Army no longer banning recruits who used marijuana

Army no longer banning recruits who used marijuana

WASHINGTON — Smoked pot? Want to go to war?

No problem.

As more states lessen or eliminate marijuana penalties, the Army is granting hundreds of waivers to enlist people who used the drug in their youth — as long as they realize they can’t do so again in the military.

The number of waivers granted by the active-duty Army for marijuana use jumped to more than 500 this year from 191 in 2016. Three years ago, no such waivers were granted. The big increase is just one way officials are dealing with orders to expand the Army’s size.

Related: Air Force reportedly changes rules around marijuana use for recruits

“Provided they understand that they cannot do that when they serve in the military, I will waive that all day long,” said Maj. Gen. Jeff Snow, head of the Army’s recruiting command.

The marijuana use exclusions represent about one-quarter of the total misconduct waivers the Army granted in the budget year that ended Sept. 30. They accounted for much of the 50 percent increase overall in recruits who needed a waiver for some type of misconduct.

Snow said the figures probably will rise further as more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — and the District of Columbia have fully legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults’ recreational use. An additional 13 states have decriminalized it, meaning possession of small amounts is considered the equivalent of a traffic citation or a low-end misdemeanor with no chance of jail. Twenty-nine states, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington, D.C., allow the use of medical marijuana.

Army leaders have faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid worries in Congress and elsewhere about a decline in quality among new enlistees.

Army data show more than 8,000 recruits received waivers in 2017, compared with about 6,700 last year. Most waivers concerned physical or mental health.

Almost 2 percent of the recruits were considered “category four,” meaning they scored 31 or less, out of 99, on the aptitude test. Just over a half-percent were in that category in 2016.

In total, the Army enlisted almost 69,000 recruits this year, close to 6,000 more than last year.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Snow said he went to his Army leadership early this year to ask if he could bring in more of the category four recruits to meet higher enlistment goals. He said he promised that the Army would stay well below a 4 percent limit on the group allowed by the Pentagon.

Recruits who score lower than 31 on the test must meet specific criteria for the job they are requesting. There is no leeway on previous pot smoking for them. They also can’t require a health or conduct waiver.

The Army’s top officer, Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters during a recent briefing that the service is not reducing standards.

The increases in the category four enlistees, however, are fueling concerns the Army could repeat mistakes made during the peak of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars more than a decade ago, when it hurriedly added soldiers to the ranks to meet deployment needs. At the time, the Army brought more recruits in with criminal records and misconduct waivers. As the years passed, discipline problems and other behavioral issues increased as well.

Milley and Snow insist that won’t happen again.

“Quality matters more than quantity. If you make the numbers, great, awesome. But do not break the standards,” Milley said. “Standards have to be upheld, period. So if we come in at less than the ideal number, but we’ve maintained the standards, that’s success.”

The Army’s argument, however, can be a bit misleading. The military services routinely enlist fewer recruits with waivers or lower scores than allowed under Defense Department guidelines. So while the Army increased the number of former drug users or recruits with lower scores than in previous years, the service still stayed below the maximum levels authorized by the Pentagon. And those recruits must get through boot camp, thus meeting minimum standards for joining the military.

Officials can thus argue they haven’t lowered the standards even if they have arguably enlisted more candidates of lower quality.

Snow acknowledged the challenge in meeting the growing enlistment goals. In the current fiscal year, the Army must recruit 80,000 new men and women.

“This mission is going to be a significant challenge for the command,” said Snow, who wants fewer than 2 percent of the new recruits to be category four. “The possibility does exist that the numbers of marijuana waivers and category fours could increase. I hope not, but it’s too early to tell right now.”

Updated Dec. 4, 2017 at 5:07 p.m. The following corrected information has been added to this article: The paragraph listing states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use has been updated to add Nevada and remove Maryland.


Published at Mon, 04 Dec 2017 15:03:19 +0000

66 Congress members urge extending protection for medical marijuana states

66 Congress members urge extending protection for medical marijuana states

With the current federal appropriations bill set to expire Dec. 8, there’s a new bipartisan call for continuing protection of medical marijuana states.

Two congressmen behind a namesake provision for medical cannabis, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, on Wednesday sent a letter co-signed by 64 of their peers to House and Senate leadership.

The letter, addressed to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, called for extending the “Rohrabacher-Blumenauer” provision that has been in place since December 2014, which “has successfully protected patients, providers, and businesses against federal prosecution, so long as they act within the confines of their state’s medical marijuana laws.”

The missive also listed the 46 states, along with two U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, which have enacted some form of legalization of medical cannabis, “from CBD oils to the full plant.”

