A significant move has been made in the cannabis game that seems to have greater implications than the certain players intended. Following the approval of Epidiolex by the FDA in June, the DEA rescheduled approved cannabidiol (CBD) drugs in late September to allow GW Pharma to exclusively sell their product. In a carefully orchestrated and highly restricted move that benefits pharmaceutical corporations while blocking CBD supplement companies, the DEA and FDA may have made a strategic slip-up.
Just over a month ago, the DEA made a major move to reschedule CBD. This move has significant impact on cannabis consumers access to CBD-based therapies.
The Cannabis Consumers Coalition took some time to digest this critical change and think about its impact on the growing cannabis industry, and the future possibilities of businesses emerging to provide products to consumers for both adult use and medical uses. We see two distinct cannabis consumers with some overlap. Many consumers who use cannabis for recreational purposes also use cannabis for wellness, but not necessarily medicinally. An example would be using cannabis as a recovery supplement after finishing an intense workout, versus using cannabis as part of a treatment for a medical condition.
Why is the rescheduling of CBD so important?
By moving a cannabis derived CBD drug from Schedule 1 down Schedule 5, the DEA may have also opened the door for CBD supplement manufacturers in the short-term and cannabis legalization in the long-term. The fortuitous mistake was making such a dramatic rescheduling. In one drastic shift from draconian Schedule 1 to the lowest possible Schedule 5, the DEA dropped all pretense that there is a public threat from CBD made from cannabis or hemp and finally admitted there is holistic benefit. The radical downgrade to Schedule 5 acknowledges that CBD does not fit the criteria for Schedules 1-4 and has been mis-scheduled all along.
The government has finally affirmed that the cannabis compound CBD: (a) has currently accepted medical use in the United States; (b) does not have a high or medium potential for abuse; and (c) is considered neither a narcotic, stimulant nor depressant. It is also noteworthy that the FDA and DEA did not define whether CBD formulations must be cannabis or hemp derived. This fundamental scheduling shift legitimizes CBD and offers a repositioning opportunity for the cannabis industry on a federal level. Although the current scheduling shift is limited to approved CBD drugs and there are still obstacles to overcome, we believe cautious optimism is the best approach to making positive change for the cannabis industry. Having worked as advocates for the cannabis industry for many years, we’re well aware that policy change happens gradually and requires the foresight to capitalize on small breaks to effect larger outcomes.
Why aren’t all CBD products descheduled?
The DEA is taking the perplexing stance that only one CBD formulation fits the definition of Schedule 5 but all others are still Schedule 1. It’s not even clear why CBD remains in Schedule 5. A category that formerly only included narcotics, stimulants and depressants has been amended to squeeze in CBD. According to the new wording: “Schedule 5 includes narcotics, stimulants, depressants and “approved cannabidiol drugs.” Again, the DEA is admitting that cannabis derived CBD has accepted medical use, a low potential for abuse, low risk of dependence and is neither narcotic, stimulant nor depressant. If the DEA is acknowledging that cannabis derived CBD is safe, effective and does not fit the definition of a controlled substance, why is it still scheduled? Further, by admitting that CBD has health benefits, the DEA is also acknowledging that cannabis no longer fits the definition of Schedule 1. It is highly problematic to argue that a compound derived from a traditional healing plant has health benefits but the plant as a whole does not.
Now that the government is finally admitting cannabis has medical benefits and poses low risk, continuing to schedule this safe, traditional herbal remedy while leaving highly addictive, harmful substances like nicotine unscheduled is indefensible. It takes a mind-boggling act of denial to ignore the historical evidence supporting responsible use of cannabis as an herbal supplement to boost health and wellness.
Why is the government trying to block companies from selling CBD as a dietary supplement?
The role of the FDA and DEA is to protect the public. They’ve acknowledged CBD has health benefits and low risk so why is it not available to the general public as a supplement? Since the DEA has acknowledged that CBD does not pose a public safety risk, why is an effective herbal remedy being restricted from wider public consumption? The FDA has a secondary argument that cannabis products containing THC and CBD are excluded from the dietary supplement definition because the ingredients are being used and/or investigated as drugs. The problem with the exclusivity argument is that there are plenty of plants that are used as medicines and in other products. There are many traditional herbal remedies that have been rediscovered by modern pharmaceutical companies. They isolate compounds to transform natural holistic plants into targeted medicines. For example, theobromine which is derived from cacao is sold as a supplement and used as a pharmaceutical ingredient. Cacao is actually an ancient healing plant considered sacred in many cultures that is still used ceremonially as well as for medicine, supplemental energy and in food. Some other examples of healing plants that are both sold as supplements and provide chemical compounds for prescription drugs include chamomile, psyllium, goldenseal, gotu kola, periwinkle, rauwolfia, turmeric, valerian, and white willow. So, the FDA’s argument lacks merit that a safe, effective compound derived from a traditional healing plant can’t be marketed as a supplement for general health and wellness because it is sold as a medicine to target a specific disease. There are plenty of precedents that plant-based drugs and supplements can coexist within the marketplace. This benefits the public by giving them the freedom to make their own health choices.
