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INDUSTRY

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel July 6, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xLike door-to-door preachers warning us of the threat of hell, fire, and damnation, the prohibitionists seem never to give up their fight against personal freedom. Someone, somewhere must be enjoying themselves, and the evangelizers can’t rest while some of us are enjoying marijuana.

    With the legalization victories in four states and the District of Columbia starting in 2012, those of us who favor legalization have been on a political roll. And there is good reason to be optimistic about the likelihood of adding a number of additional states to the list in November.

    But that success needs to be seen in perspective. While we have been winning most of these voter initiatives, the outcomes have been relatively close. We won with 55% support in Colorado, 56% in Washington, 56% in Oregon, and 53% in Alaska. Only in the District of Columbia was the legalization vote overwhelming (70%).

    So we are clearly winning, but our opponents continue to enjoy the support of a large segment (although no longer a majority) of the voters. And they are not giving up the fight.

    Quite the contrary. So it’s important we legalizers continue our reform efforts as well, full speed ahead.

    Amendment 139 in CO

    The latest example of this is Amendment 139 in CO, where opponents to legalization have begun circulating petitions to qualify a voter initiative for the ballot that would significantly limit the choice and quality of marijuana products available in that state. The proposal is being sponsored by a group calling itself the Healthy Colorado Coalition, recently established by a handful of anti-marijuana zealots specifically to run this initiative.

    They first tried to convince the state legislature to impose potency limits, an effort that failed, and likely would have been enjoined by the courts because language in the initial 2012 marijuana legalization initiative (A-64) expressly permits all forms of marijuana.

    So now they are attempting to amend the state constitution.

    Potency Limits and “Reefer Madness” Propaganda Required

    Amendment 139 would limit the potency of cannabis products to 16 percent THC. According to a state study, currently, the average potency of Colorado pot products is 17.1 percent for marijuana and 62.1 percent for marijuana extracts.

    The amendment would further require absurd, unscientific warnings on pot packaging claiming those who use marijuana risk “permanent loss of brain abilities” and “birth defects and reduced brain development.” Talk about “reefer madness!”

    If passed by voters, the proposed amendment, according to one industry spokesperson, would eliminate as much as 80% of the products currently on the shelves in the state.

    Industry Mounts Opposition Effort

    Fortunately, a new coalition calling itself the Colorado Health Research Council (CHRC) has surfaced to fight A-139, funded by the legal marijuana industry in CO. According to reports in The Cannabist, CHRC has raised more than $300,000 for its campaign against Amendment 139. They are poised to protect their new industry, and this is one of those times when consumers and the industry can and should work cooperatively. The proposal would be harmful to both constituencies, limiting the choice of legal marijuana products available to consumers, and severely constricting the current robust legal industry in Colorado.

    As I have acknowledged in earlier columns, I am personally an old-fashioned marijuana smoker who enjoys rolling and smoking joints. I smoke high-quality marijuana, so I certainly enjoy a good high. That’s the point, after all. But I prefer the high from smoking flowers to the high from edibles or concentrates.

    But that just reflects my personal taste; it is not based on any perceived danger from the more potent concentrates. I’ve seen absolutely no science indicating those using the more potent forms of marijuana are at greater risk.

    The best news about imbibing too heavily in marijuana (for those who may occasionally do that) is that one cannot overdose. That is, unlike alcohol, no amount of marijuana or active marijuana ingredients will cause death, or even lead to serious harm. It is certainly possible to have an unpleasant experience — a “bad trip” — especially if one is an inexperienced user and doing edibles, but there is no permanent harm to the individual.

    No Valid Public Health Reason To Limit THC

    So there is no valid public health basis to arbitrarily limit the maximum level of THC permitted in marijuana products in legal states. The proponents are selling a solution to a problem that does not exist.

    Alcohol drinkers very quickly learn the difference between drinking hard liquor versus drinking wine or beer, and they learn to exercise more moderation with the stronger forms of alcohol.

    The same is true with marijuana smokers and those who use marijuana concentrates. The key is taking personal responsibility for your conduct, regardless of whether we are talking about marijuana or alcohol.

