Senators Could Ease Federal Prohibition Of Medical Marijuana

Bill Introduced To Streamline Marijuana Regulations

Senate legislation announced today would shield medical marijuana patients, doctors and businesses from federal prosecution in states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and would remove marijuana from the category of most-dangerous drugs.

marijuana helps TBI patients

Medical marijuana is nothing new in the U.S. or other countries.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would deal a sharp blow to the U.S. government’s longstanding war on marijuana by banning the Drug Enforcement Administration from cracking down on patients, growers, doctors and dispensaries in states that have legalized medical cannabis. It would give military veterans in states with medical marijuana laws easier access to the drug by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis.

The legislation also would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug, which has no benefit, to a Schedule II drug, which has an accepted medical use. Rescheduling marijuana would, in effect, be the federal government’s first acknowledgement that the drug has medical benefits.

“This bipartisan legislation allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies and ends the criminalization of patients, their families, and the caregivers and dispensary owners and employees who provide them their medicine,” Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, the U.S. has five categories for drugs and drug ingredients. Schedule I is reserved for what the DEA considers to have the highest potential for abuse and no medical value. Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, along with other substances like heroin and LSD.

While a lower schedule for marijuana would not make it legal under federal law, it may ease restrictions on research. The bill would not force states to legalize medical marijuana, but would protect states that do from federal interference. The bill would make permanent medical marijuana protections from the DEA included in the federal spending bill that President Barack Obama signed into law in December.

Currently, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana and a dozen others have legalized a low-THC marijuana for medical use. All would be protected under the Senate bill. Four states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana.

The sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana remain illegal under federal law. States that have legalized marijuana or softened penalties for possession have done so because of federal guidance urging prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.

The Senate medical marijuana bill comes just weeks after Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced bills in the House that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s schedules altogether, transfer oversight of the substance from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and regulate marijuana in a way similar to alcohol.

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Marijuana Tax Could Generate Refund For Taxpayers In Colorado

Colorado Marijuana Sales Generate Windfall

Thanks to Colorado’s new marijuana tax and a quirky state law, residents may get a special one-time tax refund next year. The total could be about $59 million, according to Fox 31. That’s how much the state expects to collect from taxes on the sale of recreational marijuana, which Colorado legalized last year. Some of that money was slated for schools, but it may go back into taxpayers’ pockets instead.

marijuana tax refund Colorado

The reason for the refund: Colorado is expected to collect more in total tax revenue than it thought it would this year. That’s not permitted in a year the state rolls out a new tax, which this time was the 28 percent pot tax. The pot tax itself didn’t generate as much money as expected.

About 67 metric tons of marijuana was sold in Colorado in 2014. That’s 148,238 pounds of the weed you inhale.

Which is a lot. The largest recorded African elephant weighed almost 11 tons (24,000 pounds). To put that in perspective, in one year, Colorado smoked more than 6 times the size of the heaviest recorded elephant that ever walked this green earth.

While that deserves a green star, that’s not all the weed they bought in the Centennial State, no sir. The initial 2014 report also states that 4.8 million marijuana edibles were sold (cookies, mac ‘n cheese, etc.). But why stop there? Almost 1.5 million marijuana infused non-edible products (such as lotions, and creams) were also sold.

So much money was made off of legal marijuana sales that $30 million might go back into tax payer pockets, since there’s a limit of how much the state can keep for its schools.

But the state is poised to take in $219 million more in total revenue than it thought it would during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.


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Colorado Marijuana Industry Banking In Oregon

Oregon Bank Welcomes Colorado Marijuana Businesses

An Oregon bank is openly offering service to the marijuana industry in Colorado at a time when banks here are lurking mostly in the shadows.

MBank, based outside Portland, is part of a growing number of financial institutions, mostly Washington-based credit unions, that are banking openly with marijuana businesses.

marijuana industry Colorado

But it is the first to venture across state lines and the only bank to announce publicly that it is serving Colorado marijuana businesses.

The bank said it also is taking marijuana-related deposits in Washington, the other state where recreational pot is legal and has been serving Oregon-based medical marijuana dispensaries since September.

While some industry analysts see its announcement as somewhat brazen, considering pressure from regulators to keep any participation with the marijuana sector quiet, MBank officials say they’re confident it’s a good idea.

“It’s a bold maneuver and not one for a lot of folks to take on,” MBank president and CEO Jef Baker said Tuesday. “We looked to regulators, both state and federal, to help us come to the conclusion that we can do banking in this sector.”

The $165 million bank, in business since 1995, is putting trust in what it said is “tacit approval” — bank-speak for acceptance that isn’t in writing — from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

“We had to vet the program and expose ourselves to additional audits,” Baker said. “But to be sure, we’ve put together something that meets without objection, though not necessarily specific approval.”

An FDIC spokesman said the agency does not comment on bank operations.

MBank partnered with Guardian Data Systems to hook marijuana businesses. Already about five in Colorado have established accounts, Baker said, with about 30 other applications pending.

“Finding access to traditional banking services has been one of the most daunting challenges faced by owners and operators in our industry” said Lance Ott, principal at GDS, which is handling the preliminary screening of account applicants.

“To date, there has not been a permanent (federally) compliant solution to the cannabis industry. With this partnership, cannabis industry operators no longer must shield the nature of their business from banking institutions,” he said.

Only medical marijuana is legal in Oregon, although voters in November approved recreational sales to begin in July.

