Louisiana medical marijuana maker planning major expansions, launch of hemp-derived CBD products

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Wellcana Group has big expansion plans for its LSU-licensed medical marijuana operations in Louisiana and is separately courting farmers to grow hemp to support the company’s launch soon into CBD products.

Wellcana — which already operates out of Baton Rouge and is one of only two companies approved in the state to produce medical marijuana — is scouting out land in a less-populated area between Baton Rouge and Lafayette for additional cultivation room for medical marijuana, officials said.

The company expects to build a 100,000-square-foot indoor marijuana greenhouse and storage facility that will create between 100 and 200 new full- and part-time jobs. It also would be a center for collecting hemp grown by area farmers for Wellcana’s planned push into CBD, cannabidiol, products that have grown nationally in popularity for their perceived health benefits.

At the same time, Wellcana expects to expand its Baton Rouge facility off Highland Road near Interstate 10 to primarily clone and process plants and make medical marijuana products being sold to about 5,000 patients so far through nine state-approved pharmacies through licensed-doctors’ recommendations.

Currently, Wellcana’s Baton Rouge facility can grow a limited number of marijuana plants and manufactures tinctures for patients suffering from specific ailments outlined in state law. The company also has been developing prototypes for salves, strips that dissolve on the tongue, metered inhalers and chewable medicine, which contain THC, the active ingredient in medical marijuana products. The facility also will be producing Wellcana’s hemp-based CBD products, which don’t contain THC and can be sold over the counter at all kinds of retail outlets and marketed for its own health benefits.

“We’ll roll out topicals first and then the strips, and then the edible chews. Then metered dose inhalers,” Wellcana Chief Executive Officer John Davis said of the company’s medical marijuana products.

CBD products will be rolled out in similar forms, with the exception of the inhalers, he said.

Right now, the company is tightly packed in its Baton Rouge facility, Davis said. Next month, Wellcana plans to build two more stand-alone pods at its Highland Road facility that will be used for manufacturing products after oils are extracted in another room from medical marijuana plants grown on-site.

A deal for the new off-site growing and storage facility planned between Baton Rouge and Lafayette is expected to close soon, likely with cooperation from a small town, Davis said, without elaborating on negotiations or the location.

“We’re also going to put together an industrial hemp processing center there, too,” Davis said.

That will support production of CDB products, which the company has been developing from hemp. Hemp-derived CBD oils do not contain significant amounts of THC and can be sold legally by retailers.

The stage already has been set by federal and state government for growing hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant and nonpsychoactive cousin to marijuana, in Louisiana. On Dec. 23, Louisiana’s industrial hemp plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On Dec. 27, the state’s industrial hemp program began accepting license applications to produce, transport and process industrial hemp in Louisiana.

Wellcana already has been courting farmers for a supply of hemp. Davis trekked to a meeting near Alexandria a few weeks ago to meet farmers at an informational session about hemp that was hosted by the LSU AgCenter.

Davis said the session was standing room only with more than 500 attendees.

Wellcana envisions setting up a system akin to a sugar cooperative, where farmers can buy hemp clones rather than seeds alone, stick them in their fields and return with a fully grown cash crop.

The goal is for Wellcana to source enough hemp biomass so it can supply each of its new CBD products, with the cultivation center between Baton Rouge and Lafayette growing and supplying additional medical marijuana.

“Right now, we can (supply our own biomass) because the market is so slow in ramping up,” Davis said. “We can supply this five times, but in the future when we have different delivery systems (for hemp and medical marijuana), I want to make sure that we’ve got enough biomass dedicated at each one of these lines of products.”

Wellcana has the exclusive license from LSU to grow and manufacture medical marijuana products for patients across Louisiana. Southern University holds the state’s second license and has contracted with another company for operations that are expected to start this year.

The LSU license originally was awarded to Nevada-based biotechnology company GB Sciences, which invested several million dollars into the initial cultivation and manufacturing operation in Baton Rouge through a Louisiana subsidiary. The company also has conducted research alongside LSU into cannabinoids, or the underlying compounds of the active ingredients in marijuana plants.

GB Sciences sold off its Louisiana business over the past two years to a group of Lafayette-based investors, the latest involving a $16 million deal that closed in mid-December 2019 for the half of the company Wellcana didn’t already own.

