Tag: Colorado

One Strain Five Ways: Sour Diesel in Colorado

While Colorado loves trying new strains as they crop up, they also maintain a healthy appreciation for old standards like Sour Diesel. Below, meet a citrus-flavored Sour Diesel cart, a petite PAX pod, a pre-roll two-pack, a true-to-strain terpene mix, and a Sour Diesel hat pin.

Note: Prices may vary by retailer.

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(Courtesy of Mezz)

Named for jazz legend and famed cannabis consumer Mezz Mezzrow, this flavorful cartridge—filled with Sour Diesel distillate and a hint of lemon-lime flavor—is triple tested for purity and inspires a burst of creativity that would have made its musician namesake proud.

Price: $35

Notes: Goes perfectly with one of the brand’s car key batteries.

When to use it: On the down-low when you’re on the go. 

(Courtesy of Pax)

Designed to deliver consistent flavor and vapor from first hit to last, little PAX Era Pods work with their eponymous device to deliver strain-specific vape hits that are as convenient as they are consistent.

Price: $60

Notes: Produced via partnerships with different cannabis producers in each state market.

When to use it: All day long. 

(Courtesy of Willie’s Reserve)

Willie Nelson’s signature brand churns out great flower, cartridges, edibles, and more, and the pre-rolls are no exception. They bring on a happy, true-to-strain high, complete with all the creative energy and euphoria to be expected of Sour D.

Price: $15

Notes: Pre-rolls contain 0.5g flower.

When to use it: When you want to get high like a rock star. 

(Courtesy of Captain Fogg)

Fogg Flavor Labs, LLC offers pure steam-distilled terpene concoctions designed to match the flavor profiles of specific strains, including Sour D. Use one drop per gram of concentrate to provide a Sour Diesel-like experience no matter what the extract.

Price: $19.99

Notes: Available across the US.

When to use it: Mixed with dabs for an extra-bold bump of flavor. 

(Courtesy of Leafly)

Take a look around a few Colorado dispensaries and you’ll see them everywhere—Leafly hat pins in indica, sativa, and hybrid strain varieties that let budtenders show off their affinity for their favorite cannabis category. The set of three includes Northern Lights, OG Kush, and of course Sour Diesel.

Price: $5

Notes: Set of three (one pin of each strain).

When to use it: As a subtle way to connect with other enthusiasts.

Where Are They Now: Legalization Leaders 5 Years After the Vote

Five years ago today–on November 6, 2012–Washington State voters approved Initiative 502, and Colorado voters passed Amendment 64. Both measures legalized the adult use of cannabis and signaled the start of the state legalization movement that continues today.  

Back in 2012, no state had legalized recreational cannabis. California tried, and failed, with Proposition 19 in 2010.  Fewer than 20 states had legalized medical marijuana. Today eight states (plus Washington, DC) have made the adult use of cannabis legal, while 29 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana. Those numbers are expected to continue their growth. 

Even as the numbers came in, a lot of supporters were “still a little in disbelief” that night, according to this Nov. 6, 2012, report from Denver 7, the city’s ABC affiliate:

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The efforts in Colorado and Washington State didn’t happen by themselves. They required years of initiative, drive, vision and leadership from political activists, advocates, sponsors and others who saw that legalization’s time had come.

We caught up with a half-dozen of those leaders and asked them to look back at their work, while looking forward at the future of the legalization movement. 

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Betty Aldworth

Aldworth: Now working with 5,000 advocates at SSDP.

In 2012: Advocacy Director, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Colorado 

Aldworth was the campaign’s primary spokesperson. She organized grassroots supporters who worked the field, wrote letters to the editor and represented the campaign in their communities.   

Today:  Executive Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Washington D.C. 

‘In an election, there’s nothing more dangerous than believing you’re going to win.’

Betty Aldworth, Amendment 64 Advocacy Director

When did you know the measure would pass? 

At about 9:15 on election night, Mason, Brian, and I were huddled around (then-Marijuana Policy Project’s government relations director) Steve Fox and his laptop where we were looking at county-by county returns. Denver was slow to come in, but Steve had been running the numbers for hours. I don’t remember what he said, but I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he knew we had it — and that’s when I knew. The AP called it 15 or 20 minutes later. The smartest people I know had been certain we would win for at least a week, but in an election there’s nothing more dangerous than believing you’re going to win.  

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How did its passage change or alter the direction of your life or career? 

If it weren’t for the work I did on Amendment 64, I don’t think the path to work with Students for Sensible Drug Policy would have opened to me. I was able to work on a state campaign with a national audience, see first-hand how powerful our student movement is, and demonstrate my approach to grassroots, self-governed organizing through the work. Today, I get to support 5,000 young people in 26 countries working on broad drug policy and criminal justice reforms in their communities thanks to my work on Amendment 64.  

What has surprised you about how legalization has rolled out in either state? 

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that youth arrests and racial disparities in those arrests continue to grow. While the story has, overall, been an exceptionally positive one, those arrests demonstrate how critically important it is that we always center the communities most often targeted by the War on Drugs in all our reforms lest we continue to leave them behind. Our task now is to ensure that the examples of California and Massachusetts, where drafters thoughtfully approached these questions, and Senator Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act will provide the benchmarks upon which future reforms will improve.  

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Above: Aldworth, at the 2012 victory celebration, advocated a ‘sensible, evidence-based approach.’

Mason Tvert

Tvert: ‘Took nothing for granted.’

In 2012: Co-director, Amendment 64 campaign 

Working for the Marijuana Policy Project, Tvert helped organize the campaign that put Colorado’s Amendment 64 on the ballot. 

Today: Vice President, Public Relations and Communications at VS Strategies, a cannabis advocacy, communications and public policy consulting firm, Denver 

When did you know the measure would pass? 

I was cautiously optimistic heading into Election Day thanks to our tracking poll, but I did not take anything for granted until the results came in that evening.    

How did its passage change or alter the direction of your life or career? 

‘I’ve been surprised to see so many elected officials still dragging their feet on this issue.’

Mason Tvert, Amendment 64 advocate

It inspired a tidal wave of media coverage and public dialogue, which seemed to create a domino effect. Public support increased, momentum built at the federal level, and other states were inspired to tackle the issue in their legislatures and through ballot initiatives. The issue became more mainstream and legitimate, which meant the work I was doing became more mainstream and legitimate in the eyes of the public and particularly the media.  

What has surprised you about how legalization has rolled out in either state? 

Many elected officials have come around quite a bit, but I have been surprised to see there are still a lot who are dragging their feet on this issue. For example, it’s hard to imagine why city council members in some cities are still outlawing adult sales, forfeiting tax revenue and jobs, and forcing citizens to travel to other communities to purchase this legal product.  

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Above: Mason Tvert in 2010, speaking as founder of the advocacy group Marijuana is SAFER Than Alcohol.

Mark Johnson

Johnson: Late poll numbers were promising.

In 2012:  Owner/Partner, Johnson Flora PLLC, Former president, Washington State Bar Association 

Vocal supporter of Washington Initiative 502  

Today: Owner/Partner at Johnson Flora Sprangers PLLC, Seattle 

When did you know the measure would pass? 

For me it was really the last few weeks of the polling. Those numbers made it look very promising. I think the final total was 55% or 56% in favor. 

How did its passage change or alter the direction of your life or career? 

It didn’t alter my career. I am a civil trial lawyer and cannabis law was not, and is not, a part of my practice. 

What has surprised you about how legalization has rolled out in either state? 

I am surprised at the large number and high quality of available cannabis products. It’s remarkable. 

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Alison Holcomb

Holcomb: People knew prohibition was a failed policy.

In 2012:  Campaign Director, Criminal Justice & Drug Policy Reforms, ACLU 

Holcomb drafted Initiative 502 and was head of the campaign that led to its passage. 

Today: Director of Strategy, ACLU of Washington, Seattle  

When did you know the measure would pass? 

‘Providing people an opportunity to take direct action to change bad policies was inspiring in ways I’d never imagined.’