Fortunately, the FDA has left a loophole that offers an opportunity. “There is an exception...if the substance was "marketed as" a dietary supplement or as a conventional food before the drug was approved or before the new drug investigations were authorized, as applicable. However, based on available evidence, FDA has concluded that this is not the case for THC or CBD.”
Since the door has been left open, it is time for the cannabis industry to seize the opportunity. It is now more important than ever to submit evidence to the FDA (and the media) that cannabis has a long history as a traditional herbal remedy and was widely sold over-the-counter as an herbal supplement prior to 1937 in the U.S. Not only does this pre-date the current cannabis pharma drugs but it also fits the definition of a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) dietary ingredient that was “sold in the United States in a dietary supplement before October 15, 1994.” Eighty-one years later, the truth is finally being revealed that there were no public safety reasons for blocking the sale of cannabis as a supplement.
How can the cannabis industry transform this new development into a win-win?
The government has basically acknowledged that they erroneously scheduled cannabis products. It may have started with CBD but the whole house of cards can now be toppled. The FDA and the DEA are on shaky ground to reschedule CBD for a single product which may be why there is the disclaimer that the FDA is “not aware of any evidence” that would reveal the public safety argument is tenuous.
The trick here is to transform this opportunity into a win-win. Instead of the needless turf battle between seasoned cannabis players and the new pharma kids on the block, let’s all agree that there’s plenty of room for multiple players in the green game. The industry continues to grow domestically and internationally so it’s time to shift the paradigm, divide the territory and allow everyone to profit.
We recommend a few key steps to achieve this new conceptual framework to increase the momentum towards full federal legalization. First, instead of talking about “medical” and “recreational” cannabis, we pivot to “medical” and “supplemental” cannabis. These rebranded categories fall in line with the FDA’s drug and supplement categories to empower the legalization argument. By rebranding from “recreational” or “adult use” to “supplemental use,” we promote a traditional herbal remedy and encourage responsible consumption. Recreational consumers will still have access to products as supplements to enhance their well-being while the semantic change offers a healthier way for them to approach cannabis. This rebranding will make the idea of legalization more acceptable politically since it focuses on people’s freedom of choice to enhance their health and wellness.
By following this distinction between medical and supplemental use of cannabis, the pharmaceutical companies are protected and can ensure their market. As established by the FDA, only drugs approved to treat specific diseases can market their products with disease claims just as Epidiolex has been tested and approved by the FDA to treat a specific form of epilepsy. The supplement companies can only market their products according to the FDA and FTC guidelines with the disclaimer that they are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” The FDA has only been targeting companies selling CBD supplements that are making medical claims. The solution is to stop making unsubstantiated claims and follow FDA supplement marketing guidelines. The onus is also on supplement manufacturers to follow labeling guidelines, good manufacturing practices (GMP) and FTC marketing restrictions. This carves up the market and ensures the public interest is served with safe drugs and supplements.
Second, we submit evidence to the FDA and educate the public on the holistic history of cannabis to make a clear case for the same status as other traditional herbal remedies. Cannabis has been used for thousands of years as an herbal remedy with particular evidence from recent centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Indian Ayurveda, as well as in the U.S. as an over-the-counter health supplement.
Third, we focus on the complete descheduling by the DEA of all CBD formulations and revision of FDA guidelines to allow the marketing of pharmaceutical drugs targeting specific diseases and herbal supplements for structure and function claims only. This includes petitioning the FDA to grant GRAS status with clear evidence that prior to 1937 cannabis was sold as an herbal supplement.
Fourth, we follow the same approach for cannabis products containing THC with the two-track approach of medical use and supplemental use. Again, supplement marketing must avoid all disease claims but can follow traditional claims. According to the FTC: “Claims based on historical or traditional use should be substantiated by confirming scientific evidence, or should be presented in such a way that consumers understand that the sole basis for the claim is a history of use of the product for a particular purpose. A number of supplements, particularly botanical products, have a long history of use as traditional medicines in the United States or in other countries to treat certain conditions or symptoms.”
Welcome to the new win-win strategy for the cannabis industry to provide safe, effective botanical products to improve the minds, bodies and spirits of consumers. Yes, it will take time but without vision and a big dose of optimism, we wouldn’t have made it this far with the majority of the public now supporting federal legalization. And we can finally evolve from the erroneous scheduling, controls, and groundless prohibitions to a more mature, inclusive industry that can compete in the international market.
Colorado once again has the opportunity to lead on the cannabis front. Currently, there is an interim committee within the Colorado General Assembly called the Opioid and Other Substances Use Disorders Interim Study Committee, and they will be reviewing six proposed bills to address the growing opioid problem in Colorado that claimed 329 lives due to overdose, which made up 38.8% of all drug related deaths. And while heroin use is on the rise, there is more data that links opioid use leading to heroin use than there is for cannabis being a gateway drug. The latter has been debunked.
