Alaska’s first commercial cannabis harvest begins
Alaska Dispatch News - By. Laural Andrews - 9/26/2016
KASILOF – With autumn tightening its grip on Alaska, the state's first-ever commercial marijuana harvests are underway.
At Greatland Ganja, a marijuana grow in this small town on the Kenai Peninsula, brothers Leif and Arthur Abel are nearly finished pulling their cannabis plants from the high tunnels they call "gnome domes," where 10 different strains grew throughout the summer.
"We've got probably over half our crop already dried and partly cured," Leif said Wednesday, standing in one of the facility's four rooms, surrounded by bins of marijuana being processed by workers.
Around 75 pounds of dried marijuana had been processed so far, Leif said. The company is hoping for roughly 100 pounds from this first crop.
Walk into Greatland Ganja's compact facility and drying marijuana hangs high overhead. In an adjacent room, immature cannabis plants are stacked on shelving units that reach up to the ceiling; in the office, workers trim buds from plants recently pulled from the ground. A vertical drying rack system that pulls from the wall can dry 100-200 pounds of cannabis at a time, Leif said.
Each batch of marijuana must be tested by a state-licensed testing facility, which so far remain closed.
"This process means nothing to anybody until the labs are open," Leif Abel said.
Only two labs are nearing completion, and both are in Anchorage. CannTest, located in Anchorage's Ship Creek area, is hoping to open in mid-October, CEO Mark Malagodi said Thursday. AK Green Labs hopes to open in early November, according to owner Brian Coyle.
Meanwhile, Greatland Ganja has been in talks with retailers for about a year, Leif said.
So far, the prices are unknown, but Leif estimated $15 a gram for B-grade buds. "It's hard to give out a price list until your product is dried and cured and you've got it lab tested," he said.
At $800 a pound, state taxes are more than half of their production costs, Leif said. "This year we'll probably be paying the state over $100,000, just for this one harvest," he said.
Meanwhile in Fairbanks, Rosie Creek Farm is also wrapping up its first harvest. Rosie Creek was the second grow to be licensed in the state in July. It began pulling up plants about a month ago, owner Mike Emers said Thursday.
A relatively late start in the season, followed by a rainy summer, made growing outdoors more challenging, Emers said. Luckily, September's weather has held steady, with only a few days of frost.
"We're just trying like heck to beat freezeup and get the rest of the stuff out of the field," Emers said.
Statewide, 12 commercial facilities are up and running. Half are in Fairbanks. The others are in North Pole, Juneau, Valdez, Seward, Sterling and Kasilof.
Subsistence Products, a limited cultivation facility in Fairbanks (defined as a grow with less than 500 square feet of plant space) also started harvesting this week, owner Karl Hough said.
Other grows are close behind. Pakalolo Supply Co., Tanana Herb Company, LLC, Green Rush Gardens, LLC, and Elevated Innovations are all about three weeks from harvest time, each company said Thursday.
The rest are further out, expecting their first harvest in November or December. (Only one grow, Foxy Enterprises in Fairbanks, couldn't be reached for comment.)
Meanwhile, the state will be licensing the first marijuana retail store in the first few days of October, Remedy Shoppe in the Southeast community of Skagway.
For Greatland Ganja, the brothers will continue building and processing their crop, waiting for the next stages to begin.
"I look at this as a successful business right now because we've made it this far. The licensing has been a huge hurdle and funding has been a huge hurdle," Arthur said. "But the big landmark for me is when we start to see income. No business is successful without making income, and at this stage of the game we have not made a dime."
National fire safety group focuses on unique issues of marijuana businesses
The Cannabist - By. Alicia Wallace - 09/26/2016
Fire codes adopted by various cities and states across the nation may soon have a chapter on cannabis cultivation and processing facilities.
The National Fire Protection Association, a member-based nonprofit that develops codes and standards for fire safety, is steps closer to adding a chapter on marijuana grows and processing facilities to its NFPA 1, Fire Code.
The chapter has been in the works for more than a year, said Kristin Bigda, NFPA’s principal fire protection engineer who had guided a task force — consisting of NFPA and marijuana industry members — assembled to develop the code language. Following a series of revisions, additions and many meetings, a second draft of the code language is expected to go before the NFPA’s technical committee on Oct. 3 and 4, in Milwaukee, Wis., she said.
“One of the things that the task group has been keeping in mind as they develop this language … is what truly is unique about these facilities and what requirements does NFPA already have,” she said.
Taking a lead role in the development of these guidelines have been fire marshals and industry members in Colorado, which were profiled in the September/October edition of the NFPA Journal:
Public safety agencies have played a key role in shaping the evolution of this fast-moving industry, even as they were often forced to write the textbook while learning the material. “Our knowledge of the industry literally started at zero,” said Brian Lukus, a young fire protection engineer who has led the Denver Fire Department’s marijuana efforts. “Meanwhile, the industry went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in an instant.”
The work done in Colorado — as well as in Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, states where recreational marijuana is also legal — may provide a roadmap for other jurisdictions as the legalization movement continues its methodical march across the nation. Likewise, Colorado’s struggles, some of which are ongoing, could help other states better manage similar issues.
The NFPA Journal cover story highlighted some of the unique challenges presented by the rapidly growing industry, notably the potential dangers of the commercial production processes to manufacture concentrates.
If the technical committee accepts the second draft, the chapter could land in the 2018 edition of NFPA 1, which would publish in the second half of 2017, Bigda said.
Why the Term “Marijuana” Is Contentious in the U.S.
