But… But I thought we were all good?

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Complacency and arrogance will be the death of us.

I have been watching the cannabis industry march around high-fiving each other and acting like adult use legalization was inevitable for the last couple of years. I have done my best to sound the alarm that this thing was far from over, and that the wolves were in the hen house. A lot of my pointed and volatile critique of an industry with its cart in front of its horse has fallen on deaf ears; and that is fine.

The blowhards and wannabe moguls have continued to disregard the battle at hand in an effort to lay the groundwork for their “next big thing” approach to cannabis reform. Even long time reform advocates have turned the page before they were done reading, and many once vocal and great activists have hung up their protest signs and bullhorns for some great business opportunities or jobs. Many have completely forgotten that we are long from out of the woods; and that we have really only just begun to fight. Folks have chosen to roll over and take what is given to them, and there is very little housekeeping being done within the cannabis reform movement. Everyone is so busy glad-handing one another about how great things will be that any progress we see is being undermined by politicians and those who see weed as simply a means to an end of great fortune. It is pretty sad.

Across the nation we are beginning to see increased and unnecessary limitations and enforcement of the cannabis industry. While organizations and individuals hosted awards galas and parties to celebrate their pyrrhic victories, those who oppose cannabis, and those who love nothing more than cannabis money, have conspired to throttle the progress we have seen.

Look around you. A lot of the progression has become regression, and many state programs are under attack. You have the passage of SB 5052 in WA State that will completely decimate the medical cannabis program there. Passed by the legislature and awaiting the Governor’s inevitable signature, this bill will close all of the medical cannabis dispensaries in the state and force patients into the highly regulated industry established by I-502. It is a nightmare that many should have seen coming. Why? Because the authors of 502 put no real protections in place, and the medical cannabis program in the state was not clearly defined from the outset. Since there were no meaningful laws on the books that defined medical cannabis dispensaries and the many products that make up the industry, the entire thing was left to chance and not afforded any real legal protections.

ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION CALIFORNIA? We are virtually in the same boat, with the entire industry being one weird “collective or cooperative” with no real protections or definitions.

It is imperative that we ensure that the language put on the ballot for 2016 clearly defines the medical and adult use industries, their functions, the products they encompass, the standard business practices of the industry, and the individual rights of patients and weedheads. This is not a game to be left to chance or interpretation. This is reality. The language we put on the ballot must include clear and concise direction as to what protections we are afforded as a community.

You can also look at what is happening in Colorado for more insight as to areas we need to better define going forward. They are working to further limit the industry there and have begin to impose more and more restrictions on cannabis in the state program. Edible cannabis products have come greatly under attack in recent months, as the state pushed for regulations on the products potency and marketing. There is also the controversy of the newly imposed testing requirements that have proven to be anything but reliable. Do not forget the restrictions on licensed businesses participating in the Cannabis Cup too! And then of course there is the development of limitations for the state’s caregiver program and crack down on doctors that is more intense than what we have seen for pill mills that actually kill a lot of people. Awesome, right? When they said “Regulate Like Alcohol” they did not mean “exactly” like alcohol; or maybe not even sort of.

Rhode Island is also fighting the passage of a bill that would decimate the state’s successful caregiver program and force patients into the homogenous and cost prohibitive dispensary model to access their medicines. While there has been a lot of great success with the program, a couple of would be business moguls hired some lobbyists to highlight some isolated incidents and wrote legislation being proposed that would completely destroy the caregiver programs there. Progress….

Don’t forget Massachusetts, where the law was written so poorly in 2012 that it will be nearly THREE full years before any dispensary opens its doors to provide cannabis medicines to patients. Patients continue to demand access, but the state has largely bungled the process and retarded the program’s progress at every point. There is hope that the new administration of Charlie Baker will do a better job given recent statements, but it is a sad day when a Republican Governor of a largely liberal blue state of Massachusetts is more committed to their medical cannabis program than the former Democratic standard bearer Deval Patrick. Maybe his new job at Bain Capital influenced his willingness to botch the program and leave the good people of the Commonwealth suffering unnecessarily. Maybe Bain Capital will own all of the dispensaries in New England sooner than later. It would not surprise me at this point.