Related: Sessions says DOJ talked “at some length” about marijuana enforcement

It was signed by five of Colorado’s seven House representatives: Republicans Ken Buck and Mike Coffman; and Democrats Diana De Gette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis. Republicans Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn did not sign it.

The measure, previously known as “Rohrabacher-Farr” (Rep. Sam Farr retired in 2016), prevents the Justice Department from using its resources to pursue prosecutions involving cannabis when a state’s medical marijuana laws have been followed, and its presence has had an impact in federal courts.

Earlier this year, a judge suspended the case of two California men who had pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiring to manufacture and sell marijuana; the judge cited the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in what is believed to be the first such ruling of its kind.

Another case involved medical marijuana growers in Washington state, who were convicted in 2015. In October, federal prosecutors acknowledged they shouldn’t have spent taxpayer dollars on the trial.

The provision has been targeted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in May sent a letter of his own to congressional leadership asking that it not be included in the appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018, stating: “It would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

Earlier this year, the measure was approved in the Senate version of the spending bill, but not the House’s.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included the amendment language in the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018. In September, the measure was rejected from consideration for a floor vote by GOP leadership in the House Rules Committee.

(A list of signatories is included below the letter.)

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Group Letter to Leadership 11 28 17 (Text)

List of Signatories Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Letter to Leadership (Text)


Published at Thu, 30 Nov 2017 01:25:36 +0000

The Cannabist's ultimate 2017 gift guide compendium

The Cannabist's ultimate 2017 gift guide compendium

Getting the perfect gift for somebody is a bit of an art. It’s all about thinking about what a person needs or secretly wants, and in the cannabis sphere, there are so many options. As you work through your shopping list, The Cannabist is here to help. Check out these 2017 holiday gift guides and get inspired:

Help the skier or snowboarder in your life get their powder fix. Featuring Quest vapes, VaprWear, Ross’ Gold, Holden Outerwear, Smokin Snowboards, Meier Skis, Panda Poles, Ultimate Survival Technologies.

We’ve cooked up a handy gift guide with tasty edibles, top cannabis kitchen gadgets and the best weed recipes. Featuring Levo, Magical Butter, Binske, Smokies Toke Couture, Cedella Marley, Colorado Hemp, Stillwater, BlueKudu.

Give your yogi’s stretch sessions a lift this holiday season. Puff, puff, namaste. Featuring Dat Mat, Boy Smells, Lord Jones topicals, Bull Horn Press rolling papers, Marijuasana classes, Indo Board, Manduka and PrAna apparel.

Wow your favorite connoisseur with an upgrade. Featuring Miwak Junior, Shine Papers, Cannador, Bloom Farms, INDA, Van der Pop.

For the ramblin’ man and woman, a roundup featuring SilverStick one-hitters, NugTools, Sweetflag x Baggu, Dipstick Vapes, Dr. Bronner’s, Danner boots, Poler X Pendleton, Eagle Creek.

MORE: Check The Cannabist’s full array of gift guides


Published at Tue, 28 Nov 2017 00:36:06 +0000

Why some communities are pushing back hard against California cannabis farms

Why some communities are pushing back hard against California cannabis farms

COPPEROPOLIS, Calif. — The four young men had just started their marijuana harvest in rural Northern California when a dozen sheriff’s deputies swooped in with guns drawn, arrested them and spent the day chopping down 150 bushy plants with machetes.

“I could do this every day if I had the personnel,” Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said during the operation near the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Copperopolis, about two hours east of San Francisco.

Authorities this year have cut down close to 30,000 plants grown without permits in a county that is reconsidering its embrace of marijuana cultivation ahead of statewide legalization.

“There are just so many of them,” the sheriff said of the illegal farms. “It’s never-ending.”

Marijuana has deeply divided financially strapped Calaveras County, among many where growers are increasingly open about their operations and are starting to encroach on neighborhoods.

DiBasilio estimates the county — population 44,000 and about the size of Rhode Island — has more than 1,000 illegal farms in addition to the hundreds with permits or in the process of obtaining them. The influx has caused a backlash among residents and led to the ouster of some leaders who approved marijuana cultivation.

Cannabis farmers operating legally, meanwhile, say they are helping the local economy and have threatened to sue over attempts to stop them.

California is set to issue licenses in January to grow, transport and sell weed for recreational purposes, nearly 20 years after the state first authorized the drug’s consumption with a doctor’s recommendation.

Farmers can legally grow marijuana for recreational consumption next year but are required to get a local permit before applying for a state license, which has sparked a boom in pot-friendly counties.

Calaveras County legalized medical marijuana cultivation last year, seeking to tax the hundreds of farms that popped up in the region after a 2015 wildfire destroyed more than 500 homes.

