CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – A 3-year-old girl who has epileptic seizures has made a dramatic improvement since moving to Colorado to be treated with medical marijuana, her parents say.Addyson Benton was diagnosed with Intractable Myoclonic Epilepsy when she was 9 months old.”Her first EEG’s showed that she was seizing over 1,000 times a day!!!” her aunt, Missy Spears, wrote on gofundme.com.Even with anti-seizure medications, Addyson was still having more than 70 seizures a day, Spears said.The Bentons packed up their lives in West Chester, Ohio and moved to Castle Rock in March.
DENVER — It turns out selling weed is pretty hard. Contrary to popular belief, selling it legally, at least, isn’t all THC-infused lollipops and rainbows. Just ask David Schwartz.
The six-year cannabis-industry veteran came to Colorado in the ’90s from Long Island, New York, after discovering Boulder on his way to a Rainbow gathering in Wyoming. For him, selling marijuana in a locale known around the nation for its liberalized pot laws is not just about counting money; it’s about taxes, regulatory compliance, inventory management, and above all, staying on the right side of Colorado’s “pot cops” — the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED).
“Every single aspect of the industry requires a fair amount of consciousness and due diligence,” says Schwartz. “Your daily sales have to be loaded into MED at the end of the night, all your weights have to be accurate, you have to account for anything that dries up or goes missing. Every day you’ve got to do an accounting of what’s in your inventory.”
Schwartz’s midsize marijuana dispensary, Herban Medicinals, is dotted with plastic-encased magazine reviews of the shop’s most popular marijuana strains — with names like Sour Grape, Swiss Bliss and Fractal Kitty. The interior would be unremarkable if not for the 50 or so marijuana plants growing in a room behind four glass windows that occupy about a quarter of the business.
Schwartz often works out front behind a window where he checks patrons’ IDs before buzzing them into the dispensary. He says when he got started, there were sweeping rules changes on an almost weekly basis, but those have slowed to a more manageable pace as the industry has matured. Another thing that has changed are the attitudes of the customers.
Five jurisdictions have laws purporting to legalize recreational marijuana use: Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington, with more states considering such legislation. Does legalization negate employers’ zero tolerance substance abuse policies and disciplinary rights following a positive marijuana test result on a workplace test? No, and any answer to the contrary is misleading. Can these laws confuse employees and cloud their understanding of their rights? Yes, without clearly defined policy language, employee communications and supervisory training.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but in light of these new state recreational marijuana laws, employers must clearly communicate to employees that their workplace substance abuse and testing policies have not changed and still apply to marijuana use.
Federal law criminalizes marijuana, and employment laws do not protect recreational marijuana use
Marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law, and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld prosecution even of medicinal marijuana users. As state authority to declare even medical marijuana use lawful is suspect, it is even more unlikely state authority would extend to prohibit discipline for lawful, off-duty conduct that remains federally illegal. Additionally, Drug-Free Workplace Act contractors are prohibited from allowing workplace use/possession, and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) employers may not accept recreational marijuana use as a valid excuse for a positive test result on a DOT drug test.
Courts that have thus far considered whether employers must tolerate medical marijuana use that is “lawful” under state law have sided with employers taking adverse action where the same conduct is considered criminal as a matter of federal law. Further, current illegal drug use for recreational purposes is not protected under any federal or state disability or leave laws or arguably under any employment laws at all, although just cause is always a consideration in a union environment. Significantly for employers, none of the recreational marijuana laws that have been passed provide employment protection from termination of employment due to marijuana use.
Recreational marijuana laws either specifically protect employers or establish no restrictions on employer action
Alaska, Colorado and the District of Columbia have recreational marijuana laws providing express protection for employers. The laws in all three jurisdictions clearly indicate employers are not required to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace, and that they are not intended to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees. Driving under the influence of marijuana is specifically prohibited in Alaska and Colorado, and the recreational marijuana laws in those states specifically allow employers to regulate on-premises use and possession of marijuana. Given these express protections, Alaska, Colorado and D.C. employers can continue to manage workplace substance abuse/testing issues as in the past without concern regarding legal compliance issues under the recreational marijuana laws in those states, although Colorado employers should consider a minor twist, discussed below, based on that state’s off-duty conduct statute.
The laws in Oregon and Washington are virtually silent on the employment relationship. Oregon’s law indicates it is not to be construed to amend/affect laws “pertaining to employment.” Washington’s recreational marijuana law says nothing about employment. Court decisions in those states construing the state medical marijuana laws have held that employers need not accommodate medical marijuana use because those laws are decriminalization statutes only. Accordingly, those states may offer employees even less protection for employer action on the basis of recreational marijuana use.
