<![CDATA[NBC Southern California - Southern California News - [LA FEATURE] In the Weeds]]>Copyright 2018http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/localen-usWed, 20 Jun 2018 23:51:22 -0700Wed, 20 Jun 2018 23:51:22 -0700NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Top Stories]]>Tue, 06 Jun 2017 15:51:24 -0700]]><![CDATA[Weed Rush]]>Thu, 15 Jun 2017 15:17:18 -0700]]><![CDATA[Featured Video: Drive-Thru Pot Dispensary]]>Fri, 09 Jun 2017 09:53:35 -0700]]><![CDATA[National Marijuana Stories]]>Fri, 09 Jun 2017 09:46:00 -0700]]><![CDATA[LA County Keeps Marijuana Ban in Unincorporated Areas]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 20:13:02 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/lagenerics-pot-plant.jpg

A ban on commercial cannabis remains in place in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, with the Board of Supervisors Tuesday opting not to take any action on the issue, even as new legal dispensaries open with state and local licenses in other parts of the county.

The county's Department of Consumer and Business Affairs presented three options to the Board of Supervisors for moving forward: allow and regulate all types of medical and recreational commercial cannabis activity; limit the types of cannabis businesses that can open, for example, only allow medical dispensaries; or keep the ban in place.

Based on months of discussions with drug policy experts, academic researchers, public health professionals, local elected officials and residents, the Office of Cannabis Management earlier presented the board with 64 recommendations and a tax revenue analysis. The DCBA report focused on the steps required to implement any particular policy, including detailed maps of where businesses could be located.

A key takeaway of the report is that if the board chooses to lift the ban, there's a lot more work to be done -- setting up a commission as well as an advisory review board, creating a health assessment, amending at least five different county ordinances and setting up a public workshop around access to cannabis opportunities. All of which would likely take months, if not years.

And the board is not in a hurry.

"The Board of Supervisors has decided not to rush this issue and, by taking no action on the report today, has allowed the ban on commercial cannabis in the unincorporated areas to stay in place," Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. "However, this ban does not affect residents' ability to use cannabis recreationally or grow plants on their property for personal use as guaranteed under Proposition 64."

More than 100 people signed up to speak on the issue during the board's meeting and a majority of them pressed the county to move toward regulation, arguing that the ban allowed a black market to flourish, contrary to the aim of statewide legalization.

"The county and its cities need leadership," said cannabis activist Jonatan Cvetko. "They need your leadership. So uphold the spirit of Prop 64 and provide pathways to legislation to transition dealers ... to a regulated market."

But others raised concerns about protecting neighborhoods and children in particular from exposure to cannabis.

One Rowland Heights resident and school board member said her neighborhood wanted the ban to remain, urging the county not to take a cookie-cutter approach to all communities.

"I speak as a parent, a grandparent, a great-grandparent, but also as a board member," Lynne EbenKamp told the board. "Many of us are speaking up because children never did get a vote on this. And they will see the worst effects of it in their future."

Hahn said she would continue to work to get illegal dispensaries in unincorporated areas shut down quickly and permanently. However, that has proven difficult to accomplish.

The report to the board noted that about 75 illegal stores were operating in April 2017. Seven months later, 29 of those shops had been shut down, but 31 new ones had opened in their place, in what was described as a "whack-a-mole" problem.

The DCBA offered various strategies to enhance enforcement, ranging from a county seal of approval in store windows to increase consumer awareness of legal versus illegal businesses to more aggressive ideas, like warning landlords and employees about illegal activities and disconnecting utilities serving illegal stores.

If the county moves toward regulation, estimated tax revenues would be roughly $18 million in the first year of permitting increasing to nearly $34 million after five years, according to the OCM.

Implementing a tax would require a ballot measure. The earliest opportunity for such a measure would be November 2018, which would require action by Aug. 10.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Former Mexico President Vicente Fox Joins High Times Board]]>Mon, 18 Jun 2018 20:47:53 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Vicente-Fox-High-Times.jpg

Former Mexico President Vicente Fox, who calls himself a soldier in the global campaign to legalize marijuana, is joining the board of directors of venerable cannabis publication High Times to advance his agenda.

Speaking with The Associated Press about his views on cannabis and his new appointment, Fox said he foresees a day when a robust legal marketplace will produce new jobs and medicines while sharply reducing cartel violence in his home country.

He also sees pot being part of the North American Free Trade Agreement among Mexico, Canada and the U.S., where some 30 states are embracing legalized marijuana in some form.

Fox's appointment to the magazine's board points to the growing acceptance of the once-scorned industry. Earlier this year, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, reversed his long-held position against legalization and became an adviser to a cannabis company.

WHY GO LEGAL?

Reason one, Fox says, is freedom, "which is maybe the highest value that human beings have."

"I don't think that governments will ever have the capacity to impose behaviors, to impose conduct, to human beings. At the very end, prohibitions don't work. What works is your own free decision."

Then, it's history. "The war on drugs has been a total failure" since the days of former President Richard Nixon, Fox concludes.

Fox also cites the experience in Mexico, where tens of thousands of killings have been attributed to drug violence.

The trend toward legalization "is moving out of a crime activity, a criminal activity that causes death and blood on the streets, into a business, an industry, that is proving every day that it is sustainable," Fox says. "To me, marijuana, cannabis, it's only the first steps. At the very end, these principles that I spoke about apply to all drugs."

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE AT HIGH TIMES?

"Well, I am a soldier, in the sense of being an activist, working for this new future, working to break the paradigm," he says. "In short, joining together those who believe in this future."

THE LESSON OF MEXICO

Mexico has legalized medicinal marijuana, but Fox says regulations are needed to put the change into effect. With legalization spreading in the U.S., and Canada expected to broadly legalize cannabis later this year, Fox is eager to see Mexico follow suit.

"We have to come up to where the United States is," he says. "This is happening in several key states throughout the union, and also like other world nations are doing, like Holland, like Portugal, Uruguay, so Mexico has to be updated on this public policy."

If Mexico takes the next step to full legalization "one of the things that I'm absolutely convinced that will happen in Mexico is that we'll take away half of the money that cartels get from selling drugs in the United States, and that half of the money will reduce the amount of guns and ammunition bought by the cartels."

COULD MARIJUANA BECOME PART OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT?

Yes, Fox says. Once it's a legal industry and a legal farming product, "it should form part of NAFTA," Fox says. "It's another product that can enhance our private sector, corporations, farmers, retailers ... so it should happen. We should promote it."

HOW CAN THE U.S. RECONCILE THE CONFLICT BETWEEN FEDERAL LAW, WHICH SEES POT AS ILLEGAL, AND STATE LAWS THAT PERMIT USE?

The only fix, Fox says, is to change policy at the federal level. However, "I'm not appealing to ... (President Donald) Trump because he never understands anything," Fox says.

Fox believes members of Congress should visit states where marijuana has been legalized.

"Go around California, visit Washington state, visit Colorado. Look at the successful stories ... Look at the amount of taxes that are being collected, look at the peaceful and harmonious way this new industry is being grown."

"We need...Congress to pay attention to this." Fox says.

THE BLACK MARKET CONTINUES TO THRIVE IN CALIFORNIA, DESPITE LEGALIZATION. WHAT CAN BE DONE?

"The thing is, those criminals that used to have control of this industry in the United States are still there," Fox says.

"This is one more reason why in the long term I think that all drugs should be legalized. ... But we must educate people. We must educate consumers. We must prevent the wrong things from happening."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Senate Supports State-Backed Bank for Pot Money]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 19:40:20 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Pot+generic1.JPG

California lawmakers moved Wednesday to create a state-backed bank to handle the billions of dollars flowing from the newly legal recreational marijuana market.

The world's largest legal recreational marijuana economy, created under a law that took effect this year, is projected to grow to $7 billion.

The bill approved by a bipartisan 29-6 state Senate vote is designed to help pot entrepreneurs who usually deal in cash because most banks won't accept money from a product that remains illegal under federal law.

SB930 now goes to the Assembly for consideration.

The bill would permit charter banks and credit unions regulated by the state Department of Business Oversight to provide limited banking services to pot-related businesses.

They could use the banks to pay rent, state and local taxes and fees, vendors within California for goods and services related to the cannabis business and to buy state and local bonds and other investments.

"We're not using the federal system, we're not using the federal wire," Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys said of his proposal. "This is a short-term creative approach to deal with this extraordinary problem."

He said the banks would suffice until what proponents hope will be an eventual change in federal law.

Hertzberg said the current system is dangerous because it requires pot dealers to conduct their business using cash, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. He said he's heard of some businesses burying or hiding tens of millions of dollars for lack of an alternative.

State budget officials project California will collect $600 million in cannabis taxes in the upcoming year, but that often requires the businesses to haul duffel bags full of cash to tax agencies.

The cash economy also makes audits and other standard oversight measures difficult.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

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<![CDATA[List: Crackdown on Unlicensed Recreational Pot Shops]]>Tue, 29 May 2018 16:43:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/DA+Marijuana+515.jpg

After laws legalizing recreation marijuana in California have gone into effect, the city attorney is cracking down on unlicensed pot shops Tuesday.

"I urge all property owners and marijuana businesses to follow the law and work with my office and the City’s Department of Cannabis Regulation to avoid facing serious criminal consequences," City Attorney Mike Feuer said.

Business who take part in the recreational weed market now must be licensed by both the state and city of LA, and must follow guidelines. A couple of those rules include: the business must be in a specific zone, the products must not be visible from the outside of the building, and more. 

A list of the locations associated with the misdemeanor charges are:

  • 4874 S. Huntington Drive in El Sereno
  • 12777 San Fernando Road in Sylmar
  • 945 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Wilmington
  • 841 Gardena Blvd in Gardena
  • 12737 Glen Oaks Drive in Sylmar
  • 16400 S. Vermont Avenue in Harbor Gateway
  • 10530 S. Broadway in South Los Angeles
  • 1151 Pacific Coast Highway in Harbor City
  • 2601 S. Normandie in Koreatown
  • 21044 Sherman Way #219 in Canoga Park
  • 15238 Saticoy in Van Nuys
  • 11422 S. Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles
  • 8717 Woodman Avenue in Panorama City
  • 14626 Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys
  • 521 S. Alvarado Street near MacArthur Park
  • 930 S. Robertson in Pico-Robertson
  • 10924 S. Main Street in South Los Angeles
  • 10352 Laurel Canyon Blvd in Pacoima
  • 9362 San Fernando Road in Foothill
  • 5611 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood
  • 5943 York Blvd in Northeast
  • Dank of Cali, Inc. a Marijuana Delivery Service
  • 15201 Oxnard Street in Van Nuys
  • 1815 W. Jefferson in Jefferson Park
  • 4271 Crenshaw Blvd in Leimert Park
  • 3014 W. Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles
  • 10958 S. Main Street in South Los Angeles
  • 6515 S. Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles
  • 9820 San Fernando Road in Pacoima
  • 11880 S. Main Street in South Los Angeles
  • 2214 S. Vermont Avenue in West Adams
  • 2315 S. Vermont Avenue in West Adams
  • 3206 W. Vernon in Southwest

To find legal recreational marijuana businesses in the city of Los Angeles, see the interactive map here.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Study: Deadly Pesticide Use Increases at Illegal Pot Farms]]>Tue, 29 May 2018 11:40:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/potAP_18130643656414.jpg

Researchers and federal authorities are finding what they say is an alarming increase in the use of a powerful pesticide at illegal marijuana farms hidden on public land in California.

The pesticide residue is showing up in about 30 percent of the plants themselves, researcher Mourad Gabriel told The Associated Press.

Most of the illegally grown California pot is destined for Midwestern and Eastern states, federal prosecutors said. Federal and state authorities are announcing Tuesday that they will target the illegal grows with $2.5 million in federal money.

Researchers found the highly toxic pesticide Carbofuran at 72 percent of grow sites last year, up from 15 percent in 2012, said Gabriel, executive director and senior ecologist at Integral Ecology Research Center and one of the few researchers studying the ecological impact of illicit grow sites.

California has long allowed medicinal marijuana, and this year legalized recreational pot. While U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott will continue to enforce federal marijuana laws, he said he is targeting illicit grows on public land with cooperation from California's attorney general and the state's National Guard.

"What is happening here is illegal for all purposes under anybody's law," he said in an interview before Tuesday's announcement.

One of the dangers before legalization was that users could not be sure what was in the product they were smoking or eating, but authorities say the rise in Carbofuran use poses an increased danger.

The chemical is intended for use as an insecticide but is so powerful that a quarter of a teaspoon can kill a 300-pound bear, Gabriel said. Research by Gabriel and colleagues previously showed that the use of pesticides at illegal marijuana farms is poisoning significant numbers of California's few hundred remaining fishers, a threatened carnivore.

Carbofuran can't legally be used in the United States, and every bottle found at the grow sites since 2012 has been labeled in Spanish, Gabriel said.

Scott said it is being smuggled in from Mexico by drug cartels and the itinerant laborers hired to clear forestland and replant it with marijuana. The laborers have to pack in the plants, fertilizer, irrigation hose and camping supplies for the summer growing season.

Laborers apprehended by authorities tell Gabriel the remoteness of the growing sites is one reason highly toxic Carbofuran is so popular.

"What they are saying to us is this is extremely effective — it takes a little amount to kill a deer or a bear — so we don't need to bring a lot of it to last a season," he said.

At normal levels, a typical bottle containing less than 1 liter should be diluted with up to 5,000 gallons of water, he said. But illegal growers are diluting it with just 3 to 5 gallons of water to spray plants, or using the concentrate directly to kill wildlife.

At that concentration, the chemical takes at least 2 ½ years to dissipate instead of roughly a month if it is used at recommended dilutions.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Brewery Told to Stop Making Beer With Hemp-Derived Extract]]>Fri, 25 May 2018 07:58:48 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/BeerFile.JPG

U.S. officials have ordered a San Francisco brewery to stop producing a specialty beer containing cannabidiol, the hemp-derived extract known as CBD, because it lacks the proper permitting.

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is allowing Black Hammer Brewing to sell the rest of the CBD beer it has already brewed, including an IPA called Toke Back Mountain that was introduced in 2017 in honor of the 4/20 marijuana holiday.

Like marijuana, hemp is a cannabis plant. But it contains very little THC, the compound that gives pot its high. CBD is seen by many as a health aid, though scientific proof is lacking.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that the order to stop brewing cannabis beer was issued because the trade bureau requires special approval for non-standard beer ingredients.

The brewery plans to apply for the approval.

It's surprising what is considered standard and nonstandard in the American beer industry. Rose hips are standard but rosewater is not. Guava is standard, but not passion fruit.

Hemp is not on the standard list and neither are terpenes, the compounds that Black Hammer uses to give the beers its dank cannabis flavor.

"Our guests love the CBD beers, and we're pretty sad that we have to stop producing them," said owner Jim Furman.

Furman said he considers Hippie Hill, an imperial IPA, to be his greatest success of the eight CBD beers he has created.

"It's got the most dialed-in cannabis flavor profile," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Cannabis Legislation Could Update a Million Convictions]]>Wed, 23 May 2018 08:52:33 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/160*120/LAgenerics+marijuana+dope+chronic+weed+pot+sticky+icky+ooh+eeh.jpg

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to back legislation that would automatically remove or reduce certain cannabis-related convictions.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis recommended support for AB 1793. The bill sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would shift the work of identifying cases eligible for dismissal or misdemeanor status to the Department of Justice, rather than individuals convicted.

"Thousands of eligible people around the state may be unaware of the opportunity to erase cannabis-related convictions and start anew," Solis said.

"The war on drugs primarily hinders communities of color, and our goal at the county is to give people second chances and remove barriers to employment and a productive and happy life."

As drafted, the bill would require the department to identify relevant cases, notify prosecutors and, failing a challenge by the prosecution, automatically reduce or dismiss convictions pursuant to Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana.

Less than 5,000 people statewide have taken advantage of the legal changes and petitioned the courts to have their records changed.

Solis estimated that as many as 1 million Californians may qualify for re-sentencing under Proposition 64, which reduced the most common marijuana felonies to misdemeanors effective Nov. 9, 2016.

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<![CDATA[Algorithm Will Help San Francisco DA Wipe Out Pot Cases]]>Tue, 15 May 2018 18:32:41 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GeorgeGascon.jpg

The San Francisco district attorney's office is partnering with the nonprofit Code for America to proactively wipe out thousands of marijuana convictions using a computer algorithm.

District Attorney George Gascon says in a statement Tuesday the partnership will help prosecutors identify those that are eligible under California's revised marijuana laws.

Gascon in January announced his office would dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975 after voters approved Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Code for America will use its algorithm to search through San Francisco's nearly 5,000 felony cases and identify those that are eligible, which will then be reviewed by a prosecutor and submitted to the court.

"You find this in jurisdictions all over the country, where it’s a significant social problem," said Executive Director and Founder of Code for America, Jennifer Pahkla. "These offenses, minor offenses, just hold people back so significantly and keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty and incarceration."

San Francisco becomes the first county in the country to deploy this system, and Gascon is challenging other counties to follow suit.

"Clearly the voters of California have spoken, they want cannabis to be legal," said Chief Marketing Officer of Apothecarium, Eliot Dobris. "And obviously no one should have a record for something that used to not be illegal, but currently is legal."

The new formula will take flight in a matter of days or weeks.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Sam Brock / NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer Docs Feel Unprepared, But Recommend Marijuana Anyway]]>Thu, 10 May 2018 16:18:40 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/potAP_18130643656414.jpg

Nearly half of U.S. cancer doctors who responded to a survey say they've recently recommended medical marijuana to patients, although most say they don't know enough about medicinal use.

The results reflect how marijuana policy in some states has outpaced research, the study authors said. All 29 states with medical marijuana programs allow doctors to recommend it to cancer patients. But no rigorous studies in cancer patients exist. That leaves doctors to make assumptions from other research on similar prescription drugs, or in other types of patients.

"The big takeaway is we need more research, plain and simple," said Dr. Ilana Braun of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led the study published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Patients want to know what their doctors think about using marijuana. In the new study, cancer doctors said their conversations about marijuana were almost always started by patients and their families, not by the doctors themselves.

Overall, nearly eight in 10 cancer doctors reported having discussed marijuana with patients or their families, with 46 percent recommending it for pain and other cancer-related problems to at least one patient in the past year.

Among those who said they recommended marijuana, 56 percent said they did not have sufficient knowledge to do so.

"They're not as close-minded as you might think, and they also feel they have a lot to learn," Braun said.

The survey was conducted in a random sample of cancer doctors; researchers got completed surveys from 237 doctors, or 63 percent.

Marijuana is considered an illegal drug by federal officials and federal restrictions have limited research. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded the lack of scientific information about marijuana poses a risk to public health.

There's evidence marijuana can treat chronic pain in adults and medications similar to marijuana can ease nausea from chemotherapy.

In the study, 67 percent of cancer doctors said they view marijuana as a useful addition to standard pain therapies, with 75 percent saying it posed less risk of overdose than opioids. About half view marijuana as equal to, or more effective than, standard treatments for cancer-related nausea.

Marijuana isn't harmless. The National Academies report said pot smoking may be linked to higher chances of traffic accidents, chronic bronchitis from long-term use and schizophrenia and other causes of psychosis, especially in the most frequent users.

Dr. Steven Pergam of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance answers questions about marijuana's safety from his colleagues at the treatment center.

His responses depend on the patient. A dying patient with cancer that's spread? "Whatever they want to do to make themselves comfortable," said Pergam, who wasn't involved in the new research. A patient with leukemia, however, should be warned of a theoretical possibility of a fungal infection tied to cannabis use.

"If we're not comfortable having these discussions, patients will get information from other sources, and it's not going to be as reliable," he said. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[California Marijuana Tax Collections Slower Than Expected]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 18:05:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/Marijuana-taxes-California.jpg

So far, the sale of legal marijuana in California isn't bringing in the green stuff.

Broad legal sales kicked off on Jan. 1. State officials had estimated California would bank $175 million from excise and cultivation taxes by the end of June.

But estimates released Tuesday by the state Legislative Analyst's Office show just $34 million came in between January and March.

Seth Kerstein, an economist with the office, says tax collections are expected to pick up significantly but it's unlikely California will reap $175 million by midyear.

The lackluster figure appears to reflect a bumpy rollout of licenses for the state's new legal marketplace.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration will release its own tax figures later this week.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Report: Legal Marijuana Boosts Government Revenue - a Little]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 12:36:49 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Cannabis3.jpg

A new report finds that legalizing and taxing marijuana boosts revenue for state and local governments, but not by much.

The credit rating agency Moody's Investor Service says in a study released Tuesday that legalizing recreational use of marijuana brings governments more money than it costs to regulate it.

Despite high taxes on the legal sales of the drug, the revenue accounts for a small portion of government budgets. In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use, a marijuana tax brings in the equivalent of about 2 percent of the state budget.

In Washington state, gross revenue from marijuana legalization equaled 1.2 percent of general fund revenue in the 2015-17 state budget.

Most of the states that have legalized marijuana earmark the revenue for law enforcement, drug treatment and other specific programs, which doesn't help the states' financial flexibility.

Likewise, Moody's described the revenue effect as minimal on local governments in states with legalized pot.

Creating revenue for the state is one argument proponents use for legalization in New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy, who supports the effort, is planning on having an additional $60 million in taxes from legalized marijuana in the next fiscal year. That's less than 1 percent of the state's annual spending.

Twenty-nine states now allow marijuana for either medicinal or recreational uses, and the business is growing quickly. Moody's cited data from the market research firm Euromonitor International that projects it will grow from a $5.4 billion business in the U.S. in 2015 to $16 billion by 2020.

Meanwhile, illegal marijuana sales are estimated at $40 billion.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Study to Examine Cannabis' Effect on Severe Autism]]>Fri, 27 Apr 2018 07:04:40 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/UC-San-Diego-Generic-Facebook.jpg

San Diego researchers will use a $4.7 million gift to examine a cannabis plant extract as a treatment for severe autism.

The largest gift to date for medicinal cannabis research in the U.S. was awarded to the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, the center announced Wednesday.

Researchers hope to discover whether medicinal cannabinoid therapies can alleviate symptoms in children with severe autism.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis. The product does not make a person or a child high.

Researchers believe CBD affects the central nervous system in a way that may be relevant to autism ranging from correcting brain or mood imbalances to modulating cognitive processes.

The clinical study will be led by Doris Trauner, MD, a professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Neurosciences at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Thirty children between 8 and 12 years old with a confirmed diagnosis of moderate to severe autism will be included in the trial set to begin around the end of 2018.

The grant was provided by Utah-based Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation.

For more information click here.

Amy Munera with the Autism Society of San Diego is pleased there is legitimate research going into the potential for using the drug to treat children living with autism.

"A lot of the early research looks promising but there's not enough of it," Munera said.

Igor Grant, M.D. works with UC San Diego and said he feels researchers owe it to the parents and the kids to see if there's a positive effect. 

"I have seen how challenging this is and how important it is that we find some additional ways to help these families," Grant said.

However, he cautions parents to wait for research to lead the way. 

"I'm optimistic but let's also be realistic," he said. 

"I mean, don't just jump on a trend." 

The CMCR at UC San Diego is also involved in other studies of medical cannabis including the potential for treating pain and bipolar disorder as well as the effects on driving.




Photo Credit: UC San Diego/Facebook]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Farmers of Northern California's Emerald Triangle]]>Sat, 21 Apr 2018 14:51:25 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/175*120/AP_16300816259192.jpgMany marijuana plant growers make up Northern California's Emerald Triangle, a marijuana-producing mecca at the intersection of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



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<![CDATA[Councilman Calls for "Marijuana Amnesty Boxes" at LAX]]>Fri, 20 Apr 2018 13:20:14 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/lagenerics-pot-plant.jpg

Councilman Mitchell Englander, on Friday, intends to introduce legislation calling for the installation of "marijuana amnesty boxes" at Los Angeles International Airport.

Of course, Friday is considered an unofficial marijuana holiday, "4/20," but the councilman is working in an official capacity to help clarify the shades of gray that travelers encounter when they leave Los Angeles, a city where adults age 21 and older can use, purchase, possess and even grow a certain amount of the federally prohibited plant.

"We want to make sure that residents and visitors to Los Angeles can enjoy a bummer-free experience at our airport," Councilman Englander said in a statement released by his office on Friday. "And while it is not encouraged that travelers have marijuana on their person when they arrive at LAX, this motion provides an easy remedy for the occasions when this does occur so that flyers can stay on the right side of the law. This legislation sends the message: surrender your supply before you fly."

Currently, people that mistakenly carry any amount of cannabis to LAX can be subject to a verbal warning, fine or even arrest due to the federal law on the substance. The "marijuana amnesty boxes" would provide the option to surrender marijuana without penalty at the airport.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Police Warn Against Marijuana-Related DUI on 4/20]]>Fri, 20 Apr 2018 14:49:25 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Traffic-lagenerics.png

On Apr. 20, popularly celebrated as a holiday in honor of cannabis, police are especially on the lookout for people driving under the influence of marijuana. With the official legalization of cannabis for recreational use in the state of California, police are concerned that there will be a surge in impaired drivers on "4/20" compared to previous years.

So, Los Angeles Police Department officers and AAA Auto Club in Downtown Los Angeles put together a PSA to explain people the dangers of driving while high on the locally legalized plant.

"I think there's a large misconception that cannabis makes you a slower, safer driver and that's just not the case," said Kamaron Sardar, police officer and drug recognition expert coordinator.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the number of nighttime weekend drivers in the U.S. with marijuana in their system increased nearly 50 percent from 2007 to 2014.

Sardar explained that although people commonly compare most drug effects to alcohol, the effects of marijuana are different but equally dangerous when operating a vehicle.

The THC, a chemical compound found in cannabis responsible for the "high" experience, goes to the brain and causes more mental than physical impairment, thus creating the distortion that makes people think they are driving slower and safer.

"That's their impaired brain telling them that, so it's definitely not safe to drive while using any of this substance," said Sardar.

When a driver is stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence, the officer does not know whether the substance is marijuana, alcohol, cocaine or other mind-altering substances. Officers observe the individual's behavior, the look of their eyes, pupils and the lips.

"We might look at the way you hand us your license or you might hand us your credit card instead," Sardar said. "All those things come into play and then the officer will make a determination of whether the individual needs to step out of the car and do a sobriety test."

The consequences of driving while under the influence of marijuana are the same as a first DIU conviction resulting from alcohol and can cost up to $21,000.

"You have to put yourself through all the stress, your family goes through all that stress with you, your insurance goes up, your car gets impounded, your license can be taken away...It’s just not worth it," said Sardar. "If anyone is going to use this, or drink, just do it and be safe about it and don’t drive."



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Advocates and Critics Reflect on Legal Pot Ahead of 420]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 21:09:06 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/176*120/GettyImages-810212740.jpg

America's marijuana supporters have a lot to celebrate on this 420 holiday : Thirty states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to a national advocacy group.

Nine of those states and Washington, D.C., also have broad legalization where adults 21 and older can use pot for any reason. Michigan could become the 10th state with its ballot initiative this year.

Yet cannabis remains illegal under federal law, and it still has many opponents.

Here's a look at what some advocates and critics have to say about the state of marijuana in the U.S. today:

KELLY PEREZ, DENVER

CEO and founder of kindColorado, which provides community engagement opportunities for the cannabis industry to be assets in communities.

WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU?

"It's a celebration, and we still have work to do. The war on drugs has not ended; the negative impact on communities of color has not ended. So we still have work to do even though we're legal in Colorado. There are states surrounding us that aren't. And as long as one black or brown youth is arrested for possession, we still have our work to do."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"It's an incredibly exciting time. There's so much opportunity, but we really do want to keep our roots in change and the people's liberation and reforming criminal justice and moving the legalization conversation forward but not forgetting those social justice issues."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"I want legalization to continue to be self-reflective and continue moving forward so that no one is arrested for cannabis possession. But also that we are having opportunities for people to enter this legal industry, especially folks who have been impacted by the war on drugs. ... We haven't done what we need to do for an industry built on the backs of black and brown and sick people."

DO YOU USE MARIJUANA? HOW DO YOU CONSUME IT?

"There is a brand that has a tincture that is very high CBD, low THC. ... It's a dropper that I'll put a little bit in my drink. And not drive -- that's super important. That's not very strong actually, but you need to be very careful about the way you consume."

LINCOLN FISH, SAN DIEGO

CEO of Outco Inc., a marijuana cultivator and wholesaler near El Cajon, California.

WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU?

"I often tell people it's a lot of fun. Seriously, can you think of another industry that owns a day of the year and a minute of the day? I mean, really -- nobody else has anything like that, so it's pretty special."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"It's three steps forward, two steps back. We had some reasonably good news recently from the feds, and Trump says he's supporting medical, and as far as he's concerned, recreational is up to the states. That being said, you know, he might change his mind in a tweet tomorrow. So we need more protection than that, but I think it's going the right way."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"Where I'd like to see it go is for it to take its rightful place -- certainly on the medical side, replacing some of these awful, horrible drugs that people are using. It can replace opioids in many, many situations, but we have a whole range of medical research to do on this that's never been able to be completed because of the silliness around it. On the recreational side, I want to see it take its rightful place right in there compared with ... alcohol and tobacco and so forth that people are using on a regular basis."

DO YOU USE MARIJUANA? HOW DO YOU CONSUME IT?

"Before I got involved in the industry, I didn't. In fact, I consider myself probably part of the problem. I didn't understand it well. I didn't know about all the hypocrisy, and I was a nerd in college. Now I use vapes. I'm not a good smoker. Even a cigarette -- I take one puff, and I fall on the floor coughing. And I don't like edibles because of the delayed effects and the uncertainty. But certainly tinctures and vapes, I enjoy very much."

MIKE GRIFFIN, DULUTH, GEORGIA

Public affairs director for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board

WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU?

"It just means the potential of, if they're not careful, communicating some things about marijuana, ignoring some of the negative things and trying to have an impact ... of causing the industry to expand."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"At Georgia Baptist, we represent about 1.4 million Georgians and about 3,600 churches. We're concerned ultimately about the fact that all the incremental steps that you're seeing throughout the United States -- whether it's dealing with medical marijuana or cultivation -- those types of things seem to be ultimately leading to recreational use, which we believe is very dangerous for a society and that there has to be a balance between public health and safety versus personal responsibility. ...

"We're concerned that we're moving in a direction that's going to have a very negative societal impact on homes, on young people, on driving, crime -- all those types of things that have a normal impact from alcohol or drug abuse is going to be accelerated with the legalization of marijuana."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"The Georgia Baptist Mission Board, basically from a lobbying standpoint, takes a neutral position on medical marijuana. ... We recognize the right of those families to seek what they feel is the necessary remedy to some of the illnesses that especially children are facing. So we draw the line at the cultivation point. And the reason we do is because we passed a resolution a couple of years ago as a state convention concerned that cultivation will eventually lead to recreation."

HAVE YOU EVER USED MARIJUANA?

"I never have. I ... came to know Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was 14, just out of that conviction of serving the Lord. I have tasted alcohol, but I've never had anything to do with marijuana because (of) believing that Christians should not be involved in some type of mind-altering drug for recreational purposes."

JOY HOLLINGSWORTH, SHELTON, WASHINGTON

Hollingsworth's family owns a marijuana farm south of Seattle, where they grow about 9,000 plants and employ 30 people at peak harvesting.

WHERE WILL YOU MARK 420?

"I will be in Los Angeles, California, hanging out with some friends and some people who are interested in cannabis, and kind of learn the market and what is going on in California. And to celebrate that opportunity -- their first 420 being a legal market."

WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU?

"The celebration of cannabis, not just recreationally but medicinally -- the actual plant that has helped so many people -- and just a day where people can come celebrate and kind of learn about the plant. It's a day where we all get together and vibe out on the celebration of this medicine."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"I feel the industry is moving toward a good balance of small farmers and commercialization and a better, wide spread of the plant for people to be able to have access to it."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"I would like to see the cannabis industry go into people having more access to the plant so we'd be able to see the medical benefits to cannabis -- not just inhaling it or eating it, but also being used as a topical, as a salve, being able to have access to CBD because of all the wonderful things that this plant can offer medically."

DO YOU USE MARIJUANA? HOW DO YOU CONSUME IT?

"I use marijuana and cannabis every day in a CBD salve form, so a topical form."

BILL DOWNING, READING, MASSACHUSETTS

Owner of CBD Please, which offers nutritional products made from hemp; co-founder and former president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.

WHERE WILL YOU MARK 420?

"I will probably smoke some marijuana at some point during the day. ... It would be nice if I could take the day off, but I can smoke marijuana any time I want. The thrill of being in a big crowd of people smoking marijuana has kind of faded for me a bit."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"If you look at national poll results for the question, 'Should cannabis be legalized for adult use?' you'll realize it has been rising in popularity and is now well over 50 percent by most polls. This is a very long-term trend, and it has to do with people understanding cannabis, understanding how safe or unsafe it is relative to recreational drugs, and people understanding that it is relatively very, very safe compared with other recreational drugs."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"I'd like to see the federal government become less obstinate in many ways. I'd like to see them step out of the path of progress for marijuana legalization and for the development of the hemp industry."

DO YOU USE MARIJUANA? HOW DO YOU CONSUME IT?

"I use it for both medical and recreational purposes. I find it to be very, very effective. I have some medical issues I am dealing with and, boy, without cannabis I would probably be taking some very dangerous pharmaceutical drugs.

"For recreational purposes, I am smoking it. For my medical purposes, I am using creams and tinctures and oils and things that go under your tongue."

JIM HARTMAN, GENOA, NEVADA

Former San Francisco Bay Area lawyer who now lives in Nevada and serves as chairman of Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy; helped write the opposition argument to legalizing marijuana that appeared on the state ballot two years ago.

WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU?

"I respect people's ability and right to celebrate the fact of marijuana and marijuana's legalization in various areas. But (I'm) not a particular fan myself."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"What we have in the United States is a commercialization of marijuana that I think is very, very dangerous. A profit motive is going to drive it, and the early experience in states like Colorado -- you have a youth increase in marijuana use, DUIs, homelessness, crime, a long list of ... problems that come with commercialization.

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"We are on an upscale or upside, where there will be an increasing number of states that may legalize it. Over time, I think people will begin to get the picture that this isn't a progressive, positive thing, but it has a lot of deleterious effects that will be seen in later years. ... As a kid, I remember getting on airplanes where there was a smoking section. We have come over a 30- or 40-year period recognizing that, 'Boy, that really wasn't where we should be going.' I think the same thing will happen with marijuana."

HAVE YOU EVER USED MARIJUANA?

"Not to any significant amount. I would say my early experience with marijuana in high school, I went to Berkeley High School at a time when marijuana was just kind of coming of age in the mid-'60s and actually saw the deleterious effects among classmates of mine -- a very good friend who got very caught up in the whole thing. It became an obsession with him as to where to buy it, where to grow it, and it took over his life. I think that is unfortunate, where kids didn't fully achieve, didn't fully succeed where they could have had they not got caught up in the whole marijuana movement."

STEPHANIE HORINE, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

Grew up around marijuana as the daughter of a Steve Miller Band roadie; now works for a small nonprofit and helps with Elementa, a women's group promoting wellness and cannabis.

WHERE WILL YOU MARK 420?

"I have to work obviously on the Friday so I'll probably just be at home. Maybe I'll stop at a newly opened dispensary and pick up something to enjoy. However, on Saturday we'll be doing a cooking class with cannabis ... so that's really where we will really be celebrating, on 4/21."

WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU?

"420 has been like an unspoken taboo for many years, but it was always code that, 'It's after work. Is it 420? Time to have your medicine.' So, that's what 420 means to me."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE STATE OF MARIJUANA IN THE U.S.?

"I believe that it's a long time coming that the states are being able to legalize a natural plant that was put here for our use. I think that it's going to take a little while, but the groundswell's here. And, I mean, there's so much black market that they might as well be cashing in and helping society with it as well."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT GO?

"I feel like cannabis should be a mainstream topic, and we should all be aware of it. I wish the stigma would go away. I think that over time, again, as we educate folks and people become more interested in it, I think it will just keep growing, and I want to be a part of that."

DO YOU USE MARIJUANA? HOW DO YOU CONSUME IT?

"Yes, I currently do. I have chronic illnesses, and I've also learned about the powers of CBD as well. And so I use it in different forms, whichever I need and whatever I can come up with."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[4/20: Marijuana's High Holiday and Its California Roots]]>Fri, 20 Apr 2018 06:06:56 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/184*120/AP_18107629157279.jpg

Friday is April 20, or 4/20. That's the numerical code for marijuana's high holiday, a celebration and homage to pot's enduring and universal slang for smoking.

Festivities are planned worldwide, culminating with a synchronized smoke at 4:20 p.m. local time.

How the marijuana-loving world came to mark the occasion is believed traceable to five Northern California men now in their 60s with bad backs and graying hair. They are the unofficial grandmasters by virtue of the code they created nearly 50 years ago as students at a suburban San Francisco high school in 1971.

"We thought it was a joke then," said David Reddix, a filmmaker and retired CNN cameraman. "We still do."

Reddix and his four buddies -- Steve Capper, Larry Schwartz, Jeff Noel and Mark Gravich -- were a stoner clique who hung out at a particular wall between classes at San Rafael High School. They dubbed themselves "The Waldos," a term coined by comedian Buddy Hackett to describe odd people.

One fall afternoon in 1971 a non-Waldo classmate came to the wall with an intriguing tale and a crudely drawn map.

The map purported to show the location of a marijuana garden in the forest of nearby Point Reyes National Seashore. The classmate said the pot patch belonged to his brother-in-law, a Coast Guard reservist stationed at Point Reyes.

The classmate explained his brother-in-law, paranoid of exposure and washing out of the reserves, was renouncing ownership of the garden. He handed Capper the map and said The Waldos were welcome to the marijuana.

The five excited friends made plans to find the weed after school and decided to meet in front of the school's statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m., when two of them finished football practice.

They piled into Capper's 1966 Chevy Impala, popped in a Grateful Dead 8-track tape and passed around joints as they drove the 45 minutes to the coast.

The five, now firmly middle-class fathers dressed in Polo shirts and khaki pants, laugh about tumbling out of a marijuana smoke-filled car when they arrived at their destination.

"It was straight of a Cheech and Chong movie," Schwartz said.

They didn't find the patch that day, but vowed to keep searching. They would pass in the halls and whisper "420 Louis" to each other if a new attempt was planned, indicating they should meet at 4:20 p.m. at the Pasteur statue.

The patch was never found.

"We were probably too stoned," Schwartz said.

But the "420 Louis" stuck as code for "let's get high at the statue after school." Soon after, it was shortened to simply 420 and meant "let's get high anywhere."

There were myriad reasons for the teens to speak in code about smoking marijuana in 1971. Marijuana's growing social tolerance was still decades away and people were receiving stiff prison sentences after being caught with even small amounts.

Another big reason: Noel's father was a narcotics agent for the California Department of Justice.

"He had an inkling we smoked," Noel said. "But I don't think he ever caught on to 420."

The five Waldos never moved far away and all remain close. Gravich's youngest daughter attends his alma mater and his oldest daughter is a recent graduate. Both say they've long been aware of their father's involvement in creating 420.

"The kids here think it's pretty cool," said Sophia Gravich, a sophomore.

The code remained confined to The Waldos' social circle until they began hanging out backstage at Grateful Dead concerts. Reddix's older brother was friends with band member Phil Lesh and that led to backstage passes and smoking sessions with the roadies and other crew members, who picked up the code.

The number really took off in the late 1980s when flyers were circulated at Dead concerts proclaiming 420 to be the password of stoner culture. The flyers went on to explain that 420 was California police code for marijuana smoking in progress. It's not, but that and other origin stories continue to circulate to the point that Capper and Reddix have committed themselves to preserving as much proof as they can that they are the originators.

They tracked down the Coast Guard reservist to record his recollections confirming he grew a marijuana garden and drew the map that launched the treasure hunt. With his permission, they obtained his Coast Guard records, which show him stationed at Point Reyes at the appropriate time.

They keep those records in a rented safe deposit box in a San Francisco bank where they also store other documentation, including postmarked letters they exchanged in the mid-1970s discussing 420. The San Francisco bank's address, as it happens, is 420 Montgomery Street.

The Oxford English Dictionary added 420 to its lexicon last year after reviewing the Waldo's records and credits the men as the creators.

Millions of dollars have been made over the years exploiting the number, from T-shirts and hats to cannabis businesses with 420 in their names. Hotels and tour companies advertise themselves as "420 friendly" and dating sites contain listings for people "420 compatible."

Though dozens of 420-related trademarks have been issued to various companies, The Waldos hold none.

But they are starting to cash in, if only a little.

Lagunitas Brewing Co. in nearby Petaluma is set to release its seasonal "The Waldos Special Ale" on April 20. The brewery has given the five lifetime passes for free beer.

The Waldos also struck their first business deal with a cannabis business. They are endorsing a Oakland company's vaping pen, which of course will be released on Friday at 4:20 p.m. All five plan to be at the company's release party .

"Everyone has cashed in on 420," Noel said. "Why not us?"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[No Pot Allowed at High Times Cannabis Cup]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 21:43:16 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/lagenerics-pot-plant.jpg

New state regulations led to a last minute pot ban at the High Times Cannabis Cup. Chuck Henry reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Mulls Epilepsy Pot Treatment]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 18:51:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/FDA_Mulls_Epilepsy_Pot_Treatment.jpg

A treatment using oil from marijuana plants may be approved to treat epilepsy. Kathy Vara reports for thoe NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.]]>
<![CDATA[Catching Up With 420's Unofficial Grand Masters]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 06:55:41 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/AP_18107631129397.jpgFive Northern California high school stoner buddies are widely credited with creating the shorthand slang for getting high nearly 50 years ago.
Mark Gravitch, Larry Schwartz, Dave Reddix, Steve Capper and Jeffrey Noel now serve as 4/20's unofficial grand masters.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[South Californians Behind New Sales Kiosk for Dispensaries]]>Tue, 17 Apr 2018 17:11:45 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GreenSTOPkiosk-2018.jpg

Vending machines can be used to sell everything from beverages to condoms and one Southern California believes their technology could mean fewer lines and more business for recreational marijuana shops.

GreenSTOP has developed what it's labeled as the first four-person kiosk designed specifically for marijuana dispensaries.

Other companies have developed a vending machine using the same technology as those found in a workplace lunchroom but GreenSTOP, run by two men with strong ties to San Diego, is looking at breaking the mold when it comes to how many customers can be served in a neighborhood dispensary.

San Diego native James Edwards, who attended Mission Bay High School, has partnered with former San Diego State University student Tim Island to launch the Manhattan Beach-based company.

He said an average marijuana dispensary will have five to six employees or “budtenders” who answer questions from customers.

However, an issue arises when the time comes to pay. 

“They have bottlenecking,” he explained, meaning multiple customers are in line waiting for one register.

The GreenSTOP technology will create a kiosk that is self-serve and allows multiple users to shop, select and buy from the dispensary’s stash. It can even incorporate reviews of the products from credible sources.

The current business model is to rent the kiosks to dispensaries and take a percentage of sales.

Edwards and Island said they have a large interest list but they’re discussing the company’s potential with investors and their legal team before entering into contracts.

The plan is to launch in Los Angeles by the end of 2018 with the potential of kiosks in San Diego County in 2019, Edwards said.

The kiosks are not affiliated with any dispensaries in San Diego County under the same name.



Photo Credit: GreenSTOP]]>
<![CDATA[Tommy Chong Sued Over Marijuana Marketing Deal]]>Mon, 09 Apr 2018 19:28:09 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Chong.jpg

Tommy Chong and the comic's son were sued Monday by a licensing company that alleges the pair cut them out of the profits generated from a marketing plan the plaintiffs established to sell marijuana products and accessories.

Evergreen Licensing LLC and its founder, Brian Vecchio, name Tommy and Paris Chong as defendants in the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, along with Jon-Paul Cowen, described in the complaint as a business associate of the Chongs.

Representatives for the defendants could not be immediately reached for comment on the suit.

The complaint seeks unspecified damages on allegations of breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment.

Chong was chosen to help market the Evergreen project because he is a "well-known and longtime proponent of the legalization and responsible use of cannibis," the suit states.

But after three years of development and spending $1 million on the project, Chong and Cowen conspired to "take it all away, even hacking into Evergreen's Gmail account in order to misappropriate social media sites that plaintiffs created for the project," according to the suit, which alleges that the defendants "cut plaintiffs entirely out of the picture, the project and the revenue and profits the project was going to generate and is generating."

Although Chong "cultivated the public image of a trustworthy, pot- smoking, laid back, good guy," the plaintiffs found out "to their chagrin and injury ... that he was anything but that type individual in his business dealings with them," the suit says.

The 79-year-old Chong co-starred with Cheech Marin in the 1978 film "Up in Smoke," which is credited with establishing the stoner comedy genre.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Legal Pot Business Owners Ponder Possibility of Death Row]]>Sat, 24 Mar 2018 22:02:27 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_99027642_a.jpg

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions move to urge federal prosecutors to seek death for drug traffickers "dealing in extremely large quantities" this week has some in the legal cannabis community worried, NBC News reported.

The guidelines for capital punishment include selling 60,000 kilograms of marijuana product annually or $20 million in gross receipts, said Tom Angell, who founded the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Marijuana Majority, and that could apply to producers and growers of state-approved recreational pot.

"Regardless of one's feelings about the death penalty, it's completely unacceptable to be applied to a consensual crime like providing marijuana," Angell said.

Experts say that it's almost legally impossible to institute the death penalty for dealing pot, but they were also astonished that the country's top law enforcement official would open the door to it.




Photo Credit: Adobe ]]>
<![CDATA[San Francisco Embraces Amsterdam-Style Marijuana Lounges]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 09:13:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/san-francisco-pot.jpg

The smoke was thick and business brisk at the Barbary Coast Dispensary's marijuana smoking lounge, a darkened room that resembles a steakhouse or upscale sports tavern with its red leather seats, deep booths with high dividers, and hardwood floors.

"There's nothing like this in Jersey," said grinning Atlantic City resident Rick Thompson, getting high with his cousins in San Francisco.

In fact, there's nothing like the Barbary Coast lounge almost anywhere in the United States, a conundrum confronting many marijuana enthusiasts who find it increasingly easy to buy pot but harder to find legal places to smoke it.

Only California permits marijuana smoking at marijuana retailers with specially designed lounges. But it also allows cities to ban those kids of shops.

Unsurprisingly, San Francisco is the trailblazer. It's the only city in the state to fully embrace Amsterdam-like coffee shops, the iconic tourist stops in the Netherlands where people can buy and smoke marijuana in the same shop.

San Francisco's marijuana "czar" Nicole Elliot said new permits will be issued once city health officials finalize regulations designed to protect workers from secondhand smoke and the neighborhood from unwelcomed odors. The lounges are required to install expensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to prevent the distinct marijuana odor from leaking outside.

Other California cities are warming to the idea. Oakland and South Lake Tahoe each have one smoking lounge.

The city of West Hollywood has approved plans to issue up to eight licenses; the tiny San Francisco Bay Area town of Alameda said it will allow two; and Oakland and South Lake Tahoe each have one lounge. Sacramento, Los Angeles and other cities are discussing the issue but have not authorized any lounges.

Jackie Rocco, the city of Los Angeles' business development manager, said residents and cannabis businesses complain there is "no safe place, no legal place, to use it."

Rocco said Los Angeles officials envision smoking lounges set up like traditional bars, but for now the idea is more concept than plan.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and officials in other states are dithering over the issue.

Massachusetts marijuana regulators considered approval of "cannabis cafes." But the proposal came under withering criticism from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's administration and law enforcement officials, who claimed among other things that opening such businesses would lead to more dangerously stoned drivers.

The five-member Cannabis Control Commission ultimately yielded to pressure by agreeing to put off a decision on licensing any cafes until after the initial rollout of retail marijuana operations, expected this summer. Members of the panel, however, continue to support the idea.

"Those who wish to consume cannabis are going to do so whether social sites exist or not, and are going to make driving decisions regardless of where they consume," said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Massachusetts chapter of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "Social sites will simply give cannabis users the same options available to alcohol users."

In Colorado, one of the first states to broadly legalize, lawmakers failed in a close vote to make so-called "tasting rooms" legal. However, cities may do it, and Denver has authorized lounges where consumers bring their own marijuana, issuing a single permit so far.

Nevada has put off a vote on the issue until next year, while lawmakers in Alaska and Oregon have considered and rejected legislation.

San Francisco has allowed medical marijuana patients to smoke in dispensaries for years, though there was uncertainty over whether the practice was authorized when California voters in 1996 made the state the first in the nation to legalize cannabis use with a doctor's recommendation.

The Barbary Coast, which received its state license in January, first opened as a small medical dispensary in 2013. It expanded and opened its smoking lounge to medical users last year. On Jan. 11, the shop opened to all adults when it received its California recreational use license. The state started issuing those on Jan. 1 and continues to approve dozens of applications a month since voters broadly legalized the use and sale of marijuana.

Thompson traveled from Atlantic City to celebrate his 27th birthday with his cousins, who live in Oakland. They decided to celebrate in style, getting as high as they could in San Francisco.

The three 20-somethings bought a variety of buds and the quick-acting "wax," a potent pot concentrate, and settled into a booth with all the accoutrement they needed. After customers purchase at least $40 worth of product, the Barbary Coast will supply bongs, joint rollers, "rigs" for wax smoking and just about any smoking tool desired.

They smoked and debated the merits of smoking buds versus wax. The verdict: There's something innately satisfying about smoking buds, but wax gives a quicker high even if it requires a hotter flame and more elaborate setup to smoke.

Barbary is in a once-rundown neighborhood that is gentrifying. Two other dispensaries with smoke lounges are three blocks away. Three flat-screen televisions tuned to sports hang on the lounge's brick walls. Outside the enclosed room, customers line up at the dispensary's glass counters to buy marijuana.

General manager Jesse Henry said Barbary's owners plan to open a bigger store and smoking lounge about a mile away, across the street from a popular concert hall, after city health officials finalize regulations for on-site consumption.

"This city is built for tourists," Henry said. "We put a lot of work into giving them a San Francisco experience."

__

Associated Press writer Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[States Mull 'Sanctuary' Status for Marijuana Businesses]]>Mon, 05 Mar 2018 14:26:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_99027642_a.jpg

Taking a cue from the fight over immigration, some states that have legalized marijuana are considering providing so-called sanctuary status for licensed pot businesses, hoping to protect the fledgling industry from a shift in federal enforcement policy.

Just hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Jan. 4 that federal prosecutors would be free to crack down on marijuana operations as they see fit, Jesse Arreguin, the mayor in Berkeley, California, summoned city councilman Ben Bartlett to his office with a novel idea.

Berkeley was already the first city in the nation to formally declare itself a sanctuary city on immigration, barring city officials from cooperating with federal authorities. Why not do the same thing with marijuana? Last month, it did.

"We knew we had to do something," Bartlett said. "This is a new engine of a healthy economy."

Others may soon follow Berkeley's lead: Alaska, California and Massachusetts lawmakers are among those with similar bills pending, though the chances for passage is unclear.

Alaska state Rep. Adam Wool, who owns a movie, restaurant and concert venue with a liquor license in Fairbanks, said he introduced his bill as both a statement and a precaution.

"If the federal government wants to prosecute someone for breaking federal law, I guess they have every right to do that," said Wool, a Democrat from one of Alaska's major marijuana-growing areas. "I'm just saying, we will have no obligation to assist them."

Sessions' announcement invalidated a 2013 policy that allowed for legalized marijuana to flourish by limiting federal enforcement of the drug, as long as states prevented it from getting to places it was outlawed and kept it from gangs and children. His action also unsettled the industry and spooked potential marijuana industry investors. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Casey O'Neill remembers helicopter enforcement raids of grow sites in California when he was growing up in the 1980s. It was then that his parents, carpenters who grew small amounts of cannabis, became school teachers, he said.

He now helps run a farm that produces vegetables and marijuana for medical use near Laytonville, California, and is glad lawmakers are looking at ways to push back against the federal government.

Over the years, enforcement "has been uneven, we'll say, and that's kind of one of the things about it. It just means that everybody's always afraid, and that's hard," he said.

Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, said California has a lousy history with the federal government on marijuana enforcement.

"I don't think the feds care too much about marijuana in Alaska, to tell you the truth," he said. "But marijuana has been a big industry in this state, so we're sort of on the front lines."

There's no apparent panic in the industry over Sessions' change in policy, given limited federal resources and prosecutors having had discretion in bringing cases all along. But there isn't complacency, either.

"I don't think the federal government is going to effectively step in and wipe us out of business. I just find that hard to believe at this point. But they can make it hard for us," said Jennifer Canfield, who co-owns a state-licensed marijuana cultivation operation and retail store in Alaska's capital city, Juneau.

Peter Mlynarik, a police chief in Soldotna, Alaska, called the Alaska bill a terrible idea. He asked what would happen if a local agency were helping the federal government on a heroin bust but also found marijuana in the house.

"It's crazy to put that burden on, especially, police officers that are supposed to obey federal laws," said Mlynarik, who resigned from Alaska's marijuana regulatory board after Sessions' actions in January, saying it stripped the underpinning for the state's legal marijuana industry.

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he can't see federal agents raiding businesses that are complying with state law.

"But you can't put it past them," he said, adding that new U.S. attorneys have been appointed by President Donald Trump in many states. "I wouldn't put it past at least a few of them to want to gain points with their boss. But I think, politically, it would be a disaster for them."

Massachusetts' sanctuary-style bill was prompted by comments from that state's U.S. attorney, Andrew Lelling, who declined to rule out prosecuting commercial marijuana businesses that are legal under state law. He later said his priority would be prosecuting opioid crimes, not marijuana.

U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam declined comment on the pending bills.

Associated Press writers Paul Elias and Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Adobe ]]>
<![CDATA[Tribes Cut Out of California Pot Market Might Grow Their Own]]>Sun, 25 Feb 2018 14:31:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-592213300-marijuana-generic.jpg

American Indian tribes that say they have been cut out of California's legal marijuana market have raised the possibility of going their own way by establishing pot businesses outside the state-regulated system that is less than two months old.

The tribes floated the idea of setting up rival farms and sales shops on reservations after concluding that rules requiring them to be licensed by the state would strip them of authority over their own lands and their right to self-governance. 

