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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.

Should Drug Tests Include Cannabis?

Should Drug Tests Include Cannabis?

It’s time for drug tests to change. That’s just reality.

Drug tests have probably gotten more innocent cannabis consumers knocked out of the running for a job more than any other drug on the controlled substances list. At a certain point we have to ask, “What is the point?”.

Most commonly, drug tests for employers will test for cannabis, cocaine, phencyclidine, amphetamines and opiates. Now obviously if you have a prescription from your doctor for opiates you’re off the hook, but what about people with prescriptions for cannabis? And a better question, what about those that don’t?

Drug Tests Shouldn’t Include Cannabis

At this point it’s a no brainer. In the United States currently, there are only 10 states out of 50 that haven’t decriminalized or legalized cannabis in some form. With more than half the country having medical cannabis laws on the books, how is it that people can still miss out on job opportunity for cannabis use?

People who take prescribed painkillers that are prone to abuse don’t miss out on job opportunities. Even alcoholics don’t miss out on job opportunities as long as they can cover it up on the job. Yet if you used cannabis once in the last two weeks, with a medical card granted by the state you live in, the job you are applying to can still say no if you show positive on their drug tests.

Now I may not be an expert on fairness, but I think it’s safe to say that just isn’t fair. And it’s even worse for recreational cannabis consumers.

Legal States and Drug Tests

This has been an even hotter topic than medical cannabis users and drug tests as of late. Cannabis is now fully legal in 11 states. A lot of these states passed laws that are meant to regulate cannabis just like alcohol.

So, if cannabis is supposed to be regulated like alcohol, why do cannabis users lose out on job opportunities even in these states, while alcohol consumers have nothing to worry about? People who choose to use cannabis over alcohol, which by all standards is the safer option of the two, are now suffering because of it.

Some states like Nevada have passed laws that prohibit employers from firing employees or not hiring potential employees for testing positive for cannabis on drug tests, and that’s a great start. But it only starts to address the problem. If cannabis is still on the drug test, and potential hire tests positive, the employer legally can’t reject them for that reason. But that doesn’t mean the employer can’t see that information and just decide that the potential hire isn’t right for the position for “some other reason”.

This is why cannabis needs to be removed from cannabis completely, at least in legal and medical cannabis states.

It’s Time for Change

Here’s the bottom line. Nobody should be excluded from job opportunity for the medicine they choose to use legally. Nobody should be excluded from job opportunity based on what they decide to do in their free time in a legal cannabis state.

It’s that simple. If it were any other pharmaceutical drug that was FDA approved and legal on the state level, it wouldn’t be a question. It wouldn’t be on a drug test. Yet cannabis still is. I understand there’s still states that have cannabis completely illegal and states that only have it decriminalized, and people who work in those states need to be aware of their laws.

But if you live in a medical cannabis state or a legal cannabis state, and you lose out on a job because you tested positive for cannabis, that’s just not right, and you should consider taking action.

Colorado Cannabis Delivery and Social Consumption Makes Big Moves

Colorado Cannabis Delivery and Social Consumption Makes Big Moves

Cannabis has been legal in Colorado since 2012. But it’s been hard to figure out where it’s safe to consume it.

Unless you owned a home or had a cool landlord, you would be at a loss trying to find a safe place to consume the cannabis you just bought. Since legalization, it has been illegal to consume cannabis in a public setting in Colorado. 

The only place that was legal to consume was a private residence. As mentioned before, if you’re renting and your landlord puts a “no cannabis” rule in the lease, you’re out of luck (as someone in that situation I can vouch for the inconvenience).

But finally, that’s all about the change.

House Bill 1230

Under this new bill, dispensaries will be able to apply for a tasting room license similar to the one used for breweries in this state, while businesses such as hotels, restaurants, music venues, art galleries and yoga studios can apply for private consumption licenses and limited cannabis sales.

Mobile cannabis lounges such as tour buses and limousines would also be licensed but could not sell cannabis. Social consumption businesses would have to apply for a license through the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, and would be exempt from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, a state law that bans public indoor smoking.

“In expanding access to regulated spaces for adults to consume cannabis, we are taking the responsible approach to cannabis consumption in a safe environment,” says Senator Vicki Marble, one of the bill’s prime sponsors, in a statement about the bill. “HB 1230 protects the will of voters who asked for the freedom to choose marijuana as an alternative and to curb dealing and use in parks and on the street.”

Nothing is Final

There are still some hurdles before cannabis cafes can open in your town. Governor Jared Polis still needs to sign the bill into law, which appears to be pretty likely at this point.