Alison Holcomb, Campaign Director, Washington’s I-502

I’ll never forget the moment, standing at the podium at our election night party with several microphones, recorders and cameras aimed at me.  Our deputy campaign director Tonia Winchester had handed me her phone with the initial returns downloaded from the Secretary of State, and we were badly underwater.  Struggling to maintain my composure and optimism, I shared the glum news with the room and started explaining how it was early yet, there were still a lot of votes to be counted, yada, yada, yada … and then our friend and amazing harm reduction advocate Kris Nyrop charged the podium and handed me his phone.  “You’re not looking at the King County results.  We’re winning!”  He was right.  The Secretary of State numbers didn’t yet include King County, where initial returns had us leading well over 60 percent.  I knew then we had it in the bag.  

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How did its passage change or alter the direction of your life or career?  

Writing a ballot initiative and running a statewide campaign marked a significant change from my prior career as a litigator.  Providing people an opportunity to take direct action to change bad policies having widespread negative impacts in their communities was inspiring in ways I’d never imagined.  Since November 2012, I’ve dedicated myself to political and policy advocacy for major systems change. 

What has surprised you about the way legalization has rolled out? 

Honestly, not a lot.  We knew the sky wasn’t going to fall, and also that there would be bumps in the path moving forward.  People understood that treating cannabis use as a crime was a failed policy, and also that we’d have to work together to develop and refine new policies in uncharted territory. 

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Above: Holcomb getting out the vote in Seattle, August 2012.  

Brian Vicente

Vicente: Staring down 80 years of prohibition.

In 2012: Partner/Founding Member, Vicente Sederberg LLC 

Vicente was co-director of the Amendment 64 campaign and one of the measure’s primary authors. 

Today: Partner, Vicente Sederberg LLC/ Principal, VS Strategies, Denver 

When did you know the measure would pass? 

As someone who has devoted his entire professional career to legalization, I was always cautiously optimistic that legalization would occur in my lifetime.  The fact that I was part of the team that accomplished this milestone is humbling.  During the campaign and the years of challenging advocacy work prior, we were staring down 80 years of Prohibition laws.  So, to think that a team of young idealists from Colorado could dismantle that longstanding policy was a stretch.  I was skeptical about our chances until the final hours before the win.  I’ll never forget our team and supporters watching the results roll in at the election night party.  It was electric and we knew we had just made history.   

‘I conducted about a dozen media interviews daily for the following six months.  The level of national and international interest was astounding.’

Brian Vicente, Co-author, Colorado’s Amendment 64

How did its passage change or alter the direction of your life or career? 

Legalizing marijuana had a dramatic effect on my life and career.  Overnight, this issue and advocates such as myself became “mainstream”.  The issue that we had fought so hard for was suddenly being discussed on talk shows, news sources, and by mainstream politicians.  I conducted about a dozen media interviews daily for the following six months.  The level of national and international interest was astounding.  As one of the chief authors of the law, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the details and intent with elected officials and influencers from Australia to Slovenia, as those countries consider implementing the “Colorado model”.  My law practice has grown as well. I started doing marijuana legal work in my basement in Capitol Hill, Denver in 2004.  Our firm now has over fifty staff and four offices around the country and we strive daily to continue to be “thought leaders” in the Post-Prohibition world. 

What has surprised you about how legalization has rolled out in either state? 

I was shocked by the level of institutional support that marijuana legalization received quickly in Colorado.  Remember, nearly every elected officials in the state officially opposed the measure. So to have them immediately contact our office and volunteer their support with implementing it was very important and powerful.  I have also been very happy to see opiate deaths go down in states, like Colorado, that legalize marijuana.  That is a major positive that I did not see coming.  Finally, it has been wonderful to see much of the stigma around adult marijuana use and medical marijuana begin to dissipate.  We still have a long way to go, but I’m glad that more and more adults, both sick and healthy, are looking to use marijuana instead of far more harmful substances like alcohol or opiates.  

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Above: Vicente laying the groundwork among activists at Seattle’s Hempfest in the summer of 2010.

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Pete Holmes

Holmes: Activism can change bad policy.

In 2012: Seattle City Attorney 

An outspoken critic of the War on Drugs, Holmes became a primary sponsor of Initiative 502. 

Today: Seattle City Attorney 

When did you know the measure would pass? 

About 8 p.m. that Tuesday night. I was always optimistic but never confident. 

How did its passage change or alter the direction of your life or career? 

It confirmed for me that political activism can change bad policy when legal action falls short. 

What has surprised you about how legalization has rolled out in either state? 

I’m surprised how well it’s worked out here; it’s surpassed our expectations. Given the new administration in D.C., I would rather be an entrepreneur in Washington state than in Colorado.  I’m glad we don’t have home grows now, although we will eventually. I don’t think Attorney General Sessions will target Washington, unless he goes after every state. 

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Above: Holmes opens the legal era in Washington with a purchase at Cannabis City, Seattle, July 2014.  

On Legalization’s 5th Anniversary, Here’s What We’ve Learned.

Monday, November 6, 2017, marks the five-year anniversary of the glorious back day in 2012 when Colorado and Washington voted to become the first two US states to legalize recreational cannabis.

‘We have not experienced any significant issues as a result of legalization.’

Dr. Larry Wolk, Head of Colorado’s Department of Public Health

Since then, the data generated by those two states have refuted pretty much every dire fear that the nation’s drug warriors predicted would come to pass. Legalizing and regulating cannabis has made for a safer and more just society, while ushering in the beginning of the end of a costly, massively corrupt, and wholly counterproductive war on a largely beneficial plant.

Perhaps the most definitive conclusion to the great “legalization experiment” was given recently by Dr. Larry Wolk, head of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. When asked by CBC Radio what he’s seen in the five years adult-use cannabis has been legal, Wolk said:

“The short answer is we have not seen much. We have not experienced any significant issues as a result of legalization. I think a lot of people think when you legalize you are going from zero to some high-use number, but they forget that even when marijuana is not legal, one in four adults and one in five kids are probably using on a somewhat regular basis. What we’ve found since legalization is that those numbers haven’t really changed.”

So as we celebrate the five-year mark, let’s address the most important sets of evidence that Colorado and Washington have given us.

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No rise in underage use

According to figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in 2015, 21 percent of Colorado youths reported having used marijuana in the past 30 days.

Teen use in Colorado has fallen 4% since 2009. Nationally, it’s at a 20-year low.

That’s less than the national average and less than the 25 percent reported in 2009.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey found that rates of cannabis use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders haven’t changed significantly in the last ten years.

Even nationally, according to the federal National Survey on Drug Use and Health, teen marijuana use is at a 20 year low.

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Arrests Are Way Down*

According to an analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance, arrests in Colorado for cannabis possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana plummeted 95 percent after the state legalized recreational sales.

Arrests in both states fell by 95% to 98%. But troubling racial disparities remain.

The asterisk comes into play when you dig into the numbers and see that marijuana arrest rates for black citizens in Colorado remain 2.4 times higher than for whites (despite using cannabis at roughly the same rate). Even more alarmingly, according to NPR, in the first two years after legalization in Colorado “the marijuana arrest rate for white 10- to-17-year-olds fell by nearly 10 percent… while arrest rates for Latino and black youths respectively rose more than 20 percent and more than 50 percent.”

According to the ACLU, marijuana possession cases in Washington fell 98% the year after legalization, but racial disparities remain strong there as well.

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Traffic Fatalities Did Not Increase

Opponents of legalization often point to misleading statistics showing a rise in “marijuana-related” traffic accidents, but as I noted in a comprehensive primer on drugged driving for Leafly, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Task Force—a federally funded law enforcement organization dedicated to suppressing illegal drugs—admitted in a 2015 report that the term “marijuana-related” does not “necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident,” and applies “any time marijuana shows up in the toxicology report [of drivers]. It could be marijuana only or marijuana with other drugs and/or alcohol.” It also could mean cannabis use that took place days or weeks before the accident.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive study published this June in the American Journal of Public Health found that “three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.”

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Violent Crime Didn’t Rise

Just this past February, US Attorney General and longtime cannabis-foe Jeff Sessions tried to claim there’s a link between legalizing cannabis and increased crime.

Violent crime fell in both states after cannabis legalization.