The possibility of the tribes breaking away from the state-run system is one more challenge for California as it attempts to transform its longstanding medicinal and illegal marijuana markets into a unified, multibillion-dollar industry. 

For tribes to participate in the state-run market, "they have to give up their rights to act as governments, with regard to cannabis," said Mark Levitan, a tribal attorney. 

At issue are legally thorny questions about who governs whom, taxation and the intersection of state marijuana laws with tribes that the federal government recognizes as sovereign nations within the U.S. 

Under regulations issued last year, California would retain full control over licensing. Tribes would have to follow state rules, including "submission to all enforcement," to obtain a license to grow or sell marijuana. Any application must include a waiver of "sovereign immunity," a sort of legal firewall that protects tribal interests. 

Without state licenses, businesses cannot take part in the legal state pot market. California has over 100 federally recognized tribes, the most of any state, and estimates of the number either growing and selling pot or eager to do so varies, from a handful to over 20. 

Unlike those that have prospered from casino gambling, some are in struggling rural areas and would welcome a new source of cash to improve schools and pave roads. 

After long-running negotiations between tribes and state officials failed to produce an agreement before broad legal sales began Jan. 1, the California Native American Cannabis Association warned state officials that tribes "may engage in commercial cannabis activities through our own inherent sovereign authority." 

If tribes choose to step away from California's market, "the state will have no jurisdiction to enforce its cannabis laws and regulations on tribal lands," the group said in a sharply worded letter to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's administration in December. 

Tribes "just want to be able to do business in the state of California and elsewhere, just like anybody else," said Paul Chavez, former chairman of the Bishop Paiute tribe.

The dispute in California differs from another legal pot state, Washington, where seven tribes have marijuana compacts with the state and others are in negotiations or awaiting the governor's approval. The compacts allow tribal marijuana businesses to participate in the legal system, such as selling tribe-grown pot to retailers off the reservation. 

In California, the tribes are circulating a proposal that calls for the governor to strike agreements with them. Those pacts would allow them to participate in the legal market, while the state would recognize a tribe's "exclusive authority" to regulate commercial marijuana activity on its lands. 

Tribes are eager for a settlement, but reaching a deal in the Legislature could take the remainder of the year. 

"Everyone agrees conceptually there should be an even playing field, a level playing field," said state Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat at the center of the negotiations in Sacramento. 

In addition to the problems in Sacramento, tribes are facing uncertainty at the federal level. 

Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the marijuana trade in states where the drug is legal, which also guided enforcement on tribal lands. 

The shifting ground has put a chill over development plans -- including in an isolated stretch of eastern San Diego County.

Nevada-based GB Sciences Inc. announced last year that it would build and manage a commercial cannabis company on tribal lands, nurturing plants, manufacturing products and distributing them across the state.

The tribe, the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians, would get an ownership stake, jobs and 40 percent of the profits. GB Sciences would get income for its marijuana research and a foothold in the largest legal pot market in the U.S.

But the projected $8 million project is on hold, with the status of tribes in the pot market unclear.

Issues involving sovereignty touch a sensitive subject for tribes, and they see the predicament with marijuana as part of a history of exploitation.

The state rule "harkens back to the end of the 19th century ... when federal and state policies favored extermination or forced assimilation of California tribes," the tribal group wrote.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Agencies Warn Employees Against Using Recreational Marijuana]]>Wed, 07 Feb 2018 20:12:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/175*120/GettyImages-589069458.jpg

Local government agencies have begun to warn employees that using recreational marijuana, even off-duty, may violate workplace rules.

Recreational adult-use became legal in 2018 after voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016.

The LAPD circulated a memo to remind officers that drug use on and off-duty is never allowed.

"Department policy is unaffected by the legalization of adult-use marijuana," the memo said. "The use of marijuana or cannabis products for any reason, regardless of duty status, is prohibited."

The memo was signed by LAPD Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

LA firefighters were cautioned in December they could be disciplined if caught with marijuana or if they appeared under the influence at work.

"The new law, however, does not change the obligations of City employees to maintain a drug and alcohol free workplace," the Fire Department directive said.

The Metro transit agency said the new law had no effect on regulations for its bus and train operators, as there is a long-standing drug-free workplace policy, and operators are generally required to abide by federal Department of Transportation rules, under which marijuana use is still illegal.

Still, a memo was sent to Metro employees in December.

"Although in California medical marijuana is legal and the sales of recreational marijuana will take effect on January 1, 2018, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under federal law and is therefore prohibited under Metro's policy."

Los Angeles employment attorney Michelle Lee Flores, who specializes in workplace cannabis issues, said government workers and employees at private firms may be required to follow rules that extend into their private lives and time.

"Employers, whether they be governmental or private sector employers, have the ability to establish rules as long as they're compliant with the laws," she told NBC4.

Even if the agencies already have standing drug-free rules she said agencies should issue a formal notice.

"Employers and employees would benefit from just bringing up the subject, just like the memos that have come out recently," she said, as an employee's acknowledgment of receiving such a notice could be a key factor if there's a violation.

The LA Department of Water and Power said it expects a recreational marijuana warning to be issued soon to employees.

Other agencies, like the LA Unified School District, said existing drug-free workplace rules are sufficient.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[San Francisco Plans to Wipe Out Thousands of Pot Convictions]]>Thu, 01 Feb 2018 00:41:57 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_99027642_a.jpg

San Francisco's district attorney said Wednesday that city prosecutors will toss out or reduce thousands of criminal convictions for marijuana dating back decades, a move allowed under the 2016 state ballot measure legalizing recreational sales of pot.

District Attorney George Gascon said his office will dismiss nearly 3,000 misdemeanor cases and review nearly 5,000 felony cases for possible action.

Proposition 64 legalized the recreational use of marijuana. It also allowed people convicted of marijuana charges to petition courts to toss out the cases or reduce penalties.

Gascon says that process can be time-consuming and costly, so prosecutors in the district attorney's office plan to review and wipe out eligible cases en masse. Some people with convictions may not know they are eligible, Gascon said.

"A misdemeanor or felony conviction can have significant implications for employment, housing, and other benefits," Gascon said. He said prosecutors will review cases from 1975 through passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016.

He said 23 petitions for dismissal or reduction have been filed in San Francisco since passage of Proposition 64.

As of September, around 5,000 people had applied for a change to their records, according to state data. That's a fraction of the people that experts estimate are eligible.

Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the pro-marijuana organization Drug Policy Alliance, estimated more than 100,000 people are eligible to have their records changed.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Oakland, introduced legislation on Jan. 9 that would require county courts to automatically expunge eligible records.

Recreational marijuana became legal in California last year, and on Jan. 1 it became legal for licensed dispensaries to sell it to non-medical patients.

The U.S. Justice Department announced earlier this year that it's halting an Obama-era policy to take a hands-off approach toward states that have legalized marijuana. Pot is still illegal under federal law.

The federal move could lead to increased prosecutions of marijuana sellers and growers, although it's unclear how aggressive federal attorneys will be.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Adobe, File]]>
<![CDATA[After California Pot Stockpiles Go Up in Smoke, What's Next?]]>Sat, 27 Jan 2018 22:00:54 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/lagenerics-pot-plant.jpg

Like many pot shops in California, the Urbn Leaf in San Diego bulked up its inventory before legal sales began on Jan. 1, stockpiling enough marijuana to last for months because no one knew what the era of legal pot would bring.

The shop, along with others involved in the state's fledgling cannabis economy, are now concerned that too few operators have been licensed to support a pot pipeline of state-approved growers, distributors and retailers.

In some cases, they say, bottlenecks have already slowed the supply chain from fields to storefronts.

"They are going to have to come online with more producers in the next 12 months to keep up with the demand," said Will Senn, the founder of Urbn Leaf who operates three dispensaries and plans to open three more, including one in Los Angeles.

"The black market will balloon if we can't get legal, licensed producers to step into the industry. That's the biggest risk," he said.

Nearly a month after legal sales began for adults in the nation's most populous state, the longstanding medicinal and illegal marijuana markets are still transitioning to a multibillion-dollar regulated system, estimated to eventually reach $7 billion in value.

Questions about the supply chain represent just one example of early obstacles that range from complaints about hefty taxes to the refusal of most banks to do business with pot companies because the drug remains illegal on the federal level.

In one way, the arrival of legal sales has been a story about borrowed time.

Most of the pot now being legally sold in California comes from plants that were harvested last year, and those reserves can be sold until July 1, provided they have required labeling.

Lori Ajax, the state's top pot regulator, said officials are aware that those initial supplies will eventually dry up but it's too early to tell how the legal supply chain will work.

"We legalized cannabis -- you want to have that product available," she said. "We don't want people going to the black market because they can't get product from the legal market."

In Santa Cruz County, TreeHouse dispensary CEO Bryce Berryessa is already having trouble keeping some popular brands on his shelves.

The problem, he says, is smaller producers haven't been able to obtain licenses, either because they are in an area where growing is banned by local government or they haven't been able to obtain a license from their hometown government.

Operators are required to have state and local licenses to conduct business, but must get the local one first.

Without money to relocate to a pot-friendly community, "they are going to be unable to find a pathway to legally sell their products," said Berryessa, who sits on the board of the California Cannabis Industry Association.

"I think this affects a large portion of California cannabis businesses throughout the state," he said.

For now, legal sales for adults appear to be robust in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But the patchwork of local regulations -- some cities and counties have banned all commercial activity -- has erected barriers to getting pot from place to place.

Some longtime growers are marooned in counties that don't allow pot or have imposed regulations so tight it's tantamount to prohibition. In some cases, investors are backing away.

For example, in previously pot-friendly Calaveras County, officials reversed course and banned commercial marijuana farms, leaving growers in a bind.

Without a local license, "it doesn't matter how incredible their products are," Berryessa said.

Indeed, the once-shadowy business of pot distribution is no longer about sending a text message to a friend. Regulators have come with complex procedures to keep a tight leash on the market, though some say it's bringing more confusion than efficiency.

In general, a retailer who needs to stock shelves must contact a distributor, who in turn picks up cannabis from a grower.

The marijuana is then sent to a warehouse, where a testing company picks up a sample and analyzes it for pesticides and other contaminants, as well as potency. It cannot be sent to the retailer for sale until it clears that check. The distributor can also do packaging, with taxes assessed along the way.

Pot that fails testing goes back to the grower. If the problem can't be fixed, it must be destroyed, further tightening supplies.

So far, one of the biggest challenges is having enough growers and distributors to do the job.

In total, the state has issued about 1,900 licenses in all categories so far. By comparison, there are an estimated 15,000 illegal marijuana farms in Humboldt County alone.

Only about 20 licenses have been issued for testing statewide.

Berryessa said what once could be done with a phone call could now takes days or weeks as pot moves through the supply chain, each step with added costs that will inevitably drive up prices.

And when a product isn't on his shelves, business suffers.

"The time from production ... to market is going to increase significantly," he said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[In Orange County, Baby Boomers Are Embracing Medical Pot]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 09:33:51 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/oc+marijuana+seniors.JPG

The wheels on the bus go round and round at least once a month for a group of baby boomers traveling from Laguna Woods to Santa Ana.

Their destination: the Bud and Bloom medical marijuana dispensary. They've come not to relive the glory days of Woodstock, but to buy the type of cannabis that makes them feel good.

Arlene Drenkhahn is looking for relief for the aches and pains caused by her arthritis. She is one of dozens testing the THC-laced lotions and potions at Bud and Bloom, which is marketing to seniors.

"I've done pain management, I've done shots, I've done it all and it's a ridiculous way to live when this can give you relief," Drenkhahan says.

Organizers say the free bus trips are designed to reach people who may not want to inhale marijuana. "A lot of people are used to taking pills and don't know all the options available to them using cannabis, so it's just education," says Melody Córdva, general manager at Bud and Bloom.

About 90 percent of the seniors present are there for medical reasons; only 10 percent are there for recreational use.

"My son thinks I'm a pot head," says a laughing Allyson Abbot, who is also a registered nurse and therefore feels she knows what she's doing.

Some are suffering from glaucoma. Others want to sleep better. Many say the stigma of marijuana use was lessened when pot became legal in California on Jan. 1 of this year. They seem to agree that medical marijuana isn't the fountain of youth, but it helps.

"I'm open to any of this," Drenkhahan says. "Why not? I'm 73 years old; what have I got to lose?"



Photo Credit: Kevin Dahlgren]]>
<![CDATA[Compton to Vote on Allowing Marijuana Businesses in Area]]>Tue, 23 Jan 2018 06:30:21 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/20180116_065219_resized.jpg

Compton residents will head to the polls today to weigh in on a pair of competing proposals for regulating cannabis businesses in the city, which currently bans marijuana dispensaries and other pot-related operations.

With the state's passage of Proposition 64, which permits the recreational use of marijuana, the city drafted proposed regulations for marijuana dispensaries, while a petition drive led to a second competing measure on the same ballot.

The city's proposal, known as Measure C, would allow marijuana sales while imposing a 10 percent business tax and banning commercial cultivation of marijuana in the city.

The competing initiative, Measure I, includes many of the same provisions as Measure C, but it calls for a 5 percent business tax and would allow indoor marijuana-cultivation businesses.

The measures have other differences, with the city's calling for a hard cap of 10 dispensaries in the city, and the initiative allowing up to 10 with more possible depending on population increase. The city's measure would require dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, parks and child care or community centers, while Measure I calls only for a 600-foot distance from schools. Measure C also includes a 30 percent local-hiring requirement, while Measure I has no such mandate.

If both measures fail, the city's existing ban on marijuana business will remain in place. If both pass, the one receiving the most votes will take effect.



Photo Credit: Toni Guinyard]]>
<![CDATA[Pot Shop Open for Business in Downtown Los Angeles]]>Sat, 20 Jan 2018 20:57:35 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Pot_Shop_Open_for_Business_in_Downtown_Los_Angeles.jpg

The city of Los Angeles began approving licenses to sell recreational marijuana. Rick Montanez reports for the NBC4 News at 6 on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.]]>
<![CDATA[California Might Get a Gym Where You Can Smoke Marijuana]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 13:42:49 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/marijuanagym.jpg

A former pro football star and an advocate for athlete marijuana use have teamed up to open a gym in San Francisco that they say will be one of the first in the world to allow members to smoke pot while working out.

Ricky Williams, who played for the Saints, Dolphins and Ravens, and Jim McAlpine, a snowboard company executive, said Power Plant Fitness also will offer edibles and topical gels for those who don't like smoking the plant. They say using pot while exercising can help them focus or relax.

Members of the gym, which plans to open this year, will need a medical marijuana prescription to join, but that could change if California voters legalize recreational pot in November.

"I personally use it for focus. It's not about getting high. It's about keeping my mind engaged in the activity I'm in," said McAlpine, who organizes the 420 games, athletic events aiming to stop the stigma against pot use.

Carla Lowe, founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, a political action committee based in Sacramento, said it's not clear how the drug affects the body but "there's zero evidence that marijuana helps you focus. There is evidence that it makes you dopey."

Her group is working to defeat the ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in California, saying it "does not bode well for the future of our country."

But Williams, who was suspended several times by the NFL for marijuana use, said he wants to dispel the stigma.

"I think a lot of people buy into the stoner stereotype where guys just sit on the couch, smoke and don't do anything, and they're not very motivated," said Williams, who retired from the NFL after the 2011 season. "I found when I was playing football that using cannabis helped me relax physically, relax mentally and even spiritually."

Any potential benefits of marijuana on exercise have not been studied thoroughly. But one doctor who works with marijuana-smoking patients says the drug can help manage post-workout pain.

"To use cannabis in that sense for pain relief instead of the usual things you're able to use now, like opioids, is hands down why you would use it," said Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer for HelloMD, a digital health care platform for the cannabis industry.

]]>
<![CDATA[Girl, 11, Can Use Medical Marijuana at School: Judge]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 13:42:07 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/potgirl1.jpg

An 11-year-old suburban Chicago elementary school student who suffered from leukemia can now use medicinal marijuana at school, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The girl's parents sued a Schaumburg-based school district and the state of Illinois for her to have the right to take medical marijuana at school to treat her seizure disorders.

The plaintiffs of the federal lawsuit, who are identified by initials, contended the state's ban on taking the drug at school is unconstitutional. They said it denies the right to due process and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Friday's decision to allow the girl to take medicinal cannabis at school is an agreement between Judge John Blakey and the attorney general.

The 11-year-old student was being treated for leukemia with chemotherapy. The lawsuit says that as a result, the girl suffers seizure disorders and epilepsy.

Although she is now leukemia-free, her doctors have certified her to use medicinal marijuana to treat her seizures.

Illinois' medical cannabis law prohibits possessing or using marijuana on school grounds or buses.

School district officials said they will administer cannabis to the sixth grader until they get further clarification from the attorney general. An assistant attorney general told Blakey his office would allow the school to administer the drug until the office can figure out how to address the state law.

After Friday's hearing, the girl's parents said they were relieved and excited by the outcome.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: NBC Chicago]]>
<![CDATA[Look Inside: 'Cookies' Pot Shop Opens for Recreational Sales]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 23:16:42 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/20180116_065219_resized.jpg

Photo Credit: Toni Guinyard]]>
<![CDATA[Bill Would Ease Erasure of California Pot Convictions]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 15:38:23 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/smoking+pot.jpg

A Democratic lawmaker wants to make it easier for Californians with marijuana convictions to reduce or erase their records as the state moves into the next phase of legalized pot.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require county courts to automatically expunge eligible records. It's one of several efforts to build on the choice California voters' made to legalize marijuana despite fresh threats from the federal government.

Voters approved the ability to wipe criminal marijuana conviction records in 2016 as part of Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana and retroactively erased and reduced some pot-related criminal penalties from felonies to misdemeanors.

Existing law requires people with convictions to initiate the process themselves. But many people don't, either because they're unaware it's an option or because it can be complicated and costly. As of September 2017, around 5,000 people had applied for a change to their records, according to state data. That's a fraction of the people that experts estimate are eligible.

The bill would "give folks who deserve it under the law the fresh start they're entitled to," Bonta said, adding that pot convictions have disproportionality affected young minorities.

Recreational marijuana became legal in California last year, and on Jan. 1 it became legal for licensed dispensaries to sell it to non-medical patients.

Another proposal that stalled last year would restrict state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal efforts to crack down on anyone growing or selling cannabis legally under state law.

Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles introduced the bill last year amid tough talk about marijuana from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions', but it did not advance as the state Legislature waited to see what the U.S. government would do. He hopes to see it move forward now that Sessions has made more concrete threats.

The U.S. Justice Department announced last week it's halting an Obama-era policy to take a hands-off approach toward states that have legalized marijuana, still illegal under federal law. That could lead to increased prosecutions of marijuana sellers and growers, although it's unclear how aggressive federal attorneys will be. More than half of states have legalized or decriminalized the drug and lawmakers in those states pledged forcefully to defend their policies.

"California overwhelmingly sent a message to the federal government stating that their cannabis-centric "war on drugs" should not be waged here," Jones-Sawyer said in a statement. "State resources that are paid by tax dollars should not be used to disrupt lawful businesses.

Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said she talks to many people who are unaware they can eliminate their past pot convictions under the new law. She estimates more than 100,000 people are eligible to have their records changed.

Bonta provided no cost estimate for what his proposal. It would require county courts to identify eligible convictions, change the records and then notify people of the changes.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[High or Dry? California Legal Pot to Test Supply Pipeline]]>Sun, 07 Jan 2018 11:21:26 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/172*120/AP_17362741395254.jpg

Most Californians with an urge to smoke a joint will enter the state's legal marijuana marketplace through a single doorway -- at a retail shop.

But out of view of those day-to-day sales, the state is ushering in a sprawling, untested system to move pot from place to place that will also serve as a collection point for taxes, a gateway for testing and a packaging center for the plant's fragrant buds.

The so-called marijuana distributor is a kind of skeleton connecting the state's emerging industry of growers, sellers and manufacturers. It's envisioned as a vast back office where the grunt work of keeping track of cannabis and getting it from farms to store shelves will take place.

But just days after legal sales began, there are concerns that not enough companies are licensed and ready to transport pot. Some predict that within weeks, cannabis could be marooned at fields and warehouses while dispensary shelves go barren.

"There's going to be huge bottleneck in the distribution network in California at some point," said Terry Blevins, CEO of a security firm and a part-owner of a marijuana distribution company in Southern California.

Billions of dollars of pot will need to move through the market in 2018, and "I don't believe there are enough businesses to handle it," he said.

California's new market was rattled Thursday when the Trump administration signaled a more aggressive approach to marijuana prosecutions, lifting an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the pot trade in states where the drug is legal.

The impact of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision is uncertain. But some predict it could discourage businesses from entering the distribution system, while making those in it extremely cautious about what growers and sellers they work with, narrowing the pipeline for moving goods.

Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz, whose company distributes cannabis products from small, outdoor farmers, said a slow rollout of licenses has resulted in a limited pool of distributors.

A patchwork of rules has emerged so far, with some cities allowing legal sales and others banning all commercial pot activity. Los Angeles -- the state's biggest market -- has yet to authorize any licenses, though the first could be issued next week.

Kana Flow, which is developing a new distribution center on the site of a former Mendocino County winery, transports cannabis for about 100 local producers.

While many retailers stocked up in advance of legal sales, "I do think we are going to see a big reduction in supply," Steinmetz predicted.

A crimp in the supply chain, if it happens, would reprise what occurred in Nevada last year, when the start of legal sales saw a surge in demand with too few licenses to distribute it.

Pot distribution in California has long been an informal and largely hidden business, with arrangements made between growers and sellers. The move to the new system will be a major transformation: Under California law, pot can be transported only by companies holding a distributor license.

In the past, "it was all trust and handshakes," Los Angeles dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh said. "Growers would drive it down in their Toyota Tacoma."

California's top pot regulator, Lori Ajax, said in an interview last month that a decision to make distributor licenses broadly available should help keep pot moving from farms to storefronts.

Under a 2015 law for medicinal pot, the distributor was envisioned as an independent entity that could not hold licenses in other categories, such as growing or selling.

But that changed in later legislation for the new market, and now pot distributors can be stand-alone companies or part of another one. That means a grower could also become a distributor, providing proper licenses are issued.

"I'm feeling pretty good that we are going to be OK," Ajax said.

The uncertainty surrounding the distribution pipeline is just one question mark as California attempts to transform its longstanding medicinal and illegal marijuana markets into a multibillion-dollar regulated system.

It will take many months, if not years, for the market estimated to reach $7 billion to evolve.

Legal sales began Jan. 1 without a vast computer system for businesses to use to track plants from seed to sale. State licenses issued so far are temporary and will have to be redone later this year.

Few banks want to do business with pot companies since the drug remains illegal federally, forcing many growers and sellers to operate in cash. And consumers are complaining about hefty new taxes.

Industry experts say California's distribution model -- part of its effort to keep a tight clamp on regulation -- is unusual in the U.S.

Along with transporting pot, a distributor has a range of responsibilities, including collecting state excise taxes from any retailers they supply and cultivation taxes from growers whose product they move.

Distributors also arrange for laboratory testing to make sure the pot isn't tainted, and may also package and label pot for sale.

It's the "traffic light on the industry," cannabis attorney Robert Raich said.

Some of those entering the business have experience in transportation, including in the alcohol industry. But others might not realize the complexity of the new system, or be unfamiliar with how the pot market functions.

"That's where there is going to be a lot of confusion. They haven't taken taxes before. They don't know how to deal with all the logistics of this supply chain," Kiloh said.

In the past, retailers could "sit in their business and wait for sellers to come to them."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Pot Industry Frets, Then Shrugs Off Sessions' New Policy]]>Sat, 06 Jan 2018 22:52:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-900593986.jpg

This week's announcement that the U.S. Justice Department was ditching its hands-off approach to states that have legalized marijuana initially sent some in the industry into a tailspin, just days after California's $7 billion recreational weed market opened for business.

But for long-term pot purveyors accustomed to changing regulatory winds, the decision was just another bump in a long and winding road to proving their business legitimacy.

Many in the industry said they're keeping a wait-and-see attitude because the effect of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement depends on whether federal prosecutors crack down on marijuana businesses operating legally under state laws. Sessions provided no details other than saying individual U.S. attorneys are authorized to prosecute marijuana operators as they choose.

Stocks of publicly traded marijuana-related companies plunged Thursday after Sessions announced the Justice Department's new policy. On Friday, though, many of those stocks recovered.

"The announcement was largely symbolic," said Patrick Moen, general counsel of Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based venture capital firm that invests in marijuana businesses. "This kind of stunt will not have a substantial effect on the industry."

Moen noted Sessions' action doesn't change federal law, which includes a congressional provision barring authorities from spending federal money to prosecute medical marijuana operations that abide by state laws.

He conceded that the action would have a "near-term chilling effect" on the industry's lobbying effort to compel banks and insurance companies to accept its business. Banks and insurance companies refuse to do business with cannabis companies because marijuana is illegal under federal law and most financial institutions are federally insured, forcing marijuana businesses to operate in cash.

Most of Seattle-based Privateer's $150 million in investments are in companies based outside the United States, and Moen conceded that Sessions' action Thursday would keep it that way for the short term because of regulatory uncertainty in the United States. Online news and marijuana information site Leafly is the firm's biggest U.S. investment.

In San Francisco, a city long known for embracing weed, sales of recreational marijuana began Saturday as planned. Six pot shops confirmed they were selling recreational marijuana Saturday after receiving their state licenses the day before.

Shabnam Malek, a 44-year-old lawyer and mother of three, waited in line for a half hour for Apothecarium to open its doors in San Francisco.

She marveled at the difference between buying a legal bag of weed from the times in her 20s when she was buying marijuana on the streets, a situation she said exposed her to contaminated products and unsafe situations.

She said she thinks Sessions' announcement will backfire on him.

"If anything I feel more galvanized," she said. "I think he's going to see a lot of us come out and be even more vocal about our support for legal cannabis."

Sessions' action also was on the mind of Kevin Johnson, director of operations at Grass Roots, which also opened its doors for recreational pot in San Francisco on Saturday.

"It's certainly a concern," Johnson said. "It may be more difficult for us to do proper banking but when we opened up, George W. Bush was president and the DEA was doing raids on dispensaries. We're in this for the long haul."

Grass Roots opened 13 years ago to sell medical marijuana.

In Colorado, CEO Andy Williams said the announcement that he's open to prosecution could turn years of work and millions of dollars of investment in his store Medicine Man Denver into a criminal enterprise. He said Sessions' action goes against the will of Colorado voters, who legalized marijuana in 2014.

"Any action by the attorney general goes against the public sentiment," he said. "I don't think it's a smart move. Of course, we haven't seen what it is yet, so we'll wait and see."

The share price of Medicine Man dropped nearly 40 percent Thursday, from $3.18 to $2.11. The stock closed up Friday at $2.28 a share.

Colorado's U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, said his office won't change its approach to prosecution, despite Sessions' guidance. Prosecutors there have always focused on marijuana crimes that "create the greatest safety threats" and will continue to be guided by that, he said.

Don Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said he expects "business as usual" in Oregon's marijuana industry despite Sessions' policy.

The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Billy J. Williams, indicated he would maintain the same level of enforcement with state and local authorities by focusing on unlicensed production of marijuana and smuggling to other states.