However, even if Polis signs the bill, local governments would have to opt in to the new licensing program, and could modify it to ban certain forms of consumption, such as indoor smoking. And the City of Denver’s social marijuana consumption licensing program, which already has its own location qualifications and bans indoor smoking, would remain unaffected by new stipulations in the bill, unless Denver City Council or the mayoral administration decide to alter it.

Baby Steps are Still Steps

If there’s anything the members of the cannabis community have learned through the years, it is that cannabis regulation moves slow. While counties in Colorado will be able to begin the application process in January of 2020, should Polis sign the bill, counties can still make their own regulations.

It’s likely that many places will still ban indoor smoking even with the new law permitting this with the proper licensing. However a big driving force behind this bill specifically was the cannabis tourism industry in the state. With current laws, out-of-state visitors who legally purchase cannabis cannot consume it in hotels.

With House Bill 1230, hotels and other local businesses could gain additional tourism revenue by getting on board and applying for a public consumption license.

cannabis delivery in colorado could soon be legal

Dispensaries in Colorado could start using free delivery as a sell point if the new cannabis delivery bill passes.

Cannabis Delivery in Colorado

The day before the passing of House Bill 1230, House Bill 2019-1234 passed the state Senate with a vote of 20-14, and the state House with a vote of 38-27. The bill allows for “marijuana delivery permits” for licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and “transporters” to deliver their products to private residences once a day only.

Should the bill get the final signature from Polis, medical cannabis delivery would start in 2020, with recreational delivery following soon after in 2021. A $1 surcharge would be tacked on to each delivery made and would then be funneled back into local law enforcement for the sole purpose of administering local marijuana laws. 

Those licensed to make such deliveries would also be protected from criminal prosecution while on the job. Similarly to the other bill, local county governments and city councils could still restrict deliveries.

Proponents of cannabis delivery in Colorado site those medical patients that cannot make it to a dispensary due to immobility or other issues and a desire to eliminate the illegal delivery market currently operating in the state, while opponents worry that cannabis delivery could damage in-person dispensary sales and even open the opportunity for big players like Amazon to eventually take over.

Nevertheless it looks like a bright future lies ahead for cannabis consumption in Colorado, and it’s about time. For over 6 years cannabis consumers in the state have had to hide or find somewhere secluded enough that they wouldn’t get caught.

Hopefully these bills will get the final signature from Polis and we can begin to move forward into the next phase of legal cannabis in Colorado.

Oklahoma Hemp Bust (Update)

Oklahoma Hemp Bust (Update)

Four men were arrest during an Oklahoma hemp bust back in January. Now two men are finally free, with the other two with unsure futures.

The Real Dirt reported on a story back in January that involved a company transporting hemp through Oklahoma. The hemp was poorly stored, resulting in odor that could be smelled 2 miles down the road, by police.

What happened next cause quite some controversy in the new legal Oklahoma hemp industry.

The Original Oklahoma Hemp Bust

In early January Andrew Ross from Aurora, CO was providing security for the transport of several thousand pounds of what he claimed to be industrial hemp from Oklahoma to Colorado. Ross and the semi-truck he was assisting was pulled over in Pawhuska, Oklahoma after running a red light. 

The officer smelled what he claimed to be cannabis as he approached Ross’ van, at which point Ross told him that they were the security for the semi-truck transporting hemp. Ross was then instructed to open the semi-truck, revealing over 9,000 pounds of hemp or cannabis.

After conducting a field test, which tests for any amount of THC, the officer believed the plants to be cannabis and not hemp. However, legal hemp can have up to .3% THC. This led to a lengthy delay in the case as the local police had to send the plants to be lab-tested, which was additionally delayed by the government shutdown in January.

During this time, two of the four who were arrested — Ross, one other in the van and another two in the semi-truck were arrested in total — have remained in prison since they couldn’t afford bail. They most likely won’t be released until the conclusive results of the tests come back.

The Update

While four men were arrested back in January, only the two truck drivers who couldn’t afford bail have remained in prison, until about a month ago. In late March, all charges were dropped against the truck drivers Tadesse Deneke and Farah Warsame.

But for Andrew Ross and his partner that provided security for the transport, the legal battle is not over. While a local man from Tulsa actually offered to pay the bond for Deneke and Warsame to get them out of jail, setting them free, The DA is still pursuing charges aginst the security company.

Of the seized material that was tested, eight of the eleven tests conducted came back “hot”. In other words, the THC levels of the samples tested above the legal amount of .3%, with the hot samples testing between .38% and .5% THC. That is no longer considered legal hemp under federal law.