We’re seeing real violence around [marijuana legalization].” Sessions said in a meeting with reporters. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

Well, if unnamed “experts” are telling you, that’s pretty solid, right? Seems strange though, that taking cannabis sales out of the criminal black market and moving them into a legal regulated industry would create crime. Fortunately, the Drug Policy Alliance ran the numbers, and found that in the year after recreational cannabis sales started, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime, and overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent. Meanwhile in Washington, violent crime fell 10 percent from 2011 to 2014.

Opioid Use Went Down

Just last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (more on him here), in his role as chair of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, actually tried to blame the opioid epidemic’s staggering toll of death and addiction on cannabis.

Opioid-related deaths fell 6% in the two years after Colorado legalization.

Marijuana legalization will lead to more drug use, not less drug use,” Christie said. “[Legalization] will lead to more death not less death, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) has proven it.”

That is not true.

In fact, this May, NIDA added language to its website affirming that access to legal cannabis is associated with “lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of nonmedical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders, and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.”

A separate study that looked into Colorado showed that legalization led to a “reversal” of fatal opioid overdoses, with 2014—the first year of legal adult use cannabis sales—marking the first time overdose deaths decreased since at least 2000, when they began to rapidly rise.

After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years,” concluded the study, which was published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health.

Cannabis Tax Revenue Improved Society

Colorado voted to legalize recreational cannabis in November 2012, but the state’s first legal sales didn’t take place until New Year’s Day 2014. Since then, according to data analyzed by Denver-based VS Strategies, the state has collected more than $500 million in cannabis revenue (a figure that includes taxes on both medical and recreational cannabis, though the vast majority is recreational). In Washington, where the retail tax rate is 37%, the state’s total tax obligation for fiscal year 2016 is $185 million and according to a new report from New Frontier Data is expected to increase 25% to $233 million for fiscal year 2017.

More than $1 billion has been taken off the illicit market and used to build schools and bolster drug education programs.

Taxes get a bad rap, because we tend to think of paying them rather than what they pay for, but already in two relatively small states we’ve seen well over $1 billion that previously went into the illicit market now going towards public education and other popular programs.

Recent research by Leafly found that more than 149,000 full-time jobs are currently supported by cannabis legalization. New Frontier estimates that by 2020 cannabis will create more jobs than manufacturing in the United States. And the industry’s unprecedented growth shows no signs of slowing down.

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“About a year into this job, I’ve finally accepted how explosive growth is in this industry,” Tom Adams, Editor-in-Chief of Arcview Market Research, tells me. “And the detonator on that explosion has been adult use legalization, which takes an often very limited medical marijuana market in a state and opens the doors of the stores to everybody. When that happens, the legal operators really start gobbling up market share that used to belong to the illicit trade, which makes for growth rates not to be found anywhere else that I’m aware of—including the internet boom at its height.”

Specifically, Adams points to a “compound annual growth rate” in Colorado and Washington in the three years immediately following adult use legalization of over 50%—a rate of expansion he says, that “just does not happen” in other industries.

Those Arcview numbers don’t include the economic benefits of a sustained boom in ancillary businesses like real estate, legal services, accounting, and security, or the government’s vast savings on enforcement, prosecution and incarceration. Not to mention all the people who didn’t lose their jobs, get kicked out of school, or otherwise have their lives and finances disrupted over a cannabis arrest.

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Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

On the retail end, one of the most pronounced changes seen since the onset of legal adult use sales has been a marked shift away from sales of dried cannabis bud (flower) and into products like edibles, tinctures, concentrates, and topicals. It takes time for consumers to discover and adopt these products, but they have each steadily created their own thriving market segments while eating into the overall percentage of sales that goes to flower.

Flower purchases have slowed as consumers discover a vast array of new products and choices.

In its annual report, The State of Legal Marijuana Markets – 5th Edition, Arcview Market Research reports that “on average, while the whole market in [Colorado, Washington, and Oregon] grew 47% in 2016, the pre-roll category grew by 121%. Growing more slowly, although notably more rapidly than flower, were the concentrates and edibles categories, which increased by 75% and 53% respectively… compared with growth of just 31% for dried flowers.”

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Some of this disparity can be attributed to reductions in the price of flower, but the data also reflect a distinct change in preference towards other means of consumption. By the end of 2016, sales of dried flower made up just 55% of the product mix by dollar sales in Colorado and 59% in Washington.

Arcview attributes this in part to the fact that while high quality cannabis flower remains readily available on the illicit market, concentrates, edibles, topicals, tinctures and other alternatives can’t easily be found outside the regulated market.

“Legalization has ushered in the age of the tested, packaged, and branded cannabis product,” the report concludes. “Customers buying a given product know what they’re getting, know what it contains, and are assured of a mostly consistent experience. That’s causing long-time cannabis smokers to try out and even embrace other forms of consumption, from vaping and edibles to topicals and pills.”

For those of you (and me!) who still love flower, Leafly’s cannabis experts recently compiled this list of 100 Strains to Try Before You Die

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From Dispensary Founder to Mayor?

To get past the numbers, and delve into the human impact of adult use legalization, I’ll give the last word to Kayvan Khalatbari, co-founder of Denver Relief Consulting, 2019 candidate for mayor of Denver, and an industry veteran who started up the state’s second oldest cannabis dispensary in 2009 “with a $4,000 investment and a quarter-pound of cannabis.”

‘The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that people just aren’t as hard to convince on this topic as I thought they would be.’

Kayvan Khalatbari, Denver dispensary pioneer and mayoral candidate

That was quite an accomplishment. But I’ll always admire him most for his dedicated grassroots cannabis activism, including way back in 2007 when he used to dress in a chicken costume and follow around then Denver mayor (now Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper with a sign that said, ““Hey, Mayor Chickenlooper, What’s So Scary About Marijuana?”

“The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last five years, and even going back further, is that people just aren’t as hard to convince on this topic as I thought they would be.” Khalatbari tells me. “It turns out the opposition to legalization was wide but not deep, and once we started to get data on adult use, and could show politicians and the public that the sky didn’t fall, and revenue went way up, we really started to build momentum, not just in Colorado but nationally as well.”

One interesting byproduct of that has been rapid acceptance of the industry in rural and more traditionally conservative areas that now increasingly see cannabis as an opportunity to bring in jobs and tax revenue. Those regions have begun steadily wooing businesses out of more urban areas, where some residents and regulators have grown wary of the industry’s relentless growth.

Khalatbari worries, however, that as this process of mainstreaming and expansion takes hold, the cannabis industry will move further and further away from its roots as a social justice movement, and become “just about doing business and making a profit.”

Specific areas of concern including boosting Colorado’s notoriously low rates of minority ownership and employment; increasing the industry’s focus on environmental stewardship; and ensuring a more positive impact on communities where cannabis businesses operate, especially those that were disproportionately targeted by the War on Marijuana. “As we consolidate as an industry, and the size of these businesses get bigger, a lot of that tends to fall by the wayside,” Khalatbari says. “At which point we risk becoming just another industry, and not a better industry.”

To that end, he’s a founding member of the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance, and was a driving force behind the Initiative 300 campaign, which allowed Denver to create a pilot social use program. Now he’s planning to sue the city for stalling the Initiative 300 system, and throwing up roadblocks to its success. He’s also concerned that rapid consolidation of the industry has pushed out the original mom & pop style operators.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve seen our ‘unique operators’ in Colorado cut in half in the last two years,” Khalatbari says. “The number of chains have expanded and taken up that market share, which has led to a drop in the price [of cannabis]. We have $100 ounces in Colorado, and obviously that’s good for consumers, but it makes it even harder for those mom & pops to stay afloat and keep up with the economy of scale enjoyed by the bigger operators.”

These are all issues (among many other progressive causes) Khalatbari will be raising in his upcoming campaign for mayor of Denver. And if that sounds like a pipe dream, keep in mind that long before he became the state’s most powerful politician, John “Chickenlooper” started out as a pioneering brewpub owner.

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‘No Significant Issues’ With Legalization, Says Colorado Health Official

On Monday morning, CBC radio host Matt Rainnie interviewed Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health, for Rainnie’s daily Prince Edward Island show “Island Morning.”

Like all Canadian provinces, PEI is working to establish its own rules for the sale and consumption of cannabis, which is expected to operate under full federal legality by the summer of 2018. Provincial officials have discussed the possibility of province-run retail shops, as Ontario is doing, but have yet to take decisive action on the question.

