Louisiana’s medical marijuana market is about to grow with ‘tens of thousands’ of plants

Nearly a year after medical marijuana went from seed to shelves at nine pharmacies in Louisiana, there is a second player in a market that’s about to get a larger pool of patients suffering from a wide-open range of medical conditions.

Southern University medical marijuana licensee Ilera Holistic Healthcare shipped out its first tinctures and topical creams to pharmacies this month, joining LSU licensee Wellcana Group, which put its first tinctures on shelves last August.

Within two weeks of Wellcana hitting the retail market last year, nearly 5,000 patients entered the program, with 1,500 receiving the drug at prices between $80 and $200 to treat only about a dozen medical conditions.

Ilera is adding competition to a market in which the pharmacies have struggled with high wholesale prices and slim profit margins, while patients have complained about an unaffordable therapy that’s held back its use.

Wellcana has dropped its prices, though undisclosed for competitive reasons, twice now in the past several months to the level of a much more mature cannabis market, and its profit margin for now is “razor thin,” officials have said. Some pharmacies scattered across the state’s metro areas also discounted their prices earlier this year, realizing that many patients weren’t returning because of the cost.

The cost is driven up in part by federal limitations on tax write-offs common among retailers but unavailable to the pharmacies because marijuana is deemed illegal by the federal government. For that same reason, insurance companies typically do not cover medical marijuana costs for patients.

“There are a lot of our patients who have tried the medicine, but the reason they weren’t continuing was the price…,”  H&W Dispensary owner Henry Ruston said after dropping prices earlier this year. “We can’t have cancer patients not get this because they can’t afford the medication.”

Medical marijuana tinctures at H&W Dispensary were priced between $90 and $200, depending on the strength, and were dropped to $65 per tincture sold in 30-milliliter bottles. Now products under $100 are expected to become the norm, Ruston said.

Ruston has now purchased some of Ilera’s THC products, in addition to Wellcana’s.

“The more products which come on board, the cheaper the cost becomes and the easier access for patients,” Ruston said. “One of the biggest challenges we had was changing the stigma of marijuana. We had a lot of patients in pain and they were thinking of marijuana as smoking up and stuff, but this is something you just put under your tongue.”

In addition to Ilera adding competition to Wellcana, state legislators have given the two companies and the nine state-licensed pharmacies a much broader patient base. The drug could only be used to treat cancer, AIDS, Cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, PTSD, Parkinson’s, certain people with autism spectrum disorder and intractable pain.

About one-quarter of patients had never tried medical marijuana before, and about 15% are replacing opiates with cannabis, a state survey shows. The three most common conditions being treated are intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer.

Starting Aug. 1, doctors can recommend marijuana to patients for any condition they consider “debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified” to treat. Plus, doctors must only be in “good standing” with the Board of Medical Examiners, instead of having to obtain a special license.

The legislation “increases patient access so they can go to a doctor they know,” said John Davis, chief executive officer of Wellcana. “This takes away the barriers and narrow swim lanes that have restricted the Louisiana market,” he said.

Davis has long described the industry as sluggish and has even held back on some production by freezing mature plant buds to keep batches of tinctures fresh.

Between August and December, there were only 4,350 patients in the state’s fledgling program, and fewer than 200 participating doctors across the state.

The Marijuana Policy Project has estimated that the medical marijuana program in Louisiana could grow to upwards of 100,000 patients when mature. CommonSense NOLA, a medical marijuana advocate, has estimated the potential patient pool is more like 65,000 to 75,000 across the state — if raw cannabis flower is legalized.

While that has not happened, the state’s two medical marijuana producers are converting plants they grow into a widening variety of products — and both are planning bigger operations that also include hemp-derived CBD products.

While Wellcana has promoted different strengths of THC tinctures from marijuana in a variety of flavors to treat all conditions, Ilera Holistic’s strategy is to promote specific formulations for some disorders such as autism or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Wellcana produced 600 pounds of dry cannabis flower in 2019. That dry flower was extracted and mixed with oil to produce 18,959 tincture bottles — about 16,524 of which were sold at wholesale prices to the pharmacies.

Davis has said Wellcana’s strategy since the program began has been to meet customer demand for tinctures and continue developing other methods such as edible chews, under the tongue strips, metered dose inhalers and topical creams. The company also quietly rolled out some hemp-derived CBD products in recent months, which are sold over-the-counter at the medical marijuana pharmacies.

Wellcana expects to roll out new medical marijuana products in August, such as the oral strips, and a new concentrate where patients can add extract to foods, which is more similar to what customers would do with raw flower.

“Nobody is going to say our products are unaffordable,” Davis said.

Wellcana’s Baton Rouge facility has the capacity to grow hundreds of plants, and it’s been planning an additional larger plant-growing operation that has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ilera’s temporary facility in Baton Rouge had about 3,789 plants to harvest, according to state records, and it has nearly completed a new building with a capacity for tens of thousands of plants. Ilera Holistic Healthcare has promised very affordable prices and is banking that a higher-volume operation can sustain such a decision.

“I was concerned about (high prices) as well,” said Chanda Macais, CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare. ”Through our experiences in other markets, we were able to make sure our plant technology has been superior because that’s typically the barrier being able to supply large patient databases. We wanted to make sure we had supply available to everyone.”

Ilera has plans to build and operate an outdoor greenhouse, where medical marijuana will be grown using sunlight rather than grow lamps in a facility without windows.

Ilera Holistic also expects to buy hemp from local farmers and has been selling hemp-derived CBD products since January.

Wellcana’s plans for a larger marijuana-growing facility are at an undisclosed location, likely close to Lafayette, that  would be a center for collecting and processing hemp grown by area farmers. That will support production of CDB, cannabidiol, 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 was set last year by federal and state government for growing hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant and nonpsychoactive cousin to marijuana, in Louisiana.

Read the entire article here.


Southern University’s medical marijuana partner sells first tinctures, topicals to pharmacies

Ilera Holistic Healthcare plans to sell products from its first medical marijuana harvest this week to pharmacies across the state under its license with Southern University.