The Opioid and Other Substances Use Disorders Interim Study Committee is a bipartisan committee consisting of lawmakers from both the house and senate. On the committee are 10 representatives and senators, five Republicans and five Democrats. Chair Rep. Brittany Pettersen, Majority Whip (D- Jefferson County, District 28), Vice Chair Sen. Colonel Kent D. Lambert (R– El Paso County, District 9), Sen. Irene Aguilar (D- Denver County, District 32), Sen. Cheri Jahn (D- Jefferson County, District 20), Rep. Chris Kennedy (D- Jefferson County, District 23), Rep. Clarice Navarro (R- Fremont, Otero and Pueblo County, District 47), Sen. Kevin Priola (R- Adams County, District 25), Rep. Kim Ransom (R- Douglas County, District 44), Rep. Jonathan Singer (D- Boulder County, District 11) and Sen. Jack Tate (R- Arapahoe County, District 28).
The six bills seek to create a myriad of strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. The first proposed bill is to authorize the creation of the Opioid and Other Substances Use Disorders Interim Study Committee to study and develop intervention, treatment and prevention methods for the growing opioid epidemic in Colorado. The second bill changes prescriptive authority for professional with authorization to provide prescription pain pills. The third bill allows for the creation of supervised injection facilities and safe needle exchanges, absolves people using opioid antagonists responding to someone who is overdosing and specifies synthetic opioids. The fourth bill seeks to use $2.5 million from the marijuana tax fund to repay loans and award scholarships for addiction counseling training, which is designed to address the shortage in behavioral health providers. The fifth bill adds residential and inpatient assistance program to the Colorado medical assistance program through a federal financial program that the state has identified. The sixth bill prohibits individual and group health benefit plans from requiring prior authorization for medicated-assisted treatment, requires the authorization for the reimbursement of Narcan, and requires health insurance companies to provide coverage for alternative pain management therapies, such as acupuncture, physical therapy and chiropractic services that are not less favorable than applicable services provided by primary care services.
These are all forward-thinking measures to address the opioid crisis in Colorado, however, none of the proposed bills include using cannabis as an exit drug, or as an alternative solution for pain management that is less addicting with no known overdose deaths even though it is the most used “illicit” drug in the United States. And while these are proposed bills, the first one mentions studying available medication options available by prescription. Medical marijuana has been legalized for medicinal use in 28 states, and Washington, DC, and in Colorado, chronic pain it is listed a qualifying condition for using medical marijuana. In a state where medical marijuana has been legal for 17 years with most registered patients using cannabis for treating chronic pain, it seems odd that cannabis would not be consideration. The only mention of marijuana is to use tax dollars for addiction counseling.
There is plenty of data and research available now to support that there is a link between states that have legalized medical marijuana and both a reduction in the use of opioid pain medications, as well as a reduction in the overall use of prescription medications. Some studies were conducted from self-reporting surveys of current medical marijuana patients in legal states, which can be impacted by selection and recall bias. However, there does exist a growing body of clinical research showing that cannabis in reducing and treating opioid and heroin addiction, and that cannabinoids work synergistically with opioids to increase their effect, therefore reducing the amount of opioid-based pain medication needed to decrease pain.
A week ago, several articles were published online about cannabis has being helpful in reducing opioid use in Colorado. This echoes studies that have been conducted on using cannabis for pain management and for curbing opioid abuse. Despite this research, Dr. Larry Wolk, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did not support the correlation to cannabis and the decrease in opioid abuse, stating “It just hasn’t been in place long enough. Anything that does get published at this point should be considered preliminary data.” While he has a good point in that this is preliminary data, his peers are already advocating using cannabis as an exit drug as well as a therapy for treating chronic pain. Medical doctors are also seeing the value of cannabis as an exit drug for opioid and heroin addiction. Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, a Harvard trained physician, is well known in the cannabis community and has been treating pain patients successfully with cannabis over opioids, and she advocates across the globe for using cannabis as an exit drug.
None of this is surprising to me. I myself have spoken about the issue at multiple conferences attended by medical professionals. As someone who has been in the cannabis space for over 16 years, and having owned a dispensary, I have spoken thousands of people throughout the world who have been using cannabis over opioids for managing pain. I have also met people who have stopped using opioids and heroin with the assistance of cannabis. The same goes for tobacco. I myself use cannabis for chronic and severe pain management, and I have also used cannabis to successfully stop smoking tobacco. It is a very powerful tool for managing pain and also for overcoming all addiction.
The committee will have a final meeting to vote on the proposed legislation on Tuesday, October 31, 2017. Addressing this opioid addiction crisis is going to take real leadership and the ability to embrace nonconventional methods that are showing to be effective, especially cannabis because it is readily available and already legal in Colorado. In addition to the suggestions made in these proposed bills, Colorado can create affordable access to cannabis through tax breaks and discounts, insurance coverage for addiction treatment using cannabis similar what is provided for alternative healthcare as well as coverage for those who chose medical marijuana over opioid-based pain medications and funding for medical professionals to learn the endocannabinoid system and how cannabinoids work on pain receptors.
Fortunately, this is an interim committee and there are opportunities to create amendments to add cannabis as a viable treatment option for pain management and to reduce opioid addiction and death. Most importantly, lawmakers can add an amendment to allow doctors to write recommendations for acute short-term pain. Currently, doctors can only recommend for chronic long-term pain, by allowing for recommendations for short-term acute pain, patients can opt to use cannabis instead of opioids or in conjunction with in lower dosages for time. This is helpful for when a person is going to have surgery or was in an accident, or anything that would require just short-term pain management that opioids would otherwise be used for. As mentioned earlier, studies have shown that cannabinoids are effective in reducing the need for opioids when introduced in conjunction with opioids, resulting in the need for less opioid-based pain medication. This is because some cannabinoids act on opiate receptors, which means that less opioids are needed. This lowers the chance of becoming addicted to opioids and potentially heroin.
