Tag Archives: recreational marijuana

Three more states legalize recreational pot

Voter support for marijuana legalization reached a new high as California, Massachusetts and Nevada approved recreational pot, joining four other states and Washington, D.C., with similar laws.

Voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas passed medical marijuana measures, pushing the number of states with such laws past two dozen.

The California vote makes the use and sale of recreational cannabis legal along the entire West Coast and gives legalization advocates powerful momentum. Massachusetts is the first state east of the Mississippi to allow recreational use.

The victories could spark similar efforts in other states and put pressure on federal authorities to ease longstanding rules that classify marijuana as a dangerously addictive drug with no medical benefits.

“I’m thrilled,” said Northern California marijuana grower Nikki Lastreto. “I’m so excited that California can now move forward.”

California was the first state to approve medical marijuana two decades ago. It was among five states weighing whether to permit pot for adults for recreational purposes. The other states were Arizona, which defeated the idea, and Maine, where the question remained undecided early Wednesday.

Montana voted to ease restrictions on an existing medical marijuana law.

In general, the proposals for recreational pot would treat cannabis similar to alcohol. Consumption would be limited to people 21 or older and forbidden in most public spaces. Pot would be highly regulated and heavily taxed, and some states would let people grow their own.

State-by-state polls showed most of the measures with a good chance of prevailing. But staunch opponents that included law enforcement groups and anti-drug crusaders urged the public to reject any changes. They complained that legalization would endanger children and open the door to creation of another huge industry that, like big tobacco, would be devoted to selling Americans an unhealthy drug.

“We are, of course, disappointed,” said Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association. Corney said his organization plans to work with lawmakers to develop a driving-under-the-influence policy.

The California proposal sowed deep division among marijuana advocates and farmers. In Northern California’s famous Emerald Triangle, a region known for cultivating pot for decades, many small growers have longed for legitimacy but also fear being forced out of business by large corporate farms.

“I’m not necessarily stoked nor surprised,” said Humboldt County grower Graham Shaw, reflecting the ambivalence of the region to the measure. “I am very happy that the war on cannabis in California is finally over.”

If “yes” votes prevail across the country, about 75 million people accounting for more than 23 percent of the U.S. population would live in states where recreational pot is legal. The jurisdictions where that’s already the case — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia — have about 18 million residents, or 5.6 percent of the population. Twenty-five states allow medical marijuana.

According to national polls, a solid majority of Americans support legalization.

Proposition 64 would allow people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of weed and grow six marijuana plants at home. Varying tax rates would be levied on sales, with the money deposited into the state’s marijuana tax fund.

The exit poll of 2,282 California voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 30 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 744 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 29 through Nov. 4. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups

Associated Press writers David Crary in New York and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.

 

Arizona joins four other states voting on recreational marijuana in November

A voter initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will be on the November ballot in Arizona. The state’s Supreme Court last week rejected a final legal challenge to the measure.

A lower court judge had thrown out the challenge, saying the group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy didn’t have a right to sue.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry’s ruling went on to reject all of the reasons opponents laid out for keeping the initiative off the ballot.

The opponents said initiative backers used illegal and unconstitutional “bait-and-switch tactics” and that the initiative violates Arizona’s statutes in three ways. They include a misleading 100-word summary that leaves out important provisions, an “incoherent” text and title that obscures the extent of its impact on other laws, and a failure to provide a legal funding mechanism.

The high court sidestepped the right-to-sue argument, with Chief Justice Scott Bales calling Gentry’s reliance on a 2015 rewrite of a law “murky at best, and rather than wade into those waters, we turn to the merits.”

Bales went on to affirm Gentry’s ruling rejecting the merits of the opponents’ lawsuit, saying the summary substantially complied with the law’s requirements for initiatives.

The ruling means that Proposition 205 is on November’s general election ballot.

Four other states will also have recreational marijuana initiatives on their ballots, including California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada.