County officials expected to receive about 250 applications by the 2016 deadline. They got 770. About 200 applications have been approved, a similar number rejected, and the others are still being processed.

The sheriff gets some of the nearly $10 million in fees and taxes paid by legal farmers to crack down on illegal grows, many of which the department has mapped from the air.

The new pot farms have brought a bustling industry that includes the sounds of generators, bright lights illuminating gardens at night, water trucks kicking up dust on their way to grows, the distinct odor of marijuana, and tents, trailers and other temporary housing for migrant workers.

Local hardware stores’ gardening sections are now stocked with pot farming supplies.

Story continues below gallery

In this Sept. 29, 2017 photo, Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio gestures while raiding a marijuana growing operation in unincorporated Calaveras County, Calif. DiBasilio says he has his hands full cracking down on thousands of illegal farms in a county that has legalized cultivation for medicinal use. Growers illegal and legal have are increasingly open about their operations and starting to encroach on neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Law enforcement officials say they have raided farms where they have found pesticides that are banned in the U.S.

“It has changed our way of life,” said Bill McManus, head of an organization seeking to ban marijuana in Calaveras County. “The environmental impacts are atrocious.”

To the north, even the fabled pot-growing mecca known as the Emerald Triangle has been thrown into political turmoil as more farmers set up shop ahead of legalization.

The California Growers Association estimates about 3,500 farmers in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties have applied for local permits and will be in a position to receive state licenses. An additional 29,000 farmers there haven’t bothered with the paperwork, according to the group.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman complained that local laws allowing cultivation are too “gentle” and attract violent crime, including a farmworker’s recent homicide.

In Siskiyou County, leaders declared a state of emergency and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to help with an influx of marijuana farmers, who have snatched up inexpensive land even though pot cultivation is illegal there. Two growers were arrested and charged with offering Sheriff Jon Lopey $1 million to leave their farms alone.

“That’s all you need to know about the type of money involved,” Lopey said. “This isn’t confined to the state. There’s a big market outside of California they are supplying.”

In Calaveras County, voters in January replaced four of the five supervisors who voted to legalize marijuana. The new majority has vowed to repeal legalization and institute a strict ban. But a formal vote has been delayed several times amid threats of lawsuits from farmers.

“So much of this is a cultural war,” grower Beth Witke said. “I’m tired of being demoralized by the ban supporters.”

Witke and other farmers argue they create good-paying jobs for young adults who otherwise would leave the county for the San Francisco Bay Area. She is among a handful of growers who operated quietly in Calaveras County for decades, attracted by the region’s climate and proximity to the Bay Area.

But the devastating 2015 wildfire helped launch the county’s green rush. The fire leveled subdivisions and wooded areas, turning them into attractive farmland. Former homeowners sold their flattened lots to outside growers armed with cash and betting the county would issue permits to grow.

Mark Bolger received the first permit. He said a ban would drive out him and his dozen workers.

“I’m trying to do the right thing,” Bolger said. “But the first guy through the door always gets shot.”

The sheriff said he’s focused on farmers who have never applied for a permit or who grow despite a rejected application. This year, he has raided about 40 farms and seized close to 30,000 plants.

In late September, deputies raided two farms that share a waterline west of Copperopolis and removed more than 300 plants. Three of the four farmers arrested were new arrivals from Minnesota. All four tended to another plot deputies raided in August.

They were cited and released. One of them — Ryu Lee, 22, of Redding — told deputies taking him to jail that he would return regardless of whether a ban was enacted.

“I’ll see you next year,” Lee said.


Published at Fri, 24 Nov 2017 20:56:01 +0000

Millions face pain, withdrawal as opioid prescriptions plummet

Millions face pain, withdrawal as opioid prescriptions plummet

Six months after surgery to repair a damaged urinary tract in 1998, computer technician Doug Hale woke one morning with excruciating, burning pain. Hale’s suffering persisted for years, despite all sorts of treatments. Finally, in 2006, he was prescribed strong doses of opioids.

Fast-forward 10 years. Still on his pain killers, Hale was popping so many of the highly addictive pills that he regularly ran out of his prescription early. His doctor cut off his supply and urged Hale to enter a detox program. That didn’t work. Hale, still in agonizing pain and now suffering from intense withdrawal symptoms, returned to his doctor and pleaded to get back on his opioid regime. The doctor refused. The next day, Hale put the barrel of a small-gauge gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

It would be tempting to view Hale’s death, at 53, as one more sad entry in the never-ending national tragedy of opioid deaths. In fact, it’s much more than that. Hale’s story is a window into the country’s silent majority of opioid sufferers.