Oregon is having some growing pains in its coming program. Alaska continues to drag its feet and even raided their former TV news personality turned cannabis entrepreneur, Charlo Green. Arizona is trying to make it more difficult to get cannabis medicines. Maine hired Sheriffs to inspect their caregivers. Ohio has a battle on their hands, as groups set to try and make monopolies part of the state constitution and groups battle for funding. All across the country there seems to be solutions to what are hardly real problems which threaten cannabis freedom at its core, and could continue to confuse and confound what is legal and what is not. The dangers lie in the fact that one bad law from one state often becomes another bad law in another state, as lawmakers and regulators are generally lazy. The cannabis reform movement’s own lack of engagement in a lot of the programs and politics has resulted in knee-jerk reactions resulting in less freedom… not more.

To further complicate the mess, look at the big raid of a large cannabis lab in Southern California, The Werc Shop, last week as clear evidence of complacency and arrogance. So here is a third party lab that is supposed to be providing verification for cannabis products for safety and potency. While at the same time the lab is producing and selling its own cannabis products, and is in bed with other producers of cannabis products. So the people doing the testing of your product are directly competing with you in the cannabis marketplace. Add to that the sheer stupidity of operating in the not-so-liberal Pasadena and lurking in a building where your neighbors didn’t really know you, and you get the recipe for disaster that happened there. Realize that third party labs in California are really anything but, and that the labs themselves are operating in a quasi-legal environment also apparently as some strange “collective or cooperative” as required under CA law, and you can see the complexities of developing the legal framework of the industry here moving forward. What can we do to protect businesses deeply invested who believe they are doing the right thing, but really have no legal protections at all? How can we write a law here that encompasses the vast majority of our industry, while realizing the ultimate goal of ending prohibition and allowing adults access to high quality and affordable cannabis for whatever they please?

But there is no real sense of urgency in a lot of the cannabis circles these days. People are so caught up in their own little get rich quick schemes that they have disregarded the fight completely. People are ether so sure of themselves, or so fucking jaded, that they have allowed complacency to overtake their identities. Their false sense of hope and inevitability is dangerous and fails to understand reality. The battle is far from over…. In fact it has really just begun.

In a recent article by Bloomberg entitled “Marijuana Legalization Across U.S. May Hinge on 2016 California Vote”, we are clearly reminded that this thing is anything but in the bag. The words that go into the law we put on the ballot here matter. It will be a delicate balance of what we need and what will pass the voters. We cannot afford to fuck this one up. What is written here will define the industry for decades to come and should not be taken lightly. There are a lot of important issues to consider, including medical access, cannabis production methods, and public safety matters. To help move the conversation along I have developed a discussion page  at reformca.org which highlights a lot of the major points that I believe could use input as people begin to draft and submit their language for initiatives. I would encourage you to use this tool and to be a vocal participant in this process. Too much is at stake to not have our voices heard on this one.

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We have a lot of work to do. Coalitions and organizations are developing to take us on this wild ride through the election in 2016, and marijuana will be a hot button topic all across the United States. We must be prepared to stand up and be accounted for, or we should prepare for defeat and deception. Nothing is a given, and what we have seen is that some of our biggest enemies are within. There are no do-overs. We must find a way to rise up and meet the challenges of tomorrow today.

But don’t take my word for it….Look around:

“A state with so much influence and size is very important,” said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a San Diego-based nonprofit group that opposes legalization. “We expect a long, drawn-out battle in California — and an expensive one.”

or this tidbit here….

“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk to pass,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant who worked for former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “There’s a lot of opposition to it. There will be a lot of concern about unintended consequences.”

Supporters will have the more difficult burden of persuading voters to change the law, while opponents can stir doubt and concern to secure ‘no’ votes, Stutzman said.

The game is ours to lose, but given some of the early fumbling I have seen, coupled with the losses we are experiencing in current programs, I am certainly concerned. Do not think this is over by a longshot. It is the fight of our lives and we need be prepared. While there is certainly momentum in the cannabis reform efforts, there is still the realization that we are one bad election away from losing all of the ground we have gained. Just yesterday NJ Governor and 2016 Presidential hopeful, Chris Christie stated that if elected he would shut down the industry and return pot to the dark ages…

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) becomes president of the United States, he said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show” Tuesday, he will “crack down” on those states that have ended prohibitions on marijuana.