Federal regulators have offered guidance to bankers willing to work with the industry, mostly by requiring a restrictive set of rules and filing reports about account-holder transactions. Bankers balked at opening their doors to the industry, at least publicly.

Some business owners offered anecdotes of account closures if even a hint of their participation became known to others. As a result, banks willing to work with the industry have remained a trade secret that businesses protect.

A number of business solutions — such as point-of-sale ATMs and credit-card processing machines — regularly are offered to marijuana shops, but all require the participation of a bank and the vendors aren’t willing to identify their partner.

For that reason, Colorado bankers doubt that MBank’s openness will work.

“I wonder if this bank will suffer the fate as those in Colorado that tried to work openly, only to be told to close accounts,” said Jenifer Waller, vice president of the Colorado Bankers Association. “I’m not sure Colorado banks will step out again after this since each test trial has met with the same result: closed accounts.”

Colorado Springs State Bank was the last to openly work with the marijuana industry here. In October 2011, it closed about 300 industry accounts amid concerns about working with companies that violate federal law. Marijuana remains on the government’s list of illegal drugs, and no bank has stepped into the light since.

That has not happened in the Pacific Northwest, where others willing to openly bank the pot industry have crept forward, including Washington credit unions in Olympia, Spokane and Seattle. Although Colorado awaits the opening of the world’s first pot credit union, that won’t happen until federal regulators approve a master account for the Fourth Corner Credit Union to operate. Baker said he wonders whether the institution will ever open.

MBank first took on Oregon-based medical marijuana businesses in September after clearing its plan with state and federal regulators, but at the time it remained focused on dispensaries in that state alone.

That changed as the bank saw opportunity in “an underserved sector,” Baker said.

MBank won’t have a physical office or employees in Colorado. Cash deposits are to be picked up by contracted armored-car services and brought to a Federal Reserve System bank, such as the one located in downtown Denver. Deposits are then credited to MBank’s account and further credited to the account of the marijuana business.

“It’s all electronic and never physically crosses state lines,” Baker said.

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Colorado Sued Over Marijuana Legalization

Nebraska, Oklahoma Sue Colorado Over Pot

The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, arguing state-legalized marijuana from Colorado is improperly spilling across state lines.

legal marijuana in Colorado draws lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma

Many states are green withy envy as Colorado streamlines law enforcement and the revenue code.

The suit invokes the federal government’s right to regulate both drugs and interstate commerce, and says Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana has been “particularly burdensome” to police agencies on the other side of the state line.

In June, USA TODAY highlighted the flow of marijuana from Colorado into small towns across Nebraska: felony drug arrests in Chappell, Neb., just 7 miles north of the Colorado border have skyrocketed 400 percent in three years.

“In passing and enforcing Amendment 64, the state of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining plaintiff states’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems,” says the lawsuit. “The Constitution and the federal anti-drug laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and licensed distribution schemes throughout the country which conflict with federal laws.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the lawsuit makes a distinction between legalized marijuana and the extensive commercialization permitted by Colorado.

“What we take issue with is this licensing scheme, this commercialization, that the state has promoted at the expense of Oklahoma and Nebraska,” Pruitt said. “This is not just simply that Colorado has legalized the use and possession … there are illegal products that are being trafficked across state lines. Clearly we’ve been injured.”

marijuana legalization

Marijuana sales in Colorado are rising.

In a statement, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said he wasn’t “entirely surprised” by the lawsuit, but said Nebraska and Oklahoma are attacking the wrong people.

“Because neighboring states have expressed concern about Colorado-grown marijuana coming into their states, we are not entirely surprised by this action,” said Suthers. “However, it appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado. We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Lawsuits filed by the states directly with the Supreme Court are rare, and Pruitt said there’s no way to know how quickly the court may respond.

On Jan. 1, Colorado legalized the recreational sale of marijuana to adults, regardless of where they live. And while the law prohibits people from taking that pot outside Colorado, some police officers in bordering states say they’ve seen an increase in marijuana flowing across the borders.

“Is it all coming from Colorado? Hell no. It’s coming from all over. But I can tell you our numbers are double what they were last year,” BJ Wilkinson, the police chief in Sidney, Neb., said in June. “Twice as often now, when we walk up to a car, we can smell burned marijuana.”

The federally funded Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area team says it has documented a 13,000% increase in marijuana seizures in its four-state operating area from 2005 to 2012. Those statistics were gathered before recreational sales of marijuana became legal in Colorado this year.

On Thursday, Deuel County, Neb., Sheriff Adam Hayward welcomed Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s lawsuit. He said he hopes the federal government will act. Hayward for months has been asking his state’s leaders to take a harder line against Colorado’s marijuana marketplace.

He said while marijuana was always available in his area, it was never so widespread. He said minor traffic stops on the nearby interstate that used to take a few minutes to deal with now can take hours because so many people are illegally carrying marijuana out of Colorado.

“And now you’re tying up two or three officers,” Hayward said. “It’s a diversion of resources.”

He said harder drugs, like heroin and meth, have followed the increase in marijuana availability. Deuel County lies on Colorado’s northeastern border.

“You know, they used to be drug dealers. But now they’re legal and they’re called businessmen,” Hayward said. “But those businesspeople haven’t given up their bad habits. They’re selling marijuana out the front door, legal marijuana, and illegal drugs out the back door.”

Legalization advocates said Colorado did the right thing by ending the war on drugs, and said marijuana was widely available and consumed in Nebraska and Oklahoma before Colorado legalized pot.

Colorado’s marijuana system requires extensive background checks for growers and vendors, along with strict ongoing licensing and monitoring by police.

