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Can Massachusetts Recreational Cannabis Survive Coronavirus?

Can Massachusetts Recreational Cannabis Survive Coronavirus?

What happens to a federally illegal business during a national pandemic?

We are all about to see what happens in real time. As Coronavirus rapidly spreads across the United States, businesses everywhere are shutting down.

Restaurants are only doing delivery and takeout, and the only other businesses allowed to operate are those marked as “essential”. Doctors offices, pharmacies and grocery stores are understandably essential, but states are also marking liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries essential.

But not all dispensaries are so lucky to get the essential treatment.

The dispensary dilemma

Nobody would really argue that medical dispensaries are not essential. Medical cannabis users must get a doctor’s recommendation to use it, making cannabis their medicine. But recreational cannabis dispensaries are a whole different monster.

Different taxes, different regulations, different requirements. Recreational and medical cannabis, though identical in actual product, have been split into two different industries due to the progression of cannabis advocacy. While medical cannabis is just that, medicine, recreational cannabis has been put in line more with alcohol.

But while those who suffer severe alcohol addiction can actually die if they don’t have alcohol — presumably the main reason liquor stores have been deemed essential — recreational cannabis users can go cold turkey relatively easy with little side effects. And that’s why they haven’t been deemed essential in several states.

Although California and Colorado, among others, have deemed all cannabis businesses essential, Massachusetts has made headlines for shutting down all recreational cannabis sales. While it might not seem like a big deal considering hundreds of businesses have had to close down, there’s one crucial difference between recreational cannabis businesses and all others; federal legality.

No federal assistance

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we all live and will live for quite some time. With a lot of businesses being forced to close, many have resorted to lay-offs, furloughs or completely closing down. In an effort to support small businesses, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27.

The legislation provides economic assistance to small businesses, in the form of interest free loans, a paycheck protection program and more. But this is a federal program, and a business that is considered illegal on the federal level can’t receive help from federal programs.

In other words, cannabis businesses both recreational and medical cannot receive any government assistance from the federal government. So while medical dispensaries have been deemed essential, recreational dispensaries in states like Massachusetts have not. So they are forced to close with no government assistance, leaving them with no option but to close down, lay-off or shut down completely.

To simplify, recreational dispensaries in states like Massachusetts are up shit creek without a paddle.

Can recreational cannabis survive Coronavirus?

Most recreational cannabis businesses might just have to tighten up a little bit over the next couple of months in most states. But the future is cloudy for recreational dispensaries in Massachusetts. If they can’t operate at all, they can’t make money, can’t pay rent on their location, and eventually can’t keep the business running.

It would be speculation to say that the governor of Massachusetts is doing this because of his lack of support for legal cannabis — even though it took Massachusetts over 3 years to open a recreational cannabis dispensary after legalizing in 2016 due to plenty of barriers — but it’s not hard to imagine a government official using a position of power to punish an industry they do not support.

Unlike other small businesses that might have to close down but can still receive government support, recreational cannabis dispensaries are pretty much on their own to make it through the Coronavirus pandemic, with no clear end in sight. It took four years for Massachusetts to get up and running with recreational cannabis, and it only took two weeks for the state to shut it all back down.

While the future is unclear, it’s going to be a tough road ahead for all cannabis businesses in the United States.

Are ALL Dispensaries Essential?

Are ALL Dispensaries Essential?

Cannabis dispensaries are being labeled “essential”. Should that also mean legal?

COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, has completely changed the way we all live. As much as we don’t want to admit it, our everyday lifestyles are changing pretty drastically and the nation, its states, and businesses big and small are all struggling to find a solution.

With several states beginning to shut down “non-essential” businesses, the decision has to be made what businesses are essential. There’s the obvious essential businesses like grocery stores, doctors offices and pharmacies.

But one business most people probably didn’t expect to be marked essential is cannabis dispensaries.

Cannabis dispensaries are essential?

While most states are shutting down all non-essential businesses, exceptions have been made for a variety of businesses in different states. Most states are permitting restaurants to stay open for carry-out only, and in Colorado, you can now get alcohol to go from restaurants that serve beer.

Now in Los Angeles, amid an entire state-wide stay-in order, cannabis dispensaries have been deemed essential businesses that can remain open.

Unfortunately for recreational users, the rule only applies to medical dispensaries, which makes sense. People with a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis, especially those with serious or debilitating conditions still need access to their medicine.