For the third consecutive month in 2015, recreational marijuana sales in Colorado reached record highs in March, according to new Department of Revenue data released Monday.
More than $42.7 million of recreational cannabis was sold in Colorado pot shops in March, the most recent data available from the state. Those sales totals crushed previous records set in February ($39.1 million) and January ($36.4 million) 2015.
Another record for the state’s so-called marijuana experiment: Nearly $2.6 million was raised for school construction capital in March via the excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. The monthly excise taxes earmarked for schools never topped $2 million in 2014, the first year of recreational pot sales in Colorado or anywhere else — but they’ve raised more than $7 million in the first three months of 2015 already.
Legalization advocate Mason Tvert said the consistently rising recreational sales and tax numbers make sense.
“Consumers are becoming more comfortable with a regulated market,” said Tvert, communications director for advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project. “They’re more familiar with it, and that’s reflected in their behavior. For quite some time last year, no stores were open in many parts of the state, and we’ve seen these businesses open their doors and begin to establish themselves, and people are now aware of them.
“It’s becoming a more normal behavior. Rather than trying to find illegal marijuana in the underground market, people are learning that it’s easier to access it legally in regulated markets.”
Medical marijuana sales have risen consistently since January 2015, according to the data; Medical pot sales in March totaled $31.9 million, up more than $2.5 million from February’s totals. The record for medical marijuana sales in Colorado’s recreational era came in February 2014 when $36 million in medical pot was sold.
In December of last year, Nebraska and Oklahoma (the “NO States”) filed suit against Colorado in the United States Supreme Court, seeking to invalidate Colorado’s recreational cannabis laws. Last week, the Supreme Court invited the Obama Administration to weigh in with its position on the lawsuit.
The NO states allege that marijuana from Colorado has strained their financial and legal resources by forcing them to spend time and money making arrests, housing criminals, impounding vehicles, and seizing drugs. Colorado marijuana has also allegedly undermined the NO States’ marijuana prevention programs. Without any statistics to support their claims, the NO States also allege that Colorado has failed to keep its marijuana in Colorado.
The NO States argue that Article VI of the Constitution requires federal law prevail over contradictory state law and no state may “authorize the violation of federal law.” According to the NO States, Colorado’s allowing growing and distribution of marijuana on a commercial basis violates federal law and ultimately damages the NO States. Above all, the NO States seek a ruling from SCOTUS mandating that Colorado cease its commercial cannabis operations.
Importantly, the NO States do not seek a ruling mandating that Colorado ban the personal use of marijuana, or that it prosecute marijuana use as a crime. The lawsuit instead seeks to end Colorado’s regime that allows for legal commercial growing and distribution of cannabis for recreational use. Washington and Oregon filed amicus briefs supporting Colorado’s right to legalize cannabis for adult use.
Procedurally, the Constitution mandates that one state may sue another state in the Supreme Court without first having to sue in a lower court, but only with permission of the Supreme Court to do so. When states sue each other and invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (which only rarely happens), the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction power, rather than appellate power. In this type of scenario, SCOTUS does not host a trial on the merits of the case; it typically selects and assigns an expert to the case to gather facts and make recommendations about how it should proceed.
On Monday of last week, SCOTUS asked the Justice Department (specifically, the Office of the Solicitor General) essentially to explain its “position” regarding the litigation. Though a DOJ response is not expected for months, I am hoping the DOJ will reiterate to SCOTUS its position as set forth in the most recent Cole Memo.
According to the Wall Street Journal, at least one high-level legal scholar has opined that the lawsuit should and likely will be dismissed on procedural grounds:
University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson said odds were slim that the justices would allow Nebraska and Oklahoma to circumvent the normal process of filing suit in district court and appealing to circuit court before seeking Supreme Court review. “The real lawsuit shouldn’t be filed against Colorado. It ought to be Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Lynch, to force the attorney general to enforce federal law which undoubtedly is supreme over Colorado law,” Mr. Levinson said.
I’m not so sure given the high stakes involved.
The last time SCOTUS weighed in on a marijuana case of significant magnitude, it did not go well for the marijuana industry. Nonetheless, much has changed since Gonzales v. Raich, evidenced by the increasingly large number of states that have chosen to end marijuana prohibition and by the recent California federal court decision to hear evidence on the constitutionality of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under federal law.