Wellcana is led by Lafayette attorney Charles Rush and Cajungrocer.com founder Charlie Hohorst III. There are more than 100 investors in Wellcana, which had raised $10 million as of February 2019, including from four former NFL players — among them a former LSU player and two former Saints players.

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Prohibition began 100 years ago, and its legacy remains

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In this era of bottomless mimosas, craft beers and ever-present happy hours, it’s striking to recall that 100 years ago the United States imposed a nationwide ban on the production and sale of all types of alcohol.

The Prohibition Era, which lasted from Jan. 17, 1920, until December 1933, is now viewed as a failed experiment that glamorized illegal drinking, but there are several intriguing parallels in current times.

Americans are consuming more alcohol per capita now than in the time leading up to Prohibition, when alcohol opponents successfully made the case that excessive drinking was ruining family life. More states are also moving to decriminalize marijuana, with legalization backers frequently citing Prohibition’s failures. Many of the same speakeasy locations operating in the 1920s are flourishing in a culture that romanticizes the era.

And in a time of heightened racial divisions, Prohibition offers a poignant history lesson on how the restrictions targeted blacks and recent immigrants more harshly than other communities. That treatment eventually propelled many of those marginalized Americans into the Democratic Party, which engineered Prohibition’s repeal.

”Prohibition had a lot of unintended consequences that backfired on the people who worked so hard to establish the law,” said Harvard history professor Lisa McGirr, whose 2015 book “The War on Alcohol” examines Prohibition’s political and social repercussions.

“It helped to activate and enfranchise men and women who had not been part of the political process earlier,” she said. “That was not the intention of Prohibition supporters.”

Ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which set the stage for Prohibition’s launch a year later, culminated a century of advocacy by the temperance movement. Leading forces included the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League and many Protestant denominations. Prohibition supporters assailed the impact of booze on families and the prominent role that saloons played in immigrant communities.

Prohibition greatly expanded federal law enforcement powers and turned millions of Americans into scofflaws. It provided a new revenue stream for organized crime.

By the time the constitutional amendment was ratified in January 1919, many states had enacted their own prohibition laws. That October, Congress passed a law detailing how the federal government would enforce Prohibition. It was known as the Volstead Act in recognition of its foremost champion, Rep. Andrew Volstead of Minnesota. The law banned the manufacture, sale and transport of any “intoxicating liquor” — beverages with an alcohol content of more than 0.5%, including beer and wine.

Statistically, Prohibition was not an utter failure. Deaths from alcohol-related cirrhosis declined, as did arrests for public drunkenness.

What the statistics don’t measure is how extensively Prohibition was flouted. Bootleggers established vast distribution networks. Makers of moonshine and “bathtub gin” proliferated, sometimes producing fatally tainted liquor. Determined drinkers concealed their contraband in hip flasks or hollowed-out canes. Maryland refused to pass a law enforcing the Volstead Act.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, established in New York in 1854 and still flourishing as one of the city’s oldest bars, never closed during Prohibition. Ostensibly, it served “near beer” with permissibly low alcohol content, but in fact produced a strong ale from a makeshift brewery erected in the basement.

“It wasn’t a near beer. It was McSorley’s ale,” said the pub’s manager, Gregory de la Haba. “At least once a week, people ask, ‘What did we do during Prohibition?’ And my reply, ‘We made a ton of money.’’’

The federal government, as well as state and local authorities, spent huge sums on enforcement yet never allocated sufficient resources to do the job effectively. Bootleggers awash in cash bribed judges, politicians and law enforcement officers to let their operations continue.

“Newly hired and poorly trained Prohibition agents, along with local and state police, targeted violators at the margins,” McGirr wrote in a recent article. “But they lacked the capacity, and at times the will, to go after powerful crime kingpins.”

It’s simplistic to say Prohibition created organized crime in America, but it fueled a huge expansion as local crime gangs collaborated with those from other regions to establish shipping systems and set prices for bootlegged alcohol. Beneficiaries included Chicago-based gangster Al Capone, who earned tens of millions of dollars annually from bootlegging and speakeasies. In the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, gunmen disguised as police officers killed seven men from a gang that sought to compete with Capone’s empire.

Beyond the ranks of gangsters, legions of Americans were committing or abetting crime. Michael Lerner, in his book “Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City,” says courtrooms and jails were so overwhelmed that judges began accepting plea bargains, “making it a common practice in American jurisprudence for the first time.”