According the DA’s ongoing investigation, the security drivers for the truck may have had more knowledge about what they were transporting compared to the truck drivers. Implicating that they could have know they were transporting illegal hemp, and let the drivers, who had no experience with hemp, transport it anyway.

What Comes Next?

While the security guards are not being held in jail since they posted bail, their charges have still not been dropped. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison for transportation of illegal cannabis.

And this is case is still far from over. The next court appearance for the security guards is not until August 8th, 2019. The evidence is starting to point toward foul play. If the security guards knew they were transporting illegal material, they will be held responsible, along with the company that grew the hemp to begin with.

If it really is true that almost none of the hemp on the truck was .3%, then this is a case of someone trying to skirt the law, but not getting close enough to do it. This is a weeding out process, and people will try to take advantage of a new, infantile industry with little regulation or state oversight currently.

The Real Dirt will continue coverage of this case as it develops.

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Everything You Need to Know About Growing Hemp in Alabama (Pt. 2)

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Hemp in Alabama (Pt. 2)

At this point you’ve already decided whether or not you’re growing hemp from seed or clones. Now it’s time to get it planted.

Over 150 farms have already been approved to start growing hemp in Alabama. A lot of them are going to fail.

Why?

Because they’re going to treat hemp like any other row crop.

Planting and Caring for Hemp

In Alabama you should plant at the end of May through the first week ofJune with 2000 to 4000 plants per acre. It is best to sew directly into the ground, however many people find success by using automated plug planters. These planters allow you to plant clones and seeds in a root plug.

Bigger is not better. It’s best to grow plants that are under 5 feet tall and spaced appropriately where they still touch. Your hemp fields should look more like a corn or wheat field than your traditional ganja plant.

To put it simply: It’s all math.

Smaller plants are easier to harvest, easier grow, and don’t require staking. Larger plants require staking, more water, and more nutrition. If you have the land, it’s much better to plant more acres out than less plants. If you choose to grow large plants you will absolutely eat up all your profits and harvesting.

It’s easy to calculate the weight of a field. A foot-tall plant at a density of 2000 plants per acre will yield 2,000 to 4,000 pounds in acre. If you plant with a greater density of 4,000 plants per acre, you will be able to use mechanical harvesting techniques for easier collection. Bean pickers are already being used to harvest hemp throughout the country. You just need more plants per acre for it to be worth your while.

Best Hemp Practices

On a very small scale of 1 to 10 acres, it’s easy enough to plant your seeds or clones by hand. Anything bigger than that and you’ll either need a lot more hands or a mechanical planter.

Hemp clones and seeds require water to grow. They grow best in irrigated fields, however I have been to dozens of hemp fields throughout the country that don’t have irrigation and just rely on God‘s grace and the the rain.

Cross your fingers and it could work out great for you.

For guaranteed success, supplemental irrigation is essential. With any irrigation technique, hemp plants will suck up the water you give them. It is important for them to be in well-draining fields so they don’t get overwatered. You’ll also need to fertilize your fields.

That’s right Hemp requires fertilization. Smart farmers test the soil prior to planting and apply the appropriate supplements. Hemp mostly needs added nitrogen and calcium. You can apply this with all the traditional means from chickenshit to gypsum, ammonium nitrate to calcium nitrate.

Harvesting Your Hemp

growing hemp and harvesting hemp in Alabama

Harvest can be a confusing component of hemp cultivation.

You can begin harvesting your hemp for extraction as soon as your plants’ CBD levels have started to reach their peak. This occurs approximately 35 days after your initial flower set.

This translates to a harvest in mid September to late October. Since we are mostly harvesting hemp for its CBD component and not its THC component, we have a wider latitude for harvesting.

Lastly, it is smart to invest in at least one or two chemical analyses of the CBD. The best time for testing is between three and six weeks into flower. This will give you a gauge of your harvest times and periods for next year as well.

While it might seem relatively simple, nobody has ever grown hemp on the scale that the US is about to begin growing. There will be a lot of problems that farmers across the country will have to combat. In different states with different climates, different problems will arise for the growers there. But now that it is a legal industry with unlimited potential, and with the help from social media platforms and podcasts like The Real Dirt, the answers to these problems will be much easier to find than they are now.

Learn more about hemp in Alabama specifically on The Real Dirt Podcast. And join our Real Dirt Alabama Facebook Group for news exclusive to Alabama, grow tips and more.

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Los Angeles cannabis permit problems

Los Angeles cannabis permit problems

California had the right idea when they legalized cannabis in 2017. But with incredible delays, lack of resources and a surplus of entrepreneurs hoping to make a name for themselves in the industry, the state and cities like Los Angeles are struggling.