At this point though, it is anyone’s guess as to how SCOTUS will handle this potentially critical case of first-impression, and most involved with the marijuana industry are rightfully nervous. If Colorado’s legalization experiment gets shut down by its neighbors, there will be little in the way to stop more “NO States” from going after the other handful of states that have legalized, ultimately setting back years of marijuana advocacy, curtailing states’ rights, and emboldening federal prohibition.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked President Barack Obama’s administration for its views on a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado over its voter-approved law legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults.
The Obama administration has allowed states to experiment with marijuana legalization even though the drug remains illegal under federal law.
The high court’s action delays its decision on whether the nine justices will hear the case. There is no deadline for the U.S. Justice Department to respond to the court’s request.
In their challenge to Colorado’s law, Nebraska and Oklahoma said marijuana is being smuggled across their borders and that drugs threaten the health and safety of children.
Nebraska and Oklahoma noted that federal law still prohibits marijuana, arguing that Colorado has created “a dangerous gap” in the federal drug control system.
Colorado stands by its law and said the Supreme Court was not the correct place to resolve the case. Oklahoma and Nebraska’s lawsuit was filed under the court’s rarely used “original jurisdiction” in which the justices hear disputes between states that are not first reviewed by lower courts.
Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012. Washington state also voted the same year to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults, while Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia followed suit last fall.
Is Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper starting to come around on the issue of legal marijuana? After a quick stroll through our archives and a viewing of a recent Fox Business interview with the Democrat (above) where he says of marijuana, “it’s not as vexing as we thought it was going to be,” it certainly seems like it.
A headline from Dec. 2013: “Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Hancock won’t attend pot retail sales.” From Feb. 2014: “Gov. Hickenlooper urges caution for fellow governors when it comes to legalization.” From Oct. 2014: “Hickenlooper: Colorado voters ‘reckless’ about legal weed.” From Dec. 2014: “Colo. Gov. Hickenlooper would have reversed pot legalization if he could.” From Jan. 2015: “Gov. Hickenlooper optimistic about legal weed on ‘60 Minutes’.” Also from Jan. 2015: “Gov. Hickenlooper makes pot banking priority in State of the State speech.”
And now this headline — “Colorado Gov.: Pot is ‘not as vexing as we thought it was going to be’ (video)” — tied to “Opening Bell” host Maria Bartiromo’s interview with Hickenlooper at the Milken Institute Global Conference, which runs through today.
Bartiromo began the interview by congratulating Hickenlooper on Colorado’s unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, “way below the national average,” she said. Later on, around the 3:50 mark, she asked the governor about marijuana — and he started his answer by acknowledging the number of millenials moving to Colorado, something he’d already addressed in the interview.
“It’s all those young people coming, and they look at marijuana and say, ‘Hey we can drink whiskey, why can’t we have a legalized system with marijuana?’ If you look back it’s turned out to not be as vexing as some of the people like myself — I opposed the original vote, didn’t think it was a good idea. Now the voters spoke so we’re trying to make it work, and I think we are.
“Again, it’s not as vexing as we thought it was going to be, but at the same time it hasn’t been the economic boon that some promoters thought it would be. I think we are slowly, through hard work, building a regulatory system, making sure we keep it out of the hands of kids, making sure we keep our streets and roads safe, making sure we kill that illegal black market — drug dealers don’t care who they sell to. And we’re getting there.”
Bartiromo responded to the governor with a measured observation and perhaps some hyperbole about her own network’s pot coverage: “I think you’re right. When we did a special a couple years ago on marijuana, it was the single-best, most-watched program ever on cable, and we were all like, ‘Wow, what does this say about America?’ America smokes pot.”
Hickenlooper answered by noting that cannabis use hasn’t spiked in Colorado.
(JTA) — Seth Wong’s place of work is heavily cluttered, with shelves loaded with moldy bagels, stale cake and fermenting carrots. There’s a not-so-faint smell of urine in the air.
But if all goes according to plan for Wong and his new business partner, JJ Slatkin, their new office soon will have something else in abundance: marijuana.
The two Jewish 30-somethings are launching a new company that will offer contaminant testing and potency analysis for cannabis, which Colorado legalized in 2014.
Wong’s current place of work is no frat house; he is president of a 70-year-old company called Industrial Laboratories, which does food and drug analysis. The aging cakes and other foods are being analyzed for shelf life and examined for pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, the clutter includes $500,000 machines that deconstruct molecules to ensure the nutritional claims on food product labels are accurate, and the stench of piss comes from racehorse urine being tested for banned substances. The lab also drug screens the urine of livestock, carrier pigeons, greyhounds and Iditarod racing dogs.