These are the millions of painkiller-dependent users inhabiting a vast gray zone somewhere between medical patient and drug addict, who are finding themselves suddenly abandoned in droves by the medical system. Under threat of lawsuits and government and insurance industry crackdowns, doctors have been cutting off the supply of painkillers, forcing many of their patients to quit cold turkey after years or even decades of dependence, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. Worst of all, those left suddenly without their meds often have nowhere to turn for help.

“These are victims of our era of aggressive prescribing,” said Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “These patients become hot potatoes that no one wants.”

Roughly 8 million Americans are on long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain, and as many as a million are taking dangerously high doses, said Michael Von Korff, a senior researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. In the Medicare program alone, 500,000 patients were on high opioid doses in 2016, according to a 2017 report from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Many health professionals, fearing sanctions or even the loss of their licenses following government cases against a handful of doctors, have been caught up in a broader crackdown sweeping the pharma industry. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for treating chronic pain, warning doctors to avoid prescribing high opioid doses when possible. Doctors have been heeding the message. Since peaking in 2010, prescriptions for more dangerous, higher-dose opioids dropped 41 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to a CDC analysis.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen states and about 100 counties and cities have already sued Purdue Pharma LP, other opioid makers and drug distributors, in a strategy echoing the litigation that led to the 1998 $246 billion settlement with Big Tobacco. Purdue is proposing a global settlement in an attempt to end state investigations and lawsuits, Bloomberg News reported on Nov. 17. And last month, President Donald Trump declared widespread opioid abuse a public health emergency.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, said it is “deeply troubled” by the national opioid crisis and is distributing the CDC’s treatment guidelines to doctors. Johnson & Johnson, maker of the fentanyl-containing Duragesic patch, said it is “committed to working with federal, state and local officials to help find meaningful solutions” to the opioid problem. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which sells generic opioid pain killers, declined to comment but in the past has denied wrongdoing.

In the battle to wean patients off opioids, dosage has emerged as a critical issue. Chronic pain sufferers on high doses aren’t necessarily addicts, at least not the sort who would resort to buying drugs on the street, experts say. Some may indeed benefit from the drugs and function well on them. Yet many aren’t getting better or going back to work and still report high levels of pain, despite big doses.

Even patients taking high doses prescribed by their doctors run the risk of overdosing, recent studies showed. As many as 25 percent of pain patients may exhibit some level of misuse of the drugs, studies have found.

Major problems with abrupt stop to opioid use

With most medical and government resources focused on treatment for more obvious drug abusers, few formal programs exist to help patients dependent on opioids. And there is little guidance for doctors, who are more accustomed to prescribing than un-prescribing drugs. A few hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic have intensive outpatient pain-rehab programs, but they are pricy. The Mayo Clinic’s costs roughly $30,000 to $40,000, though most insurance companies cover at least part of the program, which offers help to specifically taper patients off opioids. The three-week intensive program consists of counseling and alternative treatments such as physical and occupational therapy.

Experts who have studied opioid dependence say that, in some cases, it’s too risky to reduce doses until complex psychological problems are under control. But that message isn’t always getting through to doctors. “We have created this monster, and we think we can stop this by just stopping opioids,” said Ajay Manhapra, a Yale University lecturer and addiction medicine specialist who treats patients at the Hampton VA Medical Center in Hampton, Virginia. Researchers who think drug doses can be brought down quickly “are very naive.”

Clare Rhodes, a 63 year old San Jose resident, took OxyContin for more than a decade following a 2001 back operation – first prescribed by a surgeon who promised it wasn’t addictive. She was cut off in 2012, after her doctor was arrested for prescribing opioids to addicts. Even though she had never misused her meds, other pain doctors covered by her workers’ compensation policy refused to take her case, so she was forced to go cold turkey. The withdrawal symptoms lasted a year and were worse than the side effects she got from breast cancer chemotherapy treatment. Rhodes was constantly agitated, suffered diarrhea, broke out in cold sweats and was unable to sleep more than an hour at a time.

Now Rhodes runs a private Facebook group for chronic pain patients. Few patients are being eased off the drug gradually, she said. Many are forced off their meds after their doctors retire or move to another clinic. So many patients on the discussion group expressed suicidal thoughts that she tried to find a psychiatrist or psychologist to offer guidance, but no one was willing to take on that responsibility. “It is an insane situation,” said Rhodes. “They are simply being cut off. It is unconscionable that doctors are doing this to their patients.”

Some have seized on medical opioid addiction as a business opportunity. Breaking Benzo, a telemedicine startup in Palo Alto, California, offers online psychiatry appointments and round-the-clock access to health coaches to help people quit opioids or anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines. The service, available in California, costs $349 a month, doesn’t currently take insurance and plans to expand to at least 10 other states by next year, including hard-hit states Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. It is in the process of getting certified for insurance coverage.