"Legal marijuana has become so entrenched in the U.S. -- it's a multibillion-dollar industry -- and I don't see the people who are behind this, people like myself, rolling over for the Justice Department, which means Congress will have to act," Morse said. He said Congress should declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 dangerous drug.

Morse said he believes the same federal provision that bars prosecution of medicinal marijuana operators also protects the recreational side to some extent, because "it is difficult to distinguish one from the other."

Cannabinniers, a San Diego maker of marijuana-infused food and drink also expects slower investor interest in the short term.

"At this point, we have no details about what the attorney general plans to do or what is going to happen, but regardless this is going to slow down investment in one of the fastest-growing industries," said Jeffrey Paul, vice president of sales for Cannabinniers.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Pulls Ad That Critics Said Promoted Pot Use]]>Sat, 06 Jan 2018 12:09:10 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/02-22-2017-marijuana-generic-pot.jpg

California officials on Friday pulled an ad aimed at discouraging stoned driving after critics said it glorified and promoted marijuana use.

The public service announcement was rolled out as California began allowing licensed stores to sell pot to adults on Jan. 1.

The majority of the ad featured people talking about why they use marijuana.

One man says "I just like it." A woman says it helps her with her anxiety and another says "it helps me feel normal." It closed with them saying they never drive while high, and "DUI doesn't just mean booze."

Office of Traffic Safety director Rhonda Craft said in an email Friday that the agency shares "the concerns expressed over certain elements" of the ad and would work to refine the message.

"The intent, however, was to address as many of the reasons people choose to consume cannabis in a way that resonates with this demographic in hopes that they listen," she wrote.

The ad will be replaced with a different one produced last year that warns that smoking weed, unlike cigarettes, can result in charges for driving under the influence.

The ads had a $1 million budget for airtime, plus production costs, and appeared in several of California's major media markets.

Critics said the ad resembled alcohol ads that present a glorified image of a product and remind users at the end to "please drink responsibly."

"If the state wants to reinforce the idea that DUIs can happen for smoking pot, it should be pretty easy for them to do without throwing out the claims for the benefits of smoking pot, especially when some of them aren't entirely supported by everybody," said Paul Mitchell, a Sacramento political consultant who had criticized the ads on Twitter.

On Monday, California opened what is expected to be the world's largest legal market for pot as states in the West have warmed to the long-banned drug.

The legalization push has prompted concerns from law-enforcement officials that it would lead to an uptick in impaired driving. There's no simple test to check for marijuana impairment as there is for alcohol with a breathalyzer.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Some SF Dispensaries Given Provisional Authority to Sell Pot]]>Sat, 06 Jan 2018 00:42:07 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_18001621434706.jpg

Seven medical cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco have been given the green light to seek a temporary state license to start selling recreational marijuana beginning Saturday, according to city officials.

As of late Friday, six of the seven dispensaries received state approval.

San Francisco was among those California cities where recreational pot was not immediately available starting Jan. 1 because local regulations were not approved in time to start issuing city licenses needed to get state permits.

The six San Francisco shops allowed to sell recreational weed come Saturday are Grass Roots, Harvest on Geary, MediThrive, ReLeaf Herbal Cooperative, The Apothecarium and The Green Cross. Shambhala was still awaiting approval late Friday.

California voters in 2016 approved Proposition 64, making it legal for those people above the age of 21 to grow and possess limited amounts of recreational pot. Legal sales didn't actually kick in until New Year's Day.

In San Francisco's case, legislation was not signed until early December following lengthy debates over regulatory issues for the dispensaries, hence the delay in recreational sales.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: Mathew Sumner/AP]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal Locals React to Sessions Threat to End Legal Pot]]>Fri, 05 Jan 2018 03:21:03 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/200*120/doj+recreational+pot+thumb.jpg

Some Southern California residents are not impressed with Attorney General Jeff Session’s threat to end the policy that let legal marijuana flourish just days after sales began in California.

Sessions announced on Thursday that he intends to vanquish an Obama-era policy that shields state-legalized marijuana from federal prosecution. Session’s movement now leaves the fate of recreational pot in the hands of the U.S. Attorneys across the nation. In Southern California, that responsibility falls onto Orange County attorney Nicola Hanna, who hasn’t yet discussed his stance on the issue.

The recent blow to recreational marijuana has not been received warmly by legal shops.

"If you’re going to come in and do raids on licensed FBI, licensed teams that are paying taxes when there is a cartel out there running more drugs in this state than anything – you’re going to spend all your money and time on that – that is just ridiculous," Robert Taft Jr., founder of Santa Ana shop 420 Central said.

Taft said his shop paid the local, state and federal government $50,000 in taxes.

Local officials have also weighed in on the issue, as Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said the people’s voice says it all.

"We in Los Angeles and we in the state of California will not be bullied by Mr. Sessions or anyone else," Wesson said.

Buyers believe there is enough support for recreational marijuana for it to not be threatened.

"I'm not worried at all," Erick Morales, a customer at 420 Central said. "Things will turn out fine."

"There’s a lot of momentum going on, not just here, but all over the country," customer Cesar Ramirez said.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[San Diego US Attorney Backs Sessions' Pot Enforcement Policy]]>Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:22:41 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/San_Diego_US_Attorney_Responds_to_DOJ_Pot_Guidelines.jpg

A San Diego U.S. Attorney issued a statement backing up Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to end an Obama-era policy that largely shielded local legal marijuana businesses from federal raids and prosecutions.

Southern District of California U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said Sessions’ memo outlining the changes “returns trust and local control to federal prosecutors” to enforce the Controlled Substance Act.

Just days after Californians rang in the new year by welcoming recreational pot shops for adults, Sessions rolled back a previous 2013 policy that instructed federal prosecutors to prioritize enforcement regarding marijuana to cases where there was a more serious criminal concern.

Those more serious concerns included distribution to minors and funneling funds to criminal organizations like cartels and organized crime.

Instead of the previous lenient federal enforcement policy, Sessions' new stance will give federal prosecutors more leeway to decide how aggressively to enforce a longstanding federal law prohibiting it.

Colorado's U.S. Attorney says his office won't change its approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes. While U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman, Southern District of CA said his office is committed to enforcing the laws enacted by Congress, which treats marijuana as an illegal controlled substance.

“The Department of Justice is committed to reducing violent crime and enforcing the laws as enacted by Congress. The cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana has long been and remains a violation of federal law,” Braverman said via a written statement. “We will continue to utilize long-established prosecutorial priorities to carry out our mission to combat violent crime, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and stem the rising tide of the drug crisis.”

At Southwest Patient Group in Otay Mesa on Thursday, it was business as usual.

Southwest Patient Group is licensed by the city of San Diego and the state of California to operate.

“The public is very supportive of legal marijuana. This change shows the huge disconnect between the public and our government right now,” said owner Adam Scherer.

Scherer said he and his business partners were in a “wait and see” situation on the revised policy.

“California has one of the strongest state regulatory systems they’re putting in place, tracking (marijuana) from seed to sale,” Scherer said. “With the state regulating, it should take a lot of pressure off the federal government in worrying about bad actors.”

Local law enforcement told NBC7 not much is expected to change with their approach to enforcement.

In San Diego, police are typically targeting the black market during investigations, not the legal and licensed businesses.

Former prosecutor John Kirby noted the policy change does not instruct prosecutors to prioritize marijuana enforcement or push federal agencies into specific investigations.

“I was with the federal government the last time there was a push to prosecute federal marijuana laws and it quite frankly fell flat,” Kirby said, who noted that federal juries have a hard time convicting solely on marijuana violations.

“Medical marijuana was already used in California. It is already accepted in California, and quite frankly, juries don’t like to convict on something they see as legal,” Kirby said.

]]>
<![CDATA[New Pot Law in Question as Feds Crack Down]]>Thu, 04 Jan 2018 20:36:21 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/New_Pot_Law_Questioned_as_Feds_Crack_Down.jpg

Recreational marijuana in California has only been legal a few days and today the White House announced a shake-up that could crack down on pot shops in California and other states. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.]]>
<![CDATA[Sessions' Legal Marijuana Policy Shakeup: Reaction in CA]]>Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:47:53 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-893664968.jpg

California Democratic leaders are condemning U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind a policy that guided federal authorities to take a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in states that legalized use of the drug.

Sessions' decision, announced Thursday, comes three days after California became the largest state to legalize sales of recreational marijuana. Voters approved the law in 2016.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said Thursday that Sessions' decision had bulldozed the will of voters and flew in the face of his support for states' rights. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom says the Trump administration is pursuing a failed path by criminalizing marijuana and is waging a "cynical" war against California.

Newsom, who is running for governor, said the state will pursue all legal, legislative and political options to protect its reforms.

But in Northern California, a sheriff is applauding Sessions' decision. Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said Thursday that he's encouraged by Sessions' actions. Much of the enforcement of marijuana laws has fallen to rural local authorities in Northern California where most of the crop is grown.

The Siskiyou Board of Supervisors declared a local state of emergency last year and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to help Lopey crack down on a dramatic influx of illegal marijuana farmers. Lopey had asked Sessions to rescind the policy that guided federal authorities to allow operations to exist if they abided by state law, but to crack down on activities such as trafficking and selling to minors.

During the Obama era, Federal law enforcement officials were generally barred from intervention with marijuana sales in states where the drug is legal. But Sessions' decision appears to ensure added confusion over the issue.

"In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department's finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions," by considering the seriousness of the crime and its impact on the community, Sessions wrote in a one-page memo to the nation's federal prosecutors.

Sessions' policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts. Officials couldn't say what the ultimate impact will be on the legal industry or whether it will lead to more pot prosecutions.

Nor is it clear how the memo might affect states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes. A congressional amendment blocks the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed. Justice officials said they would follow the law, but would not preclude the possibility of medical-marijuana related prosecutions.

Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers who have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to illegally grow and ship the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for marijuana opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.

"There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it's also the beginning of the story and not the end," said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. "This is a victory. It's going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years."

Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states' rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses.

Marijuana advocates quickly condemned Sessions' move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Marijuana Shops Celebrate New Year, New Law]]>Tue, 02 Jan 2018 11:23:37 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/AP_18001616606356.jpg

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Golden State Turns Shade Greener: A Look at First-Day Sales]]>Tue, 02 Jan 2018 14:44:49 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/AP_18001632609916.jpg

From a pot shop in Santa Cruz that hung a banner proclaiming "Prohibition is Over!" to one in San Diego handing out T-shirts showing the first moon landing and declaring a "giant leap for mankind," the Golden State turned a shade greener with its first sales of recreational marijuana.

Ceremonial ribbon cuttings marked the occasion Monday as the nation's biggest producer of illicit marijuana moved from the shadows toward a regulated market. Freebies and food greeted those who waited in long lines to get their hands on weed with names like "Oh Geezus" and "Banana Breath."

"I'm scared, I'm excited, I'm relieved," exclaimed Kimberly Cargile, director of a Sacramento shop that has sold medical pot since 2009.

Cargile's shop, A Therapeutic Alternative, opened at 9 a.m. with the celebratory cutting of a red ribbon -- a symbolic gesture that could be seen as a nod to those who cut through red tape in time to open the doors to a new era.

First-day sales were brisk in shops lucky enough to score one of the roughly 100 state licenses issued so far. But would-be customers in some of the state's largest cities encountered reefer sadness.

Riverside and Fresno outlawed sales and Los Angeles and San Francisco did not act soon enough to authorize shops to get state licenses by New Year's Day.

California's state and local governments still have a lot of work ahead to get the massive industry running that is projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.

Charles Boldwyn, chief compliance officer of ShowGrow in Santa Ana, which opened to retail customers Monday, said he is concerned that a delay in local and state approvals could create shortages of products for consumers.

"We're looking at ... hundreds of licensed cultivators and manufacturers coming out of an environment where we literally had thousands of people who were cultivating and manufacturing," Boldwyn said. "So the red tape is a bit of a bottleneck in the supply chain."

Bureau of Cannabis Control regulators worked through the holiday to try to process 1,400 pending license applications for retail sales, distribution, testing facilities and other businesses, bureau spokesman Alex Traverso said.

A flood of applications for shops in Los Angeles and San Francisco is expected after being approved locally. Because Los Angeles is the biggest market in the state, some of those shops will be licensed by the state more quickly than others already in line, Traverso said.

The status of Los Angeles shops highlights broad confusion over the new law.

Los Angeles officials said they will not begin accepting license applications until Wednesday and it might take weeks before any licenses are issued. That has led to widespread concern that long-established businesses would have to shut down in the interim.

Attorneys advising a group of city dispensaries have concluded those businesses can legally sell medicinal marijuana as "collectives," until they obtain local and state licenses under the new system, said Jerred Kiloh of the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.

It was not immediately clear how many of those shops, if any, opened.

"My patients are scared, my employees are scared," said Kiloh, who owns a dispensary in the city's San Fernando Valley area.

With sales starting around California, the most populous U.S. state joined a growing list of others, and the nation's capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.

California banned what it called "loco-weed" in 1913, though it has eased criminal penalties for use of the drug since the 1970s and was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996.

California voters in 2016 made it legal for adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use limited quantities of marijuana, but it was not legal to sell it for recreational purposes until Monday.

The signs that California was tripping toward legal pot sales were evident well before the stroke of midnight.

California highways flashed signs before New Year's Eve that said "Drive high, Get a DUI," reflecting law enforcement concerns about stoned drivers. Weedmaps, the phone app that allows customers to rate shops, delivery services and shows their locations, ran a full-page ad Sunday in the Los Angeles Times that said, "Smile California. It's Legal."

In shops where recreational weed was on the menu, former medical marijuana patients got in line with pot-heads and hippies, as well as first-timers willing to give legal weed a chance.

Heather Sposeto, 50, who is not a marijuana user, wanted to see the hype around legal weed, so she went to Northstar Holistic Collective in Sacramento with her boyfriend, who is a daily pot smoker.

She said it felt surreal to be in a shop with options ranging from chocolate edibles to the green flower. Sposeto was considering taking a toke now that it's not illicit.

"I come from the era where it was super illegal," he said.

At San Diego's Mankind Cooperative, lines were 40 minutes long and buyers from as far away as Iowa, Kansas and Canada waited with their California cannabis brethren to ogle offerings such as "Island Sweet Skunk" and a particularly potent strain called, "The Sheriff."

"We're insane down here. And it's still going on, girlfriend," said marketing retailer Cathy Bliss.

Outside KindPeoples dispensary in Santa Cruz, which tacked up the end of prohibition sign, people gathered in shorts and sweat shirts, winter coats and wool hats while waiting to get inside. A gray-bearded professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wearing a blue sport coat was the first customer.

In Orange County, shops in Santa Ana received approval over the weekend to open and a steady flow showed up at ShowGrow.

Ellen St. Peter, 61, shopped with her son, Bryce St. Peter, 23, both medical marijuana users.

She said she smoked pot until she had kids and fantasized in her teens about pot shops but "couldn't have dreamed of this place."

Her son said he hoped legalization would change the image of pot users.

"I work hard and I play hard," Bryce St. Peter said. "There shouldn't be this stigma of people being lazy stoners."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[MedMen One of First Marijuana Shops Open in WeHo]]>Tue, 02 Jan 2018 07:40:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/MedMen_One_of_First_Marijuana_Shops_Open_in_WeHo.jpg

West Hollywood-based marijuana shop MedMen is one of the first dispensaries to open its doors and sell legal recreational pot in Los Angeles County. Gene Kang reports for Today in LA on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018.]]>
<![CDATA[SoCal Shop to Open Doors as Recreational Weed is Legalized]]>Mon, 01 Jan 2018 18:46:21 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/pot-cover-jan12018.jpg

Photo Credit: Khallid Shabazz]]>
<![CDATA[Recreational Pot is Legal: But Where Can You Get It?]]>Mon, 01 Jan 2018 10:27:08 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/weed-la-recreational-010118.jpg

Recreational pot is legal in California, but you can't just go to any facility to get it. Jonathan Gonzalez reports for Today in LA Monday, Jan. 1, 2018.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Anticipation High as California Rolls Out Retail Pot Sales]]>Sun, 31 Dec 2017 18:36:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/184*120/GettyImages-98049913.jpg

Californians may awake on New Year's Day to a stronger-than-normal whiff of marijuana as America's cannabis king lights up to celebrate the state's first legal retail pot sales.

The historic day comes more than two decades after California paved the way for legal weed by passing the nation's first medical marijuana law, though other states were quicker to allow the drug's recreational use.

From the small town of Shasta Lake just south of Oregon to San Diego on the Mexican border, the first of about six dozen shops licensed by the state will open Monday to customers who previously needed a medical reason or a dope dealer to score pot.

In November 2016, California voters legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, making it legal to grow six plants and possess an ounce of pot. The state was given a year to set retail market regulations that are still being formalized and will be phased in over the next year.

"We're thrilled," said Khalil Moutawakkil, founder of KindPeoples, which grows, manufactures and sells weed in Santa Cruz. "We can talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of the specific regulations, but at the end of the day it's a giant step forward, and we'll have to work out the kinks as we go."

The long, strange trip to get here has been a frustrating one for advocates of a drug that in the federal government's eyes remains illegal and in a class with heroin.

The state banned "loco-weed" in 1913, according to a history by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the pot advocacy group known as NORML. The first attempt to undo that by voter initiative in 1972 failed, but three years later felony possession of less than an ounce was downgraded to a misdemeanor.

In 1996, over objections of law enforcement, the drug czar under President Bill Clinton and three former presidents who warned it was an enormous threat to the public health of "all Americans," California voters approved marijuana for medicinal purposes.

While the rollout of grassroots collectives of growers and dispensaries where marijuana could be sold to patients was at times messy, the law led to wider acceptance of the drug as medicine.

"The heavens didn't fall," said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "We didn't see increased youth drug abuse or increased accidents or crazy things happening as our opponents predicted."

Today, 28 other states have adopted similar laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. California is one of five states, plus Washington, D.C., that followed suit. Retail sales are scheduled to begin in Massachusetts in July.

With wider acceptance, the aroma of marijuana smoke has become more pervasive in parts of California, and use accelerated after the legalization vote.

Even with other states as models for what works and what can go wrong as marijuana strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin hit the street, the next year is expected to be a bumpy one as more shops open and more stringent regulations take effect.

The California Police Chiefs Association, which opposed the ballot measure, remains concerned about stoned drivers, the appeal the drug will have for young people as it becomes more normalized, and the cost of policing the new rules in addition to an existing black market.

"There's going to be a public health cost and a public safety cost enforcing these new laws and regulations," said Jonathan Feldman, a legislative advocate for the chiefs. "It remains to be seen if this can balance itself out."

For consumers, the most surprising revelation may be the dearth of places to get ganja. In theory, buying a joint, loose weed or a hash brownie should be as easy as finding a craft beer, but options are few as some cities have rejected retail sales and others have taken a more mellow approach toward licensing operations.

Pot-friendly San Francisco, a counter-culture hub where marijuana smoke has been a fixture for half a century, was late to establish local regulations and won't have any retail outlets open for business until later in the week. It's a similar situation in Los Angeles.

Meantime, Fresno, Riverside, Anaheim, Bakersfield and all of surrounding Kern County have prohibited pot shops, and Long Beach has a temporary ban.

For shop owners lucky enough to receive temporary licenses from the state and clear local red tape, anticipation is high.

Will Senn, founder of Urbn Leaf in San Diego, said the shop's four phone lines have been ringing off the hook for three months, but he's not sure what to expect when doors open at 7 a.m. with extra security and more than 60 employees at the ready for sales and deliveries.

"We're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," Senn said. "We never want lines out the door and around the block. That's not what we're trying to accomplish here."

Shops at first will be able to sell marijuana harvested without the regulatory controls that eventually will require extensive testing for potency, pesticides and other contaminants. A program to track all pot from seed to sales also will be phased in, along with other protections such as child-proof containers for pot products.

Pot shop founder Jamie Garzot said she's concerned that when the current crop dries up, she'll encounter a shortage of marijuana that meets state regulations. The irony is that her 530 Cannabis shop in Shasta Lake is close to some of California's most productive growing areas, yet most of the surrounding counties won't allow cultivation that could supply her.

"Playing in the gray market is not an option," Garzot said. "California produces more cannabis than any state in the nation, but going forward, if it's not from a state-licensed source, I can't put it on my shelf. If I choose to do so, I run the risk of losing my license."

In 2016, the state produced an estimated 13.5 million pounds of pot, and 80 percent was illegally shipped out of state, according to a report prepared for the state by ERA Economics, an environmental and agricultural consulting firm. Of the remaining 20 percent, only a quarter was sold legally for medicinal purposes.

That robust black market is expected to continue to thrive, particularly as taxes and fees raise the cost of retail pot by as much as 70 percent.

Matt Brancale, 47, a marijuana user since the 1980s and a connoisseur of the plant's flowery buds, said he welcomes regulations that will bring a higher-quality product because of required testing. But he fears the price could spike once the government takes its share, and worries that revenue will be misspent.

"I also don't want to get taxed to the teeth on it," he said. "Are they going to try to squeeze every last ounce of tax revenue out of it? I assume they will. There's people that are drooling in Sacramento with the potential resource money."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Company Has Pot License, But Workers Still Arrested]]>Wed, 27 Dec 2017 17:49:47 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/marijuana+plants+generic.JPG

The confusing rollout of marijuana regulations in California has been underscored in Mendocino County, where local authorities licensed a company to deliver pot only to have state police arrest two employees who were trying to do just that with nearly a ton of weed.

The workers for Old Kai Distribution were transporting the marijuana from a farm when they were pulled over Friday afternoon by a California Highway Patrol officer on Highway 101 near Ukiah, according to Joe Rogoway, an attorney for the company. They were driving an unmarked van and were stopped for a traffic violation.

The workers showed the officer the company's county license and a manifest for the marijuana, but the officer insisted it was illegal, called for backup and arrested the men.

The company argues it can transport marijuana within the county with its local license, and county spokeswoman Sarah Dukett backed that interpretation. She said Old Kai was issued a distribution license last week that allows it to legally transport marijuana under two local ordinances passed earlier this year.

The workers were cited for unlawful transportation of marijuana and unlawful possession for sale. Investigators also seized all of the marijuana and the company's van.

"It is incomprehensible that this has occurred," said Rogoway, who sent a letter to CHP demanding that the charges be dropped and the marijuana returned to Old Kai.

Acting California Highway Patrol Commissioner Warren Stanley said the arrest was appropriate because a state license also is required for legal transport and those permits don't take effect until Monday, when broad legalization arrives in California.

"They are following the laws that are in place now," Stanley said Wednesday, referring to his officers. "And when Jan. 1, 2018, comes they'll start following the laws that come into effect on that date."

The officer who made the Ukiah stop was not targeting the business, said Stanley, who is not aware of any other arrests of a locally licensed marijuana operation. CHP primarily is concerned with drivers who could be high behind the wheel and the agency has trained 97 percent of its officers and sergeants in advanced drugged driving recognition skills, he said.

Stanley commented after a ceremony for CHP Officer Andrew Camilleri, who was killed on Christmas Eve by a driver believed to be drunk and high.

California has had legal medical marijuana for two decades. In 2016, voters approved broad legalization and the state and communities that want such "adult use" marijuana businesses spent the last year writing complex regulations.

Some didn't get their regulations finalized in time to start issuing local licenses by Jan. 1 while others decided to outlaw recreational pot altogether. Meantime, all forms of pot remain illegal under federal law.

The marijuana that was seized in Mendocino County, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of San Francisco, had been collected from a family-owned farm and was being brought to a distribution center to be sorted and tested.

"This was basically their entire harvest," Rogoway said. "Their entire year was in the back of this vehicle. If that cannabis is destroyed, it really puts at risk the safety and well-being of their family."

He worried the arrest could have a chilling effect as the state and local governments encourage marijuana businesses to come out of the shadows and adhere to regulations to ensure a level playing field for all.

"This incident highlights the fear that many people have," he said. "It takes a lot to be a complaint operator. Even if they follow through with the whole process, something bad can happen. This is a perfect example."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Laws Collide at CA Border Patrol Checkpoints]]>Wed, 27 Dec 2017 16:09:40 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-869110684.jpg

Marijuana possession still will be prohibited at eight Border Patrol checkpoints in California, a reminder that state and federal laws collide when it comes to pot. The U.S. government classifies marijuana as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.

"Prior to Jan. 1, it's going to be the same after Jan. 1, because nothing changed on our end," said Ryan Yamasaki, an assistant chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector. "If you're a federal law enforcement agency, you uphold federal laws."

The checkpoints, located up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Mexico, are considered a final line of defense against immigrants who elude agents at the border. They also have been a trap for U.S. citizens carrying drugs, even tiny bags of marijuana.

About 40 percent of pot seizures at Border Patrol checkpoints from fiscal years 2013 to 2016 were an ounce (28 grams) or less from U.S. citizens, according to a Government Accountability Office report last month. California's new law allows anyone 21 and over to carry up to an ounce.

The Border Patrol operates 34 permanent checkpoints along the Mexican border and an additional 103 "tactical" stops, typically cones and signs that appear for brief periods.

Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of parent agency Customs and Border Protection, called drug seizures an "ancillary effect" of enforcing immigration laws. Motorists typically are released after being photographed and fingerprinted. They generally aren't charged with a crime because prosecutors consider them low priority.

The clash between state and federal marijuana laws played out on a smaller scale near the Canadian border in Washington after that state legalized marijuana in 2014. California is a far busier route for illegal crossings with many more agents.

State and federal marijuana laws have conflicted since California became the first to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996. Next week, California will be among seven states and Washington, D.C., with legal recreational pot.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalization, said last month that he was taking a close look at federal enforcement, suggesting a tougher stance than President Barack Obama's administration.

At highway checkpoints, Border Patrol agents look for signs of nervous drivers, like clutching steering wheels and avoiding eye contact and interrupting when passengers are asked to state citizenship. Some panicked drivers make a U-turn when they spot the checkpoint, a dead giveaway.

One recent morning on westbound Interstate 8 about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of San Diego, an agent standing outside a booth under a large white canopy stopped drivers for a few seconds to ask their citizenship or waved them through after peering inside.

In about an hour, three raised enough suspicion to be ordered aside for a thorough vehicle search.

A dog discovered a marijuana stash about the size of a thumbprint inside the pickup truck of a man with Arizona license plates who was taking his elderly uncle to a hospital appointment. It would have taken up to an hour to process the arrest, so agents released him after seizing the pot and warning it was illegal.

"I didn't know that, sorry," the driver said, walking to his truck after waiting on a bench a few minutes while the dog searched.

The animal sniffed something in another car but found nothing in the seats or trunk. The apologetic driver said she smoked marijuana a week earlier, implying the odor lingered.

The Pine Valley checkpoint, amid oak- and chaparral-covered mountains on the main route from Arizona to San Diego, gets busy with drivers returning from weekend getaways but is less traveled than others.

Agents say a checkpoint on Interstate 5 between San Diego and Los Angeles can cause a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) backup in 90 seconds during peak hours.

The government faces pushback over checkpoints. Some residents complain about delays and trespassers trying to circumvent checkpoints — some even dying from heat and exhaustion. Motorists who consider them a privacy invasion steadfastly refuse to answer questions and post their test encounters on YouTube.