“Normally, our lab smells like a stockyard,” Wong told JTA during a recent tour of the facility in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, just west of Denver.
When it comes to their new company, TEQ Analytical Laboratories, Wong and Slatkin are hoping two elements will give them a leg up over the competition: Wong’s strong reputation for quality microbiological testing and their personal connections with many of the state’s leading marijuana producers — many of whom happen to be Jews.
“Many of the original real trailblazers and entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry are Jewish, and there are a handful of major operations within Colorado that have Jewish ownership,” said Slatkin, who has a background in finance. “Our Jewish community relationships have definitely been important.”
There’s Ean Seeb, chairman of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a Jewish federation leader who has his own Jewish events company. There’s Joseph Max Cohen, who started the Clinic Medical Marijuana Center in 2009 and now has multiple facilities in the Denver area. Many of the administrators at the Pink House Blooms chain of marijuana dispensaries are Jewish. So is Richard Greenberg, executive vice president of Global Cannabis Ventures and an investor in an Israeli company focused on improving marijuana breeding methods.
Slatkin and Wong are well-connected in this world, largely through their Jewish associations. They count Seeb as a good friend. They often run into marijuana entrepreneurs at events sponsored by the local Jewish federation, where Wong and Slatkin are young leaders. (Wong met his fiancee on a Jewish federation retreat.) The business partners are also Wexner Heritage fellows, a program that supports young Jewish volunteer leaders.
Wong, 34, has an unusual Jewish background. His mother is from a Jewish family in Philadelphia and his father is from a Protestant Chinese family. Wong’s grandfather came over from China in the 1920s at the age of 9 as a “paper son” – with fake identity papers. Though his father and brothers already were in the United States, they were running bars and brothels during Prohibition and weren’t much help, and Wong’s father was adopted by a Jewish family.
He never became Jewish, but four decades later his son – Wong’s father – brought home a Jewish wife. Wong himself grew up in Boulder, going to Hebrew school and Jewish youth groups, yet relishing his family’s famed Chinese roast pork recipe. When he turned 13, Wong asked his father – who owns Industrial Laboratories, which Wong now runs – to convert to Judaism so he could stand alongside Wong on the bimah platform at his bar mitzvah. He obliged.
Slatkin, 32, comes from a long line of Denver Jews. Five generations ago, his ancestors fled pogroms in Russian to move to a Jewish agricultural settlement in Cotopaxi, Colorado, that flourished briefly in the 1880s. After the settlement failed, they migrated to Denver and in 1887 founded an Orthodox synagogue on Denver’s west side, Congregation Zera Abraham, and had a hand in founding several others.
A Jewish day school graduate, Slatkin is a leader in his minyan at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, a Conservative synagogue in Denver, and he maintains a weekly Torah study date with an Orthodox rabbi in town. He and Wong met through Jewish channels.
DENVER — With smiles, selfies and a few nervous chuckles, a group of Nevada legislators and policymakers got a first-hand look at Colorado’s fast-growing legal marijuana industry this weekend, coming face-to-face with thousands of green growing plants.
The small group is part of Nevada’s efforts to understand what legalization could mean. The Silver State has permitted medical marijuana, and now there’s talk voters might be asked to legalize recreational pot next year.
The group met its Colorado counterparts, and toured several marijuana stores, including the high-tech, 40,000-square-foot Medicine Man in Denver, one of the state’s largest.
A company tour guide showed the group Medicine Man’s growing and processing operations as the smell of marijuana hung heavy in the air and workers prepared young plants for potting. The guide also showed off a bucket of dried marijuana containing several pounds of processed pot, which sells in Colorado for about $2,500 a pound. On the black market, Colorado’s high-potency pot can fetch $6,000, experts say.
Will Big Tobacco become Big Marijuana?
Along with Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, although all went about it slightly differently and on different timeframes. Colorado is unique because it has hundreds of functioning stores and grow operations, all overseen by state regulators.
“Last time I was in one of these, we were doing a bust,” joked Ron Dreher, a former narcotics and homicide detective who now works for the Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada.
“Life changes, huh?” state Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom, a Las Vegas Democrat, shot back with a laugh as the two men took pictures of the plants.
Dreher said he’s concerned that legalized marijuana would serve as a gateway drug and about the impact of potentially increased access for kids. He also pointed out that while Nevada was the first state to legalize both gambling and prostitution, “we’re on the back burner with marijuana.”
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and state lawmakers are cautious about running afoul of the Justice Department. Voters, on the other hand, have forged ahead.
