US drug control agency will move to reclassify marijuana in a historic shift, AP sources say

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will move to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, The Associated Press has learned, a historic shift to generations of American drug policy that could have wide ripple effects across the country.

The DEA’s proposal, which still must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would recognize the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledge it has less potential for abuse than some of the nation’s most dangerous drugs. However, it would not legalize marijuana outright for recreational use.

The agency’s move, confirmed to the AP on Tuesday by five people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive regulatory review, clears the last significant regulatory hurdle before the agency’s biggest policy change in more than 50 years can take effect.

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said in December. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Biden and a growing number of lawmakers from both major political parties have been pushing for the DEA decision as marijuana has become increasingly decriminalized and accepted, particularly by younger people. A Gallup poll last fall found 70% of adults support legalization, the highest level yet recorded by the polling firm and more than double the roughly 30% who backed it in 2000.

The DEA didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances and subject to rules and regulations, and people who traffic in them without permission could still face federal criminal prosecution.

Some critics argue the DEA shouldn’t change course on marijuana, saying rescheduling isn’t necessary and could lead to harmful side effects.

Jack Riley, a former deputy administrator of the DEA, said he had concerns about the proposed change because he thinks marijuana remains a possible “gateway drug,” one that may lead to the use of other drugs.

“But in terms of us getting clear to use our resources to combat other major drugs, that’s a positive,” Riley said, noting that fentanyl alone accounts for more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. a year.

Last week, 21 Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York sent a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram and Attorney General Merrick Garland arguing marijuana should be dropped from the controlled-substances list and instead regulated like alcohol.

“It is time for the DEA to act,” the lawmakers wrote. “Right now, the Administration has the opportunity to resolve more than 50 years of failed, racially discriminatory marijuana policy.”

Federal drug policy has lagged behind many states in recent years, with 38 having already legalized medical marijuana and 24 legalizing its recreational use.

That’s helped fuel fast growth in the marijuana industry, with an estimated worth of nearly $30 billion. Easing federal regulations could reduce the tax burden that can be 70% or more for businesses, according to industry groups. It could also make it easier to research marijuana, since it’s very difficult to conduct authorized clinical studies on Schedule I substances.

Law allows growth of up to three plants for private consumption, holding 50g of cannabis at home, or 25g in public

Kate Connolly – in Berlin – February 23  2024

The law passed by the chancellor, Olaf Scholz’s ruling three-party coalition, legalises cultivating up to three plants for private consumption, the possession of 50g of cannabis at one time at home, and 25g in public. It follows a heated debate about the pros and cons of allowing easier access to the drug.

“We have two goals: to crack down on the black market and improved protection of children and young people,” the health minister, Karl Lauterbach, said at the start of a rowdy debate where the opposition accused him of promoting drug use.

But Lauterbach said that this amounted to “sticking our heads in the sand”. Not only had cannabis use soared among young people, whose developing brains were particularly endangered, but drugs on the streets were both stronger and more impure nowadays, greatly increasing their harm.

About 7 million Germans are estimated to regularly use cannabis. The government has said previously that many users rely on the drug for medicinal reasons and that the new law will also improve the quality of cannabis consumed by growing numbers of young people.

Doctors against the law change have warned that it will endanger the health of young people by making the drug more accessible and thus increasing the risk of addiction.

The coalition of the Social Democrats, Greens and the pro-business FDP agreed in November to push on with the change, having included it in their coalition agreement on sharing power.

Adults will be permitted to grow up to three plants and possess small amounts of cannabis from 1 April, and three months later it will also be available in licensed not-for-profit clubs established to grow and distribute the cannabis plant.

Opposition has come from some of Germany’s 16 states, which will have responsibility for policing the law, including the southern state of Bavaria, ruled by the conservative Christian Social Union, which has urged the government to think again.

Some of Lauterbach’s fellow Social Democrats have also issued warnings, in particular about the use of cannabis around schools and kindergartens. The minister, in turn, has said legislation will prohibit the smoking of cannabis within 100 metres of educational establishments.

Police authorities have said that they will have difficulty imposing the rules. But Lauterbach responded by saying the policing of the hidden market had also been difficult.

The law change makes Germany the third European Union member state to legalise cannabis for personal use, after Malta and Luxembourg.

Advocates for the drug’s use for medicinal purposes said they were hoping for a positive influence from the decision by Europe’s largest economy that might pave the way for other countries to follow suit.

Observers from around the world will be closely watching how the law works in practice in Germany.

This article was amended on 23 February 2024 to make clear that the new law allows adults to be in possession of 50g of cannabis at home, and 25g in public.

Story from – The Guardian

Germany’s Government Coalition Reaches Final Deal On Cannabis Legalization

Dario Sabaghi – February 5, 2024

After resolving internal disagreements and making adjustments regarding cannabis legalization in Germany, the coalition government seems to have reached a consensus.

The leaders of the so-called Traffic Light Coalition, formed by The Greens, the Social Democrat Party, and the Liberals, announced last week that they have reached a deal on cannabis legalization after disagreements over the details of the proposed legislation. The bill will be voted on this month, with the aim of the legalization taking effect in April as planned.

This development clears the path for the legalization of cannabis for personal use, aligning with the impending vote. If there are no further delays, Germany is poised to become the third European Union member state to legalize cannabis for personal use, following Malta and Luxembourg.

The breakthrough follows an internal disagreement and criticism from the SPD regarding the details of the legislation. However, remnants of criticism still persist within the center-left party.

Although the leaders of the government coalition have officially reached an agreement on legalization, some SPD MPs remain opposed.

For instance, Sebastian Fiedler told the German news website Der Spiegel that he would vote against legalization. He cited his disagreement with a law that could “lead to the decriminalization of dealers and pointless extra work for the police.”

“My professional ethics as a criminal investigator don’t allow me to take any other stance,” he said.

Sebastian Hartmann, the domestic policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, also said in an interview with Zeit Online that he would not support the reform in the Bundestag and couldn’t endorse the proposed plan.

“The coalition agreement originally provided for the controlled supply of cannabis in certified stores, but the current law shifts this supply to the private sector and thus to uncontrollability,” he said.

The path to legalization in Germany has encountered several hurdles. Initially, the coalition government had to revise its plan, which initially involved the sale of cannabis, as it risked breaching EU laws. Secondly, it confronted criticism from opposition parties seeking to obstruct the proposed legislation. Lastly, internal dissent within the government, particularly from the SPD, emerged regarding the details of the bill.

For the government coalition, the legalization of cannabis for personal use marks a significant milestone in modern drug policy, emphasizing prevention and improving health and child and youth protection.

However, the proposed legislation, introduced last year by Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, may undergo additional slight revisions to address concerns raised by the SPD, potentially involving the expansion and acceleration of monitoring and reporting obligations related to the illicit market.

“The fight against the black market, decriminalization, and better protection of minors will come as announced. The previous drug policy has failed; a new beginning,” Lauterbach said on X.

Lawmakers recently revised the bill to ease restrictions opposed by advocates and supporters in the Bundestag. Changes included raising home possession limits and eliminating the possibility of jail time for slightly exceeding the possession limit.

The government coalition also plans to introduce a complementary measure establishing pilot programs for commercial sales, set to be revealed after submission to the European Commission.

The final Bundestag reading is expected in the week from February 19 to 23.

The law is set to pass in the week starting February 19, moving to the Bundesrat on March 22 without expected hurdles.

By April 1, the cannabis ban is likely to be lifted, allowing adults to grow cannabis at home and possess small quantities, while cannabis clubs will be allowed from July 1.

Story from Forbes – Germany Cannabis Legalization

Cocaine: Swiss capital Bern may allow sales as ‘the war on drugs has failed’

In the US state of Oregon, having small amounts of cocaine has been allowed since 2021 and many European countries, including Spain, Italy and Portugal, no longer have prison sentences for possession of drugs including cocaine.

Our Friend and Fellow Activist Dana Larson has been Arrested!
Stores have been Raided!

Vancouver police bust three storefronts selling psilocybin and psychedelics

Longtime pot activist Dana Larsen opened the stores on East Hastings, West Broadway and Granville street starting in 2019 …

Published Nov 01, 2023

Police have raided three Vancouver storefronts that were allegedly selling psychedelic drugs illegally. Early Wednesday, businesses in Marpole, Mount Pleasant and Strathcona were searched and psylocybin (magic mushrooms) and other psychedelics were seized, said VPD spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison.

“We have been clear that anyone who breaks the law by illegally trafficking controlled drugs and substances could be arrested and charged with a criminal offence,” said Addison in a release. “This includes people who traffic drugs for profit from unlicensed and illegal retail businesses.”

Addison said investigators believe the controlled substances “were being bought and sold in bulk quantities to walk-in customers” at the stores on East Hastings Street, West Broadway Avenue and Granville Street.

The search warrants are part of an ongoing criminal investigation, and Addison said the VPD will consider recommending charges once it concludes.“Psilocybin is a controlled substance under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,” noted Addison.

While there are exemptions in some cases in B.C. for people to possess and consume drugs for personal use, “it is illegal to traffic psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs unless an exemption from Health Canada has been obtained,” such as for a clinical trial.

Longtime pot activist Dana Larsen has publicly promoted his foray into the retail of mushrooms and other psychedelics such as DMT, LSD, peyote and kratom. He launched storefronts at the locations that were raided Wednesday starting in 2019.

Larsen claims his operations are “under attack by the city,” and is urging supporters to attend a public hearing about the business licences on Dec. 6 at city hall.

See Video and Story here – Mushroom Store Raids BC

In 1999 Alison was invited by Dr. Ethan Russo (a Neurologist from the United States) to the first Medical Cannabis Conference in Canada in Cornwall, Ontario, where she was immediately introduced to Raphael Mechoulam, the man who founded and named THC in cannabis.
As the only lay person to speak in front of Doctors and Scientists from around the world at the Conference about cannabis helping the violent pain in her face and head 24/7 associated with MS in 1999, Alison is well aware that Raphael Mechoulam was a major influence in why she never gave up on Cannabis as Medicine.
You may be gone now our brilliant friend, but your inspiring work will live on for millenia…
With much Love and thanks to you “Rafi”, for helping Alison understand the endless wonders of this plant….

Legendary Cannabis Chemist Raphael Mechoulam Passes Away in Israel at 92

Chemist Raphael Mechoulam has passed away. He was 92.

Born in Bulgaria in 1930, Mechoulam spent his adult life in Israel. He’s best known for synthesizing THC and other cannabinoids and discovering the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Mechoulam was the Albert Hofmann of cannabis. (Hofmann discovered LSD.) In fact, Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann made the same comparision when asked to comment about Mechoulam. “I can’t help but think of Albert Hofmann when I think of Raphael Mechoulam,” he tells CelebStoner. “Both were giants of psychoactive drug reserach who pioneered, led and legitimized the study of remarkable but controversial substances over the course of their very long and productive lives.”

In a recent article in the Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Mechoulam looked back at his life. After surviving World War II and the Holocaust (he father was placed in a concentration camp), he emigrated to Israel in 1949.

“In 1953 I was conscripted and spent about two years doing research in an Army medical research unit,” he wrote. “Most of my work was in chemistry, in collaboration with pharmacologists. A few years later, I moved to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I continued my research for the next 55 years.”

Mechoulamn got in the ground floor of cannabis research: “My interest in natural products led me to read the literature on the chemistry and pharmacology of Cannabis. I was surprised to note that an active compound had apparently never been isolated in pure form and that its structure was only partially known. Even the structure of a major crystalline component, cannabidiol (CBD), which had been isolated more than two decades previously, was not fully elucidated. Their biological effects as pure or semipure compounds had barely been investigated.”

He explained how they acquired cannabis to study it: “The administrative head of my Institute knew a police officer, who was presumably the number two (or possibly the number three) in the Israeli Police hierarchy. He phoned and told him that a Dr. Raphael Mechoulam needed hashish for research and that he – meaning me – was completely reliable (though he barely knew me). I just went to Police headquarters, had a cup of coffee with the policeman in charge of the storage of illicit drugs and got 5 kg of confiscated hashish, presumably smuggled from Lebanon.”

his led to his discoveries of THC, CBD, cannabigerol (CBG), anandamide, 2-AG and eventually the ECS. “Although all the cannabinoids assayed were rather closely related chemically, only THC was active,” he noted. “Hence, except for CBD and THC, very little research was published on the other cannabinoid constituents for a few decades. However, over the last few years, interest in them has increased.”

In the mid-’80s, his colleague Allyn Howlett reported the existence of a cannabinoid receptor, known today as CB1.” They further concluded that THC and anandamide “represent the chemical basis of a new biochemical/physiological network: the endocannabinoid system. This system, as seen today, in addition to the two endocannabinoids, also covers the enzymes needed to synthesize and hydrolyze the endocannabinoids as well as two receptors: CB1 and CB2. The endocannabinoid system is of central importance in the animal body and represents an important modulatory network in the brain.”

