Our nation’s capitol has been flooded with press conferences, cannabis conferences, and industrial strength lobby days. Washington’s governor signed an omnibus marijuana bill revamping the program in dozens of ways, including opening the door for future home growing.

And in other parts of the US, and the rest of the world; Israel, on the heels of decriminalization, allowed open consumption for medical patients. South Dakota’s Santee Sioux’s non-tribal cannabis consultant, Eric Hagen, finds himself in the middle of “the cannabis trial of the century,” and then there’s the fun news that cannabis is now outselling several other pleasure industries such as chocolate, ice cream, Viagra and even tequila. Yes, tequila.


Federal press for reform resumes

May marked the perfect time for DC to address the wrong-headed war on drugs and industry leaders were on hand to launch the counter-assault. Federal reform efforts returned to the forefront last week, as DC saw press conferences, industrial-strength lobby days, one of the largest trade show and expos in the country, Congressional smack talking, plus new and rebuilt bills, especially on banking. Both Marijuana Business Daily and the National Cannabis Industry Association held DC area events the same week. Thousands of locals and canna-curious individuals from across the country arrived to watch the industry display itself. Meanwhile, many were dismayed with the direction the DOJ has taken.

Industry experts took turns at the DC-area Marijuana Business Daily Conference and Expo to lament the lost momentum. NCIA brought national-level activist heat when they held their annual lobby days on May 16-17 to coincide with the MJ Biz conference. More than 250 activists from around the country plus internationally regarded drug policy experts held meetings with congressional opposition.

Reformer-Congressmen also took to The Hill, as members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and legislators from pro-cannabis states like California and Oregon resumed their push for reefer reform. Congressional cannabis champions issued new statements and held new press conferences reaffirming bills, H.R. 2215, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act; and H.R.1227, the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017.” Pro-cannabis legislators from “libertarian-leaning Republican Rand Paul to liberal Democrat Cory Booker” joined the push to reform cannabis banking laws.

Coincidentally this week, Willie Nelson also took exception with Jeff Sessions’ saying cannabis and heroin were essentially the same. Nelson weighed in on the federal cannabis quagmire, suggesting the best solution would be for Sessions to just get high so he would understand what he was talking about. Ironically this flurry of activity took place the same week Jeff Sessions issued his decree calling for “mandatory maximums” on drug crimes.

Washington state’s omnibus bill creates “organic ganja” state certification, legalizes sharing

Washington’s S.B. 5131 served as the statehouse catch-all cannabis legislation this session in Olympia. When Governor Jay Inslee signed it he approved over a dozen changes to the nation’s oldest and largest cannabis programs. Perhaps most notoriously, the omnibus bill fixes one of Washington’s strangest provisions: while cannabis possession had been made legal, sharing was expressly forbidden.

Though this particular rule was rarely enforced, and the change will have few practical implications, other key updates will make major changes to the way weed works in Washington. Patients had been allowed to grow cannabis, but couldn’t purchase seeds or clones. That’s changed. License caps and protections are included, while licensing preferences have been removed. Tribal options are added. Billboards, marijuana leaf imagery, cartoon characters and mascots are out, studies on hemp and home grow are in.

Most importantly the omnibus bill allows for Washington to create its own certified organic program for cannabis. The federal government controls the actual organic certification program for other agricultural products, so the final language for the designation isn’t settled yet. Bill sponsor, Senator Ann Rivers expects the program to be up and running within eighteen months.

Israel allows public MMJ use

Just in time for Trump’s visit to Israel, the country known as the global leader in cannabis research made a major scientific discovery: patients sometimes have to use cannabis outside their own homes. The new Health Ministry rules permit patients to use liquid cannabis oil or cannabis oil vapor in public places, provided they are discreet. Previously, Israeli medical cannabis laws required medical card patients to use cannabis solely in the privacy of their own homes. The national patient registry even specified the exact address where each patient was allowed to consume marijuana. Sunday, May 14th, Israeli Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman issued new guidelines for patients, effective immediately.

