pot Brothers’ Instagram page in October 2019, Marc expounded on this point with an example: “We had a client today who was sitting in a car outside a hotel when a cop came up on him and said she smelled weed… And she asked him, ‘Do you have any weed in the car?’ And he answered, ‘I’ve got a little.’

He should have said, ‘I’m not discussing my day.’ When she searched the car based on that statement, to see if he had a little—he had five pounds in the trunk. The judge specifically said that if he hadn’t said he had a little, the case would have been dismissed. It would have been unreasonable search and seizure if it was based on the smell alone.”

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