But if medical dispensaries are essential, and New York has even deemed liquor stores essential, then why shouldn’t recreational dispensaries be essential too?

The question that this really beckons to be answered though, is if medical cannabis dispensaries are essential businesses, why shouldn’t they be federally legal?

A sign we should legalize?

The fact that state governments across the country have deemed medical cannabis dispensaries essential and sales of recreational cannabis have skyrocketed over the past two weeks should be a sign that it is a product that is in great demand, right?

But that doesn’t mean recreational cannabis is as essential as medical cannabis, and as much as we hate to say it here at The Real Dirt, even alcohol.

The reason liquor stores are being permitted to remain open is likely due to the 15 million people across the country who suffer from alcoholism, and a smaller minority that suffers from serious addiction that could lead to serious health problems if they were to quit drinking cold-turkey.

If we continue to insist that cannabis is non-addictive (or at least not as harmfully addictive as alcohol and other pharmaceuticals), then there is no reason for recreational cannabis businesses to be deemed essential.

Nobody needs recreational cannabis to survive, unlike those with medical cards who could seriously rely on it. Where the debate lies, is in the differences between medical and recreational cannabis and how the line drawn between the two is so subtle and blurry.

Where does this lead?

A day after I started writing this, Colorado announced a stay-in-order, including the closure of liquor stores and recreational dispensaries. Not even four hours later, they were forced to walk it back.

There was so much backlash that the Governor of Colorado has now made recreational dispensaries and liquor stores essential businesses.

So while only medical dispensaries are deemed essential in California, recreational dispensaries are added to that list in Colorado. If other states follow behind Colorado and include recreational and medical dispensaries in their essential business orders, it could be a big bargaining chip in the fight for legalization.

If every state with medical and legal cannabis deems the businesses as essential — just as essential as grocery stores, doctor offices, and pharmacies — then how someone seriously argue that it should be illegal? We know the fight we’re in, however, and we know it won’t be that easy.

A more likely advancement that cannabis consumers can get excited about is the rise of cannabis delivery. Colorado is only allowing the first medical dispensary in Boulder to deliver starting this spring, with plans for recreational to follow in 2021.

But with current developments and a need to provide cannabis to thousands of consumers, more dispensaries will start to ask the government to move faster.

The fact remains that cannabis dispensaries are the only business across the country that have been deemed essential, while also being federally illegal. It’s pretty crazy when you really think about it. Read that first sentence again for maximum impact.

Pot entrepreneurs flocking to the Bible Belt for low taxes

Pot entrepreneurs flocking to the Bible Belt for low taxes

oklahoma cannabis industry news

Jessica Baker takes a cutting of a plant at the Baker’s marijuana nursery at Baker Medical, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Oklahoma City. When voters in conservative Oklahoma approved medical marijuana in 2018, many thought the rollout would be ploddingly slow and burdened with bureaucracy. Instead, business is booming so much cannabis industry workers and entrepreneurs are moving to Oklahoma from states with more well-established pot cultures, like California, Colorado and Oregon. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY — From their keen taste for sun-ripened pot to their first meeting at a pro-marijuana rally in college in the 1990s, everything about Chip and Jessica Baker fits the stereotype of cannabis country in Northern California, where they lived for 20 years.

Jessica, with wavy hair that falls halfway down her back, is a practicing herbalist, acupuncturist and aromatherapist who teaches classes on the health benefits of cannabis. Scruffy-bearded Chip wears a jacket with a prominent “grower” patch and hosts a marijuana podcast called “The Real Dirt.” They started their pot business in rugged Humboldt County when it was the thriving epicenter of marijuana cultivation.

But the couple bid goodbye to the weed-friendly West and moved somewhere that might seem like the last place they would end up — Oklahoma.

They’re part of a green rush into the Bible Belt that no one anticipated when Oklahoma voters approved medical marijuana less than two years ago. Since then, a combination of factors — including a remarkably open-ended law and a red state’s aversion to government regulation — have created such ideal conditions for the cannabis industry that entrepreneurs are pouring in from states where legal weed has been established for years.

Though 11 states have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use, Oklahoma’s medical law is the closest thing to it: Anyone with any ailment, real or imagined, who can get a doctor’s approval can get a license to buy. It’s not hard to do. Already, nearly 6% of the state’s 4 million residents have obtained their prescription cards. And people who want to sell pot can do it as easily as opening a taco stand.

