Colorado’s Hemp Program Must Change to Fit USDA Rules

Most hemp farmers across the country got a big boost when the United States Department of Agriculture released its first round of industrial hemp regulations earlier this week; the new rules took effect today, October 31.

“I applaud the USDA for moving forward on hemp rulemaking and recognizing hemp production as an agricultural activity,” Senator Cory Gardner said in a statement after the regulations were announced. “Legalized hemp has the potential to be a major boon to agricultural communities across Colorado, giving farmers another viable and profitable option for their fields.”

But for farmers in states like Colorado, where hemp has been an established crop for almost five years, the new rules might not seem so progressive.

The language of last year’s Farm Bill, the measure that legalized hemp, permits states to submit plans for their own hemp regulations, follow the USDA’s regulations, or ban hemp production altogether. While the Colorado Department of Agriculture has indicated that it will submit a new hemp plan to the USDA in 2020, the state ag department had already implemented its own plan long before hemp was legalized federally late last year, and under that plan, Colorado became of the largest hemp-producing states in the country.

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Shawn Hauser, a hemp attorney with Vicente Sederberg, says that Colorado will have to alter some of its hemp regulations to align more closely with the USDA regulations, and that could mean tighter rules for this state’s farmers. Under the new, USDA-approved regulations, Colorado hemp farmers are likely to face stricter testing requirements for THC levels, she says, and have less opportunity to mitigate hot hemp, or plants that test above the federal government’s maximum allowable level of THC (0.3 percent) in industrial hemp.

“The way the federal regulations are set up, they’re going to affect every state significantly. Testing and sampling, specifically, are different from what most states have in practice,” Hauser explains. “Federal rules are pretty strict with requiring hot hemp to be destroyed by a DEA agent. There is no opportunity for remediation or correction.”

The new FDA rules do allow a “measurement of uncertainty” for farmers, which could let plants reach as high as 0.5 percent THC and still be considered acceptable by the USDA. However, industry supporters and farmers alike have been pushing for a 1 percent THC limit for some time.

Colorado farmers are currently given a couple of weeks to lower plants’ THC levels if they test too high, but hemp’s legalization and close connection to marijuana has spurred concerns of increased black market marijuana activity among law enforcement in certain states. Hauser suggests that states like Colorado and Oregon — both of which have legal and established marijuana industries — are better prepared to deal with such concerns, but she adds that more evolved markets are better prepared to roll with federal changes, too.

“Colorado and other states, because they’re mature and have gone through these trials, kind of understand there is a need for remediation,” she adds. “But because Colorado has one of the most mature industries, some of the hemp markets have anticipated these changes.”

Federal hemp regulations that mandate 100 percent of hemp harvests to undergo THC testing would likely require more CDA staff, Hauser says, as this state’s agriculture department only has enough bandwidth to test about 25 percent of hemp crops right now. Further, the USDA rules call for such testing to take place at labs certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration — and there aren’t many.

And if hemp farmers lose their crops because of high THC levels, there’s little that could help them in the form of insurance, as the new federal crop insurance program for hemp isn’t likely to cover high THC levels, according to industry representatives.

Although the USDA rules are officially implemented today, the rules are only for the interim and will be replaced in two years; states have a year to either comply or send in their respective proposals for hemp regulations. The CDA’s Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan (CHAMP), a committee created by Governor Jared Polis to advance hemp policy in Colorado, will send the state’s hemp proposal to the USDA within the next few months in hopes of fully complying with the USDA by the 2020 farming season, according to Hauser.

“There are some areas for improvement, especially around testing, disposal and sampling,” Hauser says. “There is a public comment period — it’s incredibly significant for legalized hemp farmers — so it’s more important than ever to engage with the industry.”

One of Colorado’s largest hemp brands doesn’t see the USDA’s changes as a hindrance, welcoming the long-awaited federal guidance. According to Derek Thomas, vice president of business development for Veritas Farms, the USDA’s regulations will usher in a more defined and legal marketplace nationwide, which in turn will help Colorado’s hemp industry grow.

“Inside of the Colorado ecosystem, not much is going to change. Colorado has had a very robust legislative framework from the onset, and a lot of states have replicated that model,” he says. “Not a lot in Colorado will change too much. However, outside of Colorado, things like interstate commerce will see a lot less restriction from the federal government.”

With the USDA nearing completion of its hemp regulations, Thomas says the next domino that must fall is held by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal body responsible for regulating products with CBD and other cannabinoids derived from hemp. Currently, the FDA views CBD as an illegal ingredient for products meant for human and animal consumption, but admits that the agency lacks resources to enforce the policy as the largely unregulated CBD industry booms.

Veritas has deals with national drugstore chains to sell its CBD-infused lotions and topicals (products that are legal under FDA standards), but Thomas says that finding national carriers to sell its CBD tinctures and edibles is much harder in the current landscape.

“The big piece that is lingering now from the federal government is the FDA,” he says. “Most national chains are sticking to the wait-and-see model for guidance form the FDA, but we’ve seen a lot of regional retailers take interest in CBD ingestibles as we wait.”

Toke of the Town

Why One of Colorado’s Early Potrepreneurs Went East

Colorado is no longer the only player in recreational cannabis, and early potreprenuers are branching out as  legalization efforts claim victories around the country.

Meg Sanders served as CEO of Mindful during the Colorado and Illinois dispensary chain’s quick expansion post-2014; after leaving her day-to-day role with the company, she set her sights on Massachusetts. Still an owner of Mindful, Sanders has been on the East Coast lately, preparing to open three cannabis storefronts under her new Canna Provisions brand.