Ilera holds the medical marijuana contract to grow for Southern University in Baton Rouge and had about 2,300 plants growing at its temporary facility several months ago that’s since been harvested. The products also have passed state tests through the Department of Forestry and Agriculture.

The company is selling tinctures and topicals to pharmacies this week, which should be on shelves soon thereafter.

“We’re shipping this week so in the next two weeks it could be on the shelf, we have orders going out daily,” said Chanda Macias, CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare.

The THC brand is Ayo, which in a Nigerian dialect means joy. There are six different tinctures ranging from 300 mg to 600 mg of THC in addition to a THC and hemp-derived blend in 150 mg and 300 mg strength tinctures. The topical cream is a 2-to-1 and 5-to-1 strength of THC and CBD blend.

Ilera expects to open a much larger growing facility along Plank Road, which can hold “tens of thousands” of medical marijuana plants and is about 90% completed. The goal is to be able to produce enough medical marijuana for between 1% and 3% of the state population.

It’s been several years since Southern University received state approval for its medical marijuana program, as did LSU, whose corporate affiliate started producing and distributing products last year. In late 2018, Ilera bought the majority stake in the first company selected by Southern to run its program after various delays in the project.

By the end of the third quarter, Ilera expects to roll out THC tincture formulas for children or minors with autism, known as Hope. It’s working on chewable gelatin-based medicine and concentrated THC extracts as well.

The wholesale prices of the products were not disclosed, but some products would cost less than $100 potentially but the final prices depend on the pharmacies, Macias said. “I made sure we had price reductions across the board.”

Ilera started selling over-the-counter CBD tinctures made from hemp at the state’s marijuana dispensaries in January. The company has hired four new workers in the past few months and expects to hire up to 40 individuals by the end of the year.

Southern University touts that it is the only Historically Black College and University to have a medical marijuana and CBD-derived program in the country.

Southern University plans to use money from the sale of the products to hire more scientists to begin research into the active ingredients in marijuana. The researchers are expected to develop new varieties of marijuana with different concentrations of cannabidiol, the active ingredient in marijuana that treats pain, insomnia and anxiety, and THC, the primary cannabidiol found in the plant.

Access to medical marijuana usage in Louisiana was recently broadened to include any debilitating condition determined by doctors licensed in the state. It was previously available only to patients with qualifying conditions who were able to get recommendations from a select permitted pool of doctors. Medical marijuana manufacturers are bullish that a larger potential patient population could better sustain two operators even without what is known as a flower market, which is when raw marijuana is sold directly to customers.

Read the entire article here.


Louisiana medical marijuana market expected to grow after program changes, but headwinds remain

Louisiana’s medical marijuana market is poised to grow in the wake of new legislation that allows more physicians to authorize the drug for added medical conditions.

But the state’s nascent regulated cannabis sector still faces significant challenges to its business outlook, including:

  • Low patient numbers to date.
  • A limited number of retail outlets, limiting access by geography.
  • Comparatively high prices for available product forms.
  • Constraints on allowable forms of MMJ that prevent the sale of cannabis flower in plant form.

Still, Louisiana medical cannabis retailers and licensed growers told Marijuana Business Daily they’re optimistic the program will improve as it matures, attracting more patients by lowering prices, increasing access and eventually permitting cannabis flower.

Increase in patient numbers expected

Louisiana’s medical marijuana program launched in August 2019, and the Marijuana Business Factbook estimated MMJ sales in the market last year totaled only $1 million-$1.5 million.

For 2020, the Factbook estimates sales between $15 million and $20 million.

Louisiana patients currently need a doctor’s recommendation to buy MMJ products from dispensaries called medical marijuana pharmacies.

But MMJ can be used only for specific medical conditions – and it can be recommended only by physicians explicitly authorized to do so by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

That will change when Louisiana House Bill 819, signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 15, takes effect in August.

The bill permits any physician in good standing with the board of medical examiners to recommend MMJ for any condition that a doctor considers debilitating to the specific patient.

“This essentially allows every doctor to practice medicine and participate in the program, and it allows every patient to have access to talking with their doctor about whether (medical marijuana) is appropriate for them,” said John Davis, CEO of Louisiana cannabis producer Wellcana.

For now, patient numbers remain low.

Only nine medical marijuana pharmacies are licensed to serve Louisiana’s population of around 4.7 million that’s scattered across nine large regions.

The most recent available figures from the state show those pharmacies served relatively few customers at the outset: Just 4,350 total patients accessed medical marijuana between the program’s launch in August 2019 and the end of that year.

Retailers constrained by regional demographics, high prices

Louisiana’s low patient count suggests “the lion’s share of cannabis medicine in Louisiana is being supplied by the black market,” said David Brown, owner of Willow Pharmacy in Madisonville and former president of Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana.

Brown said his pharmacy serves the highest number of patients in Louisiana, which he attributes in part to the relative affluence of his region in the southeastern sector of the state, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

In other regions with less wealth and fewer physicians recommending medical cannabis, he added, a pharmacy’s business outlook might be less rosy – in the state’s northeast region, he pointed out, the licensed medical marijuana pharmacy is open ony two days a week.

The sheer size of the regions served by each pharmacy also creates a barrier to success, said Kevin Caldwell, co-president of Sensible Marijuana Policy for Louisiana.

“There are many cases, specifically up in northern Louisiana, where a patient would have to take on the undue burden of really traveling a long distance to get to the dispensary,” he said.

Joe Williams, CEO of The Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy in the central Louisiana city of Alexandria, hopes the anticipated increase in doctor recommendations “opens up a whole new market for us, with access – but we also know, obviously, that prices are too high.”

Williams’ pharmacy averages about 12 transactions per day for regulated products containing THC.

He said the business is currently breaking even.

“It’s still very disappointing, don’t get me wrong, but I do feel some momentum, and I’ll tell you what’s really been good is (over-the-counter) CBD sales,” Williams said.

“Why? It’s about a third of the price, but more importantly, you don’t have to go through the hassle of going to a doctor … We can’t keep it (in stock) – we’re making $12,000 to $15,000 in profit every month on CBD.”