Voters in Florida, Montana, North Dakota and Arkansas will vote on medical marijuana.

Under the measure, adults 21 and older could carry up to one ounce of marijuana and consume it privately. Adults could also cultivate up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed space and possess the marijuana produced by the plants. No more than a dozen plants would be allowed in a single residence.

The system would regulate pot in a way proponents say is similar to alcohol, with a 15 percent tax on all retail marijuana sales. Most of the new state revenue would go to Arizona public schools and education programs.

Barrett Marson, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said it was “a good day for voters who want to end marijuana prohibition in Arizona.”

“Voters will get the opportunity that they requested — more than 258,000 people signed a petition to put this before the voters,” Marson said. “The Supreme Court agreed voters should have the final say on whether adults should have the right to legally purchase marijuana.

The Secretary of State confirmed that about 177,000 of those signatures were valid, more than the approximately 151,000 need to qualify for the ballot.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which includes two prominent county attorneys and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said they will now turn to urging voters to reject the measure.

“Our goal now is to make sure that every Arizonan enters the voting booth in November with a full understanding of both the intended and the unintended impacts of the 20 pages of new laws in Prop 205,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in a statement. “We hope all citizens will read the lengthy legalese before voting and will learn how devastating Proposition 205 would be to our state if passed.”

Opponents say backers have not told voters about changes to DUI laws, child custody issues, employment law and many other laws.

In another development, a Maricopa County judge ordered one change to the ballot description voters will see but rejected other revisions sought by the backers.

Judge James Blomo agreed with the measure’s backers that the description crafted by Secretary of State Michele Reagan wrongly said marijuana will be legal for people over 21, when it should be 21 and older, and ordered it changed.

Blomo rejected efforts to insert language showing that a 15 percent marijuana tax would mainly funds schools and enforcement efforts and another minor change. Blomo said omitting the descriptions aren’t misleading and Reagan has the discretion to leave them off.

 

Colorado police: Student who died in fall ate more pot than recommended

A Wyoming college student who jumped to his death at a Denver hotel had eaten more of a marijuana cookie than was recommended by a seller, police records show — a finding that comes amid increased concern about the strength of popular pot edibles after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, consumed more than one cookie purchased by a friend — even though a store clerk told the friend to cut each cookie into six pieces and to eat just one piece at a time, said the reports obtained late last week.

Pongi began shaking, screaming and throwing things around a hotel room before he jumped over a fourth-floor railing into the hotel lobby March 11. An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a “significant contributing factor” in the death.

Marijuana cookies and other edibles have become increasingly popular since Colorado allowed people 21 and over to buy recreational marijuana this year at regulated stores. Federal authorities don’t regulate the edibles because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

After voters approved recreational pot, Colorado lawmakers tasked regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure consumers know how much pot they’re eating. Those guidelines are expected to be released next month.

Lawmakers also required edible pot to be sold in serving sizes of 10 milligrams of THC, marijuana’s intoxicating chemical.

The cannabis industry tries to educate consumers about the potency of marijuana-infused foods. But despite the warnings — including waiting for up to an hour to feel any effects — complaints by visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

In a separate case, a Denver man accused of killing his wife while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher ate marijuana-infused candy and possibly took prescription pain medication before the attack, according to a search warrant affidavit released last week.

It wasn’t known if pot influenced the behavior of Richard Kirk, 47, who is accused of shooting Kristine Kirk, 44. The affidavit says the woman told a dispatcher her husband had ingested marijuana candy and was hallucinating.

Pongi, a native of the Republic of Congo, and three friends from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., traveled to Colorado for spring break.

At their hotel, the group of four friends followed the seller’s instructions. But when Pongi felt nothing after about 30 minutes, he ate an entire cookie, police said.

Within an hour, he began speaking erratically in French, shaking, screaming and throwing things around the hotel room. At one point he appeared to talk to a lamp.

Pongi’s friends tried to restrain him before he left the room and jumped to his death, police said.