We recently caught up with her to learn more about her journey through legal pot and what she has planned for the future.

Westword: How’d you get your start in legal cannabis?

Meg Sanders: I had hit the proverbial glass ceiling in my previous career as a compliance manager with a small investment firm and was looking for something else that would stretch my talents instead of stifling them. I have a strong entrepreneurial bent — I had previously started a clothing company — and there was nothing more entrepreneurial than jumping into the cannabis industry at its very beginning. Also, I had a very strong personal experience with cannabis and came to see its value when a family member used it medicinally to make their exit from this world less painful and with more dignity.

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So all those things created a perfect storm, and I reached out to an old college friend who had made an investment in a cannabis business and needed help getting a handle on compliance and financial issues. My focused compliance role turned into a baptism by fire into the entirety of the business, and I ended up taking on a larger operational role and then quickly becoming CEO of the company that would eventually become Mindful.

You became well known for starting Mindful dispensaries, but there was a report of you leaving the company in 2018. But I also see you’re still listed as owner of Mindful online. What’s your current relationship with the company?

Yes, I did leave Mindful as a day-to-day operator in 2016 but am still an owner, as is my partner, Erik Williams. As you know, ownership laws in Colorado made expansion and investment very difficult for a long time, and there was a strong demand for experienced, successful operators and consultants throughout the country in really exciting new markets. Erik had already been consulting around the country, so I had a great insight into the deluge of great opportunities, and I found it incredibly intriguing. In the 2016 elections, there was only one clear winner in America, and that was cannabis — and given the huge dearth of experienced professionals that were needed, Erik and I formed Will & Way Consulting.

Mindful has four dispensaries in Colorado.EXPAND

Mindful has four dispensaries in Colorado.

Scott Lentz

I hear you opened a new dispensary on the East Coast. How was that process?

We did recently open a new dispensary in Lee, Massachusetts, called Canna Provisions; this is the first of three dispensaries we intend to open in quick succession here. We are incredibly excited about this company and these dispensaries, as it is the culmination and strict adherence to all of the best practices, values and ideals that we hold. This is the best of the best of anything we have ever done.

The process here in Massachusetts has been at least as good, if not better, than any other state that rolled out adult-use cannabis — and we have seen all of them firsthand. They’re making sure operators do what they say they will do, and really hold their feet to the fire. This weeds out the good and compliant operators from the mere slick talkers. I would also add that Massachusetts’s social equity provisions should be a model for the country, though there are still some kinks to work out, and more existing businesses need to commit to forwarding the program.

Why open a dispensary with a different name?

As for the name, we have often referred to our “cannabis journey” and recognized that everyone has their own unique version of that. And we know that bettering your cannabis journey means preparing with the right and best cannabis provisions — Canna Provisions. What we have created is something that fits perfectly in this place, the Berkshires, which is so beautiful. You should come visit!

Where do you see Colorado’s cannabis industry going now that publicly traded companies are allowed here and more states have legalized?

Colorado is a mature market, so I don’t see a lot of changes taking place except for changes in ownership. The profitable companies will quickly be scooped up by public companies, or they will go the long and perilous road of trying to go public, which is not necessarily a good thing. I have seen firsthand many, many people in this industry who are doing all they can to turn this plant into a mere commodity, care only about the bottom line, and are derisive of their patients and customers, referring to them as “users” while proudly proclaiming that they have never tried cannabis themselves. Unfortunately, in my experience, public companies bring a lot more of those passionless folks into the space — some, not all.

The cannabis industry received positive coverage early on about its share of female executives, but more recent reports have shown a decline in those numbers. What have you noticed on the ground floor?

What I have seen on the ground is not nearly enough female executives. That is a strategic mistake, given the demographics of existing and projected cannabis consumers and the household controls of spending falling primarily on women. I think the decline in numbers is also related to the public-company question you asked previously; unfortunately, the executive teams are tending to look more and more like the Wall Street and investment-banking firms that are investing in them. This is a capital-intensive business, and my own experience is that, typically, I have been the only woman around a table with all men, with very few exceptions.

As a growing and new industry across most of the country, does legal cannabis still have a chance to have more diversity in executive/ownership roles?

Yes, but only if these three necessary players truly commit to making that a priority: the diverse populations; the governing bodies; and the existing businesses. Where those groups look across the table and see competition or the enemy, it will not happen. Where those groups look across the table and see partners for a better cannabis industry, we see the potential for success.

Toke of the Town

Colorado’s Marijuana Laws Are About to Change…Big Time

Coloradans voted for major change in November 2012, when they approved Amendment 64 and legalized recreational cannabis. Now Colorado lawmakers have approved changes that will prove almost as momentous.

Measures opening the state to social pot use and commercial cannabis delivery, as well as approving new medical conditions for medical marijuana, all passed the Colorado General Assembly this session. But even more changes could come through less sexy bills that address sunsetting laws in the state’s medical marijuana program and pot industry. These bills would create new business licenses, along with new opportunities for medical marijuana access; regulations would be eased for cannabis business owners and employees alike.

Now that the smoke of the 2019 legislative session has cleared, we’ve highlighted some of the most anticipated changes to Colorado cannabis:

Legal social consumption could finally arrive
Finding places to legally consume cannabis outside of a private home is difficult in Colorado, where public pot use is banned by the state constitution. But thanks to the passage of House Bill 1230, businesses like dispensaries, restaurants, hotels, music venues and more could soon apply for social pot use permits. There are still some catches, though: Governor Jared Polis hasn’t signed the bill yet (although proponents expect him to), and if/when he does, local governments must still opt in to the program. And one state rule won’t change: No establishment allowing pot use will be able to sell alcohol, too.