Anti-immigrant sentiment was a key factor behind Prohibition, partly because of record-high immigration in the preceding decades.

Saloons in immigrant neighborhoods were prime targets, says Slippery Rock University history professor Aaron Cowan, because middle-class white Protestants viewed them as political and social danger zones.

“Often the political machines run by the bosses were based in these saloons, or used them as a conduit for extending favors,” Cowan said. “So there was concern about political corruption, changing social values, immigrants learning radical politics.”

Prohibition’s start in 1920 coincided with a major expansion of the Ku Klux Klan, which supported the ban on alcohol as it waged its anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and racist activities.

The Volstead Act “provided a way for the Klan to legitimize its 100% Americanist mission — it could target the drinking of those they perceived to be their enemies,” McGirr said.

One notorious example occurred in 1923-24 in southern Illinois’ Williamson County, where the Klan mobilized hundreds of volunteers to raid saloons and roadhouses. Hundreds of people were arrested and more than a dozen killed.

That kind of social friction helped spur efforts to repeal Prohibition. Economics also played a role.

While some Prohibition supporters predicted it would boost the economy, instead it proved harmful. Thousands of jobs were lost due to closures of distilleries, breweries and saloons. Federal, state and local governments lost billions in revenue as liquor taxes disappeared. One major consequence: Increasing reliance on income taxes to sustain government spending.

The onset of the Great Depression hastened Prohibition’s demise, as the need for more jobs and tax revenue became acute. The Democratic Party called for repeal of Prohibition in its 1932 platform; its presidential nominee, Franklin D. Roosevelt, embraced that cause as he rolled to a landslide victory over incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover.

In March 1933, soon after taking office, Roosevelt signed a law legalizing the sale of wine and 3.2% beer. Congress also proposed a 21st Amendment that would repeal the 18th Amendment. Prohibition formally ended that December, when Utah provided the final vote needed to ratify the new amendment.

One of the pithiest summaries of Prohibition came earlier — a scathing assessment from journalist H.L. Mencken in 1925.

Five years of Prohibition “completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists,” he wrote. “There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

Prohibition’s centennial comes as the United States is incrementally ending the criminalization of marijuana. Recreational use of pot is now legal in 11 states. More than 30 allow its use for medical purposes.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, believes most Americans now view the anti-marijuana crusades of America’s “War on Drugs” as misguided in ways that evoke Prohibition.

“Even some of the older generation are saying, ‘We went too far. That was a mistake,’” he said.

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Jamaican Herb Houses

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Kaya is no ordinary, sterile-looking, pharmacy-inspired dispensary, it is a destination. The Herb House comes complete with a dab bar, pizza place, full alcohol and coffee bar, consumption lounge, accessories and clothing shop.

Incidentally, the CJO “Chief Ganja Officer” of the dispensary chain, Jamaican-born Balram “Bali” Vaswani, 43, is also the CEO of Rohan Marley’s heritage Blue Mountain coffee brand, Marley Coffee.

With members of Jamaica’s first family in Vaswani’s corner, along with cannabis industry veteran, Lorne Gertner, the future is looking upbeat for the Herb Houses.

Gertner, founder of Canadian mainstays Tokyo Smoke and ByMinistry, is one of Kaya’s investors. Gertner’s mission is to “improve the world through cannabis and design excellence.” He is globally-renowned for his acumen and foresight for pioneering highly influential companies.

As a person with a similar vision, Vaswani’s company, Ganja Labs, produced the first legal harvest of refined Jamaican herb. He now operates a chain of three successful Kaya Herb House medical cannabis dispensaries. In March 2018, Kaya opened in Drax Hall, St. Ann, followed by its second opening in Falmouth.

The third location in Kingston’s “Golden Triangle” of tourism which includes Devon House and the Bob Marley museum, opened last Thursday to much fanfare. The grand opening featured a performance by Rohan’s brother KyMani Marley and an art instillation by Jude Issa, featuring creative portraits of dancehall legends Spice, and Vybz Kartel.

The property features a wooden deck and veranda built around an enormous tree that is the perfect selfie spot, with nearby tables for consuming pizza and other snacks. More of an entertainment complex than merely a dispensary, it has quickly become a tourist and local hot spot.

