6 Weird, Outrageous and Entertaining Facts About Marijuana Policy and Rhetoric
By John Garvey
A lot of the history of cannabis prohibition reads like satire. It’s bizarre, muddled and, depending on how you look at it, sometimes quite funny. We wanted to capture a few special moments without revisiting topics that have already been beaten to death. Below are some of those events, as well as the heroes, villains and oddballs that played central roles.
1) Underdog! Meet the bane of drug policy hardliners and the first federally sanctioned medical cannabis patient.
Robert Randall was dealt a tough hand in 1972 when he was diagnosed with advanced, open-angle glaucoma. He was only 24, and doctors told him he’d be blind by age 30. Prescription meds didn’t effectively curb the disease progression, but he discovered one thing that did. (I’ll give you two guesses as to what that was.)
Glaucoma causes vision loss by damaging the optic nerve. Cannabis alleviates it by reducing pressure around the eye, and Randall began growing his own. When he and his wife were arrested in D.C. for misdemeanor cultivation, they contested the charge on grounds of medical necessity.
The case could have been another footnote in the history of cannabis prohibition. But Randall learned that UCLA was conducting federally funded research on marijuana and glaucoma. The head researcher, Dr. Robert Hepler, assessed Robert’s condition and his response to medical marijuana.
“Robert was at UCLA for 10 days of study, which conclusively demonstrated that without marijuana Robert Randall would go blind,” writes Robert’s wife Alice O’Leary Randall in Cannabis Now.
Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically-active substances known to man.
– DEA administrative law judge Francis Young
Randall was found not guilty by means of medical necessity, provided access to federal supplies of marijuana, and thus became “the only individual in the country allowed to legally possess marijuana for medical purposes.”
The Randalls founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics—the first medical cannabis non-profit. The Alliance supported dozens of state laws that relaxed strictures on medical marijuana. The Alliance was also the leading party in re-scheduling hearings that, at the height of the Drug War, nearly succeeded in removing “marihuana” from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
2) A DEA judge in 1988 recommended that the agency authorize medical marijuana.
DEA administrative law judge Francis Young, who presided over the re-scheduling hearings mentioned above, issued a strong recommendation that marijuana be re-scheduled. Young went as far as to state that “Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically-active substances known to man.”
Young dismissed arguments that allowing people access to medical marijuana would “send the wrong signal,” essentially claiming that it was callous and wrongheaded. In an extraordinary display of self-righteousness, DEA Administrator Jack Lawn dismissed the recommendation, questioning the motives of medical researchers, physicians and patients whose testimonies supported the ruling.[/vc_column_text]
3) A counterculture icon overturned the Marihuana Tax Act (sorta).
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 greatly limited any legally authorized use of cannabis and required people in possession to pay a steep tax. Most users couldn’t pay the tax if they wanted to because cannabis was illegal under a number of state laws, and the requirements for federal compliance were burdensome. So the act effectively criminalized cannabis. That’s background.
In 1965, counterculture icon Timothy Leary got busted with a small amount of undeclared cannabis in Texas—a violation of both Texas law and the 1937 Tax Act. A federal judge sentenced Leary to 30 years in prison. Leary, a Harvard psychologist, was an outspoken supporter of psychedelics, which probably motivated the harsh sentence.
For a brief period in the early days of the Nixon presidency, the federal government had
no enforcement powers over marijuana possession.
Leary contested the sentence in a case that wound up before the Supreme Court (Leary v. United States). He argued that compliance with the Tax Act would compromise his 5th Amendment rights by forcing him to admit to possessing an illegal substance. That made the charges under the Tax Act bunk (no pun intended). The Court agreed in the 1969 ruling, and overturned the law.
And so it was that, for a brief period in the early days of the Nixon presidency, the federal government had no enforcement powers over marijuana possession and in-country trafficking.
4) “Pot can make you gay.”
Depending on which side you listen to, Reagan’s drug czar Carlton Turner either claimed marijuana turned young people gay or, at least, suggested that it lead gay people to be more gay. The Newsweek reporter who wrote of this in October 1986 challenged him on the claim that one lead to the other, and his quoted response was that homosexuality “seems to be something that follows along with their marijuana use.”
Turner also floated the idea that cannabis can speed the progression of AIDS.
Turner might have been made to look more inept than he was, and the reporter herself said that the article headline (“Reagan Aide: Pot Can Make You Gay”) was “overdrawn.” But one has to marvel a bit at the way rhetoric evolves to justify policy.
5) The Gateway Theory is supported by very creative data management.