Culture - By. Zoe Wilder - 09/26/2016
Is “marijuana” a bad word? Some members of the United States legal cannabis movement think so and are pushing to end its use. Considering that over 50 world languages use the term to describe the magical nugs that so many people love to smoke, the etymological animosity may strike you as curious.
The debate stems from the country’s history of marijuana prohibition, with drug laws that display clear racial bias. Although the word marijuana predates the 1900s, use of it increased significantly in the 1930s, when elitist reporters, government officials, and narcotics officers alike employed the Latin-American Spanish word to associate it with “invading” and “perverted” Mexicans—and African-Americans, who would allegedly smoke marijuana, then rape, maim, and kill people. (Sound like any 2016 presidential and vice presidential candidatesyou know?)
“Harry Anslinger [the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics] was wildly successful at stigmatizing ‘marijuana’ as a foreign, negative, violent, and evil influence on our society through his smear campaign and propaganda efforts against cannabis in the 1930s,” says Frontera Group’s Jeffrey Welsh, a California attorney formerly of William Morris Endeavor who helps cannabis advocates and developing talent navigate the complexities of the cannabis industry.
Anslinger was a classic flip-flopping politico. Once a supporter of cannabis, he changed the game after his appointment as commissioner in 1930. Like the Bureau of Prohibition, the FBN operated under the U.S. Treasury Department. At that time, alcohol and drugs were considered revenue losses to the Treasury. As illegal substances, they could not be taxed.
Within a few years, Anslinger became an aggressive supporter of prohibition and the criminalization of drugs, and he played a crucial role in prohibiting cannabis. His propaganda machine began to promote fear and shame. His campaigns against marijuana use carried racist, elitist sentiments: “...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races” and “...most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use.”
Although racism is not unique to the United States, systemic racial oppression is the foundation upon which the country was built. And while words themselves won’t necessarily eradicate racism, popular perception can.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. However, we should use the scientific name for the plant instead of marijuana, pot, weed, and the like,” saysJesce Horton, co-founder and chairman of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “The alternate terms, whether racist or not, have connotations that have been used to place this plant in a negative or insignificant space.”
Using the scientific term cannabis is both a reproach of the racist roots and a means to remove the stigma and reclassify the plant in the minds of those who’ve been taught a negative association.
“If we’re going to elevate cannabis and bring it out of the darkness, out of something only a teenager does in their basement, then using the word cannabis keeps it scientific,” says cannabis cultivator and Farma budtender Taylor Rabe. “It’s more official and cannabis’ legitimacy becomes more approachable.”
On its website, Oakland’s Harborside Health Center echoes this etymological stance: “Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them. By changing the words we use to describe cannabis and herbal medicine, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda.”
Whether or not you continue to use the word marijuana, it’s difficult to deny its complexities and racial implications. It’s been an arduous journey since theReefer Madness days, from the War on Drugs to ending prohibition and legitimizing the plant in this country. It’s important that we bring these challenging topics to light to ensure progress. Meaningful dialogue can help turn cannabis adversaries into supporters, who, in-turn, could help reform our laws and perhaps restore peace and freedom to our unjust, racist, Drug War-torn nation.
Testing Cannabis On-The-Go is Now a Reality
Culture Magazine - ireadculture - 09/26/16
Testing cannabis has just gotten a lot more convenient with the MyDx Anazlyer and CannaDx Sensor Kit. This pocket-sized cannabis testing machine has the ability of testing a cannabis flower’s chemical composition of cannabinoids like CBD, CBC, CBN, THC and THCV. The device is also able to recognize more than 20 terpenes present in the flower, some of which are alpha-pinene, linalool, myrcene, beta caryophyllene and limonene.
Having the ability to test the exact chemical profile of a strain will help consumers predict what type of effect they will get upon consumption. This is because cannabinioids and terpenes are the active compounds of cannabis. That means they’re responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive and therapeutic effects.
The device also connects with your cell phone, so you’re able to track the results of each strain in addition to whether or not it delivers the desired effects you were looking for in the MyDx profile.
Users can track strains on the MyDx profile, and they can also find the perfect strain for them by highlighting what type of ailment they are trying to relieve from anxiety and pain to epilepsy. MyDx Profile even has an option for users to add a custom ailment.
The MyDx profile allows the user to track if their symptoms were better or worse with each strain, as well as the ways it made them feel regarding their happiness, energy, focus, relaxation and more.
This device was created to help further the positive development of the cannabis industry. The MyDx website explains how they plan to empower the industry, “We do so by providing the easiest-to-use and most reliable portable cannabis analyzer. This gives manufacturers, distributors, regulators, and consumers the information they need to make smarter decisions about their cannabis. In doing so, we hope to establish cannabis as a legitimate medicine as well as to help legitimize the industry as a whole.”
Natural Ways to Activate the Endocannabinoid System Without Marijuana
Merry Jane - By. Roni Stetter - 09/26/2016
Living a healthy, holistic lifestyle with cannabis isn’t about getting baked—it’s about getting balanced. So, if you are serious about using the herb to improve your health, it’s time to start looking at broad lifestyle changes that contribute to whole-body wellness.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of a network of biochemical receptors within the brain and body that regulate mood, pain, metabolism, sleep, and more important physiological processes. THC tends to bind to the CB1 receptors in the brain, while CBD tends to work on CB2 receptors in the immune cells of the body. It’s part of your peripheral nervous system and can be fueled not only by cannabis, but also by natural cannabinoids produced inside the body.