The shop sells t-shirts and toiletries such as hemp soap and deodorant, which are necessities in the 85° heat on typically sunny days.

As for the herb itself, Kaya is vertically integrated, with a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse, cultivating 2.5 meters-high trees. The quality of the strains were put to the test at this past weekend’s Jamaican Ganja Cup in Negril. Local farmer Wabba took first place, scoring 92 out of 100 points. Kaya’s Sting A Ling came in second by a hairsbreadth, scoring 91.80 and its Kurple came in third with 90.75. with a “variable of Irieness,” Vaswani says, good naturedly. “It is all good. I am happy Wabba and a Negril farmer won.”

True to the spirit of brotherly love, Vaswani envisions Kaya carrying strains from every part of the island. He nostalgically remembers the heyday of Jamaican herb, famous for the Lamb’s Bread strain beloved by Bob Marley.

“That’s really when Jamaica was kicking,” Vaswani says. “We had great strains in the Seventies.”

Since then, Jamaican ganja has waned on the world stage: diluted by outside seeds imported from overseas – and victimized.

The U.S. government threatened to hold up the tiny, developing world country’s desperately-needed World Bank loan, if Jamaica didn’t stop the flow of illicit cannabis exports. Subsequently, the War on Drugs and burning of ganja fields quickly ensued.

However, in what was clearly a losing battle for Jamaica not be reputed for its cannabis, the Jamaican government decriminalized it first, then eventually legalized medical marijuana.

Vaswani’s longtime friend Rohan Marley acknowledges he restored the reputation of Jamaican-grown ganja. “You can taste the soil, the pineapple and the sweetness, says Marley. “Bali brought the standard way up.”

While an employee of local radio station IRIE FM notes that consuming cannabis is still stigmatized among older, working class Jamaicans, hopefully their minds will open alongside Kaya’s groundbreaking and stigma-shattering enterprise.

Vaswani plans to expand the dispensary chain and wellness platform across the Caribbean with outposts in Cayman, St. Vincent, and Trinidad in 2020.

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Less Constipation in Recreational Marijuana Users

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Recreational marijuana use is associated with decreased odds of constipation, according to findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The endogenous cannabinoid system in the gastrointestinal tract mediates various physiological bowel activities, which might thus be modulated by cannabinoid compounds from recreational cannabis use. Previous studies of the effects of recreational marijuana use on constipation and diarrhea have yielded conflicting results.

Dr. Kyle Staller of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, and colleagues used NHANES data from 2005 through 2010 on more than 9,600 adults aged 20-59 years to examine the effect of recreational marijuana use on self-reported bowel function (based on the Bristol Stool Form Scale (BSFS) and weekly bowel-movement frequency).

They defined constipation as BSFS type 1 and type 2 or less than three bowel movements per week. Diarrhea was defined as BSFS type 6 and type 7 or more than 21 bowel movements per week.

The frequency of constipation (defined by BSFS criteria) was lowest among recent marijuana users (5.2%), intermediate among past users (6.7%), and highest among never users (8.1%, P=0.02), the researchers report in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

In multivariate analysis, recent marijuana use was associated with 36% lower odds of constipation and past marijuana use was associated with 17% lower odds of constipation compared with never users, both significant risk reductions.

The association remained significant after adjustment for demographic factors, comorbidities and diet, but there was no longer a difference between past users and never users.

There was no relationship between marijuana use and diarrhea in either univariate or multivariate analyses.

Marijuana use was not associated with constipation or diarrhea as defined by bowel-movement frequency.

“Further studies are needed to identify how use of whole cannabis, different marijuana strains, and frequency of marijuana use exert their apparent effects on constipation,” the authors conclude.

Dr. Raquel Abalo Delgado of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, in Madrid, who recently reviewed cannabinoid pharmacology and therapy in gut disorders, told Reuters Health by email, “This seems to be in contradiction with the well-known constipating effects of marijuana, its derivatives, and synthetic cannabinoids, particularly those acting upon CB1 receptors. However, these results can be due to different factors, most, if not all, related with the observational design of the study and the relatively little information obtained from the questionnaires.”