Mechoulam: “I had a cup of coffee with the policeman in charge of the storage of illicit drugs and got 5 kg of confiscated hashish, presumably smuggled from Lebanon.”

That was huge news. In his “finals thoughts,” Mechoulam speculated: “The endocannabinoid system is a latecomer to our knowledge in chemistry, pharmacology and physiology. Its involvement in biological processes is enormously wide, but most of the endogenous anandamide-like compounds and 2-AG-like compounds have yet to be investigated for their activity.

“I want to stress that in the endocannabinoid area, as well as in other areas, close collaboration between scientists working in medicinal chemistry and pharmacology is a wonderful and fruitful pathway to the discovery of novel biological traits. It has been a pleasure to work with my colleagues in Israel and abroad. I have learned a lot from them. And I hope to learn more.

Story from –

Liberal government launches review of Cannabis Act — a year late

The review will look at impact on Indigenous people, youth and home cultivation

“Through this useful, inclusive and evidence-driven review, we will strengthen the act so that it meets the needs of all Canadians while continuing to displace the illicit market. I look forward to receiving the panel’s findings,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said.

The Liberals lifted a century-long prohibition on the use and sale of recreational cannabis in October 2018, with a commitment to review the law three years after it came into force. That review is nearly a year overdue.

According to the Cannabis Act, the review must focus on the law’s impact on Indigenous people, on cultivating cannabis in a housing complex and on the health and consumption patterns of young people.

“Young people are at increased risk of experiencing harms from cannabis such as mental health problems, including dependence and disorders related to anxiety and depression,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett.

“While a lot of progress has been made on the implementation of the Cannabis Act and its dual objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety, we need to assess the work that has been done and learn how and where to adjust to meet these goals.”

The review mandate has been expanded to include an examination of the social and environmental effects of the Cannabis Act, the impact of legalization and regulation of medical cannabis and the impact on racialized communities and women.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, co-chair of the all-party cannabis caucus, said the need to get these additional areas included in the review explains in part why the government missed the three-year timeline.

“Getting the scope of the review right was much more important than the timeline,” he said. “If we’d followed the legislation to a ‘T’ — both in relation to the three-year timeline, but also the considerations that are set out in the legislation — we would have missed a major opportunity to get this right.”

Expert panel to be named soon

The federal government said the Cannabis Act was brought in to displace the illegal market and to protect the health of Canadians.

Progress toward both of those goals will also be examined by the review, which will be conducted by an independent panel of experts.

Morris Rosenberg, the former deputy minister of justice, will chair the expert panel. The other panel members have not yet been named.

l will hear from the public, government, Indigenous groups, youth, cannabis industry representatives and medical cannabis users. The panel will also hear from experts in public health, substance abuse, law enforcement and health care.

“I look forward to working with the panel and to providing evidence-based advice to ministers to strengthen this particularly important piece of legislation and advance public policy in this area in Canada,” Rosenberg said Thursday.

Children and edibles

Bennett and Duclos were asked about reports that an increasing number of children have been admitted to hospital because of exposure to cannabis products, and whether the review would look at the impact on young children.

“We’ve done well in terms of the public education campaign but I think since the advent of edibles that we need to do more,” Bennett said. “Families need to ensure that it’s in a safe place where children can’t access it.”

Erskine-Smith said there are always risks to public health when it comes to alcohol, cannabis and other substances but they can be mitigated with harm reduction.

“The public health approach has to be about reducing harms and taking a broader look … to say, ‘How can we best regulate activities to reduce harms?’ And edibles are good example of that,” he said.

Duclos said that since legalization, 70 per cent of Canada’s cannabis market has moved from the illegal economy to legal and regulated sources of supply.

Erskine-Smith said displacing the illicit marketplace for cannabis has to be a central goal of any cannabis legalization legislation and a core component of the federal government’s agenda overall.

“We are going to displace the illicit marketplace. It’s only a matter of time and you are going to, over the next three years, five years and 10 years, see those numbers shift,” he said. “The legal marketplace will be where Canadians continue to turn.”

He said that in order to ensure that happens, the federal government must continue to provide Canadians with a safe, affordable, reliable supply.

Story from CBC

B.C. gets approval for legal possession of small amounts of street drugs as deaths soar

Personal possession of up to 2.5 grams to be legal for three years beginning Jan. 31, 2023

Jane Skrypnek – May. 31, 2022

Health Canada has approved B.C.’s request to decriminalize small possessions of illicit drugs, although at a lower threshold than the province sought.

Beginning on Jan. 31, 2023, British Columbians 18 and older will be legally allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of street drugs on them, which can include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA. Health Canada says the drugs must be for personal use only, and the program will be reviewed in three years.

It says adults found in possession of 2.5 grams or less won’t be arrested or charged and won’t have their drugs seized. Anyone producing or importing or exporting drugs and anyone carrying them for the purposes of trafficking will continue to face legal repercussions, though.

People carrying drugs will face a number of other restrictions as well. They cannot have them on the premises of an elementary or secondary school, licensed child care facility, airport or Canadian Coast Guard plane or helicopter. Drugs also cannot be readily accessible to the driver or operator of a vehicle or boat, and cannot be carried across borders.

Health Canada says the months leading up to Jan. 31 will be used by B.C. to train law enforcement and health authorities, educate the public on the change, and work with First Nations and Indigenous leaders to ensure safe implementation.

It says it and a third party evaluator will be regularly monitoring the exemption throughout the three years and making any adjustments necessary.

The approval comes shortly after the six year anniversary of B.C. declaring a public health emergency around the opioid crisis. Since April 2016, close to 10,000 people have died to toxic drug overdoses.

Advocates have long pushed for decriminalization as one avenue for reducing the number of deaths. They argue criminalizing drug possession doesn’t stop people from using them, but rather drives them to use alone and turn to more dangerous methods of accessing them. Criminalizing drugs also increases stigma against people who use them and worsens their relationship with law enforcement, advocates say.

In B.C.’s request to Health Canada, it asked for a 4.5-gram carry threshold, which some advocates said was still unrealistically low. When they heard Health Canada was considering a 2.5-gram threshold instead back in April, several said the amount was laughable for many users.

“That’s something I would eat for breakfast,” people told Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users member Brittany Graham at the time.

In deciding on the lower threshold, Health Canada said it weighed potential benefits against potential harms to the public. It said little evidence exists on what a good threshold amount is.

It says decriminalization requests by Vancouver and Toronto are still pending, and declined to provide any kind of decision timeline.

Story from – The Abbotsford News

Master P Says People Shouldn’t Be Locked Up For Marijuana Offenses

… Weed Like Them Freed!!!

May 19, 2022 – TMZ

Epstein-Barr Virus Found to Trigger Multiple Sclerosis

The research could mark a turning point in the fight against MS

By Lydia Denworth –

A connection between the human herpesvirus Epstein-Barr and multiple sclerosis (MS) has long been suspected but has been difficult to prove. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the primary cause of mononucleosis and is so common that 95 percent of adults carry it. Unlike Epstein-Barr, MS, a devastating demyelinating disease of the central nervous system, is relatively rare. It affects 2.8 million people worldwide. But people who contract infectious mononucleosis are at slightly increased risk of developing MS. In the disease, inflammation damages the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells, ultimately disrupting signals to and from the brain and causing a variety of symptoms, from numbness and pain to paralysis.

To prove that infection with Epstein-Barr causes MS, however, a research study would have to show that people would not develop the disease if they were not first infected with the virus. A randomized trial to test such a hypothesis by purposely infecting thousands of people would of course be unethical.

Instead researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School turned to what they call “an experiment of nature.” They used two decades of blood samples from more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the U.S. military (the samples were taken for routine HIV testing). About 5 percent of those individuals (several hundred thousand people) were negative for Epstein-Barr when they started military service, and 955 eventually developed MS. The researchers were able to compare the outcomes of those who were subsequently infected and those who were not. The results, published on September 13 in Science, show that the risk of multiple sclerosis increased 32-fold after infection with Epstein-Barr but not after infection with other viruses. “These findings cannot be explained by any known risk factor for MS and suggest EBV as the leading cause of MS,” the researchers wrote.

In an accompanying commentary, immunologists William H. Robinson and Lawrence Steinman, both at Stanford University, wrote, “These findings provide compelling data that implicate EBV as the trigger for the development of MS.” Epidemiologist Alberto Ascherio, senior author of the new study, says, “The bottom line is almost: if you’re not infected with EBV, you don’t get MS. It’s rare to get such black-and-white results.”

Virologist Jeffrey I. Cohen, who heads the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health and was not involved in the research, is cautious about claiming “cause.” He argues that it still must be shown that preventing Epstein-Barr prevents MS but agrees the results are dramatic. “When the original studies were done with cigarette smoking and lung cancer, they found a 25-fold risk factor for people who smoked more than 25 cigarettes a day,” Cohen says. “This is even higher.”

Much of the world’s population, especially in developing countries, is infected with Epstein-Barr very early in life without much ill effect, although the virus can lead to several rare cancers. Everyone else is infected in adolescence and young adulthood, when Epstein-Barr usually leads to infectious mononucleosis, also called “kissing disease” because it is transmitted via saliva. After infection, Epstein-Barr lives on in some B cells of the immune system and the antibodies developed to fight it remain in the blood.

In the new study, which is a much larger expansion of a 2010 investigation, the researchers analyzed up to three blood samples for each individual with MS: the first taken when most of the military personnel were under the age of 20, the last taken years later, before the onset of the disease, and one in between. The team was looking for seroconversion, or the appearance of antibodies in the blood as evidence of infection. Each person with MS was also matched with two randomly selected controls without MS, who were of the same age, sex, race or ethnicity, and branch of the military. Out of the 955 cases of MS, they were able to assemble appropriate samples for 801 individuals with the disease and 1,566 controls. Thirty-five of the people who developed MS and 107 controls tested negative for EBV initially. Only one of the 801 people with MS had not been infected with Epstein-Barr before the disease’s onset. The risk of developing MS was 32 times greater for those who seroconverted by the third sample, compared with those who did not. As for the one case of MS in someone who remained negative for Epstein-Barr, it is possible that person was infected after the sample was taken, but  it is also true that, in diseases that are clinically defined by their symptoms, such as MS,  it is highly unlikely that 100 percent of cases derive from the same cause, even if most do, Ascherio says.

“The numbers are just so striking,” says Stephen Hauser, director of the University of California, San Francisco, Weill Institute for Neurosciences, who was not involved with the study. “It’s really a uniform seroconversion before the onset of MS that is really far more significant than in the control population.”

But to be sure Epstein-Barr was the culprit, Ascherio and his colleagues also measured antibodies against cytomegalovirus, another herpesvirus, and found no difference in levels in those who developed MS and those who did not. Using a subset of 30 MS cases and 30 controls, they conducted a scan to detect antibody responses to most of the viruses that infect humans. Again, there was no difference. And to rule out the possibility that infection with Epstein-Barr preceded MS and not the other way around, the team also measured levels of a protein that is elevated in serum when neurons are injured or die and that therefore serves as a marker of the beginning of the pathological process before clinical symptoms appear. The protein levels only rose after Epstein-Barr infection.

One major question remains, however: How does the virus lead to the disease? That is unknown and “elusive,” Robinson and Steinman wrote in their commentary. They proposed several possibilities, such as inducing an autoimmune reaction.

Even if Epstein-Barr is the triggering event for MS, infection alone is insufficient for an actual diagnosis. Epstein-Barr, it appears, has to combine with a genetic predisposition and possibly environmental factors, such as smoking and vitamin D deficiency, to increase risk. Understanding the underlying mechanism will be important, the experts say. But meanwhile “this is the best epidemiologic lead we have in terms of the cause of MS,” Hauser says.

Historically, we have thought of MS as an autoimmune disease of unknown etiology. “Now we should start thinking of MS as a complication of infection with the Epstein-Barr virus,” Ascherio says. “This should open a new chapter in trying to find a way to treat and prevent the disease.”

Antivirals that target EBV in infected B cells are one possibility. One of the more exciting developments in MS in recent years was the success of B-cell-depletion therapies. In earlier work, Hauser and his colleagues found that the tissue damage in MS is primarily directed by B cells, which attack the myelin sheath protecting nerves. The therapies now approved for use are monoclonal antibodies that kill those B cells, thereby easing inflammation. They are not a cure but are highly effective against MS relapses, reducing the development of new lesions measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain by an astounding 99 percent. They are also the only therapies shown to be effective against primary progressive MS, a previously untreatable form of the disease. “One might be able to refine these therapies that are working well and maybe just target the EBV-infected B cells,” says immunologist Christian Münz of the University of Zurich, who was also not involved in the new Science study.