    It’s Important That We Defeat A-139

    So let’s help the public understand that responsible use is the key to healthy marijuana use, not unnecessary and arbitrary limits on strength, quantity or availability.

    And let’s make a special effort to demonstrate by our personal conduct what we mean by “responsible use.” Let’s not provide our opponents with any fodder to feed these misguided efforts to limit the quality or quantity of marijuana products available legally to adults.

    ______________________________________________________________

    This column first ran on Marijuana.com.
    Read more http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2016/07/attempt-to-limit-strength-of-thc-in-co/

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 20, 2016

    norml_biz_netThe Emerging Legal Marijuana industry

    I had the pleasure of speaking at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in New York this past week; a major B2B Expo held at the Jacob Javits Center with hundreds of exhibitors displaying their products and services intended to appeal to those hoping to enter the new legal marijuana industry emerging around the country. It was an impressive display of the myriad of choices available for those willing to take the dive into the increasingly competitive marijuana industry.

    It is clearly a positive development that so many entrepreneurs have surfaced to try to find a niche they can fill to provide a newer or better product or service, to distinguish themselves from others attempting to compete for the same space. There will be both winners and losers in this new market. As competition continues to grow, new products bring improvements over the previous versions, and a significant number of well-intentioned would-be business successes get sidelined by more creative newcomers with better technology or better funding or simply a better business model.

    Estimates are that as high as 40% of all new marijuana-related businesses may fail within the first couple of years. Yes, the newly legal marijuana industry offers incredible opportunities for entrepreneurs and others with the capital to invest; but for every individual who succeeds in this new industry, another will fail. It is simply the nature of new industries, and as appealing as legal marijuana is to millions of Americans, that industry will experience the same economic pressures, including business failures, that other new industries experience.

    For the next several years, the legal marijuana industry will remain one that involves impressive individual business successes, along with some failures; and some business consolidations. Because of the different state legalization laws and regulations, at least for the immediate future, that concentration will be significantly limited, and most big companies that want to extend to other states will have to establish separate companies in each state. All of this suggests the legal marijuana industry may well end up looking more like the wine industry in America, with room for small producers, rather than the tobacco or alcohol industry. And that is positive for consumers, and for the industry.

    The True Believers and the Investors

    The industry appears to be comprised of two distinct groups of people: those who were active in the marijuana legalization movement for years, and understand the enormous damage done by prohibition; and who have migrated to the business side of the issue. And those who have no background or interest in legalization movement, but who have resources and see the new market simply as an opportunity to get rich. Obviously, it is the latter group that worries many of us, because of their sole focus on profits, and their lack of understanding of the long struggle that led to this point, and the millions of Americans who paid dearly for the right to grow or sell or smoke marijuana.

    We live in a free market economy in which Americans are encouraged to create jobs and make products that people want with the hope of building a successful business. So we cannot expect that the newly legal marijuana market will be immune from these basic economic rules.

    Marijuana is Different

    But marijuana is also different. For decades, it was popular primarily among an underground culture, and shunted and harshly punished by the dominant culture. Those of us who smoked marijuana had to be careful from whom we bought our marijuana, and with whom we chose to smoke marijuana. One bad decision could lead to a bust that would result in jail time and a criminal record that would forever limit one’s ability to get an education or a good job. A marijuana bust was sort of a life sentence, a handicap assuring one would never have the opportunity to maximize their potential fully. Once labeled as a criminal, many growers, smugglers, and dealers were left with few options other than staying in the illegal marijuana business.

    So now that we have, as a culture, begun to come above ground, and at least in a handful of states (with many more to come), and we are no longer running from the police, most consumers want to maintain some control over who produces and sells marijuana, to keep the scale of production small and local, and to keep the multinational corporations out of the field – or at least keep their influence modest as the legal marijuana industry develops. What we don’t want is to see the tobacco companies, or other large industries, come in and control the marijuana markets. On that point, the legalizers are in agreement with our opponents – such as Kevin Sabet and Project SAM, who now claim they no longer support prohibition, but they oppose “big marijuana.” (One might reasonably see their change in position as recognizing the reality of current public polling, rather than reflecting a real change in values.)

