Month: January 2021

The Oregon Liquor and CANNABIS Commission is Long Overdue for the OLCC

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has overseen the nascent Oregon cannabis industry since Measure 91 went into effect in 2015. Since then, the OLCC has been the chief regulator over an industry that went from the underground into a licensed and regulated billion dollar business sector. With federal legalization getting closer and closer, the future looks bright Oregon’s cannabis industry to bring in even more revenue, but some sensible reforms are needed at both the state and national levels to fully unleash the economic benefits of cannabis, starting with helping craft cannabis boutiques like Kind Leaf thrive.

Adding “cannabis” to the OLCC’s name, may not seem like much, but it’s an important symbolic step in mainstreaming cannabis and implementing common sense regulations. That said, it’s important that the OLCC not regulate Oregon Medical Marijuana Program as the needs of OMMP patients and providers are distinct from those of consumers and for-profit businesses.

The Willamette Week reported on Governor Kate Brown’s House Bill 2111 would replace the word “control” with “cannabis,” renaming the regulating agency the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission:

With Oregon retailers on a pace to sell $1 billion worth of recreational cannabis in the 2020-21 fiscal year, Gov. Kate Brown is asking lawmakers to change the name of the venerable Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which has worn the same label since its formation in 1933, after Prohibition ended.

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But following voter approval in 2014 of recreational cannabis, the OLCC took on a vast new responsibility, regulating legal weed. (To put the two industries into perspective, the OLCC expects to sell about $777 million worth of distilled spirits in the next fiscal year. That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to cannabis, because it doesn’t include the retail markup on booze, but it shows that cannabis has quickly become a significant industry for the state to regulate.)

Unlike liquor, where established multinational and domestic distillers produce versions of the same booze Oregonians have drunk for decades, cannabis is a rapidly emerging and evolving industry. The state plays a much different role with cannabis: It is not a seller. Instead, the Oregon Department of Revenue collects a tax of 17% at the retail level, while the OLCC provides regulation. It is involved in helping the industry maximize safety without stifling growth and innovation.

With cannabis moving on par with alcohol, in the great state of Oregon and slowly but surely across the USA, the OLCC, legislators, and policymakers need to stop being afraid of federal intervention and start maximizing the industry, while protecting the needs of patients and growers. Oregon needs to move forward with expanding delivery services, allowing cannabis cafes (after the COVID pandemic ends), ending restrictions designed to curb the cannabis supply, and promote the state as a cannabis tourist destination, the same way that our local wineries, microbreweries, and distilleries are celebrated. Changing the name of the OLCC is a start, let’s continue, step by step, to treat cannabis as it should be, as a relatively safe substance. Let’s fully put Reefer Madness behind us and start using some cannabis common sense (hat tip to activist Paul Stanford and his crew) across the board.

Ultimate Fighting Championship Ends Punishment for Positive Cannabis Tests

Step by step, we are seeing cannabis use properly move mainstream and the sports world is no different. Fresh off the heels of the NBA announcing that it will not be drug testing basketball players for cannabis this year, a move expected to become permanent, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has ended its policy of punishing fighters for testing positive for cannabis. Ridiculously, cannabis has been treated the same as steroids or other illegal performance enhancing drugs, with fighters losing fights, pay, sponsorships, and bonuses.

I imagine that fan favorites, and known cannabis connoisseurs Nick and Nate Diaz, smiled when they heard the news, knowing that they were ahead of their time. Pat Healy, who lost at least $130,000 in fight bonuses due to a positive test back in 2013, should get his lost wages, as should every other previously sanctioned fighter, in my personal opinion. The Associated Press reported on the UFC’s landmark testing policy shift on cannabinoids derived naturally from marijuana are no longer prohibited substances, according to Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s senior vice president of athlete health and performance:

The UFC won’t allow fighters to compete while under the influence of cannabinoids, but Novitzky said the promotion recognizes that MMA fighters often use marijuana for pain management or relaxation. Fighters advocating for legal competitive marijuana use have previously argued that a loosening of the UFC’s anti-marijuana rules could lead to a reduction in the use of antidepressants or more addictive pain medications.

The UFC partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 to produce a comprehensive anti-doping program in a notoriously fractious sport. Mixed martial arts once frequently showcased fighters semi-openly using steroids and testosterone replacement therapy, among other performance enhancements.