Others are already working on vaccines that could prevent infection with Epstein-Barr. Moderna, which created an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, launched a phase 1 trial of an mRNA vaccine for Epstein-Barr earlier this month. And NIAID’s Cohen expects to begin a phase 1 trial of another Epstein-Barr vaccine by the end of February. If these researchers succeed, such vaccines might dramatically reduce the incidence of mononucleosis and some cancers. And now it is conceivable that they could do the same for MS.

Story from Scientific American

New Hope for TGN Suffers

Video on CTV Website

Octopuses Rolling on MDMA Reveal Unexpected Link to Humans

“They just embraced with multiple arms.”

Inverse- Sarah Sloat

When the California two-spot octopus isn’t attempting to bring more eight-legged cephalopods into this world, it prefers to be alone. Known to scientists as Octopus bimaculoides, the alien-like invertebrate spends most of its time hiding or searching for food, asocial males avoiding asocial females until their biological clocks say it’s time to partner up. That is, until they are on MDMA. In a groundbreaking study, researchers described how octopuses on the drug act similarly to a socially anxious human on MDMA: They open up.

Gül Dölen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and the co-author of the 2018 Current Biology paper. She tells Inverse that when octopuses are on MDMA, it’s like watching “an eight-armed hug.”

“They were very loose,” Dölen says. “They just embraced with multiple arms.”

While MDMA is known to trigger prosocial behavior in mice and humans, it has never been witnessed in invertebrates, animals that have no backbone. Vertebrates and invertebrates have wildly divergent bodies and brain structures, and for a long time scientists didn’t think the latter had the capacity to be social. They only recently realized invertebrates deserved a second look.

Because of improvements in molecular genetic analysis, Dölen explains, we’re beginning to understand the ways in which both groups evolved from a common ancestor. The findings of the study add evidence to the idea that social behaviors have a long evolutionary history — going back much farther than we ever believed. The electrifying results could significantly impact what we know about the evolution of brains and why MDMA-assisted therapy seems to be such a useful tool in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

“After the MDMA, it was like an eight-armed hug.”

An octopus differs from a human in ways far beyond the obvious. A heap of no bones and 33,000 genes, octopuses are believed to be Earth’s first intelligent beings. They are utterly different from all other animals, with a central brain that surrounds the esophagus and two-thirds of their neurons in their arms. They’re separated from humans by more than 500 million years of evolution. But despite the differences between octopuses and humans, Dölen and her colleague Eric Edsinger, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory, choose to focus on a single crucial similarity. The brain of the California two-spot octopus contains a serotonin transporter that enables the binding of MDMA — much like human brains.

This means that serotonin — believed to help regulate mood, social behavior, sleep, and sexual desire — is an ancient neurotransmitter that’s shared across vertebrate and invertebrate species. Dölen and Edsinger hypothesized this before the octopuses were ever bathed in MDMA.

“We needed to check the genome to make sure that the genes that encode the serotonin transporter, which is the protein that MDMA binds to, was still a binding site in octopuses even despite the fact that so much evolutionary time had passed,” Dölen explains.

“We performed phylogenetic tree mapping and found that, even though their whole serotonin transporter gene is only 50 to 60 percent similar to humans, the gene was still conserved. That told us that MDMA would have a place to go in the octopus brain and suggested it could encode sociality as it does in a human brain.”

That’s a revolutionary suggestion because scientists only very recently began to accept that invertebrates are even capable of being social. After all, without MDMA, California two-spot octopuses prefer to be loners. In a 2017 study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers from Queen Mary University of of London wrote the possibility that invertebrates could have emotions has “traditionally been dismissed by many as emotions are frequently defined with reference to human subjective experience, and invertebrates are often not considered to have the neural requirements for such sophisticated abilities.”

But recent studies, illustrating a shift in thinking, have shown that invertebrates like sea slugs, bees, and crabs all display various cognitive, behavioral, and phsyiological phenomena that suggest internal states reminiscent of emotions.

This is why the fact that octopuses can bind serotonin is so important. Serotonin is a key mitigator of the emotional aspects of human behavior and sociality. That octopuses, one of the most advanced invertebrates, have a similar pathway geared toward social behavior despite the fact that their brains are organized very differently suggests that sociality is spread across the animal kingdom.

“There have been studies showing that serotonin is important for social behaviors for both invertebrates and vertebrates, and this really confirms to me that it’s true that serotonin is conserved across hundreds of millions of years of evolution,” says Dölen.

This became clear when she observed how octopuses acted after they were bathed in MDMA. Individual octopuses were put into the middle zone of a glass aquarium that was divided into three. From the middle zone, the subject octopus had the option to move into the zone on either side of it. On one side, there was another octopus in a cage, and on the other, there was a “novel toy object” (a Stormtrooper figurine). Sociality was measured by the number of seconds the subject octopus spent on the side with the caged octopus compared to the Stormtrooper side. Five octopuses were used in the control experiment, and four were used during the MDMA trial.

Watching the individual control octopuses — those that hadn’t been bathed in MDMA — during 30-minute test sessions, the researchers found that all of the octopuses spent more time with the Stormtrooper when the social chamber contained a male. When the social chamber contained a female, both male and female octopuses tentatively explored that area.

They would “push against the wall and sort of delicately touch the container that had the octopus in it,” says Dölen.

But when these octopuses were on MDMA, they were not delicate with their movements toward the caged individuals. After being placed in a bath with MDMA for 10 minutes, and then washed with saline for 20 minutes,, and they re-entered the three-zone aquarium. This time around, they spent significantly more time with the other octopus, whether it was male or female, and the eight-armed hugging commenced.

“This paper is welcomed, as the behavioral neuroscience of cephalopods is very understudied,” Dalhousie University invertebrate behavioral physiologist Shelley Adamo, Ph.D., who was not involved with the current paper, tells Inverse. Adamo also studies the interactions between behavior and physiology in invertebrate model systems. “We know little about how their brains work. This paper breaks new ground by examining the underlying molecular basis of at least one neurotransmitter system.”

But she also cautions that it’s too early to jump to conclusions because the paper’s evidence that “the octopus were engaging in ‘social’ behaviors is not especially strong.” There could be alternative explanations for all that friendliness. Maybe the drug altered their foraging behavior and the target octopus “smelled” like food (cephalopods are occasionally cannibalistic). Maybe the MDMA changed their typical hunting behavior, and being hungry could explain why both male and female octopuses were interested in the target.

“As with most interesting papers, it raises a number of questions: What would two octopus do if they were both on MDMA and they could contact one another?” Adamo asks. “The small sample size — a necessary evil for most studies on cephalopods — means that the data is not as robust as it could be.”

Dölen has two hypotheses to explain what happened. Qualitatively, it looks like octopuses on MDMA, much like humans, could just like touching in general,, and the octopus in the cage “is the most interesting object that an octopus would want to touch.” Or it could be that the drug really does make them social. The latter, she believes, is the most robust hypothesis: MDMA affects human interest in social touch as well, and that seems to be preserved in octopuses as well.

“What this says to me is that in the brain of an octopus, the neural circuits and transmitters that are required for social behavior must exist,, and they are just suppressed most of the time,” says Dölen. “Octopuses appear to suspend their asociality during important mating periods through a suppression mechanism in their brain.”

The MDMA used in the study was provided by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the nonprofit organization that funds the FDA-approved Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in patients with severe PTSD. This research, Dölen says, has intrigued MAPS founder Rick Doblin, and with good reason. It suggests that perhaps the best way to gain insight into MDMA’s mechanisms and therapeutic importance isn’t by taking an fMRI picture of the brain and examining the regions it activates, which has been standard practice in MDMA research. From Dölen’s point of view, the fact that octopuses don’t have the the same brain regions as humans but still carry the genes that enable MDMA binding means that molecular and cellular information is going to be more useful than anatomical data.

“Octopuses don’t have the same parts of the brain that we think are important for social behavior, a region called the nucleus accumbens,” says Dölen.

“What we’re arguing is that the brain regions don’t matter. What matters is that they have the molecules, the neurotransmitters, and some configuration of neurons. They have the serotonin transporter,, and that’s enough.”

Sarah Sloat is a writer based in Brooklyn. She has previously written for The New Republic, Pacific Standard, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She likes cheese especially when paired with a full-bodied joke.

Story from –

Could magic mushrooms be the next marijuana?

With active legislation in 7 states, including NY, to allow the therapeutic use of the psychedelic drug, psilocybin could become the next mainstream medicinal high

Tyler Wetherall – December 15, 2021

New mothers are doing it to relieve postpartum depression. Tech CEOs are partaking to enhance productivity. Artists seek a creative boost, and chronic pain sufferers want relief. Microdosing — taking very small doses of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms — has entered the cultural consciousness as the panacea of the moment.

The trend — which is also illegal — is part of a new dawning awareness of psychedelics, in particular psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms. Several cities and states, including New York, this year have introduced legislation to decriminalize the compound or allow its medicinal use.

Not since the 1960s has there been so much interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics with multiple clinical studies on psilocybin indicating widespread benefits, from treating depression and drug addiction to relieving end-of-life anxiety. Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins has an entire center now devoted to research on the natural compound.

But when it comes to microdosing — taking a “sub-perceptual” or infinitesimal dose, roughly one-20th to one-10th of a recreational dose, on a semi-regular basis — the jury is still out, with new research suggesting a potential placebo effect.

As psychotherapist Dee Dee Goldpaugh, LSCW, who has a practice in Woodstock and New York City, says, “People who microdose and believe they will get better, tend to do so.”

Alternatively, psychedelic therapy, in which Goldpaugh specializes, involves taking doses large enough to feel a perceptible shift in consciousness in the presence of — or followed by sessions with — a trained mental health professional.

“What we do know from the clinical literature,” said Goldpaugh, who is also the community support and integration director of the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society (HVPS), “is in a controlled safe clinical context, with therapeutic support, high doses of psilocybin seem to produce antidepressant effects.”

From criminalization to marijuana mainstream

In the mid-20th century, therapists began to experiment with psilocybin, but after a backlash against the countercultural movement of the 1960s and its embrace of psychedelics, magic mushrooms were designated illegal and later classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, on par with heroin, but also marijuana, “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Research ground to a halt.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Johns Hopkins University obtained the first regulatory approval in the United States to reinitiate research with psychedelics. Now, following a growing number of studies that demonstrate psilocybin’s therapeutic benefits, the compound is gaining acceptance as a safe and potentially more effective treatment for depression than existing therapies.

Legislative measures are emerging in response. In June 2019, Oakland, California passed a groundbreaking resolution to decriminalize natural psychedelics, including psilocybin. In November 2020, Oregon became the first state in the country to create a legal framework for the therapeutic use of psilocybin in licensed facilities under the guidance of trained professionals.

Other states look likely to follow. In Florida, a bill has been introduced that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psilocybin; in Hawaii, legislation seeks to decriminalize psilocybin and legalize its medical use. Similar bills are working their way through Pennsylvania, Texas and Missouri. Nine cities have also enacted local government reforms.

Here in New York, multiple bills have been introduced to the state legislature to legalize and expand its medicinal use. Assembly member Patrick Burke, representing the Buffalo region, introduced a bill on Dec. 13 to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use and create facilities where they could be grown and administered, with a focus on prioritizing access to veterans and first responders.

Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal, who represents a Manhattan district, introduced a bill in June 2021 that seeks to amend public health law to allow the creation of a public psychedelic research institute and a psychedelic substances therapeutic research program. She also sponsored an Assembly bill to decriminalize psilocybin.

Rosenthal was moved to introduce the measure after reading an account of someone with treatment resistant depression who tried 15 different medications before finding relief through a psilocybin clinical trial.

“This isn’t meant to be something pedaled on street corners,” she said. “It’s a serious treatment option for a myriad of illnesses and mental health states. There’s so much potential, and I want to make sure New York is in on it.”

Both of her bills have been referred to the Health Committee. “Our next step is to do a lot of education.”

So could magic mushrooms be on the cusp of becoming the next marijuana — a natural therapy available in a regulated market?

“It’s not ‘counterculture.’ Mainstream medicine is coming to realize it could be very helpful to people in the grips of recalcitrant illnesses,” Rosenthal said.

The magic in the mushrooms

Most drugs that treat depression are variations on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Prozac. Goldpaugh, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, explains that these drugs work by “blunting certain overwhelming emotions, rather than getting to the root cause.”

Psilocybin, when taken under the instruction of clinicians or with trustworthy guides, alongside integrative therapy, can help people feel more open, tolerant and understanding, says Goldpaugh. It induces neuroplasticity, meaning the brain is able to rework entrenched thought patterns. Psilocybin also often causes mystical experiences, which, with the right support, can create meaningful change to an individual’s life or sense of self, advocates say.