Border Patrol officials insist they are effective. Without them, Vitiello said, smugglers would have open passage to cities like Phoenix and Albuquerque, New Mexico, once past the border.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that agents can question people at checkpoints even without reason to believe anyone in the vehicle is in the country illegally and don't need a search warrant.

Michael Chernis, an attorney who represents people charged with marijuana crimes, believes checkpoint seizures are a waste of resources but acknowledged the government is empowered.

"The bottom line is, there's absolutely no protection against federal interaction when it comes to adult use," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[What to Expect From California's Cannabis Culinary Scene]]>Tue, 26 Dec 2017 17:59:45 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/AP_17360574569801.jpg

The sauvignon blanc boasts brassy, citrus notes, but with one whiff, it's apparent this is no normal Sonoma County wine. It's infused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that provides the high.

Move over, pot brownies. The world's largest legal recreational marijuana market kicks off Monday in California, and the trendsetting state is set to ignite the cannabis culinary scene.

Chefs and investors have been teaming up to offer an eye-boggling array of cannabis-infused food and beverages, weed-pairing supper clubs and other extravagant pot-to-plate events in preparation for legalization come Jan. 1.

Legal pot in states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado and California's longstanding medical marijuana market already spurred a cannabis-foodie movement with everything from olive oil to heirloom tomato bisques infused with the drug.

Cannabis-laced dinners with celebrity chefs at private parties have flourished across Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego in recent years, but a medical marijuana card was required to attend.

With that requirement gone, the edibles market is expected to boom, though manufacturers face a host of regulations, and doctors fear the products could increase emergency room visits and entice youth. Marijuana industry analysts predict edibles for the recreational marijuana market will top $100 million in sales in 2018.

"Californian's culinary expertise is far more refined from college kids making pot brownies in a dorm," said John Kagia of Frontier Data, a cannabis market research firm.

Expect a slew of vegan and gluten-free choices and low-dose snacks from trail mixes to chocolates. And they may well be served at a gym or Pilates studio.

"This is the dawn of the Amsterdam-style cafe in the U.S.," Kagia said. "We expect to see spaces that are targeted to cannabis consumers that capitalize on the arts and entertainment offerings of California and really create unique and elevated experiences."

That includes ethnic options in a state with the largest immigrant population in the U.S.

"Now you see all kinds of cuisines," said Cristina Espiritu of the 420 Foodie Club, which has promoted cannabis food events in Southern California that have included everything from Mediterranean dishes to Filipino specialties. "There's going to be infused tacos, infused burritos. I think because of the diversity and creativity in California, this is going to explode."

But Espiritu worries regulations could make certain aspects of the culinary experience accessible only to the elite in places like Beverly Hills.

Kitchens for those making edibles to sell must be licensed. And organizers must pay $5,000 a year for a license to host up to 10 events, and depending on the size, they may be required to hold them at a fairground. Cities can pose additional fees and ban an event altogether.

Regulations prohibit manufacturers from producing cannabis products for retail sale that include perishable items that could pose a health risk, such as dairy, seafood, fresh meat, or food or beverages appealing to children. It's still unclear if those rules would apply to a chef-hosted dinner or cooking class that people have paid for.

Edible products must be produced in serving sizes with no more than 10 milligrams of THC and no more than 100 milligrams of THC for the total package.

Drug policy expert and Stanford Law School professor Robert J. MacCoun said the regulations are too lax. Edibles already being sold in the medical marijuana industry vary widely in their potency, so people get more stoned than they planned and can end up in emergency rooms.

The bright packages appeal to children, who often are too young to read warning labels, MacCoun said. He thinks edibles should be restricted to plain brown or white packaging.

"Everyone sees this as a kind of new gold rush in the way that it will make a lot of money, but I think we need to be more careful about how this rolls out," he said.

Many see California's recreational marijuana business mirroring its wine industry, with people seeking weed pairings, cannabis farm tours and products made from organic, local plants.

Rebel Coast Winery's THC-infused sauvignon blanc is made from Sonoma County grapes, but the alcohol is removed in compliance with regulations that prohibit mixing pot with alcohol.

It smells like marijuana, meeting another requirement that it not be confused with a food or beverage that does not contain pot.

Founder Alex Howe is planning high-end dinner parties in Los Angeles in early 2018 to debut the $59.99 bottle of wine. Each bottle contains 16 milligrams of THC, and the company says on average, people feel the effects in under 15 minutes.

"We really wanted to mimic that ritual of opening a bottle of wine at dinner, or at a party with friends or while watching a movie, which is something so familiar to people, especially in California," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Unions See Growth Potential in California Marijuana Workers]]>Mon, 25 Dec 2017 11:48:46 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-91997107.jpg

Unions have caught a whiff of a rare opportunity to organize a whole new set of workers as recreational marijuana becomes legal in California.

The United Farm Workers, Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are looking to unionize the tens of thousands of potential workers involved in the legal weed game, from planters to rollers to sellers. The move could provide a boost to organized labor's lagging membership -- if infighting doesn't get in the way.

The United Farm Workers, co-founded by iconic labor leader Cesar Chavez, says organizing an industry rooted in agriculture is a natural fit, and growers could label their products with the union's logo as a marketing strategy.

"If you're a cannabis worker, the UFW wants to talk with you," national vice president Armando Elenes said.

But United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store employees, meat packers and retail workers, registered its intent to organize cannabis workers across the country.

"We would hope they respect our jurisdiction," UFCW spokesman Jeff Ferro said.

Teamsters organizer Kristin Heidelbach said there's no need for unions to battle each other. There will be plenty of workers needing representation as small cannabis businesses run by "happy stoner" types give way to large pharmaceutical corporations, she said.

The green rush that begins in 2018 is an opportunity for unions to regain influence that began declining in the late 1950s, said David Zonderman, a professor of labor history at North Carolina State University. But discord between unions could upend it. As could resistance from cannabis business leaders.

"Are they going to be new-age and cool with it," Zonderman said, "or like other businesspeople, say, `Heck, no. We're going to fight them tooth and nail?"'

Last year, California voters approved sales of recreational marijuana to those 21 and older at licensed shops beginning Jan. 1.

Cannabis in California already is a $22 billion industry, including medical marijuana and a black market that accounts for most of that total, according to University of California, Davis, agriculture economist Philip Martin. Medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, when California was the first state to approve such a law.

Labor leaders estimate recreational pot in California could employ at least 100,000 workers from the north coast to the Sierra Nevada foothills and the San Joaquin Valley, harvesting and trimming the plants, extracting ingredients to put in liquids and edibles, and driving it to stores and front doors.

Other pot workers have organized in other states, but California should be especially friendly territory for unions, said Jamie Schau, a senior analyst with Brightfield Group, which does marketing analysis on the marijuana industry.

The state has one of the nation's highest minimum wages and the largest number of unionized workers across industries. Its laws also tend to favor employees.

At least some workers say they're open to unions.

"I'm always down to listen to what could be a good deal for me and my family," said Thomas Grier, 44, standing behind the counter at Canna Can Help Inc., a dispensary in the Central Valley community of Goshen.

The dispensary -- with $7 million in yearly sales -- sells medical marijuana.

Called a "bud tender," Grier recently waited on a steady flow of regular customers walking through the door to pick out their favorite strain.

He said so far, no unions have contacted him. Grier gets along with his boss and said he doesn't want to pay union dues for help ironing out workplace disputes. But he hasn't discounted the possibility of joining.

After recently entering the marijuana industry, Los Angeles resident Richard Rodriguez said one sticky traffic stop three months ago converted him into a "hard core" Teamster. He'd never been in a union until this year.

Rodriguez said an officer pulled him over delivering a legal shipment of pot and detained him for 12 hours as he was accused of following too closely behind a semi-truck.

A union lawyer stepped in, and Rodriguez said he was released without being arrested or given a ticket.

"Most companies can't or are unwilling to do that," he said, "because employees are easily replaced."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California's Top Pot Regulator Talks Legalization]]>Sun, 24 Dec 2017 15:36:51 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/171*120/AP_17346747342406.jpg

California's legal pot market opens for business on Jan. 1. The day will be a milestone, but what exactly will happen then and, especially, in the weeks and months to come is unclear.

Lori Ajax is the state's top pot regulator and has been at the center of the effort to establish rules for a legal pot economy valued at $7 billion.

Here's her thoughts on what to expect:

___

Q. It's a question many people are asking: Can I buy legal pot on Jan. 1?

A. Well, maybe.

"You will, in certain areas of the state," Ajax says.

Businesses are required to have a local permit and a state license to open their doors for recreational sales, and that process has moved slowly.

So far, there is not a consistent pattern in the geography of legal pot.

Kern County, for example, has banned all commercial cannabis activity. But Oakland, Santa Cruz, Shasta Lake and San Diego are among the cities that have embraced it and have licensed operators that will open Jan. 1.

San Francisco is running late getting licenses out, so legal sales there are not expected to start until later that week. It's still up in the air whether Los Angeles, the biggest market in California, will have any retail outlets open on the first day of legalization.

Q. If you can get legal pot on Jan. 1, where can you smoke it?

A. First rule, not in public, Ajax says.

Another general guideline: Don't smoke anywhere where tobacco is prohibited.

State law has specific guidelines for where not to light up, and they include being within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of a school or a daycare center when kids are around, or smoking while driving.

However, the state has left it up to local governments to determine if they want to permit onsite consumption at retailers. So it will be city-by-city whether you can buy and light up on the spot.

Q. This is going to be a big transition, transforming the lightly regulated medical industry and the vast illegal market into a legal pot economy. How will it roll out?

A. With ups and downs.

"That transition period is going to be an adjustment for a lot of folks," Ajax says.

The industry -- medical and illegal -- has existed for years with little or no regulation. Now, growers and sellers are facing a range of new state and local rules, including hefty new taxes.

Consumers who want to make a purchase will have to check their local rules, which can vary.

The state expects to be visiting businesses, perhaps repeatedly, to help them meet the regulations.

"We have to really work with them," Ajax says.

Q. Her biggest worry?

A. The pace and extent of licensing, because lots of players are needed to make the supply chain work across the state. Cultivators. Distributors. Manufacturers. Testing companies. Retailers.

State licensing only started in December.

Ajax worries if California has "licensed enough people throughout the supply chain, and geographically across the state, so people can continue to do business," which includes medical and recreational pot. "That's something I think about all the time."

Take distributors that transport cannabis.

"If you don't have enough distributors, if they are the only ones that can transport the cannabis, that would be an issue ... on Day One," Ajax says.

Q. How tough is enforcement going to be, if you intend to entice businesses into the market?

A. For now, more carrot than stick.

"We can't just hit them over the head," Ajax says. "You work toward educating them and, I think, you go from there."

"If we have somebody that is causing a public nuisance or a public safety problem, then I do think strong enforcement is necessary. But if you just got somebody trying to comply, and they are completely overwhelmed because they just don't know what to do, then I think that's our job to then break it down for people."

She acknowledges the dense regulations can be intimidating.

"A lot of them have never dealt with the state before," she says. "We want to encourage people that this is the best way for California, to come out of the shadows and be licensed."

Q. Experts say the new legal economy will struggle if the black market continues to thrive. How does the state intend to persuade illegal operators to come out of the shadows?

A. In a word, education.

Ajax says businesses need to know how to get licensed -- an online application site opened this month -- and the state should encourage them to do so.

The state also needs to be flexible at first with compliance, she said, as businesses become accustomed to the new system.

"We, as a state, have to show them that this is where you need to be," she says.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Los Angeles Won't Be Selling Weed Jan. 1]]>Sun, 24 Dec 2017 12:54:24 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/Marijuana-plant-006.jpg

California kicks off recreational sales on New Year's Day, becoming the largest state in the nation with legal marijuana. But Los Angeles officials announced Friday that dispensaries in the city won't be part of the celebration.

The city won't begin accepting applications to sell legal recreational pot until Jan. 3, and it could take weeks before those businesses are properly licensed with the city and state and open their doors.

"Come Jan. 1 in the city of Los Angeles, there are no legal, adult-use sales," Cat Packer, who heads the city's Department of Cannabis Regulation, told reporters at City Hall.

"We are starting a process. This is something that is not going to happen overnight," Packer said.

Los Angeles is California's largest pot market and the opening of legal sales was widely anticipated. In March, 80 percent of city voters endorsed a ballot measure that set in motion creation of the new pot marketplace.

The decision to delay licensing, even for several weeks, was a disappointment for growers and sellers who have feared they could be squeezed out of the market if LA lagged in licensing.

"It's a scary time for the operators," said Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, a marijuana industry group.

"It's not just the retailers. There is still complete uncertainty to other aspects of the industry," such as cultivation and transportation, he added. "At the end of the day, the city is not ready."

Los Angeles struggled for months to get rules in place to license businesses for legal sales, only agreeing to guidelines earlier this month. Packer was hired in August, just months before legalization kicked in.

Under Los Angeles rules, neighborhoods would be largely off-limits to pot businesses, and buffer zones would be set up around schools, libraries and parks. The city has long been a hive of unlicensed dispensaries, and hundreds have been shut down.

So far, legalization has resulted in a patchwork of regulations around California.

Santa Cruz, San Diego, Shasta Lake, San Jose and West Hollywood are among the cities where businesses have been authorized for recreational sales. But Kern County is among the places that have banned all commercial marijuana activity.

In general, California will treat pot like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of the drug and grow six plants at home.

The slower rollout in Los Angeles will leave operators in a kind of legal limbo, at least temporarily. The state has said licensed businesses should only do business with other properly licensed operators.

However, Packer said that medicinal sales to consumers with a doctor's recommendation can continue. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state for two decades.

There could be more confusion to come.

The first licenses are expected to go largely to retailers. However, if not enough cultivators hold licenses, sellers would have to look elsewhere in California to stock their shelves.

"I will admit this is an incomplete process," Packer said.

The route to legalization began last year when state voters approved Proposition 64, which set the stage for recreational pot sales to adults.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Big or Small? The Fight to Survive in CA's Pot Market is on]]>Wed, 20 Dec 2017 08:29:15 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/164*120/AP_17346748900038.jpg

Drive by the High Desert Truck Stop, turn down a rutted road by the bail bond signs, slip behind a steel fence edged with barbed wire, and you can glimpse the future of California's emerging legal pot industry.

In a boxy warehouse marked only by a street number, an $8 million marijuana production plant -- a farm, laboratory and factory all in one -- is rising inside cavernous rooms crisscrossed by electrical cables.

Not far off, a retail shop is planned to sell edible, thin strips infused with cannabis extract and powerful concentrates known as resins that also will be shipped to stores around the state.

California has long been known for its boutique pot market, producing world-famous buds on small plots in the so-called Emerald Triangle, north of San Francisco.

Broad legalization starts Jan. 1, and this will be a test of whether bigger is better.

"It's not going to be a cottage industry. We're not doing it at a craft beer level," says Brad Eckenweiler, chief executive of Lifestyle Delivery Systems, the Canada-based company behind the venture on a dusty industrial strip 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Los Angeles.

In the new marketplace, Lifestyle is what's known as a "vertically integrated company," with a hand in virtually every aspect of the business, from producing organic seeds to over-the-counter sales.

The company's ambition also points to an unfolding rivalry: a battle of size.

Some fear corporate-level businesses will eventually doom mom-and-pop growers and sellers, much as Big Tobacco dominated its market.

"As we have a lot of the Wall Street and the other big money bearing down on the No. 1 marketplace in the world right here, I think the only way the small operators are really going to have a chance is if we really do kind of band together," said Erik Hultstrom, a Los Angeles cultivator.

For now, the shape of California's new market remains largely unknown.

An illegal industry that operated in the shadows and the loosely regulated medical one are facing rapid change now that the legalization of recreational pot is arriving, with new government rules and taxes and a flood of investment dollars. Lifestyle Delivery Systems Inc. is a publicly traded company in Canada, valued at about $45 million.

Two years ago, a state commission recognized that small operators could be vulnerable once the doorway opened to legal sales. But temporary state rules issued last month placed no limit on most cultivator licenses, potentially opening the way for vast cannabis farms. State regulators say local governments are free to impose restrictions, however.

Last week, California issued its first commercial licenses, and they show others intend to get a foothold in various sectors of the market, picking off multiple permits for transportation, manufacturing and retailing.

Helena Yli-Renko, director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California, said size might be an advantage but she sees opportunity for specialists, such as companies that develop new extraction technologies or provide monthly subscriptions, like wine clubs.

But Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, an industry group, said corporate-scale companies with a lock on the supply chain have the potential to tilt the market in their favor.

"The more steps in the supply chain you control, you can control pricing," he said. "It's artificial."

To Eckenweiler, size is strength.

While manufacturers buying pot on the open market will have to contend with inevitable price swings, growing in-house will buffer the company from those ups and downs, he said.

The same is true for transportation -- doing it yourself saves money. And having a stake in a dispensary, to be run through a contractual relationship, would provide access to shelf space.

On a tour of the partially completed site, he points to rooms that will one day house multi-tier platforms of pot plants, and pulls open a freezer where stacks of packaged pot buds are ready for production.

"I'm not saying you couldn't have a good business model as a cultivator, as a manufacturer, as a transport distributor or a dispensary. But we're going to have the benefit of being all of those," Eckenweiler said.

A freeway ride and a world away in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, in a small, gated warehouse amid scrapyards and garages, Hultstrom tends his crop.

Organic plants at different stages are arranged in regimental rows in several rooms, fed by water circulated through plastic piping. Powerful lights warm the seedlings, and a ventilation system keeps the pungent aroma from wafting into nearby lots.

At Lifestyle Delivery Systems, Eckenweiler said his machine can produce 50,000 edible strips an hour. Hultstrom's nursery, Legacy Strains, moves at a slower pace.

An employee sits at a desk, patiently snipping leaves from plant buds, one at a time, while an adopted stray dog collapses into a weathered couch.

Lifestyle has plans for a 202,000-square-foot (18,770-square-meter) cultivation facility. Hultstrom watches over a fraction of that -- 2,100 square feet (195 square meters) of pot plants.

He's confident in his ability to produce top-shelf cannabis, and he knows his market: He's been in the business in various jobs since 2005.

But Hultstrom wonders if licensing and compliance costs that experts say will run $100,000 or more, as well as taxes, distribution and other markups, will slant the market toward big producers with more financial muscle.

Increasing costs could present a barrier to entering the legal market, Hultstrom said, or force smaller growers to take on new investors. At risk, as well, is the communal spirit of a business that has seen years of shifting laws and enforcement, he said.

As legal sales approach, many questions remain.

It's unclear if the black market will persist or fade away. Few major banks want to do business with pot shops or growers, since cannabis remains illegal in the federal government's eyes.

As a small grower, Hultstrom knows he can't compete toe-to-toe against large operators, an acknowledgement that recalls how big-box stores emptied local shopping strips.

The strategy is to find an angle they can't cover.

"Usually, the smaller the operation, the better quality you tend to have," he said. "It's just finding that niche."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[New Calif. Law Offers Chance to Clear Pot Convictions]]>Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:05:15 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/pot+generic.PNG

California's new recreational cannabis law is doing more than legalizing marijuana sales going forward. It's also allowing thousands with past pot convictions to clear their criminal records.

A little known provision in Proposition 64 allows people convicted of almost any marijuana crime to have it removed or reduced. According to the California Judicial Council, more than 4,000 people have already filed petitions.

The law takes effect Jan. 1.

For those with pot convictions, all they need to do is reach out to the court that processed their case.

"In some jurisdictions, you can apply to the district attorney's office, and they will help you do it," said Leslie Jacobs, a professor at McGeorge School of Law. "So that's what they should do is some internet research or visit the district attorney's office and say I think Im eligible."

Many of the marijuana convictions in California came during the so-called war on drugs period, which critics say disproportionately impacted minority communities.



Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Of Pot and Taxes: How Some Buyers Can Save Some Green]]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 21:56:23 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/pot+tax+photo.JPG

California is set to make a lot of money through taxes on legalized pot, but some people in Los Angles County will be able to dodge those taxes.

Starting Jan. 1, the state is set to impose a 15 percent excise tax in addition to a 10 percent sales tax. However, people with active prescriptions to use medical marijuana can apply for an identification card with the county, which would allow them to avoid the sales tax.

"To save 10 percent every time I spend anything? That's great," said Jason Waszak, who was shopping for marijuana at the Buds & Roses dispensary in Studio City.

The process to apply for one of the ID cards is an involved one.

The Los Angeles Department of Public Health requires that people apply annually and in person. It also costs $100 for the application fee.

Anyone looking to skirt the system, however, should be warned: the county says that it will verify your doctor's license with the state medical board.

Aaron Justis, president of Buds & Roses, said the industry is in for a new era of regulation, especially since the drug is also supposed to be safer for consumers.

"They're gonna see a well-regulated marketplace like they've never seen before," he said.

For dispensaries like his, the coming weeks will be a litmus test of just how big the booming buds business will be.



Photo Credit: Bobbie Eng]]>
<![CDATA[Buyers Beware: California Pot Sold Jan. 1 Could Be Tainted]]>Sun, 17 Dec 2017 14:21:27 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/174*120/Marijuana-Leaf-Generic.jpg

That legal weed you'll be able to buy in California on New Year's Day may not be as green as it seems.

Any marijuana sold when recreational sales become legal Jan. 1 in the nation's most populous state will have been grown without regulatory controls that will eventually be in place. Pot could contain pesticides, molds and other contaminants.

"Buyer beware," cautioned Donald Land, a University of California, Davis, chemistry professor who is the chief scientific consultant at Steep Hill Labs Inc., which tests marijuana in several states.

Earlier this year, Land oversaw testing that found 93 percent of samples collected by KNBC-TV from 15 dispensaries in four Southern California counties tested positive for pesticides. That may come as a surprise for consumers who tend to trust what's on store shelves because of federal regulations by the U.S. Agriculture Department or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Unfortunately, that's not true of cannabis," Land said. "They wrongly assume it's been tested for safety."

Stiffer regulations and testing requirements are being phased in next year, but growers and sellers have a six-month grace period to sell existing inventory grown under the loosely regulated medical marijuana program in place two decades.

With only a year to a develop a complex bureaucratic infrastructure of regulations, taxes and licensing for recreational marijuana, state officials recognized it wasn't realistic or fair to require inventory grown or manufactured under existing rules to suddenly meet testing standards.

Shops will have six months to sell the current crop of cannabis before their inventory has to pass tests. Any pot harvested or manufactured after Jan. 1, however, will be subject to testing for potency and contaminants with a high public health risk. Stricter limits will be phased in by the start of 2019.

Meanwhile, any pot that hasn't been tested will need to be labeled, said Alex Traverso, Bureau of Cannabis Control spokesman.

"That's one of the biggest reasons for regulation: to establish rules that protect public safety and improve the quality of the product," Traverso said. "When people see a sticker that says 'Not tested,' at least they know and they can choose whether they want to purchase that or not."

That means there will probably be a lot of labels required when everything from joints to cookies and oils go on sale. Land estimated that less than 5 percent of medical marijuana -- the only pot legal to sell before 2018 -- is now tested.

As the industry emerges from the shadows, growers, manufacturers, shops and related businesses have to navigate a maze of regulations that are still taking shape across state and local jurisdictions as sales are about to begin.

Juan Hidalgo, agricultural commissioner for Santa Cruz County, said pesticides are a top concern, and he wants to know what is being applied and whether workers on site are protected. Farmers who spray their own pesticides have to get a certificate from the commissioner that requires passing a test and taking refresher courses every three years.

"A lot of these folks, up until now, they haven't been aware of what those requirements are and the proper use of pesticides," Hidalgo said. "That's something we're hoping we can change in the coming weeks."

The incentive will be that entire crops or batches will have to be destroyed if unacceptable levels of contaminants are discovered.

Several years ago, Steep Hill tested concentrates at a cannabis contest and found traces of solvents from extracting hash oil used in edibles and other products in all but three of 135 samples, Land said.

"At first they were mad because they couldn't sell their stuff the way they wanted to," Land said.

But eventually, manufacturers figured out how to more safely produce their products, and two years later all 140 samples the lab tested passed. He thinks a similar thing will happen with pesticides as testing becomes mandatory and the industry adapts.

Initially, though, it could mean lower yields.

Mike Winderman, manager of The Green Easy in Los Angeles, supports the idea of eliminating pesticides, but also thinks the issue has been overhyped when the vast majority of crops that people eat are grown with pesticides and even organic crops could be subject to pesticides drifting from nearby farms.

"I think it's a little funny that this year everybody's caring about pesticides," he said. "People have been smoking weed 30, 40, 50 years, and it's never been an issue."

Like many shops, Winderman's products are tested for potency, but not pesticides. Prices are dropping for the current crop because they have a limited shelf life due to the regulatory controls that will eventually go into place.

Winderman said he wouldn't be surprised to find shops snapping up inventory now to avoid taxes that will take effect Jan. 1 and because some popular products may not be available if small producers who don't want to pay registration fees drop out of the industry.

Robert Watson, assistant manager of Dutchman's Flat in San Francisco's Dog Patch neighborhood, said it isn't an issue because his dispensary always tested for pesticides and will continue to do so if it is allowed to sell recreational pot.

"It's something we believe in," Watson said. "I think most patients out there wouldn't get medicine that isn't tested."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Issues First Batch of Licenses to Sell Marijuana]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 07:38:15 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Marijuana+Leaf.jpg

California's legal marijuana market is finally, fitfully, taking shape.

The state on Thursday issued the first batch of business licenses to sell and transport recreational-use pot, just 18 days before legal sales will begin on Jan. 1, 2018.

The 20 temporary licenses — some of which were for the previously existing medical marijuana industry — represent a fraction of the thousands of licenses expected to follow as the state embraces legal weed in 2018, but their release set off jubilation.

"I couldn't be more excited," said Jordan Lams, CEO of Moxie whose parent-company Pure CA received the first distributor license.

At Torrey Holistics in San Diego, Tony Hall credited his business background and detailed application with helping land the first license for a retail shop to sell recreational pot. The store, which has two certified public accountants, a chief financial officer and marketing director, submitted a 60-page lease, diagrams and a detailed business plan.

"I think it's how we conduct our business. We all have a professional background," said Hall, the former owner of a chemical distribution company who opened the medical marijuana shop two years ago with a college friend.

He sees recreational marijuana taking off like the wine and craft beer industries.

At his store, Customers go through an electronic security gate manned by a guard. Once inside, the business looks like a stylish pharmacy with wood floors and Christmas decorations.

"The taboo part is slowly going to be removed and this is going to be like any other business," Hall said.

In general, California will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce and grow six marijuana plants at home.

The route to legalization began last year when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for recreational pot sales to adults in the nation's most populous state, home to one in eight Americans.

A patchwork of rules has emerged with some cities embracing legal sales and others banning commercial pot activity.

Companies expect that it will take time for society to adjust to marijuana's legality.

"California has been without regulations for a very long time. So there is going to be a transition period," he added, referring to the changes coming in 2018 with legal cultivation and sales.

Come January, the newly legalized recreational sales will be merged with the state's two-decade-old medical marijuana market, which is also coming under much stronger regulation.

The state and hundreds of cities have been struggling to devise rules to govern the vast, emerging industry with a projected value of $7 billion. The state's online system to apply for a license opened just one week ago.