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Like many Canadians, Rainnie’s “Island Morning” listeners have a lot of questions and fears about legalization. Wolk, who has been Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer throughout the state’s three-year adult-use era, was happy to answer questions and clear up myths about Colorado’s experience.

Here at Leafly, we found Wolk’s interview to uncommonly rational, calm, clear-headed, and evidence-based. So we transcribed it, edited it lightly for grammatical clarity, and present it here in order to spread his observations and experience.

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CBC: What have you seen since recreational cannabis has been legal in Colorado?
Dr. Larry Wolk: “The short answer is we have not seen much. We have not experienced any significant issue as a result of legalization. I think a lot of people think when you legalize you are going from zero to some high-use number, but they forget that even when marijuana is not legal, one in four adults and one in five kids are probably using on a somewhat regular basis. What we’ve found since legalization is that those numbers haven’t really changed.”

What was your concern heading into recreational cannabis legalization?
“I think the concern was that by legalizing marijuana, we should certainly see an increase in adult use, and maybe that would leak into our youth. [There was also a concern that] youth would somehow gain greater access, and/or feel entitled to go ahead and use in greater numbers.

Going in, ‘there was a concern’ about increased underage use. ‘We haven’t seen that pan out.’

Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer, Colorado Dept. of Public Health

“We just haven’t seen that pan out. We have seen a little bit more calls to the poison control center, but maybe parents of children are a little bit more forthcoming—now that it’s legalized—to make those calls.

“More people are going to the emergency room for marijuana visits, but most of those people are actually from out-of-state. They are tourists coming to ski, or coming to take advantage of all that Colorado has to offer. I say ‘all’ now because we have certainly seen an increase in tourists who partake and end up in the emergency room, or end up hospitalized, because they’re not as familiar with the products or education programs that we have around the state, which warn people and educate people about those products.”

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The legal age in Colorado is 21, right?
“It is 21 for the retail, or the recreational marijuana. It is 18 for the medical program, which we have had for about 15 years now.”

What is the right age to legally consume cannabis? Is it 21?
“That is an interesting question. I have talked to different people in different Canadian provinces about that, because I think biologically the correct age should be 25. But practically speaking, we know a lot of young adults are already using marijuana. If we want to capture that use, for a lot of reasons, we can do surveillance, we can do education, even capture the tax revenue and go ahead and have those programs in place for enforcement, then practically speaking 21 is the appropriate age. I think 19 maybe could be a little too young because of developing-brain issues, but if that is the legal drinking age, and you already have a high prevalence—I don’t know your prevalence here, but it may make sense to align it with the drinking age.”

What do you think about selling cannabis in liquor stores?
“I think it is a bad idea, because the co-use of marijuana and liquor is a bad idea. Marijuana in itself [can cause impairment.] Alcohol in itself can cause impairment. [When they’re consumed together] those effects are just not additive; they are exponentially increased when somebody chooses to co-use both substances. Selling both from the same establishment…is just not something we would support.” 

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What about drugged driving?
“We have actually seen an overall decrease in DUI’s since legalization. So, the short answer is: There has been no increase since the legalization of marijuana here. We have seen an increase in marijuana-positive blood tests amongst drivers involved in fatal car accidents. But, blood test is not a good moniker for impairment. We can’t tell if those drivers were impaired. They could have used marijuana a month ago and those metabolites could be still showing up in their blood stream. The other thing is, it is easier to test for alcohol in a roadside test. Many police officers will tell you their protocol is to test for alcohol first, and if they are positive for alcohol, they stop testing at that point. So it is hard to get a sense for how much marijuana is impacting DUI’s.”

How difficult is cannabis enforcement?
“In Colorado, we do not allow public consumption. Yet you will go to places or be in particular areas in the state and you will know it is being consumed publicly. Which makes it that much more difficult if someone is consuming an edible or a vapor product, because it makes it much less easy to detect.

I think law enforcement has a tough job. On the one had there is some relief they don’t have to bring people in, or charge folks with misdemeanors as the result of using marijuana. On the other side there is some angst over people maybe taking advantage of the system here.

This is one of the ways I think Canada will have the advantage over the United States. We are doing it state by state, so we have a grey area problem. People can grow marijuana legally, and then move it out the back door—take it and sell it in states where it is not legal.

If we had a national legalization similar to what Canada is doing, it would make the black or grey market far less active, [because there would no longer be such high] demand in neighboring states.”

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How important is education about cannabis?
“Very important. We have some pretty strong numbers showing that people recognize the statewide campaigns that we have developed. With that then, maybe there is a [growing] recognition among adults about how to follow the laws, and how to store it safely to keep it away from kids.

It appears that teenagers make decisions to consume marijuana for reasons other than legalization—like they do with other risk behaviors. [In Colorado], we had a statewide campaign targeted at teens. They don’t want to hear about it affecting their developing brains. They don’t want to hear about how it impacts what’s next. So, the campaign is all about how using marijuana may impact your ability to graduate high school, impact getting your driver’s license, [make it more difficult to] maintain a relationship or get a job. The numbers look very good in terms of the impact of the campaign.

For adults, we have a much lighter campaign than we started with. One of the mistakes we made early on is, we tried to use a campaign with life-size lab rat cages, saying ‘Don’t be a lab rat.’ That portrayed jail cages, and we ended up alienating the population we were trying to educate and help. So we had to completely scrap that idea and work on something that was more appealing, something likely users would listen to rather than immediately shut off.”

Do we know if cannabis legalization is leading to higher uses of hard drugs?
“We are not seeing those kinds of increases. We are certainly seeing an increase in heroin-related deaths, but those are similar to the national increases, so [our heroin-related death rate] is not out of line with the national rate of increase. I think we have yet to answer the question of whether or not legalizing marijuana helps reduce the consumption of those harder, more addictive drugs, or acts as a gateway. The jury is still out.”

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What Can Canada Learn from the US When it Comes to Cannabis Legalization?

In less than a year, The Cannabis Act will fulfill Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise to make adult-use recreational cannabis legal nationwide. While many Canadians are excited for legal cannabis, plenty more are concerned about just what that legal system will look like, and what its potential pitfalls are.

US legalization has yielded a wealth of data on everything from traffic fatalities to underage use to enforcement costs, addressing many of Canada’s key concerns.

Recreational cannabis might be brand new to Canada, but plenty of US states have blazed this particular trail already. Indeed, many of the concerns being raised by Canadians are the same ones raised in Washington and Colorado in 2014. Since then, nine US states have legalized recreational cannabis.

These early-adopter states have yielded a wealth of data, on everything from traffic fatalities to underage use to enforcement costs, addressing many of Canada’s key concerns about legalization. While legalizing cannabis on a national scale is a challenge unique to Canada, there’s a lot to be learned from the US.

How Much Does Enforcement Cost?

Toronto Mayor John Tory has claimed that legalization will result in drastically increased law-enforcement costs for cities. His theory is that “a big part” of enforcement costs will fall to municipalities, which will face major increases in the cost of business licensing, by-law enforcement, and policing. Tory supports a special levy on cannabis to offset these costs.

US cities haven’t seen the astronomical rise in law-enforcement costs Toronto’s Mayor Tory is predicting.

However, US cities haven’t seen the astronomical rise in enforcement costs Tory is predicting. Washington’s largest city, Seattle, requires only about 3-4 dedicated employees to regulate cannabis. Those employees don’t represent a burden on the budget, as the city’s cost to regulate cannabis is only about $500,000 for 2017. It might make Tory happy to know that Seattle is also slated to get a $700,000 cut of cannabis taxes from the state this year, which he also called for in Toronto. As far as policing goes, legal cannabis doesn’t seem to be changing the budget process much.

“I can’t speak to this without data,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the Seattle Police Department’s communications director, but offered that, “We’ve had some significant cases [since legalization], but those are the same types of cases we’ve always had.”

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He’s previously stressed that his agency is primarily concerned with curbing youth access, busting big illegal grow ops, and enforcing DUI laws. Enforcement involving legal cannabis is not the SPD’s mission, according to Whitcomb.