“All of those things can address the root cause of some of our issues, like addiction or depression, rather than try to suppress symptoms,” said Goldpaugh, who has amassed hundreds of clinical hours providing psychedelic integration therapy, now a fast-growing specialty. This involves supportive therapy to process patients’ previous psychedelic experience, rather than administering any substances within the session.

Goldpaugh came to this specialty in psychedelics through a personal journey. “I experienced trauma and had a PTSD diagnosis,” they said. “I had many forms of conventional therapy. I had achieved function, but not really healing.”

They then traveled to Peru to experience a healing ceremony in an indigenous community in the Andes involving the natural psychedelic San Pedro, found in a cactus plant and known as echinopsis pachanoi.

Part of that work was to join the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society (HVPS). HVPS was founded in January 2021 by Daniel Grauer, the author of “Psychedelic Consciousness: Plant Intelligence for Healing Ourselves and Our Fragmented World.” Grauer, who lives in the Catskills, held an informal outdoor meeting last year to gauge interest in the idea and was overwhelmed by the response.

Now the board of the volunteer-run nonprofit includes a journalist, a neuroscientist, a shamanic practitioner, activists, teachers and psychotherapists.

“We wanted to provide local advocacy, education and community support to foster the safe, equitable integration of psychedelics into our region,” Grauer said. “We want to make sure it’s decriminalized, regulated and legalized, and we also want to make sure everyone is as safe as possible out there.”

“When you collectively put together depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, we’re talking about over 55 million Americans suffering, and we don’t have great medicine in our current paradigm to help treat people,” Grauer said. “Folks are really looking for some healing.”

HVPS is working alongside the New York branch of Decriminalize Nature — the group involved in Oakland’s successful decriminalization resolution in 2019 — to reach out to multiple municipalities to propose a resolution on a city or township level that would “decriminalize the possession, cultivation, exchange and ceremonial use of psychedelic plants and fungi and take steps towards ending the war on drugs.” With support at the local level, the idea is that this would then bolster support for state level efforts.

While a resolution adopted by a town can’t change the state or federal law, it can signal to local officials to prevent resources from being used in the investigation, arrest or prosecution of individuals who take psilocybin. This would mark a turning point toward de facto decriminalization, with a hands-off approach to recreational or medicinal use.

Beyond the use of psychedelics in a therapeutic context, advocates see decriminalization as a matter of cognitive liberty, religious freedom and social justice. Indigenous communities have used psychoactive plants, like peyote and others, ceremonially for centuries.

“Could we have safe community-based use of psychedelic medicines that could be in some way not appropriative, but parallel to the way indigenous communities have used these medicines?” Goldpaugh questioned.

Weighing potential for abuse

Despite talk of a psychedelic renaissance underway, there are legitimate concerns. While the drug psilocybin is widely considered safe — it is not physiologically addictive and causes no organ damage even in high doses — more research is needed on possible side effects, especially when it comes to individuals with underlying mental health disorders, who are often screened out of clinical trials.

Psilocybin researchers and experts also point to the need for consumption in a controlled setting for safety.

“If it’s accessible by a prescription and used in a controlled, clinical setting, I could see where that would be helpful,” said Christopher Dennehy, LCSW, CASAC, and the Clinical Director of Step One, a private outpatient clinic for substance abuse treatment with three locations in Ulster County.

Out of the roughly 650 clients that Step One currently serves, no one is directly seeking treatment solely because of their psychedelic use. But it’s possible that making psychedelics more readily available might encourage some people to partake without due caution.

“The same people taking grandma’s oxycontin [might] never think of doing heroin, but they are actually doing heroin, it’s just packaged in a nice little pill,” said Dennehy. “So if psychedelics are packaged in [the same] way [as medicine], that might actually open the door for some people,” and make them feel more comfortable using it.

Many already do. Psychedelic retreats in countries like Costa Rica, Mexico and Jamaica, where the substances aren’t prohibited, as well as underground across the United States, promise life-changing transformation, but guests might not be properly supervised and there’s no regulation of credentials. The New York Times recently reported on the potential dangers of this emerging “wellness” industry, from the onset of psychosis to accounts of abuse while under the influence.

A new podcast from New Yorkmagazine called “Power Trip” also explores “the dark underbelly of psychedelic therapy.” Though broadly speaking, the focus is on abuse by therapy providers rather than the psychoactive substances.

Planting seeds of profit

With John Hopkins University, Mount Sinai and NYU Langone setting up psychedelic medicine research centers, and millions of dollars of funding pouring in, there is already a rush to commercialize the field.

Advocates fear a future in which boutique treatments are available only for the relatively wealthy — like the ketamine treatment course at the national network of wellness clinics called Field Trip Health, which starts at $4,100. Equity of access is key, so communities that historically have been disenfranchised from the medical establishment can also benefit from these medicines, says Grauer.

Other priorities include adequate training for practitioners, an ethics board and facilitators who come from not just clinical backgrounds, but also ancestral and indigenous traditions.

“I believe in the treatment,” Goldpaugh said, “but we have to have a really critical eye on how these treatments are getting to people.”

Story from Times Union

Is the ‘War on Drugs’ over? Canada is seeing a ‘shift’ in its approach to drugs, experts say

By Rachel Gilmore – Gobal News – December 8, 2021

Walking around the downtown core of any major Canadian city, it’s not unusual to see weed dispensaries nestled between restaurants and cafes. It would’ve been a pipe dream just a decade ago.

Since making marijuana legal, the Canadian government has continued to inch toward a softer drug policy.

The federal government introduced legislation Tuesday to repeal mandatory minimum penalties for drug offences, and Health Canada decided last year to allow some palliative patients to use psilocybin — the chemical compound in magic mushrooms — to relieve end-of-life suffering. Toronto and Vancouver have also called for the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of drugs.

Taking all this together, experts say it’s clear we’re starting to “see a shift” in Canada’s stance on drugs.

“I see an acknowledgment that the war on drugs has been a failure,” said Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Toronto.

“I see a shift in the acknowledgment that many substances that are currently illegal — and people don’t have access to — can be used as medicines. And I see a shift just generally with respect to our openness and the use of drugs for pleasure.”

READ MORE: Liberals to introduce bill repealing mandatory minimums for drug offences

In a submission to Health Canada last month, British Columbia detailed its intention to decriminalize the personal possession of up to 4.5 grams of illicit drugs such as heroin, crack and powder cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine. Vancouver has also made a similar submission of its own. And just one week ago, Toronto’s top doctor said she’d like to see the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs decriminalized in the city — and she’s got support from the local police chief.

The changes come as the country finds itself in the grips of an opioid crisis that worsened amid the pandemic. Between April 2020 to March 2021, a total of 6,946 apparent opioid overdoses were reported across the country — an 88-per cent jump from the same time period prior to the pandemic.

B.C. reported the highest-ever number of drug deaths in the first seven months of 2021: 1,204, surpassing last year’s record by 28 per cent. Drug toxicity is now the province’s leading cause of death for those aged 19-39, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

In Ontario, opioid-related deaths rose by more than 75 per cent after COVID-19 hit in 2020, compared with the year before, a report by Ontario Drug Policy Research Network showed.

These figures point to one thing: “What we’re doing isn’t working,” according to Dr. Leslie Buckley, an addictions psychiatrist and the chief of addictions at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“We’re trending up on all substances. Opioid deaths, crystal meth — we’re seeing so much of that — alcohol and cannabis are both on the way up.”

Canada’s history with drug laws

Drugs have only been illegal in Canada for a little over 100 years, according to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Views began to shift in society in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the coalition’s website explains, mainly due to the “influence of Protestantism,” a growing unease in the medical community when it came to “unregulated medicine,” and a growing anti-opium sentiment.

READ MORE: Toronto’s top doctor recommends decriminalizing possession of small amounts of illegal drugs

In 1971, then-U.S. president Richard Nixon kicked off the so-called war on drugs, declaring in a historic speech that the United States government planned to treat drug addiction as a “public enemy No. 1” that had to be defeated with a “new all out-offensive.”

Canada followed suit with a harsher approach to drugs in 1987, when then prime minster Brian Mulroney brought about Canada’s first five-year National Drug Strategy.

“The war on drugs has not only been ineffective but in many ways amplified some of the problems around substance use that it is presumably meant to address, by criminalizing users,” said Andrew Hathaway, a professor of sociology at the University of Guelph.

“If you recognize the drug problems are a matter of addiction, are a matter of dependence, things that are typically framed within a public health or a medical framework — it really makes no sense to keep up the war on drugs measures.”

Increasingly, policymakers seem to be in agreement with Hathaway.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far rejected wholesale decriminalization of simple drug possession and consumption. However, his government has taken some steps that treat drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

In 2018, the Liberal government legalized marijuana. Also in 2018, the government made changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing health care providers to prescribe, sell or provide methadone without having to apply for an exemption with Health Canada.

The Liberal government is now trying to scrap mandatory minimums for drug offences, too, and is increasingly being lobbied by companies touting the medicinal benefits of magic mushrooms.

“I’m never averse to a positive suggestion or solution, and I’m always willing to assess that,” Justice Minister David Lametti added when pressed about the decriminalizing small-scale possession of drugs on Tuesday.

The new mandatory minimum bill would help “divert” people facing those kinds of charges away from the criminal justice system into “more appropriate forums to address those problems,” he said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also showed a slightly softer stance on drugs earlier this year, expressing his concerns about heavy-handed sentences for drug offences.

“It’s not appropriate to have very serious penalties for Canadians who have problems with drugs,” O’Toole said at a news conference in January, according to The Toronto Star.

Still, he does not agree with experts calling for the decriminalization of small-scale possession of drugs.

“We’ve seen horrible cases with opioids and other (drugs). Maybe it’s time for the government to put in place a plan for the well-being of Canadians, on the drugs and on mental health,” O’Toole said.

“It’s not the time right now to legalize all drugs.”

Trudeau’s government has indicated any intention to legalize all drugs. The only proposals to date have dealt with the decriminalization of small-scale possession.

When asked for an updated statement on Tuesday, the Conservatives provided Global News with a statement from their justice critic, Rob Moore.

“Canada’s Conservatives believe those struggling with addiction should get the help they need to recover,” the statement read.

Overall, the policy changes and softening stances show that there’s a sea change happening with respect to Canada’s approach to drugs, according to Owusu-Bempah.

“I think we’re seeing some fairly large —I’d almost say momentous — shifts with respect to our view on what are currently a variety of illegal substances,” he said.

Addiction as a public health issue

The pervasiveness of drugs and addictions issue in our society is “not a problem that we can arrest our way out of,” Hathaway said.

“That’s been widely recognized for decades. It’s just it takes time for it to seep into the public consciousness.”

Humans have consumed drugs for thousands of years. The first evidence of opium use in Europe dates back to 5,700 BCE, according to The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture.

“People are using drugs now, and people will continue to use drugs,” Owusu-Bempah said.

There were over 70,000 drug offences committed in 2019, according to Statistics Canada’s data on police-reported crime. Just shy of 25 per cent of those arrests were related to cannabis, and 20 per cent were cocaine-related. There were also over 10,000 arrests made for the possession of methamphetamine.

Accordingly to Buckley, people begin using drugs for a variety of reasons. Issues like anxiety and trauma are “huge risk factors” when it comes to addiction — and it can impact anyone, from “any walk of life.”

READ MORE: There are growing calls for drug decriminalization. Could it solve Canada’s opioid crisis?

That’s why something called “primary prevention,” which refers to an intervention that takes place before someone actually develops an addiction, is so important, Buckley said.

“We need some new, innovative ways to think upstream instead of just thinking about where we’re at right now, and really help young people make sure that they know the harms that they’re facing with substances today,” Buckley said.

Beyond addressing the root cause of addictions, shifting away from a punitive approach could also help usher in a more equitable society, according to Owusu-Bempah. That’s because the existing, more punitive approach toward addictions tends to disproportionately impact people of colour, he said.

“The racialized nature of policing and the fact that the police target Black and Indigenous people for stop and search activities means that those people are more likely to be caught in possession of drugs, even though rates of use are relatively similar,” Owusu-Bempah said.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Black people in Toronto represent 37.6 per cent of those involved in cannabis possession charges — despite representing just 8.8 per cent of the city’s population. White people are underrepresented, it also found.

When it comes to the possession of what the OHRC called “other” illegal drugs, Black people represent 28.5 per cent of those charged, despite making up a much smaller portion of the city’s population. They are three times more likely to be charged that a white person.

These arrests don’t just affect the individual, he said, but their families, too.

“Our drug laws have had intergenerational impacts in Black and Indigenous communities,” Owusu-Bempah explained.

Experts have advised a multitude of ways forward. Owusu-Bempah highlighted the importance of decriminalizing drugs and regulating their contents so that people consuming drugs are less likely to overdose. Buckley noted that we need more accessible treatment, more harm reduction, and more supervised consumption sites. Hathaway suggested funding social programs would help support those struggling with addictions — and the root causes for those addictions.