Former university president turns to selling marijuana
Colorado Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat who represents an area near Boulder, urged Nevadans to think carefully but be prepared to act quickly. Colorado’s voters didn’t just legalize marijuana but also enshrined that right in the state constitution. While that makes it hard to abolish, it also makes the regulations hard to alter, Singer said. He said lawmakers ought to consider legalizing marijuana themselves, instead of falling behind a growing wave of public sentiment that pot should be treated like alcohol.
“The No. 1 thing I tell people that tax revenues for are up and the sky isn’t falling. The naysayers were wrong,” Singer said.
In February a similar delegation from Vermont conducted a fact-finding mission. Vermont is widely expected to become one of the next states to legalize, perhaps becoming the first state on the East Coast to take the plunge. A study commissioned by the Green Mountain State concluded taxes on legal pot sales could generate between $20 million and $75 million annually in Vermont. Colorado collected about $70 million in marijuana taxes and fees last year, the first year of legalization.
Mary Alice McKenzie, executive director of The Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, Vt., spent three days in Denver with the Vermont delegation. It wasn’t enough, she said.
The first thing I notice about doing yoga stoned is my pulse. That otherwise inconspicuous sign of life is suddenly very much present, from my forehead to my pelvis, and the latter makes me want to giggle. I think it’s okay to giggle, and so I do. Here inside this garage-turned-yoga studio in central Denver, everyone around me is making noises—giggles and more—upon taking her turn hitting the communal vape that’s being passed around.
After another healthy inhale of vaporized weed, we flow through our vinyasa, and I start to take note of everything in the room: the intricate weave of the fishtail braid of the girl sitting behind me, the beads of sweat dripping down my spine, the goofy facial expression the woman to my right is making, likely the result of the drug’s effect tickling her eyelids and mouth corners. Eventually, my thoughts turn from fleeting to fixated, and by the time we hit happy baby pose, my back is melting into the mat and I’m taking in heavy, delicious breaths.
Shannon Donnelly, a 26-year-old pot entrepreneur and the class’s organizer, later tells me the reason I’m able to breathe so deeply is because of the relaxing indica strain we’re smoking. Its name is Flo and it’s a bronchial dilator, believed to help expand the lungs to facilitate intense breathing. Pair this strain with vaping, the preferred method of indulging for the health conscious, and you’ve got the ideal yoga practice.
“There’s this common misconception that smoking cannabis makes you slow and lazy, but it’s not true—there are some strains that are actually great for exercising,” Donnelly tells the group of a dozen women who are attending her marijuana yoga class one Sunday afternoon in March. “Vaping is much better than smoking. There’s no carbon dioxide, tar, heat, or carcinogens getting into your lungs. Vaping is a great alternative for asthmatics too, because it’s not harsh.”
Donnelly works for several local dispensaries in Colorado, but spends weekends running her startup, Healthy Honeys, which aims to promote a wellness-centric marijuana lifestyle. Healthy Honeys puts on yoga and burlesque classes, inviting participants to join in on group seshes beforehand and vaporizer demonstrations afterward.
Once our yoga class winds down, we pass around different vapes—the iPuff, the Pax, the Ripstic. The one that catches the most attention, however, is the Volcano, a gadget that sells for some $540 and releases vapor into a detachable plastic bag. At first glance, I think we might be doing whippets, but I soon realize that taking a pull of vapor from the Volcano has smooth and long-lasting results; it’s even been the subject of a medical study on the health benefits of vaping.
“These vapes can help you mellow yourself out,” proclaims Donnelly. “They make you feel healthier when you smoke. In the last few years, my voice has gotten deeper because I smoke so much cannabis, but now that I vape, I don’t feel bogged down. There’s not as much gunk in my chest.”
When Donnelly, or pretty much anyone else out here in Colorado, talks about marijuana, she doesn’t call it weed, pot, or bud: The preferred term is cannabis. Ever since recreational use was proclaimed legal two and a half years ago, the industry has been rebranding itself, wiggling away from its counterculture roots and in turn aligning with the burgeoning wellness movement.
Since cannabis companies officially opened their doors last January, high-end businesses have been popping up all over the state that challenge the idea that weed is just a lowbrow commodity. The phrase “classing up the joint” is ubiquitous in Colorado.
In Denver, the epicenter of this thriving industry, the dispensaries are chic, the grow houses specialize in organic strains, and the edibles are artisanal (and sometimes even gluten-free). There’s artful glass-blown paraphernalia, spa treatments that utilize THC, and cannabis beauty products too. The ubiquitous green leaf isn’t just a drug here, it’s a lifestyle.