Furthermore, contrary to Tory’s claims, cannabis legalization actually frees up law enforcement resources. According to a Drug Policy Alliance report from July 2015, written one year after the state’s first recreational cannabis sales, cannabis arrests decreased by 63%, from 6,196 in 2012 to 2,316 in 2014, with each arrest representing a cost of $1,000-2,000 to the government.

In general, legal cannabis more than covers the cost of regulation and enforcement.

In general, legal cannabis more than covers the cost of regulation and enforcement. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), the agency that regulates cannabis in Washington and handles all legal cannabis enforcement, had an annual operating budget of $34 million in fiscal year 2016, including $13 million for enforcement. Cannabis taxes and fees brought in $189 million, about six times more than the agency’s entire budget. About $90 million of that excess cannabis revenue went to funding the state’s Basic Health program to provide insurance to low-income families.

In Colorado, they’re really rolling in it, it seems. The city of Aurora was famously able to raise so much extra tax from the cannabis industry that it earmarked $4.5 million for homelessness programs. A report by the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation found that Colorado netted $66 million and $96 million in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 fiscal years, respectively, after accounting for enforcement and regulation.

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The prognosis for Canada cashing in is pretty good, too. According to a report by the C.D. Howe institute, Canada could rake in as much as $500 million USD per year from legal cannabis. That report also includes only the existing state and federal taxes, meaning that if cannabis is subject to an additional excise tax, as it is in most U.S. states where it’s legal, Canada could see even more tax revenue.

What’s the Deal with DUI?

Though low-level possession arrests are down in legal states, the question of how to deal with drivers who may be under the influence of cannabis remains a thorny one. According to the aforementioned DPA report, overall traffic fatalities decreased in Washington post-legalization, although no causality was established.

Regardless of whether cannabis causes more accidents, no one wants more people driving under the influence, no matter what substance is influencing them. Though every state has provisions regarding cannabis DUIs on the books, none can claim to have developed an effective enforcement method yet.

Of all the questions facing Canada, how to regulate DUI might be the one for which the US has the fewest answers.

In Washington, the limit is five micrograms (ug) per milliliter of blood. It’s the same in Colorado. These limits, while well-intentioned, have been confusing. For one, it’s nearly impossible to tell if that 5 ug was from five minutes ago or five days ago, as cannabis can linger in the bloodstream well after its effects have worn off.

Beyond that, it’s nearly impossible to tell how profoundly 5 ug might affect someone, because individual tolerances vary so widely with cannabis. Some people can ingest 800mg, take the bus to downtown Seattle, and film a Nazi being punched, while others eat 100mg and think they’ve become one with the wallpaper. As the director of traffic safety and advocacy for AAA, Jake Nelson, told the Washington Post, “There is no reliable number that has any meaningful value in terms of predicting impairment.”

Assessing impairment in Canada has previously fallen to Drug Recognition Experts, officers trained to perform field evaluations of suspects who might be driving on drugs. AAA prefers the DRE system, but Canada’s is woefully inadequate even for their current need.

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“The problem is that there are fewer than 600 trained DRE officers in Canada,” an article in the Ottawa Citizen concluded. “An assessment conducted in 2009 estimated that Canada needs between 1,800 and 2,000 and the training system isn’t equipped to pump out trained officers any faster.”

If Canada does decide to ease the demand for DREs with a ug/ml limit, it’ll face the same criticisms of the legal limits used by US states. Of all the questions facing Canada, how to regulate DUI might be the one for which the US has the fewest answers.

How Do You Keep It Away From Kids?

One of the other major objections raised by opponents of cannabis legalization in both the US and Canada has been that legalizing cannabis normalizes it in the eyes of teens, and ultimately leads to an increase in underage use. Legalization proponents argue that putting cannabis in tightly regulated retail outlets actually deters underage access.

Studies seem to support the latter view, with post-legalization surveys of teenagers in both Colorado and Washington showing steady rates of cannabis use or even slight declines.

If Canada’s 18+ age restriction is as vigorously enforced as age limits in the US, an increase in underage use from legalization seems unlikely.

Though Hamilton police chief Eric Girt complained in a town hall this summer that cannabis products in Colorado were “being marketed to kids” and cautioned that the same could happen in Canada, it’s worth noting that the state has had strict advertising rules in place to prevent any marketing efforts that might appeal to minors since 2013. Manufacturers are not allowed to use any packaging that appeals to children, and no cannabis business can advertise in a location frequented by minors: malls, arcades, sports venues—the interpretation is pretty broad. Ads can only be placed in publications or broadcast outlets for which “reliable evidence” exists that less than 30% of the audience consists of minors.

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Nearly the same rules are in place in Washington, and Canada’s bill includes similar language. If Canada’s 18+ age restriction is as vigorously enforced as age limits are in the US, an increase in underage use from legalization seems unlikely.

Indeed, it might even lead to the slight reductions enjoyed by US states who have legalized and regulated cannabis. While minors can always ask an older sibling to sneak them something from the store, it’s still an extra step they didn’t have to take before. Dealers definitely don’t check ID.

Can Legal Cannabis Compete With the Black Market?

Speaking of dealers, many of the concerns around tax rates in Canada are about more than just the cost of enforcement. Regis police chief Evan Bray told the CBC that he was worried tax rates on cannabis would be too high, which he theorized would be a boon for the back market.

Those concerns are not entirely invalid, as legal states have struggled to completely eliminate the black market. In Washington, the relatively high 37% state excise tax on cannabis has been cited as a major factor in the black market’s persistence. However, through increased volume and improved efficiency, legal cannabis has achieved price parity with the black market in many instances.

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However, many states have far lower tax rates. Maine has proposed a 20% tax, Oregon only takes 17%, and Massachusetts is even lower at 3.75%.

That said, one of the other major reasons the black market persists in the US is the piecemeal nature of legalization, which simply shunts drug dealers from one state to another. Even within legal states, certain cities and counties have banned legal cannabis, creating pockets of demand for the black market.

While the black market has persisted in the US, the cannabis-driven violent crime scare Jeff Sessions is constantly crowing about simply isn’t supported by data. Violent crime has decreased overall in both Washington and Colorado since legalization.

Legalization Is Looking Pretty Bright for Canada

Overall, legalization looks pretty good. Rather than exacerbating problems of youth access and violent crime, legalizing cannabis seems poised to alleviate them—and to raise quite a bit of tax revenue while doing it. Though it is still unclear how best to regulate cannabis DUIs, legalizing cannabis has at least pushed forward the study of how cannabis affects driving performance, and created a demand for devices that can reliably measure cannabis intoxication on the side of the road. A pilot program to study the efficacy of roadside saliva tests is already underway in Canada.

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There is still the difficult question of how to handle the international drug enforcement treaties to which Canada is a party, and whether that process might delay legalization. Domestically speaking, however, if things play out like they have in the U.S., legalization looks to be a win.

Colorado Hits Billion Dollar Sales Mark in Nine Months

According to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue, the Rocky Mountain state sold over $1 billion dollars in cannabis through the first nine months of 2017.

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It took the state 10 months to reach the billion dollar mark in 2016. Sales totals through the first nine months of this year have reached a total of about $1.1 billion—the highest amount of total sales to date in the country.

When comparing the data to last year, through 9 months of sales Leafly found that Colorado totaled $942 million, with the totals in 2017 so far showing there was over a $100 million dollar increase in sales from the same time period, totaling $1,118,207,832.87 in sales.

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Through the first nine months of 2017, Colorado has seen a fairly steady increase from the year prior, with the state routinely breaking its total sales record in the past 6 months–first in March, and then in July, when the state totaled more than $136 million in total cannabis sales, when combining adult-use sales and medicinal marijuana sales.

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The state initiated a different taxing structure in July 2017, with the special sales tax rate for recreational marijuana sales increasing from 10% to 15%. The new law exempted adult-use cannabis sales from the 2.9% standard state sales tax rate.

Medical marijuana and accessories are still subject to that 2.9% special sales tax rate, however.

With Plans to Sell CBD Nationwide, Lucky’s Market Charts Legal Gray Area

With cannabis legalization spreading across the country, it sometimes feels like any day now you could walk into a grocery store and see some sort of pot product on the shelves. Now, at more than two dozen Lucky’s Market locations across the country, that’s true—at least in terms of items containing CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid believed to have numerous medical benefits.