Without this system working within your body, you’d certainly be a nervous wreck—and many of us already are. Some health professionals even go so far as to claim “endocannabinoid deficiency” as the cause of several hard-to-treat diseases. Whether or not it’s the root of all our health problems, regulating the endocannabinoid system is part of a new wave in mind-body awareness and improving everyday preventative health.
So, how can we optimize this system of the body to live healthier and happier, with more energy? Aside from supplementing your body with THC and CBD from cannabis, there are some other lesser-known yet invigorating ways to activate and balance this system of your body.
Eat This, Not That
Partaking in the right foods can keep your endocannabinoid system running smoothly, while the wrong types of food can completely mess it up. “Superfood” is a buzzword in the nutritional community, but it’s true that some foods have powers bordering on magical. Eating a diet rich in certain plant polyphenols and antioxidant spices, like turmeric, saffron, and nutmeg, can stimulate your endocannabinoid system much like a healthy serving of cannabis sativa. Conversely, you can keep things tight by avoiding inflammatory foods, such as dairy, red meat, and refined sugars and flours. Sounds hard, given the way the munchies make you feel, but by making incremental good choices with your diet, you can see a lot of improvement in your metabolism and the way you feel each day—and it’s all because of endocannabinoids.
Stay Lit, Stay Fit
Believe it or not, exercising regularly is almost as good as being high all the time. By now it’s somewhat common knowledge that the “runner’s high” felt by endurance athletes is almost on point with a psychoactive THC high. Just like a great dab, cardiovascular exercise can improve your mood and assist in keeping a healthy sleep schedule. Additionally, exercising helps to rid your body of fats and toxins. With heavy use, you can build up quite the tolerance to cannabis, making it less effective. Sweating it out will help you maintain that regular high every day, with or without weed.
Smoke One and Chill
For a boost in endocannabinoids and a growing sense of well-being, try engaging in stress-reducing activities, like staying hydrated, doing breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
Ultimately, the endocannabinoid system becomes strained through physical and mental stress, so it makes sense that avoiding inflammation like the plague will keep your system running smoothly. Alcohol is another stressor to avoid. Those hangovers cause inflammation, and using alcohol is actually thought to work the wrong way on the endocannabinoid system, causing dependency issues.
Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, so the responsibility of good health is all up to you. Find your perfect balance today.
Marijuana arrests fall to lowest level since 1996
The Washington Post - By. Christopher Ingraham - 9/26/2016
Arrests for simple marijuana possession in the United States fell to nearly a two-decade low last year, according to new statistics released Monday by the FBI.
The number of arrests for marijuana possession in 2015 -- 574,641 -- is the lowest number since 1996. It represents a 7 percent year-over-year drop, and roughly a 25 percent drop from the peak of close to 800,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2007.
The FBI data suggest that, in aggregate, law enforcement officers are devoting less time to marijuana enforcement relative to other drugs. In 2010, for instance, marijuana sales and possession together accounted for 52 percent of all drug arrests. By 2015, that number had fallen to 43 percent. By contrast, the numbers show police have been making more arrests for cocaine and heroin, and for other non-narcotic drugs.
Still, the marijuana possession arrest rate works out to more than one arrest every minute.
Advocates of drug policy reform have long criticized high rate of marijuana arrests as misplaced criminal justice priorities. The Drug Policy Alliance calls marijuana arrests "the engine driving the U.S. war on drugs" and says that "the huge number of marijuana arrests every year usurps scarce law enforcement, criminal justice and treatment resources at enormous cost to taxpayers."
A widely-cited 2013 ACLU report estimated that the total cost to taxpayers of marijuana possession enforcement in the U.S. was $3.6 billion. It also found that while whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates, black users were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for it.
Four brothers kidnapped and forced to work on marijuana farm in Northern California
Los Angeles Times - By. Hailey Branson-Potts - 09/22/2016
Authorities in Northern California are investigating possible drug cartel activity after four Modesto brothers say they were kidnapped, tortured and forced to work for more than five months on an enormous, illegal marijuana farm under the threat of violence.
The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department this week announced the arrest of two women. Guadalupe “Lupe” Arrellano, 43, and Medarda “Daniella” Urbieta Estudillo, 34, were arrested Sept. 14 in Modesto and charged with human trafficking, kidnapping, battery with serious bodily injury, making terrorist threats and drug charges, authorities said.
Sheriff’s officials said they are still seeking two men in connection with the case.
In February, Arrellano picked up two men from a Modesto business known as a place where day laborers congregate, Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo said at a news conference. She told the men she needed help working on a landscaping project at a home in Calaveras County.
The brothers worked at a home in the small, remote town of West Point for several days before being taken by force to a nearby marijuana cultivation site, where they were threatened, according to the sheriff’s office.
Arrellano got the men’s home address in Modesto and went to the residence, where she told family members that two were working for her on a marijuana farm. She offered to take two more relatives to the site, but told them that if they said anything to law enforcement, their family members would be killed, according to the sheriff’s office.
Two additional brothers went with her to the West Point site, where they were threatened by armed men, taken to their family members and forced to work on the marijuana harvest while their remaining family members in Modesto were continually threatened by the captors, authorities said.
The four men, whose names have not been released, were kept in squalid conditions, sleeping on cots outdoors. They were severely beaten for complaining about the conditions.
At one point, one of the men heard a male captor ask Arrellano whether he could kill the victims, Macedo said. Arrellano reportedly told the captors no because they were nearly done with the marijuana harvest, but that they could be killed after they finished their work. About that time, one of the captors tried to stab one of the victims, holding a gun and knife at the same time, according to the sheriff’s office.