When asked by Hewitt if he would enforce federal drug laws in those states that have legalized and regulated cannabis, Christie responded unequivocally.

“Absolutely,” Christie said. “I will crack down and not permit it.”

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So as you sit there planning your next “let’s give each other a reach around for how great we are and celebrate” event, just know that you are still at war. Assholes like Sheldon Adelson, who sunk Florida’s efforts to pass a medical marijuana law last year, are a couple of large donation checks away from sinking your battleship. Are we stupid to think that we have this thing in the bag? We don’t. Not even a little bit.

“But… But I thought we were all good?”

No, asshole. You are pretty fucking far from all good. You are looking down the barrel of a gun and you don’t even know it. You have let the shroud of complacency take over your existence,  and our enemy knows it. We are completely vulnerable.

We have to be ready to fight. Nothing will be perfect, but we must ensure that any efforts we make going forward are focused on cannabis freedom and a level playing field for all. Continuing to appease the opposition is obviously not working, and I for one am tired of being sold out by some of our own for their shot at the title. You can be certain that in the near future the industry and cannabis regulations we see will not be like tomatoes, so you can just stop that romanticism right now. What we need to do is understand WHAT WE NEED, and use our collective voices to ensure that at the minimum that is what we get. We can work on what we want from there.

Wake the fuck up and get off your ass already. Tomorrow is here today, and you are already two steps back. Time to get moving. No better time than the present.

Who CARERS Anyway?

Rand Paul introduces medical marijuana bill

I have heard a lot of excitement and commotion regarding the U.S. Senate’s introduction of the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act. From some of the blind support being put forth by the cannabis community and the lobbying efforts by folks to encourage the enactment of this bill you would think that Congress was actually legalizing marijuana or something. But that is far from the fact.

On a macro level, sure… it sounds positive. Congress is going to reschedule cannabis and allow for states to set their own policies. Wooohooo! They are going to allow for banking and provide direct access at the Veterans Administration. Great, right? It is like a dream come true, you might think. But think again. The bill crafted here, while great for headlines, will likely do more harm than good in the long run; and will not really solve any of the problems facing the cannabis industry. The overall effects could range from very little, to actually destroying the fabric of the current cannabis landscape, as well as creating an environment that is much more restrictive and limiting than the programs we see now.

Let’s take a closer look at the CARERS Act and the smoke and mirrors it attempts to put forth.

Supporters of the bill claim that it will “allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and eliminate federal prosecution of patients, providers, and businesses in states with medical marijuana programs.” The text inserted into the Controlled Substances Act is as follows:

Compliance With State Law.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this title relating to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State law relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, laboratory testing, or delivery of medical marihuana.

The obvious issue is that this change ONLY applies to “medical marihuana.” Being that four states and D.C. have enacted adult use legalization, the limiting reach of changing the CSA to not apply to persons acting in compliance with state law where medical is concerned shines a spotlight on the still very criminal nature of those operating in the non-medical side of the industry. So while this is definitely the highlight of the CARERS Act, it still leaves a lot to be desired as to where the industry and Country are headed in relation to marijuana.

As a person living in California, it is not very comforting either. California is over 10% of the Country and probably over 50% of the current cannabis industry. Yet no one here really knows who is and who is not “acting in compliance with state law.” Everyone is a collective or cooperative, no matter what they do in the industry. They keep attempting to pass bad laws that will further clarify the industry and establish regulations and licensing, but even those are not set to take place until 2017 at the earliest, even if they were to pass today. So to be clear, really the CARERS Act does not protect anyone in California and just the medical only people in Colorado and Washington; and don’t forget that the State of Washington is also trying to severely limit their medical only industry. So the people protected by this provision to the CSA is very limited.

You can even take it one step further and realize that there is no working definition in this Act or in Federal law for what “medical marihuana” actually is. So it gives added protections to people for something that does not exist. As we have seen from state to state, what is and what is not considered “medical” is a pretty wide range of issues. So what this clause is protecting is really anyone’s guess.