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Delivery will likely be legal soon
With the approval of House Bill 1234, we could get cannabis delivered to our doorsteps within the next two years. We won’t see the first stages of this until 2020, when only medical marijuana delivery will be allowed. Recreational delivery could start as early as 2021. Polis still needs to sign this bill, and if/when he does, municipalities will have to opt in to this program, too.

Medical marijuana could soon be recommend as an opioid alternative
In a move that could open up the state’s medical marijuana program to thousands, the legislature passed Senate Bill 13, also known as the MMJ for opiods bill. If signed by Polis (advocates believe he will), the measure would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana in lieu of opioid medications — which could help curb Colorado’s opioid epidemic. The MMJ prescription length would be determined by the recommending doctor instead of the standard one-year that patients with other conditions currently receive.

Autism is now a medical marijuana condition
A similar bill passed through the legislature with relative ease in 2018, but then-Governor John Hickenlooper vetoed the measure. However, proponents and parents of autistic children were able to get more expansive language approved in 2019, and House Bill 1028 has already been signed by Polis, making it law and adding autism to the state’s list of medical marijuana conditions.

The industry will be open to outside investors and publicly traded companies
After another Hickenlooper veto in 2018, House Bill 1090 proposed opening the state’s cannabis industry to out-of-state investors and capital, including publicly held companies and large venture funds. The bill would also permit investors to own smaller stakes (less than 10 percent) in a cannabis business. Polis is expected to sign the bill after criticizing Hickenlooper’s veto last year.

Colorado's marijuana laws were set to expire in 2019, so lawmakers extended and updated them for the next eight years.EXPAND

Colorado’s marijuana laws were set to expire in 2019, so lawmakers extended and updated them for the next eight years.

Jacquleine Collins

More doctors, dentists (and some nurses) would be able recommend medical marijuana
An amendment added to the sunsetting medical marijuana bill would allow MMJ recommendations by people with a “valid license to practice within his or her scope of practice.” Currently, only licensed physicians can recommend medical marijuana, but this move would allow dentists, advanced nurse practitioners and other specialized doctors and advanced healthcare professionals to recommend medical marijuana if it falls within their scopes of practice.

Micro business licenses could diversify the industry
This measure would create “accelerator licenses,” which would be reserved for people who have lived in low-income areas of Colorado for five of the past ten years. Known as micro licenses around the industry, they’d enable these potrepreneurs to use the facilities of established companies as they research and create their own cannabis products, which they would completely own. The state Marijuana Enforcement Division still has a lot of work to do on on the details, but minority entrepreneur advocates are excited about this one, which could open up the industry.

Cannabis inhalers are set up for easier regulation
A popular device for medical patients and recreational users looking for fast effects, CBD and THC inhalers were under regulatory scrutiny in 2018 after the MED deemed them a “non-conforming product”: a cannabis product that could not be smoked, vaporized or consumed orally. The status meant that companies producing inhalers were subject to FDA-like regulations, which require long, costly stages of research and development, as well as product testing. Under the rewritten recreational marijuana bill, inhalers will now be regulated and tested in the same manner as vaporizers.

Sales incentives for employees
Believe it or not, most cannabis employees in Colorado can’t legally receive sales-based incentive bonuses at work, out of fear that it would peddling federally illegal substances. (There are ways around it, but companies have to get clever.) The recreational sunset bill would allow companies to do this in the clear, and give the industry more protection from unnecessary state enforcement.

Lab testing of cannabis products will probably change
A sore subject for most cannabis producers, lab testing results for potency and containments can fluctuate from lab to lab. Although the amendment is brief and leaves a lot of rule-making to the MED, language in the recreational sunset bill would require the MED to “prevent obsolete testing” of medical and recreational products. What will that look like? We’ll see.

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Colorado’s Nov. 6 general election is just 15 days away!

The state’s choice of governor will likely have a huge impact on state cannabis policy

Vote counting officially begins today, October 22, for the upcoming general election, which takes place on November 6. Many voters received ballots over the last several days by mail. The race for governor includes noted cannabis policy champion Congressman Jared Polis, whom MPP rates with an A+ grade.

Current Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is term-limited and must step down, and between the major party candidates, Jared Polis (D) has the clear advantage when it comes for support for good cannabis policy. He is the only candidate who supported the legalization initiative in 2012 and has been a strong advocate for improving federal law as Congressman for U.S. House District 2. Among other achievements in Congress, he started the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

By contrast, current State Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R) offers only limited support at best for cannabis policy reform. He voiced support for stricter regulations for medical marijuana during a recent public forum and referred to Polis’ stance as a “radical extreme plan.” MPP gives him a C.

The positions of two other candidates, Bill Hammons of the Unity Party of Colorado and Scott Helker of the Libertarian party, are unclear. Neither candidate has a prior voting record on cannabis legislation, nor public statements on cannabis policy.

For more information on Colorado’s Election Day, be sure to visit the state’s elections website here. And most of all, be sure to vote this general election in Colorado!

The post Colorado’s Nov. 6 general election is just 15 days away! appeared first on MPP Blog.

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LivWell’s John Lord on Colorado’s Marijuana Future, Canada and More

Since legal sales of recreational cannabis started in Colorado on January 1, 2014, some potrepreneurs have done very well. As owner of LivWell Enlightened Health, one of the state’s (and country’s) largest dispensary chains, John Lord looks up to few in the world of legal cannabis.