Author Dan Baum writes of the methodology behind the Gateway Theory in the book Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the politics of failure:
“[T]he researchers looked in only one direction, asking heroin and cocaine users if they first used marijuana and predictably finding that a great many had. They didn’t ask, though, whether the addicts had first used alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine – any of which might also be described, under the study’s methodology, as the ‘gateway.’ More important, the researchers failed to track marijuana smokers on how many gradate to harder drugs. Whenever the question is asked that way, the percentage is in the single digits.” (153)
“Amount saved by California from 1976 to 1985 by reducing marijuana possession to a finable offense: $958,305,499.
“Percentage increase in California marijuana use during that time: 0%.”
– Smoke and Mirrors, 223
If you’re reading this, you probably didn’t need to be convinced that the Gateway Theory was fallacious. Still, it’s interesting to know about the methods used to arrive at it.
Gathering data with the intent of confirming a hypothesis? That’s against the rules! Sheesh.
6) We once had a relatively pragmatic, responsible drug czar.
Jimmy Carter’s mid-term drug strategy, drafted under then drug czar Peter Bourne, was a harm reduction approach. Bourne was plainspoken about this:
“Drugs cannot be forced out of existence; they will be with us for as long as people find in them the relief or satisfaction they desire. But the harm caused by drug abuse can be reduced. We cannot talk in absolutes—that drug abuse will cease, that no more illegal drugs will cross our borders—because if we are honest with ourselves we know that is beyond our power.”
Carter echoed this reasoning, backing the decriminalization of marijuana before Congress in 1977:
“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use. … Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.”
Well, you know the rest of the story. It was all downhill from there as far as drug reform goes.
The short reign of Peter Bourne as drug czar stands as the high-water mark of technocratic, scientific, unemotional drug policy. It also stands as the high-water mark of drug-policy naivete.
– Dan Baum, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the politics of failure
Happy 4th! Enjoy your freedoms.
In today’s heady environment of legal, statewide cannabis programs, it’s easy to forget just how difficult it was for those of us involved in MMJ activism in the early days.
– Alice O’Leary Randall, pioneering medical cannabis advocate and spouse of the late Robert Randall
As the events above show, the U.S. isn’t exactly perfect. But it’s still a wonderful country. For all the heated rhetoric taking place on today’s political stage, an appreciation of history can grant a certain perspective: Things have been a lot worse.
Nobody here is advocating complacency. But they’re growing hemp again at Mount Vernon, we have an all-volunteer military, and Americans in over a dozen states can celebrate Independence Day by smoking a doob—no medical justification needed.
Setting politics aside, it’s a pretty good time to be American.
Talk to one of our reps to learn how our industry-leading point of sale and inventory management solutions can help keep your dispensary sprouting upward.
Examining the Cannabis Industry with LivWell (Part I of II)
By John Garvey
This month we’re talking with our friends at LivWell Enlightened Health, one of the nation’s largest cannabis retail chains and cultivators, about the challenge, inspiration and oddities of … well, selling weed.
Three people from different departments were kind enough to share their insights and experiences with us. We’ll start by discussing what inspires them and then talk about the nuts and bolts of compliance and cannabis retail ops in part II.
I. James Bauer, Manager of Retail Compliance and Corporate Security
James Bauer, a former combat medic in the U.S. Army, returned with an injury from his second tour in Afghanistan in 2010 after serving with the 1-66 Armor Battalion, 4th Infantry Division. He transitioned into the cannabis industry after being honorably discharged in early 2013 and joined LivWell a little over three years ago.
“If there’s one lesson I learned during my tours of service that has helped me in the cannabis industry,” James says, “it’s: be prepared for anything.”
As of January, James oversees the entire Retail Compliance and Corporate Security department. Given that LivWell has 14 dispensaries in Colorado, one in Oregon, and several large grows in Colorado’s Front Range, it’s safe to say his knowledge of cannabis goes far beyond knowing the differences between Sativas and Indicas.
What lights you up about the cannabis industry?
“It’s important to me being a veteran because I see my buddies come home and from my observations, they’re prescribed 20, 30 medications. In my experience you take one medication for one problem but there’s three side effects and then you’ve gotta take three medications for those side effects. And next thing you know, you have like 20, 30 prescriptions. I’ve spoken with so many of our patients and customers who say that cannabis can help them in ways they feel are far superior to these more traditional kinds of medications.”
“I came home diagnosed with PTSD, they had me on all kinds of medications. And since I’ve gotten out and gotten into this industry that’s been one of the biggest game changers for me.”