But let’s get to the nitty-gritty…. Rescheduling. I have heard cannabis advocates call for rescheduling a million times, and I just don’t get it. The CARERS Act reschedules cannabis from Schedule 1 to the incredibly restrictive Schedule 2. This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This topic came up at my Federal sentencing for providing cannabis edibles. Here is that exchange between the Honorable Judge Claudia Wilken and my attorney Tony Serra:

The judge’s next matter of inquiry focused on documents the defense had filed regarding efforts to change the scheduling of marijuana. It’s currently in schedule I, a category for drugs with a high potential for addiction and no established medical benefit. However, Serra related a recent experience in U.S. District Court in Fresno that spoke against this categorization – after filing a series of affidavits about marijuana’s medical efficacy, the government had been unable to round up any witnesses to counter the claim. “The U.S. Attorney couldn’t find one doctor who could say there’s no medical efficacy,” he announced with pride.

If marijuana were rescheduled, Serra speculated, it would reduce the federal government’s power to harass medical marijuana providers and subject them to civil and criminal litigation. “Schedule I will be dumped,” he said confidently.

It was a change, he noted, that could also be propelled by a shift in the White House. “We’re hopeful Obama will be elected and there will be real change,” Serra suggested. “This is an area that’s crying out for reform.”

Judge Wilken was smiling and nodding conspicuously by this time. She seemed won over, and appeared to have no concerns about Serra crossing the line of campaigning in the courtroom. She did, however, have one point of confusion: if marijuana was moved from schedule I to schedule II, wouldn’t there still be problems with access? “Schedule II drugs can’t be passed around,” she remarked.

Serra looked up at her, shooting her his most charming smile. “We’re going for schedule III,” he said with buoyancy.

So here is a Federal judge looking at sentencing me for cannabis crimes and even she realizes that Schedule 2 would be problematic for access. Why? Because Schedule 2 is reserved for drugs that “have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” There are intense and cost prohibitive restrictions placed on manufacturing and dispensing these drugs, which include morphine and oxycodone. None of the state programs currently in place come anywhere near what is expected from companies that deal in Schedule 2 drugs. Therefore, when it is reclassified here state programs will need to conform to these restrictions to be validated, thus shutting down most all of the industry as we currently know it.

You will not be able to have it both ways. Right now cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug and the US Department of Justice has decided not to enforce the law in states that have enacted cannabis programs. It is not likely that once placed in the hands of the FDA through the rescheduling process that they will simply ignore that most people are not in compliance with Schedule 2 standards. You can also believe that manufacturers of schedule 2 drugs and the pharmacies that have to conform to rigid Schedule 2 standards will not sit idly by while another Schedule 2 drug, marijuana, is ignored and allowed to be produced and distributed under non Schedule 2 standards. No way. In fact, you can be sure they will want in on the deal and that they have the money and resources to meet Schedule 2 requirements. They will work hand in hand with the FDA and DEA to ensure that cannabis is treated as a Schedule 2 and that the same rules that apply to them apply to the entire industry.

Add to that the prescription requirements for a Schedule 2 drug, being that a patient must have a written prescription for it and the physician can not prescribe more that a 90 day supply. It will be interesting to see how rescheduling affects a doctor’s ability to recommend cannabis, and the current get a recommendation for a whole year for unlimited amounts of cannabis. Schedule 2 would in theory require for doctors to specify the amount used by the patient and not allow for them to access more than a 90 day supply based on that figure. Also, does anyone think that they are going to allow for you to grow your own or smoke a Schedule 2 drug. LOL. That is funny. I detal more of these questions in a former piece entitles “Is Rescheduling the Answer We Are Looking For?

Now rescheduling will allow for some research to be done, but even that research is strictly limited. It will not be like just any researcher will be able to decide to research cannabis for any reason they want to. Researching Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 drugs require special ordering protocols, and can only be accessed through strict DEA registrations. Placing cannabis in Schedule 2 will tie the hands of researchers and what you will likely see is a lot of people researching ways cannabis can harm people, or why it is more ineffective than certain alternatives available.

Rescheduling of any sort without adult use legalization is going to leave the industry very vulnerable. Schedule 2 will be absolute murder. Assigning the definition of a scheduled drug to a quasi-legal and tolerated environment will cause extreme confusion and put defined limitations in place that no one here is ready for. You can all but assume that 90% of what we believe to be medical in today’s market (grow your own, smoking, most edibles, etc.) will not fit into the neat and tidy categories that are expected from the drug schedules. It will create pay to play business structure that will ensure most cannot afford to pay, and those who can will make sure no one else is playing.