That night, on July 27, the men escaped and ran to a West Point home, where a resident called authorities. Three of the men had “significant” visible injuries.
The injured men were taken to a nearby hospital, and one had to be taken to a trauma center because of the severity of his wounds.
On July 28, law enforcement officials from Calaveras and Tuolumne counties and federal agencies served a search warrant near Bald Mountain Road, where they located the growing operation.
Investigators found 23,245 marijuana plants with an estimated street value between $18 and $60 million, at least two firearms, multiple cellphones and $10,000 in cash.
“There was mention of cartel activity that has yet to be corroborated,” Macedo said. “There was a specific cartel mentioned, however we have not corroborated that information at this time.”
Macedo said it was a “large-scale investigation” involving numerous local and federal agencies. The amount of food stored on the marijuana growing site indicated it was a large operation, he said.
Macedo described the remote location as a “long, narrow, winding road to the middle of nowhere.”
“It can seem like you’re a world away from your home,” he said.
While authorities searched the property, one man was seen running from investigators, according to the sheriff’s department. A backpack was found along the trail on which he ran; a handgun was inside.
No arrests were made at the time of the search, but authorities in the weeks following served search warrants at multiple locations in Stanislaus County.
Authorities said they found a religious shrine to Santa Muerte, the folk saint of death popular among drug traffickers and cartels, during a search of a Modesto home linked to the case.
Macedo said Arrellano and Urbieta Estudillo were in the country illegally and were known to use several aliases.
In May, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors made it legal for farmers to grow medical marijuana for commercial sale. The urgency ordinance was enacted in part to help the struggling county recover from last year’s devastating Butte fire, which charred more than 70,000 acres, destroyed 549 homes and killed two people.
Authorities said the West Point marijuana farm was unregistered.
How to Plant the Seeds of Success in the New Cannabis Economy
Entrepreneur - Andre Bourque - 9/22/16
Does it take much more than a match and a bowl to go into business? If you know your chronic from Colombian, isn't that enough to sell the stuff? What does an entrepreneur need to do to open a green business and capitalize on the new cannabis laws?
Planting seeds in the cannabis economy is not for the amateur without the right guidance and information. That was one of my many takeaways from the recent Cannabis World Congress in Los Angeles.
What’s the attraction?
The possibility of big revenue has people rushing to the retail cannabis business in states where they have passed laws permitting marijuana sale for medical or recreational purposes, and in states where they expect that market to open soon.
CNBC estimated the potential market as high as $40 billion back in 2010. But, the Huffington Post bases its 2015 forecast on the ArcView Report, and predicts that "by 2019, all of the state-legal marijuana markets combined will make for a potential overall market worth almost $11 billion annually.” And, Forbes sees a 26 percent growth in 2016 to $7.1 billion.
Why such variations? For starters, it's challenging to measure a market where there is a huge under-market in illegal sales and in sales to customers from outside the licensed jurisdiction. And, while it is probable that additional states will permit the market, it is by no means certain. Additionally, sales in population-dense centers like Los Angeles can skew any forecast.
Nonetheless, there is gold in that grass. These numbers put the cannabis industry among the top 10 in the economy, right up there with consumer goods, construction and telecommunications. In all, 25 states now permit the sale of medical marijuana, admittedly with widely varying regulations.
Where’s the economy?
As laws change with every election and meeting of state legislatures, the above CNN map is a recent survey of the U.S. Notice the map key that labels the green states legal for medical and recreational use, orange states where medical marijuana is okay (including some jurisdictions that have independently decriminalized restricted possession) and yellow states where only medical Cannabidiol (commonly referred to as CBD) is permitted.
It bears noting that some places have also decriminalized having possession CBD in small amounts. CBD is a derivative with reputed positive medical outcomes without the psychoactive experience.
At the same time, you might want to contrast that with a map that locates admitted users, such as a few of the maps found here at LiveScience.com. Knowing where the consumers are and where the laws are permissive, you have a better shot at targeting a location.
For example, marijuana users report heavy use in the New England states where, in some jurisdictions, only medical use is currently legal. And, given the wide-open spaces in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska, sales are likely to be located in the few densely populated cities there. As you can see, despite the promise, where you choose to plant seeds in the cannabis economy depends on many factors. It's probably not something to jump into without thorough legal advice.
What does it take?
For starters, planting seeds in the cannabis economy with a retail outlet takes retail business know-how. Small businesses have a terrible record of failure. The Small Business Administration (SBA) finds that half of all small businesses fail within the first five years and only a third survive seven years. They fail because owners lack management experience, underestimating the need and availability of capital, poor planning and staffing, as well as for generally entering business for all the wrong reasons.
So, if you want to enter the business because it looks like fun, you might want to have some seasoned industry assistance along the way. “The legal cannabis industry is becoming highly institutionalized,” said Adam Bierman, chief executive officer of MedMen, a Los Angeles-based firm that offers management services to licensed operators. “It is a natural evolution as the industry outgrows its legacy origins. You have serious, institutional capital entering this space today, and these investors demand a certain level of accountability and performance.”
In summary, when you consider entering the retail marijuana space, it would be wise to weigh the following added concerns:
- Learn the financial operation, including pricing, supply chain management, cash flow and reserves, point-of-sale software, accounting principles and more.
- Study the law and possible regulatory environment and join business advocacy groups.
- Secure an experienced attorney prior to formal planning to reduce liability exposure and comply with all regulatory authorities.
- Pay payroll taxes and comply with regulatory sales taxes, which are more complicated and higher than typical sales taxes within the marijuana industry.