“Coloradans overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing marijuana. In so doing, we’ve chosen the licensed and regulated marijuana businesses over violent criminal organizations. Colorado has created a comprehensive and robust regulatory program for the sale of marijuana in Colorado,” Mike Elliot of Colorado’s Marijuana Industry Group said in a statement. “And the data is overwhelmingly showing that Colorado has enhanced public safety, the economy, and the freedom of its citizens. If Nebraska and Oklahoma succeed, they will put the violent criminal organizations back in charge.”

Mason Tvert of the national Marijuana Policy Project was more blunt: “These guys are on the wrong side of history.”


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Native American Tribes Get Green Light On Marijuana

Tribal Lands Now In The Marijuana Business

As if state and federal drug policies weren’t already a mishmash of contradiction and confusion, the U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that Native American tribes can grow or sell marijuana on their reservations, even in states that have not legalized pot for medicinal or recreational purposes. The decision was a further recognition of the sovereignty of Indian lands. But its ramifications will be felt far beyond the reservations.

native Americans and marijuana

Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the federal government ranks marijuana in the same category of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and PCP — defined as narcotics that have no established medical use and carry a high potential for abuse. But in 1996, California voters became the first to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, launching a movement that now includes 23 states. Four states have voted to legalize pot for recreational purposes as well.

That growing conflict between state and federal law led the Justice Department earlier in the Obama administration to declare that it would respect the states’ decisions as long as they follow certain guidelines, including action to prevent distribution of marijuana to minors and to prevent money from marijuana sales going to gangs or cartels. That hasn’t worked out so well in California, leading to a hodgepodge of differing local ordinances throughout the state and creating a nightmare for local law enforcement agencies, not to mention neighborhoods concerned about crime and easier access to the drug by children.

Last week’s decision regarding Indian reservations in essence all but legalizes marijuana — for medical or recreational use — in any state where there’s a reservation, even if voters or the legislature in that state have not legalized it.

There are more than 300 Indian reservations in the United States, spread throughout 30 states. San Diego County has 19 reservations, more than any other county in the country, with reservation lands totaling more than 124,000 acres. Tribes that already operate a lucrative casino may not be interested in going into the marijuana business.

On the other hand, poor tribes without a casino but with lots of land might suddenly discover they can grow and sell their way to riches.

The Justice Department apparently has not established specific restrictions or regulations regarding tribal cultivation or sales of marijuana beyond the broad guidelines it asked of the states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug.

The impact on San Diego’s backcountry could be significant as tribes that decide to get into the business compete with each other, with the legal and illegal marijuana dispensaries that already operate in urban areas and with the international drug cartels.

And it is yet another example of the administration skirting Congress to enact a major change in drug policy by decree.


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The History Of Medical Marijuana In America

Cannabis First Taxed As Medicine In 1937

The use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back at least 3,000 years. It came into use in Western medicine in the 19th century and was said to relieve pain, inflammation, spasms, and convulsions.

marijuana helps TBI patients

Medical marijuana is nothing new in the U.S. or other countries.

In 1937, the U.S. Treasury began taxing Cannabis under the Marijuana Tax Act at one dollar per ounce for medicinal use and one hundred dollars per ounce for recreational use. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed this regulation of Cannabis and did not want studies of its potential medicinal benefits to be limited. Unfortunately, in 1942, Cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia because of continuing concerns about its safety. In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which included Cannabis with narcotic drugs for the first time.

Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, mescaline, methaqualone, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB).

Although Cannabis was not believed to have any medicinal use, the U.S. government distributed it to patients on a case-by-case basis under the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug (IND) program between 1978 and 1992.

The Cannabis plant produces a resin containing compounds called cannabinoids. Some cannabinoids are psychoactive (acting on the brain and changing mood or consciousness). In the past 20 years, researchers have studied how cannabinoids act on the brain and other parts of the body. Cannabinoid receptors (molecules that bind cannabinoids) have been discovered in brain cells and nerve cells in other parts of the body. The presence of cannabinoid receptors on immune system cells suggests that cannabinoids may have a role in immunity.

Cannabinoids cause drug-like effects throughout the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. They are also known as phytocannabinoids. The main active cannabinoid in Cannabis is delta-9-THC. Another active cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which may relieve pain and lower inflammation without causing the “high” of delta-9-THC.

Cannabinoids may be useful in treating the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Other possible effects of cannabinoids include:

  • Anti-inflammatory activity;
  • Blocking cell growth;
  • Preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors;
  • Antiviral activity;
  • Relieving muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis; and
  • Relieving nausea and ocular pressure.
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More Marijuana Initiatives On November Ballot

Marijuana Movement On Four Ballots

Marijuana advocates are hoping to extend the legalization wave in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, and pass medical cannabis in Florida.

Styled after Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in Colorado in 2012, Measure 91 would set up a state-regulated marijuana market. Home growing would be allowed. Unlike Washington’s I-502, there is no DUID provision written into the proposed law. Taxes and fees would be much less than those imposed in Colorado and Washington. Oregon doesn’t have a state sales tax. The flat tax per ounce from processor to retailer would be $35. License fees would be $1,000 annually. Run by New Approach Oregon and funded largely by the Drug Policy Alliance, Measure 91 currently has a 7-point lead in the polls.

marijuana legalization Oregon Florida Alaska

Marijuana sales in Colorado are rising.