Limited number of producers

Two state universities hold licenses to produce medical marijuana in Louisiana. Both have contracted operations to private companies.

Wellcana, partnered with Louisiana State University, is the only producer currently selling THC-containing products to medical marijuana pharmacies.

CEO John Davis acknowledged wholesale prices for Wellcana’s tinctures have been high but said his company’s ability to lower prices is constrained by its contract with the university.

Under that agreement, Wellcana’s wholesale prices are based on the company’s cost of goods sold, Davis said.

With low patient numbers limiting the number of completed sales in that equation, he explained, Wellcana’s cost of goods sold is higher than it would be in a mature market.

“We have not sold enough products to remotely get into the black,” Davis added.

“We’re working in the red, and this change in the law that would allow for greater patient access and greater physician participation, we’re anticipating that that is going to allow us to provide an even more affordable product, and array of products, and allow us and (LSU) to hopefully move from the red to the black.”

In fact, Davis told Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate this week that Wellcana is cutting its wholesale prices.

Louisiana’s other cannabis producer, Ilera Holistic Healthcare, is partnered with Southern University.

Ilera currently sells a hemp-derived, over-the-counter CBD product to client pharmacies, but CEO Chanda Macias said the company’s upcoming THC line will be focused on affordability.

The flower question

Wellcana plans to introduce new marijuana product forms, including topicals and buccal strips, later this year.

But Louisiana’s ongoing ban on dried cannabis flower means the market might be failing to capture some potential clients.

A bill proposed this year would have removed the restrictions on allowable forms of medical marijuana to permit flower, but the measure didn’t make it through the legislative session.

“Until we get flower in the state of Louisiana for the patients, then we’re just nibbling around the edges at reform,” Willow Pharmacy’s Brown said.

Ilera’s Macias said she plans to keep lobbying for removal of the flower restriction.

“The forms that we need to expand, to be comparable or, even at this point, surpass, any medical marijuana program in the nation would be vaporizables … and a flower market,” she said.

Wellcana’s Davis said any legislative change permitting cannabis flower would depend on “continued education of those governmental stakeholders,” including law-enforcement groups and regulators.

“But it’s going to take time, because there has been a very effective campaign to thoroughly demonize and stigmatize medical cannabis and cannabis in general,” he said.

Read the entire article here.


La. Governor signs medical cannabis expansion

Good news! Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill (HB 819) that will allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any medical condition the physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient” that the physician is qualified to treat. Currently, patients can only receive a recommendation for cannabis if they have a medical condition that is specifically listed.

HB 819 also adds several qualifying conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, traumatic brain injury, and chronic pain associated with sickle cell anemia or fibromyalgia.

Gov. Edwards also signed a bill to protect banks serving medical cannabis businesses from state penalties (HB 211) and one to protect physicians and medical facilities involved in medical cannabis (HB 418).

All three take effect on August 1.

HB 819 was sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R). Bagley had been opposed to medical cannabis until he heard from constituents who found it relieved their pain. Now, he has become a champion.

His turnaround shows the dramatic impact constituent stories can have on their lawmakers. Considering reaching out to your state legislators about other marijuana policy reforms you care about.

If you’re a medical cannabis patient who has had problems with the program — perhaps due to the limited number of medical cannabis pharmacies or the lack of access to raw, flower cannabis — you may want to let your state senator and representative know.

You can also reach out to urge your lawmakers to support decriminalization or legalization of cannabis.

Courtesy of the Marijuana Policy Project


One of the Applicants for the Southern University License, Columbia Care, Sued for Fraud in New York Court

The complaint accuses New York-based Columbia Care of tortious interference with contract, unjust enrichment, civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting fraud and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, among other offenses,

A Florida company focused on low-THC cannabis sued a New York-based cannabis company in New York County’s Supreme Court Commercial Division Friday, arguing that a medical marijuana license worth tens of millions of dollars was fraudulently misappropriated.

In the complaint, which accuses New York-based Columbia Care of tortious interference with contract, unjust enrichment, civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting fraud and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, among other offenses, Kasowitz Benson Torres partner Sarmad Khojasteh also accused Columbia Care of “a pattern of racketeering and tortious activity” in other states, including Arizona and Massachusetts.

Khojasteh argued that his client, Florida MCBD, spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking a license to operate a medical marijuana treatment center from the Florida Department of Health, starting in 2015.

To complete that process, Florida MCBD entered into a joint venture agreement with Sun Bulb, a Florida-based nursery, to help meet the state’s requirements for medical marijuana treatment center licenses, according to court filings.

Read the full article here.


Jim Belushi is a Cannabis Farmer Now and Shares His Knowledge of MMJ

Jim Belushi is far from the first celebrity to get into the legal pot game. Stoned luminaries like Willy Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Tommy Chong, and the Marley family are selling pot with their names on it in multiple states across the country, but Belushi’s doing something different. These other celebrities have simply created a brand that they then license to pot farmers, whereas Belushi is actually growing the pot on his own property, often with his own hands.

Belushi started slowly, first with a small medical grow three years ago and then transitioning into a full recreational farm with multiple outdoor and indoor gardens. He’s been selling his carefully curated set of strains for two years but only recently decided it was time to put his name on the label. Pot shoppers in Oregon can now buy weed strait from Belushi’s Farm.

I caught up with the former Saturday Night Live (SNL) star by phone a few weeks ago. The actor and musician’s voice was hoarse from singing at a community party he throws on his farm every year. We talked about what it’s like growing legal pot, working with David Lynch, a vape pen of his that’s been making the rounds in Beverly Hills, and how he thinks medical marijuana could have saved his brother John Belushi’s life.

Lester Black: How long have you smoked pot?

When I was in high school I smoked Mexican ragweed, which by the way I’ve been trying to get guys to do this with me. I want to do Mexican ragweed with 6 percent THC. So I can actually smoke a whole joint! Today’s [THC] temperature is pretty high, it’s kind of a disappointment that people don’t understand that it doesn’t got to have high THC to be good.