“Dumped and abandoned” by doctor

The medical system didn’t quite know how to handle the case of Doug Hale.

A paralegal and computer technician, Hale once enjoyed an active life that included scuba diving, softball and hiking. That was before a progression of medical problems forced him to go on disability. In 1998, he needed major surgery from an obstructed urinary tract. Months later, he developed a painful and mysterious bladder inflammation.

Over the next five years, Hale tried and failed a long list of non-narcotic treatments, including behavioral therapy, nerve blocks and nerve stimulators before doctors started him on opioids in 2004, according to his wife.

He progressed through a laundry list of opioids, including Dilaudid, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, before ending up on high doses of methadone, a long-acting opioid painkiller that is better known for its use in treating heroin addiction. Complicating his care was a cerebral hemorrhage in 2006 that left him with short-term memory loss, migraines and seizures.

The final years of Hale’s life were a blur of doctor visits for chronic pain, seizures and other medical problems. Most of his treatment was through his primary care doctor, Stephen Kornbluth, and other doctors at Castleton Family Health Center near Hale’s home in Rutland, Vermont. He also traveled to New Hampshire to see a neurologist and a pain doctor and twice checked into a detox center at a psychiatric hospital for week-long treatments. Nothing worked.

By April 2016, Hale was taking 16 methadone pills a day, a huge dose. His daily intake was many times the level the CDC says can significantly increase overdose risk. It still wasn’t enough to ease Hale’s pain. He started taking two or three additional pills a day and ran out a week early.

Hale and his wife sought additional methadone at an April 9 appointment. The doctor who saw him that day warned that his misuse was “exceedingly dangerous” and could put Hale “at risk for death,” according to the doctor’s notes from the encounter. But worried about severe withdrawal symptoms, she renewed the prescription for a week, until Hale’s next regularly scheduled visit with Kornbluth, who also opted to extend prescribing the drug at a lower dose.

But after Hale ran out early again in May, Kornbluth finally lowered the hammer. He told Hale and his wife, Tammi, that he wasn’t comfortable continuing the drugs beyond a month, and offered to send him yet again to a detox clinic. “Too many times she and he have messed up, though I am not convinced that there is abuse consciously,” Kornbluth wrote in medical records that Tammi Hale later received from the clinic. Hale’s wife says Kornbluth gave the couple a different reason for the discontinuation. “‘I don’t want to risk my license for you any more,’ those were his exact words,” said Tammi Hale. “We felt we had been dumped and abandoned.”

“I remember saying to the wife that I can’t prescribe because there was very inconsistent use, and I couldn’t in good conscience write for that,” said Kornbluth in response. “She kept saying she was very comfortable with that, she understood.” He said he made clear he was not opposed to Hale trying to get opioids from a pain specialist. Far from being abandoned, Hale had numerous consultations with specialists, Kornbluth said.

By mid-July, after his second stay at the detox clinic, Hale had hardly slept in two weeks. Though now entirely off opioids, he had constant tremors and shaking. He broke down crying at a visit with Kornbluth. In September, the Hale couple applied for a last ditch option: a methadone clinic for addicts. But the clinic turned him down on the basis that he wasn’t truly an addict.

On Monday, Oct. 10, Hale and his wife saw Kornbluth. The doctor refused their entreaties to restart the opioids. That day, Kornbluth was still working on finding a program that would take Hale, who, the doctor later wrote in his records, fell through “the cracks” between medical providers.

The next day, Hale was dead. “Can’t take the chronic pain anymore,” he wrote in a wobbly penned suicide note. “No one except my wife has helped me.”


Published at Sat, 25 Nov 2017 01:00:04 +0000

In the midst of Congressional grilling, Sessions takes heat on marijuana attitude

In the midst of Congressional grilling, Sessions takes heat on marijuana attitude

As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, he fielded pressing question on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians – and his past remarks on marijuana.

Steve Chabot, a Republican from Ohio, which is in the process of implementing its medical marijuana program, noted that while it remains illegal under federal law, many states have legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes. Given that disparity, Chabot asked Sessions to clarify, “What is your department’s policy on that, relative to enforcing the law?”

Sessions did not add any new nuance to the status quo, responding, “Our policy is the same really, fundamentally, as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes, but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes.”

Moments later, Stephen Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, where medical marijuana is still under discussion, followed up on Sessions’ response. Referring to the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment, Cohen outlined how former attorney generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch abided by federal enforcement limits imposed by congressional budget appropriation in states that had passed medical marijuana laws. He asked, “Will you abide by congressional appropriations and limitations on marijuana when it would conflict with state laws?”