But all this, Hathaway said, would require governments “to move away from something that has been so firmly entrenched within our criminal justice system for such a long time.”

“The law is really just a codification of morality,” Hathaway said.

That means, though, that “to shift away from that version of the law means it inevitably will require a shift in ideology as well.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

Story from Global News

Illegal, untested CBD products are everywhere and could be putting you at risk

Thriving black market full of misleading health claims, potentially contaminated products

Steven D’Souza, Tyana Grundig, Greg Sadler – CBC News – Oct 22, 2021

The claim from the sales person to the undercover Marketplace crew seemed straightforward enough: a CBD-infused balm will “100 per cent” help with back pain and “in 15 minutes it will feel like relief.” But not only is that promise a complete exaggeration, both that claim and the product are illegal.

A CBC Marketplace investigation has found hundreds of illegal CBD products for sale in a thriving Canadian black market. Going undercover, we found products are easily available and salespeople are willing to make extravagant and illicit health claims.

  • Watch Marketplace tonight at 8 p.m. (8:30 in NT) on CBC-TV and CBC Gem.

While Canadians look to CBD, or cannabidiol, for its promise as a health remedy, Marketplace has found there’s no control over what goes into the illegal black market products — and no way to test them.

  • Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.

Unlike in the U.S., CBD is a controlled substance in Canada; it is considered among drugs the government thinks can be addictive or potentially abused. These include illegal street drugs and prescription medication. CBD was lumped in with THC when cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018.

That means, like other cannabis products, only government-licensed retailers are allowed to sell CBD products and there are strict rules and regulations around who is allowed to grow, process and distribute CBD products.

For example, in Ontario, authorized CBD products can only be legally purchased online at the Ontario Cannabis Store, from authorized licensed dispensaries or with a medical note from authorized stores such as Shoppers Drug Mart. In British Columbia, BC Cannabis Store is the only legal place to buy CBD online.

It is also illegal to make any health or cosmetic claims about CBD products in Canada. To make a health claim, the product requires approval as a prescription drug under the Food and Drugs Act. No CBD products in Canada have that approval.

That didn’t stop a salesperson at Calyx Wellness, another unlicensed CBD store in Toronto, from making bold claims about CBD: “From what I’ve heard, it depends on your situation, but it’ll help with anything,” she told the undercover Marketplace crew.

‘We’ve got very little evidence’

CBD is one of many compounds found in the cannabis plant, but unlike the more well-known THC it doesn’t get you high. While some preliminary research suggests therapeutic uses for CBD — primarily for anxiety, insomnia and pain — experts say more research is needed.

Take that CBD-infused balm from Sensitiva on Queen Street West in Toronto, for example. Jason Busse, the associate director of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research, says CBD doesn’t dissolve in water and most topicals, he says, are unlikely to penetrate the skin. While a minority of individuals will find some benefit, Busse says, “We’ve got very little evidence as to whether these topical preparations work and whether CBD in isolation works.”

The lack of strong scientific evidence around CBD hasn’t stopped the black market from offering everything from tinctures, oils, creams and chocolate to shampoo, face masks and personal lubricants, with claims CBD can help with everything from writer’s cramp to “halting the duplication of cancerous cells.”

At Sensitiva, the salesperson pitched us on the benefits of topical CBD products: “CBD helps with inflammation in your body and that can be something topical like skin rashes, psoriasis, acne, wrinkles, sun damage, etc., which is why most of our products are topical.”

“Right now there’s an opportunity to sell this product and sell a lot of it, and because we don’t have a lot of evidence [to back up health claims], marketing fills that gap,” said Busse.

An exploding market

The popularity of CBD, or cannabidiol, has exploded in recent years, riding a wave of anecdotes and celebrity endorsements, with everyone from Kim Kardashian to Martha Stewart promoting its benefits. Early research has found that while CBD may interact with other drugs, it does not have any addictive properties or major side effects, according to the World Health Organization.  

In the U.S., legislation around CBD was relaxed with the 2018 Farm Bill, removing CBD derived from hemp (CBD with less than .3 per cent THC) from the Controlled Substances list. Sales of CBD in the U.S. grew to US$ 4.7 billion in 2020.

Experts say because of widespread availability in the U.S., Canadians may not realize that the CBD products that have sprung up at their local farmer’s market, CBD boutique store, unlicensed websites or even pet stores are all illegal.

“It’s a Wild West, it’s buyer beware. There’s hundreds of these websites making all kinds of claims from A to Z,” Busse said. “And it’s left to the consumer to somehow sort all this out.”

What’s in black market CBD?

CBD products sold on the black market don’t undergo the same rigorous standards of testing that licensed CBD products go through.

While some of the black market sites Marketplace examined did provide test results, it wasn’t clear if all lots or batches were tested, and some sites provided results that were years out of date.

Busse says because CBD is regulated as a controlled substance, which puts it in the same legal category as drugs like fentanyl, he and other researchers have run into the same legal hurdles as the CBC in their attempts to test black market CBD products.

“These products can be acquired by anyone in Canada with an internet connection and a credit card,” Busse said. “But you can’t actually test what all these people are using, which seems very counterintuitive.”

U.S. tests find half of CBD products contain undisclosed THC

Testing may be tricky in Canada, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regularly tests CBD products. Busse says that removing CBD as a controlled substance in the U.S. has made it easier for U.S. researchers to study, evaluate and to test the products on the market.

The FDA has found many products do not contain the CBD they claimed, and up to 50 per cent of products the agency tested contained undisclosed THC.

Unexpected THC can cause sedation, anxiety or even paranoia. That’s what happened to a New Brunswick woman in 2019 after she unknowingly purchased an unlicensed CBD product to help with her anxiety.

“We have a real problem in terms of what people think they’re buying and in many cases what they actually get,” Busse said, noting CBD products are not cheap and can cost up to hundreds of dollars.

The missing science around CBD

As popular demand outpaces medical research on CBD, the lack of study is both a worry and frustration for doctors like Hance Clarke.

Clarke, who is director of Pain Services at Toronto General Hospital, is also running an observational study on how cannabis, including CBD products, can help with chronic pain, sleep, anxiety and depression.

Clarke estimates about one in every three individuals get some benefit from CBD treatments, but he says it is no “utopia” and more research is needed. He says doctors need more clinical trials and proven data to confidently discuss CBD with their patients. He agrees with Busse that the legal hurdles placed by Health Canada around testing and research need to be removed.

“Show me that it works better than a placebo,” Clarke said. “Until we can get some of that data, which we are handcuffed right now to get, that’s when we can actually be certain what we’re doing.”

CBD metabolizes in the liver, and both Clarke and Busse want to see more research done on how CBD can interact with medications like blood thinners, antidepressants, opioids and benzodiazepines, as well as anti-seizure and chemotherapy drugs.

CBD for pets is also illegal

Pet owners treating their animals is another big growth area for CBD, and another example of consumers often crossing into illicit territory and maybe not realizing it.

In Canada, any CBD products marketed for pets are illegal and veterinarians are prevented from prescribing it.

So when palliative care veterinarian Dr. Sarah Silcox was called to help Robyn Golding find an end-of-life treatment for Golding’s dog, Georgia, Silcox could only offer “guidance” and dosage help. Silcox recommended Golding try CBD, and suggested human CBD from a legal dispensary on the nine-year-old Shiloh Shepherd.

The results, Golding says, are more than her family ever dreamed. Six months after complications from surgery left Georgia in chronic pain and unable to use her hind legs, Georgia is now hobbling around happily, a new lease on life that Golding says is thanks to CBD.

While it is illegal to test black market CBD products in Canada, Marketplace did find one group of veterinary researchers in Saskatchewan and Ontario who tested a small sample of illicit Canadian CBD products marketed for pets. The study found the CBD levels were often mislabelled; some of the CBD potencies were either “dramatically lower than the stated cannabinoid content, or simply undetectable.” One CBD pet product had almost no CBD but high levels of undisclosed THC. Contaminants and pesticides were also found.

Silcox, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine, says undisclosed THC is a big concern as animals can end up in the emergency room with adverse effects from THC ingestion and intoxication.

Silcox said she would like to see pet products containing CBD regulated by Health Canada. She also wants vets to have the power to authorize CBD to pet owners.

The two unlicensed CBD stores Marketplace visited with hidden cameras, Calyx Wellness and Sensitiva, did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.

Health Canada says it is reviewing how Canadians use cannabis. The agency held public consultations in 2019, and in November 2020 launched the Science Advisory Committee for Health Products Containing Cannabis. A review of the current legislation is also in the works, but a report isn’t expected until about 2023.

Health Canada did not say whether or not it will be declassifying CBD as a controlled substance.

“If we can get there,” Busse said, “I think we can start to provide evidence that can fill these very large gaps that currently exist out there, and push back where needed on some of the overly aggressive marketing claims that are being made.”

  • If you have tips on this or any other story, please email the Marketplace team at [email protected]

Story From CBC Website

Analysis: Marijuana Legalization Opponents’ Fears Have Not Come to Fruition in Canada

NORML – August 17,2021

Concerns that legalizing marijuana for those ages 18 and older in Canada would lead to adverse public health consequences have not come to fruition, according to an analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The analysis finds that there has been “no marked increase in cannabis youth by use” in the three-year period following legalization. Authors further highlight the positive societal impact of reducing marijuana-related arrests among adults and young people following the policy change. Regulating marijuana has also led to more targeted public health messaging, authors suggest.

They conclude: “In the lead up to legalization, professional associations … suggested that legalization posed a threat to public health, advocated for the legal age for cannabis use to be set at a minimum age of 21 or 25, or that Canada should not legalize at all because it would place youth at greater risk of harm. With such categorical fears now shown to be largely unfounded, this should provide the basis to move forward on more nuanced grounds. … [O]n the balance, cannabis legalization – especially when considering the severe adverse social impacts of criminalization, and especially for youth – continues to offer the potential to better protect and achieve consequential net benefits to public health and welfare of cannabis users and society at large.”

Commenting on the data, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said: “From a public health standpoint, regulation and education are preferable strategies to criminalization. Overall, adult-use legalization is working largely as voters and politicians envisioned, which is why an increasing number of jurisdictions are shifting their policies in this direction.”

Separate assessments of Canada’s legalization policy have no uptick in the percentage of motor vehicle accidents attributable to marijuana and no changes in either cannabis use or access among higher-risk youth. Additional data published in April in the journal Health Reports finds that Canadians are rapidly shifting from the illicit market to the legal market – with an estimated 70 percent of cannabis consumers now reporting obtaining the plant from legal sources.

Analyses of state-level adult-use regulation laws in the United States have similarly failed to find significant upticks in either youth use or access that could be attributable to legalization. Other studies have reported no association between legalization laws and any increases in either drug treatment admissions, violent crime, or overdose deaths.

Full text of the study, “Youth cannabis use and legalization in Canada – Reconsidering the fears, myths, and facts three years in,” appears in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, ‘Marijuana regulation: Impact on Health, Safety, and Economy.’

Story from – NORML

Senate Leader Unveils Long-Awaited Marijuana Descheduling Plan

NORML- July 14, 2021

Washington, DC: United States Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) unveiled draft legislation repealing the federal prohibition of marijuana at a press conference on Wednesday.

The draft legislation, titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, makes numerous changes to federal marijuana laws while providing deference to states’ cannabis policies.

Upon introducing the legislation, Sen. Schumer said: “This is monumental because at long last we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs. … I will use my clout as Majority Leader to make this [legislation] a priority in the Senate. … It makes eminent sense to legalize marijuana.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said: “The days of federal prohibition are numbered. These actions by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden reflect the fact that the supermajority of Americans is demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition. It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration.”

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal added: “Our main priority is to ensure that Americans who choose to responsibly consume cannabis are no longer discriminated against under the law. “With one in eight Americans choosing to consume on a semi-regular basis, including nearly one in four veterans, we must end the practice of arresting over 500,000 Americans every year and denying countless others employment, housing, and other civic rights if we are truly to be the ‘Land of the Free’. The federal government can take great strides toward rectifying this situation by advancing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act through the legislative process.”

Specifically, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act directs the US Attorney General to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act — thereby allowing states to either maintain or establish their own cannabis regulatory policies free from undue federal interference. Under this scheme, state governments – if they choose to do so – can continue to impose criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses. However, states would not be permitted to prohibit the interstate commerce of legal cannabis products transported through their borders.

The proposal also mandates for the expungement of the records of anyone convicted of a federal, non-violent marijuana offense. The expungements must take place within one year of the law’s enactment.

The Act also forbids federal officials from taking discriminatory actions against those who legally use cannabis. It prohibits “individuals from being denied any federal public benefit … on the basis of [the] use or possession of cannabis.” It also, for the first time, permits physicians associated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to make recommendations to their patients to access medical cannabis.