“The goal of the UFC anti-doping program is to protect the rights of clean athletes by deterring intentional cheaters and holding those who choose to dope accountable in a fair and effective way,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “These amended rules are aimed at this, and to continue our focus on preventing intentional cheating and not to unnecessarily punish athletes for behavior that does not impact the fairness or safety of competition.”

As our nation grapples with so many other health issues, one of the most least addictive and dangerous drugs should not be prohibited, pushing athletes and ordinary folks to use more deadly substances, such as alcohol and opiates. Slowly but surely, it is good to see that science and common sense are winning the day. When it comes to legalization versus prohibition, legalization wins in a knockout.

Amsterdam May Ban Cannabis Tourism, Oregon Should Step Up

I have been so fortunate to travel to Amsterdam a few times and the great city has never disappointed. The Van Gogh museum, the 120-acre Vondelpark, walking around the Jordaan neighborhood to check out the many houseboats on the canals that wind through the city, are must-see attractions along with historical sites like the Anne Frank House and the Old Church, built in 1306. The city is amazingly clean, public transportation is easy to use, the food is great, and I found the locals to be extremely friendly. And yes, of course, the city is known for its cannabis coffeeshops, making Amsterdam a cannabis tourist destination soon after Mellow Yellow was opened by Wernard Bruinin back in 1972. Cannabis tourism will take a serious hit if Mayor Femke Halsema has her way.

In a letter to Amsterdam’s City Council, Mayor Halsema proposed her intention to enforce Netherland’s ban on foreign tourists purchasing cannabis at the city’s famed coffeeshops. DutchNews reported:

In recent months, calls have increased from politicians, businesses, tourist bodies and residents of the Dutch capital to enforce a national law which means only residents can buy from the coffeeshops. It was never enforced in Amsterdam because of concerns that it would drive the trade on to the street.

‘We are absolutely not heading for a cannabis-free Amsterdam because coffeeshops belong to the city,’ Halsema said, according to the Parool. ‘But there is a huge desire to change the tourism. Our freedom should not be a license for large groups of young people to throw up in the canals because they have smoked and drunk too much.’

The mayor also intends to limit the number of coffeeshops in any chain and regulate the supply with a new ‘quality mark’. Although coffeeshops fall under the mayor’s responsibilities, the new proposal will be discussed by Amsterdam council to draw up definitive plans, and there will also be a transition period before any ruling is enforced.

While I certainly defer to the judgment of those living in Amsterdam, I imagine that such a ban on cannabis tourism will be a huge mistake for a number of reasons. First of all, the economy will suffer and second of all, this move won’t end cannabis sales to foreigners, it will just push cannabis sales to tourists underground, unnecessarily turning more people into criminals.

While Amsterdam’s ban on cannatourism will have negative consequences for the international tourist destination, it could open up opportunities for other cities and states, and Oregon should be chomping at the bit (when we can get back to freely traveling and congregating in crowds again, of course). During the COVID pandemic, the cannabis industry has been one of the few bright spots in Oregon and the state should be looking at ways to fully unleash the power of the cannabis community.

It will take a long time for the state to recovery from the pandemic as well as last summer’s wildfires. Unfortunately, fires are likely to be a recurring occurrence, so the state needs to do what it can to maximize its business sectors. Just as Oregon has embraced the local wine and microbrewery industries, it needs to do the same with cannabis.

With a supermajority of Americans now embracing legalization and federal reforms coming soon, Oregon officials need to be bold on a variety of fronts to help the remaining local craft cannabis businesses thrive, and legalizing cannabis cafes and promoting the industry are starting points. Federal legalization is coming relatively soon, (probably not soon enough, but soon) and Oregon should be at the forefront of the industry. However, if the state doesn’t start helping mom and pops and small businesses, there won’t be many Oregonian-owned cannabis businesses prospering. I’ll continue detailing other needed reforms, but step by step, Oregon needs to capitalize on cannabis before it’s too late.

After the Shakeout in Washington, D.C., How Likely Is Cannabis Legalization?