Alaska – Measure 2

Measure 2 would fix the confusion over marijuana law in Alaska by regulating it and setting up the framework for a legal market. In 1975, Alaska’s Supreme Court essentially legalized possession and small-scale grow-ops (24 plants) in the state. Over the years, there’ve been many efforts to overturn that decision. Now voters can decide for themselves. Measure 2 allows  for possession of up to one ounce and the growing of six plants per person. The excise tax from processor to retailer would be $50 per ounce. Drugged driving would be treated similarly to driving under the influence of alcohol, though no amount is specified. Run by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska and funded largely by the Marijuana Policy Project, Measure 2 is currently even in the polls.

Florida – Amendment  2

The most contentious of the three state ballot initiatives is being played out in the Sunshine State, which would be the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana if passed. The big problem, since it’s an amendment to the state constitution, is it requires 60% of the vote. The amendment changes the law to read: “The medical use of marijuana by a qualifying patient or personal caregiver is not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under Florida law.” Patients with cancer, MS, glaucoma, hep C, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s and “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential risks” would qualify. No home growing would be allowed. Florida would license dispensaries and processors. Big money has flooded into the state on both sides, led by Sheldon Adelson on the No on 2 side to the tune of $4 million. John Morgan, whose United for Care group is leading the Yes on 2 charge, has pitched in $3.5 million of his own money. Amendment 2 currently has an 8-point lead in the polls.

Washington, DC – Initiative 71

Hot on the heels of marijuana decriminalization going into effect in July in the nation’s capitol comes Initiative 71, which would go quite a bit farther in allowing possession of two ounces and home growing (six plants) without any penalty whatsoever. It falls short of setting up a commercial retail market for marijuana and could run into interference from Congress if passed. Run by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, Initiative 71 currently has a 16-point lead in the polls.


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Marijuana Use Associated With Increased Survival In Brain Injury Patients

Cannabis Use Increases TBI Survival Rates

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients with a history of cannabis use possess increased survival rates compared to non-users, according data published this month in the scientific journal The American Surgeon.

marijuana helps TBI patients

Can marijuana help patients with TBI? Hope may be on the horizon.

UCLA Medical Center investigators conducted a three-year retrospective review of brain trauma patients. Data from 446 separate cases of similarly injured patients was assessed. Of those patients who tested positive for the presence of marijuana, 97.6 percent survived surgery. By contrast, patients who tested negative for the presence of pot prior to surgery possessed only an 88.5 percent survival rate.

“[O]ur data suggest an important link between the presence of a positive THC screen and improved survival after TBI,” the authors concluded. “This finding has support in previous literature because the neurological protective effects of cannabinoids have been implicated in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. … With continued research, more information will be uncovered regarding the therapeutic potential of THC, and further therapeutic interventions may be established.”


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Several studies have demonstrated neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids. The objective of this study was to establish a relationship between the presence of a positive toxicology screen for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and mortality after TBI. A 3-year retrospective review of registry data at a Level I center of patients sustaining TBI having a toxicology screen was performed. Pediatric patients (younger than 15 years) and patients with a suspected nonsurvivable injury were excluded. The THC(+) group was compared with the THC(-) group with respect to injury mechanism, severity, disposition, and mortality. Logistic regression was used to determine independent associations with mortality. There were 446 cases meeting all inclusion criteria. The incidence of a positive THC screen was 18.4 per cent (82). Overall mortality was 9.9 per cent (44); however, mortality in the THC(+) group (2.4% [two]) was significantly decreased compared with the THC(-) group (11.5% [42]; P = 0.012). After adjusting for differences between the study cohorts on logistic regression, a THC(+) screen was independently associated with survival after TBI (odds ratio, 0.224; 95% confidence interval, 0.051 to 0.991; P = 0.049). A positive THC screen is associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining TBI.


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Colorado’s Marijuana Market Expanding

Competition Heating Up Among Colorado’s Pot Providers

The state gave medical marijuana dispensaries and growers a nine-month exclusive on the new recreational pot business, fearing an unmanageable explosion of new businesses.

The grandfathering period expires Wednesday, meaning pot shops and growers who weren’t in business before voters approved recreational pot in 2012 are just now able to enter the market.

marijuana growing and selling in Colorado

Colorado industries are springing up around the state to support upstart marijuana businesses. More opened up on October 1.

“There’s going to a price war coming. It’s inevitable,” predicted Toni Fox, a marijuana grower and owner of a Denver pot shop. Fox has received a license for a second shop opening Wednesday in Salida.

Colorado is issuing licenses for 46 more pot shops, in addition to about 200 already in place. Colorado is also licensing 37 more growing facilities and 13 new product manufacturers who make marijuana-infused products.

The expansion means pot prices for consumers could soon drop. Recreational marijuana in Colorado currently wholesales for about $1,800 to $2,500 a pound, depending on quality. The addition of new growers starting Wednesday could push the price below $1,000 a pound once those plants mature.

Until now, Colorado’s pot prices have been steep — with customers paying up to $400 an ounce before taxes — because of production caps tied to the pre-existing medical marijuana market. Colorado regulators feared an unmanageable proliferation of new pot shops and growers. Now, the market is for the first time getting bigger.

“Allowing for new entrants into the market will better facilitate a free-market determination of price,” Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said in a statement.

But some warn Colorado needs to watch for overproduction, which could give growers an incentive to sell pot illegally, either out of state or to people under 21.

“We need to produce in Colorado what’s being legally consumed, and no more,” said Mike Elliott, head of the Marijuana Industry Group.