    The NORML Business Network

    But there is also some common ground between the smokers and the industry. NORML is a consumer group – that is we represent the interest of smokers. And we have established a program called the NORML Business Network, that will become the equivalent of the Better Business Bureau, allowing responsible businesses to distinguish themselves from those businesses that are only interested in getting rich, with no concern for the welfare of their workers or the safety of the consumers. I am delighted to report that both Marijuana.com and it’s parent company, Weedmaps.com, are among our first NORML Business Network Preferred Business Partners.

    Those marijuana businesses who qualify to become a NORML Preferred Business Partner are encouraged to display prominent seals of approval at their stores and on their websites indicating they have taken the high road and are using their business to build a community that respects workers and consumers, that tests their products to assure they contain no molds or pesticides, and that provide accurate labelling so the consumer knows the strength of the THC and the CBD, and the primary terpenoids.

    And those of us who smoke should demand that businesses adhere to these standards, or we must shop in a store that does. As consumers we have the power to force marijuana businesses to follow the highest standards, to be socially responsible, and to protect the health of consumers, if they are to become a successful business. Now it is time that we begin to do that.

    Marijuana companies that wish to apply for the NORML Preferred Business Partner can apply online, and if approved, will be provided with stickers for the store and signs that make it clear to consumers that your business meets these standards, and is a good corporate citizen that deserves to be frequented.

    We have lots of work to do before we have totally ended prohibition in America, and stopped the senseless arrest of marijuana smokers. We continue to make significant progress, and this fall we expect to add several new states to the list of legalization states.

    But it is never too early to begin to impose some ethical standards to this emerging industry, and to begin to distinguish between those that are simply interested in getting rich and those who want to develop a responsible business that is as concerned about being a good corporate citizen as they are about making money.

    The NORML Business Network is our way of helping underscore that distinction for the consumer.

    Read more http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2016/06/the-norml-business-network-the-better-business-bureau-for-the-marijuana-industry/

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel May 9, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xFrom Prohibition to Over-Regulation

    There was a time, not so long ago, when the most vocal supporters of prohibition did their best to explain why they felt the criminal prohibition of marijuana was justified, exaggerating the potential dangers of marijuana smoking and claiming the sky would fall if we stopped treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Adolescent marijuana use would skyrocket; millions of stoned drivers would suddenly be unleashed on the nation’s roads, putting all Americans at risk; and smokers would stay home all day getting stoned and eating junk food, instead of supporting their families.

    But as more and more Americans experimented with marijuana, they, along with their family and friends, discovered those dire warnings were pure bunk and support for legalizing marijuana continued to increase. Today, close to 60% of the public supports full legalization, regardless of why one smokes.

    Reefer Madness 2.0

    Our opponents could see the writing on the wall. Their continued support for prohibition was falling on deaf ears, so these self-appointed “experts” decided on a policy of acknowledging prohibition has been a failed public policy, even while raising new concerns to slow down the inevitable.

    Today we find our political opponents raising “big marijuana,” a term they coined to demonize this new industry, as the new boogeyman from which they want to protect the helpless and misguided American public. Marijuana itself now is not so bad after all, but apparently the need to protect the young, and those who, left to their own devices, might smoke more frequently than these moral referees would like, justify regulating the industry as if we were dealing with nuclear waste, not marijuana.

    According to this new version of “reefer madness,” legal marijuana must be highly taxed to discourage use and maintain high black-market prices. It must only be marketed by small, non-profit producers, or state-licensed stores, who presumably would not seek to maximize the potential profits from selling marijuana to the extent that “big marijuana” would do.

    These “reefer madness 2.0” folks want regulations (legal marijuana at the state level is already one of the most heavily regulated industries in America) banning advertising (ignoring the Constitutionally protected commercial free-speech rights); limiting the frequency that consumers can purchase marijuana and the amount they can buy; imposing excessive taxes based on the level of THC; and otherwise using every option short of criminal penalties to discourage marijuana smoking by adults.