One of his friends told investigators it may have been his first time using marijuana — the only drug toxicology tests found in his system. All three friends said they did not purchase or take any other drugs during their stay.

“The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug, and as with any drug, there’s a spectrum of ways in which people respond,” said Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist on the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He said a person’s genetic makeup, health issues and other factors can make a difference, and first-time users might consume too much, unaware of how their bodies will react.

“The possibility for misadventure is increased,” Kosnett said.

The marijuana concentration in Pongi’s blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado law says juries can assume someone is driving while impaired if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter.

In the days that followed the death of Pongi, Denver police confiscated the remaining cookies from the pot shop to test their levels of THC. The wrapper of the cookies bought by the students said each contained 65 mg of THC for 6 1/2 servings. Tests showed the cookies were within the required THC limits, police said.

However, the wrappers also cautioned that “this marijuana product has not been tested for contaminants or potency.” One of Pongi’s friends became sick to his stomach after eating part of the cookie, but the others felt no negative effect.

Colorado law bans the sale of recreational marijuana products to people under 21, and adults can be charged with a felony for giving pot to someone under the legal age.

Authorities, however, said they would not press charges against Pongi’s 23-year-old friend who told police she bought the cookies while he waited outside the store. Denver district attorney’s spokeswoman Maro Casparian said investigators determined there was no crime. She declined to elaborate.

Recreational marijuana stores open in Colorado today

 A gleaming white Apple store of weed is how Andy Williams sees his new Denver marijuana dispensary.

Two floors of pot-growing rooms will have windows showing the shopping public how the mind-altering plant is grown. Shoppers will be able to peruse drying marijuana buds and see pot trimmers at work separating the valuable flowers from the less-prized stems and leaves.

“It’s going to be all white and beautiful,” the 45-year-old ex-industrial engineer explains, excitedly gesturing around what just a few weeks ago was an empty warehouse space that will eventually house 40,000 square feet of cannabis strains.

Today, Colorado becomes the first state in the nation to allow recreational pot sales. Hopeful retailers like Williams are investing their fortunes into the legal recreational pot world — all for a chance to build even bigger ones in a fledgling industry that faces an uncertain future.

Officials in Colorado and Washington, the other state where recreational pot goes on sale in mid-2014, as well as activists, policymakers and governments from around the U.S. and across the world will not be the only ones watching the experiment unfold.

So too will the U.S. Department of Justice, which for now is not fighting to shut down the industries.

“We are building an impressive showcase for the world, to show them this is an industry,” Williams says, as the scent of marijuana competes with the smell of sawdust and wet paint in the cavernous store where he hopes to sell pot just like a bottle of wine.

Will it be a showcase for a safe, regulated pot industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year and saves money on locking up drug criminals, or one that will prove, once and for all, that the federal government has been right to ban pot since 1937?

Cannabis was grown legally in the U.S. for centuries, even by George Washington. After Prohibition’s end in the 1930s, federal authorities turned their sights on pot. The 1936 propaganda film “Reefer Madness” warned the public about a plant capable of turning people into mindless criminals.

Over the years, pot activists and state governments managed to chip away at the ban, their first big victory coming in 1996 when California allowed medical marijuana. Today, 19 other states, including Colorado and Washington, and the District of Columbia have similar laws.

Those in the business were nervous, fearing that federal agents would raid their shops.

“It was scary,” recalls Williams, who along with his brother borrowed some $630,000 from parents and relatives to open Medicine Man in 2009. “I literally had dreams multiple times a week where I was in prison and couldn’t see my wife or my child. Lot of sleepless nights.”

That same year, the Justice Department told federal prosecutors they should not focus investigative resources on patients and caregivers complying with state medical marijuana laws — but the department reserved the right to step in if there was abuse.

In Colorado, the industry took off. Shops advertised on billboards and radio. Pot-growing warehouses along Interstate 70 in Denver grew so big that motorists started calling one stretch the “Green Zone” for its frequent skunky odor of pot.