Did you smoke pot at SNL?

No unfortunately when I was at SNL I was using whiskey as my medication.

How often do you think you consume pot now?

Maybe three times a week I take a hit off [my vape] pen. But I do consume CBD every day. Because I know the endocannabinoids in my body and my homeostasis is out of balance somewhere every day.

It’s interesting that you relate to it in medical terms because a lot of people think of cannabis only as a recreational drug. Do you separate medical use from the recreation use, or is it always medicine to you?

The wellness of cannabis is great for helping Alzheimer’s, people struggling with PTSD, people struggling with trauma. The number one fear of life is death and the second is the collapse of family. Many people come from collapsed families, whether it’s divorce or a disease in the family that broke the family up, whether there’s a death like in my family, a loss of business, all of these people need some kind of medicine.

All of these men who came back from World War II saw things that no one should see and they leaned on the alcohol. That was their medicine. And we had a generation of children who grew up with parents that were alcoholics. Collapsed families. Then in the 1960s marijuana came and it was a medicine but they called it a drug, but that’s what they were doing.

My brother was an all-state, all-conference, honor society—he was a football player, middle linebacker. He got the most tackles every year. And then I saw him go into a seizure in my house and I didn’t know what it was. And now we know it could have been CTE. And then he went to college and he found his medicine, but it was considered a drug.

Do you think if medical marijuana was around then it could have helped him?

I think what we know about marijuana today, if we knew in the ’70s, a lot more people would be alive, including my brother. Danny Aykroyd said, ‘If your brother John was a pothead he would be alive today.’

The medicine of marijuana will help prevent the collapse of families. I came from a collapsed family and the trauma of John’s death, you could imagine, and I’ve always been in search of family because of it. And this family of marijuana cannabis people is a terrific family. They’re all being led by the plant.

But the wellness of cannabis is not just for Alzheimer’s, headaches, anxiety—it also enhances the sound of music. It sparks creativity. It enhances the taste of food. It enhances the touch of your lover’s skin. It also gives you euphoria, a sense of joy, and a higher consciousness. So there’s wellness all across.

I loved your work on the Twin Peaks reboot. What was it like working with David Lynch? Is he someone that seems like he’s stoned even when he’s not smoking weed at all?

Well, most of the time we have a half-hour lunch on set. But on David Lynch’s projects, we have an hour lunch because he’s meditating for that hour. When you watch Twin Peaks [you think] that guy must have been doing Ayahuasca because the visions that this guy has. But he gets it all from meditation.

Are you starting to share your cannabis with other people in the industry? Other comedians or other actors?

No, but I have this Cherry Pie [vape] pen and my wife took it to her girl’s group and they’re all flipped about it. And I can’t tell you the names of the girls, but just know that it’s girls in Hollywood and they all want it for Christmas. Where can I get some? And I say, well it’s in Oregon but we may come to California, don’t worry.

What do you think about being another celebrity in the cannabis game? There’s obviously Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson, and Marley’s Naturals. How does it feel to be one of the first celebrities to get into the industry?

But I love the agricultural of it. I love the girls, I love the feminine energy on my farm. But like all girls you have to treat them right. I play music for them. When they’re vegging I play baby-making music for them. I play Marvin Gaye, and then as they are growing I play reggae, and then when we’re about to take them down I play gospel music so they feel like they’re seeing God before we take them. I love these girls*.

*Pot farmers commonly refer to weed plants as “ladies” or “girls” because only the female pot plants produce the intoxicating flowers we smoke.

Read the full article here.


Hemp on Balance: A Closer Look at the Environmental Side of the Equation

The hemp boom has brought some unpredicted problems for the economy and the environment.

From its many medicinal uses, its nutritional value, and the prevention of habitat destruction, hemp truly is one of nature’s miracles. But like everything, it does have a dark side. While some may argue why hemp is bad, in reality, the dark side of hemp merely reflects the human condition.

Why Hemp is Bad

The downsides of the purported benefits of hemp may be surprising. While it can change the way humankind inhabits the world, there are also issues. These include pollen drift from large grows, the overuse of plastics, and food economics. Also, there is the issue of what to do with the heavily contaminated hemp used to clean up radioactive soil.

Though there’s only a few reasons to suggest that hemp is bad, these reasons serve to highlight, and raise awareness around, sustainability. Furthermore, they demonstrate the destructive role humans often play when lured by the promise of money.

Plastic Overuse in Hemp Farming

In U.S. states where hemp cultivation is booming, the plastic sheets lining the many acres of plantations have become a public eyesore.

Plastic use in hemp plantations helps to keep weeds under control. It’s also used to aid in the growing of organic crops, as an alternative to using herbicides. As always, the use of plastic also has some very unattractive side effects. Much of the plastic used will eventually end up in the landfill. Some environmentally-conscious growers adopt biodegradable plastics made from corn, potato starch, or thistle that breaks down in the soil. But, the immediate economic hit is too much for many to take on.

In other cases, some of this plastic lies around for the winter. It then disintegrates into micro-particles that will pollute the soil, water, and air.

More conscientious growers use hay and straw as mulch instead of plastic. The upside is that it’s a zero-waste solution that aids with water retention and weed suppression. In addition, this method keeps the soil temperature lower than the plastic method, something that helps keep essential soil microbes alive and thriving.

The downside of mulching is that its application by hand is often labor-intensive and expensive. Many farmers can’t budget for the extra time and costs involved, and thus opt for the more convenient use of plastic.

Pollen Drift from Fields of Hemp

Pollen drift from large hemp grows is of great concern to cannabis farmers. This issue stems largely from the fact that cannabis cultivators only have an interest in the female plant. Meanwhile, many hemp farmers keep and harvest the male plant for fiber and seed.

Hemp pollen carried in the wind can pollinate female cannabis flowers. Once pollinated, a female cannabis plant will divert her resources into seeds, as opposed to the potent (and money-making) buds. The problem here is that low to no THC hemp interferes with the farming profitability of cannabis. This is significantly accentuated by the fact that hemp pollen can often carry in the wind for distances of up to thirty miles.