“I believe we are bound by that,” replied Sessions, who has asked Congress to not renew the amendment.

Cohen also pushed back on a quote from Sessions earlier this year regarding the relationship between marijuana and heroin. In March, Sessions said in a speech to law enforcement, “I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana. How stupid is that? Give me a break!”

In the prepared notes for that speech, Sessions had written, “I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

On Tuesday, Cohen pressed Sessions on this claim. “Marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin — do you agree with that?”

“I think that’s correct,” replied Sessions.

“Well thank you sir,” responded Cohen, who went on to advise Sessions that when it comes to enforcement the attorney general should “look at the limitations you’ve got… Put your enforcement on crack, on cocaine, on meth, on opioids, and on heroin. Marijuana is the least bothersome of all.”

Cohen quoted a recent study and advised, “In states where they’ve got medical marijuana they have 25% less opioid use. It gives people a way to relieve pain without using opioids… So I would hope you’d take a look at that.”

Sessions responded: “We will take a look at it. We will be looking at some rigorous analysis of the marijuana usage and how it plays out. I am not as optimistic as you.”

Cohen wrapped his line of cannabis questioning with a reference to another Sessions quote that has been an ongoing source of concern to marijuana legalization advocates.

“You said one time that ‘Good people don’t smoke marijuana,’” he said. “Which of these people would you say are not good people?” Cohen listed Republicans John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, implying all of those listed have at some point said they used marijuana.

“Which of those are not good people?” he asked.

Sessions responded: “Let me tell you how that came about. The question was what do you do about drug use, the epidemic we’re seeing in the country, and how you reverse it. Part of that is a cultural thing. I explained how when I became United States Attorney in 1981, and drugs were being used widely, over a period of years, it became unfashionable, unpopular, and… it was seen as such that good people didn’t use marijuana. That was the context of that statement.”

Watch Sessions’ original “Good people don’t use marijuana” statement


Published at Tue, 14 Nov 2017 18:02:04 +0000

Budweiser's ex-marketing chief sees cannabis as the new craft beer

Budweiser's ex-marketing chief sees cannabis as the new craft beer

“This bud’s for you” has taken on a whole new meaning for Chris Burggraeve.

The former chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the brewer of Budweiser beer, is moving from barley and hops to cannabis as the alcohol industry casts its sights on the burgeoning market for state-sanctioned marijuana.

Burggraeve, 52, has made two investments in the space. Most recently, he joined the advisory board of GreenRush Group. The San Francisco-based startup, which says it aims to be the Amazon of weed, closed its $3.6 million Series A fundraising round last week. Burggraeve, a native of Belgium with a master’s degree in economics, also co-founded Toast, which makes pre-rolled joints.

The former beer executive is one of many entrepreneurs and investors increasingly flocking to the cannabis industry from the traditional business world. Big Beer took its first step last month when Constellation Brands Inc., which sells Corona in the U.S., announced its investment in Canopy Growth Corp., a Canadian seller of medicinal-marijuana products. In Burggraeve’s view, that’s just the beginning.

“This is one of the fastest-growing categories globally,” he said. “Why? Because people want it. When consumers want something, you ignore it at your peril.”

Sixty-four percent of the U.S. population now wants to lift the federal ban on marijuana, according to a Gallup poll released last month. That’s the largest rating since the firm started asking about the topic in 1969, the year of the Woodstock music festival, when only 12 percent approved.

After leaving the corporate marketing world about five years ago, Burggraeve said he’s focused on teaching, consulting and investing in what he considers disruptive categories. Cannabis, he said, could shake up the large beer companies in the same manner that smaller, independent brewers did over the past 20 years.

“The same way that craft beer started and, for the longest time, was ignored and then exploded, there’s no reason why the same thing wouldn’t happen in this space,” he said. “There will be part supplementing and part complementing. The jury is out on how and where that will happen.”

GreenRush is a technology platform that connects consumers, dispensaries and delivery people to bring pot to people’s doors. The company, which is live in California and Nevada, plans to expand to other states, including New York and Massachusetts.

The idea is to build up the business before marijuana is one day legal under federal law. Big companies like Amazon shy away from the industry now because of the federal ban.

Cannabis is legal for recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia, including California. That means one in five American adults can ingest the drug however they please. Twenty-one additional states allow for medicinal use of the plant. The industry hit $6 billion in sales in 2016, a figure that is expected to reach $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.

Still, investing in marijuana isn’t without risk. The Trump administration has sent mixed signals, though Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an ardent opponent of legalizing pot. And traditional banking institutions have largely stayed away, forcing most transactions to be conducted in cash.