Contacting your local representatives and committee members mentioned above can help facilitate meaningful and life-saving results for Coloradans struggling with chronic pain or addiction. We all know the saying about doing the same thing repeatedly trying to achieve different results, and while well-meaning, these bills are still sticking to traditional harm-reduction measures that will take time to implement when we have the tools right here in Colorado that can save lives now. Cannabis is effective and safe, and Colorado can take the lead on putting a major dent in the opioid epidemic here, and nationwide.
The 2016 elections brought with them a mixed bag of emotions. Cannabis consumers across the country won big with California, Maine, Nevada and Massachusetts legalizing cannabis for recreational use; and North Dakota, Arkansas, Montana and Florida legalizing cannabis for medical use. This means that there are now 28 states with legal medical cannabis with seven states, plus Washington, D.C. with laws allowing for recreational use. Denver passed social use, but it was a bittersweet victory with local lawmakers banning venues that hold liquor licenses from obtaining permits to allow for on premise cannabis use. Then there was the presidential election, which took many cannabis consumers by surprise, and most certainly has created anxiety as President-elect Trump begins announcing his new administration picks.
The good news in all of this is that cannabis now has the majority, which means federal laws are going to be changing rapidly to accommodate and manage this new paradigm. How this looks is anyone’s guess. States legalizing for medical and recreational use creates a federal regulatory conundrum. How should cannabis be regulated? Like the alcohol industry? Like the pharmaceutical industry? Nutraceuticals? What about the children that take it for medicine, how is that going to be controlled and monitored? Will cannabis be rescheduled to Schedule II on the Controlled Substance Act? Will the new administration and Republican controlled House and Senate take the whole thing down? Or will it all be left to the states?
So many questions. So much uncertainly. So many mixed emotions.
The elections also saw a complete turnover of Congress to Republicans, and the election of a Republican president. To say that this has many cannabis consumers and cannabis business owners nervous is an understatement. President-elect Trump has not made any major solid stances on cannabis outside of voicing his approval for medical cannabis and that legalization should be a state issue. However, outside of those that are more libertarian leaning and support individual liberty and responsibility, most Republicans are against legalizing cannabis. Law enforcement, which has a conservative bent typically leans right, and the private and public prison industries have been enriched by the drug war. Legalizing cannabis in any form is a threat to the prison industrial complex. Oil and gas, as well as the alcohol industry, are traditionally Republican, and are two of the largest lobbies against cannabis legalization. Also, purse strings could potentially be tightened against states with legal cannabis as a means of controlling states with more liberal policies.
Comparing maps of states with legal cannabis with 2016 presidential maps does not help much in determining what the future looks like. What is known is that while support among Republicans for cannabis is growing, the majority of Republicans are still opposed to legalization and that most of these people reside in the states that voted for Trump.
Probably what has most people alarmed is his appointment of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions has many people on edge because of his past stances on cannabis and controversial statements, including stating that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was OK “until I found out they smoked pot.” And he has a controversial history of making racist remarks. However, Sessions prosecuted a member of the Klan for randomly murdering a black teenager, eventually seeking and enforcing the death penalty for the perpetrator, and he also desegregated schools and was also one of the few Republicans who supported Eric Holder’s nomination as Attorney General. Trump’s potential cabinet looks no less frightening for the cannabis industry and cannabis consumers with people who have backgrounds in industries typically hostile to cannabis, including the oil and gas and pharmaceutical industries.
The Cannabis Consumers Coalition has Teddy Eynon with Dickinson-Wright signed on as legal support to help us represent cannabis consumer interests at the federal level. We will be working closely with elected and appointed officials to ensure that cannabis consumers rights are upheld. It was cannabis consumers who led the fight for legalization and it is the mission of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition to ensure that consumers have a significant role in how cannabis policies are created and that they support an ethical cannabis industry. To ensure that there is an ethical cannabis industry fully relies on ensuring that the industry is not altogether put to a halt.
Education will be key to everything as the nation adjusts to a new and much more conservative power base. The Cannabis Consumers Coalition supports full decriminalization and a free-market approach to cannabis regulation where cannabis consumers have more control over the way the industry is shaped – one that has common sense regulations that are not stifling to innovation and small businesses. It is our hope that the spirit of enterprise, capitalism and free-market economics are what drive Republicans to help ensure the most successful cannabis industry possible. Emotional or not, the future does not have to look bleak for cannabis consumers or for the cannabis industry. We must hold our lawmakers, old and new, accountable to seeing that our newly gained civil liberties and businesses are protected.
The Cannabis Consumers Coalition, a 501 (c)(3) charity, is committed to fighting for consumer rights and we need your help to make your voice heard. We need your help to do so. Donate today!