“This is just about the grayest of gray areas as far as federal law and policy. I think the DEA’s even confused about it.”

Vince Sliwoski

The Colorado-based grocer, which is backed by retail giant Kroger, announced this week that it will add a dozen CBD products to its apothecary shelves nationwide, where they’ll be sold alongside herbs and natural cosmetics made from ingredients like echinacea and calendula.

Lucky’s Market isn’t the first large retailer to test the waters of the CBD market, forecast to be worth $3 billion by 2021. Last month, in a short-lived move, Target added four CBD-enriched products to its online inventory. The big box yanked them from its virtual stores in less than a week without explanation, though.

Yet as consumer demand for CBD products grows, authorities at the DEA have reiterated their stance that anything derived from the cannabis plant—including hemp-derived CBD extract—is a Schedule I drug.

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“This is just about the grayest of gray areas as far as federal law and policy,” said Vincent Sliwoski, a cannabis law attorney and professor in Oregon, of CBD products. “I think the DEA’s even confused about it.” (The agency may get some clarification by way of a federal lawsuit filed by hemp farmers challenging the way the agency codifies “marihuana extract”.)

Conversations of legality surrounding cannabis usually focus on the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the agency may well take issue with grocery store-sales of CBD extract. But would-be sellers may have to tussle with the Food and Drug Administration, too. Earlier this month, the FDA made a vague announcement about its intent to crack down on unproven health claims on cannabis products.

“The FDA is the bigger issue around hemp oil and CBD oil. That’s why Target backed out,” says Mark Slaugh, former executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance.

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In a recent statement to the press, the DEA opined that sales of Charlotte’s Web were illegal because the CBD oil has not been FDA approved. (Even if CBD is “beneficial” in treating neurological disorders, as the FDA has declared, products containing it would still need to pass the approval process.)

In the past couple of years, the FDA has sent cease and desist letters to CBD producers for making unfounded health claims or claiming products contained CBD when in fact they contained less than advertised or none at all, said Rod Kight, an attorney in North Carolina who represents numerous companies that deal with hemp.

Lucky’s Market did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Under federal law, hemp can only be grown only in states with federal hemp research programs. “If the CBD were imported it could arguably be legal,” Sliwoski noted, adding it would be unlikely that a retailer could track the provenance of CBD in numerous products. “Maybe they could prove all their source material was from China or somewhere else. That would have to be their affirmative defense and it would end up being litigated.”

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Kight isn’t so sure federal law will be the problem (he says the DEA is slowly “retreating” from earlier positions) but state law might be. “The 9th Circuit has ruled that nonpsychoactive imported hemp is legal. If you connect the dots, the DEA says CBD is not a controlled substance,” he said. “But a lot of states haven’t carved out an official position.” Lucky’s Market could force them to, he adds.

“They see a demand for the products and feel comfortable enough with the muddled state of the policy.”

Sliwoski

Food and supplement companies that sell hemp seed or oil get away with it because they don’t claim the products contain CBD, Slaugh said. “Once you start claiming CBD is an active ingredient, are you getting into the realm of a regulated drug? I think that’s the great debate. These folks aren’t held to food, nutraceutical, or drug manufacturing standards.”

While the FDA does regulate nutraceuticals, the industry has developed many self-imposed standards in an effort to put regulators at ease, Slaugh said. CBD producers may want to consider going the same route, he suggested. “The hemp industry has to step up and create those internal, self-policing standards if they want to avoid regulation.”

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That’s already taking place, noted Kight. “Hemp and CBD are moving right in line with that. We’re probably going to see a split between cannabinoid prescription medications and nutraceutical-type producers who will co-exist,” he said.

Whatever potential response Lucky’s Market might see from regulators or law enforcement could be worth the opportunity of getting into the CBD space early. “It says the potential upside of doing this is worth the risk of any law enforcement action,” Sliwoski said. “They see a demand for the products and feel comfortable enough with the muddled state of the policy. They might be thinking the DEA will probably write us a letter rather than hauling us into court and we’re going to differentiate ourselves here.”

Study Finds Top 5 Causes of Cannabis-Related Emergency Visits

A new review published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy determined the most common causes of cannabis-related emergency department (ED) visits, giving policy makers and industry leaders a compass for improvement. This analysis specifically looked at data from Colorado.

Cannabis legalization helps solves many problems: it eases the toll of the opioid epidemic; it creates jobs; it generates tax revenue; and it keeps cannabis out of the hands of minors. But for all the good cannabis does, we can’t lose sight of public health concerns that must be solved in order to successfully implant legalization across the U.S. and beyond.

This review provides us with five concerns to prioritize: accidental pediatric ingestion, acute intoxication, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, synthetic cannabinoids, and injuries related to production of butane hash oil (BHO).

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Pediatric Ingestion

As previously stated, legalization has not led to higher rates of underage use, but this review found an increase in accidental pediatric intoxication. “Children are at particular risk of cannabis toxicity because cannabis-containing food products, known as edibles, look extremely similar to regular candy,” the authors wrote. “Also, we have found that the severity of symptoms from marijuana exposure has worsened due to the high THC concentration in edibles.”

States have taken several measures to reduce accidental consumption by children. Some policies mandate that:

  • Packaging is childproof
  • Packaging does not contain cartoons or other imagery attractive to children
  • Edibles do not come in candies or other forms enticing to children

Guidelines like these may help to reduce accidental ingestion by children, but full responsibility falls in the hands of adults and parents. It may seem like an excessive measure, but lock your products away until you intend to take them. Kids can be incredible hack artists.

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Acute Intoxication

Acute intoxication refers to those who simply consumed too much cannabis. “The number of marijuana-related ED visits has nearly doubled since the drug’s use was legalized in Colorado,” authors wrote, “and the rate is higher for non-Colorado residents who are visiting the state.”

They also mention that acute intoxication has historically gone unreported, which helps to account for the notable increase. Naturally, people are more inclined to seek help for intoxication by a legal drug than one that is illicit.

Furthermore, with the uptick in cannabis tourism, this statistic is unsurprising: a tourist inexperienced in cannabis may lack the experience to know how much is too much. The review outlines a particular instance in which one man consumed three edibles before a flight “when he realized he could not take the brownies on the plane.”

Many Colorado dispensaries go above and beyond to educate their customers on the effects of cannabis, especially edibles. Continuing to get that message through, especially to out-of-town visitors, should remain a top priority of businesses in legal markets.

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Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS) is a condition that is coming to light in the medical field – though its characterization has been somewhat controversial and divisive among professionals.

It’s primarily characterized by regular vomiting episodes, which is why it’s often assumed to be cyclical vomiting syndrome (CVS). The cause of CHS, researchers speculate, has to do with heavy, regular cannabis consumption in some individuals – a speculation that is supported by the fact that symptoms tend to resolve after cannabis cessation.

This review describes an instance of CHS recorded in Denver:

“A 32-year-old man came to the Denver Health Medical Center ED with a 12-hour history of intractable vomiting and epigastric pain. Throughout the interview the patient was retching uncontrollably. The patient reported several similar episodes over the past 2 months requiring medical care. Laboratory tests were conducted but unremarkable other than a THC-positive urine drug screen.”

While more cannabis specialized doctors are coming to acknowledge this condition’s existence, there’s overwhelming agreement that more research needs to be conducted on CHS.

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Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids – also called SCs, Spice, K2, Scooby Snax, etc. – are not cannabis (and by that right shouldn’t even be on this list). They are chemical analogues intended to mimic the effects of natural cannabis, but because of their clandestine production and high affinity for receptor sites, synthetic cannabinoids can cause a laundry list of severe symptoms and, in worst cases, death. This report describes a 24-year-old man (who was of legal age to buy natural cannabis) who was admitted to the ED and suffered a seizure after consuming SCs purchased at a head shop.

The fact that synthetic cannabinoids had to be included this report is disappointing. With legal cannabis widely available to adults over the age of 21, there’s no reason for anyone to turn to an unregulated, dangerous alternative. That being said, it’s clear that there’s much work yet to be done on the education front.