To date, more than 1,900 users have registered with the online system, and more than 200 applications have been submitted. The numbers suggest many retailers and growers are holding back — by some estimates, Humboldt County alone has up to 15,000 unregulated pot grows.

In the background is widespread uncertainty about whether President Donald Trump's administration will attempt to intervene in states where marijuana is legal.

As marijuana is illegal in the eyes of the federal government, major banks are leery to do business with dispensaries and growers so much of the business is conducted in cash.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cheech Marin Touts State Tool for California Pot Businesses]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 19:23:10 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/cheech-marin-tommy-chong.jpg

Comedian and legendary stoner Cheech Marin doesn't want your pot business to go up in smoke.

That's why he's in a new public service announcement publicizing a California Secretary of State website for budding marijuana entrepreneurs.

California on Friday began accepting applications from businesses that want to operate in the state's legal recreational marijuana industry next year. An online system will allow retailers, distributors and testing labs to seek state licenses, which are required to conduct business.

In the PSA, Marin sits behind a computer at the Secretary of State's office and urges a would-be cannabis business owner to register and obtain information through the state website cannabizfile.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla asked Marin to appear in the PSA after meeting him at a Los Angeles restaurant.

Marin agreed.

"It knocks off a few hours of the community service I have to do," he joked to the Sacramento Bee.

Marin is a longtime marijuana enthusiast. In the 1970s and 1980s, he and Tommy Chong, working as the duo Cheech and Chong, satirized and glorified stoner culture in hit albums and movies, including 1978's "Up in Smoke."

Although the two split up, they recently reunited and have a scheduled tour. Both also have kept up their interest in marijuana.

Marin sells "curated" marijuana through his business, Cheech's Private Stash (with the motto: "It will always be good") and has licensed the sale of "Cheech" waterpipes. He and Chong also have a website where fans can buy branded rolling papers, bongs and other paraphernalia.

Chong previously had a business selling waterpipes called Chong's Glass but it was raided by federal agents in 2003 during a crackdown. Chong pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia and was sentenced to nine months in federal prison. He was released in July 2004.

California is among 29 states where pot is legal, either for medical or recreational use.

The state projects it will collect $1 billion in new taxes from pot sales and other activity within several years



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Smoked Pot and Want to Enlist? Army Issuing More Waivers]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 12:01:41 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/generic-pot-smoke-weed-marijuana-smoke.jpg

Smoked pot? Want to go to war?

No problem.

As more states lessen or eliminate marijuana penalties, the Army is granting hundreds of waivers to enlist people who used the drug in their youth -- as long as they realize they can't do so again in the military.

The number of waivers granted by the active-duty Army for marijuana use jumped to more than 500 this year from 191 in 2016. Three years ago, no such waivers were granted. The big increase is just one way officials are dealing with orders to expand the Army's size.

"Provided they understand that they cannot do that when they serve in the military, I will waive that all day long," said Maj. Gen. Jeff Snow, head of the Army's recruiting command.

The marijuana use exclusions represent about one-quarter of the total misconduct waivers the Army granted in the budget year that ended Sept. 30. They accounted for much of the 50 percent increase overall in recruits who needed a waiver for some type of misconduct.

Snow said the figures probably will rise further as more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Eight states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have fully legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults' recreational use. An additional 13 states have decriminalized it, meaning possession of small amounts is considered the equivalent of a traffic citation or a low-end misdemeanor with no chance of jail. Twenty-nine states, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington, D.C., allow the use of medical marijuana.

Army leaders have faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid worries in Congress and elsewhere about a decline in quality among new enlistees.

Army data show more than 8,000 recruits received waivers in 2017, compared with about 6,700 last year. Most waivers concerned physical or mental health.

Almost 2 percent of the recruits were considered "category four," meaning they scored 31 or less, out of 99, on the aptitude test. Just over a half-percent were in that category in 2016.

In total, the Army enlisted almost 69,000 recruits this year, close to 6,000 more than last year.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Snow said he went to his Army leadership early this year to ask if he could bring in more of the category four recruits to meet higher enlistment goals. He said he promised that the Army would stay well below a 4 percent limit on the group allowed by the Pentagon.

Recruits who score lower than 31 on the test must meet specific criteria for the job they are requesting. There is no leeway on previous pot smoking for them. They also can't require a health or conduct waiver.

The Army's top officer, Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters during a recent briefing that the service is not reducing standards.

The increases in the category four enlistees, however, are fueling concerns the Army could repeat mistakes made during the peak of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars more than a decade ago, when it hurriedly added soldiers to the ranks to meet deployment needs. At the time, the Army brought more recruits in with criminal records and misconduct waivers. As the years passed, discipline problems and other behavioral issues increased as well.

Milley and Snow insist that won't happen again.

"Quality matters more than quantity. If you make the numbers, great, awesome. But do not break the standards," Milley said. "Standards have to be upheld, period. So if we come in at less than the ideal number, but we've maintained the standards, that's success."

The Army's argument, however, can be a bit misleading. The military services routinely enlist fewer recruits with waivers or lower scores than allowed under Defense Department guidelines. So while the Army increased the number of former drug users or recruits with lower scores than in previous years, the service still stayed below the maximum levels authorized by the Pentagon. And those recruits must get through boot camp, thus meeting minimum standards for joining the military.

Officials can thus argue they haven't lowered the standards even if they have arguably enlisted more candidates of lower quality.

Snow acknowledged the challenge in meeting the growing enlistment goals. In the current fiscal year, the Army must recruit 80,000 new men and women.

"This mission is going to be a significant challenge for the command," said Snow, who wants fewer than 2 percent of the new recruits to be category four. "The possibility does exist that the numbers of marijuana waivers and category fours could increase. I hope not, but it's too early to tell right now."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[LA Considers Amnesty Plan for Pot Shop Owners With Felonies]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:15:02 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/11-28-17-Pot.JPG

Virgil Grant is a marijuana business owner and felon. He spent six years in federal prison for owning and operating marijuana facilities in the city of Los Angeles, he said.

He had six medical marijuana shops — legal by California standards, but not by the feds. And during his time in prison, he lost them.

"Put me out of business for quite some time," he said. "And coming home put me at a disadvantage."

But now he's one of thousands who could benefit from the LA's new social equity program that, if approved, will be part of the local cannabis laws.

"It actually gives me an opportunity to restore my life," said Grant.

Cat Packer, who heads the LA Department of Cannabis Regulation, said the social equity program is an attempt for the city to acknowledge the role it played in the disproportionate impacts of cannabis enforcement on minority communities.

The program would give priority to nonviolent felons convicted of marijuana-related crimes, she said.

Some City Council members argue, though, that it's not fair for the rest of the city's residents who may want to get into the recreational marijuana business.

City Council President Herb Wesson says the plan is evolving.

"Expect that this thing is going to change," he said. "You figure we have the state government constantly making adjustments as we roll out this program, we'll see the needs for adjustments. This is the beginning."

Public comment got emotional as council discussed the plan Tuesday. Grant says there's a reason there's so much interest in this aspect of the new industry.

"This gives us an opportunity to give hope to a community that's always had hope taken from them," he said.

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<![CDATA[CA Begins Issuing Permits for Taxes on Marijuana]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:13:55 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Marijuana_Use_Linked_to_Fewer_Opioid_Deaths.jpg

State authorities began issuing tax permits to marijuana distributors on Monday.

The new permit will be available to marijuana distributors and products derived from the plant that must operate under the new legal system.

With the new permit, merchants must collect a special tax of 15 percent to the state on the sale of the product.

The distributors will be responsible for the transportation of the marijuana and the collection of the taxes to the producers. The state regulators calculate that California could obtain annually $1 billion for taxes and fees.

Although tax permits are available, licenses for the cultivation, distribution, testing and sale of marijuana for recreational use may be requested as of Jan. 2, in accordance with the resolution approved by voters in November 2016.

To obtain this license, operators must first obtain the state fiscal permit, available now.

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<![CDATA[California's Legal Pot Countdown: What's Coming by Jan. 1]]>Mon, 25 Dec 2017 16:56:25 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/medical+marijuana+getty.jpg

California has published the rules that will govern its legal marijuana economy in 2018, giving businesses and consumers a glimpse into the future.

But there are important steps before legal recreational sales kick off on Jan. 1, and even more uncertainties about how the marketplace will function.

Warning: Don't count on being able to stroll into your local dispensary on New Year's Day to celebrate with a pot cookie or joint.

WHY ARE THE REGULATIONS IMPORTANT?
They form the framework of the new pot economy, estimated to be worth $7 billion. Can you make animal-shaped edibles? No. Transport pot in a drone? No. But retailers can be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It's a dense stack of rules that includes fees for licensing (nearly $80,000 annually for a large grower), how pot will be traced from seed to sale and testing requirements to ensure customers get what they pay for.

CAN I BUY LEGAL RECREATIONAL POT ON JAN. 1?
For most people, probably not. It will vary place to place, but many cities are not prepared. Even though the state regulations went out Thursday, the Bureau of Cannabis Control is still developing an online system for businesses to apply for operating licenses. California is working out technical bugs and hopes it will be ready in early December.

"There certainly will be licenses issued on Jan. 1," said Alex Traverso of the Bureau of Cannabis Control.

But there's a snag: To apply for a state license, a grower or seller first needs a local permit, and many cities are struggling to establish those rules, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, two of the biggest markets.

"I think the state dropped the ball big time. This should have been done by June, July," said Los Angeles grower and retailer Donnie Anderson. "I don't think this is going to be ready."

Other places, like Kern County, have banned commercial pot activity. At the same time, San Diego is among the cities that have local rules in place and are ready for legal sales. Palm Springs is planning for cannabis lounges, where recreational pot can be smoked on site.

A GRADUAL START

For six months, the state is allowing businesses to bend the rules a bit, recognizing it will take time for the new system to take hold. During that period, businesses can sell products that do not meet new packaging requirements. Retailers can sell inventory that does not meet new rules for ingredients or appearance.

At an industry conference in September, California's top pot regulator sought to ease concerns that the state would move quickly on enforcement against operations without licenses. If authorities are aware a business has applied for a license "I don't want you to have anxiety that we're out there and we're going to be enforcing everything right away," said Lori Ajax, who heads the state cannabis bureau.

EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY
Even if you get a license, it will be temporary — good for 120 days. In some cases, there can be a 90-day extension on top of that. During that time, the state will review a business' credentials and information submitted in the license application, such as financial records and investors in the business.
The regulations issued by the state this week are temporary, too.

MANY CHALLENGES REMAIN
Key pieces of the legal pot system are still in the works. A massive tracking system that will follow plants from seed to sale is in development, but officials say it will be ready at the start of the new year. It's not clear if enough distributors will be available to move cannabis from fields to testing labs and eventually to retail shops, possibly creating a bottleneck between growers and store shelves.

THE LOOMING BLACK MARKET
No one knows how many operators will apply for licenses. While medical marijuana has been legal in California for over two decades, most growing and selling occurs in the black market. Come Jan. 1, officials hope those growers and sellers will join the legal pot economy.

But there are concerns many might continue business as usual to avoid new taxes, which could hit 45 percent in the recreational market in some cases, according to a recent study by Fitch Ratings.

"The existing black market for cannabis may prove a formidable competitor" if taxes send legal retail prices soaring, the report said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Pot Rules Mark Step Toward 2018 Legal Sales]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:11:52 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/179*120/marijuana3.jpg

The largest legal marijuana marketplace in the U.S. is taking shape -- at least on paper.

California regulators Thursday released long-awaited rules that will govern the state's emerging pot economy, from fields to sales.

California voters last year legalized the recreational use of marijuana, beginning Jan. 1.

The emergency rules open the way for the state to begin issuing temporary licenses for growers and sellers next year.

But they come just 45 days before legal sales kick off, and many problems remain.

Some predict high taxes will drive consumers to the black market.

Most banks won't do business with cannabis companies, and Los Angeles and San Francisco are among many cities without local rules in place.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

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<![CDATA[California Pot: How Ready Are LA's Dispensaries? ]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 20:46:27 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/California_Pot__How_Ready_is_LA_.jpg

Marijuana becomes legal in California on January 1, 2018. Current dispensaries are anxious about properly and successfully renewing their business licenses while wondering how the new law will affect current dispensary owners. John Cádiz Klemack reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Dispensary Keeps Things Rolling With a Drive-Thru]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 17:01:55 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Marijuana-AP_643728421445.jpg

A recreational marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas has opened a drive-thru window.

The owners tell the Las Vegas Sun the fast food-style drive-thru on tribal land near downtown Las Vegas is the first of its kind in the country.

Las Vegas Paiute Tribe Chairman Benny Tso says the Nuwu Cannabis Marketplace that opened Friday offers 15 popular flower, edible and concentrate products.

He says it's designed for seniors and disabled customers who'd prefer not to leave their vehicles to make a purchase. The goal is to serve customers in less than a minute after an order is placed.

"We want all customers to have that same experience of being able to get in and get out," Benny Tso, chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, told the Sun. "It's about speed and convenience."

The drive-thru with bullet-proof glass and surveillance cameras was made out of a $30,000 bank teller window shipped from Washington state last week. A similar drive-thru opened last month in Sun City, Arizona, but only medical marijuana is sold there.

NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: File--AP]]>
<![CDATA[California Proposes Armored Cars to Transport Pot Tax Money]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 08:37:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/cash+generic+dalet.jpg

California should use armored cars to transport hundreds of millions of dollars in cash tax payments expected next year with the state's legal marijuana market, the state treasurer said Tuesday.

The state on Jan. 1 will enter a new era with cannabis when recreational sales become legal and join the long-standing medical industry in what will become the largest U.S. legal pot economy.

But the new market estimated to grow to $7 billion annually has a troubling flaw: Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, so most banks won't do business with pot growers, manufacturers or retailers. That means marijuana companies typically operate only in cash.

Among California's new state taxes that will go into effect next year is a 15 percent levy on all marijuana purchases by consumers, including medical marijuana.

State Treasurer John Chiang formed a task force to work on a solution for gathering the money because the state expects to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from legal pot sales.

The armored car tax collection solution came about amid fears that operators carrying large bags of cash could be targets for theft and create problems for the state workers collecting and counting the money.

"It is unfair and a public safety risk to require a legal industry to haul duffel bags of cash to pay taxes, employees and utility bills," Chiang said in a statement.

He added that the marijuana industry's "reliance on cash paints a target on the back of cannabis operators and makes them and the general public vulnerable to violence and organized crime."

In a report based on the findings of the state's Cannabis Banking Working Group, Chiang also said that changes are needed in Washington to either legalize pot in the U.S., or shield financial institutions that serve the cannabis industry from possible prosecution.

But that seems unlikely anytime soon, so the report recommended:

--The state should work with banks to contract an armored courier service to collect tax payments made in cash from businesses, and shuttle those payments to a secure counting facility before it's eventually deposited in state accounts. "Armored courier services would eliminate the need to directly handle large sums of cash at branch offices or open deposit accounts at financial institutions," the report said. It wasn't immediately clear who would pay for the service.

--Conducting a study on the potential to create a public cannabis bank or other financial institution to serve the industry. The report warned that the obstacles to creating a public financial institution are "formidable," including unknown startup costs, the probability of losses for several years or more that taxpayers would have to cover and trouble obtaining federal regulatory approval.

--Forming a group of cannabis-friendly states, businesses and banks to push for changes in Washington for improved banking access for the industry that would reduce or eliminate the need for marijuana businesses to use cash.

--To encourage greater access to banks, state and local governments should create an online portal to collect data on cannabis businesses. It would be designed to help banks assess potential customers and include licensing and regulatory information, data on key personnel, sources of supply and financial records.

Chiang warned in a letter accompanying the recommendations that "the clash between state and federal law threatens to cripple legal California cannabis businesses before they even get up and running."

"The inability of cannabis operations to get banking services means that many of them may remain in the underground economy and not become transparent, regulated, tax-paying businesses, as California voters intended," he said.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department issued guidelines to help banks avoid federal prosecution when dealing with pot businesses in states where the drug is legal.

But most banks don't see those rules as a legal protection against charges that could include aiding drug trafficking. And they say the rules are hard to follow, in effect placing the burden on banks to determine if a pot business is operating legally.

The number of banks and credit unions willing to handle pot money is growing. But they still represent only a tiny fraction of the industry.

Colorado tried in 2015 to set up a credit union to serve the marijuana industry but was blocked by the Federal Reserve.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Sticker Shock Coming With California's New Pot Market]]>Sun, 05 Nov 2017 10:29:28 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/marijuana-generic.jpg

California's legal marijuana marketplace is coming with a kaleidoscope of new taxes and fees that could influence where it's grown, how pot cookies and other munchies are produced and the price tag on just about everything.

Be ready for sticker shock.

On a retail level, it costs about $35 to buy a small bag of good quality medical marijuana in Los Angeles, enough to roll five or six joints.

But in 2018, when legal sales take hold and additional taxes kick in, the cost of that same purchase in the new recreational market is expected to increase at the retail counter to $50 or $60.

At the high end, that's about a 70 percent jump.

Medical pot purchases are expected to rise in cost too, but not as steeply, industry experts say.

Or consider cannabis leaves, a sort of bottom-shelf product that comes from trimming prized plant buds. The loose, snipped leaves are typically gathered up and processed for use in cannabis-laced foods, ointments, concentrates and candies.

Growers sell a trash bag stuffed with clippings to manufacturers for about $50. But come January, the state will tax those leaves at $44 a pound.

That means the tax payment on a bag holding 7 or 8 pounds would exceed the current market price by five or six times, forcing a huge price hike or, more likely, rendering it essentially valueless.

"All it would become is compost," predicted Ryan Jennemann of THC Design in Los Angeles, whose company has used the leaves to manufacture concentrated oils.

Governments struggling to keep up with the cost of everything from worker pensions to paving streets are eager for the cascade of new tax money from commercial pot sales that could eventually top $1 billion statewide.

But higher taxes for businesses and consumers give the state's thriving illicit market a built-in advantage. Operators in the legal market have been urging regulators to be aggressive about shutting down rogue operators.

Donnie Anderson, a Los Angeles medical cultivator and retailer, predicted the higher level of state taxation next year is "just going to help the illicit market thrive." He said more needs to be done to cut the cost, especially for medical users, many of whom won't be able to absorb a price jump.

The increased tax rates are just one part of California's sprawling plan to transform its long-standing medical and illegal markets into a multibillion-dollar regulated economy, the nation's largest legal pot shop. The reshaping of such an expansive illegal economy into a legal one hasn't been witnessed since the end of Prohibition in 1933.

The change has come haltingly. Many cities are unlikely to be ready by Jan. 1 to issue business licenses, which are needed to operate in the new market, while big gaps remain in the system intended to move cannabis from the field to distribution centers, then to testing labs and eventually retail shops.

The path to legalization began last year when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for recreational pot sales to adults. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for about two decades.

Come January, state taxes will include a 15 percent levy on purchases of all cannabis and cannabis products, including medical pot.

Local governments are free to slap on taxes on sales and growing too, and that has created a confusing patchwork of rates that vary city to city, county to county.

In the agricultural hub of Salinas, southeast of San Francisco, voters approved a tax that will eventually rise to $25 a square foot for space used to cultivate the leafy plants, a rate that's equivalent to about $1 million an acre.

But farther north, in the pot-growing mecca of Humboldt County, rates will be a comparative bargain, ranging from $1 to $3 for a square foot for cultivation space.

By some estimates Humboldt County has up to 15,000 unregulated pot grows, and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he was eager to fashion a tax scheme that would encourage cultivators to come into the legal system and adhere to environmental regulations.

"A high tax rate, that would be one more barrier to getting people regulated," he said.

Lower-tax areas could also be a lure to businesses looking to save on costs.

Here's a snapshot of how new taxes will roll out for an average consumer in Los Angeles:

Currently, for legal medical pot, there is no specific state tax on cannabis and the city tax is 6 percent, which is usually incorporated into the sale price at the counter.

When the recreational market opens in January, an eighth-ounce bag that sells for $35 will be subject to a 15 percent state tax. A city business tax that typically gets passed on to consumers will add another 10 percent, and then the buyer will be hit with the usual sales tax, about 10 percent in L.A.

Businesses are being saddled with new taxes and costs on cultivation, distribution and testing, which will be rolled into the consumer price.

Together, operators say, that will push retail prices to $50 or $60 for that eighth-ounce purchase.

As for medical, the city tax would be lower, 5 percent, but retailers say that's sometimes not passed on to the consumer. Consumers with a valid medical marijuana identification card would not pay sales taxes.

A report last week from financial analysts Fitch Ratings concluded that state and local taxes could balloon to 45 percent for recreational marijuana in some communities.

"The existing black market for cannabis may prove formidable competitor to legal markets if new taxes lead to higher prices than available from illicit sources," the report warned.

Some predict that prices will eventually come down as the legal market matures.

Other states with legal recreational pot have restructured taxes over time.

Washington state, for example, initially imposed separate 25 percent taxes up to three times: when the grower sold it to the processor, when the processor sold it to the retailer and at the point of public sale. In 2015 that was pushed down to a 37 percent tax at the point of retail sale, plus sales tax. In Seattle, that combined rate is about 47 percent for recreational sales.

"While our members, like any other business sector, would like to see a lower tax rate, we have not seen any evidence that current tax rate is diverting people into the black market," Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the Washington CannaBusiness Association, an industry group, said in an email.

There are other barriers to unregulated businesses entering the new system.

Nicole Howell Neubert, a marijuana industry lawyer, said a retail business could easily ring up $200,000 in permitting and other costs associated with compliance in the new legal market.

"When you add to that high tax rates, you increase the number of reasons why someone might not be able to become regulated," she said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[LA OKs Draft of New Regulations for Pot Industry]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 14:08:25 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/marijuana-generic.jpg

The Los Angeles City Council approved a draft of new regulations for the cannabis industry Tuesday, along with a string of other related measures as it looks to have its policy settled ahead of the drug becoming legal for recreational sale and use on Jan. 1.

The vote directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance addressing the procedure for businesses to get city licenses, along with rules for how the businesses can operate, including security requirements, ventilation standards, hours of operation and other guidelines.

Before the vote, Council President Herb Wesson, who has been heavily involved in creating the regulations, said there were still other issues that would need to be worked out and that the draft ordinance as it stands only solves "80 to 85 percent" of the questions. Wesson said he wanted to get the City Attorney's Office working on the ordinance, and that it would come back to the council several times and continue to be worked on.

"What I present to you today, members, is a piece of work that we are very proud of," Wesson said.

An amendment to the draft ordinance was introduced at the meeting by Wesson and four other council members that seeks to address what had been a major outstanding question, which is a procedure for provisional licenses for growers and manufacturers.

Some leaders of the cannabis industry had previously said the proposed rules could drive suppliers out of business because they could cause a delay in them getting licensed before marijuana becomes legal for recreational sale and use on Jan. 1. While the city has allowed retail medical marijuana shops to operate in the city for years, it has never expressly allowed cultivators or manufacturers to operate, and this could leave them without a license come Jan. 1 due to an expected delay in the city processing applications.

The amendment creates a process for cultivators and manufacturers to apply for a provisional license while their application is being processed, provided they fit 13 pieces of criteria, including that they were in business before Jan. 1, 2016, meet all land use and sensitive use requirements by the city and other guidelines.

Another amendment that was added at the meeting would create limitations on how many cannabis businesses could be located in each neighborhood similar to the regulations imposed on the alcohol industry. The limitations would include one retail business per 10,000 residents, based on the 2016 American Community Survey, along with limitations for cultivators and manufacturers.

The draft ordinance was approved on a vote of 14-1. Councilman Paul Krekorian cast the lone vote against it because he said he wanted more time to examine the amendments that were introduced at the meeting.

In November, California voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The legalized industry could fetch the city more than $100 million annually in new tax revenue, and in March city voters approved Measure M, which sets up regulatory measures for the city's industry.

Once implemented, Measure M will replace Proposition D, which was approved in 2013 by city voters and limited the number of dispensaries within Los Angeles city limits to 135 -- the number of dispensaries operating before Sept. 14, 2007.

The guidelines forwarded by the council gives priority licensing to existing shops that received a business tax registration certificate after 2014 and that are operating in compliance with the limited immunity and tax provisions of Prop D.

On-site consumption would be allowed by state law starting in 2018, if the local city allows it. Wesson said concerns over a ban in the draft ordinance of on-site consumption would be addressed later as the city studies the issue.

Bruce Margolin, executive director of the L.A. chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the on-site ban would leave some consumers without a place to use cannabis, since many hotels and apartment buildings ban smoking and that consumption also would not be allowed in public.

"The current status with denying on-site consumption means that they have no place to go unless they own a residence or have access to a residence, which is completely unfair," Margolin said in September.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Confusion Coming With California's Legal Marijuana]]>Sun, 29 Oct 2017 16:03:06 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/WeedGeneric1.JPG

Ready or not, California kicks off recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 1. And, mostly, it's not.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are among many cities still struggling to fashion local rules for pot shops and growers. Without the regulations, there could be limited options in many places for consumers eager to ring in the new year with a legal pot purchase.

"The bulk of folks probably are not going to be ready Jan. 1," conceded Cara Martinson of the California State Association of Counties.

In general, California will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce and grow six marijuana plants at home.

Come January, the newly legalized recreational sales will be merged with the state's two-decade-old medical marijuana market, which is also coming under much stronger regulation.

But big gaps loom in the system intended to move cannabis from the field to distribution centers, then to testing labs and eventually retail shops.

The state intends to issue only temporary licenses starting in January, and it has yet to release its plan to govern the estimated $7 billion marketplace, the nation's largest legal pot economy.

If businesses aren't licensed and operating in the legal market, governments aren't collecting their slice of revenue from sales. The state alone estimates it could see as much as $1 billion roll in within several years.

Operators have complained about what they see as potential conflicts in various laws and rules, or seemingly contradictory plans.

The state expects businesses that receive licenses will only work with others that hold them. But that has alarmed operators who wonder what will happen if their supplier, for example, decides not to join the new legal market.

Others say it's not clear what could happen in cities that don't enact pot laws, which they warn could open a loophole for businesses to set up shop. Some communities have banned recreational sales completely.

Most banks continue to refuse to do business with marijuana operators - pot remains illegal under federal law - and there are also problems obtaining insurance.

With recreational legalization fast approaching, "we don't have enough of anything," lamented Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, a marijuana industry group.

The route to legalization began last year when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for recreational pot sales to adults in the nation's most populous state.

Unlike the state, cities and counties face no deadline to act. However, the concern is that confusion and a patchwork of local rules could discourage operators from entering the legal economy, feeding a black market that could undercut the legitimate one.

Local regulation is a foundation block of the emerging pot economy: A grower or retailer needs a local permit first, which is a steppingstone to obtaining a state license to operate.

But those rules remain in limbo in many places.

San Jose, the state's third-largest city, has a temporary ban on sales other than medical pot but officials this week proposed hearings to take another look at how to regulate the local industry.

Kern County, home to nearly 900,000 people, has outlawed recreational pot. Supervisors said they see it as a danger to citizens and also voted to phase out more than two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries.

In Los Angeles, which by some estimates could be a $1 billion marketplace, voters have been strongly supportive of legal pot.

But its proposed regulations hit snags, including a dispute over a proposal for so-called certificates of compliance, which operators feared would not meet qualification requirements for state licenses.

Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, an industry group, warned last month that L.A.'s draft rules could upend the emerging industry by failing to provide a prompt way to license suppliers, potentially forcing then to shut down. And he's dubious that the city will be ready to begin issuing licenses on Jan. 1.

"There's not a lot of calendar days left in the year," he said.

San Francisco, another city that strongly supports legalization, still is debating local rules. Again, it's uncertain what will be ready, or when.

"What we want to do is bring everything into the daylight, regulate it, get fees for the cost of regulation and collect taxes as appropriate," said county Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

San Diego is among the cities ready to get the recreational market going.

Phil Rath, executive director of the United Medical Marijuana Coalition, a San Diego trade group, said years of disorder in the medical market led to increased black market business. That provided a ready example of how not to manage recreational sales.

San Diego moved promptly, setting up a system that will allow recreational sales at dispensaries permitted under the medical system, once they qualify for a state license.

Industry experts say the distribution system - a sort of main artery where pot will be received from growers, sent out for testing, taxed, and eventually shipped to retail stores - is not robust enough to support the vast new market.

The distributor model "was the subject of most of the political wrangling over the last two years," Allen said.

"That's the control point," he said, but "we don't have enough of them."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Regulator Admits to Anxiety as Legal Pot Nears]]>Fri, 29 Sep 2017 14:00:13 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/172*120/AP_17271772648419.jpg

In about three months, recreational marijuana sales will kick off in California, yet no one knows exactly how the pot economy will work.

It could take until late November for the state to issue regulations that will govern the new marketplace.

Meanwhile, growers and sellers are wondering how the industry can function when some operators will have licenses and others might not. There are also questions about banking and federal law enforcement, since pot remains illegal in the eyes of the U.S. government.

"We all have anxiety," top state marijuana regulator Lori Ajax told an industry group Thursday. "It's not going to be perfect."

Last year, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized recreational pot sales to adults in the nation's most populous state.

The law takes effect in 2018, when newly legalized recreational sales will be merged with the state's two-decade-old medical marijuana market.

Ajax heard a range of concerns from operators and consultants who are trying to maneuver through a maze of new rules that will dictate where pot can be grown, how it's tested, distributed, taxed and sold.

Ajax said she doesn't know how many operators will come forward to seek licenses. It's a critical question, since the state's legitimate pot sales could be undercut by illegal operators.

Speaking in Long Beach, Ajax said the state is preparing to issue temporary licenses for growers, sellers and manufacturers on Jan. 1. It expects that businesses that receive licenses will only work with others that hold them.

But that has alarmed operators who wonder what will happen if their supplier, for example, decides not to join the new system.

"You would have to shut your doors until your supplier can come online," industry consultant Jackie McGowan said, calling that prospect potentially "disastrous" for the young industry.

Ajax appeared to ease concerns that the state would move quickly on enforcement against operations without licenses.

If the state is aware a business has applied for a license, "I don't want you to have anxiety that we're out there and we're going to be enforcing everything right away," Ajax said.

To obtain a state license, operators must first have a local license or authorization. Los Angeles is still working on its rules and the city is facing criticism that some operators could be cut out of the market.

In addition, it appears San Francisco will not be ready for legal sales in January — and perhaps not for months.

The state will begin by issuing temporary licenses, good for four months. But those could be extended, if necessary.

By legalizing recreational pot, California is attempting to transform its vast marijuana black market into the nation's biggest legal pot economy, valued at $7 billion.

Ajax also heard concerns about the possibility that cottage-industry growers could be overrun by huge operators, backed by Wall Street dollars.

"Capitalism is messed up at best," said Justin Calvino, who sits on the board of the California Growers Association, an industry group.

He warned that smaller growers struggling to survive could be shuttered "when you have licenses being issued to people with the most money, or to people that have the most lobbyists or the best marketing."

Ajax got a round of applause when she said her agency would be open on Jan. 1 to begin issuing licenses.

"We are probably going to do regular business hours," she said. "Even though it's a holiday we are coming in and we are going to get it done because it's important to all of us that we are successful in this."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Nevada Suspends Las Vegas Pot Testing Lab's License]]>Mon, 25 Sep 2017 11:17:17 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/marijuana+generic.jpg

Officials confirmed a Las Vegas marijuana testing laboratory has been suspended.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Saturday Department of Taxation spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein says the department on Aug. 24 suspended the license of G3 Labs LLC.

Klapstein says the Nevada Department of Agriculture tested marijuana samples from the lab but determined no product recalls will be necessary.

Klapstein says she can provide no other details about why the lab was suspended.

State law requires cannabis companies to have samples of their products tested by licensed independent laboratories.

G3 is the first marijuana business in Nevada to have its license suspended since recreational marijuana possession became legal Jan. 1. Tax Department Director Deonne Contine says this shows the state is diligent in regulating the marijuana industry.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

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<![CDATA[LA Planning Commission OKs Marijuana Zoning Regulations]]>Fri, 15 Sep 2017 13:11:08 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Marijuana+Delivery.jpg

The Los Angeles Planning Commission approved a proposed ordinance Thursday that sets zoning regulations and land use guidelines on marijuana sales and cultivation in preparation for the drug becoming legal for recreational purposes on Jan. 1, drug treatment facility or other marijuana shop, making it more restrictive than state law.

The ordinance, approved with a 6-0 vote, would require retail marijuana shops to be located at least 800 feet from the edge of its property line from any school, park, library, drug treatment facility or other marijuana shop, making it more restrictive than state law.

The approval came over the objections of some representatives of the marijuana industry, who spoke before the commission and argued for changes to the distance guidelines. State law will allow for a limitation of 600 feet within sensitive locations.

"We need 600 because (800) will take us out of the small business model and my job is to make sure I fight for my community," said Donnie Anderson, chair of the California Minority Alliance.

The language in the proposed ordinance argued for the more restrictive zoning as a way to likely prohibit more than one marijuana shop from being located on the same block.

"The key considerations in determining the radius distance are the anticipated visibility between cannabis retail businesses and sensitive sites, as well as avoiding situations in which two or more businesses with on-site sales locate on the same block," the proposed ordinance says. "These criteria are intended to discourage the development of cannabis districts in which patrons linger for long periods of time, visiting multiple cannabis businesses in succession."

In November, California voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The legalized industry could fetch the city over $100 million in new tax revenue, and in March city voters approved Measure M, which sets up regulatory measures for the city to collect taxes but also to limit where shops are located and how they can operate.

The proposed ordinance approved by the commission is one of three related to implementing the guidelines contained in Measure M.

The first was adopted by the City Council in June and created the city's Department of Cannabis Regulation and the Cannabis Regulation Commission, and another pending before a City Council committee establishes guidelines on issuing licenses for sales and rules of operation. The proposed ordinance passed by the commission was limited to zoning regulations and land use.

Once fully implemented, Prop M will replace Proposition D, which was approved in 2013 by city voters and limited the number of dispensaries within Los Angeles city limits to 135 -- the number of dispensaries operating before Sept. 14, 2007.

The commission did recommend grandfathering in the Prop D compliant businesses so that they would not have to move their location if it conflicted with the new zoning regulations of the proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance also established which commercial and industrial zones would allow indoor cultivation and manufacturing of marijuana products.

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated the LA City Council approved the ordinance, which it has not. The city's Planning Commission approved the ordinance.

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<![CDATA[Pot Growers Accused of Offering Sheriff $1M Bribe]]>Mon, 04 Sep 2017 06:17:19 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-592213300-marijuana-generic.jpg

Two Northern California marijuana farmers have been charged with offering a sheriff $1 million to turn a blind eye to their pot growing operations.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento charged siblings Chi Meng Yang and Gaosheng Laitinen with attempting to bribe Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey to protect their farms from raids. The complaint, unsealed Thursday, also alleges the brother and sister intended to sell their crop in Missouri, where efforts are underway to legalize marijuana in that state.

Lopey said it started on May 17 when Yang met with the sheriff and a department captain in his Yreka, California office, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) north of San Francisco near the Oregon border.

Lopey said Yang offered to donate $1 million to any charity or cause the sheriff desired once he sold his crop in exchange for shielding 10 large-scale pot farms from raids. Siskiyou County bars the outdoor marijuana farms and limits the number of indoor gardens to 12 plants.

Lopey contacted federal authorities after the meeting and agreed to pretend to cooperate with Yang while secretly recording subsequent encounters. He met with Yang six more times and received $10,500 in cash as partial payment. Yang's sister accompanied him to several of the meetings and gave the sheriff cash at one.

Yang was arrested Thursday and authorities were searching for Laitinen. Yang appeared briefly in federal court Friday in federal court in Sacramento, but did not enter a plea. Yan's public defender Doug Beevers didn't return a phone call.

Lopey said deputies raided the farms Yang wanted protected, arresting 13 people and uprooting about 1,000 plants.

Rural counties throughout California have experienced a large influx of marijuana growers seeking to cash in on growing demand in the state and across the country. California was the first state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in 1999 and voters in November legalized the recreational use of pot. Missouri and several other states are considering similar legalization laws.

In response, farmers have been snapping up inexpensive land in rural California while others trespass on state and federal lands to grow.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed by a large volume of marijuana growers," Lopey said. "It's transforming our community significantly and negatively."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hawaii Doing Its Best to Keep Up with Demand for Medical Marijuana]]>Tue, 15 Aug 2017 13:05:42 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Hawaii-Big-Island-GettyImages-504676543.jpg

The Hawaii Department of Health is preparing for an upswing of patients signing up for the state's medical cannabis registry, as two medical marijuana dispensaries in the state are officially open for business.

More than 18,000 patients have joined the state's medical cannabis registry.

About 38 percent of the patients reside on the Big Island, while 29 percent live on Oahu, Hawaii News Now reported.

"We do see the beginning of a possible trend that shows more growth happening on Oahu," said Scottina Ruis, coordinator for the state's medical cannabis registry program.

The state has managed to bring the turnaround time for applicants down to three to five business days.

"At the high end, when we got the program initially, the process was an entirely paper application process, so a lot of different functions for staff," Ruis said. "I think high end of turnaround time was six to eight weeks."

There are four full-time employees and three more will be added by the end of the year.

"We've only got so many live bodies and we're doing our best to keep up with the demand and hopefully, we can stay ahead of that," Ruis said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: De Agostini/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[LA Mayor Names City's New Marijuana Policies Chief]]>Thu, 10 Aug 2017 09:24:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Cat-Packer.jpg

Cat Packer has been appointed as executive director of the new Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced.

The department was created in June after Los Angeles voters approved new regulations and taxation guidelines for cannabis in March. Cannabis will become legal for recreational use in California in 2018.

Packer has previously worked as a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance and advocated for responsible cannabis policy in California, an aide to Garcetti said.

"Taxing and regulating legal cannabis in Los Angeles will be a complex process," Garcetti said in a Wednesday statement. "We need someone leading the effort who understands and can navigate those nuances."

"Cat's experience makes her an excellent fit for this new role. I am confident that her work will help us implement new regulations in a way that is fair and equitable for all of our communities, respects our neighborhoods and raises valuable new revenue for city services."

Packer said she was looking "forward to serving the city of Los Angeles as we lead the development and implementation of responsible, equitable cannabis policies that will serve as a model for the rest of America."

"I can't wait to get started, and I'm grateful to Mayor Garcetti for this amazing, pioneering opportunity," Packer said.

Packer's appointment is subject to City Council confirmation.



Photo Credit: Courtesy LA Mayor's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Would You Put Cannabis in Your Coffee? ]]>Fri, 04 Aug 2017 19:06:36 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/BrewBudz-080417.jpg

A San Diego-based company wants to add a buzz to your morning cup of coffee.

BrewBudz are K-cups that can be put into a coffee Keurig and made into marijuana-infused coffee.

BrewBudz also makes tea, both with caffeine and an herbal tea for bedtime.

"A lot of people are under the impression that cannabis is a downer, and that is only 50 percent true," said Kevin Love, director of strategic accounts for U.S. Coffee, helping to launch BrewBudz. "There's different strains of the plant.

The product raises economic questions on what kind of niche San Diego will carve out once recreational marijuana is fully legal in California come January 2018.

There have been concerns from the San Diego Police Department that with the release of new recreational marijuana products, new safety concerns will come up. For instance, officers fear people will be more inclined to smoke marijuana before getting behind the wheel of a car or before going to work.

"You wouldn't drink alcohol before work and that is legal," said Love. "There is a stigma with marijuana. Putting it in a coffee or tea removes the stigma of something that is actually medicinal and normalizes it."

BrewBudz will be available in local dispensaries within 60 to 90 days, Love added.


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<![CDATA[Planning Pot Paradise, Cannabis Company Buys Calif. Town]]>Fri, 04 Aug 2017 03:30:52 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_17216105491309-nipton-california-pot-paradise.jpg

Now that one of the nation's largest cannabis companies has bought the entire California desert town of Nipton, a question remains: Will the new owners rename the place Potsylvania?

The name Weed already belongs to an old mill town in Northern California.

American Green Inc. announced Thursday it is buying all 80 acres of Nipton, which includes its Old West-style hotel, a handful of houses, an RV park and a coffee shop. Its plans are to transform the old Gold Rush town into what it calls "an energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination."

The town's current owner, Roxanne Lang, said the sale is still in escrow, but confirmed American Green is the buyer. She declined to reveal price before the sale closes, but noted she and her late husband, Gerald Freeman, listed the property at $5 million when they put it up for sale last year.

Asked what her husband would think of the buyers' plans to turn Nipton into the pot paradise of the California desert, she laughed heartily.

"I think he would find a lot of humor in that," she finally said, adding that as a Libertarian Freeman had no problem with people using marijuana, and as a proponent of green power he'd be all in favor of energy independence. Over the years he'd installed a solar farm himself that provides much of the tiny town's electricity.

American Green says it plans to expand that farm and also bottle and sell cannabis-infused water from Nipton's plentiful aquifer, joint moves that would make the town green in more ways than one.

The buyers are also reaching out to edibles manufacturers and other pot-industry businesses, hoping they'll be interested in relocating to Nipton and bringing jobs with them.

The town's current residents number fewer than two dozen and one of its major sources of revenue is the California Lottery tickets the general store sells to people who cross the state line from Nevada because they can't buy them there.

"We are excited to lead the charge for a true Green Rush," David Gwyther, American Green's president and CEO, said in a statement. "The cannabis revolution that's going on here in the U.S. has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century."

Indeed it was a gold rush that created Nipton in the early 1900s when the precious metal was found nearby.

But by the time Freeman, a Los Angeles geologist who liked to look for gold in his spare time, discovered the place in the 1950s it was already a ghost town. Even worse it was 60 miles south of Las Vegas and 10 miles (16 kilometers) off the major highway that connects that city to Los Angeles.

"I like to say it's conveniently located in the middle of nowhere," jokes Lang.

Freeman bought the town in 1985 anyway and spent the next 30 years lovingly restoring its boutique hotel and general store, building canvas-covered "eco cabins" and stocking them with wood-burning stoves and swamp coolers.

The small hotel has become a popular destination with desert aficionados and fans of the Old West, even though it's located so close to a major rail line that moves freight between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City that guests are handed earplugs with their room keys.

Carl Cavaness, who works at the hotel, said Thursday the sale caught him by surprise. He said he hopes the new owners will let him and his wife stay.

"We like the quiet and solitude," the 53-year-old handyman said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Locher]]>
<![CDATA[Deputy Saves Colleagues During Pot Farm Shootout]]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 21:19:09 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Deputy_Saves_Colleagues_During_Pot_Farm_Shootout_1200x675_1016076355944.jpg

A 22-year Northern California sheriff's deputy pulled two wounded colleagues to safety after a shootout with a suspect at a Rastafarian church's marijuana farm.]]>
<![CDATA[Fiery Explosion Blamed on Honey Oil Production]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 20:06:25 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/wildomar+honey+oil1.JPG

A fire that left one person injured, destroyed a home and damaged another in Wildomar Wednesday was likely triggered by a butane gas explosion ignited during the illegal production of the marijuana derivative known as "honey oil," authorities said.

"There were all sorts of indicators after we arrived that pointed to a butane honey oil lab at the location,'' Riverside County sheriff's Deputy Mike Vasquez told City News Service.

The blaze in the 33600 block of Harvest Way, near Cornstalk Road, was reported at 4 a.m.

According to county fire officials, a 1,200-square-foot modular home was consumed by the flames and a neighboring single-story residence was moderately damaged.

A man residing in the first property suffered minor to moderate burns and was undergoing treatment at a hospital, according to Vasquez.

Reports from the scene indicated butane gas canisters were scattered throughout the street and yard fronting the property where the blaze erupted.

About 30 personnel spent nearly an hour battling the flames before they were fully contained, according to a fire department spokeswoman.

She said American Red Cross workers were summoned to assist the three occupants displaced after the modular home was destroyed. Three adults and a child from the second property were also provided assistance with temporary lodgings.

Vasquez said deputies detained the occupants of the home where the fire originated, but no arrests were made.

The conflagration came one day after the Riverside County District Attorney's Office released a series of public service announcements warning of the perils of butane honey oil production.

The videos feature Alex Gonzales and his girlfriend Selina Cervantes, both of whom were severely burned in a BHO blaze at a Palm Springs motel in February 2015. Cervantes suffered second- and third-degree burns to 97 percent of her body and was permanently disfigured.

Gonzales, who was convicted of felony charges, admitted sitting in the motel bathroom, repeatedly emptying butane cans to extract liquid from marijuana plants. He said he had no explanation for the detonation that ignited the fire but guessed that it could have been something as simple as sliding his shoe across the floor and creating a heat source.

"People need to understand that the butane honey oil extraction process takes lives — it hurts people forever,'' District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. "We want to put an end to the manufacture of butane honey oil."

Drug lab operators use butane to extract tincture from cannabis plants. The product, often referred to as ``wax'' or hash, can be mixed with anything and bottled.

BHO labs have sprung up in both remote and heavily populated areas of the county. In the past few years, butane honey oil fires have erupted in Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Norco and Riverside.

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<![CDATA[There's a Cannabis Farmers Market at This Event in Malibu]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:40:44 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/180*120/Emerald+Exchange+11.jpgEmerald Exchange brings Northern California farmers and Southern California companies together for an event that features a cannabis farmers market, workshops, music, a speaker series and educational events.

Photo Credit: Evan Mann]]>
<![CDATA[Police Issue Annoyed Press Release After Pot Arrest]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:01:29 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/222*120/AP-Mugshot-Marijuana-New-Hampshire.jpg

A New Hampshire police department has issued a public service announcement with an odd mug shot after a man was arrested with marijuana in his car.

Hampstead police said in a release Monday, "as a public service announcement — it is illegal to possess recreational marijuana in New Hampshire, even if you only 'smoke it in Massachusetts.'"

WMUR-TV reports the announcement came after the arrest of 27-year-old Selket Taylor, who was pulled over for using his cellphone while driving.

Police say they arrested Taylor after they saw he had a bag of marijuana in a cup holder.

Taylor has been charged with possession of a controlled drug, transporting a controlled drug in a motor vehicle and use of an electronic mobile device. In his arrest photo, Taylor is sticking out his tongue while his eyes are closed and arms are crossed.

No information on an attorney for Taylor could be located.

Recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana were legalized in Massachusetts last year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Hampstead, N.H., Police Department via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Winery or 'Weedery': Vineyards Rip Up Grapes, Switch to Pot]]>Tue, 30 May 2017 11:52:11 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Wine-Pot.jpg

Bill and Barbara Steele moved to this sleepy corner of Oregon to start their own winery after successful, high-powered business careers.

Now, more than a decade later and with award-winning wine to show for their hard work, they are adding a new crop: marijuana.

Oregon's legalization of recreational pot two years ago created room for entrepreneurial cross-pollination in this fertile region abutting California's so-called Emerald Triangle, a well-known nirvana for outdoor weed cultivation.

Recreational marijuana cannot be sold legally in California until next year. But a few miles north of the border in Oregon, a handful of winemakers are experimenting with pot in hopes of increasing their appeal among young consumers and in niche markets.

"Baby boomers are drinking less. Millennials are coming into their time, economically, where in 2016 they were the fastest-growing consumers of wine, both in dollars and volume," said Barbara Steele, who runs Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in rural Jacksonville with her husband.

"They're looking for an experience of 'wine and weed.'"

The Steeles leased their land to grow 30 medical marijuana plants last year, and this year they are growing double that amount to be branded with the same label as their wine. They started with seeds in plastic cups under incubators in their laundry room, and pride themselves on a "seed to smoke" philosophy.

This year's crop also is for medical use, but the Steeles are seeing the benefits of the expanding market from legal recreational pot. Their weed was reviewed alongside one of their white wines in Stoner Magazine, an Oregon cannabis publication.

"That conversation is possible here because our quality — the agricultural possibility — is so high. This is an amazing growing region," Barbara Steele said.

It's hard to know exactly how many in the wine industry are looking at pot here, but there's plenty of buzz surrounding the subject.

Some vineyards are ripping out portions of grapes in favor of marijuana plants or leasing land to private growers. Others are talking about wine-and-weed tourism, including high-end shuttles that would stop at local wineries for tastings and at marijuana farms for glimpses of how pot is prepared for market.

"There are a few wineries setting up very large recreational grows right now," said Brent Kenyon, of the marijuana consulting business Kenyon & Associates, based in southern Oregon. "The 'weedery' and the winery. I think that's huge, and we see it developing."

But that enthusiasm comes with a caveat. Marijuana is still federally illegal, and wineries must keep their wine and weed businesses separate or risk losing a federal permit that allows them to bottle and sell wine.

That means establishing two distinct lots for tax purposes and keeping two licenses with the state, said Christie Scott, alcohol program spokeswoman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which also licenses recreational marijuana. Vineyards that grow grapes but don't have a liquor license, however, could get a recreational marijuana license, she said.

In the nearby Illinois Valley, Katherine Bryan is tackling these challenges as she launches a marijuana business with her son.

She owns Deer Creek Vineyards with her husband, but her pot operation will be called Bryan Family Gardens and will operate on land next to the vineyard.

"We want to be as transparent as possible because when you're under the federal government umbrella for your wines, you have to be very, very careful," Bryan said.

She plans to grow several hundred marijuana plants with a focus on organic cultivation and an eye toward a high-end market.

They already have some buyers lined up and are installing greenhouses and lighting as they await approval of their recreational license.

"I get $2,000 a ton for my pinot gris grapes, whereas I can make potentially $2,000 or more per pound of cannabis," Bryan said. "We have 31,000 plants out here for grapes, so I'm pretty sure I can handle 300 to 500 cannabis plants."

Mark Wisnovsky, of Valley View Winery in Jacksonville, says some vintners are upset because of the stigma associated with marijuana. But his family's winery was the first in the Applegate Valley in 1971, and everyone thought they were crazy then, too, he said.

The family isn't cultivating marijuana now, but Wisnovsky has been a vocal supporter of those who want to do so.

Diversifying with weed could save vineyard owners who have overplanted grapes for years, he added.

"A job's a job, and money's money, and we have capabilities here that are unique," he said. "We either take advantage of the situation or let it steamroll over us."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Researchers See Potential in Cannabis to Fight Opioids]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:01:39 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AHORA-MARIHUANA2.jpg

Our country is in the middle of an opioid epidemic.

For a decade prescriptions for painkillers soared, creating a generation of people dependent on pills.

While the nation scrambles to find replacements for pills, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found one of the most promising alternatives is difficult to study.

That's because its marijuana, a drug the feds aren't ready to embrace.

Full story




Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Some California Marijuana Convictions Go Up in Smoke]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 16:42:49 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Pot-Convictions.jpg

Jay Schlauch's conviction for peddling pot haunted him for nearly a quarter century. The felony prevented him from landing jobs, gave his wife doubts about tying the knot and cast a shadow over his typically sunny outlook on life.

So when an opportunity arose to reduce his record to a misdemeanor under the voter-approved law that legalized recreational marijuana last year, Schlauch wasted little time getting to court.

"Why should I be lumped in with, you know, murderers and rapists and people who really deserve to get a felony?" he asked.

This lesser-known provision of Proposition 64 allows some convicts to wipe their rap sheets clean and offers hope for people with past convictions who are seeking work or loans. Past crimes can also pose a deportation threat for some convicts.

It's hard to say how many people have benefited, but more than 2,500 requests were filed to reduce convictions or sentences, according to partial state figures reported through March. The figures do not yet include data from more than half of counties from the first quarter of the year.

While the state does not tally the outcomes of those requests, prosecutors said they have not fought most petitions.

Marijuana legalization advocates, such as the Drug Policy Alliance, have held free legal clinics to help convicts get their records changed. Lawyers who specialize in pot defense have noted a steady flow of interest from new and former clients.

Attorney Bruce Margolin said he got two to three cases a week, many of them decades old.

Margolin has spent most of his five-decade career fighting pot cases and pushing for legalization of marijuana, even making it a platform for unsuccessful runs for state Legislature and Congress.

A coffee table in the waiting room of his office is covered with copies of High Times magazine, a book called "Tokin' Women," a history of women and weed, and copies of Margolin's own guide to marijuana laws in every state. His office in the back of a bungalow in West Hollywood has the faint whiff of pot in the air.

Since the passage of Proposition 64, he's gotten convicts out of prison, spared others time behind bars and successfully knocked felonies down to misdemeanors.

But he's also encountered a lot of confusion about the law that went into effect immediately in November.

"They were totally unprepared," he said of judges and prosecutors in courts he's appeared in throughout the state. "It's amazing. You would have thought they should have had seminars to get them up to speed so we don't have to go through the process of arguing things that are obvious, but we're still getting that."

That has not been the case in San Diego, where prosecutors watched polls trending in favor of marijuana legalization and moved proactively to prevent chaos, said Rachel Solov, chief of the collaborative courts division of the district attorney's office. They learned lessons from the 2014 passage of Proposition 47, which reduced several nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

Prosecutors in the county researched which convicts serving time or probation were eligible for sentence reductions and notified the public defender's office so they could quickly get into court. Many were freed immediately, Solov said.

"Whether we agree with the law or not, our job is to enforce it," Solov said. "It's the right thing to do. If someone's in custody and they shouldn't be in custody anymore, we have an obligation to address that."

San Diego County led the state with the most number of petitions reported in the first two months after the law was passed. It has reduced sentences or convictions in nearly 400 cases, Solov said.

In Mendocino County, where pot farming is big business and violent crimes are often tied to the crop, District Attorney C. David Eyster said he fights any case not eligible for a reduction, such as applicants with a major felony in their past, a sex offense or two previous convictions for the same crime.

He said he would also fight a reduction if someone is caught cultivating weed while committing an environmental crime, such as stealing or polluting water. Otherwise -- in a quirk that has some in law enforcement baffled -- someone caught with two plants or 2,000 would both face a misdemeanor.

"This is one of those areas where size doesn't matter," Eyster said.

When it came time for Schlauch's hearing this winter, he showed up an hour early at the Van Nuys courthouse. He was anxious but optimistic as he paced the hallway clutching a folder with letters praising him for doing volunteer work with veterans, working with children with disabilities at a martial arts school and earning a nursing degree long after his run-in with the law.

It had been more than two decades since he was sentenced to nine months in jail. He only served about a month.

The case was so old that the court file was incomplete.