“Oklahoma is really allowing for normal people to get into the cannabis industry, as opposed to other places where you need $20 million up front,” said Jessica Baker.

The Bakers have a marijuana farm about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Oklahoma City, along with a dispensary, nursery and gardening shop in a working-class part of town where virtually every vacant shop and building has been snapped up by weed entrepreneurs in the last year.

When he leased his place, which had been vacant for 10 years, Chip Baker said, “to celebrate, the owner went to Hawaii for a month.”

Unlike other states, Oklahoma did not limit the number of business licenses for dispensaries, growers or processors.

In less than two years, Oklahoma has more than 2,300 pot stores, or the second most per capita in the U.S. behind only Oregon, which has had recreational marijuana sales for five years. Oklahoma has four times more retail outlets than more populous Colorado, which pioneered full legalization.

“Some of these states are regulating cannabis like plutonium,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association, the national trade group for marijuana businesses. “And the financial burdens that are placed on licensed businesses are so onerous, that not only is it very difficult to stay in business, but it’s also very difficult for the legal, state-regulated systems to compete with the illicit market.”

Marijuana taxes approach 50% in some California communities and are a factor in some business closings.

California requires a $1,000 application fee, a $5,000 surety bond and an annual license fee ranging from $2,500 to $96,000, depending on a dispensary’s projected revenue, along with a lengthy application process. Licenses can cost $300,000 annually.

In Oklahoma, a dispensary license costs $2,500, can be filled out online and is approved within two weeks.

Arkansas, next door to Oklahoma, also has medical marijuana, but like most such states, it allows purchase only for treatment of certain diseases, such as glaucoma or post-traumatic stress disorder. It also requires a $100,000 surety bond. Louisiana, which also tightly restricts prescriptions, has only nine licensed dispensaries.

Ford Austin and his sister opened the APCO Medical Marijuana Dispensary in a gentrifying part of Oklahoma City after he gave up on plans for a California weed store. “There’s way more opportunity here,” he said.

Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, an Oklahoma attorney specializing in cannabis law, said about 15% of her cannabis clients are coming from out of state.

“I frequently receive calls from people in the cannabis industry in California,” Gossett Parrish said.

People in some rural towns are worried about the Wild West atmosphere of the boom, particularly where shops with funny weed-pun names, waving banners and blinking signs have opened near schools and churches.

A Republican state legislator, Jim Olsen, has proposed a bill banning dispensaries within 1000 feet (305 meters) of a church. “While I recognize that some people do find pain relief from medical marijuana, with children we really don’t want them to think that when they reach problems in life, that marijuana is a good answer to that.”

But Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and the GOP-controlled Legislature have shown no interest in reining in the industry since the ballot measure authorizing it passed overwhelmingly. The industry has mostly fought off local attempts at zoning.

Many communities are welcoming cannabis shops because of the sales tax revenue. In college-town Norman and in Oklahoma City, at least a half dozen businesses have joined the chambers of commerce.

“In our community, I think most businesses view them as equals,” said Scott Martin, president of the Norman Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve even had a handful of ribbon cutting ceremonies.”

Marijuana sales generated $54 million in tax revenue last year, accounted for the sharpest ever annual decline in empty mid-sized industrial properties in Oklahoma City, and booked up electricians around Tulsa outfitting new grow rooms with lights and temperature controls.

Even some longtime opponents of marijuana legalization have softened their tone.

Sheriff Chris West in Canadian County, one of many law enforcement officers who decried the 2018 legalization ballot measure, says a number of farmers he knows have decided to switch crops.

“I’ve had them call me and tell me, ‘Sheriff, we’re going to venture into this business and we’d like for you to come out and see our facility, because we want you to know what we’re doing.’ And these are longtime, good, godly, Christian families that see it as an income opportunity.”

Is Cannabis Flower Falling Behind?

Is Cannabis Flower Falling Behind?

Until recently, most people who tried cannabis for the first time, tried it by smoking flower.

The times are changing, and the demographic of people trying cannabis for the first time is changing too. The tradition of a couple buddies in the woods smoking out of an apple is slowly being replaced by 75 year old grandmas going to the dispensary for a vape pen.

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But not by much.

As popular as extracts are becoming, are they really putting cannabis flower at risk of falling off in popularity? The short answer is that it already has.

The rise of concentrates

Cannabis concentrates didn’t become popular until 2014, when legal cannabis really started to kick off in Colorado. The most common types were shatter and wax, both of which are processed using Butane as a solvent.