The New Zealand native has guided the growth of his company to include fourteen Colorado pot shops, as well as a dispensary in Oregon and partnerships in Canada’s emerging legal market. The first licensed pot business to feature Snoop Dogg’s branded cannabis line, LivWell is no stranger to putting itself out there, so we hit up Lord to see what his team has been up to.

Westword: You’re from New Zealand. How does the culture around cannabis differ there compared to Colorado?

John Lord: While it looks like the people of New Zealand may get a chance to vote for cannabis legalization in the next year or two, right now the culture around cannabis there largely resembles what it was like here in Colorado before legalization. Cannabis consumption has long been part of society, just as it has been in the U.S., but consumers are currently stigmatized and criminalized. In both New Zealand and America, there remains significant misinformation regarding the actual facts surrounding cannabis. And just like we experienced here in Colorado, there is a growing groundswell of people who are no longer buying that. More and more Kiwis are determined to achieve cannabis legalization so that their communities can reap the many benefits that we have seen here in Colorado: patients with access to the medicine they need, criminals losing market share to legitimate business, local governments collecting taxes that benefit the community, economic opportunities for Kiwis, and so much more.

How has Colorado’s cannabis industry changed since 2014, when recreational sales began?

It may have only been four years ago, but the cannabis industry has evolved in numerous ways since 2014. When recreational sales first began, both the Marijuana Enforcement Division and cannabis entrepreneurs were still learning how to handle the emergence of this brand-new industry. On the regulatory side, we saw new rules and regulations being promulgated at a furious pace. In 2015, for example, there were approximately 150 new or revised cannabis regulations. … That means we had a new rule to follow, on average, every 2.5 days. Clearly that pace was unsustainable, and since then, the regulators and elected officials have worked with industry representatives to build a robust regulatory regime. Thanks to these efforts, Colorado is now a model for other states looking to build effective legal cannabis systems.

On the industry side, we have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of high-quality production, retail design, product innovation and involvement in our local communities. Whereas before 2014, most cannabis companies had limited business experience to draw upon and were restricted in terms of the third-party vendors with which we could work, today we operate in the most mature cannabis market in the world, complete with an ecosystem of ancillary businesses that have helped us grow and improve. Cannabis companies in Colorado have learned to cooperate more with one another for the overall improvement of our industry, and we have become more involved in supporting the communities in which we operate through volunteer and philanthropic efforts across the state. In 2014, Colorado was a pioneer in the cannabis industry. Today Colorado is the clear national leader from which all other states and cannabis companies strive to learn.

Inside one of LivWell's fourteen Colorado locations.

Inside one of LivWell’s fourteen Colorado locations.

Courtesy of LivWell

Other than the whole federal prohibition thing, what are some challenges that legal cannabis expansion faces in America?

The restrictions we face due to 280E taxation and the continued difficulties companies have getting access to banking services are the two greatest challenges legal cannabis expansion faces in America. Paying upwards of an 80 percent effective federal tax rate is simply not sustainable for any business in the long run, as I’m sure any reasonable person would agree. In the new markets just opening up, from California to Michigan and beyond, a whole new crop of cannabis entrepreneurs is suddenly running headlong into this anachronism in our tax code and wondering how they can possibly make their dreams for a legal cannabis business work.

Similarly, the difficulty many cannabis businesses face when it comes to banking services limits our growth and presents a serious problem for public safety. Currently, cannabis companies not only have to operate in cash, as credit-card processors refuse to work with us, but most are unable to deposit that cash with a banking institution. Both of these issues increase the risk of theft and non-compliance, inhibit growth, and limit the ability of local governments to effectively track and tax the businesses under their purview. In order for legal cannabis to work in the long run, we need federal action that allows cannabis companies to operate just like any other business in any other industry. We are hopeful that federal officials recognize this problem, and fortunately it would seem more and more of them do. One need look no further than our own Senator Cory Gardner and the leadership he has been providing on these issues at the federal level.

And what about Colorado’s industry, specifically?

As the most mature cannabis market in the country, Colorado has not only led the way in terms of developing effective, common-sense regulations and building a sophisticated, responsible industry, but we have also been among the first to experience the numerous consequences of legalization. While the experience has been overwhelmingly positive in my view, there are of course problem areas we must continue paying attention to. First, the existence of criminal- and gray-market operators who use legalization as a cover for their illicit activities is something no one in the legal cannabis industry wants to see, and we will continue to work with policy-makers and law enforcement to curtail gray-market and black-market criminal activity as we have in the past. Second, while the most recent research indicates that we are not seeing the hyperbolic predictions of prohibitionists come to pass, we must continue and increase our efforts to educate the public about responsible cannabis use.

LivWell recently announced a partnership with Canadian cannabis production company 51st Parallel. How do you see Canada’s legal system comparing to Colorado’s?

With Canada looking to legalize cannabis at a national level, the Canadian market will differ in significant ways from Colorado. First and most important, Canadian cannabis companies will avoid many of the challenges Colorado cannabis companies face, namely 280E taxation, limits on banking and an uncertain policy environment in which to do business. The Canadian market will also potentially be much larger, given the continued restrictions on interstate commerce for cannabis in America. In Canada, the market could be six to seven times as large. Also, Canada is likely to create a different kind of regulatory system than what we have in Colorado, if only because they will have places like Colorado to learn from. Already, we can see there will be some differences with regard to how products are produced and marketed, so we’ll see what other changes they have in store.

Are there any other countries (or states in the U.S.) that could become a destination point for LivWell in the future?