“Obviously I’m biased here, but if we’re willing to send these guys to the other side of the world and put them through worst-case scenarios and nightmares, and in my opinion, I think it’s important for us as a country to give them anything and everything that’s going to help them get back to where they need to be. So me personally, I would say that’s one of the more enjoyable aspects of being a veteran and being in the cannabis industry.”
“So what lights me up about cannabis? Just being a part of the industry, and specifically being a part of LivWell, because we do strive to do it right, follow every single rule and be the example.”
II. Mandy Leseure, Retail Manager, LivWell Garden City
Originally from Illinois, Mandy has been with LivWell for two years at the Garden City location. She got into the cannabis industry by accident, which she laughs about to this day.
“When I applied to LivWell Enlightened Health I thought it was a health food grocery store. … So after I got called for an interview I started really looking into the company and making sure I had all my Ps and Qs straightened out. And then I realized it was marijuana.”
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
“I get to sell and talk to people about weed all day long. That is just the coolest thing that I’ve ever been able to do, to actually speak openly and honestly about what I believe this product can do for people that need help.
But it’s also just fun.”
Mandy interacts daily with people on both the medical and recreational side of the store, so she knows people who smoke or consume cannabis aren’t all party animals and concert-goers (although there’s nothing wrong with that!). Cancer patients and caregivers make up the largest patient segment at the Garden City location she manages—which is significant.
“We are the highest-volume store for the company,” she states. “We’re probably one of the highest-volume stores for the industry period.”
Mandy frequently speaks with patients and consumers who tell her that cannabis helps them cope with chronic pain, opioid withdrawal, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a laundry list of other things. Her oldest patient (adjusting for life expectancy because the patient is a different species) may be a 30-year-old elk who uses LivWell’s CBD pet tincture to manage arthritis.
“I was a flower person first, and I still am,” Mandy says. ”But I’ve really learned to appreciate CBD products in general. My favorite ones are tinctures and patches. I used both of them after my surgery because the painkillers they were giving me were making me sick. So I quit taking those and just started using tinctures and patches.”
“I fell in love with those and now everybody in my family uses them.”
III. Danielle Biddy, Systems Manager (IT)
Danielle moved to Colorado from Texas in 2013 to be part of the cannabis industry and soon found employment at LivWell, where she just completed her fifth year. She had never been in a dispensary before interviewing at LivWell.
What inspires you about working in cannabis?
“Mostly just seeing how many people actually use cannabis and how many people this is affecting. Scientists, artists, businesspeople, young adults, vets—it’s amazing to me how all these people are brought together over a plant. It was illegal for so long, it kinda blows my mind.”
The many challenges related to both public perceptions and the cannabis industry’s rapid growth are a call to arms for Danielle. The U.S. has come a long way in terms of accepting the industry as a legitimate business enterprise in the last five years. Still, she continues challenging herself with questions relating to those fundamentals:
“What can we do next to show people that this is a real industry, a viable product? How can we innovate and make this better as an industry, a product, as a whole?”
Anthea has been a big part of that at LivWell, helping to coordinate activities between departments, ensure compliance and keep things running smoothly at the point of sale.
“Being able to run it like a normal company has just made a huge difference,” Danielle says. “I mean we’ve just saved so much on labor costs and time management.”
“Our last system, it crashed on a daily basis. So having a system that’s reliable makes a huge difference. When the system goes down and you’re writing hand-written tickets that’s not good for business. The reliability of Anthea is just a huge weight off our shoulders.”
* LivWell Enlightened Health makes no claim regarding the health and medical benefits of cannabis
Cannabis Enterprise Business Solutions
Talk to one of our reps to learn how our industry-leading point of sale and inventory management solutions can help keep your dispensary sprouting upward.
Stay posted for part II of this blog where we’ll talk in more detail about the challenges of working with what may be the most heavily-regulated inventory in the country.
Terpene literacy is becoming all-important in the cannabis industry. Here’s a crash course.
By John Garvey
Have you ever seen someone sniff a nugget of cannabis like it’s a glass of Malbec? It happens. Just as a wine snob might try to pin down the region and type of grape a wine originates from, it’s easy to imagine weed snobs waxing on about a plant’s terpenes. (When we say “weed snobs,” we mean it in the most positive way possible).
Terpenes give cannabis its scent and flavor, so having budtenders equipped to discuss the aesthetic and medicinal properties of terpenes, along with labeling that includes terpenes, is a competitive advantage. Today’s competitive advantage, however, is tomorrow’s necessity. Your budtenders need to be able to give clients accurate, helpful information about cannabis terpenes.