Breaking down barriers begins with a conversation. Spark the Conversation, founded by Bianca Green (formerly Barnhill), has set out to do just that in California. The mission of Spark the Conversation is to change the social stigma of Cannabis and the people who use it. Currently, the organization is traveling up and down California on a bus tour speaking in major cities throughout California. A former model and proponent of drug policy reform, Ms. Green is using her connections with celebrities to help break down barriers and create a conversation about the need for reform. Spark the Conversation is also videotaping people and asking people to upload 15-60 second videos introducing themselves as Cannabis consumers and to showcase how Cannabis consumption has impacted their life, their advocacy work and anything they want to say to show the rest of the world that cannabis consumers are normal, everyday contributing members of society. Cannabis consumers are encouraged to upload their videos onto social media using the hashtags #HelloMyNameIs, #sparktheconversation and #bethechange.
What Ms. Green is doing is revolutionary. She is bringing together two groups of people, celebrities and Cannabis consumers, to bring about more awareness for drug policy reform and we hope that this effort quickly gains traction across the nation. With elections around the corner with multiple Cannabis related issues on the ballot, now is the time to show the world that we are coming out of the cannabis closet. However, it doesn’t stop there. Legalizing Cannabis is not the end game. For the record, the Cannabis Consumers Coalition supports removing Cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act altogether, not just legalizing and creating more protectionist regulations. Legalizing has not resulted in a significant drop in arrests in minority communities, and blacks and Hispanics are still disproportionally arrested in states that have decriminalized or legalized cannabis use. Legalizing Cannabis is just one step to ending the war on drugs, which is a $2 trillion failure that has also completely failed at keeping people from using drugs and instead has enriched the prison industrial complex.
Spark the Conversation is fighting back against these failed policies by challenging people to speak out against it. The root of the drug war is not even related to public safety, it was an attack from the status quo against black people and the counter-culture movement during a time when the Civil Rights movement had just changed federal and constitutional law, and hippies were protesting war all across the country. Richard Nixon’s former domestic affairs advisor, John Ehrlichman was quoted in 1994 stating for an interview, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
This statement is backed by Nixon’s behavior creating the Controlled Substance Act. He created a commission, National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer commission, to determine whether Cannabis should be added to the act. The Shafer Commission determined that no, because Cannabis did have medicinal value and that it was not habit forming like other substances, and therefore should not be added to that act. Nixon went against their advice and officially launched the war on drugs with Cannabis eradication becoming the number one priority across the United States.
Since then, and unprecedented amount of people have been arrested and the United States now has the largest prison population in the world, 25%, while only encompassing 5% of the global population. Those statistics are nothing short of shocking when we are supposed to be a free nation. Cannabis of course makes up the majority of those arrests and has been the largest budget for law enforcement for decades. The good news is that Cannabis prohibition is crumbling across the nation with the majority of states and Washington, DC decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing it for medicinal and recreational use. The fight is far from over, and states that have legalized are experiencing backlash from law enforcement and prohibition groups. Now is the time to seize the momentum of the changes in Cannabis laws across the country and have open conversations about ending failed drug policies.
Cannabis and drug use has a long history in the performing arts, whether in film or in music. Portrayals of drug use can highlight the harms of substance abuse, or highlight the humor and normalcy of adult consumption. It is fitting that celebrities would join the conversation to finally pull the plug on one of the worst policies ever created in the United States, especially one that has been behind so many human and civil rights abuses. Now is the time to get the conversation to change hearts and minds. For more information on Spark the Conversation, to see bus tour stops and dates and to receive their monthly newsletter, visit www.sparktheconversation.org.
Social use for cannabis consumers is one step closer to becoming a reality in Denver, and we are excited to announce our official endorsement of Denver, CO’s Initiative 300, Denver’s Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program. Social use is long overdue. It is almost too incredible to believe that four years after legalizing for recreational use, and 16 years since Amendment 20 was passed to permit medicinal use, that the majority of the state does not have laws to permit the social use of cannabis in public places. We not only endorse I-300, we believe the initiative to be the best model for other localities experimenting with cannabis legalization and social use.
Colorado made history in 2012 when voter elected to legalize the use of recreational cannabis. In 2001, Amendment 20 passed allowing Coloradans to use medicinal cannabis. In all of these years, cannabis consumers, both medical and recreational, have been struggling to find a place to consume that does not get shut down within a few months of opening. Some places have managed to stay open and expand, such as iBake, a Cannabis Consumers Coalition favorite for the community work they have done through the years. A few places in Colorado Springs have managed to obtain business licenses. With the exception of these very few places, Outside of private residences, cannabis consumers, and tourists specifically, have nowhere to go and risk receiving tickets for public consumption. Colorado voters with children at home, or who want to socialize with like-minded people, have nowhere to go to socialize with like-minded people despite voting for the right to use cannabis legally.
I-300 is a perfect solution gives small businesses, like bars and restaurants, permission to allow consumption of cannabis in designated areas, much like smoking outdoors in a designated area, away from patrons. A four-year pilot program, it gives an opportunity for small businesses, and not just bars, a chance to allow indoor consumption in the form of edibles and vaporizing, and outdoor smoking options to abide by the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. Most importantly, it gives non cannabis consumers who are also community stakeholders a say in what is happening in their neighborhoods. This is a critical because there has been upset within neighborhoods regarding what some feel to be an encroachment on their own ability to voice whether or not they want cannabis in their neighborhood. This is one of the reasons that Denver issued a moratorium on new cannabis business licenses.