- Harvest resources in the supply chain: Farmers, supplies, accessories and so on.
- Train employees in retail customer service and in the nuances of what the law permits in terms of labeling, representation and advertising.
Marketing is one of the single most important parts of staging and ensuring a successful entry into the retail cannabis industry as well. This includes market research and advertising. Cannapreneurs need to know the demographic profile of the customers that surround their retail locations and how far they will travel if the right accomodations are provided for them.
"Cannabis marketing is the strategy in which you creatively reach your customers and let them know you are providing what they need," said James Marland, CEO of The Grow Division. "To quote Ted Levitt, the godfather of marketing, and professor at Harvard Business School, 'Nothing drives progress like the imagination. Put customers at the center of all you do and put marketing at the center of strategy'".
Succeeding in cannabis sales appears very promising, but it does involve business risks that do not threaten more ordinary retail products. Still, success is often a function of the risk, and the passion and autonomy that drives entrepreneurs can make the real difference.
U.S. Attorney General Admits Marijuana Is Not a Gateway Drug
Merry Jane - By. Mike Adams - 9/20/2016
One of the most popular arguments against the legalization of marijuana is that pot is a “gateway” drug with the potential to turn the great American populous into a nation of dope fiends. But today the country’s leading law enforcement official denounced this common misconception by admitting that the consumption of marijuana does not lead to the use of harder drugs.
As part of what President Obama has declared National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch appeared at town hall meeting this morning in Richmond, Kentucky to discuss the dangers of opioid abuse with a group of teens.
In her opening statement, Lynch was adamant that the leading culprit behind Kentucky’s heroin epidemic was the use of prescription drugs.
“When you look at someone that, for example, has a heroin problem, it very often started with a prescription drug problem. Something totally legal. Something in every medicine cabinet. Something you can have prescribed to you in good faith by a doctor,” Lynch said before taking questions from the audience.
It did not take long before the discussion turned to the issue of marijuana.
Tyler Crafton, a student at Madison Central High School, took the opportunity to ask Lynch whether she thought the recreational use of marijuana among high school kids would lead to opioid abuse.
Shockingly, Lynch, the top dog at the U.S. Department of Justice, did provide the young man with a response straight out of the federal government’s propaganda handbook.
“There a lot of discussion about marijuana these days. Some states are making it legal, people are looking into medical uses for it, and I understand that it still is as common as almost anything,” Lynch replied. “When we talk about heroin addiction, we unusually, as we have mentioned, are talking about individuals that started out with a prescription drug problem, and then because they need more and more, they turn to heroin. It isn’t so much that marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids.”
For a moment, it sounded as though the Attorney General was preparing to backtrack on her statement to some degree, adding that, “if you tend to experiment with a lot of things if life you may be more inclined to experiment with drugs.”
But then Lynch followed up with what should be considered one of the most important statements a federal official has made in 2016.
“It’s not as though we are seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway,” she said.
The attorney general’s admission that marijuana is not a gateway drug is fairly consistent with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which finds“the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances. Yet many of marijuana’s opposing forces are going up against ballot measure in several states this election season by trying to convince the general public that legal weed will cause the opioid epidemic to spin further out of control.
Interestingly, an investigational report published earlier this week by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that lobbyists for the drug makers responsible for the same prescription drugs that Attorney General Lynch says is responsible for the opioid epidemic have spent $880 million legally bribing state representatives and senators to vote against legislation concerning the restricting of opioid use. It stands to reason that these lobbyists are also responsible for getting federal lawmakers to turn a blind eye to marijuana.
Attorney General Lynch will be speaking at more than 250 events this week in support of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. It will be interesting to see if she offers additional comments about the safety of marijuana.
Inside NFL's Backwards Marijuana Policy
Rolling Stone - By. Ross Benes - 9/21/16
At the conclusion of North Dallas Forty wide receiver Phil Elliott, played by Nick Nolte, gets blackballed by his team owner for "smoking a marijuana cigarette." After being presented with a photo that shows Elliott toking up, the team owner patronizes Elliott and says, "Illegal drugs are forbidden by the league rules Phil, you know that." To which Elliott replies: "Jesus, smoking grass, what are you kidding me? If you nailed all the ballplayers who smoked grass, you wouldn't even be able to field a punt return team. Besides that, you give me the hardest stuff in Chicago just to get out of the goddamn locker room. Hard drugs!"
Though North Dallas Forty is technically fictional and came out nearly 40 years ago, its story is a classic example of the same-shit-different-day phenomenon. In recent weeks, Bills linemen Marcell Dareus and Seantrel Henderson were each suspended four games for using marijuana. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott caused a scandal by simply walking into a legal weed-friendly establishment. Meanwhile, the NFL was busy knuckling players into "cooperating" with a doping investigation based on scant and recanted evidence.
Given America's growing acceptance of cannabis, the bad press the NFL gets when it punishes marijuana use more harshly than domestic abuse, and the personal tragedies and lawsuits that have stemmed from team doctors overprescribing opioids, it seems a little peculiar that the NFL continues to retain an authoritarian stance on marijuana use while team doctors simultaneously dole out powerful and addictive painkillers. Especially considering that the league is mired in concussion suits and there's a possibility that cannabis could reduce the impact of head trauma.
To get a better grasp of this dissonance, let's take a look at the changing national perception of marijuana, possible incentives the NFL has for maintaining its marijuana policies, upcoming football-related cannabis research initiatives, and what it might take to get the NFL to stop punishing players for using marijuana.