We’ll focus here on why cannabis terpenes and terpenoids* are so important generally, cite a few useful examples, and direct you to resources for further learning.
*We’re using the words “terpenes” and “terpenoids” interchangeably. While they aren’t exactly the same, they’re a similar chemotype and industry professionals including breeders consider this acceptable for day-to-day discussion.
What are terpenes, anyway?
Terpenes are components of essential oils and give cannabis its odor. Conifer pines, citrus fruits, lavender, hops and black pepper all owe their distinct smells to terpenes. If you’re a cannabis industry professional you’re probably familiar with the term entourage effect. This refers to how terpenes and pytocannabinoids modify—and in many cases, enhance—each other’s effects.
An emerging class of cannabis connoisseurs care every bit as much about terpenes as cannabinoids. In April of last year, High Times reported that “The word terpene is searched about five times more now than it was two years ago.”
Cannabis terpenes are becoming more and more valued for their aromatic qualities, flavor and medicinal qualities. Terpene profiles are increasingly featured in descriptions of cannabis strains. Product labels are starting to list terpene concentration in addition to cannabinoid profiles.
A plant’s terpenes, rather than it’s cannabinoids, determine whether it’s a sativa or an indica. Because of its sedating effects, the terpene myrcene in particular is associated with indica. If you switched the terpenes from a sativa and an indica, leaving everything else intact, the original sativa would be in effect an indica and vice versa.
First-string terpenes and their effects
Terpenes have a variety of well-established effects in isolation and modify the effects of THC. There’s reason to believe certain terpenes compliment the beneficial effects of CBD as well (again, the entourage effect).
Terpenes “are quite potent, and affect animal and even human behaviour when inhaled from ambient air [in very low concentrations],” writes medical scientist Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology. “They display unique therapeutic effects that may contribute meaningfully to the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.” (Russo, 2010)
A quick inventory of the effects of individual terpenes includes more psychiatric and medical benefits than you can shake a stick at. Some of these findings are based on robust scientific evidence and some are more preliminary, so they shouldn’t be used to make hard and fast medical claims. They can, however, help consumers make more informed choices.
- α-Pinene: Pinene is a bronchodilator, an anti-inflammatory and improves short-term memory. Like many other terpenes it also smells great. Because THC impairs short-term memory, the memory-enhancing effects of pinene may make it a valuable counterweight.
As the name suggests, pinene gives conifer pines their scent. If you’ve ever stuck your nose in a jar of weed and felt like you were in Golden, Colorado, it’s probably because of the pinene. (Unless you were actually in Golden, in which case you were lucky two times over).
- ß-Caryophyllene: Common to black pepper, caryophyllene is an anti-inflammatory and, like THC, a gastric cytoprotective.
So it’s good for your tummy.
- Myrcene: This is an interesting one because it’s believed to enhance the effects of THC—probably by allowing more of it to cross the blood-brain barrier. It’s also one of the predominant terpenes in hops. If you’ve ever heard the claim that drinking an IPA or eating a slice of mango (which is also myrcene-rich) enhances your high, this may be the reason.
Russo writes that “myrcene is a prominent sedative terpenoid in cannabis, and combined with THC, may produce the ‘couch-lock’ phenomenon of certain [strains] that is alternatively decried or appreciated by recreational cannabis consumers.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Odell’s Myrcenary IPA, one of the greatest beers ever made, is named after this venerable terpene. Just approach with caution: it’s 9.3 percent alcohol.
- Limonene: Largely responsible for the odor of lemons, limes, oranges and other citrus fruits, limonene is an anti-depressant and anxiolytic (that is, it reduces anxiety). For that reason, it likely compliments CBD, which is anxiolytic and counteracts the paranoia that THC can cause. Limonene can be detected in the bloodstream if inhaled in very low concentrations. It’s the second most common terpenoid in nature.
Additionally, limonene triggers apoptosis (cell death) in some types of breast cancer. This is exciting, but it doesn’t mean weed and lemon water cures cancer. Be sure to impress upon your colleagues that cancer treatment is a delicate subject with ethical dimensions that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The most authoritative scientific paper on terpenes is a 2010 article in the British Journal of Pharmacology entitled “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects.” The author, Ethan Russo, is a senior medical advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH). Russo helped popularize the term entourage effect, and the FDA is likely to make medical history next month by approving GW Pharma’s cannabis-derived anti-seizure drug Epidiolex. So it’s legit.
This is a technical scientific paper, but an educated layperson can read it in one sitting and learn a lot. Roll up your sleeves—here’s the link.