Stay tuned!

Where do you see Colorado cannabis in five years?

In this industry, we live in dog years. Five years is longer than we’ve had an adult-use market. It’s impossible to predict what will happen next year, much less five years from now. That being said, I expect that the industry will continue to mature, professionalize, and be a vital part of Colorado’s economy and culture. And I expect LivWell Enlightened Health to continue to help lead the way!

Toke of the Town

Where Will Colorado’s Pot Industry Be in 2022?

Although Colorado’s legal cannabis industry has maintained a steady pace of increasing revenues over the years, a new market report from one of pot’s leading economic-research teams says it could be time to prepare for a plateau.

In BDS Analytics and Arcview‘s sixth annual State of Legal Marijuana Markets report, the two cannabis firms dive into each state with medical or recreational cannabis programs. Arcview, known for its investment and market research, notes that it’s never had so many states to cover in its report — and all that new competition will likely draw tourist buyers into new regions as they come online, including Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Canada and possibly Maine.

“With previous figures estimating one-in-three sales coming from out-of-state travelers, Colorado may have a lot to lose from increased U.S. market competition,” the report reads. “Many of those travelers may now have access closer to home, or will in the near future, and any increase in taxes — therefore an increase in price —will disincentivize cannabis tourism within a region.”

Denver is currently considering raising its cannabis sales tax by 2 percent to fund affordable-housing efforts, while in 2017 the Colorado Legislature approved raising the state’s marijuana special sales tax rate from 10 percent to 15 percent. The report sees these tax hikes as a potential reason for consumers to shift back to the illegal market.

“The extra tax burden will likely further slow the erosion of the illicit market. That erosion had already begun to slow substantially in 2017 as the legal market only grew 15 percent after booming at a 58 percent [compound annual growth rate] from 2013 to 2016,” the report reads. “Further tax increases may also prove counterproductive. With more legal markets coming online every year, the need for cannabis tourists to travel to the early-adoption states, like Colorado and Washington, is diminished.”

However, data gathered by BDS also notes that Colorado’s illegal cannabis market was responsible for the smallest share of consumer spending out of all the states surveyed, at 33 percent — over 50 percent lower than the national average.

Where Will Colorado's Pot Industry Be in 2022? (5)

Courtesy of Arcview and BDS Analytics

Colorado has already seen declining sales in 2018, in both April and May, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. May’s revenue numbers also declined from the same month the year before, and included the lowest amount for medical marijuana sales since the DOR began tracking sales figures in 2014.

Where Will Colorado's Pot Industry Be in 2022? (3)

Courtesy of Arcview and BDS Analytics

Although Arcview believes Colorado’s pot revenue will post a steady growth rate of around $ 200 million per year from 2017 to 2022, the firm predicts that MMJ patients will fall by over 14 percent during the same period.

Where Will Colorado's Pot Industry Be in 2022? (2)

Courtesy of Arcview and BDS Analytics

Cheaper cannabis could also play a role in Colorado’s forecasted revenue slowing. The DOR recently estimated that a pound of wholesale commercial cannabis flower costs $ 846 on average, down from $ 2,007 in 2015. That drastic drop has trickled down to retail pricing, too, according to dispensary menu service WikiLeaf. Using data from dispensaries in Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins, WikiLeaf found the average price per gram was just $ 9.43 as of 2018, with the average price per eighth at $ 28.82, and ounces sitting at $ 168.20.

Grams of trim and shake can go as low as 50 cents in Colorado Springs, according to WikiLeaf founder Dan Nelson, while one dispensary in Denver recently charged $ 49 for a gram. These different levels of quality have made it harder to monitor standard pot prices, he says.

“We thought the highs and lows would come together eventually because the markets matured so much over the past couple of years — but then you’re dealing with different tiers of qualities. You have shake, you have top-shelf flower, and even [hash-infused] caviar,” Nelson explains. “We thought it was interesting to see the low end of things. Low-quality stuff like shake or trim is going for, like, $ 2 a gram.”

Toke of the Town

What Are Colorado’s Congressional Reps Doing to Protect the Marijuana Industry?

Members of Congress joined legal cannabis-industry representatives in front of the United States Capitol today, May 23, calling for an end to federal pot prohibition. Among the lawmakers appearing in solidarity with the National Cannabis Industry Association were Colorado representatives Diana DeGette and Jared Polis.

“There are 34,000 Coloradans who are licensed to work in this industry, so you can imagine how dismayed everyone in Colorado was when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was going to rescind the Cole Memo,” DeGette told the gathering. “I can say, I have never seen our delegation work so quickly to fix something in a bipartisan way.”

Federal lawmakers in states with legal cannabis have been on the offensive since Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum, an Obama-era set of federal guidelines intended to protect state-legalized pot users and businesses, back in January. Shortly after the Cole memo’s revocation, DeGette set up a conference call with other congressional delegates from the state, including Senator Cory Gardner and Robert Troyer, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, to discuss why federal prosecutors shouldn’t change their approach to federal cannabis prosecutions.

Also in attendance at the May 23 action were representatives Earl Blumenauer (Oregon), Matt Gaetz (Florida), Ruben Gallego (Arizona), Barbara Lee (California), Lou Correa (California) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (Washington, D.C.), who all spoke about their legislative efforts to protect their jurisdictions from federal persecution for choosing to legalize different forms of cannabis.