As Kevin Seifert of ESPN pointed out, during the hysteria of the War on Drugs in the 1980s it was "politically and socially necessary" for the NFL to discipline marijuana users. But after the war on drugs proved to be a massive failure, people began viewing certain drugs more tolerantly, and now polls show that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. As public support increased so did legalization, and today more than 60 percent (20 of the 32 teams) of NFL teams play in states that allow medical marijuana. Come November that percentage could grow as there are a plethora of state ballot initiatives pushing for medical and recreational marijuana legalization.
There are also bills in the Senate and House aimed specifically at cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), which is a compound found in cannabis that doesn't get people high. CBD is typically taken orally and it includes only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. A group of vocal ex-players are pushing the league to allow players to use CBD as a pain reliever. Because as the league's policycurrently stands, a player taking CBD could potentially surpass the league's testing threshold and test positive.
"The risk [of testing positive for using CBD] is very low compared to the people using high-THC cannabis," said Joel Stanley, CEO of hemp extracts producer CW Hemp. "But there certainly is a risk. But when you have something that you know is non-toxic, non-psychoactive, and non-addictive, and if you are in those high-impact situations, why not [allow players to] take that product?"
The NFL declined interview requests for this story. But a league spokesperson sent over the following statement:
"Independent medical advisors to the league and the National Football League Players Association are constantly reviewing and relying on the most current research and scientific data. The league will continue to follow the advice of leading experts on treatment, pain management and other symptoms associated with concussions and other injuries.
It went on to say:
"However, medical experts have not recommended making a change or revisiting our collectively-bargained policy and approach related to marijuana, and our position on its use remains consistent with federal law and workplace policies across the country."
The statement ignores that just because something is federally illegal, that doesn't mean that an employer has to test for it or punish its employees. And that the league's marijuana policies are stricter than those in the Olympics, NBA, NHL and MLB. Another thing the statement fails to answer is why the NFL still clings to its Reagan-era-driven drug policies even though marijuana isn't a performance enhancer, doesn't pose significant health risks to players, and it's pretty questionable that removing marijuana off the league's banned substances list would negatively affect the NFL's bottom line.
While punishing marijuana use might not seem entirely rational in today's cultural climate, organizations tend to act in their perceived self-interest. So what's making the NFL cling to its punishment of pot users?
The Possible Incentives
George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs, said that the illegality of marijuana in many states is "probably the primary reason" why cannabis remains a banned substance in the league. Aside from concerns over players breaking the law while using cannabis in states where it is not yet legal, Atallah did not provide any further reason for why the current policy remains in place.
Because the NFL did not comply with interview requests, and has only issued vague statements in the past regarding this topic, the other sources left who have experience with the league and its policies (and who were willing to speak to reporters) were mostly people who want to see the policy changed. While their theories are intriguing and intuitive, the real imperatives behind the league's marijuana policies remain speculative.
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe backs up Atallah's reasoning saying that the NFL will continue to punish players for using cannabis as long as it is a schedule 1 drug. "I don't think the NFL wants to get involved in federal jurisdiction areas," Kluwe says.
Other sources more or less had the same thing to say, while pointing out that the NFL isn't likely to be on the forefront of any social or scientific shift. The general consensus was that the same league that fought CTE-related research tooth and nail and freaked out over a draft pick being gay is not an organization that people should expect change from.
But then again, merely removing cannabis from the league's banned substance list is a lot different than promoting marijuana. And just because something is illegal doesn't mean an employer has to test for it, as tons of workplaces around the country do not test their employees for substances, regardless of their legality.
"They don't have to come out and endorse marijuana and have Roger Goodell standing in front of a 20 foot banner of a marijuana leaf," former Broncos receiver Nate Jackson says. "It [taking cannabis off the banned substances list] can be part of a more complete wellness package that allows more options. I think the NFL could do it in a way that wasn't gratuitous and didn't alert any of the Reefer Madness crowd that it is going to be open season for stoners."
Another theory is that the marijuana policy isn't about the drug itself, it's really about worker control.
Former Cardinals and Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer says that the league maintains the status quo "to show that they're ultimately the ones who control everything," and that the NFL isn't "willing to go back and adjust something that the players and the league agreed upon just because it's stamped in stone." Adhering to this record of consistency helps the league "remain the all-powerful decision-making entity that controls everything," Plummer says. "And they don't want to lose power."
After laying out this idea, Plummer points out that the NFL only thinks it would be ceding power in changing the rules. In reality, "They'd be creating compassion, and I think showing that they care about the game and the players."
While discussing the worker control theory, Kluwe believes that if the league were to remove cannabis from its list of banned substances, "The NFL is going to want something in return."
In the past, the NFL has casually floated the idea of a longer season with more games in London, which would increase owner profits while tacking on additional workloads for players. So during the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the owners might agree to bump down the marijuana penalty in exchange for some sort of monetary benefit like a longer season or more international games, Kluwe says.
"I think they also look at it [marijuana policy] as a bargaining chip to where they don't have to change it right now, so they're not going to," he says. "But, if they can force the union into some concessions, then they'll probably use it."
Heather Jackson is the CEO of The Realm of Caring, a non-profit marijuana advocacy group that partners with CW Hemp to fund research and education on the medical potential of cannabinoids. She notes "there are a lot of theories out there" as to why the league bans cannabis. "And in the wrong circles, you sound completely nuts bringing those things up."
Jackson claims she has "personally received phone calls from pharmaceutical companies that were threatening." She states that cannabinoids present a "real issue" for pharma groups who have profited from their current relationship with the NFL. "Because the plant can do so many different things, people may be taking less pharmaceuticals, and that's not awesome for them [pharma groups]."