“Since use of recreational and medical marijuana (or other cannabinoids) is likely to increase worldwide, it is necessary to clarify its impact on all health issues, including gastrointestinal-tract function, many times overlooked compared with other ‘more vital’ body systems,” she said. “To what extent constipation (and other motility disorders, like hyperemesis) induced by cannabis may be considered aversive by marijuana users and may contribute to reduce heavy marijuana consumption has not been studied.”

“Likewise, the pharmacology of the different compounds present in the plant and how they contribute to the final effect on gut function need to be clearly determined,” said Dr. Abalo, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Michael Camilleri of Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, who also was not part of the study, recently reviewed cannabinoids and gastrointestinal motility in humans. He told Reuters Health by email, “No definite conclusions should be drawn from these epidemiological studies which constitute useful hypothesis-generating data.”

“Further studies with selective CB1 and CB2 receptor modifying medications should be further explored before any conclusions regarding the potential benefits of marijuana in gastrointestinal diseases,” he said.

Dr. Staller did not respond to a request for comments.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2Pxlw00 The American Journal of Gastroenterology, online November 22, 2019.

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GB Sciences Closes the Sale of GB Sciences Louisiana Cannabis Business to Wellcana Plus

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LAS VEGAS, Nov. 18, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — PRESS RELEASE — GB Sciences, Inc. completed the sale on Nov. 15, 2019 of its 50% membership interest in GB Sciences Louisiana, LLC to Wellcana Plus, LLC, an affiliate of Wellcana Group, LLC who owns the other 50% interest. The sale immediately eliminates current cash obligations due from GB Sciences as well as the company’s share of operating expenses going forward. While selling the cannabis cultivation and oil production business, GB Sciences retained the benefit of Wellcana Plus’s 50% interest in intellectual property developed under the Master Research and Development Agreement.

The terms of the sale include a promissory note from Wellcana Plus to GB Sciences for $8 million, with payments commencing in June 2020 through December 2021. The promissory note is secured by a pledge agreement with the 50% interest as collateral, declining pro-rata with note payments until all principal and accrued interest have been paid. In addition to the note, there will be an earn out of $8 million from operations through the term of the Agreement for Services including renewals, if any. The actual proceeds realized through the earn out and the timing of those proceeds will depend upon patient count accretion and the profitability of the Louisiana operations.

John Poss, CEO of GB Sciences, stated, “We think the transaction is a win for everyone. Wellcana Group has been an exceptional partner in Louisiana. With the same managers, we know Wellcana Plus will lead GB Sciences Louisiana to even greater success for not only their investors but also the patients and other stakeholders in Louisiana. For our own shareholders, the sale will greatly reduce our operating expenses while maintaining the benefit of intellectual property developed in Louisiana. It allows us to focus on continued development of clinical cannabis formulations for which the company has filed numerous patents, and progressing the research on our Parkinson’s Disease and Chronic Neuropathic Pain formulations towards clinical trials and first-in-human pilot studies. We believe this strategy offers tremendous opportunity to create shareholder value in this untapped segment of the cannabis sector.”

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Gov. John Bel Edwards picks new pharmacy board member at center of dispute over marijuana pharmacy license

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Gov. John Bel Edwards has appointed to the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Sajal Roy, who earlier this year was simultaneously suing the board over his lost bid for the coveted exclusive medical marijuana pharmacy permit in New Orleans and gunning for the board seat.

Roy, who owns a marijuana pharmacy in Maryland, successfully pushed a new law through the Legislature earlier this year that changed the requirements for serving on the board so he would qualify. That law reduced the minimum requirement from five years of practice in Louisiana to two years.

At the time, Roy said he wanted to make changes to the board in part because of how the marijuana pharmacy permitting process played out, in 2018. Roy was passed over for a marijuana pharmacy permit last year despite being recommended by a selection committee.

Roy, through a specialty pharmacy he owns in Metairie, also donated $50,000 to Gumbo PAC in August, Ethics Board records show. Gumbo PAC is the Super PAC that spent millions to help Edwards win reelection Saturday in a closely-contested race against Republican challenger Eddie Rispone.

Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Roy was on a list of recommended appointees and didn’t have a lawsuit against the state when Edwards appointed him. She also said he is not going after the 10th marijuana pharmacy license, which is expected to be handed out for a high-demand region of the state sometime in the future.

“Also, he has knowledge and experience in the medical marijuana field, which is an important addition to that board,” Stephens said.