DeGette introduced her Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act in the House in 2017; it’s designed to amend the Controlled Substances Act to prevent it from superseding any state law legalizing cannabis. The measure has been stuck in a House subcommittee for nearly a year, but DeGette says she feels that support for legal pot in D.C. — something that was non-existent fifteen years ago — has risen sharply as of late. “As public awareness of these issues grows, you’re getting a much better reception when you come to the Hill,” she told NCIA members. “We stand ready, willing and able to help you.”

Polis, who founded Congress’s first Cannabis Caucus with Blumenauer last year, has been championing his Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act since 2015 and similar measures since 2013. The bill would order the U.S. Department of Justice to transfer marijuana regulation from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which enforce federal alcohol regulations. The proposal met with a lukewarm reception from the majority of his colleagues, though, and has been stuck in a subcommittee since April 2017.

Like DeGette, Polis said that he’s noticed the pot industry’s growing power on Capitol Hill as it brings more revenue to the 29 states that have legalized some form of the plant. “Ten years ago, when [Representative Blumenauer] and I were advocating for marijuana legalization at the federal level, we were met with a lot of stinkers. No one is laughing anymore,” Polis told the gathering. “Our next challenge is to take the model that Colorado voters put in place and allow other states free of federal interference to follow suit.”

Other bills being pushed by members of Congress attending the NCIA event include Lee’s REFER Act of 2018; REFER would prohibit federal funds from being used to prosecute law-compliant cannabis users and businesses in states where the plant is legal, and would protect banks and financial institutions working with those businesses from federal charges. Introduced by Lee in January, it hasn’t seen any action since then.

Gaetz, the only Republican to attend the NCIA gathering, is currently cosponsoring the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018. Introduced in April, it’s on the House calendar for consideration. If passed, it would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct and support medical marijuana research while setting up a cannabis delivery system for veterans with conditions such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Update: This story has been updated to add the correct date for when Polis introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

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Marijuana Tax Windfall Isn’t Fixing Colorado’s Education Funding Gap

In this April 16, 2018 photo, Washington, D.C., native Callie Gonyea, a second-year teacher at Ellis Elementary School in Denver, joined about 400 other teachers at a protest at the Colorado state Capitol. Colorado teachers are calling for higher salaries and increase funding for schools, prompting some voters to question where the state’s taxes on […]

Colorado’s February Pot Sales Figures the Lowest in a Year

February was the Colorado cannabis industry’s lowest-selling month in a year, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue, but that wasn’t surprising, given overall trends since recreational marijuana was legalized. Medical marijuana sales figures, however, might be more significant.

February Pot Sales Figures the Lowest in a Year (2)

Colorado Department of Revenue

Overall sales for the cannabis industry were $ 112.5 million in February, down $ 5.48 million from the month before but nearly $ 6 million higher than February 2017. And if past performance is any indication, sales figures should rebound in March.

According to the DOR, Colorado cannabis sales have dropped from January to February every year since 2014, when retail sales began, then shot back up in March. January and March both have three more days than February (except during leap years). While that might not seem like a big difference, it’s a 10 percent increase in sales opportunities, but pot revenue dropped less than 5 percent between January and February.

Retail sales totaled $ 85.9 million in February 2018, while medical sales were just $ 26.6 million — the lowest figure since the DOR began tracking medical sales figures in 2014.

Toke of the Town

Colorado’s Most Anti-Pot Newspaper Launches New Attack on Marijuana

The Colorado Springs Gazette, owned by conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz, has earned a reputation as the most overtly anti-marijuana major newspaper in the state. And while the first entry in a new series presented beneath the banner “Is Colorado better off five years after legalizing marijuana?” is an improvement over an anti-pot screed from nearly three years ago that was partially penned by a prominent and devoted cannabis hater, it still focuses almost entirely on bad news.

Back in March 2015, as we’ve reported, the Gazette launched “Clearing the Haze,” which we described at the time as “a four-day marijuana-hating jeremiad” co-authored by Christine Tatum, the wife of Dr. Christian Thurstone, one of the area’s most prominent physicians against greater access to cannabis by young people.

The article acknowledged Tatum’s connection to Thurstone, but it failed to point out that she’s a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization who’d stirred controversy by suggesting pot links to events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the killings at Columbine High School.

Here’s a Tatum Facebook post about the former….

Colorado's Most Anti-Pot Newspaper Launches New Attack on Marijuana

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…and the latter:

Colorado's Most Anti-Pot Newspaper Launches New Attack on Marijuana

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Numerous news organizations were critical of an advocate such as Tatum writing what was presented to readers as an objective look at marijuana in Colorado — and she fired back via social media.

One Tatum post read in part:

Newsrooms see nothing wrong with allowing pot users to analyze and report on drug policy and write pro-weed columns and tell us how to baste our Thanksgiving turkeys with THC.

And then a journalist whose years of research have led her to very different conclusions comes along, and she’s married to a doctor who stands against legalization with every major medical society in the developed world, and she has spent years personally watching the travesties these pot-loving journalists clearly don’t want to bother reporting, and she doesn’t hide her views and ensures they’re clearly marked as perspective. THEN everyone blows up with cries of lapses of journalism ethics when she speaks or writes on the subject.

It’s hard for me to take them seriously.

Many observers felt the same about the series, especially when, a few months later, the Gazette had to admit that marijuana burglaries were down and revenues were up in El Paso County, which encompasses Colorado Springs.

Phil Anchutz owns the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Phil Anchutz owns the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Free Lunch Photography file photo

After the reception to “Clearing the Haze,” the Gazette generally stuck to covering marijuana on an article-by-article basis, as opposed to delivering major salvos. But that changed yesterday, when the paper told readers that “The Gazette is launching a series of stories that will take a hard look over the next few months at legalization’s lessons, exploring what the unintended consequences and unexpected complications have been of this national experiment.”