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Home Extraction Injuries

Once again, when there’s a legal, safe alternative, it’s disheartening to read about the injuries sustained by individuals attempting to produce butane extracts themselves. Professional extractors use state-approved equipment and processes to greatly reduce the risks associated with BHO production, but some individuals will take it upon themselves to make their own, “blasting” BHO in their homes often with butane cans and glass extraction tubes. Improper airflow can lead to explosions, injuring the person performing the extraction as well as others in the vicinity.

“In July 2015, a law was passed that explicitly made manufacturing hash oil using flammable solvents illegal,” the authors wrote. “Anecdotally, the effect of this legislation has had minimal effect on the number of burn patients admitted to our institution.”

If you’re interested in extracting cannabis at home, choose a safe method that doesn’t use dangerous solvents. Rosin, for example, is a solventless extract that simply uses heat and pressure to extract cannabinoids. It can be produced safely and affordably with a pair of strong hands and a hair straightener.

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The report ends with a single conclusory sentence: “Marijuana legalization in Colorado has been associated with an increase in marijuana-related ED visits.” In a young industry that attracts inexperienced consumers with novelty and newly gained legality, this report is not shocking.

But it’s important not to conflate this conclusion with “Legalization in Colorado caused an increase in public health issues.” Legalization may correlate with these increasing statistics, but it did not necessarily cause them. Cannabis legalization empowers people to report their emergencies. It’s also impossible to say that legalization is to blame for increases in synthetic cannabinoid use. It’s true that legalization invites more citizens to partake, but it’s up to us to assume responsibility and evolve cannabis – through education and research – in a direction that betters the lives of consumers and non-consumers alike.

Cannabis Legalization Boosts Property Values, Study Says

Cannabis legalization in Colorado has brought the state nearly $2 billion in cannabis sales, several hundred million dollars in tax revenue, and general scholarship funds for college-bound students. It has also apparently increase property values in the city of Denver—at least in the areas near the city’s retail cannabis shops.

Homes near retail cannabis stores in Colorado gained 8.4% more value than homes further away from the stores.

That’s the word from the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which earlier today released the results of a study done by Dr. Moussa Diop, an assistant professor of real estate & urban land economics, along with James Conklin of the University of Georgia and Herman Li of California State University. The researchers found that legal cannabis has not impacted housing or property prices negatively, and in fact increased values near retail stores.

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According to the study, single family residences within 0.1 miles of retail cannabis establishments saw an 8.4% increase in value, compared to residences located just a little further away—between 0.1 miles and 0.25 miles—from a store.

The relationship between cannabis legalization and housing prices is important to note, said Diop, particularly when looking at the effects of legalizing adult-use cannabis.

“The presence of retail marijuana establishments clearly had a short-term positive impact on nearby properties in Denver,” Diop said. “This suggests that in addition to the sales and business taxes generated from the retail marijuana industry, municipalities may experience an increase in property taxes. It’s an important piece of the puzzle as more and more voters and policy-makers look for evidence about the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana, as the issue is taken up by state legislatures across the country.”

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The study flies in the face of often-raised fears about cannabis stores lowering nearby property values. Just last week, the Sacramento Bee ran a story about California homeowners worried about the negative impact of cannabis on home prices. That story focused on the effect of cannabis growing, though, not selling.

The study did not seek to identify the reasons that property near cannabis retailers gained value faster than comparative samples. The authors did speculate about some potential explanations, though, including a surge in housing demand caused by cannabis-related employment growth.

In Leafly’s latest Cannabis Jobs Count, we found that legalization now supports 26,891 full-time jobs in Colorado, up from 23,407 one year ago.

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A study published last year by Realtor.com found similar price pressure in Colorado:

“Since the first shops opened their doors on Jan. 1, 2014, the median home sale price in the state has shot up from $248,000 in the first half of 2014 to $298,000 in the first half of 2016, according to the realtor.com analysis.”

Realtor.com noted that the price increases were partly due to the state’s population surge. From 2014 to 2015, Colorado was the second fastest-growing state in the nation. “There’s no direct evidence tying the legalization of the drug to the population boom,” wrote Realtor.com, “but real estate agents say more of their clients are relocating to the state because of it.”

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Not all cannabis businesses are equal, though. Realtor.com noted that homes near recreational shops were priced comparable to homes away from those stores, but appreciated in value 4.8% faster than the comps far from retail stores.  Homes near cannabis grow operations, by contrast, are priced 8.4% lower than comparable homes but appreciate in value 3.8% faster than homes far from grow sites.

Source: Realtor.com

Diop and the rest of the research team also mentioned the possibility of lower crime rates and additional amenities locating near those cannabis businesses. The researchers used residential property information from the City of Denver’s Open Data Catalog and a list of retail licenses granted by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

You can find the full report on the University of Wisconsin website here.

Taking Drugged Driving Seriously: What Does the Science Say?

I’ve been reporting on cannabis full-time for more than 15 years, so I like to think I’ve heard it all—pro and con—when it comes to the legalization debate. In all that time spent weighing facts and debunking disinformation, only one con argument has ever given me serious pause: What if a large number of newbie pot smokers suddenly get behind the wheel and all start riding dirty at once? 

There are many other supposed cannabis dangers that would warrant being taken seriously, if a small bit of independent investigation didn’t reveal them to be overblown or baseless.

For instance, science shows definitively that cannabis is not a gateway to harder drugs, is not addictive relative to other drugs (including caffeine), does not cause cancer or harm the lungs, and does not lead to an increase in violent crime.

Not that cannabis is completely harmless, of course. But if smoking herb turned you into a scatterbrained, violent heroin addict with lung cancer, that would be a serious concern. As hard data makes plain, however, it’s just not what happens.

Is “stoned driving” any different?

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Hot Button Issue

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions actively looking for excuses to crack down on legal cannabis, prohibition defenders are touting drugged driving as a reason to shut down the legal states.

Recently, the Denver Post published a major investigation of cannabis and driving. The story relied largely on data coming out of Colorado and Washington in the five years since those two states became the first to legalize the adult use of cannabis.

The series began with this headline: Traffic Fatalities Linked to Marijuana Are Up Sharply in Colorado. Is Legalization To Blame?

Well, Is Legalization To Blame?

Apparently nobody’s sure, because a smaller line directly below the headline stated: “Authorities say the numbers cannot be definitively linked to legalized pot.”

Authorities say the crash data can’t be definitively linked to legalized cannabis.

In my experience, the authorities have never been shy about blaming a myriad of social ills on cannabis. So why the hesitance this time? And what, exactly, does the Denver Post mean when they describe traffic fatalities “linked to” marijuana? That’s an awfully vague term.

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Task Force—a federally funded law enforcement organization dedicated to suppressing illegal drugs—stated in a 2015 report that the term “marijuana-related” does not “necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident,” and applies “any time marijuana shows up in the toxicology report [of drivers]. It could be marijuana only or marijuana with other drugs and/or alcohol.”

Which means that if a drug test shows you smoked half a joint last week and drank a bottle of vodka twenty minutes ago, your car crash goes down in the books as “marijuana related.”

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Deal With Facts, Not Fear

Before we fully delve into the confusing science of stoned driving, let’s start by stating the obvious. Operating a motored vehicle while dangerously impaired on any substance—whether legal or illegal—is rightfully a criminal act.

Compared to sober drivers, THC-impaired drivers have a 5% greater risk of crashing. Alcohol-impaired drivers under the legal limit (.08) have a 225% greater risk.

So when the Post asked if “legalization” was to blame for traffic fatalities, that was a skewed way of framing the question. Nobody would argue that alcohol legalization is responsible for a drunk driving accident. We rightly blame the drunk driver, both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.

Clearly, cannabis use can lead to driver impairment, which increases accident risk—but how much cannabis? And how much risk? That depends on a lot of factors.

While it’s literally impossible to fatally overdose on infused chocolates (unless you’re allergic to chocolate), you could fall asleep or space out at the wheel after eating them and cause a fatal accident. That’s a danger that imperils not just the driver, but anyone else in the car or on the road.

When Colorado legalized adult-use cannabis in 2012, it also included a per-se limit for drivers. State law specifies that “drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI)… and no matter the level of THC, law enforcement officers base arrests on observed impairment.”