Constellation may have broken the taboo. Companies may now find the risk worth it, according to Burggraeve. Otherwise, alcoholic beverage companies could find themselves falling behind.

“It will all merge and cross-fertilize and fuse — not because the companies want it, but because the consumers want it,” Burggraeve said.


Published at Mon, 13 Nov 2017 15:15:33 +0000

Nevada Tax Commission extends emergency marijuana sales regulations

Nevada Tax Commission extends emergency marijuana sales regulations

CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Nevada Tax Commission voted to extend the existing emergency regulations allowing recreational marijuana licensing and sales for another 120 days.

The Nevada Appeal reports permanent regulations, which were set to expire Wednesday, are still awaiting legislative approval.

In accordance with the Supreme Court order issued Oct. 20, the regulations, which were extended Wednesday, state that new applications to distribute cannabis can only be issued to licensed liquor wholesalers.

That requirement comes from the law that makes recreational marijuana use legal in Nevada, giving liquor distributors exclusive rights to distribution for the first 18 months of recreational sales.

But the regulations also adopt the high court’s unanimous order that existing distribution licenses for recreational licensees granted on or before Sept. 14 will remain in effect for the full year from the date they were issued.

Information from: Nevada Appeal


Published at Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:50:26 +0000

Cops sentenced to community service for petty theft and vandalism during pot shop raid

Cops sentenced to community service for petty theft and vandalism during pot shop raid

SANTA ANA – Three Santa Ana police officers pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges and were sentenced to community service in connection with a pot shop raid caught on surveillance video in 2015.

Officers Jorge Arroyo, 34, Nicole Lynn Quijas, 39, and Brandon Sontag, 33, were seen on security video eating snacks while serving a search warrant at Sky High Holistic, a marijuana dispensary on 17th Street in Santa Ana, in May 2015. The video also shows two of the officers making disparaging remarks about a disabled woman who was a shop volunteer.

When the footage was first released by the dispensary’s lawyer, some thought the officers were eating marijuana edibles, but prosecutors on Wednesday said the items were protein bars and cookies, and that there was no evidence that officers consumed any marijuana products.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor petty theft charges against the trio. Sontag was also charged with vandalism for breaking some of the store’s surveillance cameras.

On Tuesday, Arroyo and Quijas both pleaded no contest in Orange County Superior Court to one misdemeanor count of petty theft and were sentenced to 40 hours of community service. In a no contest plea, the defendant does not admit guilt.

Sontag pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count each of petty theft, and vandalism under $400. He was sentenced to 80 hours of community service and ordered to pay full restitution.

Prosecutors said Sontag damaged five of the shop’s surveillance cameras, each valued between $80 and $100, by banging and smashing the lenses. Prosecutors said Sontag and Quijas entered the break room and each took a protein bar.

All three officers ate the protein bars, while Quijas and Arroyo took cookies with them when they left, prosecutors said.

In the aftermath, then-Chief Carlos Rojas fired the trio, but all three have since been reinstated, authorities said. Sontag sued to get his job back and was reinstated by a judge this year while his case is pending. Arroyo and Quijas appealed their terminations and were reinstated in a settlement with the city.

At the time, the pot shop was accused of operating without a license. It remains open.

The city last year agreed to pay Sky High Holistic $100,000 to settle a federal lawsuit in connection with the raid and to dismiss misdemeanor charges against a dozen people accused of unlawfully operating the dispensary.

This story was first published on


Published at Thu, 02 Nov 2017 19:54:25 +0000

Opioid commission members pessimistic that Trump, Congress will act

Opioid commission members pessimistic that Trump, Congress will act

As early as this week, President Donald Trump is set to declare the opioid crisis a “national emergency.” Trump telegraphed this when he recently told reporters that he would soon have a “major announcement” on the “massive opioid problem,” and people inside the White House are now leaking word that this announcement will herald an all-hands-on-deck push to combat the epidemic.

But members of Trump’s own handpicked commission to combat the epidemic aren’t nearly as confident, I’m told. They are increasingly worried that the Trump administration will not actually follow through with a robust response, even if he does go before the cameras and declare the crisis a national emergency, and they are increasingly annoyed by the efforts of people inside the administration who are resistant to such a response, one member of the commission says.

In a surprisingly blunt interview with me, Patrick Kennedy, the former congressman from Rhode Island who is a member of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, candidly described the mood on the commission as one racked by pessimism about the president’s willingness and ability to follow through with a response that matches the scale of the human disaster that has unfolded.

The commission is set to release a final report of recommendations for combating the crisis on Nov. 1, and “the worry is that it won’t be adopted,” Kennedy tells me.

