This week marked the end of an era for baby booming cannabis enthusiasts as the encyclopedia of all things marijuana, High Times Magazine and its burgeoning media empire, changed hands for the first time since the magazine’s founding almost 50 years ago.
In the wake of the American Legion’s pressure on the Trump administration, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs broke rank with Jeff Sessions, and standing VA policy, to acknowledge he wishes his doctors could use cannabis to help vets. And officials from the former Obama administration revealed at how close they got to actually calling for legalization (HINT: it rhymes with “got berry.”) Health authorities in Ohio openly encourage sick people to engage in interstate trafficking. The city of Detroit wipes out its local cannabis industry and bad behavior from trashy stoners in major cities across the continent threatens the future of our favorite cannabis holiday.
TOP NEWS STORIES
1. High Times sold!
Topping the news in the world of weed this week, the sale of High Times, was not only one of the most reported news tories, it’s also certainly the most influential. Since the marijuana movement started at the dawn of the 70s, there are only 3 national-strength names in cannabis that possibly reach back that far and still influence the discussion. Cheech and Chong, of course, NORML, and High Times Magazine. Originally a glossy mag with full-color, full-page pics of magnified nugs that guys ogled over and hid under their beds just like their Playboys, simply possessing a copy was an act of rebellion.
As longtime High Times employee Danny Danko acknowledges, “We’ve always had this underground mentality and grassroots organization.”
Founded by Tom Forcade in 1974, at first the publication was so “underground” the printing was actually funded by illicit cannabis sales. Until recently, it was sold exclusively in black plastic sleeves, like a skin mag, because its reputation was so extreme.
These days, HT has grown to be one of the biggest media empires in all of cannabis. Small wonder lead investor, Adam Levin of Oreva Capital, calls the High Times brand “the Coca-Cola” of cannabis. Sure, High Times’ magazines is still filled with gorgeous budding beauties, but now the colossal website is also one of the web’s leading cannabis news services, hosts running how-to guides on cultivation, products and business operations, and, an archive of every single back issue ever, plus an online store.
Currently the print magazine has 236,000 subscriptions and the website is visited by 20 million unique viewers each month. But more than that, since the late 80s, the brand also sponsors the most popular, most consumer-friendly, cannabis-culture-shaping series of “pot parties” on the planet, the High Times Cannabis Cup. A combination cannabis competition industry exhibition and all-out smoke-fest, over 25,000 fans attended their February Southern California show. And even Jeff Sessions himself couldn’t stop the Nevada Vegas show, though he certainly tried. In the future, Levin promises the company will create even more events including business conferences not associated with the High Times logo.
A partnership of 20 investors, including Damian Marley (who learned cultivation tips by reading the magazine as a teenager), ponied up over $70 million for a 60% share of the Trans-High Corporation, the parent company that publishes the magazine and operates the events. The new company will be called High Times Holding Company (HTHC) and will increase its focus on promoting America’s legalization movement and capitalizing on the exponential successes they have had in recent years with the Cannabis Cups. The brand now derives 75% of their revenues from those shows. This year HT will hold 11 events all over the world.
2. VA responds to American Legion: “MMJ may be helpful, but hands tied by federal law”
Just about the time we start to feel cynical as to whether our government is actually listening to its citizens, something like this happens: they shut up and listen. Last week America’s cannabis press was following the efforts of the American Legion to pressure the Trump administration to reschedule cannabis, support research and stop blocking PTSD-stricken vets from getting access to cannabis. It apparently worked. On May 31st, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin made headlines when he admitted he would not only be open to expanding VA support for cannabis therapies for PTSD, but also that there is “some evidence that [state medical marijuana programs are] beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that.” The announcement directly contradicts statements made just the day before by the head of the DEA, Chuck Rosenberg, who stunned the country’s cannabis industry by insisting, once again, that “marijuana is not medicine.”
Meanwhile, the veteran-focused, veteran run Task and Purpose website, posted Shulkin’s acknowledgement that it was the American Legion pressure that led to his remarks during the newly appointed secretary’s first public statements on the “state of the VA.” The week before, American Legion veterans’ affairs and communications directors, Louis Celli and Joe Plenzler, published an editorial on the national security website, Defense One, noting that though the VA claims to have spent billions researching traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they have refused to address the medical marijuana option. “For nearly 90 years, the federal government has deliberately hindered medical research into therapeutic aspects of cannabis, and veterans struggling with PTSD and TBI today are suffering because of this misguided policy.”
In his reply Shulkin claimed, “Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans.” In response to Shulkin’s statement, California Congressman J. Luis Correa publicly contradicted the secretary, asking him to address what appears to be the current, if unwritten, VA policy that “veterans are denied treatment at VA facilities if they test positive for medical marijuana in states where it is legal and they have a doctor’s prescription.”
