WeedWeek edition / May 04, 2020
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My friend Molly Ball’s biography of Nancy Pelosi comes out this week and it’s getting great reviews. Makes a great mother’s day gift! On an early episode of the WeedWeek podcast, Molly took us Inside Jeff Sessions’ Head.

1 FEDS’ BURIED MED MEMO REVEALED

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A newly released 2018 U.S. Justice Department memo helps explain why advancing MED research has been such an ordeal for advocates.
NBC 

The legal issues are complex and obscure. In a very-thorough blog post, lawyer Shuki Greer explains how the memo revealed Justice's "predetermined bias" against research.

  • The document marks a victory in psychiatrist Dr. Sue Sisley's long legal battle to test MED on PTSD sufferers. Among the other issues involved, Sisley has said the cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi, the country's only federally legal pot-farm, is inadequate for her study. 
  • This NBC story does a good job contextualizing the issue within the broader fight for MED access. Politico has more.
  • The NBC story also includes a great interview with University of Mississippi Professor Mahmoud ElSohly, who defends what is surely the world's most maligned pot crop. He called the disparagement "propaganda" by legalization supporters.
  • The memo involves whether a system of independent universities producing MED crops is compliant with America's international treaty obligations. "We suspect that coming up with a legal memo that he could use to justify his delay tactics certainly gave [then-Attorney General Jeff] Sessions some sly satisfaction," Greer, the lawyer, writes.
  • Greer suggests this will bring more openness to future federal memos involving cannabis, though it's not clear whether it will accelerate MED research.

In another complex legal case, Canna Law Blog looks at the bankruptcy filing of United Cannabis Corp. , a Colorado company involved in a closely-watched intellectual property dispute. 

This week on the podcast
Nikki & Swami Farm the Living Soil

Swami Select founders Nikki Lastreto and Swami Chaitania met in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, coupled in 1980, and started their Mendocino County farm in 2003. The couple share their transition from globe-trotting seekers to practitioners of regenerative farming. 

  • Nikki and Swami have applied growing principles learned in their travels to India and Asia.
  • Nikki sold pot while working as a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle and KRON.
  • Swami Select is one of the few cannabis farms to commit to the regenerative farming, an agricultural approach geared toward restoring the earth.

2 WEEDMAPS’ SWEEPING SUBPOENA

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In a nice scoop, MJBiz's John Schroyer obtained Weedmaps' federal grand jury subpoena. The Yelp-like service is based in Orange County, Calif.

Key details from the MJBiz story:

  • The subpoena delivered to Weedmaps-owner Ghost Management Group, demands extensive documentation about the business and financial operations, as well as communications with nearly 100 cannabis businesses, both licensed and not.
  • “The bottom line is the feds are showing they’re not done investigating cannabis, not done prosecuting cannabis,” California attorney Matt Kumin said.
  • It's not clear who or what the investigation, which appears to be ongoing, is targeting. “This could be a million things,” California attorney Jessica McElfresh said.
  • Attorney Henry Wykowski, who represented dispensary Harborside in cases against the federal government, speculated that the feds seemed to be focused on "recordkeeping and financial affairs, so that would gravitate toward some type of tax or financial misreporting type of offense."
  • The investigation originates from California's more conservative Eastern District. U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott has previously indicated that he is not prioritizing state-licensed businesses.
  • MarketWatch first broke the story that the September 2019 subpoena existed, but didn't obtain the document. 
  • Weedmaps says it is cooperating, but didn't say whether it has submitted the requested documents.

Weedmaps provoked the ire of California's industry when it continued to accept advertising from unlicensed dispensaries, despite a cease and desist letter from the state's Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Los Angeles Times

  • In August 2019, a month before it received the subpoena, Weedmaps said it would stop accepting unlicensed ads in 2020. It appears largely to have done so.
  • Weedmaps was often essential for unlicensed businesses to reach consumers.

🌴WW California has more.

Quick Hit

  1. In another action, the Federal Trade Commission sued a California CBD business for making unproven claims about COVID-19.
    Marijuana Moment
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3 POT IS “ESSENTIAL:” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

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WeedWeek business columnist Dan Mitchell delved into the nuances of cannabis' new status as an "essential" industry. But what does essential mean?

"The answer has legal, political, cultural, scientific, and medical implications. It will help determine, among other things, how it will be regulated and taxed in the future. Should we treat it like booze? Like food? Like pharmaceuticals? All of which are essential. Like spa treatments, which are not essential? Is it a pastime? A vice? A health elixir? It is to some extent all of those things, which is why some local governments have struggled to decide what to do about dispensaries amidst the lockdown."

Read the whole thing.

5 WEED, COVID AND THE FUTURE OF RETAIL

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Rosie Mattio, boss of heavy hitting PR firm Mattio Communications,  says the industry's overnight coronavirus overhaul says a lot about the future of retail.
AdWeek

  • Among other things, retailers need to adjust to much more cost conscious consumers. "Leading brands, including Papa and Barkley and Cresco Labs, have accelerated the launch of value product lines to accommodate cash-strapped customers. Other retailers, from California to Michigan, have started offering compassionate pricing policies for patrons who need financial assistance to purchase their medical or wellness products."

6 WILL THE PANDEMIC ACCELERATE LEGALIZATION?

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https://www.scientificanimations.com/

At New Cannabis Ventures, Alan Brochstein echoes many analysts when he anticipates the pandemic could accelerate legalization.

  • States and cities could legalize to "combat falling tax revenue, higher expenses and high rates of unemployment...Certain markets will be extremely pressured."

7 HIGH TIMES JOINS THE BIZ

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Beleguered media and events company Hightimes Holding Corp. is now in the cannabis industry.

🌴WW California has more.

The Growth Op shared five classic High Times stories, most of them several decades old.

Quick Hit

  1. Hadley Ford, CEO of MSO iAnthus resigned after a review found he had "misused iAnthus resources to his benefit." The stock is trading around 19 cents per share.

8 FORMER EMPLOYEES SUE MSO HARVEST

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A different kind of harvest

Two former employees are suing new High Times investor Harvest Health and Recreation. They accuse the MSO of engaging in multiple compliance violations and asking them to break the law. 
Phoenix New Times

  • Filed in Maricopa County (Phoenix), the lawsuits allege Harvest "improperly labeled marijuana products, sold THC-labeled products to non-patients in a dispensary lobby, and stored marijuana products in a dispensary ceiling, among other violations of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act."
  • Both plaintiffs say their previous complaints were rebuffed and ignored.
  • Harvest CEO Steve White said the company will deny the allegations.

9 NEW ZEALAND RELEASES REC BILL

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New Zealand, which says it has effectively eliminated the coronavirus, has turned its attention to REC legalization.

  • The country released language for the referendum on REC legalization set for September. Check out the summary here.
    MJBiz
  • The proposal includes licenses for microgrowers, prioritize indigenous-run businesses and allow for public consumption.
  • If approved, the law would enable potency limits and likely put a cap on the total market size.

10 WITHER PINK KUSH?

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Homies In Heaven / Creative Commons

Leafly investigates the strange case of Pink Kush, a Canadian strain celebrated for its potency, which is not well known south of the 49th parallel.

"After a solid decade of popularity with no sign of stopping, does Pink Kush reflect a uniquely Canadian preference, like that for bagged milk and ketchup chips? Or does our love of this strain reveal nothing more than market naïveté?"

🍁WW Canada is the best way to keep up with the Canadian cannabis world.

Slate reminds us strain distinctions aren't real.