Kayvan Khalatbari with Denver Relief Consulting, and former co-owner of Denver Relief Dispensary, is behind the initiative, says about the initiative, “In Denver we’ve legalized the purchase and possession of cannabis for adults but have not provided them with a safe and discreet place to consume it away from city sidewalks, parks and places where children congregate. The City of Denver Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program is a responsible approach to solving this problem that won’t remedy itself. It will provide designated spaces in certain City-permitted business establishments where adults 21 and over can consume cannabis in accordance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and out of view of the public. Several states will be voting on similar measures this fall, while the Colorado Legislature considered a bill this year on the topic. Two new potential iterations are currently being crafted for this coming spring’s legislative session. The problem stems from the fact that many residents of Denver live in HOA or landlord-controlled properties that disallow cannabis use on the premises, while more than 70 million tourists come to Colorado each year, also with no place to go. This has led to a 500% increase in public consumption tickets issued in Denver since the passing of Amendment 64 in Colorado, with African-Americans being arrested at a rate 2.6 times higher than whites.”
Clearly, with a 500% increase in public consumption tickets and continued disparity among arrests, social use is very much needed not just in Denver, but in all of Colorado. Attempts by Vicente Sederberg LLC to collect signatures for a social use ballot was widely successful, but the campaign was abandoned to work with local businesses and City Council-members on a solution. Denver NORML had tried to get a social use initiative permitting social use clubs via private membership style clubs with a provision to allow for special event permitting. The group failed to gather enough signatures. In our opinion, any social use measure is a baby step in the right direction for cannabis consumers; however, we do believe that I-300 is a more inclusive bill that considers all stakeholders. With I-300, neighborhoods get a very large say in what happens in their immediate communities, and business owners also have a chance to compete for a larger market share. It a win for all stakeholders involved if successful, which we have faith that it will be.
By now, most if not all of Denver residents have received their ballots and Denver Elections are on November 8, 2016. Remember to vote YES on I-300!
Election Day is just weeks away, and being a presidential election, the turnout will be the highest of any election year, and Cannabis consumers across the country in multiple states will also be voting to legalize Cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. There are five states with recreational Cannabis on the ballot and four states with medical Cannabis on the ballot. If anyone of them pass, the majority of the country will have some sort of legal Cannabis. It will be interesting to see how this whole process rolls out under whoever is elected. Officially, the Cannabis Consumers Coalition supports decriminalization and we will be pushing for that regardless of who is elected. Full decriminalization will let creativity roam and be the best solution for a free, yet sensibly regulated, consumer-centric market.
The Cannabis Consumers Coalition does not endorse any single candidate, and this is being written to educate Cannabis consumers on the positions that candidates have on Cannabis. There is a lot of cagey rhetoric as the candidates dance around the issue and seek to provide some clarity on the stances that the candidates have, and the impact on the country and progress we have made ending cannabis prohibition. We have also included third-party candidates because we as an organization strive to be inclusive, even in politics, knowing that our members and merchant partners carry different views, with the common goal of freeing Cannabis from prohibition. As to be expected, major party candidates are taking the safe route to appease the broad spectrum of their voting base, and the third-party candidates (and their supporters), have been very vocal about their support for some sort of legalization or decriminalization. We focus heavily on Hillary Clinton, not because of her possibility of being elected president, but because she has recently been vocal about supporting changing cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II narcotic on the Controlled Substance Act, and it’s important for cannabis consumers to know the implications of this designation.
Hillary Clinton has come out in favor for rescheduling Cannabis to Schedule II narcotic after a history of being “tough on drugs” during her husband’s presidential terms. A very important bill in being heard by the Judicial Committee in Congress called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, and is a federal bill that would reschedule Cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II narcotic. While at the surface this seems a step forward in terms of easing restrictions on Cannabis research, if passed, a Schedule II designation at worst could set ending Cannabis prohibition back another 100 years. The bill states to respect state rights, and Clinton has said that she would allow current experiments in democracies continue, the reality is that Congress could easily pass in a bill a measure amend the bill to defund support for states with medical and recreational marijuana while increasing spending for federal enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act, and the pharmaceutical industry would benefit greatly from controlling cannabis, particularly in isolating cannabinoids and creating specific medications.
Worst still, rescheduling Cannabis to Schedule II would still be enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will change in terms of the unprecedented incarceration rates for nonviolent drug offenses, a problem her husband’s administration created. Supporting Schedule II is a very questionable stance for those who support decriminalization as well as for those who are want the drug war to end and to implement harm reduction policies that treat drug use as a health issue because it changes nothing with how it is enforced under the Controlled Substance Act.