At first, a lot of consumers avoided concentrates not just for their increased potency, but also because of the process used to make them. In the early days of cannabis extraction, there were dozens of accidents involving lab fires, explosions, and un-purged concentrates that would catch on fire when dabbed.

Due to the unreliability of extractors at the time, unfamiliarity with the product and process, and the high cost compared to cannabis flower, cannabis concentrate sales hardly surpassed 10% of total cannabis sales in 2014.

Just in the last 5 years however cannabis concentrates have developed exponentially. Cleaner, tastier concentrates like distillate, live resin and rosin grew in popularity. With the rise in e-cigarette users across the country, cannabis vape pens started becoming more popular as well.

As more concentrate brands entered the market, prices dropped, making concentrates more affordable for the average consumer. A gram that would cost $50 in 2014 was only $20 in 2018.

And just like that, cannabis concentrates took up 27% of total cannabis product sales in 2018. And that number is steadily rising.

Convenience and cost

The biggest bump to concentrate sales over the last two years has been due to vape pens. With more legal cannabis available across the country, more people began looking for a quick and easy way to use cannabis that doesn’t involve rolling a joint or packing a bowl.

Vape pens made it simple for anybody to get a quick, discreet puff of cannabis oil and receive the same effect as smoking a joint, more or less.

The rise in older cannabis consumers taking advantage of the medical and recreational cannabis and the desire for a more versatile and discreet consumption mechanism led to vape pens filling the void.

Even though vape pens are traditionally more expensive than cannabis flower, the concentrated doses make the product last much longer for casual consumers, making them much more cost effective.

But the vape pen industry took a major hit in 2019 when the country was hit by the “vape crisis”.

A serious issue

If there’s a cannabis product that is seeing success in the legal industry, it’s a guarantee there is someone replicating it in the illicit market. And in any market, there will be bad actors who care more about profits than the customer.

These snake-oil salesmen cut their vape pen cartridges with a liquid form of Vitamin E. When heated up, Vitamin E turned into Vitamin E Acetate, a toxic gas that would reconvert to a viscous solid in consumer’s lungs.

If that sounds bad, it was.

A total of 64 people died due to the illness caused by these faulty products, with another 2,758 hospitalized.

Suffice to say, the vape pen industry took a major hit during this time as many consumers questioned whether or not their vape pens were safe. But like most health scares that spread across the media like a wildfire, this “crisis” faded away in a matter of months, and vape pens have steadily risen back to where they were, with no signs of stopping.

The future of cannabis flower and concentrates

Consumer spending on cannabis concentrates rose 49% in 2018, pulling in $2.9 Billion. By 2022, spending is expected to reach $8.4 Billion. Cannabis flower sales still made up 43% of sales, but vape pens alone made up 23%, and cannabis concentrates other than vape pens made up only 9%.

Vape pens have become the main form of consumption method for cannabis concentrates, but cannabis flower still sits at the top as the most affordable, and frankly easier option for consumers.

As easy to use as vape pens are, they aren’t for everybody. Staying on top of charging, making sure you’re cartridge doesn’t get clogged, these are things that some people just don’t want to deal with.

Grinding up a little bit of bud in your fingers and tossing it in a bowl will work every time, as long as you have a lighter.

I like to say that cannabis flower is King (or more accurately, Queen). It doesn’t matter what new creative products come out, the majority of those who consume cannabis will always have the nostalgic enjoyment you can only get from cannabis flower.

That flashback to the first time, the funniest place you had to smoke, and all those great memories.

Sure, we’ll have some of those memories with concentrates and all the crazy places you can easily sneak in a vape pen, but it just won’t be the same. At least for me.

Virginia Marijuana Laws Might Be Changing

Virginia Marijuana Laws Might Be Changing

When you think of cannabis friendly, Virginia definitely isn’t one of the states that comes to mind. But that could be changing.

The state House on Monday passed HB 972, a decriminalization bill, with bipartisan support. Delegates voted 64-34 for the measure, with a number of Republicans joining Democrats in favor. The state Senate is expected to pass its own version shortly.

If passed, the legislation would scrap criminal charges for possessing marijuana and replace them with small fines. Supporters have argued the measure is needed in part because African Americans are disproportionately charged with drug crimes.