A study published in the Annals of Allergy (2000), found that hemp pollen represented thirty six percent of the air pollen in Nebraska in mid-August of that year. Such concentrations of pollen in the air can often spell disaster for the bottom line of any cannabis grow.

In Humboldt County, the heartland of cannabis cultivation in California, cannabis farmers have been battling with legislators around encroaching hemp farms that compromise the genetics of their cannabis plants.

How to Deal with Post-Phytoremediation

Phytoremediation involves the use of plants for the removal of contaminants in soils, sludges, sediments, surface water, and groundwater. Hemp is one of the best-known phytoremediators. As a fast-growing crop with deep roots that extend up to eight feet down, it’s unaffected by the toxins it sucks out of the soil and air.

While hemp does mop up the toxicity in the soil, the issue that many overlook is that the resulting hemp is merely a dirty mop. The contaminants once present in the soil are now held in the plant. Successful phytoremediation may result in a piece of land becoming fertile again. Still, the less examined issue is how to handle the plant material now full of toxic compounds.

Scientists are hard at work trying to find a solution. A process known as phytotransformation can further break down many toxic compounds within the plant into constituent parts. However, high concentrations of heavy metals cannot be broken down.

For heavy metals, a process known as phytomining involves the bio-recovery of precious and semi-precious metals.

Is Hemp too Good at Phytoremediation?

A study published in Minerals Engineering (2009), described the process of phytomining as a, “more advanced technology of phytoremediation to produce low volume, sulfide-free ‘bio-ore’, which can either be safely disposed of or, if the target metal is of sufficient economic value, smelted, and recovered.”

Perhaps the most beneficial use for phytoextraction crops like hemp is in energy production. The production of biodiesel fuels from hemp is possible, although not entirely environmentally friendly.

While possible solutions do exist, the truth is that no viable solution is currently in place to deal with the high concentrations of contaminants. The accumulation of toxins within the plant cells isn’t a reason to suggest hemp is the problem, it merely reflects back to us humans what has become of a once pristine environment.

Farming Can Harm Food Economics

In areas where hemp is widely grown, struggling farmers are attracted to the higher rates of return associated with hemp.

It is now legal in forty-six states across the U.S.. Whether farmers grow it for grain/seed, fiber, or CBD oil, the opportunity of a new booming market is too much for many farmers to resist. In 2019, according to a U.S. Hemp License Report, 511,442 acres have been licensed nationally spread across 16,877 growers. That’s an astounding 445 percent increase on the acreage licensed in 2018. But, with such a boom in production, what happens to the production of traditional crops so critical to local food economies?

Hemp production has become dominant in areas like southern Oregon, where agriculture aimed at providing locally sourced foods once thrived. The result is that food comes from further afield, something that contributes to an increased carbon footprint.

While hemp does have the ability to transform old ways, that progress comes with several downsides. With legislators playing catch up in a booming newly-legalized industry, it may be some time before the real value associated with this incredible plant trickles down through every level of production.

Read the full article here.


Louisiana Senate And House Both Approve Significant Medical Marijuana Expansion

The Louisiana Senate approved a bill to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program on Wednesday, and a committee advanced separate legislation on banking access for cannabis businesses.

The expansion proposal, which the House of Representatives approved last week, would allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee advanced the proposal last week and now the full chamber has approved it in a 28-6 vote. Before the bill heads to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for signature or veto, the House will have to sign off on an amendment made by the Senate to require dispensaries to record medical marijuana purchases in the state prescription monitoring program database.

As originally drafted, the bill> sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R) would have simply added traumatic brain injuries and concussions to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for a marijuana recommendation. But it was amended in a House committee to add several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any condition that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”

Under current law there are only 14 conditions that qualify patients for marijuana.

“House Bill 819 is the new standard for medical marijuana programs. The bill allows any doctor who is licensed by and in good standing with the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners to make medical marijuana recommendations for their patients,” Bagley told Marijuana Moment. “The bill also ends the Legislature’s task of picking medical winners and losers each session, and instead allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any condition that a physician, in his medical opinion, considers debilitating to an individual patient.”

Bagley also introduced a House-passed bill to provide for cannabis deliveries to patients, but he voluntarily withdrew it from Senate committee consideration last week and told Marijuana Moment it’s because he felt the medical marijuana expansion legislation would already allow cannabis products to be delivered to patients like other traditional pharmaceuticals.

The delivery bill would have required a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”

It’s not clear if regulators will agree with Bagley’s interpretation, as doctors are still prohibited from “prescribing” cannabis and marijuana products are not dispensed through traditional pharmacies. That said, they recently released a memo authorizing dispensaries to temporarily deliver cannabis to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s possible officials will be amendable to extending that policy on a permanent basis.

State lawmakers also advanced several other pieces of cannabis reform legislation last week.

A bill introduced by Rep. Edmond Jordan (D) to protect banks and credit unions that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by state regulators cleared the full House in a 74-20 vote.

That measure was approved by Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs on Wednesday, setting it up for floor action in the chamber.

Also last week, the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee unanimously approved a resolution to establish “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.”

Text of the legislation states that “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”

Legislators have until the end of the legislative session on June 1 to get any of the measures to the governor’s desk.

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New Mexico Governor Says Legalizing Marijuana Would’ve Funded Programs Cut Due To Coronavirus

The governor of New Mexico said last week that the state needs to explore every option for economic relief, and that includes passing marijuana legalization.

Near the end of a two-hour livestream updating residents on the state’s coronavirus response efforts on Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) was asked whether she was in favor of the legislature passing adult-use legalization during an upcoming special session to generate tax revenue to offset financial challenges caused by the pandemic.

“Let’s end on a high note,” the governor joked, adding that she felt suspensions of various capital projects due to the health crisis “likely would not have occurred” if lawmakers had legalized recreational marijuana during this year’s regular session as she’d unsuccessfully urged them to do.

“The projections are nearly $100 million of recurring revenue into the budget” from cannabis legalization, she said. “If we want economic support and economic relief, then we have to use every economic idea. And I want to point out also that the vast majority of New Mexicans favor recreational cannabis.”