Elsewhere, Stars and Stripes Magazine, “U.S. military’s independent news source,” has gotten on board with the movement and taken up promoting studies by famed Arizona researcher Sue Sisley on cannabis, vets and PTSD. Also, this week, Civilized, published the latest updates on Canada’s similar studies of cannabis’ effects on their own PTSD-stricken veterans. However, as of this writing, the VA’s website still claims “research suggests marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”
In a contrast that makes this story just a bit more frustrating, this week we also learned that Obama’s initial drug czar, Michael Botticelli, actually wanted to decriminalize cannabis and shed the image of condemning marijuana, but found their hands tied due to language that stipulated that “the office could not use federal funds to study the legalization of any Schedule I drugs.” At the time, the office did not go public about their wishes to scale back cannabis prohibition, concerned it would embroil the agency in controversy and complicate their efforts on battling the opioid crisis. Botticelli has gone on the record as opposing Jeff Sessions’ canna-phobic efforts to launch a major crackdown. “It seems like we are moving backwards instead of forward. And to a position that I think doesn’t have a lot of science and evidence.”
3. Ohio-Michigan quandary: Is Ohio openly encouraging interstate trafficking?
One of the basic rules of the road for running a successful cannabis company in a state-sanctioned program is to promise, cross your heart hope to die, to never, ever, promote interstate trafficking. According to the famous Cole Memo, allowing your cannabis products to cross state lines is one of eight guaranteed ways to get shut down. But what happens if a whole state’s medical board were the ones doing the promoting? We’re about to find out.
This week the Associated Press reported that Toledo’s Omni Medical Services, an Ohio-based medical marijuana recommendation clinic, had been recommending patients take their “affirmative defense letters” to Michigan and shop for their cannabis needs there. Omni claims they discussed their decision with the state medical board and have their approval for the move.
Ohio approved a medical program last year, though it is not expected to be operational until September of this year, hence the referrals to Michigan. The initial application process is still underway. Since the Ohio patients were unlikely to stay in Michigan to consume their cannabis, crossing interstate lines with cannabis products seems implicit. Even when the Ohio program gets up and running, patients will still only be allowed to use non-THC CBD oil products, whereas Michigan’s program includes full flower, concentrates and edibles.
However, Omni’s managing director, Louis Johnson, insists, “We know what we’re doing is legal. We’re out in the open. We’re not hiding in the dark.” Meanwhile the Ohio Attorney General’s office also insists that any cannabis possession remains illegal, if greatly decriminalized, in his state until their own program is completed.
Currently possession of less than 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) is a minor misdemeanor in Ohio with a maximum $150 fine. Federal law is a different matter. The Ohio legislature is already considering a bill to ban the reciprocity. Expect this story to come back into the headlines when the arrests begin.
4. Detroit massive closings
If the Detroit City Council could have it their way, their town won’t be known as “Mota City” much longer. Due to a zoning ordinance they passed in 2016, most of the city dispensaries no longer qualify to use their locations. The change made most of the city off limits.
The ordinance prevents dispensaries from operating within 1000 feet of a “controlled use drug-free zone,” such as a church, library, or school, or, in Detroit’s case, even a liquor store qualifies.
Of Detroit’s original 283 dispensaries, 167 have already been shut down and the recently announced effort to close another 51 propelled the story back into the national spotlight.
Michigan, home of one of the nation’s most robust medical programs, approved medical marijuana in 2008 and currently has 244,125 patients, the second most in the nation, behind California. Statewide, Michigan revamped its medical marijuana laws in 2015 and some are still complaining the rules are hazy at best. However, Detroit corporation counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell is a fan of the program’s new restrictions and his city’s ordinance. Hollowell says the city has not lost a single case when it comes to shuttering a dispensary. Once the purge is completed the ordinance should limit the city to 50 dispensaries. So far of the hundreds of applications the city has received for dispensaries to stay in business, city officials have only approved 5.
5. Trashy celebrations in Denver, Vancouver and Toronto
Now that it’s June, 420 may feel like it was a long time ago, but for some the memory lingers. So does the trash bill. The fallout is still hitting the fan after major marijuana celebrations in Vancouver and Denver came under intense backlash after over-enthusiastic celebrants vandalized public property and left behind mountains of trash in their wake.
In Denver, event organizers were fined $12,000 for insufficient cleanup efforts and 420 events have been banned from the city for three years. Denver organizers claim their trash had been cleaned up, tagged, bagged and piled on the curb for pick-up the following morning. They blame vandals and homeless people for tearing open bags, leaving the trash to spill out.
In an 11-page letter sent one month after the event, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration listed five areas of concern: “noise complaints, untimely trash removal, limited security guards, unlicensed food vendors and street closures.” Denver event organizers called the three-year ban, “overkill.” They have 15 days to appeal the ruling.
Elsewhere, Vancouver’s 4/20 celebration at Sunset Beach Park had more than 35,000 attendees and appears to have fared slightly better. Event organizer Dana Larsen used volunteers to assist with trash detail, but was still knee-deep at 3AM that night, long after most of his volunteers had abandoned the project. Authorities at the park estimate it will take more than five weeks to repair the damages caused to the lawn due to the massive crowds, but Howard Normann, director of Vancouver’s parks, says organizers did a satisfactory job handling the garbage.
Toronto organizer Chris Godwin believes part of the problem other cities’ celebrations faced came from their dependence on volunteers to lead the clean-up efforts. Ten percent of Godwin’s 420 festival budget was devoted to cleanup costs.