Episode one of the series is headlined “Black market marijuana busts nearly quadruple under recreational legalization,” and it’s much more credible than “Clearing the Haze” thanks largely to its author, David Olinger, a former member of the Denver Post, and lead researcher Burt Hubbard, a veteran of the Rocky Mountain News and the Post.

Nonetheless, the tone of the piece is epitomized by its opening paragraphs:

Four years after legal recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper says the black market for marijuana in the state is shrinking and predicted that it “will be largely gone” in a few years.

But new statistics show that arrests for the production of black market pot increased by 380 percent in the 2014-16 time frame, and Colorado law enforcement agencies say they are battling a boom in illegal marijuana cultivation by sometimes violent groups of criminals who rake in millions of dollars by exporting what they grow.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety, which tracks various marijuana-related statistics, found that manufacturing arrests leapt from 126 in 2014 to 476 in 2016, according to new state data obtained by The Gazette. Illegal manufacturing encompasses the unlicensed making of THC-laced products, as well as large, hidden growing operations where plant counts far exceed those allowed by state law….

A few advocates appear in the text that follows, including Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. But their cameos are buried beneath accounts of arrests and violence that suggests that pot legalization has turned Colorado into a law enforcement hellscape.

Perhaps future items will highlight positives since the November 2012 passage of Amendment 64, which sanctioned limited sales of recreational marijuana in the state. But you can bet those familiar with the Gazette under Anschutz aren’t holding their breath.

Toke of the Town

Colorado’s Most-Read Marijuana Stories in 2017

Approved by Colorado voters in November 2012, legal marijuana is now becoming mainstream in Colorado – but not without its fair share of controversy. New laws and regulations surrounding medical and recreational pot, a recent rise in legalization opponents thanks to United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s fear-mongering actions, and consolidation in Denver’s dispensary scene have all generated plenty of buzz. For a rundown of what cannabis issues people have been talking about most this year, check out our ten most-read pot stories of 2017:

A slab of shatter, a popular cannabis concentrate.

A slab of shatter, a popular cannabis concentrate.

Lindsey Bartlett

1. “Concentrate! Here’s the Difference Between Shatter, Budder, Crumble and More”

There used to be just a few varieties of concentrates, and now there are many, many more. Read more here.

2. “Dear USA Today: Marijuana Hasn’t Devastated Colorado”

In August, USA Today published an op-ed titled “Marijuana Devastated Colorado, Don’t Legalize It Nationally,” written by Jeff Hunt, the vice president of public policy at Colorado Christian University, who continues to advocate against pot. Read more here.

3. “Eleven States Considering Pot Laws In 2017”

Four states legalized recreational marijuana during 2016, leading at least eleven to consider changing their laws this year. Read more here.

4. “Legal Cannabis Opponents Unite at Colorado Christian to Fight Pot Industry”

Coloradans against the legalization of cannabis found their collective voice at a symposium of the Centennial Institute and Colorado Christian University on October 6, 2017. Read more here.

Buddies Wellness had plants riddled with mites and mold in July 2017, according to the Denver Department of Environmental Health.

Buddies Wellness had plants riddled with mites and mold in July 2017, according to the Denver Department of Environmental Health.

Denver Department of Environmental Health

5. “Six Places to Buy Marijuana Late at Night in the Denver Metro Area”

Before May 1, 2017, Denver dispensaries were only allowed to be open until 7 p.m. In spring, 10 p.m. became the new deadline. Read more here.

6. “Op Ed: Keep Your Hands Off Marijuana, Jeff Sessions”

A Colorado mother tells her story of how cannabis helped her daughter in a letter directed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Read more here.

7. “The Six Largest Dispensary Chains in Colorado”

There are about 500 retail dispensary licenses in the state, with more than a third of those having addresses in Denver. Read more here.

8. “Jeff Sessions Finally Replies to John Hickenlooper’s Marijuana Letter”

On April 3, 2017, the governors of four states with recreational cannabis businesses up and running at the time sent a letter to Jeff Sessions. In August, he replied. Read more here.

9. “Denver Issues First Recall for Mite-Infested, Moldy Marijuana”

Buddies Wellness LLC had two recalls within a week in July. Read more here.

10. “Two of Colorado’s Largest Dispensary Chains Continue to Grow”

Native Roots and the Green Solution continued to grow by opening new stores before the holiday season. Read more here.

Toke of the Town

Our Ten Favorite Ask a Stoner Questions Since Colorado’s Legalization

Shortly after Amendment 64 passed on November 6, 2012, the flood of questions began. How much pot can I buy from a dispensary at one time? How many plants can I grow in my house? Why do I want to eat half my body weight in fried chicken after I smoke? To answer all of these inquiries effectively, Westword created a new position: the Stoner.

Though he doesn’t look like the sharpest tool in the shed, our Stoner has been here for all of your cannabis questions since it was legalized recreationally. Questions have ranged far and wide in the five years since voters spoke up (and toked up); keep reading for links to the the ten most interesting, relevant and ridiculous we’ve received:

Toke of the Town

Visit Colorado’s Number-One Spot for Busting Foreign Marijuana Growers

The headline of a post published in this space last year posed the question, “Is Pueblo the Drug Bust Capital of Colorado?” And in recent months, law enforcement in the community has answered this question with a resounding “Yes,” particularly when it comes to marijuana crimes with an international flavor. In a series of raids over the past four months, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office, working in conjunction with other agencies, has seized more than 8,000 cannabis plants at allegedly illegal grows associated with foreign nationals. Among those arrested as part of the operations were eight men from Mexico and four from Cuba.