This apparently includes the head of Trump’s commission: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, whom Trump picked for the role. Kennedy told me that Christie has confided to him that he thinks failure on the opioid crisis could deal a debilitating blow to Trump’s presidency.

“Christie doesn’t mince words,” Kennedy said. “He said, ‘If he doesn’t recognize this as the issue of our time, his presidency is over.’ ” Kennedy added that Christie, an early supporter of the president, said he had conveyed a variety of this sentiment to Trump himself.

In August, the commission – which was created by Trump via executive order in March – released a preliminary report urging the president to declare the opioid crisis a “national emergency,” arguing that this would “empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding” a serious response to the epidemic. Such a declaration could also give the executive branch more flexibility to direct appropriated funds toward combating the crisis.

Since then, it has been unclear whether Trump would actually go through with the declaration – that is, until last week, when he suddenly vowed that he would be doing just that. Politico reported that this blindsided members of the Trump administration, who are scrambling to figure out how a response commensurate with that declaration would be implemented. Politico also quoted unnamed officials saying that some in the administration, such as budget chief Mick Mulvaney, are wary that a declaration of national emergency could lock the administration into supporting overly large public expenditures to combat it.

Kennedy confirmed this to me on the record and went even further, claiming that these differences had resulted in tensions between Christie and administration officials such as Mulvaney. “The tension is between the Mulvaney crowd, who is ideological about the numbers, and the Christie crowd, whose fidelity is towards the reality of what’s most practical,” Kennedy said, adding that there are “internal arguments” underway that he defined this way: “Can we do this on the cheap, or are we going to be serious about saving lives?”

The key distinction to understand here is this: While it is certainly desirable for Trump to declare a national emergency, it is not clear how meaningful that will prove in substantive terms, even if he does it. Axios reports that the administration is preparing a massive “public relations” effort that will include unspecified requests for funds and a public role for Melania Trump.

But while such a general vow of seriousness will be welcome, what matters is the follow through. “Visiting rehab centers . . . been there, done that,” Kennedy said, by way of illustrating the difference between photo ops and an actual response.

This is where the recommendations of the president’s commission come in. Kennedy tells me that the commission members are converging on a fairly robust set of recommendations that include expanded health insurance coverage, training and deploying health-care workers to fill the requests of states for help, and additional subsidies to fund addiction treatment.

It will be on the administration to determine how to implement such a set of responses and what it might cost, but Kennedy says commission members worry that the administration will try to lowball that cost. “To implement the recommendations that we’ll offer, it will require hundreds of billions of dollars,” Kennedy says.

Vox recently published a good rundown on what experts think will be needed to combat the crisis. A combination of tactics is called for, including both prevention (such as strengthened federal oversight to reduce the amount of opioids flooding the market and prescriptions handed out to patients) and medicinal treatment for addiction (such as using methadone or naltrexone to blunt the craving for opioids).

The latest federal data show that more than 50,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015 – 6 in 10 from opioids – and experts expect the 2016 numbers to be much worse, due to the worsening opioid crisis.

Trump’s declaration of an opioid emergency will collide with the GOP repeal drive

Another concern that commission members have is that even if Trump declares a national emergency on opioids, efforts to combat them will end up getting undermined by Trump/GOP health-care policies and priorities. Trump and Republicans have vowed to keep pushing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and any version of repeal would include enormous cuts to Medicaid, which commission members fear would set back efforts to combat the crisis, including deep in Trump country.

What’s more, Kennedy says that continued sabotage of the ACA by Trump could also undermine such efforts, since destabilizing the exchanges could leave lower-income people without coverage options in parts of the country hit hard by the opioid epidemic.

Kennedy tells me he has been pushing for the commission’s final report to include a firm declaration that further efforts to repeal or sabotage the ACA would run counter to the goal of treating opioids as a national emergency. He says other members of the commission who are Republican governors, including Christie and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, agree with this. Another member, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, D, has voiced this sentiment publicly.

“The current efforts to repeal the ACA, as opposed to strengthening it, are irreconcilable with dealing with this crisis in the way that it needs to be dealt with,” Kennedy says, adding that there’s widespread agreement on the commission on this point.

This will set up a very bad political problem for Trump: His own declaration that opioids are a national emergency will – or should – dramatically undercut any further efforts to repeal or sabotage the health-care law, a goal Trump and Republicans can’t seem to wean themselves off of.

In the end, what will the commission members do if the administration falls short of the response they are advocating?

“Every single member of this commission has principled independence on this issue,” says Kennedy. “I believe they’ll distance themselves from the president if he doesn’t follow our recommendations.”

Sargent is a Washington Post columnist.


Published at Mon, 23 Oct 2017 16:50:01 +0000