The proposal transfers primary agency jurisdiction over cannabis regulation from the US Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration and to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in manner similar to the ways in which these agencies already oversee alcohol and tobacco products. A federal excise tax of 10 percent would be imposed within the first year of the law’s enactment. Medical cannabis access programs, which are operational in the majority of US states, would not be disrupted under this federal plan.

Pending language in the US House of Representatives, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2021, similarly removes (deschedules) cannabis from the CSA and facilitates the expungement of past federal marijuana-related crimes. House lawmakers passed a previous version of the MORE Act in December by a vote of 228 to 164, marking the first time that a chamber of Congress ever advanced legislation to end the federal prohibition of cannabis. Senate lawmakers, however, failed to take up the bill.

Senators are seeking feedback on the draft legislation through September 1. Public comments may be provided to [email protected]. In an interview with the publication Politico in April, Sen. Schumer pledged that he would hold a floor vote on the bill “sooner or later” this term. The Senate has never held a floor vote on legislation pertaining to descheduling cannabis.

Story From NORML

After crime plummeted in 2020, Baltimore will stop drug, sex prosecutions

State’s Attorney Mosby stopped non-violent prosecutions for the coronavirus, but then violent crime dropped 20 percent.

Something happened in Baltimore last year. The coronavirus pandemic hit, and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced that the city would no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, trespassing and other minor charges, to keep people out of jail and limit the spread of the deadly virus.

And then crime went down in Baltimore. A lot. While violent crime and homicides skyrocketed in most other big American cities last year, violent crime in Baltimore dropped 20 percent from last March to this month, property crime decreased 36 percent, and there were 13 fewer homicides compared with the previous year. This happened while 39 percent fewer people entered the city’s criminal justice system in the one-year period, and 20 percent fewer people landed in jail after Mosby’s office dismissed more than 1,400 pending cases and tossed out more than 1,400 warrants for nonviolent crimes.

So on Friday, Mosby made her temporary steps permanent. She announced Baltimore City will continue to decline prosecution of all drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic and misdemeanor cases, and will partner with a local behavioral health service to aggressively reach out to drug users, sex workers and people in psychiatric crisis to direct them into treatment rather than the back of a patrol car.

“A year ago, we underwent an experiment in Baltimore,” Mosby said in an interview, describing steps she took after consulting with public health and state officials to reduce the public’s exposure to the coronavirus, including not prosecuting nonviolent offenses. “What we learned in that year, and it’s so incredibly exciting, is there’s no public safety value in prosecuting these low-level offenses. These low-level offenses were being, and have been, discriminately enforced against Black and Brown people.

“The era of ‘tough on crime’ prosecutors is over in Baltimore,” Mosby said. “We have to rebuild the community’s trust in the criminal justice system and that’s what we will do, so we can focus on violent crime.” In a city that still struggles with a high homicide rate and gun violence, even with the decline in crime, she said the policy shift will enable more prosecutors to be assigned to homicides and other major cases instead of misdemeanor court.

The pandemic accelerated an effort already underway by liberal prosecutors across the country to reduce or eliminate the prosecution of minor crimes. Not long after the coronavirus hit, prosecutors in Seattle and Brooklyn announced they would not pursue low-level offenses that don’t jeopardize public safety. In Washington state last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional because it didn’t account for the defendant’s intent. King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said he already wasn’t pursuing such cases “because we did no good for people struggling with substance abuse disorder.”

In California, prosecutors in Los Angeles and Contra Costa counties have recently stopped taking people to court for drug possession and low-level misdemeanors. “The data suggests,” newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in an email, “that the bulk of misdemeanor caseloads — which represent the vast majority of filings in the United States — involve the prosecution of cases with minimal, and often negative, long-term impacts on public safety. It’s this reality that led to my policy prohibiting the filing of many first time low-level misdemeanors.”

But a number of legal experts said they had not seen an effort like Mosby’s in which behavioral health services were actively brought into the mix from the outset of cases. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) issued a statement Friday lauding Mosby for “working with partners to stem violence in Baltimore and ensure residents have the adequate support services they deserve.”

But Sean Kennedy, a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute who studies and has written about Baltimore crime and arrest data, said forgoing the prosecutions of low-level crimes is a mistake in a city he called the “murder capital of America.”

“These ‘quality of life’ violations are more than a nuisance, they are precursors and directly proximate to much more serious and often violent crimes,” Kennedy said, referring to offenses such as human trafficking and drug-related shootings. Kennedy said Mosby dismisses violent crime cases “at record rates, rarely secures prison time for gun offenders and has presided over the largest rise in homicides in decades.”

Mosby said her policy decision is unrelated to a federal investigation of her and her husband’s personal and campaign finances. The initial changes in prosecution policy occurred a year ago, and their success caused her to make them permanent, she said.

The decision not to prosecute drug and nonviolent misdemeanor crimes meant a huge paradigm shift for police, Commissioner Michael Harrison said in an interview. Officers who made drug arrests saw prosecutors dismissing the charges at the jail, and so the arrests mainly stopped. Mosby said there were 80 percent fewer arrests for drug possession in Baltimore in the past year.

“The officers told me they did not agree with that paradigm shift,” Harrison said. He said he had to “socialize” both officers and citizens to this new approach. Harrison expected crime to rise. “It did not,” the chief said. “It continued to go down through 2020. As a practitioner, as an academic, I can say there’s a correlation between the fact that we stopped making these arrests and crime did not go up,” though he cautioned that the coronavirus could have had some impact. Mosby noted that the virus did not keep crime from rising in nearly every other big U.S. city last year. Even with its progress, Baltimore had 335 homicides in 2020 and killings are up in the first months of this year.

Harrison enthusiastically supported Mosby’s move to sign an agreement with Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., a private nonprofit group that provides services to people with mental health and substance use disorders. With the police, BCRI will launch a 911 alternative dispatch where calls for behavioral health issues are routed to BCRI, which can send a two-person mobile crisis team to a scene or immediately refer people to services. The state’s attorney’s office is also collaborating with three Baltimore groups that offer a variety of services to sex workers.

Social workers are “better suited to deal with these issues,” Harrison said. “For generations, we’ve been asked to be all things to all people. That never should have happened.”

The head of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police union did not return messages seeking comment.

Edgar K. Wiggins, executive director of BCRI, said that his agency taking a more immediate role in public response “gives us a conduit into a population that, honestly, we’ve not always had access to, and they haven’t had access to us.” He said mobile response teams will have a mental health professional and a registered nurse because “these folks often haven’t managed their health.” Immediate referrals for sex workers can be effective because “more often than not they have problems with substance use disorder and addictions. We want to divert people from involvement in the criminal justice system, which is not going to be helpful for their chronic problems.”

Mosby asked public health researchers at Johns Hopkins University to examine the effect of her March 2020 policy shifts on public calls for police service and on rearrests of those who had charges dropped or warrants quashed. The number of 911 calls for drug or intoxication situations dropped from 131 per day before the pandemic to 88 per day in the eight months between March and December last year. Calls for prostitution or sex work dropped from six per day to three per day, the Johns Hopkins researchers found. The number of 911 calls for violent crimes did not drop significantly in the same period.

They also found that of 1,431 people who had charges or warrants dismissed at the outset, only five were rearrested. Though studies of recidivism typically look at three years to review data on repeat offenders, the fact that only five reentered the system in eight months is “pretty unbelievable,” said Susan G. Sherman, a behavioral health professor at Johns Hopkins who specializes in helping marginalized populations. “In a world where drug decriminalization is happening around the country, the impact on the community is important,” Sherman said, and Mosby “really values having an understanding of these impacts.”

A number of big-city prosecutors have moved to decriminalize drugs, and Oregon voters decriminalized small amounts of drugs statewide. Miriam Krinsky, head of Fair and Just Prosecution, which advocates for liberal prosecutors, said many prosecutors are now getting their communities to treat drug abuse as a public health problem rather than a crime problem. “At a minimum, the criminal justice system needs to get out of the way and do no harm,” Krinsky said. “It’s been doing harm for decades. We need to stop trying to punish our way out of it.”

Mosby noted that 13 percent of the American population is Black, but 35 percent of those incarcerated for drug violations are Black. “As a prosecutor, our mission is justice over convictions,” Mosby said. “You have to understand the importance of rectifying the wrongs of the past.”

Millicent Wagner understands that. She said she spent years as a drug addict and prostitute on the streets of Baltimore before going sober and reuniting with her family more than two years ago. But she still had an outstanding prostitution warrant from 2018. Last fall, she reached out to Mosby’s office after hearing of the new policy, and records show it quickly dismissed her case.

Trying to resolve her warrant the old way — surrendering at the jail, possibly going into custody, waiting 30 days for a hearing — “would have devastated my child. It would have hurt him the most. It would hurt me, too. Just having to be back in the Baltimore city jail, all those things I’ve been staying away from.” Instead of being back in the system, she is getting a state identification card that she wouldn’t apply for with an outstanding warrant, plus a Social Security card, and then a job.

“I think this could help a lot of people in my situation that have turned themselves around,” Wagner said. “It’s hard.”

Story from The Washington Post

New York lawmakers agree to legalize recreational marijuana

March 28, 2021
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York is poised to join a growing number of states that have legalized marijuana after state lawmakers reached a deal to allow sales of the drug for recreational use.

The agreement reached Saturday would expand the state’s existing medical marijuana program and set up a a licensing and taxation system for recreational sales. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill Tuesday, the earliest they could consider it. Legislative leaders hope to vote on the budget Wednesday to meet the deadline of having a budget in place by April 1.

It has taken years for the state’s lawmakers to come to a consensus on how to legalize recreational marijuana in New York. Democrats, who now wield a veto-proof majority in the state Legislature, have made passing it a priority this year, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has estimated legalization could eventually bring the state about $350 million annually.

“My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities,” Sen. Liz Krueger, Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate’s finance committee, said.

The legislation would allow recreational marijuana sales to adults over the age of 21, and set up a licensing process for the delivery of cannabis products to customers. Individual New Yorkers could grow up to three mature and three immature plants for personal consumption, and local governments could opt out of retail sales.

The legislation would take effect immediately if passed, though sales wouldn’t start until New York sets up rules and a proposed cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes estimated Friday it could take 18 months to two years for sales to start.

Adam Goers, a vice president of Columbia Care, a New York medical marijuana provider that’s interested in getting into the recreational market, said New York’s proposed system would “ensure newcomers have a crack at the marketplace” alongside the state’s existing medical marijuana providers.

“There’s a big pie in which a lot of different folks are going to be able to be a part of it,” Goers said.

New York would set a 9% sales tax on cannabis, plus an additional 4% tax split between the county and local government. It would also impose an additional tax based on the level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, ranging from 0.5 cents per milligram for flower to 3 cents per milligram for edibles.

New York would eliminate penalties for possession of less than three ounces of cannabis, and automatically expunge records of people with past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be criminalized. That’s a step beyond a 2019 law that expunged many past convictions for marijuana possession and reduced the penalty for possessing small amounts.

And New York would provide loans, grants and incubator programs to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people from minority communities, as well as small farmers, women and disabled veterans.

Proponents have said the move could create thousands of jobs and begin to address the racial injustice of a decades-long drug war that disproportionately targeted minority and poor communities.

“Police, prosecutors, child services and ICE have used criminalization as a weapon against them, and the impact this bill will have on the lives of our oversurveiled clients cannot be overstated,” Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said in a statement Saturday.

Some other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have struggled to address the inequities that the drug wars have wrought.

Three years after Massachusetts voters passed a ballot initiative making recreational cannabis legal in the state, Black entrepreneurs complained in 2019 that all but two of Massachusetts’ 184 marijuana business licenses had been issued to white operators.

California voters legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2016 as well and invited people to petition to have old marijuana convictions expunged or reduced. But relatively few people took advantage of the provision initially.

Criminal justice reform advocates said New York’s bill avoids that problem by setting up a process for marijuana convictions to be automatically expunged.

“We are very happy that the bill includes automatic expungement. It’s integral to addressing past harms,” said Emma Goodman, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society.

Melissa Moore, the Drug Policy Alliance’s director for New York state, said the bill “really puts a nail in the coffin of the drug war that’s been so devastating to communities across New York, and puts in place comprehensive policies that are really grounded in community reinvestment.”

At least 14 other states already allow residents to buy marijuana for recreational and not just medical use. Cuomo has pointed to growing acceptance of legalization in the Northeast, including in Massachusetts, Maine and most recently, New Jersey.

New York does not have a statewide referendum process as California and Massachusetts do, so only the Legislature has the power to legalize recreational marijuana, as it did with same-sex marriage in 2011.