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Look at the Full Data Set

Putting aside for a moment the notorious difficulty of measuring cannabis impairment through blood tests or officer observation, the Post’s analysis raised serious questions about cannabis use and drugged driving.

One of the key findings in the Post report was this startling statistic:

  • From 2013 to 2016, the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana use jumped 145 percent — from 47 to 115.

That doesn’t sound good. But it’s a wholly misleading statistic. “Testing positive for marijuana” only means that cannabis metabolites remain in the driver’s blood, even though the driver may be completely sober. The body expunges alcohol within hours, but those non-impairing cannabis metabolites remain for days and even weeks. The test will register as metabolite-positive if the driver consumed cannabis anytime up to three weeks ago.

If Colorado officials conducted a similar test to find drivers who consumed alcohol within the past three weeks—if such a test existed—it would find 55% to 75% of the state adult population (the percentage range of people who consume alcohol at least once a month) register as alcohol-positive. But they’re no more “drunk” than a metabolite-positive driver is “stoned.”

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In fact, the Post data is doubly misleading, because the statistics on cannabis metabolites actually predate 2013. Annual reports by the state’s Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving published data on metabolite-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes during 2011 and 2012. Those numbers reveal 2013 not as a normal, pre-legalization baseline, but rather as a bit of an outlier–an unusually low year for metabolite-positive drivers in crashes.

What the full data set reveals is that the percentage of Colorado drivers who are involved in fatal crashes, and have consumed cannabis sometime in the past three weeks, pretty much mirrors the percentage of adults who consume cannabis in the population at large. Which is to say, around 12% to 13%. It was a little under 14% prior to legalization, it was a little over 14% after legalization. In between it fluctuated between 8% and 12%.

Colorado: Drivers in Fatal Crashes (click to enlarge)

Consider the Odds

While the Post report included pushback quotes from two representatives of prominent cannabis industry trade groups, they didn’t talk to anybody like Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML. He’s a longtime expert on these matters, with the peer-reviewed papers to prove it.

Armentano argues—I believe convincingly—that “increased prevalence of THC detection in drivers tells us little about accident risk,” as it could simply be evidence of increased use among the general public, increased testing by law enforcement, or both.

For Armentano, there’s only one metric that really matters: Odds ratios.

“To determine what role, if any, a drug plays in motor vehicle accident culpability we need to looks at odds ratios, which estimate the probability of an event occurring (e.g., motor vehicle crash) over the probability that such an event does not occur,” he says. “Odds ratios greater than 1 indicate a positive relationship, with stronger relationships reflected by higher numbers.”

And guess what? Drivers who test positive for active THC—not merely inactive metabolites—do increase their risk of crashing. But that increased risk is small compared to alcohol—or compared to opioids, texting, phone use, or even the distracting company of two other passengers in the car. When Colorado saw an upsurge in traffic fatalities last year, this was the headline in the Denver PostCDOT Director Blames Surge in Colorado Roadway Fatalities on an ‘Epidemic of Distracted Driving.’ 

The largest domestic case-control study to assess drugs and accident risk—published in a 2015 research note by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency—found that the odds ratios for THC-positive drivers and crashes, when adjusted for drivers’ age and gender, came out to 1.05. That means THC-positive drivers have a 5% greater crash risk than drivers with no drugs or alcohol in their system.

Context and Relative Risk

It’s worth taking a closer look at that 2015 NHTSA study, because federal officials put a lot of stock in it as “the first large-scale [case control crash risk] study in the United States to include drugs other than alcohol.” Data was collected from more than 3,000 crash-involved drivers and 6,000 control drivers (not involved in crashes) over a 20-month period in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The data was fresh and solid: Research teams responded to crashes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Drivers were considered THC-positive if they tested for active THC, not for non-impairing metabolites still in their blood days or weeks after consumption.

While THC-positive drivers were 5% more likely to be involved in a crash, the researchers found that drivers who’d taken an opioid painkiller had a 14% greater risk of crashing. Here’s a chart from that NHTSA study comparing THC (marijuana) with opioids (narcotic analgesics) and other drugs:

Source: “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk,” Compton and Berning, NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Research Note, Feb. 2015

Those levels of increased risk were tiny, however, compared to the risk involved with alcohol. Drivers within the legal range of blood alcohol level as registered by a breathalyzer (BrAC) were found to be 20% to 222% more likely to be involved in a crash. At .08 BrAC, the legal limit, the risk increased to 293%. At 0.15 BrAC, drivers were more than 12 times (+1118%) more likely to be involved in a crash than a sober person. Here’s a chart from that same study, calculating the increased risk of crashing at rising blood alcohol levels:

Source: “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk,” Compton and Berning, NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Research Note, Feb. 2015

By comparison, a driver who has taken penicillin is 25% more likely to be involved in a crash. Drivers carrying two or more passengers are 120% more likely to crash. Drivers using mobile phones to talk or text are 310% more likely to crash.

A separate NHSTA study (“Marijuana And Actual Driving Performance”) further conceded it’s “difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects … Drivers with high concentrations showed substantial [impairment], but also no impairment, or even some improvement.” In other words, cannabis affects different drivers in different ways, depending on a number of factors.

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Favoring One Set of Data Over Another

Strangely, the Denver Post’s analysis relies heavily on data compiled by the NHSTA, yet they never mention these striking findings from the very same federal agency.

My own theory on that wide range of responses (from “substantial impairment” to “some improvement”): Cannabis affects inexperienced users very differently than seasoned consumers. A 2010 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology concluded that “heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive task performance.” And a 2012 study in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology confirmed finding “minimal impairment in driving-related psychomotor tasks in chronic daily cannabis users.”

So while the correlation between blood alcohol concentration and impairment is relatively consistent for most people, it may be impossible to establish a THC test that can truly gauge impairment the way a breathalyzer can for booze. Though not for a lack of trying, which creates the danger of severely punishing drivers simply for being cannabis consumers, not for driving while impaired.

A New Form of Prohibition

Because if it becomes essentially illegal to drive to work the morning after smoking a joint, then it becomes essentially illegal to smoke a joint—at least for the vast majority of us who are far more addicted to our cars than we ever could be to cannabis.

Speaking of automobile addiction: What’s with those car-junkies over at AAA (a.k.a. “Triple A”) lobbying against legalization and pushing “grossly distorted” data . According to a Leafly report, “the organization’s newly embraced anti-legalization stance is a hard turn from AAA’s previous position—which is to say, no position at all.”

Maybe it’s time for all AAA members who care about this issue to contact them and demand they start telling the truth.

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The (Positive) Substitution Effect

For instance, what about the idea—hidden in all the data we’ve examined so far—that increased cannabis use could actually be making our roads safer by serving as a substitute for more dangerous behavior.

Increased cannabis use could be making our roads safer by decreasing alcohol intake.

Meaning that while cannabis use in and of itself does increase crash risk, in a zero sum game where someone’s either drinking beer, popping pills or smoking weed, then cannabis is most certainly the safest of those risk factors. A dynamic that, writ large, can have a sizable positive effect.

For example, one 2011 study found that widespread use of legally accessible medical marijuana actually produces a major improvement in public safety because of a correlated reduction in drinking and driving, and an overall reduction in opioid use.

“Specifically, we find that traffic fatalities fall by nearly 9 percent after the legalization of medical marijuana,” concluded University of Colorado Professor Daniel Rees and Montana State University Assistant Professor D. Mark Anderson.

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No, You Don’t Drive Better Stoned

So, to sum up—no, you definitely don’t drive better stoned, especially in high doses. And double-especially if you’re not used to being stoned, or to driving, or to both. Infrequent users of cannabis incur a higher risk of crashing based on the increased motor impairment that comes along with having less experience with THC and its effects.

Most experts recommend waiting at least three hours after your last inhale of cannabis before driving, and waiting far longer if you’ve eaten edibles, since they can sometimes take two hours before the onset of effects, which can then last six hours or longer. Also, please be aware that mixing alcohol and cannabis is more dangerous than using either alone. And don’t ever smoke in a moving vehicle, as it’s irresponsible and also the easiest way to get busted.

Oh, and if you happen to be a passenger in a car heading out for a long road trip, then I highly recommend getting really, really blazed before getting into the car, and then bumping some killer driving music once you hit the highway.