To understand the importance of the risk of rescheduling cannabis to schedule II, it is important to understand the sordid past between Cannabis and the Controlled Substances Act. Prior to 1937, when the war on Cannabis effectively started, almost everyone with a plot of land grew hemp and Cannabis for practical and medicinal purposes. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed to curb that behavior and started demonizing the devil’s lettuce for political reasons to advance other special interests that Cannabis impeded. Fast forward to 1969, years into the counter-culture movement when the peace movement started, and people began questioning the status quo and their policies while protesting in the streets in massive groups demanding things like civil rights and peace, and smoking a lot of weed and experimenting with other hallucinogenic drugs in the process. In response to the counter-culture movement, Americans elected a very conservative (and very corrupt) president, Richard Nixon, who created the Controlled Substance Act, formed the DEA, and then added Cannabis, which was connected to the feared counter-culture, as a Schedule I narcotic, a category for drugs that are highly addicting with no medicinal value. Nixon did so against the advice of an advisory commission he set up himself, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Commission in 1972. Then began the highly racist and class-based abuse of civil and human right in our country’s history since Jim Crow and slavery.
The history of Cannabis prohibition is mired in corruption and special interest politics. In an age of transparency, it seems very short-sighted to hand off a plant to big pharma that someone can grow in their backyards and create even more regulations around, and therefor methods of enforcement. People want cannabis for recreational AND medical use and the best approach for that would be to continuing to allow states to be experiments in democracy, but to also pursue a federal approach that decriminalizes cannabis, or at minimum legalize and regulate it at a federal level that considers recreational and medical use. With Hillary’s reputation as purportedly coddling big business, it makes it tough for many Cannabis consumers to trust her motives in suggesting that Cannabis be dropped to a Schedule II and who could be lobbying her and her administration if she is elected into office.
With the history of cannabis regulations already mercilessly cutting out small businesses from the onset, and the longstanding history of big business in other industries wiping out the competition through the use of protectionist regulations, cannabis consumers also need to consider the new businesses and the impact Schedule II would have on them when heading to the polls. Overnight they could become subject to FDA approval processes for products that they claim are medicinal, processes that can take years and millions of dollars, and your favorite mom-and-pop shop or newly created infused product could be gone overnight. If Clinton is elected president, it will be critical for Cannabis consumers to write her administration and local lawmakers about the importance of decriminalization versus rescheduling to maintain the new industry that we helped to create.
Donald Trump has flip flopped on Cannabis through the years with supporting ending the war on drugs in the 1990s, to stating that he did not support Cannabis legalization in the beginning of his campaign to supporting medical Cannabis. It seems that politically he is being very careful so as to not appear too soft on drugs, nor impinge on individual freedom, which are both ends of the broad spectrum of Republican beliefs. There has been talk of him appointing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as Attorney General; however, Christie’s scandals do not make him the best candidate for AG. If Republicans stuck true to their belief in fiscal responsibility, they would be condemning the war on drugs as a failure, and those that are big on personal responsibility and individual liberty should align with the notion that people should be free to do whatever they please so long as they are causing no harm to others. On the other end is the religious right, and they traditionally support draconian drug policies. Playing it safe and not being very clear on where he is on Cannabis legalization definitely seems like a strategy to appease the entire base of the Republican Party.
Arguably the most cannabis friendly candidate in terms in individual freedom, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, is very much out in the open in his support for Cannabis legalization and was recently CEO of a Cannabis company called Cannabis Sativa, Inc. until he resigned to run for president. Libertarians believe that the market corrects itself and therefor do not support government made regulations, which in their opinion fosters government corruption. We at the Cannabis Consumers Coalition believe industry has shown to not correct itself and instead mislead the consumer to meet bottom lines, otherwise the Erin Brockovich’s of the world would not be exposing unethical businesses poisoning people. It was the same with Cannabis when some businesses were caught using chemical pesticides and lysing about being organic. A company’s marketing budget is on average 5-12% of a company’s sales, so that is potentially millions of dollars being paid to sway consumers in certain directions that may not be good for them, or the economy. Because of this, we believe that we need a balance of consumer representation and reasonable regulations that protect public safety.
Jill Stein, and the Green Party, support ending the drug war and are very vocal about it as it is one of their party platforms. They also support reforming our criminal justice system and implementing restorative justice over the current punitive justice that is not doing anything to help rehabilitate criminals. These are important issues to many cannabis consumers; however, the Green Party advocates socialism and their programs are federal and funded with tax dollars, similar to many countries in Europe with more robust socialist programs that we have here in the United States. Many cannabis consumers are supporters of the Green Party, which saw more converts from people disappointed that Bernie Sanders did not receive the presidential nominee. Many cannabis consumers are also Libertarians, so Jill Stein will be far too left for their taste, and definitely far too tax-and-spend for Republican cannabis consumers.
Executive Director Larisa Bolivar gets interviewed by Ricardo Baca on the Cannabist Show with special guest, investigative reporter David Migoya. The Cannabis Consumers Coalition was the first organization to release the names of the businesses who used unapproved pesticides in Colorado launching an investigative report.
Watch the show here:
It’s been over two years since cannabis has been legalized for recreational use and the industry is brimming with talent waiting to unleash what is to become the next economic boon for the United States economy, and it needs to be allowed to fully flourish with the intentions of those who voted for this paradigm shift, the consumer.