Well, our nation has had a very eventful 2021 thus far, huh? With federal elections finally decided, and a new president set to take office on January 20th, there is one burning question that the cannabis community wants answered: Will cannabis be legalized in the next two years? This is pure speculation on my part, but I would put the chances that federal cannabis legalization is signed into law within the next two years at about 33%, up to a coin flip at best. I do think that we have good odds of seeing much-needed reforms, such as opening up all banking services to state-legal cannabis laws and fixing the 280e IRS tax code that arbitrarily taxes regulated cannabis businesses at an exorbitant rate.

After the United States House passed the historic Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act late last year, most cannabis law reform advocates celebrated the victory as a great step in the right direction, but noted that passage in the Senate was unlikely with Republican Mitch McConnell in charge. After the Georgia special elections in favor of Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Democrat Chuck Schumer will soon be the Senate Majority Leader, and Schumer has pledged to make cannabis legalization a priority. Now, we know that we can’t always expect politicians to follow through on their promises, so it’ll be imperative that we continue to pressure our representatives and let them know that they need to do the right thing and follow the will of the voters, by ending federal cannabis prohibition.

While cannabis legalization should be a no-brainer with strong majority support from voters across the nation, the Senate filibuster rule that can force most bills to need 60 votes to pass will stand as a huge obstacle to passing. The 60 votes could be overcome with some compromises and political horse trading, but Democratic leadership will need to really fight for legalization, and my hunch is that our elected officials will be busy with other issues regarding our health and economy, to place too much political capital in pushing through a legalization bill.

The cannabis community should be emboldened by our political position and strength and work hard to celebrate some major victories around banking, taxes, and other issues that will benefit us, and the nation at large. If we want local craft cannabis businesses like Kind Leaf to fully thrive, we need common sense reforms to pass. Success then begets success, and step by step, we’ll see legalization bills get closer and closer to passage, and if all things go right, we can see federal legalization pass in the near future. I hope that I’m too pessimistic about passage within the next two years, but I’m certainly optimistic about continuing to make good progress, step by step.

Americans are Utilizing Cannabis to Combat Pandemic Burnout

Everybody knows that 2020 was an extremely stressful year, so it’s no surprise that Americans turned to cannabis to help them cope with the stress and isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic. As use has become mainstream and Reefer Madness propaganda has been debunked, a supermajority of voters support ending prohibition, making it no surprise that legalization won big at the November ballot box across our nation. Cannabis was purchased in record numbers in legal states, with consumers wisely turning to online ordering and curbside pickup, like the services offered by Kind Leaf.

Leafly found that nationwide cannabis sales increased by 67% over the previous year, increasing sales from from just over $7 billion nationwide in legal states to nearly than $11 billion. And as Leafly noted, a large number of consumers turned to cannabis to deal with burnout, pandemic related or otherwise, as retail outlets’ were deemed “essential businesses” a rather crazy turn of events for those of us who remember prohibition days:

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in March, many in the cannabis industry worried about a massive industry-wide shutdown. Instead, governors in most states declared cannabis an essential product. Dispensaries and retail stores responded by offering online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery as Covid-safe options for their customers.

Customers, in turn, responded by stocking up for those weeks of stay-at-home advisories. After a brief dip in late-March revenue, most stores saw a significant bump in April—and then the bump became a plateau.

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In October, multi-state dispensary operator Verilife surveyed more than 2,000 Americans and found that 72% of respondents named the Covid-19 pandemic as the leading cause of stress and burnout in their lives this year. Nearly 40% said they have used cannabis to cope with that burnout. Around 37% said they have used CBD, and a further 29% said they have considered using marijuana to lower their stress level this year.

Some nuggets from Verilife’s nationwide burnout survey:

Why are so many Americans experiencing burnout? Well, one reason might be that 73% say life has become overly complicated and 80% say life is more stressful than it was for previous generations. Surprisingly, 89% of Gen Z respondents (age 18-23) feel that their lives are more stressful than other age groups while millennials were least likely to say that their lives are more stressful than other age groups.

One thing all respondents agreed on is that the COVID-19 pandemic was the top reason for burnout in their lives. The pandemic was followed by work, finances, politics and the news. Our habits may be contributing to burnout as well especially during a 24/7 news cycle. Overall, 73% admitted to “doomscrolling,” or scrolling through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. As Americans were glued to the TV and the news during the 2020 presidential election, 67% say they experienced burnout from watching, reading or listening to the coverage. 