Over four million people live in the city of Los Angeles. It’s no surprise then, that the inhabitants would try to work in the new legal system. But it hasn’t been as simple, or profitable, as originally projected.

California is the biggest state in the country, as well as the largest supplier of cannabis. When the state legalized, it virtually leveled the main supplier in the state; the private market.

Unprepared, Understaffed, Overwhelmed

While strict requirements, exorbitant application fees and an originally-one-man advisory board made the legal industry all but unattainable for smaller growers and farms in the state, the process was made much simpler for retailers. Medical retailers, that is.

In Los Angeles, priority was given to owners of retail medical dispensaries in the application process. Since they already had the location, the storefront and the brand, all that was needed was a transition to the new regulatory requirements for recreational cannabis.

Second in line for application review came those that legally supplied the medical cannabis to the dispensaries in Los Angeles. It makes sense because once the retail locations are transitioned to recreational, they can continue to use the same growers and suppliers, maintaining their business relationships in the new, legal industry, with minimal delay. At least, that’s how it went on paper.

In reality, the situation isn’t going so smoothly. In February of 2018, the city gave out about 180 temporary permits to allow medical dispensaries to operate recreationally. For the growers and suppliers, the same was to be done by April. Those temporary permits weren’t issued until the end of August.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering the total lack of manpower the Department of Cannabis Regulation had then and now. The directory board of the department started with just one member. Now, over a year since legalization, there are only 13 members on the board. Now imagine those 13 people handling every single application process for the hundreds of retailers, growers and processors.

The picture starts to become pretty clear. As if the city didn’t have enough on its plate, it also included a social equity program in its local laws, aimed at helping repair some of the damage done by the war on drugs.

Los Angeles Social Equity Program

This is where the state of California and the city of Los Angeles could have set a great precedent for new and current legal industries. The city established a social equity program that would give priority to those most negatively affected by the drug war prior to legalization.

People of color in the city were disproportionately arrested for small drug crimes involving cannabis compared to their white counterparts, despite statistical data showing no difference in cannabis use between the two groups. This group and other minority groups negatively impacted by the drug war were meant to be some of the first allowed into the new, legal industry.

Unfortunately that isn’t how it has worked out for Los Angeles. While the social equity program gave priority to these minority groups, the Department of Cannabis Regulation gave higher priority to already-established medical retailers, growers and processors. And with the — to put it mildly — severe lag of the application process, these groups still haven’t had one single approval.

Mind you these are people who do not currently have a business, and want to open one in the recreational market. Many leapt for storefront dispensary locations, despite the low availability. Los Angeles put a cap on how many storefronts can be opened in a neighborhood, in addition to strict requirements for location (e.g. can’t be near schools, other dispensaries, public parks), greatly limiting the options for would-be entrepreneurs.

When it comes to timeframes, the city hasn’t been shy on the issue either;

“Bringing cannabis above ground is an incredibly complex process, and L.A. is doing it on an unprecedented scale,” Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, said in a statement. “Our goal is to do this the right way, not the quick way or the easy way — and we’ve always been very clear about that.”

It’s a rough road ahead

Los Angeles is way behind schedule. It’s a fact. And the local government isn’t doing much to speed up the process. The Department of Cannabis Regulation currently sits at 13 members. Multiple additional position have been filed, but due to the slow city hiring process, anyone new has yet to be hired.

The head of the city council Herb Wesson insists that everything will basically sort itself out. Even with reports of many potential entrepreneurs leaving the city to open up shop elsewhere, Wesson isn’t fazed. “I have no time for folks that want to go somewhere else. Let ’em.”

Instead, as months have passed, industry groups and consultants have complained that many cannabis entrepreneurs are stuck paying steep prices for multiyear leases, after landlords hiked prices on eligible storefronts. 

“You had a lot of people who followed the city’s guidance and signed leases,” paying upwards of $10,000 a month in rent, said Larry Mondragon, vice president of zoning and entitlements for Craig Fry & Associates, a consulting firm helping cannabis businesses. “People are holding onto leases, paying exorbitant checks, not even knowing when they’re able to turn in applications to the city.”

Equity applicants are supposed to get a helping hand from the city through “business, licensing and compliance assistance.” But more than a year after recreational cannabis sales became legal, there are no city programs providing such aid.

So far, the only funding the city has approved for social equity is $250,000 for a fee deferral program. Department officials say they now are seeking more than $4 million for the program, hoping to roll out support services, such as business development training, no sooner than July.

Los Angeles needs to step up. California needs to step up. There are a lot of problems in the state with little to no solutions. Something needs to be done at the city level to change that. How, and even if that will be done, is still unknown.

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