The the CARERS Act goes one step further and excludes Cannabidiol (CBD) from the definition of marihuana. Huh? It is obvious that the sponsors of this bill have drank the Stanley Brother’s kool-aid; but differentiating CBD from other cannabinoids will do nothing more than encourage more limiting CBD only legislation in states. Saying that CBD is not even part of the definition of cannabis is dangerous and unnecessary. It puts CBD on a pedestal, while at the same time demonizing THC. There is no evidence that CBD only medicines are effective alternatives for more than a very small sliver of the cannabis population. This bill attempts to make a special place for CBD with ZERO real studies done on its effectiveness or viability as a medicine. It attempts to quantify it with the same standards used for hemp, implying that the arbitrary less that .o3% of THC is somehow a figure of relevance. It is not. It is the evolution of one bad law into another bad law. It is stupid.

Creating a path for CBD hucksters to virtually go unregulated is a recipe for failure. It is a part of a law that is written to appease those who continue to push the CBD dream at the expense of THC and other cannabinoids. We already see a great deal of policy created allowing only for CBD, and differentiating it from THC in an effort to say “CBD is the medical part of marijuana and THC is evil.” It is an extension of the misinformation campaigns against marijuana that have fueled prohibition for decades. It is a bad idea, and this law cements it into Federal law as if it were a valid scientific fact. It stinks, and I am fairly appalled to see it in the CARERS Act at all.

Then there are the banking provisions. As a person who has been denied several bank accounts and had even more closed, I am all for new banking regulations for cannabis businesses. The current situation is absurd. Even a cannabis trade school that sells nothing more than books and classes is unable to get banking. Dispensaries and producers have to transport and store large quantities of cash. It is a safety nightmare, and it is surprising that there have not been more issues.

But the issues I see with how the CARERS Act goes about the banking issue is with the term “marijuana-related legitimate business.” The term “legitimate” already assumes that there are illegitimate businesses. Banks were already given the go ahead to do banking with “legitimate” cannabis businesses that did not violate the USDOJ’s eight enforcement triggers. The banks scoffed at the memo released, as it forced them to decide who is “legitimate” and who is not. That is not a risk they were willing to take in early 2013, and I don’t think they will be much more inclined to jump at this Act’s definition of what is legitimate. Maybe they will, but my guess would be that as long as the lines as to what is and is not legitimate are shifting banks will still choose to not risk their money on a maybe. It is just not worth it to them.

Then it goes into the research aspect…. it states:

Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Attorney General, acting through the Drug Enforcement Administration, shall issue not less than 3 licenses under section 303 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 823) to manufacture marijuana and marijuana-derivatives for research approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

So those three manufacturers of marijuana are the ones you will have to order from, after your DEA registration for Schedule 2 drugs as discussed above. Then you can get into where these firms will get their seeds to grow their cannabis, and what the requirements will be for researchers to access the cannabis, if it is even worth studying. If the bill passed this year it is still a year from them issuing licenses and the companies have to develop their facilities and actually grow the cannabis. Then the researchers have to go through the application process and if they are awarded the right to research Schedule 2 cannabis then they might get it somewhere in 2018 or 2019. LOL. Even then, as pointed out above, they are most likely to study the harmful effects of cannabis or why other medical options are better. Because it is Schedule 2, it will make researching it difficult and not likely to be available to small research firms focused on its benefits. But maybe I am just cynical about the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Who knows?

The one saving grace may be the allowance of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend cannabis for those in states that allow for it. But even that will have special forms that doctors have to fill out, and which will likely be tracked to ensure the doctors are not too pot friendly. But it is hopeful that Veterans would have access to cannabis more easily, especially for its benefits where PTSD is concerned. These dudes have killed people for American freedom… can we get them a joint already?

The big reality is that I probably wasted my time and energy writing this entire article because the CARERS Act likely has ZERO chance of passing in our current do-nothing Congress. It is naive to think that lawmakers could come together on something as complex as this, but then again…. stranger things have happened. I just don’t see it. I think outright marijuana legalization would have a better shot at passing than this bill.

I am not a big fan of the Act. I understand people’s willingness to be excited over any legitimization of cannabis at the Federal level; but this bill will likely not help and could certainly hurt our efforts. I am not thrilled to have to oppose it, but nonetheless I do. Take it for what it is, not for what you want it to be.