Virginia Marijuana Laws

Virginia marijuana laws have always been strict, with the most minor offense having the potential of jail time for possession of a half ounce. Right now, a person who is found with half an ounce of the drug can be jailed for up to 30 days and/or be fined $500. The second time it happens, jail time is increased up to a year and the fine increases up to $2,500.

To make matters worse, the state has a proven track record of negatively impacting minority communities with Virginia marijuana laws, specifically people of color. In fact, people of color are currently three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. But the reality is that no matter their skin color, people arrested for cannabis in Virginia are less likely to find jobs and housing.

If the new bill passes through the State Senate, it will be a big step in the right direction for the state after killing a full-blown legalization bill in 2019.

What is HB972?

House Bill 972 is a very simple bill. All it would do is decriminalize possession of a half ounce of cannabis, resulting in just a $25 fine if caught. With a simple, straight forward goal, it’s easy to see why the bill was able to garner bipartisan support.

Of course there are those who are against the bill, some of whom are surprisingly pro-legalization groups. The ACLU for example claims the bill doesn’t do enough, and that more people will be incarcerated for not being able to pay the $25 fine. Frankly this is asinine. If you can afford to buy a half ounce of cannabis, you can afford a $25 fine, or you shouldn’t be buying cannabis because you don’t have your priorities straight.

So the question that is being asked now that decriminalization seems likely is, when can we expect legalization?

Virginia Cannabis Legalization

It’s probably safe to say right now that Virginia marijuana laws won’t be moving toward legalization in 2020. Right now, Virginia lawmakers sent the idea of legalization to a non-partisan committee to study, they say that the study could take a year. The results may give lawmakers guidance on whether they want to re-visit legalization in 2021.

In the meantime, Virginians trying to access cannabis medically are in for quite a struggle. Virginia technically doesn’t even have a functioning medical marijuana program. What they do offer is an Affirmative Defense clause for patients who given permission by their physician to use cannabis.

However, not many doctors are prescribing cannabis because of the legal risk and lack of incentive. Not that patients would really benefit from permission anyway.

All Virginia marijuana laws allow currently are CBD oil and THC-A oil, neither of which are psychoactive or regulated. This leaves patients who are given permission very few options, including traveling across state lines to states like Maryland to obtain medical cannabis with the risk of getting arrested upon re-entry to Virginia.

Suffice to say Virginia won’t be turning into a cannabis haven any time soon, but residents can hopefully rest easy soon knowing they’ll no longer risk jail time for half a little bit of cannabis.

Whoopi Golderbg’s Cannabis Business Tanks

Whoopi Golderbg’s Cannabis Business Tanks

Whoopi & Maya, the medical cannabis company co-founded by Whoopi Goldberg, is closing up shop, according to a statement posted on its website.

In an interview with CNN Business, Rick Cusick, a Whoopi & Maya board member who helped found the company with Goldberg and Om Edibles founder Maya Elisabeth, said he received word Friday from Goldberg that she planned to step away from the brand.

“It became clear to everybody that Whoopi and Maya wanted a divorce,” Cusick said, noting he was speaking for himself and not the company or its board. “How do you do that? Because both of them were very integral to what we were doing.”

Whoopi Goldberg’s cannabis blunder

Four years ago this week, Whoopi & Maya launched with a specific focus on providing medical cannabis for people who suffered from menstrual pain. When they started the company, Goldberg and Elisabeth saw a large market opportunity in an area that not many people wanted to address, Goldberg told The Cannabist, the Denver Post’s cannabis-centric website, in 2016.
 
“They wanted to include menstrual cramps in the list of things you can prescribe medical marijuana for,” Goldberg said in the interview, “but the governor said that will never happen in New Jersey because our doctors only prescribe marijuana for ‘real’ pain. The fact that people think of (women’s health) as a niche market — that he didn’t think of menstrual cramps as ‘real’ pain — tells me that there’s a lot of education to do on this subject.”
 
The reasons for the closure of Whoopi & Maya went beyond personal fissures, Cusick said.

No special treatment for celebrities

When the company launched, California was still a solely medical cannabis market. Come November 2016, the state passed Proposition 64, which legalized adult-use sales. As the state folded in the medical cannabis regulations into the new program, it was difficult for operators like Whoopi & Maya to adapt, he said.

“Suddenly we’re jumping through hoops like every other company in California,” he said. “We were well on the way to [being cash-flow positive] but then we had to jump through hoops to change our packaging … and then change our packaging again.” Working in an emerging industry proved challenging, he said.