    In other words, they want to create a “nanny state” for marijuana regulation. Opponents to legalization apparently believe they can convince a majority of Americans that the economic system we have always enjoyed in this country should not apply to the marijuana market.

    Just a Stalling Tactic

    Of course, none of this is an honest, straightforward position. These are the same people who praised prohibition, and claimed it was working, until that opinion became massively unpopular. It is a strategy intended to slow the inevitable progress towards legalization across the country, and to further extend prohibition, despite the public opposition to it, while these “experts” tell us how the marijuana market should be regulated.

    It is simply a stalling maneuver.

    The leader of this new opposition is Kevin Sabet, a former staffer at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), who, along with former Congressman (and self-acknowledged prescription drug abuser) Patrick Kennedy, formed Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) in response to the legalization initiatives adopted in Colorado and Washington in 2012. Their stated purpose is to protect all of us from the dangers presented by this new industry.

    According to Saber, “We’re opening the doors to allowing a new, powerful industry to downplay the effects of a substance they will be profiting off of and to downplay the effects of addiction … Big Tobacco was a disaster for our country in terms of the marketing machine that was activated while the government looked the other way for a century,” he says. “Do we want to repeat that with yet another substance? And one that in fact, unlike tobacco, produces intoxication and therefore leads to car crashes, workplace accidents, school dropouts and mental illness?”

    “This is deep in my veins,” says Sabet, acknowledging his zealotry. “I feel like it is my calling.” Perhaps more accurately, it is his attempt to continue to get rich off the backs of marijuana smokers.

    Another supposed new convert to ending prohibition (“At some point you have to say, a law that people don’t obey is a bad law.”) but who wants to treat marijuana like some contagious disease that threatens the public health, is Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, who has argued for the “grudging tolerance” of marijuana. Like Sabet, Kleiman is another consultant who gets rich warning of the dangers of marijuana and advocating for extraordinary regulations for the industry, even as he concedes prohibition has been a failure.

    According to Kleiman, this would be his perfect system: “If you want to buy (marijuana), you should sign up as a buyer, you should probably take some kind of minimal test like a driving test to make sure you know what you’re talking about and then you should be asked to set for yourself a purchase quota on, say, a monthly basis. How many joint-equivalents a month do you want to use? Give us a number. Every time you make a purchase, that purchase will be recorded against that quota. And if you bought as much this month as you said you wanted to be able to buy this month, the clerk will say “I’m sorry the order was refused.”

    Somewhat ironic that these individuals who make their living from marijuana prohibition would themselves complain that others might make their living off of legal marijuana. And at a time when most Americans complain about “big government” interfering with the rights of the individual in all manner of ways, it is strange indeed to hear this discord from those who look to “big government” to protect us from ourselves.

    Sometimes it is those who claim they oppose marijuana prohibition who pose the biggest threat to the establishment of a legalized market that meets the needs of consumers, who want a high-quality product that is safe, convenient and affordable. It is time for these “do-gooders” to step aside and allow marijuana legalization to flourish in America.

    Those of us who smoke marijuana can manage for ourselves; we do not need their “help”.

    Read more http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2016/05/reefer-madness-2-0-over-regulation/

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate December 16, 2015

    CongressMembers of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year.  While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.

    In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.

    We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.

    Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.  

    Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.

    While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.

    No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel October 11, 2015

    In 46 states, marijuana smokers still have to worry about being arrested and jailed for their use of marijuana. The latest Uniform Crime Report released a few days ago found more than 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges during 2014 — a marijuana arrest every 45 seconds. Of those arrests, 88 percent were for simple possession for personal use – just average Americans who enjoy smoking a joint when they relax at the end of the day, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.

    And when our personal freedom is at stake, ending arrests has to be the priority for all of us.

    New Challenges with Legal Marijuana

    But as we move forward to fully legalize marijuana in more and more states, a number of consumer protection issues come to the fore in those states to assure the marijuana and marijuana products we are offering to consumer are safe, free from potentially harmful molds, pesticides, insecticides or other contaminants, and are accurately labeled.