Lujan Grisham hinted that she may actively campaign against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in this year’s regular session.

“We have an opportunity,” she said. “I think all of our policymakers need to think clearly—and they should expect me to be supporting in the next general election—we have to pass recreational cannabis in the state. We need to diversify our economy, we need to increase opportunity for recurring revenue and we have to rebuild an economy that has suffered dramatically during this public health crisis.”

The governor made a similar argument last month, though she also acknowledged that the $100 million revenue estimate, which was released by a working group the governor formed to study the impact of legalization last year, would likely have been affected by the pandemic.

It should also be noted that the $100 million figure is an estimate of the combined tax revenue from the existing medical cannabis market and the add-on of adult-use sales. And that’s after the latter market matures.

Further, a legalization bill that passed one Senate committee earlier this year only to be rejected in another before the close of the short 30-day session stipulated that sales would have begun on July 1, meaning the state would not have been able to collect the much-needed revenue in the midst of the health crisis, unless emergency action was taken.

Legalization might not have happened as planned during New Mexico’s regular 2020 legislative session, but the governor said in February that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum.

While the Lujan Grisham didn’t directly answer the question about whether legalization should be pursued during the special session in June, a spokesperson for her office recently said that it’s unlikely the reform move will happen during the window.

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A Hidden Origin Story of the CBD Craze

Long before CBD had become a trendy wellness elixir found in juice and moisturizer and ice cream and dog treats; before corporate chains like Walgreens and Sephora had decided to sell it; and way before Kim Kardashian West had thrown a CBD-themed baby shower, a ragtag crew of activists, doctors, writers and marijuana farmers met up on an early winter evening in 2011. They sat in a circle at a house in the hills a few hours north of San Francisco — where wine country becomes weed country — to discuss the therapeutic potential of CBD, and how to get people to take it seriously.

Several studies in rodents and in cell cultures had suggested that CBD, a nonintoxicating compound from the cannabis plant more formally known as cannabidiol, could protect the nervous system, modulate blood flow, slow the growth of cancer cells and provide relief from seizures, pain, anxiety and inflammation.

“We were talking about, ‘What can we do with this?’ ” recalled Samantha Miller, who hosted the event at her split-level house, wedged between redwoods and a creek below. A headstrong biochemist, she had been growing marijuana since the age of 14 and had just quit a six-figure job to start her own cannabis testing lab.

After two years of tracking down high-CBD pot plants and building momentum, the group began to devise ways to persuade more farmers to grow strains with CBD — which had largely been bred out of American pot since it doesn’t get you high. In addition to convincing marijuana dispensaries to widely carry CBD, they wanted to educate the public about its promising benefits.

As the group of ten or so brainstormed, a balloon of vaporized pot was passed in one direction and a bong in the other.

“There was a strong sense that this was really going to be something, if when people use these strains they have any kind of experience like the mice did in the laboratories,” said Martin Lee, a writer who at the time had been finishing a book about the social history of marijuana for Simon & Schuster.

Near him was Stacey Kerr, a physician with flowing silver hair who served as treasurer of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, as well as Wade Laughter, a soft-spoken man in glasses who had started cultivating pot for his glaucoma in the mid-90s. Mr. Laughter and Lawrence Ringo, an old-school hippie grower, were some of the first Americans to intentionally cultivate plants higher in CBD than in THC — the compound that does get you high. Both pledged to keep their strains available for other growers at cheap prices. (Mr. Ringo said he would sell his seeds for as little as $5.)

Finally, there was Fred Gardner, a writer who had recruited almost all of these people to the CBD cause. A Harvard-educated former antiwar activist, now 78, Mr. Gardner had been writing about CBD since the late 1990s for publications like Synapse, the U.C. San Francisco weekly. For years, he’d been determined to connect the nascent CBD research he heard about at symposiums abroad with the medical marijuana movement in California. And with this group, finally, it seemed to be coming together.

Ms. Miller spent the months after this meeting leading hundreds of CBD seminars for farmers; Dr. Kerr began informal patient surveys to track how CBD made people feel; and as he finished his book, Mr. Lee often traveled around with Mr. Laughter and Mr. Ringo’s high-CBD plants and seeds, spreading the gospel at pot shops across the West.

“I was aware that this was a pretty special moment,” Dr. Kerr told me, talking about the night at Ms. Miller’s. “That it was the beginning of something big, and we were there to see it.”

At the time of Samantha Miller’s summit in 2011, THC was the sole chemical “face” of the plant. Cannabis containing significant amounts of CBD was still rare. Police raids and federal prosecution of medical marijuana businesses were still common. And because CBD doesn’t get you high, it was easy to miss; hardly anyone outside of pharmaceutical companies and academia had heard of it.

In the nine years since that night in the woods, one of the group’s biggest goals has clearly been accomplished: People know about CBD.

Jennifer Aniston loves beauty products made with it. The N.F.L. star Rob Gronkowski sells it. Mike Tyson offers a cannabidiol-infused water called DWiiNK. On Instagram, #cbd is four times as common as #resist. Last year, the investment bank Cowen estimated that the U.S. CBD industry will be worth $16 billion by 2025. And e-commerce sales of CBD have grown this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But the CBD landscape of 2020 looks nothing like what the activists and scientists intended. That’s because the federal government’s insistence that cannabis has no legitimate use as a medicine created two enormous problems: the proliferation of fake CBD products and the nonsensical separation of CBD from THC.

Clinical studies have shown that CBD is most effective when paired with at least some THC, even if it is not enough to cause a high. However, the United States considers cannabis with THC to be a Schedule 1 drug — which puts it in the same category as heroin, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. This makes further research very difficult to do, and causes sick people in many states to be treated as criminals.

Cannabis that is high in CBD but extremely low in THC was made legal at the end of 2018. But finding an easy, affordable test that is able to distinguish cannabis with THC from cannabis without THC has been prohibitively difficult for farmers and crime labs alike. So federal agencies have been slow to regulate the booming industry — leading to a deluge of tinctures, smoothies and lotions that trusted tests have shown contain no CBD at all.