For a quick, visual overview, Leafly published a great infographic featuring six of the most prevalent and well-understood cannabis terpenes. It’s worth printing it off in poster size both for display and as a quick reference. Take a look.
THC myopia is a thing of the past. Cannabis consumers, patients and researchers have come to recognize the value of the plant’s chemical diversity. In Russo’s groundbreaking paper he endearingly referred to cannabis as “this venerable plant,” in a nod to the therapeutic implications of phytocannabinoid-terpenoid synergy.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Russo, E. B. (2010). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpinoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 1344 – 1362.
Not all news is bad news, but for the maturing cannabis industry there is every kind of news and lots of it.
By John Garvey
Today is the fifth 4/20 holiday since recreational cannabis was legalized in Colorado and Washington with the historic passage of Amendment 64 and Ballot Initiative 502. If you’re operating a cannabis dispensary, you may remember in vivid detail the song you were listening to and the exact spot you were standing when you heard the news. In a way it’s surprising how much it still feels like the Wild West. It was, and still is, an exciting and chaotic time in cannabusiness—a time of both opportunity and looming challenges.
Colorado’s rollout of legal cannabis has been considered a success story by objective measures such as tax revenues, a modest decrease in teen pot use, and reduced arrests. The eight other states that have chosen to legalize recreational marijuana have had varying degrees of success.
“You are freaking out, man.”
Take California. The first state to legalize medical marijuana and one of several states to legalize recreational sales in 2017, California is in an interesting and unique position.
Oddly, the state with the “first mover advantage” now faces some of the greatest implementation challenges. Marijuana Business Daily has been reporting extensively on California’s legalization rollout. It threatens to become a fiasco due to supply shortages when testing regulations take effect this summer. Growers and distributors will be hit hard by state excise taxes if they’ve failed to include them in their cannabis sales transactions. Newly-legitimized dispensaries must contend with competition from a thriving black-and grey market. And only one in three municipalities is allowing legal cannabis operations.
The point is, while proponents of cannabis legalization and cannabis entrepreneurs may be happy with the progress of the last five years, most of the hard work lies ahead from a business standpoint.
The Cannabis Industry isn’t going anywhere, but dispensaries and vendors that aren’t investing in infrastructure and compliance will.
Some things you can’t help. If you’re in a newly-legal state your MIPs vendor might go out of business at any time. Banking in the cannabis industry is practically a three-ring circus with security risks and fees other retailers don’t have to think about. While the legal environment is obviously more supportive than it was five years ago, regulatory compliance may feel like you’re trying to hoist a piano up a flight of stairs. And so forth.
Consolidation is occurring on a much more expedited scale in the cannabis industry than in other industries. Those who are expanding are the ones investing in infrastructure. Regardless of whether you intend to expand or stay put, consider the implications of this.
Even if your exit strategy is to be acquired, having your ducks in a row will greatly strengthen your position. Data integrity and compliance makes due diligence easier and reduces liability for prospective buyers. (Any unknowns will reduce a prospective buyer’s valuation of your dispensary.)
Not to mention, reliable business partnerships, inventory tracking and point-of-sale systems just make your day-to-day life easier.
Fortunately, those things are our jam.
Business operations: Point of sale capabilities, seed-to-sale inventory tracking, security and marketing.
If you’re running a medical or recreational cannabis dispensary, you have enough plates spinning in the air without worrying about whether your point of sale system is going to bonk out. Additionally, you’re probably aware that a quality POS system does a lot more than credit card processing, so there’s much to consider.
For instance, a POS system in any industry should be PCI compliant, have fast processing times and offline transaction capabilities in case your internet service is disrupted. You probably want a combination of experience and industry specialization (consider the MJ Freeway fiasco). It’s also ideal to have as many business needs as possible handled by a single partner.
Now consider this:
Retail Control Systems has been working with a lauded POS and retail management system—NCR Counterpoint—since 1987. That’s nearly a decade before the California Compassionate Use Act took effect. We have a Tier 1 PCI compliant data center. And we have the framework in place to allow you accept credit and debit cards as soon as the Federal Reserve allows the industry access to conventional banking services.
Anthea RCS, directly and through partnerships with vendors like NexTec, handles everything from seed-to-sale inventory management to physical security measures like security cameras. NCR Counterpoint can also generate dozens of retail reports specific to your dispensary’s objectives and flag suspicious activity like excessive NO SALE transactions and comps.
(For more info on Counterpoint, visit our website or our parent company blog here.)
Data security: check. Reliability: check. PCI compliance: check.
With all your cannabis business solutions taken care of, you can focus more on what matters to your customers.
… Like terpenes!