We at the Cannabis Consumers Coalition are excited about the new cannabis industry for the economic and revenue growth potential the new industry offers local economies, and hopefully soon, the federal economy. We fought for this. We wanted to have the right to consume cannabis without getting arrested or losing our jobs. And, because we fought for this, we want to see this brand new industry be very successful. Success, however, is relative. Success for a business is defined by significant returns on investments with the largest market share going to investors. This is accomplished by maximizing production, which may not always be with the consumer in mind. The Cannabis Consumers Coalition is working with groups and lawmakers to help set best practices and standardization within the industry that are consumer focused that are also profitable as well, so that both the industry and cannabis consumers can have their needs met.
Success for a consumer is defined by having confidence that the product he or she is purchasing is safe, high quality, and most importantly, is the indeed the product for which it is being marketed. Recently, multiple businesses were caught using unapproved pesticides and fungicides, and on top of that, many of these businesses also lied about being organic. This actually posed a safety issue because some consumers with compromised health depend on products that are grown without chemicals that could exacerbate their conditions. And then, perhaps even more shocking, some prominent people and attorneys in the industry rose up to defend the businesses for lying, stating that since the labeling of food as organic is a federal label, and therefor doesn’t apply to the cannabis industry, these businesses were exempt from being in trouble. What about honesty, integrity, and ethics? Currently, there are businesses who used poisonous pesticides and lied about being organic that are serving on stakeholder groups and helping to shape policy. How is that ethical?
Many policies in Colorado, which is a bellwether state for other states “experimenting” with legalization or considering it, have not been consumer-centric. Take for example the issue of not having anywhere cannabis consumers can go and consume cannabis socially. We have tourists coming to the state with no welcome mat and safe places to consume in, and even residents who voted for legalization are forced to continue to consuming cannabis in their basements and garages. Then, there are the recent policies in major cities in Colorado, such as Denver and Colorado Springs, restricting the growth of new recreational and medical cannabis businesses that would provide competition for better quality cannabis, more selection, and lower prices.
Major policy influencers representing industry trade groups, such as Michael Elliott of the Marijuana Industry Group (MIG), defended the decision by Denver officials on November 10, 0215 to recommend extending the moratorium on new businesses to Denver City Council, stating that the current number of businesses are adequately meeting the demands of consumers. But, they aren’t. The pesticide issue alone shows that these businesses are not meeting consumer demand for high quality products that are guaranteed to be safe. By not allowing new competition, we are not allowing businesses to be incentivized to create better products and better performing businesses, as Mason Tvert from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) points out in response to Denver’s decision to extend the moratorium. This also gives the black market a brand new incentive –operators now have an opportunity to market cannabis as craft cannabis that is clean and pesticide free. There are ways to tell if cannabis has been well flushed and is clean without having to test it. It is “old school” common knowledge that clean buds burn to light gray ash that reduces to almost nothing. And, that is what consumers want, clean, high quality cannabis, and if the regulated market doesn’t provide what cannabis consumers want, they will find it on the black and gray markets.
And, as if cannabis consumers didn’t have enough wolves in sheep clothing, lately, there has also been the emergence of well-funded groups backed by some industry players purporting to be consumer groups that merge the interests of consumers and industry. That is akin to the oil and gas industry creating their own safety regulations. We all know that one of the biggest challenges facing Americans today is too much influence of any industry in politics and are putting profits over the interests of the individual consumer. We see this as price gouging in the healthcare and technology industries. The Washington Post came out with an article that explained in very simple and profound detail the oligopolistic practices of big players in the U.S. economy. What happens in a market that is oligopolistic is businesses come together to form an elite group of few large conglomerates to dominate the market and reduce consumer purchasing power because of the resulting lack of competition. This is exactly what is playing out in the new cannabis industry. Groups consolidating power to that they can control everything.
We have to ask ourselves as cannabis consumers, is this what we want the new cannabis industry to continue to evolve as? Or, do we want to create an industry that sets standards for a new model economy that infuses conscious capitalism that empowers the consumer exclusive of the industry as its own collective voice? Consumers deserve to have their own voice, and the Cannabis Consumers Coalition is that voice. Now, while the industry is still its infancy, is the most critical time to bring power into the hands. We can’t do this alone. Cannabis consumers need to work together to join our voices and help in setting standards and best practices for this industry on our behalf, and take our power, the power of our vote, back into our hands to impact policy decisions that affect us directly. There is power in numbers. Join today and take that power back.
Larisa Bolivar, Executive Director of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, has over 14 years of experience as a trailblazer and pioneer in the cannabis movement. Her years of dedicated activism to cannabis policy reform and fighting for the rights of patients and marginalized community members within the cannabis community, and the Cannabis Consumers Coalition attention to important cannabis consumer issues such as pesticides use and the involvement of big businesses, like Monsanto, into the emerging cannabis industry have captured the attention of world renowned activist organization, Anonymous.
Interviewed for their first episode in their new podcast, Anoncast, by former law enforcement officer Alek Hidell, Larisa discusses the emerging cannabis industry, the potential influence of players like Monsanto has on the nascent industry, issues impacting cannabis consumers, such as pesticide and fungicide use, and the mysteries behind her mentor and 420 Rally founder Ken Gorman’s murder.
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Executive Director Larisa Bolivar discusses issues related to cannabis consumers and entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry in this interview by High NY.