Past efforts to legalize recreational use have been hurt by a lack of support from suburban Democrats, disagreements over how to distribute marijuana sales tax revenue and questions over how to address drivers suspected of driving high.

It also has run into opposition from law enforcement, school and community advocates, who warn legalization would further strain a health care system already overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic and send mixed messages to young people.

“We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the serious crisis of youth vaping and the continuing opioid epidemic, this harmful legislation is counterintuitive,” said an open letter signed by the Medical Society of the State of NY, New York State Parent Teacher Association, New York Sheriff’s Association and several other organizations March 11.

New York officials plan to launch an education and prevention campaign aimed at reducing the risk of cannabis among school-aged children, and schools could get grants for anti-vaping and drug prevention and awareness programs.

And the state will also launch a study due by Dec. 31, 2022, that examines the extent that cannabis impairs driving, and whether it depends on factors like time and metabolism.

The bill also sets aside revenues to cover the costs of everything from regulating marijuana, to substance abuse prevention.

State police could also get funding to hire and train more so-called “drug recognition experts.”

But there’s no evidence that drug recognition experts can tell whether someone is high or not, according to R. Lorraine Collins, a psychologist and professor of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo. Collins was appointed to Cuomo’s 2018 working group tasked with drafting cannabis regulations.

“I think it’s very important that we approach that challenge using science and research and not wishes or unsubstantiated claims,” Collins said.

Collins pointed to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union that found that Blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to Whites, based on FBI statistics.

“Every New Yorker should be concerned about how these laws will be implemented or how those ways of examining drivers will be implemented in different communities,” Collins said. “It’s not likely to be equal.”

The bill allows cities, towns and villages to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by Dec. 31, 2021 or nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt out of legalization.

Peltz and Matthews reported from New York City. – Story from AP News

Liberals introduce new bill to relax penalties for drug offences

Legislation also includes measures to reduce incarceration of Indigenous, Black Canadians

The federal government has introduced a new bill to repeal mandatory minimum penalties for certain drug offences — penalties the Liberals say have disproportionately harmed Indigenous and Black offenders and those struggling with addictions.

Attorney General David Lametti introduced Bill C-22 in the House of Commons this morning and will hold a news conference at 12:30 p.m. ET to provide more details. CBC News will carry it live.

His office says the bill also will require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to laying charges in simple possession cases, such as diversion to addiction treatment programs. It will give the courts leeway to use conditional sentence orders in cases where an individual isn’t a public safety threat.

“Serious criminals deserve to be seriously punished and kept away from our communities. But too many lower-risk and first-time offenders, including a disproportionate number of Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians, are being sent to prison and locked up for too long because of policies which are proven not to deter crime or help keep our communities safe,” said Lametti’s spokesperson Rachel Rappaport.

Some mandatory minimum penalties would be repealed

The bill would make changes to both the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

If passed, it would repeal more than a dozen mandatory minimum penalties on the books — including penalties for all drug offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, certain offences involving the use or possession of firearms and one tobacco-related offence.

Mandatory minimum penalties would remain in place for serious offences, including murder, child sexual abuse, firearm trafficking, importing and exporting restricted or prohibited firearms and firearm offences linked to organized crime, according to government documents prepared before a technical briefing on the new bill.

Government officials speaking on background during the briefing said repealing the mandatory minimum penalties will allow judges to consider sanctions other than imprisonment in some cases.

The government said the percentage of Indigenous offenders federally incarcerated for an offence with a mandatory-minimum penalty has almost doubled in over 10 years and that 39 per cent of all Black and 20 per cent of all Indigenous offenders in federal institutions were admitted for an offence with mandatory minimum penalty.

Opposition has shown support

Thursday’s announcement marks a significant shift in the federal government’s approach to illicit drug possession — away from incarceration and toward addictions treatment for non-violent offenders.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ruled out decriminalizing simple possession of illicit drug, something the New Democratic Party and the Greens have advocated.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gave C-22 a mixed review.

“While there are positive steps in this bill, it’s very disappointing not to see them take the opportunity to right a historic wrong by failing to include expungements and by failing to actually decriminalize drugs,” he said in a statement.

“Today, the Liberals could have made a huge difference by erasing criminal records for simple marijuana possession.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, has said he is open to less severe penalties.

“We must provide assistance to Canadians who have drug addiction and health problems,” he said at a press briefing last month.

When asked why the government isn’t repealing simple possession, Lametti said it remains on the table.

“What I’m focusing on today is the sentencing element within the criminal justice system,” he said.

“Obviously I will continue to work with my colleagues around the cabinet table to look at other approaches, following best evidence, as we move forward.”

The legislation would require police and Crown prosecutors to consider diverting individuals to available alternative measures and to prosecute “only where not appropriate to deal with individual using warning or referral to alternative measures,” said the documents.

The legislation effectively standardizes a directive issued this summer by the Director of Public Prosecutions of Canada. In August, federal prosecutors were instructed to pursue only the most serious offences of possession of hard drugs.

That directive has been applied unevenly across the country, however — particularly in Quebec and New Brunswick, where some of these charges are handled by provincial prosecutors.

Drug treatment courts already exist in several Canadian cities, including Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

Lametti said the goal is to have diversion on the table even before someone is arrested.

“We would like to see diversion as a possibility at any point in the system … an off-ramp in multiple points in the system,” he said.

“So it might be first contact with a police officer, where the police officer in better understanding a person in front of them says, ‘I think the best place to go is not the police station, I think the best place is to go is community justice centre.'”

The justice minister said more funding is likely needed to support those kinds of treatment centres.

Article from – CBC

Opioid deaths highlight need to decriminalize hard-drug possession, police chiefs say

TORONTO — The scourge of overdose deaths underscores the need for Canada to decriminalize simple possession of hard drugs, the head of the national chiefs of police association said on Thursday.In urging action, Bryan Larkin noted that overdose deaths are outpacing those from the COVID-19 pandemic and homicides in British Columbia and likely Ontario.“Over the last six years, 18,000 Canadians have lost their lives to drug addiction,” Larkin said. “If 18,000 people lost their lives in traffic collisions, our country and our communities would not accept that. There would be outcry.”Larkin, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, made his comments at a virtual forum called “Policing 2021.”The issue of decriminalization — as was the case with cannabis — is “polarizing” both within society and within police ranks, he said.Like many others, Larkin said he was raised to believe “drugs are bad and people who use drugs are criminals.” But criminalization, he said, has disproportionately affected the marginalized and people of colour, and there’s now an awareness that addictions are a mental health issue.“Nobody wakes up wanting actually to have an addiction,” said Larkin, chief of Waterloo Regional Police Service.“The opioid overdose crisis in Canada doesn’t discriminate.”Antje McNeely, who is Larkin’s Ontario counterpart, said that changing the mindset of police officers when it comes to dealing with drug abusers was also important.“We’ve been hard-wired,” said McNeely, police chief in Kingston, Ont.“It is a mind change for the front line and the rest of us as well.”The national chiefs association raised eyebrows last year when it first began advocating for decriminalization of possession. Discussions on the topic were spurred by the legalization of cannabis and the mounting opioid death toll now exacerbated by the pandemic.In response, the federal government has been looking at Canada’s drug policy, with a view to reducing opioid-related deaths during the pandemic. Prosecutors were instructed last year to prosecute only the most serious drug-possession offences.Larkin, who said he has been encouraged by Ottawa’s response, noted the nexus between addictions and mental health, saying more than 10 people kill themselves each day in Canada. That is not something police can fix, he said.Peter Sloly, chief of the Ottawa Police Service, agreed police need to become a “diminishing” element when it comes to dealing with people in mental health crises.While police will always have some role in such responses, there needs to be a different model that takes in social services, education and the health-care sector, he said.“We’ve been not just the last resort, but often the first resort on these types of incidents,” Sloly told the forum. “We’ve become a bit of a Swiss Army knife.”Sloly cited a program in Eugene, Ore., where up to 90 per cent of mental health calls are handled without hard police intervention. Such changes take years to implement successfully and he warned against moving too quickly.“There’s a group of people out there who believe that police should have nothing to do with mental health services,” Sloley said.“I just don’t think it is practical.”The chiefs also acknowledged systemic racism in policing but said the issue was no longer being swept under the rug. At the same time, Sloly said simply addressing the issue within police services won’t fix the wider problem.“We’re still going to have the conditions that produce crime and victimization, marginalization and discrimination,” he said.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021Story From – The National Post

Smoke up! NBA won’t test players for weed, could help take the game … higher

Donovan Dooley – December 3, 2020

The NBA will not test its players for marijuana during the 2020-21 season, sources tell Ben Dowsett.

The league did not test the players in its reboot of the 2019-20 season in the Orlando Bubble and according to Dowsett’s sources, the decision to continue not testing these athletes was predicated mostly on COVID-19 precautions. Yet, it seems that we are inching closer to the league permanently getting rid of marijuana testing.

The drug is already legal in nine of the states and districts that the NBA plays in and has been proven to provide healing effects for the body as well as helping with anxiety.

Many athletes have advocated for the use of marijuana during the season as they try to recover from injuries sustained on the job.

Former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson admitted to smoking that green while in the league.

The late NBA great, Cliff Robinson, was a pioneer for the legalization of marijuana. He even created his own life of weed products called Uncle Cliffy Sports cannabis products.

If the NBA decides to stop testing for the drug it could set a precedent for other sports leagues and companies to follow suit. The change could potentially improve the lives of many of its players.

The ramifications of the NBA’s decision could also help to reverse negative stereotypes created during the war on drugs that adversely and disproportionately affected young men of color. After a summer where the NBA was at the forefront of racial justice, this decision to stop marijuana testing could be crucial in repairing the detrimental impact that coincides with punishing people for this drug.

The movement for nationwide legalization of weed is already growing exponentially.

The NBA will tip off the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22 without the presence of a bubble and will look to push through the impact of COVID-19.

Story from Deadspin

From pot to shrooms: What’s next for decriminalization?

Jane Stevenson – August 16, 2020 

Are shrooms the new cannabis in Canada?

In the U.S., the Washington D.C. Board of Elections is allowing an initiative to decriminalize psychedelic plants, including “magic mushrooms,” to appear on November’s ballot, after supporters gathered more than 25,000 signatures, according to the Washington Post.

If approved, the U.S. capital would join Denver, Oakland, Calif., and Santa Cruz, Calif., which have decriminalized psychedelics.

But, not so fast, says Canada’s federal government.

Yes, earlier this month, Health Minister Patty Hajdu allowed four incurable Canadian cancer patients to undergo therapy which used psilocybin — the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms — to ease their distress.

But that doesn’t mean magic mushrooms, and other psychedelics, currently banned and only allowed in clinical trials or research in Canada, are on the fast track to decriminalization or legalization.

“The Government of Canada is not proposing to decriminalize psilocybin or other controlled substances at this time, “ said Public Health Agency of Canada spokesman Tammy Jarbeau.

“In 2019, Health Canada authorized psilocybin for use in a clinical trial for patients with treatment-resistant depression.”

Still, CNN reported that the Canadian government’s decision marks the first time since 1974 a legal exemption cleared the way for patients in this country to use psychedelic treatment.

Local cannabis advocate Lisa Campbell believes medicinal mushrooms are following the path of medicinal marijuana in Canada with recreational mushroom use still years away.

“There are so many companies that are pivoting from cannabis to psychedelics, we’re going to see a lot of research to not only decriminalize but legalize psychedelics, at first for medical use, but it could push them to recreational use, as cannabis has done,” said Campbell, the Toronto-based CEO of Mercari Agency Ltd., a cannabis sales and marketing company.

“A lot of universities are finally more open to psychedelic research. It’s finally becoming mainstream,” she added. “It’s really fascinating that this is being done in Canada. For many years, people have been preparing for this paradigm shift in drug policy so the fact that we’re finally here in 2020 is really progressive and inspiring to be at the forefront of this movement.”

Campbell said a Toronto clinic recently opened to treat those suffering from drug-resistant depression and anxiety with ketamine. While abused as a party drug, ketamine is primarily utilized in veterinary surgery.

She also said there are also mushroom dispensaries popping up online.

“In Vancouver, there’s almost de facto decriminalization,” said Campbell. “It’s much more progressive there.

“It has been for years,” she added. “They had the medical cannabis dispensary movement that started in Vancouver on the West Coast. It’s so interesting to see how the same trends that we saw with cannabis, with the medical (use), are happening as well with mushrooms.”

CNN reported New York University Langone Health researchers published a study this year in which 29 patients suffering from cancer-related anxiety and depression were given a single dose of psilocybin with psychotherapy. According to the findings, and 60% to 80% showed improvement.

Story from The Toronto Sun

Police Chiefs Group Calls for Canada to Decriminalize Drug Possession

Two years after Justin Trudeau legalized cannabis, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says arresting people for having small amounts of other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, is “ineffective.”