Edwards appointed Roy on Nov. 15, a day before the runoff election, according to an appointment letter. The term runs through 2025.

Louisiana’s tightly-regulated medical marijuana program called for nine initial marijuana pharmacies that dispense the drug to patients, each in a different region of the state. While a subcommittee of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy recommended Roy’s firm win the license for the New Orleans region, the board itself picked H&W Drug Store, owned by longtime local pharmacist Ruston Henry.

About a month after that decision, Roy filed suit against the Board of Pharmacy over its selection of H&W, accusing it of “improperly” issuing the license there. The lawsuit argued that because the board ignored its own committee’s advice, the selection process was flawed, among other things.

A Baton Rouge judge tossed the suit in May and Roy dropped a planned appeal, making the board’s decision final.

Roy was running against the board member who previously held the seat representing Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes, Diane Milano. State law requires the candidates for a board seat to win votes from pharmacists that live in the seat’s district. The top three vote-getters are then sent to the governor, who picks one. Public records show Roy placed third, with 22 votes, while Milano got 85 and another candidate got 83.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Congressional Committee In Historic Vote

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For the first time in history, a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in a 24-10 vote on Wednesday, setting the stage for a full floor vote.

The vote saw two Republicans—Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA)—join their Democratic colleagues in support of the bill.

Debate on the bill generally followed two tracks. Republican lawmakers argued that the bill was being rushed and that it should be subject to additional hearings, while Democratic members responded that there’s been enough debate on the issue and that there’s no time for delay in beginning to reverse decades of harms of prohibition enforcement.

On the other hand, some GOP members who recognized that the status quo is untenable pushed for legislative action on a separate piece of bipartisan cannabis legislation—the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act—which does not contain social equity elements or formally remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and would simply leave cannabis policy up to the states, arguing that a scaled-down approach would fare better in the Senate.

“We may need something a little less than MORE,” Gaetz said.

The approved legislation, introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

It would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

“These steps are long overdue. For far too long we’ve treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health,” Nadler said in his opening remarks. “Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people at the federal level is unwise and unjust.”

“I’ve long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake,” he said. “The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.”

House and Senate members, and outside legalization advocates, cheered the bill’s committee approval.

“The passage of the MORE Act represents the first time that the Judiciary Committee has ever had a successful vote to end the cruel policy of marijuana criminalization,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Not only does the bill reverse the failed prohibition of cannabis, but it provides pathways for opportunity and ownership in the emerging industry for those who have suffered most.”

(See Marijuana Moment’s full reaction roundup piece for more commentary from other stakeholders.)

Earlier, lawmakers that have advocated for cannabis reform held a press conference in advance of the vote on Tuesday to highlight the need for the federal policy change. And while Nadler said that it was possible that compromises could be made later in the legislative process, he doesn’t see the need to scale back the proposal’s reach at the onset and feels that bipartisan support will build around his bill.

He also told Marijuana Moment that he is optimistic the legislation will get a full floor vote before the end of the current Congress, and part of that confidence comes from the fact that his panel has been communicating with other committees where the bill has been referred in the hopes that they waive jurisdiction to expedite its advancement.

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https://www.marijuanamoment.net/watch-live-congress-holds-historic-vote-on-bill-to-federally-legalize-marijuana/

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The Cajun Cannabis Conundrum

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Despite being a historically conservative state, Louisiana first legalized medical marijuana back in 1978. It amended the law in 1991, then left the program to wither on the regulatory vine, with the Department of Health failing to appoint a Marijuana Prescription Review Board or to draw up contracts with national groups for production and distribution.

That began to change in 2015, when Republican state Sen. Fred Mills, a pharmacist and the former executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, sponsored legislation to implement the distribution of medical cannabis to patients. In 2016, Mills sponsored a second law that laid out the program’s specifics. Both bills eventually passed the state House and Senate and were signed into law by former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. In early August, Louisiana officially became the Deep South’s first state to dispense medical marijuana.

In theory, the program is working: Roughly 1,500 patients in Louisiana are receiving medical cannabis. But some 5,000 patients have consulted with physicians about the program, and there doesn’t appear to be enough legal marijuana to go around. Advocates say that’s because a series of compromises among lawmakers, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, and conservative Christian groups have made a regulatory disaster of the law.