Also Wednesday, Colorado’s pot industry sees the end of the state’s so-called “70/30 Rule,” which stipulated that pot shops had to grow 70 percent of what they sold. The rule was instituted in 2010, to address concerns that medical marijuana shops were acquiring marijuana from the black market. The rule was extended into the recreational market for the first few months, also to reduce volatility.

The end of the “70/30 Rule” means pot retailers don’t necessarily have to grow anything they’re selling. For now, though, retailers say they’ll wait and see how the market changes before considering letting others grow their inventory.

“There’s still an efficiency that exists when you do it all,” said Chris Woods, owner of two dispensaries in Boulder and the recipient of a new retail license.

Woods plans to be one of 21 shops planning to open in Aurora, a Denver suburb which is allowing marijuana sales of any kind for the first time Wednesday. Colorado’s third-largest city did not allow medical marijuana sales, and the grandfathering period meant no stores could open there until Oct. 1.

The industry expansion happens the same day a raft of new marijuana regulations take effect. Many of the changes have already been adopted by producers, so it’s doubtful consumers will notice many of them. But the new regulations include:

—Requiring edible marijuana products to be easier for consumers to divide into “servings” of 10 milligrams of THC, pot’s active ingredient.

—New packaging requirements for products that can’t easily be divided or perforated, such as liquids or granolas.

—Requiring edible marijuana products to undergo testing for common food contaminants such as E. coli and salmonella.

—A requirement that marijuana producers show they’re legally selling 85 percent of their product before getting permission to add plants.

—Lower licensing fees for growers and retailers, as the pot-regulating agency adjusts how much it needs to oversee the industry.


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Cooking With Marijuana

Boulder Or Bust For Vogue Reporter

By Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue

As we circled the Denver airport, I could see the haze of cannabis smoke floating over the city—and almost smell it. But the Denver haze was certainly not marijuana smoke. As we would soon learn, although Colorado has legalized the recreational use of cannabis—smoking, eating, drinking, and absorbing (sublingually or transdermally)—it has also tightly regulated it. For one thing, you’re not allowed to smoke marijuana or hashish in public. Or in your car. Or use it in the same place where you buy the stuff—which effectively rules out cannabis restaurants and bars.

cook with marijuana

The joy of cooking with cannabis–Colorado style.

Our destination was Boulder, Colorado, a scant hour’s drive northwest from the Denver airport. And our goal was to experience, or re-experience, the joy of cooking with cannabis. I had been wary of the entire project because, for one thing, I had not smoked or ingested marijuana or hashish for at least 25 years (although before that, I would have considered myself an experienced user with some personal knowledge of other psychotropic substances), and I didn’t look forward to starting up again. For another, my two experiments with cannabis cooking in those long-lost times had been less than brilliant. We were graduate students in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and we melted a pound of supermarket butter in a saucepan, chopped up a half-ounce of the cheap marijuana typical of that era, stirred it into the butter, and simmered it softly for nearly an hour until the butter turned green. Then we baked brownies and cookies with it and ate a few, having calculated that one marijuana cigarette, also known as a joint, would be equal to one brownie plus one cookie, or three cookies.

The taste and texture were repulsive, but we put up with them in honor of the scientific method and because we hated the idea of wasting an entire half-ounce of cheap marijuana. As we had anticipated, we felt no immediate effect. Most of us resisted the urge to eat more cookies. And then, after less than an hour’s delay, we all gradually became pleasantly high.

People who prefer eating cannabis to smoking it cite several advantages. For one, you can eat cannabis in public or in private, and nobody will know you’re not chewing on a Milky Way bar. Also, most people these days seem to recoil at the thought of inhaling huge gusts of thick smoke, regardless of their source. I suspect that cooking is part of Nature’s Plan for cannabis, which has very little effect until you heat it above 200° F. As for its indelicate taste, that may be ancient history. From what I have read, today’s cannabis growers have bred strains so potent that very little is needed to “medicate,” as the current expression goes, a muffin or a scone.

marijuana and food

Marijuana patients who buy too much, too frequently raising eyebrows.

The drive to Boulder was easy and flat, affording me ample time to worry about five problems: Where would I cook? What would I cook? How would I get marijuana or hashish into it? How would I be able to calculate the correct dose? And how would I react to marijuana after all these years?

Boulder is a small city of about 100,000, built in the mid-1800s right where the Great Plains stop at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It is home to the main campus of the University of Colorado. My wife, Caron, and I once spent part of several summers using Boulder as a staging area for what was then viewed as extreme backpacking (35 years and 45 pounds ago, speaking just for myself) and to visit a Buddhist study center that interested us. Boulder was a major hippie hub, and people smoked cannabis pretty freely in the streets. As we were to discover, that Boulder is gone.

We reached the St. Julien Hotel and settled into our room. Friends had told us the St. Julien is the best hotel in town (we didn’t inspect all the others, but I wouldn’t be surprised), and it was a handsome place with sophisticated service, a good restaurant, fine bar, and large, airy, comfortable public areas inside and out. Its one flaw is perhaps an excess of what one might call New Boulder Attitude or NBA: No smoking of any kind is permitted anywhere on the property, which I learned when I telephoned the hotel from home. I spoke with a cordial hotel official, explained my project to him, and asked whether I might arrange to borrow the kitchen in occasional off-hours to carry out myVogue assignment—to cook with cannabis, all absolutely perfectly legal under state and local law. “It’s up to the executive chef, Laurent Méchin,” he said.