With the workplace currently going through dramatic changes such as remote work and social distancing, many respondents say they’ve been stressed out in the workplace. In fact, 80% say burnout has prevented them from focusing at work and more than half (56%) say burnout has prevented them from going to work.

Over 70% of all respondents reported that life has become too complicated, regardless of their generation, and I must admit that I’m envious of those that don’t feel like life is too complicated. We live in trying times and stress is literally a killer. According the the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to several leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, and suicide.

If you are among the nearly 70% of folks that either utilize cannabis or are thinking about using cannabis to relieve stress, then don’t hesitate to venture into Kind Leaf in beautiful Pendleton, Oregon. Not only does Kind Leaf have the best and biggest selection of cannabis and infused-products around, but the staff is knowledgeable, and there are many non-cannabis items to peruse as well. Check out the amazing deals, order online, and use the convenient pick-up window. As always, Eastern Oregon’s premier craft cannabis boutique offers discounts for military veterans, senior citizens, and OMMP patients.

Nearly Half a Million Cannabis Arrest Records Expunged in Illinois

The New Year started off better for nearly 500,000 Illinois residents who have had their lives unnecessarily hindered for utilizing cannabis as Governor JB Pritzker announced that 492,129 cannabis-related arrest records have been expunged by the Illinois State Police. This is such welcome news for people that have had to suffer through Reefer Madness-inspired penalties that hurt people’s ability to get a job, find housing, and earn a better education. As more and more states move away from the failed and racist policy of prohibition, it is extremely important that we remember those harmed by the Drug War and do what we can to repair the damage caused by ignorance, bigotry, and greed by special interests that have profited from the War on Drugs.

Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) has given the state government until 2025 to expunge low-level cannabis arrest and conviction records, but in a somewhat surprising move for government, the Pritzker administration is ahead of schedule. The Governor’s office had this to say in a press release announcing the expungements:

“Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward. I applaud the Prisoner Review Board, the Illinois State Police, and our partners across the state for their extraordinary efforts that allowed these pardons and expungements to become a reality.”
 
The CRTA requires cannabis-related arrest records created between 2013 and 2019 be expunged by January 1, 2021, a total of 47,000 records. With the expungement of all 492,129 cannabis arrest records, ISP is four years ahead of the January 1, 2025 statutory deadline for completing automatic expungements. While the expungement process has been completed at the state level, county clerks are still processing expungements at the local level. Arrest records from DuPage, Kane, Knox, Lake, McHenry, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Will, and Winnebago Counties have been expunged at the local level. The remaining counties have until January 1, 2025 to expunge their arrest records.  
 
“As we near the end of the first year of Illinois’ new legal cannabis industry, I am heartened by the progress we have made towards undoing the harms dealt by the failed war on drugs. Eleven states in the nation have legalized cannabis for recreational use, but no other state has done the important work we’re doing here in Illinois, where equity intentionality takes center stage,” said Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor to the Governor on Cannabis Control. “We are one year into what will be an ongoing effort to correct historic wrongdoings. The administration remains committed to working with legislators to address any challenges to equity and on building an industry that re-invests in our state’s communities.”

One of the issues facing advocates fighting for cannabis legalization is “how” to legalize. I respect many viewpoints that folks have, but personally contend that ending criminal penalties for the cannabis community should be the number one priority. After ending damaging arrests and convictions, it is imperative that we lift up those that have had their lives hurt by prohibition and clearing their criminal records is a necessary foundation of that.

Here in Oregon, we immediately improved expungement laws regarding cannabis convictions following legalization, but we must do more. Too many people are unaware that their records can be expunged or they may lack the resources to submit the necessary paperwork as there are filing fees and some may need to hire an attorney to assist them. Oregon is a pioneer in cannabis law reform, but we can still learn from others. We need to learn from Illinois and other states that have made expungement automatic. Those with Oregon records, can check their eligibility for expungement here with RecordSponge, courtesy of the Qui Qui Law Firm.

Our cannabis tax dollars do a lot of good, especially when we support local businesses, and it’s time that those dollars help repair some of the wrongs of the Drug War. We can be proud that we are setting aside funding for schools and providing more drug treatment and recovery programs, but we need to always remember those harmed by the war on cannabis and utilize our resources in righting some wrongs of our prohibition past as well.