In the absence of oversight, the push to get more patients access to cannabis medicine — and bona fide CBD — has been co-opted by a push to make as much money as possible off the next big wellness fad. “At a certain point, it had a life of its own,” Ms. Miller told me.

Now, the CBD industry promises a miracle drug but is often selling a placebo: cannabidiol products with zero cannabidiol inside. As a result, the compound is often caricatured as snake oil, a scam, even as promising research into the full potential of CBD is starting to pick up.

The compound’s reputation is a microcosm of what it means to be in America right now: a thing that some of us consider a hoax and others praise as the solution to everything. But CBD’s rollicking journey from the international underground to cultural ubiquity proves that, as usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

As marijuana use increased in the 1960s and ’70s, and the Nixon administration criminalized drugs to vilify what one aide described as “the antiwar left and black people,” the more science-minded side of the government began funding some basic cannabis research. A man named Carlton Turner helped establish the government’s Marijuana Research Project at the University of Mississippi. After that, he became President Ronald Reagan’s drug czar, helping to expand the War on Drugs.

But all the while, Mr. Turner was in touch with a Brazilian scientist named Elisaldo Carlini who had done small-scale human studies showing CBD reduced seizures: “All the early work on CBD was Carlini in Brazil,” Mr. Turner told me this past summer. “We were in communication for many years.”

For decades, Dr. Carlini’s research was not replicated, in part because so few people had access to the compound: Both the pot held at the nation’s sole government-sanctioned marijuana lab at the University of Mississippi and the illegal pot being smoked around the country had only trace CBD content. (Mr. Turner even tested several kinds of cannabis sent by a legendary pot grower, a writer for “High Times” named Mel Frank. To no avail: none of it contained much CBD.)

In those years, emissaries of California’s counterculture were often traveling the world looking for unique strains of cannabis. The most influential of these collectors was a man named David Watson. In the early 70s, Mr. Watson sold his possessions and began hitchhiking from Morocco to India, befriending local pot growers along the way.

Mr. Watson ultimately settled in Amsterdam to examine his thousands of kinds of cannabis at his own Dutch state-licensed company, HortaPharm BV. He brought in a friend, an American botanist named Robert Connell Clarke to help. When Mr. Watson and Mr. Clarke heard about the CBD research Dr. Carlini had done in Brazil, the pair identified and then bred CBD varietals. This led to a discovery.

“It attenuates the high,” Mr. Clarke told me over breakfast in Los Angeles. “That came strictly from anecdotal stoner evidence.”

Meanwhile, after multiple sclerosis patients in England became more vocal about how cannabis helped their symptoms, the country allowed a small pharmaceutical company led by a British physician named Dr. Geoffrey Guy to develop plant-derived cannabis medicines; GW Pharmaceuticals licensed varietals bred from Mr. Watson and Mr. Clarke’s collection of cannabis and got to work.

“Within a couple of years, they figured out a 1:1 combination of a high-THC chemovar and a high-CBD chemovar presented the greatest latitude of effects and prevention of side effects,” said Dr. Ethan Russo, who worked with GW Pharmaceuticals from 1998 to 2014.

As Mr. Watson and Mr. Clarke had discovered, having CBD in the mix reduced THC’s more uncomfortable effects: sedation, inebriation, a faster heart rate. And though a few outliers responded well to CBD alone, GW’s data showed that for relieving pain and inflammation, helping with sleep and alleviating seizures and spasms, most patients got the most benefit from an equal mix of CBD and THC — a drug the company called Sativex. But the research wasn’t enough. Although the drug has been approved for use in around 30 countries, the F.D.A. has yet to approve Sativex in the United States.

Mr. Gardner, the writer whose CBD advocacy eventually inspired the 2011 summit at Ms. Miller’s house, closely followed these developments. If only there were some way, he thought, for California’s outlaw weed farmers to determine whether their plants had CBD, then pot shops could offer a product similar to Sativex. Alas, Mr. Gardner wrote in 2005, that would require access to expensive testing equipment.

Enter, three years later, one of Oakland’s pioneering pot entrepreneurs, a medical marijuana impresario with pigtail braids named Steve DeAngelo. Mr. DeAngelo, who had been in contact with Mr. Gardner about the urgent need to institute better testing, agreed to help fund a cannabis analysis lab, Steep Hill, which began its operations in 2008.

Mr. Gardner came by frequently, chatting and checking in to see if Steep Hill’s founders had discovered the elusive compound. And at last, in February 2009 a dual peak on a testing graph appeared, indicating the presence of CBD.

“I remember the moment,” said David Lampach, one of the lab’s funders and co-founders. “Seeing the dual peak and realizing it was real, and running it like five times to make sure.”

By the summer of 2009, the lab had identified five strains with significant CBD and THC. Mr. Gardner was elated, and began referring to his efforts as “Project CBD” alongside other supporters, including Mr. Lee, the writer. “Right away the thought was: ‘What is the government going to say about this? How can they be against something that’s nonintoxicating?’ ” Mr. Lee said.

In June of 2010, the host of the 2011 summit, the biochemist Ms. Miller, opened her own lab, Pure Analytics. A few months later, she called Mr. Ringo, the hippie grower, to let him know a pot sample he sent in was a strain with a lot of CBD — as much as 11 percent.

“He’s in the trim room on speaker, and this big whoop goes up,” she said, remembering his staff’s excitement.

In the fall of 2010, a Project CBD website was set up where anyone could look through studies organized by disease or condition. Mr. Lee took charge of running it and it began to attract an audience. A few months later, the network of early CBD advocates met up at Ms. Miller’s house in California to coordinate their evangelism. And by the middle of 2011, word of cannabidiol had permeated the population that would become its most potent promotional engine: the chronically ill, people with cancer, with ALS, with serious disorders that weren’t responding to prescription drugs.

As stories about CBD’s power spread, demand increased and prices rose. Sick people often relied on the generosity of growers like Mr. Ringo, his son Dakota told me.