“We felt that a lot of bureaucracy was created over nothing,” Yuval Landschaft, director of the Healthy Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unittold Haaretz. While the new rules protect vaping and oil, patients will still have to be inside their own homes to smoke cannabis, however. In addition to patient cannabis oil rights, the new rules will also expedite card registration. Though the law will only have a direct impact on about 30,000 Israeli patients, the announcement follows less than two months after Israel decriminalized cannabis possession and personal cultivation. The growing international attention on Israeli cannabis progress could shape attitudes around the world.

Billed as “the cannabis trial of the century,” Flandreau, South Dakota trial tests Wilkinson Memo

The Santee Sioux Indian Tribe may not seem like a household name to you, but the fate of their case in a South Dakota county courthouse could shape the future of pot policy in America. The Native American press is watching the case closely because it could change the ways the state and federal governments respect tribal sovereignty. Journalists are watching because freedom of the press is also on trial in this case. And, Leafly, who billed the case as “the cannabis trial of the century,” is running a multi-part, day-by-day series on the trial since no less than the future of American cannabis rests on the decision.

Some background: Following the Wilkinson Memo of late 2014, which extended Cole Memo protections to “Indian Territory,” South Dakota’s Santee Sioux Tribe decided to turn some of the land at their Royal River Casino into a cannabis operation. They hired Colorado-based Monarch America to consult on the project and Monarch CEO, Eric Hagen, supervised the construction and cultivation of their first crop.

However, in late 2015, when harvest came due and law enforcement threatened a raid, the cannabis was gathered and incinerated (which is what I do with my own cannabis coincidentally). Afterwards, Hagen was arrested and charged with 3 counts of 10lbs or more of marijuana and facing a total of 32 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Monarch vice president, Jonathan Hunt already took a plea deal in the case and is expected to testify against Hagen in the case. No tribal members were charged.

As Leafly’s Pat Radigan noted in his opening day coverage: “The state lacks the authority to try members of the tribe for acts done on the reservation, so the state brought charges against Hagen, who is not a tribe member.” South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, a potential gubernatorial candidate, has weighed in on the case and is pushing for maximum punishment. Along the way, Hagen and staff had met with multiple law enforcement agencies, including Jackley’s office, and received no warning they could be subject to a raid.

At issue are the protections of the Wilkinson Memo, and by extension the Cole Memo itself. Are they still valid when it comes to hostile state law enforcement? Who “owns” cultivated marijuana—the bosses who own the facility and instruct their workers, or the workers who did the cultivating? If tribal sovereignty protects officers of the tribe, why doesn’t it extend to their non-tribal agents? If not, will any tribe ever be able to hire a non-tribal consultant without risk of arrest? As long as Leafly provides the gripping play-by-play commentary by Pat Radigan, we will keep watching.

Marijuana outstripping other pleasure industries: ice cream, chocolate, Viagra, & Tequila

If people truly put their money where their mouth is, then cannabis is emerging as one of the most popular pleasures in America. This week saw three different articles touting cannabis revenues surpassing sales of more traditional, pleasure-related products. Fox News reported 2019 chocolate sales in the US projected at approximately $25 billion. While that number may dwarf 2016 figures for legal cannabis sales (estimated at just under $6 billion), the illicit market was widely estimated to be worth an additional $46 billion, for a combined value of over $50 billion in sales.

Forbes’ Deborah Borchardt took the comparison a step farther and brought in other pleasure industries for the match-up. Borchardt used a lower figure on cannabis than commonly accepted, only $4.5 billion in legal sales. (Borchardt herself estimated the number as closer to $7 billion total in January of 2017.) But that figure still smoked much of the competition: the US streaming music industry was valued at $2.5 billion, chip & snack market at under $5 billion, cookies were just over $6 billion, and even ice cream was only valued at $5.1 billion.

Lastly, Business Insider’s Melia Robinson used the comparison business in a more comic way. Despite the dramatic rise in tequila’s popularity, still cannabis outsold tequila at a rate of almost two to one. Meanwhile Viagra sales “softened” in 2016 to under $2 billion total.

BONUS IRONY ALERT: This week US News & World Report detailed an Alaska Police Standards Council announcement that Alaskan law enforcement should no longer be allowed to make money off both sides of the drug war and forbade officers from owning or operating cannabis businesses.