Chef Méchin told me that it was not up to him. It was up to the hotel management, who wanted nothing to do with cannabis, raw or cooked. (As I explained it to myself, prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada—yet not everybody there is expected to engage in it.) But Chef Méchin (let’s call him Laurent from here on), who trained in France and came to this country when he was 25, which was 25 years ago, and who was neither interested in cannabis cooking nor appalled by it, graciously offered to search for a commercial kitchen near the hotel and to telephone two other chefs who he thought knew much more about marijuana and hashish than he did. One of these was Pieter Dijkstra, chef de cuisine at the Spice of Life catering company. When I telephoned Pieter, he was enthusiastic about the project and said that, depending on his catering schedule, a kitchen might be free for our experiments. With that, one heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders.

The word cannabis comes from the Greek for hemp. For thousands of years, the fibers of the hemp plant have been made into rope, fabric, and paper, or burned as fuel; its seeds have been eaten as a highly nutritious food or pressed to expel an oil for lighting and cooking. These useful products of the hemp plant must be imported into the U.S. because it is a violation of federal law to grow any kind of hemp here without a permit from the DEA. The flowers of the female hemp plant contain psychoactive substances, resins, and are classified as a dangerous drug—more dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine.

People who enjoy smoking or eating cannabis report a range of sensations, going from a mellow mood all the way to a sense of exaltation. It is common to hear a happy user report that he or she has heard the inner voices of music for the first time. J. S. Bach is often mentioned.

Eating cannabis in excessive doses, especially when one is anxious or depressed, can result in an agonizing period of fear, paranoia, self-deprecation, and frightening hallucinations—what used to be known as a bad trip, a “bum trip,” or a “bummer,” lasting between one and several hours. That’s why when you cook or eat cannabis, you pay lots of attention to the size of the dose. A star columnist atThe New York Times, Maureen Dowd, wrote a piece at the beginning of June about a trip to Denver, where she bought a legal chocolate-caramel cannabis candy bar that reminded her of the Sky Bars she had loved as a child. Alone in her hotel room, she ate the whole thing, even though it contained sixteen moderate doses of cannabis. Not surprisingly, she had a harrowing, terrifying experience. For some reason, she wrote about it, and for some reason, the paper published what she wrote. Even to some of Dowd’s longtime fans, this did not seem fundamentally different from drinking a quart of bourbon, getting behind the wheel of an unfamiliar sports car, and totaling it.

It is true that 23 states, and D.C., have legalized the cultivation, sale, and use of cannabis for medical purposes, and two states—Colorado and Washington—have legalized it for recreational use, but all these activities are still violations of federal law. A federal marshal can arrest medical marijuana patients or recreational users, lock them up, and throw away the key. The U.S. Department of Justice has never given a free pass to cannabis fanciers—medical or recreational—but in 2013, the U.S. deputy attorney general, in an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, issued what came to be known as the Cole Memorandum, which relegated strict enforcement of the federal law against possession, sale, and so forth, to the bottom of the department’s drug-enforcement priorities. You can read and interpret the Cole Memorandum for yourself; the Web address is so long that it will be easier for you to Google it.

The following day we slept in, trying to recover from three domestic flights, which had required each of us to stand in 30 lines in four days. (In prehistory, our natural state, did humans ever stand in line?)

This would be a grueling day of exploration and research. I had brought four cannabis cookbooks with me and read them throughout the late morning, trying to figure out whether a cannabis cuisine exists and what the term could possibly mean. Then we drove to the Farm.

The Farm is probably the best-known and best-stocked cannabis shop in Boulder. The one-story building with a little clock tower on the roof and a huge, well-executed mural of a farm covering one wall, stands by itself in the corner of a parking lot that serves a small shopping area. There are two sizable public rooms inside, one with easy chairs and a couch, on which you can browse through local alternative newspapers and cannabis magazines and books while you wait to be admitted to the “flower room.”

The “flower room” is where everything for sale that can get you high is on display. There are the buds themselves, straight (75 percent) THC oil, hash oil, and various extracts and tinctures. (For hashish itself, we were directed to another excellent shop called Terrapin Care Station.) Before venturing into the more mysterious world of buds, we chose: (1) a long, elegant clear plastic tube containing ⅓ gram of liquid hash oil; (2) a small brown glass bottle labeled Dixie Elixirs Dew Drops Vanilla 100 mg; (3) Canyon Cultivation Vanilla Mint Liquid; (4) Dixie Elixirs Pain Relief Salve 1 oz. (for Caron’s fractured thumb); (5) two perfectly packed marijuana cigarettes; and (6) a few “edibles,” as they are universally known—medicated candies and candy bars, cookies, and brownies.

Everybody seems to agree that a mild or starting dose would contain five to ten milligrams of THC, short for “tetrahydrocannabinol.” And the labels on most edibles let you know the precise amount of THC in each portion, or at the very least, how much you’d have to eat to ingest one dose. Caron shared a love of hard-candy lemon drops with her late mother, Marjorie, and so we bought several packages of medicated lemon drops. Each one, the label told us, contained one dose of 10 mg of THC. When a label is not so explicit and precise as this, then you should just say no. After all, in a place like Boulder or in a shop like the Farm there are so many ways to get high that there’s no reason to risk having a bad trip, a bummer.