Mills says he originally intended for the legislation to be “more of a free market system.” It’s not. Under state law, only nine pharmacies in nine zones across 52,000 square miles received permits to dispense medical marijuana. Smokeable and edible versions of the product were banned, as was vaporization. (Oils, tinctures, sprays, pills, and gelatin-based chewables are allowed.) The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has licensed just two growers—GB Sciences and Ilera Holistic Healthcare—to contract with the agricultural departments at Louisiana State University and Southern University, respectively, to produce medical cannabis for the entire state. As of this writing, only LSU’s operation is producing medical marijuana; Southern University’s first crop isn’t expected until later this year.

Despite advocates’ pleas, only certain doctors are allowed to recommend medical cannabis to patients, and the state created a list of qualifying conditions rather than allowing physicians to use their discretion.

“I’ve always testified that this should be a decision 100 percent between a physician and a patient, and if somebody has a debilitating condition, then why should government get in the way?” Mills says. But he was forced to change his approach. “The only way I could get the legislation passed was to work cooperatively with the law enforcement community. I think if we hadn’t done what we needed to, to basically take an approach of crawl before you walk and walk before you run, I don’t think we would have passed the legislation.”

Kevin Caldwell, the president and founder of the cannabis reform group Commonsense NOLA, says the current system is “unsustainable,” an outcome his group warned of early in the legislative process. “But nonetheless that is how things were decided,” because the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association “are the kings of the Louisiana Legislature.”

Patients and advocates were excluded from the regulatory process, Caldwell says, and it shows in the state-run market. A 30-milliliter jar of THC tincture costs between $180 and $220 at certain medical marijuana dispensaries—three times the price found in states where recreational adult-use cannabis is legal. What’s more, he adds, “a lot of the sickest patients that want to use the program are on Medicaid and don’t quite have the money for a $200 visit and then the follow-up visit.” Restricting how many physicians can recommend cannabis has likely made the cost of obtaining a recommendation more expensive.

Republican state Agricultural Commissioner Mike Strain, whose department regulates the production of medical marijuana, doesn’t see a problem. “If you have the type of diseases that it’s designed to treat under the law and you can go to a physician, and there are a significant number of physicians there, and one of the nine pharmacies that distribute it across the street, there should not be a problem to access.”

Mills hopes increased social acceptability will eventually push the program forward. He points to how former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s family recently went public about her using medical marijuana on her deathbed earlier this year. “Her family really attributes medical marijuana to her quality of life,” Mills says. “I just think that [the medical marijuana program] is going to be more accepted and I think the unknowns will become more familiar for those who have been fighting us.”

Read the entire article by Xander Peters here

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2020 Presidential Candidates on Marijuana: The Ultimate Guide

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With support for marijuana legalization stronger than ever before, the issue of cannabis reform is slated to become a prominent issue in the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump, seeking a second term as President of the United States, is expected to earn the Republican party’s nomination. Trump has yet to take any notable actions related to marijuana, neither positive or negative, since taking office.

On the Democrat side, an abundance of declared primary candidates will battle in the primaries for their party’s nomination. Among Democratic voters, marijuana legalization has become a mainstream stance and politicians vying for their support have responded. So far, nearly every single declared Democratic presidential candidate has come out in support of either completely legalizing marijuana at the federal level, or descheduling it and leaving it up to the states.

Make informed choices by reviewing each candidate’s stance on marijuana legalization. Through the interactive tools below, you can quickly and easily sift through each candidate’s position on cannabis reform and any comments they’ve made about the issue. Click around the interactive graphic below to review each 2020 presidential candidate’s legislative support, public statements, and even tweets related to cannabis. Through the interactive timeline, you can click-and-drag and pinch-in and pinch-out zoom to discover when each candidate first made a pro-marijuana statement, first backed cannabis reform legislation, and any time there was a major development in their cannabis stance. Want to cut to the chase? A cannabis “temperature gauge” offers a quick-glance view of how strongly each candidate champions marijuana.

From now until the 2020 presidential election, this article will serve as home base for 2020 presidential candidates and their stance on federal marijuana policy. It will be regularly updated to reflect changes as presidential hopefuls enter and drop out of the race, as well as to document any shifts or major updates in cannabis views.