The city at one point had more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks coffee shops, with some neighborhoods crowded with dispensary sign-wavers and banners offering free joints for new customers. Local officials have since ratcheted back such in-your-face ads.

But the marijuana movement didn’t stop. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved recreational pot in 2012, sold in part on spending less to lock up drug criminals and the potential for new tax dollars to fund state programs.

The votes raised new questions about whether the federal government would sue to block laws flouting federal drug law. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper famously warned residents not to “break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly,” and activists predicated a legal showdown.

That didn’t happen. In August, the DOJ said it wouldn’t sue so long as the states met an eight-point standard that includes keeping pot out of other states and away from children, criminal cartels and federal property.

Colorado law allows adults 21 and older to buy pot at state-sanctioned pot retail stories, and state regulations forbid businesses from advertising in places where children are likely see their pitches.

Only existing medical dispensaries were allowed to apply for licenses, an effort to prevent another proliferation of pot shops. Only a few dozen shops statewide are expected to be open for recreational sales on New Year’s Day.

Legal pot’s potential has spawned businesses beyond retail shops. Marijuana-testing companies have popped up, checking regulated weed for potency and screening for harmful molds. Gardening courses charge hundreds to show people how to grow weed at home.

Tourism companies take curious tourists to glass-blowing shops where elaborate smoking pipes are made. One has clients willing to spend up to $10,000 for a week in a luxury ski resort and a private concierge to show them the state’s pot industry.

Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, maker of pot-infused foods and drinks, is making new labels for the recreational market and expanding production on everything from crispy rice treats to fruit lozenges.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” says company president Tripp Keber. “I think it’s going to be an exciting time over the next 24 to 48 months.”

It’s easy to see why the industry is attracting so many people. A Colorado State University study estimates the state will ring up $606 million in sales next year, and the market will grow from 105,000 medical pot users to 643,000 adult users overnight — and that’s not counting tourists.

Toni Fox, owner of 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, anticipates shoppers camping overnight to await her first-day 8 a.m. opening. She’s thinking of using airport-security-line-style ropes to corral shoppers, and suspects she’s going to run out of pot.

A longtime marijuana legalization advocate, she knows it’s a crucial moment for the movement.

“We have to show that this can work,” she says. “It has to.”

The challenges, activists and regulators say, are daunting in Colorado and Washington.

One of the biggest questions is whether they have built an industry that will not only draw in tens of millions of dollars in revenue but also make a significant dent in the illegal market. Another is whether the regulatory system is up to the task of controlling a drug that’s never been regulated.

There are public health and law enforcement concerns, including whether wide availability of a drug with a generations-old stigma of ruining lives will lead to more underage drug use, more cases of driving while high and more crime.

As state officials watch for signs of trouble, they will also have to make sure they don’t run afoul of the DOJ’s conditions.

To stop the drug from getting smuggled out of state, regulators in both states are using a radio-frequency surveillance system developed to track pot from the greenhouses to the stores and have set low purchasing limits for non-residents.

Officials concede that there’s little they can do to prevent marijuana from ending up in suitcases on the next flight out. The sheriff in the Colorado county where Aspen is located has suggested placing an “amnesty box” at the city’s small airport to encourage visitors to drop off their extra bud.

To prevent the criminal element from getting a foothold, regulators have enacted residency requirements for business owners, banned out-of-state investment and run background checks on every applicant for a license to sell or grow the plant.

Whether the systems are enough is anyone’s guess.

For now, all the focus is on 2014. This being Colorado, there will be more than a few joints lit up on New Year’s Eve. Pot fans plan to don 1920s-era attire for a “Prohibition Is Over!” party and take turns using concentrated pot inside the “dab bus.”

Williams says he’s done everything he can, including hiring seven additional staffers to handle customers. All he has to do is open the doors.

“Are we ready to go? Yes,” he says. “What’s going to happen? I don’t know.”