    As with any plant, marijuana is prone to pests and disease, and pesticides and herbicides are routinely used to prevent bugs and mildew from destroying plants, which could cost the grower millions of dollars.

    Because marijuana has for decades been considered illegal contraband, there is almost no research available dealing with the potential harm to the marijuana consumer from these potential additives. The closest body of relevant science involves the potential risks from food treated with additives, and from tobacco treated with additives.

    And because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the agency charged with protecting Americans and our environment from potentially dangerous pesticides, has essentially rebuffed state authorities when they have approached the agency for advice and assistance in getting this right. The states are largely having to develop their own list of which additives are safe to use on marijuana, and which are not.

    And not surprisingly, there have been some growing pains. As with other legal industries, some in the marijuana industry have used their increasing influence to delay and water-down potential regulations intended to protect consumers, and advocated for less stringent protections.

    But that is just part of the usual give-and-take between those who represent the industry, and those of us who represent consumers. Over time these and other similar issues can be resolved in a manner that protects the health of the consumer, while still allowing a robust marijuana cultivation industry.

    Problems in Oregon

    A recent investigative piece in the Oregonian found that many of the marijuana products being sold to medical patients in Oregon, (they have only recently begun selling for recreational use) with the required lab certificate indicating they had been tested and were safe, in fact were adulterated, sometimes in far greater amounts than is allowed for those same additives on food or tobacco products. This was especially a problem with extracts and concentrates.

    “A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market,” the Oregonian concluded, calling for far more detailed and stringent state regulations to regulate the testing facilities themselves, to assure reliable results. Those new, more comprehensive regulations are expected to be promulgated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the state agency designated to regulate the new legal recreational marijuana industry, in 2016, as they officially roll-out the new recreational stores.

    Similar Experiences in Colorado

    In Colorado, recognizing the problem of different labs coming up with conflicting test results from the same marijuana, the legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, legislation creating statewide marijuana lab standards for marijuana potency, homogeneity and contaminants. And the state Department of Agriculture recently proposed a draft list of about 75 pesticides deemed to be safe for use on marijuana, based on their previous approval for use on food intended for human consumption, down from the current list of 200 acceptable pesticides. The state is finally acting, prodded by the city of Denver that had begun adopting its own standards, and requiring a few growers and retailers to recall some contaminated products.

    The Cannabist and the Denver Post report that the pesticide regulations were delayed by a year, and ended-up being less restrictive than originally proposed, because of pressure from the marijuana industry in CO, fearful some of the pesticides currently in common use would be prohibited, putting their crops at risk. The marijuana industry “was the biggest obstacle we had,” in devising pesticide regulations, according to former Colorado Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar.

    Two growers based in Denver – Mahatma Concentrates and Treatments Unlimited – are now under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for excessive pesticide residue on their products, and in at least one case, the products have been recalled.

    Washington Tries to be Proactive

    The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (recently renamed to include our favorite herb), the agency that has licensing, regulatory and enforcement authority over recreational cannabis growers, processors and retailers, seeking to be proactive, initially attempted to seek guidance from the EPA in 2014, but were advised the federal agency does not consider marijuana to be an herb, spice or vegetable, but rather a controlled substance, and would provide no guidance.

    Eventually the state regulatory agency issued a comprehensive listing of 309 pesticides that are permitted to be used in the production, processing, and handling of marijuana. According to a statement issued by the Seattle and King County Public Health Department, “These pesticides were selected because their use on marijuana plants would not be in direct conflict with federal law (they are allowed on other food products) and they are considered to pose minimal risk to health when used as directed.” Marijuana retailers are required to document all pesticides used on marijuana products that they sell and provide that information to customers and regulators upon request.

    ____________________________________________________________

    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.

    http://www.marijuana.com/blog/news/2015/10/growing-pains-regulating-the-use-of-pesticides-on-marijuana-4/6_8_NORMLK.StroupPortrait_z

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