A prosecutor rifling through papers wondered whether he was eligible for relief. He had 8.5 pounds of marijuana, she said. The file noted psychedelic mushrooms were also found, and she questioned whether the discovery of guns made him a threat.

Schlauch, 58, was never charged with a gun offense. He said the registered weapons were unloaded and locked in a safe. His only conviction was for possession with intent to sell marijuana, Margolin said.

The judge flipped through the fat penal code book to review the new law.

"I don't see any reasonable risk of danger. It seems like he's entitled," Judge Martin Herscovitz said. "The petition is granted."

It barely took five minutes to lift a weight he had carried so long. He never had to say a thing or show he had turned his life around. He bounded from the courtroom, elated.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Buzz Kill: California Police Work to Detect Drugged Drivers]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 16:49:27 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_17130735362057.jpg

Police in three California counties are testing what amounts to a breathalyzer for drug users — a device that some authorities and lawmakers said Wednesday is desperately needed now that voters have legalized recreational marijuana in the state.

When legalization takes full effect next year, California will become the world's largest market for pot.

Yet California is among the states with legalized marijuana that are struggling to find a reliable test and gauge for marijuana impairment that can stand up in court and lead to convictions.

Law enforcement and academic experts say settling on such a test is complicated because drugs affect everyone differently and there is wide variation in the potency of pot and other drugs and the way they are consumed. As a result, there is no consensus on what level amounts to impairment.

The demonstration of the testing device Wednesday outside the California Capitol involved a Sacramento police officer using a cheek swab to collect saliva from another officer posing as a suspect.

The swab was then plugged into a walkie-talkie-sized device that shows within five minutes whether any of six drugs are present in saliva.

The equipment has been tested in Kern, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties under a law sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Palmdale Republican.

"We want this to become statewide," Lackey said.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Glen Glaser, who coordinates the patrol's drug recognition expert program, said there are too many variables to rely on a saliva or breath test.

"The science is still developing," he said. "The mere presence of a drug should not make a person feel like they're subject to arrest if they're not impaired."

In addition, prosecutions are more difficult because there is no presumed level of drug intoxication in California, unlike the 0.08 percent blood alcohol level at which drivers are presumed drunk.

Michigan and Vermont recently authorized the tests that are also used in some other states and nations, according to Lackey's office.

Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol member, unsuccessfully carried a bill two years ago that would have allowed police to use such "oral fluid" devices to test for drugs in much the same way officers currently use breathalyzers to test drivers' blood-alcohol level.

Suspects are currently free to refuse to take the drug tests.

Police mainly rely on field sobriety tests if they suspect a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While drunken driving tests mainly test physical skills, drugged driving screening also looks for cognitive changes.

For instance, suspects are told to tip back their heads and estimate when 30 seconds have passed; some drugs make time seem to slow down while others produce the sensation that time has accelerated, Glaser said.

The state Assembly last month unanimously approved a bill requiring the CHP to create a task force to recommend best practices, policies and legislation involving tests for drugs. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Fred Delfino, product manager for Alere Toxicology, said the company's device demonstrated Wednesday has an accuracy rate of 95 percent, enough to identify which drivers should be required to provide blood samples to show the actual level of intoxication.

More California police departments are using the saliva tests after a Kern County judge last year accepted the results as admissible evidence in a drugged driving case, said Lauren Michaels, marijuana and drunken driving policy expert for the California Police Chiefs Association.

The CHP and other agencies are cooperating with the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, as part of a two-year, $1.8 million study.

The center is analyzing and trying to improve the tests used by human drug-recognition experts and the saliva testing.

Researchers also are trying to learn if there is a particular level of marijuana intoxication that impairs driving, said Thomas Marcotte, the study's chief investigator and co-director of the research center.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]]>
<![CDATA[UC Irvine Considering Center to Study Marijuana]]>Sat, 06 May 2017 12:25:05 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/200*120/AP_16300816323660.jpg

A Southern California university is considering creating a special center to study marijuana.

The Orange County Register says the University of California, Irvine is looking into creation of an interdisciplinary cannabis research institute.

It's the brainchild of Daniele Piomelli, a neurobiology professor who studies marijuana.

He says the institute would research the impact of cannabis on everything from medicine and the environment to business and culture.

Piomelli says the UC Irvine schools of medicine and law will lead the way for the institute but he's talked to the business, engineering, communications and other schools.

He hopes to have the institute running within a year.

Piomelli says he hopes to get state funding through Proposition 64, last year's measure that approved recreational marijuana use.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Extract Helps Some Kids With Epilepsy: Study]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:01:03 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_17143772523848.jpg

A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

"This is the first solid, rigorously obtained scientific data" that a marijuana compound is safe and effective for this problem, said one study leader, Dr. Orrin Devinsky of NYU Langone Medical Center.

He said research into promising medical uses has been hampered by requiring scientists to get special licenses, plus legal constraints and false notions of how risky marijuana is.

"Opiates kill over 30,000 Americans a year, alcohol kills over 80,000 a year. And marijuana, as best we know, probably kills less than 50 people a year," Devinsky said.

The study was published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

For years, desperate patients and parents have argued for more research and wider access to marijuana, with only anecdotal stories and small, flawed studies on their side. The new study is the first large, rigorous test — one group got the drug, another got a dummy version, and neither patients, parents nor doctors knew who took what until the study ended.

It tested a liquid form of cannabidiol, one of marijuana's more than 100 ingredients, called Epidiolex. It doesn't contain THC, the hallucinogenic ingredient, and is not sold anywhere yet, although its maker, GW Pharmaceuticals of London, is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The company paid for, designed and helped run the study, and another doctor involved in the study has related patents.

Patients in the study have Dravet (drah-VAY) syndrome , a type of epilepsy usually caused by a faulty gene. It starts in infancy and causes frequent seizures, some so long-lasting they require emergency care and can be fatal. Kids develop poorly, and their mental impairment seems related to the frequency of seizures — from 4 to as many as 1,717 a month in this study.

Allison Hendershot's 12-year-old daughter Molly was four months old when she had her first. It lasted an hour and a half, and emergency room doctors medically induced a coma to stop it. Molly, who lives in Rochester, New York, has tried more than half a dozen medicines and a special diet, but her seizures continued.

"We literally could not count how many" before she started in the study, her mom said.

It included 120 children and teens, ages 2 to 18, in the U.S. and Europe. They took about a teaspoon of a sweet-smelling oil twice a day (drug or placebo) plus their usual anti-seizure medicines for 14 weeks. Their symptoms were compared to the previous four weeks.

Serious seizures with convulsions dropped from around 12 a month to about six for those on the drug and did not change in the others. Three patients on the drug became seizure-free during the study.

It's no panacea, though. Diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, sleep problems and other issues were more frequent in the drug group. Twelve patients quit the study — nine on the drug and three in the placebo group.

Hendershot thinks her daughter got the dummy medicine because they saw no change in her seizures until the study ended and all participants were allowed to try the drug.

By the second day they saw a difference, and "she went seizure-free for two months. It was pretty remarkable," Hendershot said.

The fact the drug came from marijuana "did not matter to me at all," she said. "If it helps, we're happy. I think people hear 'cannabis' or that it comes from marijuana and immediately there's a stigma attached to it."

For those who swear marijuana helped them, "anecdote has been confirmed by data," Dr. Samuel Berkovic writes in a commentary in the medical journal. He is an epilepsy researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where medical marijuana was legalized last year, and has worked with Devinsky in the past.

The drug is being tested in a second large study in kids with Dravet syndrome, and in studies of some other types of epilepsy.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Kathy Young/AP]]>
<![CDATA[In the Weeds]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 08:34:26 -0700]]><![CDATA[Olympian Ousted for Pot in 2012 Hopes for Redemption in Rio]]>Fri, 22 Jul 2016 09:26:43 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/214*120/Nicholas+Delpopolo+2.jpg

A New Jersey judoka who was expelled from the London 2012 Olympics after he tested positive for marijuana is looking for a second chance in Rio next month. 

Nick Delpopolo, 27, has trained hard at judo since his expulsion four years ago, when he tested positive for cannabis after eating a pot brownie at a celebration party.

Delpopolo says he didn't know that the dessert contained marijuana when he ate it and that "it was the worst thing I have ever done in my life," Patch reported

The Olympian says he was ridiculed and snubbed after the expulsion. 

"I would think, 'Why can't they forgive me?' They were even going so far as to attack my family," he told Patch. 

After his sponsors dropped him, Delpopolo was in a dark place. He says it was letters he received from fans, including fellow athletes, that got him back on his feet and more determined than ever to return to the Olympics as a judo player.  

“I just didn’t want me being expelled from the Olympics to define my judo career, because that is a pretty crappy way to go out," he said. 

Delpopolo worked hard so he could afford to train more. He eventually picked up a new sponsor, Alan Gebheart. 

"Without him I really wouldn't be here," Delpopolo said. 

At the Rio 2016 Olympics he hopes to get a second chance and to show others that "negative things happen but don't let it define you."



Photo Credit: NBC4]]>
<![CDATA[1 Arrested for Drug-Laced Candy That Made 24 Ill]]>Sun, 07 Aug 2016 09:39:32 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-138143151-edited.jpg

A Michigan man has been arrested and charged with felony drug trafficking after more than two dozen concertgoers became ill after ingesting THC-laced candies at a northeast Ohio rap festival. 

The Richland County Sheriff's Office was holding 28-year-old Matthew Lee Gross, of Ypsilanti, in jail Sunday. 

A spokeswoman for the OhioHealth hospital in Mansfield said 24 attendees of the EST 2016 festival at Ohio Dreams sports camp in Butler were treated with an overdose antidote Saturday after ingesting the candy packets. THC is the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. 

Regional drug task force commander Lt. Joe Petrycki disagreed with characterizing people's reactions as overdoses. He said no one lost consciousness. 

The festival was dubbed "The Last Weekend on Earth." Butler is about 60 miles northeast of Columbus.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pot-Laced Candy Sickens SF Guests]]>Tue, 09 Aug 2016 01:08:40 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Gummy+Ring+from+8+6+16+event.jpg

The gummy rings that sickened 19 people — including a 6-year-old — at a quinceañera in the Mission District were laced with pot, the San Francisco Public Health Department announced Monday, after a dozen patients tested positive for the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Spokeswoman Rachel Kagan said that the final lab tests on the gummy rings have not yet come back yet from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. But she said that 12 of the 19 people hospitalized after the party at the Women's Building on 18th Street had THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, in their systems.

All of the 19 patients were discharged by Monday morning, officials added. The patients ranged in age from 6 to 18, doctors said. It's unclear if the birthday girl was a patient or not.

Dr. Tomas Aragon said they suffered from rapid heart rates, high blood pressure, dilated pupils, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, lethargy and confusion.

Aragon and others are now trying to figure out how the candies got to the party, catered by an Oakland company. “The question remains, where did the candies come from?” said Aragon. “We are working with the catering company and our colleagues in Alameda to find out.” It's also quite possible a guest brought the candies to the party.

The catering company was not named, but it was revealed that the food was prepared at La Placita, a community kitchen in Oakland. Officials with the Alameda County Health Department inspected the kitchen and did not find any evidence cannibis was used there.

Aragon urged people to be very careful with "edibles," especially when the drugs are contained in bright-colored candies and passed around at family parties where young children and teenagers are in attendance.

“A situation like this, where they were consumed by unsuspecting people, and many children, is greatly concerning,” Aragon said.

Paramedics and firefighters raced to the quinceañera in San Francisco on Saturday night, where a 15-year-old girl was feted - a major rite of passage in the Latino community.

Security guard Raul Hernandez recalled how the party got chaotic and people got violently ill. He called 911 and recounted how scary it was. Some guests left foaming at the mouth.

"It was just one after another and another," Hernandez said. "A gentleman was holding his chest. The young lady, she couldn’t talk and was gasping for air."

NBC Bay Area's Mark Matthews and Jean Elle contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Health Department
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<![CDATA[Pot Smoke and Renters' Rights]]>Wed, 17 Aug 2016 19:50:57 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/211*120/pot-smoke-081716.JPG

Medical marijuana may be legal, but what are your rights when smoke drifts into your home? NBC4 I-Team's Randy Mac investigates renters' rights on the NBC4 News at 6 on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Man Arrested for Giving Co-Worker Marijuana Edible]]>Sun, 16 Apr 2017 21:07:28 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/185*120/AP_16273734933438.jpg

A 36-year-old Rosemead man was accused Sunday of giving a co-worker at a restaurant a THC-laced chocolate bar that sent her into marijuana-caused disorientation.

Duong Che allegedly dosed his co-worker with THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is responsible for the euphonic high found in cannabis, said Ventura County sheriff's Deputy Ehren Nehira.

After eating some of the chocolate bar, the 20-year-old woman had short breath, was confused and disoriented and was unable to continue her shift at the restaurant, in the 400 block of Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks, Nehira said.

Deputies were sent to the restaurant at about 10:40 a.m. March 12 on a report of a possible poisoning. The victim spoke with them and then was taken to a hospital by a family member, he said.

She told deputies that during her shift she was offered a portion of a chocolate bar by a co-worker, identified as Che.

"Based on the circumstances, it was determined that Che knowingly provided the victim an edible with the victim's knowledge that it contained the THC," he said.

On Wednesday, narcotics detectives were waiting for Che as he arrived to work at the restaurant in Thousand Oaks. They searched his vehicle and found a cannabis chocolate bar -- the same type of bar that he had given his co-worker.

Detectives also found 70 ecstasy pills and more than $600. Fifty miles away at his home in Rosemead, they confiscated more than $4,300 that was believed to be profits from illegal drug sales.

Che was arrested for possession for sales of a controlled substance. He was booked into the Ventura Sheriff's Office East County Jail, where he posted bail that was set at $70,000.

He is scheduled to appear in court at 8:15 a.m. on April 27.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[7 Arrested as Free Pot Offered to Congress in 'JointSession']]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:01:46 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/2017-04-20_1343.jpg

Seven people were arrested for possession of marijuana in the nation's capitol during a 420 celebration of cannabis culture, U.S. Capitol Police said.

Cannabis advocates vowed to pass out marijuana cigarettes between noon and 4:20 p.m. Thursday during their first annual "JointSession." Possessing and giving away some marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C., but not on federal land. The advocates set up on a corner across from the Capitol that they believe is local land.

However, soon after the giveaway began, U.S. Capitol Police swept in and arrested two people handing out joints. Minutes later, more volunteers started handing out joints and more volunteers were arrested.

D.C. resident Adam Eidinger, who helped organize the event, told NBC he feared more people would be arrested. Minutes later, police arrested him.

Participants continued to hand out joints even though U.S. Capitol Police shut down the event multiple times.

Meanwhile, people smoking pot directly in front of police were not arrested.

Despite the arrests, volunteers handed out joints to about 50 federal employees.

At least two of those taken into police custody "volunteered" to be arrested for possession. Both men said they believed they were on D.C. property and therefore acting legally, NBC Washington's Mark Segraves reported.

Eidinger's advocacy group DCMJ, which spearheaded legalization of cannabis in D.C., led the free giveaway. Offering two joints apiece to members of Congress, staffers, journalists, interns and Capitol Hill workers 21 years of age and older. Basically, anyone with a valid congressional ID can get free weed.

D.C.'s Initiative 71 legalized possession of the plant in 2015 but not its sale. People living in the District can grow up to six plants inside their home or purchase medical marijuana if they have a qualifying condition. Money cannot be exchanged for recreational cannabis.

Organizers of the JointSession are calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency from using funds to interfere with D.C. and state medical marijuana laws. The measure is set to expire April 28.

DCMJ is also asking Congress to end the federal prohibition against marijuana and allow states to determine their own laws moving forward.

"Congressional inaction and leaving harmful laws on the books isn't any way to run a government. It is irresponsible," Eidinger said. "If these members of Congress ask themselves who has the most to lose from ending the war on cannabis, it isn’t the American people."

President Donald Trump hasn't clarified what his approach to marijuana will be, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes the drug's legalization and this month ordered a review of the government's marijuana policy, which has included a largely hands-off approach in legal marijuana states.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently called marijuana "a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs" — a view long held by drug warriors despite scant evidence of its validity.

In Philadelphia, there were events planned at One Art Community Center in West Philadelphia, a pipe exhibit at Creep House Records in Northern Liberties and a High Times dance party at Coda in Center City.

This year's 420 party follows successful legalization campaigns in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, which joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as states that allow recreational marijuana. More than half of all states now allow medical marijuana.

Sixty percent of adults support legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup poll last fall, and two-thirds of respondents in a Yahoo/Marist poll released this week said marijuana is safer than opioids — even when those painkillers are prescribed by doctors.

This wasn't the first time DCMJ gave away free marijuana. The organization handed out thousands of free joints in D.C. on Jan. 20 for President Donald Trump's inauguration day.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Mark Segraves, NBC Washington
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<![CDATA[Georgia Lawmaker Deals Cannabis Oil in Shadows of the Law]]>Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:57:26 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/AP_17110754763999.jpg

Once a month, a cardboard box from Colorado appears at the office of a conservative Christian lawmaker in central Georgia, filled with derivatives of marijuana, to be distributed around the state in the shadows of the law.

Operating in ways he hopes will avoid felony charges of drug trafficking, state Rep. Allen Peake is taking matters into his own hands. He's shepherding cannabis oil to hundreds of sick people who are now allowed by the state to possess marijuana, but have no legal way of obtaining it.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to be able to help get product to these families, these citizens who have debilitating illnesses," Peake said. He spoke with The Associated Press in his Macon office, where he runs his business, his campaign operation and his underground medical marijuana network.

Peake has successfully championed the creation and expansion of Georgia's medical marijuana program, which now provides low-THC cannabis oil to more than a thousand patients. Enrollees can have it, but they can't cultivate, import or purchase the drug.

This straight-laced Republican is about the last person many would expect to take up such a cause.

He's the CEO of one of the nation's largest franchise restaurant businesses, with more than 100 locations including Cheddar's and Fazoli's. He says he runs this business on Biblical principles and donates to Christian charities, a practice that led him into the world of cannabis when he began helping families with the costs of moving to Colorado for the legal access to treatments they couldn't get in Georgia.

Those connections led to the arrival each month of boxes on his office doorstep, filled with bottles of cannabis oil of varying concentrations within Georgia's now-legal THC limit.

Peake says he doesn't know who brings it into the state, and doesn't ask.

Marijuana remains a federally outlawed Schedule 1 narcotic, even though 29 states now have comprehensive medical marijuana programs. Seventeen others, including Georgia, allow the use of marijuana products for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2009, President Barack Obama instructed the Department of Justice not to prosecute people for possessing or distributing medical marijuana, a policy President Donald Trump has not changed.

But transporting marijuana across state lines? That remains a felony.

"Quite frankly, I don't know how the product gets here," Peake said.

He's a certified public accountant who went to theology school, but has an adventurous side — running competitively, scuba diving and recently splurging on a Tesla Model S, which can zoom from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds.

Thrill-seeking has cost him at times: In 2015, he publicly acknowledged having had an account on the adultery dating site Ashley Madison. After apologizing to his constituents and thanking his wife for her "powerful and merciful gift of forgiveness," he went right back to legislating.

Each time one of the nondescript boxes arrives, Peake makes a significant donation to a foundation in Colorado that supports research of medical cannabis. He can't make a direct payment, because that would be illegal. But with his donations of about $100,000 a year, he and his wife are able to supply the oil to hundreds of patients across Georgia.

"I'll never recover that money," but the satisfaction of helping people makes it all worthwhile, he said.

If Peake did try to recoup the money, say by selling the oil, he could face charges of drug trafficking. By paying for it himself and giving it away for free, he narrowly skirts the law, which does not prohibit the gifting of cannabis oil.

It was Peake's bill in 2015 that established Georgia's medical cannabis program, which allows people with qualifying diagnoses to possess cannabis oil with less than 5 percent THC, the chemical that gets users high. It was a first step, acknowledging Gov. Nathan Deal's refusal to legalize the cultivation of marijuana within Georgia.

Peake also was instrumental in passing another step, now awaiting Deal's signature that would expand the list of qualifying conditions. Persuading state lawmakers to legalize cultivation, production and sale of cannabis oil in Georgia remains a distant goal, but Peake thinks enabling more patients to get the drug meanwhile can only help.

About 1,300 patients are currently enrolled, and other lawmakers have joined his quasi-legal enterprise: At least 20 state senators and representatives have referred their constituents to him, Peake says. Even some who voted against his marijuana bills have had a change of heart when someone close to them got sick, he said.

When it comes time for deliveries, Peake is vigilant, making sure everyone he works with is registered with the state and enrolled in the medical cannabis program so they can legally handle the product.

Though Peake isn't a qualified patient, he obtained a medical cannabis card from the Georgia Department of Public Health, so that he can show it to constituents as he promotes the program, he said.

But a card is a card, enabling Peake to legally possess the cannabis at his office.

Shannon Cloud is one of the parents helping Peake move the oils to Atlanta. She initially got involved because daughter Alaina has Dravet syndrome — a rare, serious seizure disorder — and has benefited from cannabis.

Even though her daughter is off the drug because she's part of a clinical trial, Cloud remains one of the most active members of the informal distribution network.

She's passionate about this work, but frustrated that she's needed at all.

"It shouldn't be this way," she said. "You shouldn't be meeting at a gas station or a Target parking lot to get medicine to somebody. You should be going to the place where it is produced and tested to get it dispensed to you in a regulated manner, but this is what we're forced to do."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: AP/David Goldman]]>
<![CDATA[One Shot in Beverly Crest Home Invasion]]>Fri, 28 Apr 2017 13:27:22 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/04-28-2017-beverly-crest-home-invasion-1.JPG

A man was shot early Friday in a home invasion at a residence in the hills above Los Angeles' Westside, according to police.

Officers responded to the home in the 10000 block fo Summer Holly Circle in the Beverly Crest neighborhood. The victim was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the upper body. 

The weapon was a shotgun, according to police. It was not immediately clear whether any items were taken from the house.

"This is shocking, disturbing," said Rabbi Chaim Mentz, a neighbor who was working in his home office when he heard a door slam and the sound of a car leaving the area. 

Authorities said the man's injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

The victim appeared to be targeted, police said, adding that the attack was likely not a random crime. Investigators said a large amount of marijuana and cash were found in the house.

"They knew who the victim was," said Lt. Randy Goddard, of the Los Angeles Police Department. "They knew that the victim had a large amount of narcotics and a large amount of cash, and that's exactly why they came out here today."

No arrests were reported early Friday. A woman who also was in the home at the time of the break-in was questioned by police. 

Detectives plan to review video from home security cameras. Detail descriptions of the attackers were not immediately available.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[67 Pounds of Marijuana Found in Casket at Arizona Checkpoint]]>Tue, 02 May 2017 04:01:11 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/marijuana-GettyImages_698723.jpg

Border Patrol agents have seen numerous ways people try to smuggle drugs across the Arizona border in recent years. They can now add marijuana hidden in a casket to the list.

Agents working an immigration checkpoint in southern Arizona said they stopped a hearse last weekend and found 67 pounds of marijuana inside a mahogany coffin.

The multiple bricks of marijuana had an estimated street value of more than $33,000, Border Patrol officials said Monday.

The hearse carrying the casket was stopped Saturday evening on State Route 80 near Tombstone.

Agents said the driver — a 28-year-old U.S. citizen — gave inconsistencies information and a canine unit was brought in to check the hearse.

The drug-smelling dogs alerted agents despite several bags of manure that had been placed inside the casket in an attempt to conceal the marijuana odor.

The driver, whose name hasn't been released, was arrested on suspicion of narcotics smuggling, Border Patrol officials said.

In recent years, Arizona agents have found drugs taped to the bodies of some smugglers, seen ultralight aircraft try to drop drug shipments in the desert and seized bundles of marijuana that were shot from Mexico with devices such as air-powered cannons and catapults.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Wrestling Icon 'X-Pac' Arrested for Weed, Meth at LA Airport]]>Wed, 03 May 2017 10:25:53 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/182*120/x-pac-wrestler.PNG

Professional wrestler "X-Pac" has been arrested in Los Angeles after authorities say he tried to board a flight to London with methamphetamine and marijuana.

Los Angeles Airport Police say Tuesday the popular wrestler, whose real name is Sean Michael Waltman, was arrested Sunday after being stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

An arrest report says Waltman was attempting to board a Norwegian Airlines flight when a drug-sniffing dog alerted officers to his backpack. Officers who searched his bag found 38 methamphetamine capsules, 56 THC capsules, two liquid THC cigarettes and three marijuana chocolate bars.

It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment.

Waltman told TMZ that the drugs were medicine used to treat a yeast infection and that he doesn't use or sell drugs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

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<![CDATA[DA Ordered to Return Money Seized from Pot Shop]]>Tue, 09 May 2017 22:48:00 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/Kearny+Mesa+Medical+Marijuan+Dispensary+raid.JPG

A civil court judge ordered the San Diego County District Attorney office to return more than $100,000 seized from a Kearny Mesa medical marijuana dispensary.

James Slatic has been fighting for his life savings and that of his other family members for 15 months.

In a third ruling, a judge ordered the DA's office to return the money from the Slatic's personal accounts.

In January 2016, law enforcement officers wearing tactical gear broke through the front door of Slatic's medical marijuana business and seized products, cash, and equipment.

Two employees were detained but released without charges.

"A nightmare. It's been so stressful," Slatic said. "Of course my business was put out of business."

The total seizure was almost half a million dollars. More than $100,000 of that was from the personal bank accounts of Slatic, his wife Annette and their two children.

"'Why did they take my money? I never worked there. I never had anything to do with your business?'" Slatic told NBC 7, speaking of his daughter's reaction.

A superior court judge ruled Friday that the district attorney could not hold the funds since it had not pursued any criminal charges for more than 12 months.

In part of a statement sent to NBC 7 by email, DA Communications Director Steve Walker wrote, "This latest ruling in civil court will not impact our ongoing review of criminal charges or the separate petition to forfeit the more than $324,000 in cash found at the hash oil laboratory."

Slatic's wife Annette said she's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“It’s bitter sweet because we don't have a check in our hands yet," Annette said.

The coupple told NBC 7 there would be no check if it were not for the help of the Institute for Justice, a non-profit law firm that fights civil forfeiture abuse nationwide.

“The average person doesn't have that money so you will never have justice,” Annette said.

The money must be returned within five days. The DA's office will have a chance to argue against the ruling at a court hearing Wednesday.

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<![CDATA[2 Ex-Deputies Plead Guilty to Marijuana Trafficking]]>Tue, 16 May 2017 09:56:05 -0700https://media.nbclosangeles.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-592213300-marijuana-generic.jpg

Federal prosecutors say two former deputies with the Kern County Sheriff's Office pleaded guilty to selling marijuana that had been seized in raids.

U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert says 34-year-old Derrick Penney and 30-year-old Logan August pleaded guilty Monday to marijuana trafficking charges.

Court documents show Penney and August were deputies with the Kern County Sheriff's Office when in 2014 they conspired with former Bakersfield Police Department detective Patrick Mara and others to steal marijuana from a Sherriff's storage unit. A former confidential informant who worked with August then sold it and gave each deputy about $1,200 from the sales.

According to August's plea agreement, that same year he separately stole about 25 pounds of marijuana that was then sold by the same informant who gave him $15,000 from the sale of that marijuana.

August and Penney face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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