While Jackson does not directly accuse the NFL of colluding with big pharma, Jim McMahon did just that. "They want you taking their pills," the former Chicago Bears quarterback told Sports Illustrated in July. "I think they're in cahoots with big pharma. My whole career they were pushing pills on me. For whatever aliment you had, they had a pill for it and that's the reason they're demonizing this plant they way they are." McMahon, it should be noted, played on the same Super Bowl XX winning team with Dave Duerson, the safety who took his own life in 2011 with a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the chest. Duerson sent a text to family requesting they study his brain at the Boston University School of Medicine. It was confirmed in May of that year that Duerson was suffering from CTE.
McMahon's accusations make intuitive sense, but then again there may be more innocuous reasons behind current protocols. NFL owners tend to be in their late 60s on average and their generation is more likely to stigmatize marijuana while overlooking the harmful effects of prescription pills merely because they're legal and perceived to be more acceptable. And according to the Washington Examiner, NFL owners are about 20 percentage points more likely to donate to GOP candidates than Democrat candidates and "owners who lean Republican account for more than 90 percent of political contributions by owners." Traditionally, Republicans tend to take harder stances against illegal drugs like marijuana.
Kluwe notes that trying to figure out the NFL's reasoning for maintaining its current drug policies can turn into "conspiracy theory guesswork." He then pointed to another NFL-approved substance that could conflict with the league deregulating marijuana – alcohol.
Because marijuana can be viewed as a substitute for alcohol, beer sponsors may want to see the NFL continue to denounce marijuana. And the league has good reason to listen to beer companies given that Anheuser-Busch InBev alone paid $1.4 billion to remain the NFL's official beer until 2022. "I think that while it may not explicitly be said, I think it's probably weighing in the NFL's calculations in terms of 'OK what are our sponsors going to do,'" Kluwe says.
But then again, allowing players to privately consume marijuana won't necessarily translate to more marijuana visibility or a decline in beer company sponsorships or people deferring to alcohol as their favorite party drug.
Plummer even envisions a future where once marijuana is nationally legal, cannabis companies could become NFL sponsors. One day we might see advertisements for "Purple Crush Kush" at Minnesota Vikings games he half-jokes.
Of all the theories that came up while reporting this story, "protect the shield" and projecting a "positive public image" came up most often. In other words, the NFL believes it must protect its brand at all costs, and owners may fear that a drug policy alteration would lead to criticism of the brand.
Nate Jackson believes, "The NFL makes its policies according to media sensibility on these issues. And a lot of times you have these old-school sportswriter people who are trying to keep the game as 'pure' as they think it should be, whatever that means, based on how they were raised and what they believe a sports league 'should be," with no actual understanding or experience as to what it takes to do these jobs and deal with this kind of physical trauma. So the NFL folds to this kind of pressure and ESPN kind of floats the boat there, you know. Until the media softens its stance, then the NFL won't."
Media pressure can certainly influence the policies of sports leagues. But the media today takes a much softer stance on players using marijuana than it did even just a handful of years ago. When Ricky Williams got in trouble for smoking marijuana as an active player he was chastised and scapegoated. But today, he's the subject of a sympathetic Sports Illustratedprofile. And there is no shortage of articles from the popular press calling for the NFL to stop punishing players for using marijuana.
While some people, possibly even some owners, may believe that toning down marijuana-related punishments could tarnish the league's image, there is also a case to be made that the league is worsening its image every time a player makes headlines for consuming a substance that's increasingly gaining public acceptance.
"I don't see any benefit to negative press whenever a player fails a test and is punished," says retired Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe, the first active NFL player to publicly challenge the league's marijuana policy.
When asked why the league maintains a policy that punishes for players for using cannabis, Monroe was quite blunt.
"I'm not sure why they continue to maintain archaic policies," he says.
As you can see, there are several possible reasons why the NFL would want to continue punishing players for using cannabis. Although these theories appear to have face validity, they also have strong counterpoints. Without answers from NFL owners regarding these specific questions, it's unclear which explanations are the most true or relevant. What is clear though is that the movement of former players pressing for policy change is gaining visibility and that more research is on the horizon.
Though the research has been largely piecemeal and some of the studies have been done on animals, there's already some evidence suggesting that CBD might function as a neuroprotectant, help with inflammation, and improve mood. And back in 2003, the U.S. government issued a patent for the use of cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectans. Because of CBD's potential in treating and preventing brain injury, pharma company Kannalife has partnered with Temple University researchers to study the effectiveness of CBD in treating CTE.
And in March, The Realm of Caring launched its "When the Bright Lights Fade" campaign to raise money to fund research examining the effectiveness of cannabinoids in treating concussions and head-injury symptoms in NFL players. The campaign brought in $100,000 (most of it donated by Monroe), which was supposed to be used to fund two observational studies – one on current players and one on former players – run by psychiatry professors from University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins.
The former players study is still on track. But the much-talked-about study on current players hasn't unfolded as planned. The current players study was supposed to launch prior to the season, with the intention of gathering data on a few hundred players. But fewer than five players signed up, which led the researchers to contemplate postponing the study until next season. Ultimately, they decided to gather whatever data they can get, even if it's just from a few participants, to use as a pilot study.
"We were expecting a higher response," says Marcel Bonn-Miller, a UPenn researcher co-leading the studies. "We're not getting it. We think it's because of the confidentiality issue that the PA raised."