And now it was time to select our buds. These were kept in clear little pill bottles in a locked case. (Buds are priced at $300 or more an ounce, the most costly cannabis item for sale.) They were a medium dusty green with highlights of gold or red or lavender. How could we possibly choose? First off, each bottle of buds was labeled as an eighth or a quarter or a half, which refers to the fractions of an ounce that the buds inside weighed. Some of their names were Mad Cow, Sunset Haze, Silver Crown, Blue Dream, Buddha’s Sister, Blackberry Kush, and Alpha Blue. There were 21 separate strains the day we were shopping; The Farm’s daily menu can always be found on its Web site. Each one was classified as Cannabis Sativa or Indica (the two species), or as a hybrid of the two. The Farm grows its own plants and has the buds analyzed in a laboratory, and its menus and labels list the percentage by weight in each strain made up by the three most common active ingredients, or cannabinoids.

Our bill came to $225, and everything we bought was loaded into a heavy, zippered, white plastic envelope, whose purpose was to avoid public display of cannabis. Back at the hotel, I needed to maintain a precise and sober mental state because I had lots of reading to do. Caron didn’t, because she had just finished planning an exhibition back in New York. I wondered whether performing amateur medical experiments on one’s wife violates any moral, ethical, social, legal, patriarchal, or aesthetic principles. Caron’s response was “When will we finally stop beating around the bush and actually get high?”

So I proposed to undertake my first act of cannabis cooking—really, cannabis food preparation. I would take one of the yogurt packages that Caron incessantly buys, squirt in the proper amount of THC extract, and stir until well-combined. I knew that Caron would finish all the yogurt, because she always does, and so I needed to add one dose containing between five and ten milligrams of THC to the entire cup.

The label on the little brown glass bottle said that it contained ten doses of ten milligrams each, all dissolved in three ounces of alcohol. If only I had brought my finely calibrated scale, accurate to within one hundredth of a gram—this is my wife we’re talking about!—or even a set of kitchen measuring spoons. I would use the eyedropper. But how many drops? Caron was growing impatient. I looked up the size of an official drop. Problem is, there are several official drops. I chose 20 drops to one milliliter and ended up squeezing 90 of them into Caron’s yogurt. This was the most convoluted dose calculation I had to make, and it was the fault of whoever labeled the bottle. Why include an eyedropper if you don’t tell people how many drops to use?

As expected, Caron quickly finished her cup of medicated yogurt. Forty minutes later, she began to feel its effects, which mounted pleasantly for the following 90 minutes and then faded away. The regrettable part is that Caron has now remembered all too clearly how much she had enjoyed cannabis 25 years ago. Have I inadvertently aroused a slumbering demon? In every other respect, my first bit of cannabis food preparation was a rousing success, and I can announce that no wives were harmed in the making of this article.

I immediately put aside my concern for Caron’s welfare and turned to something more pressing. I had spent the previous two hours combing through my cannabis cookbooks and ended up with a serious intellectual dilemma that could torpedo my entire assignment for Vogue.

The yogurt experiment had taught me that: (1) adding a psychoactive ingredient into any food is child’s play; (2) figuring out the proper dose usually requires only middle school math, or even less than that, or nothing at all; (3) I had discovered nothing of gastronomic interest in cannabis cuisine; and (4) I would have nothing to write about.

Cannabis recipes seem to fall into four types. By far the most common involves simply adding one form of cannabis or another to a standard dish: a pan of lasagna, a sheet of brownies, a loaf of banana bread. Whether a cannabis-lasagna recipe is worth cooking depends entirely on the gastronomic virtues of the lasagna itself. The second type of recipe is just like the first except it boasts that it’s a “healthy” recipe. These belong in the same circle of hell crowded with many self-consciously “healthy” cookbooks.

The third type represents the central idea of Jessica Catalano’s The Ganja Kitchen Revolution—that marijuana is an herb, that each strain has its own aroma and taste, and that in cooking it should play its part in creating the flavor of the dish, just like sage or tarragon. Catalano’s recipes endeavor to do this, and she has compiled a chart that lists 57 strains and their personalities. I was unable to test out her theory, because I had not yet sniffed a cannabis bud that I found pleasant enough to enhance a dish. Second and even more crucial, I wasn’t rich enough to purchase a wide enough variety of buds. Still, there’s no doubt that if Catalano’s theory works, it would lead to a true cannabis cuisine.

The High Times cookbook is in a category of its own—intelligent, savvy, and knowledgeable about food, with excellent general information about cannabis and cooking with it. Yes, some of the recipes are of the getting-high-on-apple-pie variety. But the folks at High Times magazine know something about the role cannabis has played in the world’s history and culture, and my favorite recipes are those for iconic dishes, such as hash brownies, or those that cannot exist without cannabis, such as bhang. The original recipe for hash brownies is often attributed to Alice B. Toklas and her famous cookbook of 1954; but Toklas’s recipe is for “Haschich Fudge,” less a fudge than a dried-fruit-and-nut ball with chopped marijuana mixed in. As it involves no cooking, no heat, its cannabis does not get activated. I love Alice B. Toklas, but her fudge tastes unpleasant and won’t do anything for you.

The High Times recipe for bhang got me thinking. Bhang is a widely known medicated beverage from the Hindu scriptures and a great favorite of Lord Shiva. Although it is probably 3,000 years old, I had never tasted bhang. I was eager to try it.

That evening I outlined plans on my yellow legal pad, after which we visited an old friend, a native Californian whom we knew in New York several decades prior. (She later moved to L.A. and wrote for Hollywood, and twelve years ago moved to Boulder, to teach.) She had bought a house perched over a valley fifteen minutes from the center of Boulder and our hotel. Her name is Sara, and in the way it sometimes is with old friends, we picked up our conversation of 40 years just where we had left off.