“I’d go up there and see people dying of cancer hanging out with him, and he’d be hooking them up with oil he made in his house,” the younger Mr. Ringo said. Mike Hyde, whose son was suffering from brain cancer, spent months driving around Colorado and the West Coast looking for CBD in late 2011, before connecting with Mr. Ringo at a restaurant.

“I’d never met this guy before, and he brought us literally probably $30,000 worth of oil for this CBD that no one could even get,” Mr. Hyde explained. “For free.”

CBD’s big launch into the mainstream came when the world saw evidence of what Dr. Carlini had discovered in Brazil, back in the 1970s: the compound’s ability to quell seizures. Unlike a reduction in pain, this was something any politician or camera crew could easily see. It wasn’t a stoner scam.

First, in December 2011, an epileptic child used CBD on the Discovery Channel’s “Weed Wars,” a show featuring the co-founder of the Steep Hill lab, Mr. DeAngelo. The following year, the parents of an epileptic boy in San Francisco bought CBD from a pot shop. Then, looking for a better quality product, they contacted GW Pharmaceuticals — the British company that had licensed the cannabis collection of those globe-trotting 20th century cannabis collectors, Mr. Watson and Mr. Clarke, and which conducted the research in the ’90s that spurred Mr. Gardner’s CBD advocacy. The company developed a 98 percent CBD drug for the boy and others like him.

Perhaps the most critical turning point for CBD came in August 2013, when a CNN special hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta profiled a 6-year-old girl in Colorado, Charlotte Figi, who used CBD to treat her epilepsy, as well as the brawny brothers who grew her CBD, the Stanleys. Hundreds of families — witnessing the power of CBD enhanced by cable news production values — moved to Colorado to gain access to the Stanleys’ CBD oil, called Charlotte’s Web. The Stanleys told me their wait-list peaked at 15,000 names. And because of public demand, the F.D.A. fast-tracked clinical trials of GW Pharmaceuticals’ 98 percent CBD drug, Epidiolex.

Suddenly, everyone wanted CBD, even though no one quite understood it. In the confusion, there was money to be made. Mere weeks after the CNN documentary aired, the spike in CBD interest prompted the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to issue an investor alert on marijuana stock scams: As the F.D.A. would later show, many online CBD products contained little or no CBD whatsoever.

In 2020, CBD is available three ways: over the counter; at state-licensed marijuana dispensaries; or if you have certain forms of epilepsy, from GW Pharmaceuticals. Most Americans encounter CBD in the first and most unreliable way — at, say, a bodega in Brooklyn or a health food store in Indiana. A consultant hired to do an investigation by a corporate chain recently told me that the percentage of over-the-counter CBD products that contained the amount on the label was “in the single digits.”

As if CBD’s back story couldn’t get any weirder, the path to this glut of phony CBD was paved by, of all people, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Unrelated to the brouhaha on the West Coast, tobacco farmers in Kentucky were seeking a new cash crop. In 2011, James Comer won the race for Kentucky state agriculture commissioner by promising to legalize industrial hemp.

“That raised a lot of eyebrows, including in McConnell’s office,” Eric Steenstra, a hemp lobbyist, told me. “They saw the winds were shifting.”

Along with Representative Jared Polis, now the governor of Colorado, Mr. McConnell included a hemp pilot program in the 2014 farm bill — for “research.” In the legislation, hemp was defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3 percent THC — an arbitrary threshold, not a scientific distinction: Nothing in the Farm Bill, in case law, or in the Controlled Substances Act seemed to say anything about CBD. So entrepreneurs interpreted this research-oriented pilot program as the de facto legalization of cannabidiol.

The Drug Enforcement Administration disagreed, but couldn’t stop the tidal wave of CBD production. In 2018, over 60 percent of the hemp crop in Kentucky was grown for CBD. Then, long after the country was already flooded with CBD products both dubious and legitimate, Mr. McConnell inserted language into the 2018 Farm Bill explicitly making hemp federally legal.

Many of the Californians who plotted at Ms. Miller’s house in 2011 have watched in frustration as the CBD industry flourished, divorced from THC, and fake CBD misled consumers.

On his deathbed in 2014, Mr. Ringo insisted to friends and family that the Stanleys used his seeds to develop their famous strain Charlotte’s Web. Joel Stanley told me the genetics for Charlotte’s Web were a “cross of wild hemp with an industry genetic.” Critics of the Stanley brothers in the cannabis industry have grown annoyed by their prominence and push for patents. Their company has been valued at over half a billion dollars.

Ms. Miller, who still runs a cannabis testing lab, told me that in the years since the 2011 summit, she has become disillusioned as people she’d thought had earnest intentions in spreading CBD turned out to just want to get rich. Mr. Gardner feels the same way.

There has been a slight uptick in clinical research around the compound’s relation to anxiety, schizophrenia and opioid use disorder. In September, the National Institutes of Health approved $3 million in small grants for studies of cannabidiol and other non-THC cannabis compounds. Nevertheless, the government-enabled ham-handed rush to profiteering has seriously, and unduly, undermined CBD’s medical reputation.

Even Dr. Turner, Mr. Reagan’s drug czar, said there is far more evidence for the benefits of Sativex, the half-CBD, half-THC drug, than for unregulated CBD online.

“There haven’t been enough clinical trials and there never will be,” said Mr. Clarke, the cannabis seed collector. “There’s no vested financial interest in anyone doing it.” Big Pharma is most invested in medications that they can control, that they alone can patent.

Still, some of the states with legal cannabis have implemented robust testing standards, and bona fide CBD can be found at many marijuana dispensaries, both on its own and in a variety of ratios with THC. Ms. Miller’s lab, and other responsible actors, are supposed to ensure products that hit legal pot shop shelves contain exactly what they claim to contain. But without stringent federal oversight, few in the CBD business will voluntarily opt-in to tests of their product labeling’s accuracy.

When I asked Dr. Russo, who oversaw much of GW Pharmaceuticals’ research, how he feels about it all, he sighed. “You do something, and other people run with it, and it turns into something else that you don’t recognize,” he said. “I’m always concerned, but what I like to dwell upon is: What is the real potential here?”

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