The confidentiality issue Bonn-Mill referred to is a message the NFLPA sent to its members, cautioning players that the study could be at risk of a confidentiality breach. Though the study had IRB approval, the researchers had received confidentiality certificates, and this kind of legal overreach would be incredibly rare and possibly even unprecedented in academia, NFLPA lawyers feared the league could hypothetically subpoena the researchers for their data, which could hypothetically lead to punishment for players who admitted in the study to using cannabis.
"We did not stand in the way of them doing it [the research]," Atallah says. "It was our obligation to tell our members that there were concerns with the confidentiality. … We could have theoretical discussions round and round about how nobody in academia has had this happen before. But we're still dealing with the NFL. That's our reality."
Aside from the academic cannabinoid studies, another study is being funded by cannabis extract producer Constance Therapeutics that will examine the ability of cannabis to treat NFL players' pain. But unlike the university researchers' cannabinoid studies, Constance Therapeutics is looking at the whole plant, which means the extracts they use in their study will contain much higher levels of THC.
Constance Therapeutics is funding the study themselves, which will cost between $250,000 to $300,000, says founder and CEO Constance Finley. The Gridiron Cannabis Coalition is helping recruit participants for the study, and Finley predicts there will be about 30 former NFL players enrolled in the study.
Given the small sample sizes and convenience sampling techniques involved in these studies, their generalizability could be limited. But then again, since this area of medicine remains so unexplored, the smallest of steps could still really advance our scientific understanding of CBD and cannabis extracts. And it may be these baby steps in science that eventually force the league to reconsider its position.
What Will it Take for Change?
Atallah says that the union has been in touch with Monroe and a handful of other current and former players "on a fairly regular basis, as often as once a week" to discuss the league's drug policies and that their conservations "have been enlightening as to how we relate to the issue of pain management." He stressed that the union sees a major difference between "recreational use versus the pain management medical use," adding, "the issue of pain management is where we are focusing our energy."
Although he would not specify an exact date, Atallah says that within the next few weeks the union will be "forming a new committee under our Mackey-White Health and Safety Committee to look at this issue of pain management, and marijuana is going to be one of those issues." Committee members will include active and former players as well as medical researchers. Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan, the only active player publicly challenging the league's marijuana policy, confirmed that he will serve on the committee.
"I had some discussions with the PA, and we were just trying to brainstorm as far as finding a way to look into this and have players’ support, but at the same time protecting players from any negative backlash or anything," Morgan said. "The idea came about of making a pain management committee for finding additional [pain relief] resources outside of what’s just available to them in the training room. … I feel like it's my responsibility as a father and as a husband to be proactive about my health. It just happens that this thing [medical cannabis] that I think could be a benefit is a schedule 1 drug."
Atallah indicates what may be needed to spur change when he states, "If indeed there is an overwhelming amount of research in the medical community that says that this [medical cannabis] can help players, then at that point, we can go the NFL and advocate for a change in the policies."
Monroe is more emphatic when he mentions that the league and the players' union will "need data points to change policy," a sentiment that was echoed by nearly every source in this story. But several sources said that a major hurdle is getting access to more players to increase the studies' sample sizes.
Most of the former players interviewed speculated that the league won't negotiate its marijuana policy until the next CBA in 2021. But Atallah believes that "our drug policies are constantly evolving" and that it is "absolutely" possible to see a change before the next CBA. He notes that the marijuana policy was revised in 2014, even though the last CBA took place in 2011. (In 2014, the threshold for a positive test was increased from 15 ng/ml to 35 ng/ml, which appears to be a significant mathematical difference until you consider that the thresholds in the Olympics and MLBare much more lax.)
While scientific data can sway public opinion, real change ultimately relies with the owners, as they hold the real power in the league. As Plummer puts it, "Change can happen pretty quickly if we get the owners on our side." But trying to gauge how NFL owners perceive marijuana testing can easily turn into an exercise of pure speculation.
When Monroe retired, the franchise he played for went out of its way to point out, "The Ravens did not rally behind the cause." Meanwhile, when Morgan spoke about the potential health benefits of cannabis, his teamreleased a more encouraging statement: "While we will decline comment on the content of his statements, we respect Derrick a great deal, and we believe our players always have the right to express their viewpoints on topics about which they are passionate."
There are many possible explanations for the differences in tone, and one may be that Morgan's narrative – solely emphasizing that medical cannabis needs to be researched more – is currently more politically palatable than Monroe's narrative that the league needs to drop cannabis from its banned substance list altogether. Regardless, Bleacher Report quoted an NFL owner saying, "Most owners view marijuana as a destructive drug." But in another article, Bleacher Report also quoted an NFL executive who said that testing for marijuana is "silly" and "humiliating." According to these reports, owners and team executives have a wide range of opinions on marijuana testing. But if scientific data or shifts in public opinion don't persuade the majority of owners to adopt a change, what would?
"The possibility of being sued is always very effective in swaying the NFL," Nate Jackson says, in reference to suits being filed by former players accusing the league of recklessly prescribing painkillers.
While the contingent that is pressing the league to stop testing players for marijuana has a lot of hope pinned on upcoming research, it isn't clear if CBD really will prove to be an effective treatment for pain or head injuries. But even if CBD (or cannabis in general for that matter) doesn't display statistically valid healing capabilities, the league will still face pressure to alter its banned substance list as long as its doctors continue to recommend substances that are much more powerful and addictive than marijuana.
"The medicine being pumped into these guys is just killing people," Nate Jackson says. "NFL owners think marijuana is something players do to get around the system, not knowing that it's actually allowing them to be in the system. It's allowing them to deal with the rigors of the game."