Sara had become troubled by a severe pain in both knees, and then became afflicted with undiagnosable vertigo. She experienced some relief when she smoked cannabis and was granted a medical-marijuana card, which gave her the right to grow six plants of her own. She offered us a commercially rolled cigarette of Alpha Blue, the really high THC strain we had encountered that afternoon. Working myself to the bone over the previous few days in Boulder, I had still not smoked or eaten any cannabis, and so after 25 abstemious years, I took two deep puffs. A full five seconds later I became incomprehensibly high, then higher, and by the time another minute had passed, anxious, paranoid, self-critical, harshly negative about everything I could think of, including myself and my pets. As it would have been extremely uncool to share my internal state with others, I tried to remember how to smile and then attempted to, with apparent success.

We drove back into Boulder, where we had a restaurant reservation. We ordered a nice meal. For just a moment, I felt great sympathy for what Maureen Dowd had gone through, but only for a moment, because I knew that if you’re anxious about work, fretful that your plans will fall apart, you understand that these thoughts are caused by cannabis but simultaneously that they may be true and you wonder why you would ever smoke cannabis. . . . And then, as suddenly as it had begun, this maze of paranoia completely dissipated, and I was left with an extreme, enjoyable high, bubbling over with hilarious, irrational thoughts and intimations of actual happiness.

Had I made an important medical discovery—that the cure for a bad trip is a plateful of French fries? Maybe they weren’t French fries. Maybe they were oven-crisped kale sticks. Who can possibly remember?

Late on the following afternoon, our entire team met on the terrace of the St. Julien Hotel. Chef Laurent had arranged for an evening cooking session in the kitchen of a small restaurant ten minutes’ drive away. Chef Pieter told us that we could use an ample modern kitchen in a friend’s house 45 minutes into the mountains for our second cooking session. Caron (a curator of Asian art) had assembled a variety of ancient instructions for making bhang. It was a lovely evening, and the hotel’s terrace was popular and crowded. I kidded Laurent that he seemed embarrassed to be seen with us; in reality, he was afraid that the people around us would hear us talking so openly about marijuana. “But it’s perfectly legal,” I said. He Gallically shrugged.

In no time at all, we were ranging through a huge supermarket, then getting lost in the parking lot that served our little restaurant. The kitchen was all stainless steel, small and battered but quite serviceable. Chef Laurent and Chef Pieter immediately got down to work. Following my plan, we baked two packages of medicated cookie dough we had bought at Terrapin, peanut butter and snickerdoodle. The twelve or sixteen cookies had been preformed and needed simply to be peeled off their shiny backing, laid on a cookie sheet, baked until brown, cooled, tasted, and judged awful. Just because a cookie dough contains THC is no excuse for making bad cookies.

Next we turned to oil and butter. The idea is that the psychoactive oils in marijuana and hashish are soluble in fats. We needed to dissolve the THC from our cannabis buds into our butter and oil. At the supermarket, I had bought many pounds of good butter.

And then came the bhang. I chopped very finely a half-ounce of buds and made a tea with it in hot water. We poured the tea into the food processor that Laurent had brought from home and added a quart of warm whole milk, and a quarter-cup of chopped almonds. Now we added a cup of sugar, a good chunk of fresh ginger, and generous pinches of cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon, and let the processor run for a minute or two. We strained the liquid, stirred in a teaspoon of rosewater, and tasted the completed bhang. It was incredibly, wonderfully delicious! Now we knew why Lord Shiva loved it so.

It was time to go home. Pieter and Laurent went into action, washing the pots and pans and cleaning the kitchen in ten minutes. Each of us took either one pound of butter or a quart-and-a-half of bhang. It was after midnight. Pieter, who had abstained from ingesting anything but a little sip of the bhang, drove us all back to the heart of Boulder. Caron and I squeezed plastic bags of medicated butter and the bhang into our minibar, and so to bed.

On the next evening—our last in greater Boulder—I had no plans to cook anything new, but when we returned to the huge supermarket, each chef seemed to have something in mind. Again Pieter was the designated driver. It was 45 minutes to his friend Kip’s striking modern house. On the way, as the road deteriorated with each mile, we passed the funky bars and stores that reminded us of the old ungentrified Boulder. As we drove through the town of Nederland, Pieter or Laurent told us that the music scene here regularly attracted thousands of people. Our host, Kip, and a few of his friends greeted us. The kitchen was enviable, lacking nothing. There were even two stone mortars and two stone pestles for the cannabis. More friends drifted in for the next few hours while, using the medicated oil and butter we had brought, Pieter prepared a hundred or so savory gnocchi with rosemary, and Laurent pan-fried fresh local trout and made a sabayon for dessert. One friend of Kip’s who makes cannabis edibles for sale in Boulder, brought a tray of scrumptious medicated chocolate fudge. Kip supplied bottles of good wine. Somebody suggested that the bhang would make a lighter, more delicious substitute for eggnog at New Year’s. A few guests smoked joints. Unlike the folks in downtown Boulder, nobody recoiled from the smoke.

The 50 guests thus had a wide choice of intoxicants, and nearly everybody seemed mellow and happy and chill. Nobody fell asleep or acted out or had a bad trip. The newly legalized cannabis was simply another option. For all the ambivalence we had found on the gentrified streets of Boulder, I remembered that years ago the Colorado legislature added a new coequal state song to the classic, “Where the Columbines Grow.” It was John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.”


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