“This is another example of people coming from out of state to grow marijuana illegally to then sell it on the black market,” said Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk M. Taylor in a statement. He added, “What’s concerning to me is they are infiltrating nearly every corner of our county with this type of illegal activity.”

Plenty of Pueblo-area marijuana busts covered in this space have involved Americans, though many of them weren’t originally from Colorado. On April 5, 2016, for example, we told you about the arrest of nine men from Florida for illegal pot grows. And a roundup published just over three weeks later, on April 27, collected information about 22 Pueblo busts and 4,600 plants seized in just over a month; three people in a family whose members had come to Colorado from both Florida and Tennessee were among those fitted for cuffs.

At the same time, Sheriff Taylor has remained concerned about what he sees as the weed-related activities of Mexican drug enterprises in the Pueblo area. The PCSO recently maintained that four outdoor grows discovered in or near the San Isabel National Forest over the past five years were tied to cartels. In 2012, two grows were shut down, with 9,400 plants seized in the process. In October 2015, approximately 2,400 plants were spotted near the forest’s Millset Trail. And in July 2016, 1,000 plants were uprooted from private property near Table Top Mountain.

Late June brought a fifth raid in this series. Two separate fields on U.S. Forest Service land near Huckleberry Hills, just outside the Town of Rye, yielded 7,400 plants. Two people wearing camouflage clothing who were thought to be caring for the grow evaded arrest, and because they got away, no definitive statements were made about a cartel connection. But their bounty was hauled away, and the sheriff’s office estimated its value at $ 7 million.

This outdoor grow was located along Colorado Highway 96 West, just outside Pueblo.EXPAND

This outdoor grow was located along Colorado Highway 96 West, just outside Pueblo.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

Then, on October 2, the PCSO conducted another major operation near Colorado Highway 96 west, just outside Pueblo — and this time, there were plenty of people getting mug shots. One of them was a sixteen-year-old American who hasn’t been named publicly owing to his age. But eight others are from Mexico. They are:

• Juan Sanchez-Rodrigues, 21.
• Jose Beltran-Valdez, 64.
• Lorenzo Rodriguez-Paredes, 45.
• Luis Ramirez-Rueda, 39.
• Luis Moreno-Garibay, 24.
• Ramon Hernandez-Cruz, 26.
• Tomas Sanchez-Vasquez, 49.
• Eugenio Ramirez-Arreola, 42.

Here are photos of the men:

Eight of the nine people arrested for the Highway 96 outdoor marijuana grow.

Eight of the nine people arrested for the Highway 96 outdoor marijuana grow.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

After receiving a tip about marijuana growing on a forty-acre parcel along the highway, a search warrant was issued, and on the morning of the 2nd, PCSO detectives and deputies joined members of the SWAT team and agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as they rushed onto two separate pot fields. Three suspects vanished into the woods, but the nine others, one of whom is said to be “a previously deported felon who will now face additional federal charges,” were grabbed.

So, too, were the following: “Guns, several make-shift shelters, drying tables, drying lines, packaging materials as well as an elaborate irrigation system similar to those found in previous illegal outdoor grow operations that had cartel ties. There also was a complex watering system which included a well, operated by a large gas generator, a holding pond and a 300-gallon water storage tank.” In addition, 500 pounds’ worth of dried marijuana was on hand.

A week or so later came two more raids, both of which took place at residences in Pueblo — one on the 1800 block of 58th Lane and the second on the 500 block of Quail Road.

This photo is from the first residence….

Inside the marijuana grow on the 1800 block of 58th Lane.

Inside the marijuana grow on the 1800 block of 58th Lane.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

…while this shot was snapped at the second:

A photo taken inside a property on the 5000 block of Quail Road.

A photo taken inside a property on the 5000 block of Quail Road.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

The total number of plants came to 365; the PCSO values them at $ 1 million. Also seized were five weapons and equipment — “elaborate lighting and irrigation systems to specifically grow marijuana.”

Arrested at the first home were Jose Alberto Gonzalez, 31….

The mug shot of Jose Alberto Gonzalez.

The mug shot of Jose Alberto Gonzalez.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

Sergio Luis Martinez-Suarez, 44….

Sergio Luis Martinez-Suarez wasn't quite ready for his close-up.

Sergio Luis Martinez-Suarez wasn’t quite ready for his close-up.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

…and Yoandris Bacallao-Ramos, 40.

Yoandris Bacallao-Ramos is one of four Cuban nationals to be arrested on marijuana charges this month.

Yoandris Bacallao-Ramos is one of four Cuban nationals to be arrested on marijuana charges this month.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

Found at the Quail Road address was Francisco Jose Sanchez, 50:

Francisco Jose Sanchez's booking photo.

Francisco Jose Sanchez’s booking photo.

Courtesy of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office

In addition to decrying the incursion into Pueblo of drug criminals from outside the U.S., Sheriff Taylor also struck an environmental note, saying that chemicals used for fertilizer and alterations made to the electrical and watering systems at the homes were hazardous.

What’s unclear about all this activity is whether the number of raids in Pueblo reflects an unusual amount of illegal marijuana activity there or Sheriff Taylor’s aggressiveness when it comes to focusing on the trade. Either way, though, Pueblo is far and away the number-one spot in Colorado for the arrest of foreign pot growers.

Don’t expect the local chamber of commerce to tout this achievement.

Toke of the Town