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Helping Underscore a Longstanding Tenet of SMPL – Cannabis Policy is a Public Health Issue Rather than a Criminal Justice One

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It’s time for drug policy reform – in America and across the globe

America’s “war on drugs” has failed. We need more policies that treat drug abuse as a public health issue

Earlier this month, a Philadelphia judge rejected federal objections to the opening of what will be the nation’s first legal overdose prevention site—paving the way for other jurisdictions to bring this lifesaving tool to their communities. Overdose prevention sites are facilities where people can use drugs under medical supervision by staff who can immediately address and reverse any overdoses that occur. While the U.S. Department of Justice has claimed that these sites are illegal under federal drug laws, the opinion concludes that a public health response — and operating a facility such as this —  is not in contravention of federal law. This is a landmark ruling in the U.S., but not internationally where 118 safe consumption sites operate in 12 countries, with plans to also open them in Mexico and Ireland. It’s well past time for cities across the U.S. to follow suit and embrace harm reduction practices, not simply in regard to this issue, but also more generally in the criminal justice arena.

Nearly 50 years after the United States declared a “war on drugs” there is ample evidence today that a criminal justice and punitive response to drug use has failed. Meanwhile, countries like Portugal and Switzerland have embraced public health approaches to reducing the harms associated with drug use for decades, with proven success. Switzerland was the first country to open an overdose prevention site over 30 years ago, saving countless lives and without recording a single fatal overdose. Indeed, since the 1990s, the number of opioid-related deaths has fallen by more than 60%.  Portugal decriminalized the personal use of all drugs in 2001, and since then, overdose deaths have decreased by more than 80%. As a group of U.S. prosecutors learned during a recent trip to Portugal, decriminalization worked in large part because it helped reduce the stigma of drug use and replaced a justice system response with a public health starting point.

It is time for all nations to follow this lead and embrace a new global vision for drug policy based on principles of harm reduction and respect of fundamental human rights, including the right to health care. Harm reduction is a public health philosophy that posits governments can more effectively and humanely address substance use by aiming efforts at reducing the negative consequences of drug use. These strategies include needle exchanges and overdose prevention sites, where people can use drugs under the supervision of individuals trained to reverse overdoses.

Some elected prosecutors are already leading this charge and implementing reforms that recognize the ineffectiveness of criminalizing drug use and the need for a paradigm shift. Seattle District Attorney Dan Satterberg has stopped charging virtually all personal possession cases of small amounts of drugs; San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is wiping out over 9.000 past marijuana convictions; Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby recently decriminalized marijuana possession and is similarly working to expunge past marijuana convictions; and Chittenden County, Vermont State’s Attorney Sarah George has stopped prosecuting possession of the opioid treatment buprenorphine and has called for the opening of a supervised consumption site.

Before more lives are lost to jails or overdose deaths, leaders should follow the example of these pioneers and other countries around the world. Criminalizing and incarcerating people for drug-related offenses not only hasn’t worked but has led to additional harms to communities: an explosion in incarceration that fractured families and disparately impacted communities of color, the spread of infectious diseases and thousands of drug-related overdoses. We know now that most people who use drugs do not develop a substance use disorder, but for those who do, treatment is far more effective than jail. Harsh approaches don’t reduce drug supply or use. They simply drive people who use drugs into the margins of society. Further, overly punitive strategies that focus on prohibition are enormously expensive and take vital resources away from efforts that reduce overdoses and limit the spread of diseases. Criminalizing people who use drugs doesn’t just fail to make people safer and healthier, it makes them sicker and more likely to overdose in the shadows.

This shift from punishment to harm reduction requires a fundamental change in attitudes around drug use and the nature of addiction. From criminalizing people who sell drugs to fund their addiction, to jailing people who relapse during court-mandated treatment, the idea of drug use as a moral failing is deeply embedded in too many of our justice system policies. True change will require us to end our counterproductive use of criminal penalties for people who use drugs, stop demonizing them, and instead treat them as individuals deserving of compassion and care.

Global leaders, researchers and health care providers have already done the critical work of showing that harm reduction combined with the decriminalization of drug use and possession works in communities around the world.  If the U.S. seeks to joins other countries that have successfully implemented harm reduction strategies, its justice system must do its part to catch up and stop inflicting further harms. It’s time for leaders at all levels of government to affirm – through both words and action – that people who use drugs deserve dignity and respect, not isolation, jailing and death.

Read the whole article at salon.com

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