Canada Should Legalize All Recreational Drugs

The social harms of prosecuting drug users far outweigh any public health benefits from prohibition

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a professor in the department of sociology at U of T Mississauga. Read a different view of drug legalization by Robert Mann, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Why are most recreational drugs illegal? If the rationale for the war on drugs is to decrease drug use, it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t stopped the production or importation of drugs. Quite the opposite: there are billions of dollars to be made from the illegal drug trade. This often comes with serious violence – sometimes in Canada, but more often in Mexico 1 and other source countries in South America and Central America.

The United States, in particular, has been waging a war on drugs for several decades, 2 and it’s still one of the world’s largest consumers of cocaine. 3 This should tell us that we’re not going to reduce drug use through the enforcement of laws.

Some people use drugs because they enjoy doing so. Many Canadians already consume a number of drugs each week: alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are the most common. People also use harder drugs recreationally, and of course, some of these people develop substance use and abuse problems. But arresting and incarcerating them is not going to help them deal with the issues that are leading them to use or abuse harder drugs in the first place. This is why a public health approach to all drugs, where we’re striving for harm reduction rather than elimination of use, makes the most sense.

For most of human history, drugs haven’t been illegal. It’s only in the last 110 years that we’ve had drug prohibition in Canada. Even so, my neighbours in downtown Toronto often express surprise that cannabis was legalized just recently. Many think it’s been legal, or at least decriminalized, for some time. They think this because of what they look like and where they live: they don’t have to worry about being arrested.

The unequal enforcement of drug laws has profoundly harmed the individuals that are targeted, their families and their communities

As a criminologist, I’m particularly interested in how Black males perceive and experience the police. And you can’t do research around race and policing without focusing on drugs. The war on drugs drives many of the inequalities we see in our justice system.

We know that Canadians use drugs at similar rates across racial groups. 4 But in practice, drug laws are used to intrude into the lives of certain segments of the population. In Toronto and in many other cities, the unequal enforcement of drug laws 5 has profoundly harmed the individuals that are targeted, their families and their communities. A higher proportion of members of these communities have criminal records for drug possession that impede their ability to finish their education, to gain meaningful employment, to find housing and to travel.

It’s this profound injustice that has led me to believe that the social harms caused by drug prohibition far outweigh the potential health harms of legalizing and regulating access to drugs.

One of the imbalances in how drug laws are applied that we’ve seen with cannabis comes with the exercise of police discretion. Because some police officers viewed cannabis possession as a relatively minor crime, they’d confiscate the drug without making an arrest. But that’s not true of everyone the police have caught. The data show that positive police discretion has not been exercised when it comes to racialized people. 6 The difference is in who gets stopped and searched, who’s found in possession and who ends up being arrested and convicted. Black and Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately arrested for cannabis possession. 7

We’ve spent billions of dollars to prosecute people for the possession of small amounts of drugs. 8 We’re doing our whole country a disservice. We’re locking away people’s talents and potential because we criminalize drug use.

Consider a society in which all drugs are legal; a society in which people can buy a small quantity through a government-approved pharmacy at fair prices and know exactly what they’re getting (unlike on the black market). If they wished, people could take the drug under the supervision of a health-care professional at an injection site or similar facility, greatly reducing the risk of overdose. Under these conditions, the black market for drugs – and much of the associated violence, social harm and health risks – could be virtually eliminated. Opponents cite fears that drug use would soar. But the evidence from Portugal, the only jurisdiction in the world that has decriminalized all drugs, indicates the opposite: problematic use would actually decline, 9 as would the negative consequences associated with criminalization.

Governments could use a percentage of sales revenues for research and services around addictions and mental health. At the local level, the city could use police arrest data to identify neighbourhoods that have been overpoliced with respect to drugs, and direct a portion of the tax revenue to the most criminalized communities. City councillors and members of the public could engage in discussions about how best to use these funds to meet the needs of each jurisdiction. The money might be directed to after-school programs, skills training or community health centres.

Of course, I have concerns about how drug legalization would be implemented. In Canada, one is legally permitted to possess 30 grams of cannabis. The limit for cocaine, opioids and other drugs would have to be set low, recognizing that you can overdose on these drugs in a way that you can’t with cannabis.

There could be no drug advertising, and sales would have to occur through tightly regulated government outlets. There would be strict penalties for selling drugs to underage youth and against using and driving – just as there are now for alcohol.

It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the many health harms associated with drug use. But we need to be honest about the reasons people use them – and the potential benefits. We’re seeing that psilocybin, the psychoactive component of mushrooms, and MDMA may have potential for people with PTSD and a range of other mental health issues.

We also must be honest about the substantial social burden associated with criminalizing drug use. Criminalization has utterly failed to stop individuals from using. We’ve spent enormous amounts of money and devastated countless lives – often from racialized communities – enforcing laws that don’t work. Legalization is a sensible alternative.

Story from U of T Magazine

Cannabis shows promise blocking coronavirus infection: Alberta researcher

Charlotte Figi, The Girl Who Inspired A Cbd Movement, Has Died At Age 13

By Mallory Simon and Melissa Dunst Lipman, CNN – Wed April 8, 2020 (CNN)

Charlotte Figi, a child with a catastrophic type of epilepsy who went on to inspire a CBD movement, passed away Tuesday at age 13.

Charlotte had recently been hospitalized due to pneumonia, breathing problems and seizures. She was treated as a likely case of Covid-19, her mother, Paige Figi, said Wednesday, although she tested negative for the virus. “Charlotte is no longer suffering. She is seizure-free forever,” a family friend wrote on Paige Figi’s Facebook page, announcing Charlotte’s death. “Thank you so much for all of your love.”

Charlotte became a symbol of the possibilities of CBD after CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta told her story in the documentary “Weed.” In the film, Charlotte was shown to be a playful child who was overcome by horrific seizures, which were quelled with Charlotte’s Web, a marijuana strain named in her honor. Charlotte had Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy which was not controlled by medication.

The Stanley brothers, marijuana growers in Colorado, were crossbreeding a strain of marijuana high in CBD and low in THC, its psychoactive ingredient. After Charlotte began taking the CBD oil, there was a sharp decline in seizures. She began to play, eat and make connections like she hadn’t before.  Charlotte, in 2014, walks inside a greenhouse for a special strain of medical marijuana named for her.

“Charlotte was ten feet tall and carried the world on her shoulders,” the Stanley brothers posted in a memorial on their website. “Inspiring is a lacking word, as are courageous and vivacious and strong and beautiful. She was divine,” they wrote. “She grew, cultivated by a community, protected by love, demanding that the world witness her suffering so that they might find a solution. She rose every day, awakening others with her courage, and with that smile that infected your spirit at the cellular level.”

Charlotte, a child not expected to live past age 8, beat the odds time after time — and thrived. She loved riding a tandem bike with her mother and getting manicures from her devoted twin sister, Chase.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on medical marijuana: We are in an age of wisdom, but also an age of foolishness Charlotte and her family had been sick in the last month. Her mother, Paige, posted on Facebook they had fevers, pain, coughs, stomach problems and were struggling to breathe.

While the rest of the family recovered, Charlotte eventually began having seizures again, which landed her back in the hospital. While Charlotte’s Covid-19 test result was negative, Figi said she may have been tested too late for a positive result. Earlier this week, Paige’s husband, Greg Iafeliece, posted that most of the family had recovered, “from a month of virus but our little Charlotte hasn’t improved.”

The post came with a photo of Charlotte in a hospital bed with a mask on her face and an IV in her arm, her hair tucked behind her ears. “She had a couple days where she seemed to turn the corner but then she took a dive,” he wrote. “I have never felt as helpless as I have holding her when she is seizing and these past few very tough days.” Still, Charlotte seemed to bounce back and was discharged from the hospital on Sunday.

On Tuesday morning, she had a seizure, her mother said, and was taken back to the hospital, where she died surrounded by love and family. Charlotte is survived by her parents Paige, Greg Iafeliece and Matt Figi, brother Max and twin sister, Chase.

Story from CNN

MindMed Lists on NEO to Become World’s First Psychedelic Pharmaceutical Company to Go Public

TORONTO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–NEO is pleased to announce it has granted final approval to Mind Medicine (MindMed) Inc. (“MindMed”), the leading neuro-pharmaceutical company for psychedelic-inspired medicines, to make its global public markets debut. MindMed will begin trading today on the NEO Exchange under the symbol NEO:MMED, and is expected to become the world’s first publicly traded psychedelic pharmaceutical company.

“Psychedelics have been under-researched and stigmatized by society”

The company recently raised $24.2m USD in a pre-public funding round.

MindMed develops medicines derived from psychedelics to address significant unmet medical needs. It is initially targeting a solution to address the opioid crisis and other forms of addiction. In addition, the company has established a psychedelics microdosing division, which leverages rigorous science and clinical trials performed under government regulatory supervision, to evaluate the efficacy of microdosing. Going public will allow MindMed to continue developing clinical trials and to access additional institutional capital to further build its pipeline of clinical trials for psychedelic-inspired medicines.

MindMed Co-Founder and Co-CEO JR Rahn said: “Today marks a significant step forward in our ability to access further institutional capital to fund our ground-breaking clinical trials and mission to build the most compelling pipeline of psychedelic inspired medicines. NEO provided a clear, efficient path to go public on their institutional-grade main-board stock exchange. Psychedelic medicines present an opportunity to address large societal problems, like the opioid crisis, and a public listing of MindMed could help accelerate the path to a cure.”

At present, MindMed is preparing 18-MC, its lead development drug development program, for a Phase 2 clinical trial, planned to begin in the fourth quarter. 18-MC is a non-hallucinogenic drug candidate, based on the psychedelic substance ibogaine, which in extensive preclinical research has shown promise for helping to curb addictions. The United States National Institute on Drug Abuse previously awarded a $6.8m USD grant to advance the project to the point of clinical testing. MindMed is also preparing to conduct a Phase 2 LSD microdosing clinical trial for adult ADHD, expected to begin later this year.

“Psychedelics have been under-researched and stigmatized by society,” said Kevin O’Leary, an early MindMed investor and advisor. “As an investor, I am attracted to MindMed because they are solving health problems through federally authorized clinical trials, and have no interest in recreational use.”

Investors can trade shares of NEO:MMED through their usual investment channels, including discount brokerage platforms and full-service dealers.

“Today, MindMed sits at the tipping point of doing things differently by realizing the untapped potential of psychedelics-derived medicine to find treatments to neurological disorders. As a stock exchange, we also do things differently by always putting the best interest of investors and capital-raising companies first in everything we do,” commented Jos Schmitt, President and CEO of NEO. “We are honoured to be MindMed’s global go-public partner. Their decision to list with us is a testament to our values and innovation that deliver tangible solutions and results. MindMed’s listing on NEO will enable their ability to access investor interest around the world.”

The NEO Exchange is now home to close to 100 corporate and ETF listings, and consistently facilitates 12 per cent of all Canadian trading volume. Click here for a complete view of all NEO-listed securities.

About MindMed
Mind Medicine (MindMed), Inc. is a neuro-pharmaceutical company that discovers, develops and deploys psychedelic inspired medicines to improve health, promote wellness and alleviate suffering. The company’s immediate priority is to address the opioid crisis by developing a non-hallucinogenic version of the psychedelic ibogaine. The MindMed executive team brings extensive biopharmaceutical industry experience to this ground-breaking approach to the development of next-generation psychedelic medicines. More:

About NEO Exchange
Neo Exchange Inc. is a progressive stock market that brings together investors and capital raisers within a fair and transparent environment. Fully operational since June 2015, NEO puts investors first and provides access to trading all Canadian-listed securities on a level playing field. The NEO Exchange lists senior companies and investment products who want a stock exchange that enables investor trust, quality liquidity and broad awareness, including unfettered access to market data. For more information, please visit:

Story from BusinessWire

The Doctors TV Show – Vaping and Vitamin E Acetate

Could new evidence shed light on what is causing the vaping crisis? The CDC cites new evidence that a cutting agent called vitamin E acetate has caused a rash of vaping related deaths and illnesses. The cutting agent is reportedly found in black market vape cartridges being sold online. Pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Eric Hamberger, cannabis expert Sherry Yafai, and president of Cannasafe Laboratory Aaron Riley weigh in on these findings.

See Video Here – Vaping and Vitamin E Acetate

Iconic Canadian Neil Young is finally a U.S. citizen, despite his cannabis use

“I’m proud to be a Canarican.”

By Emma Spears – January 24, 2020

After decades in the U.S., Canadian rock legend Neil Young announced this week that he has finally received his American citizenship following lengthy delays and many hiccups, believed to be linked to his cannabis consumption.

“I’m happy to report I’m in!! Vote your conscience,” the famed musician wrote in an Instagram caption of himself standing next to an American flag and sign saying “Democrats register to vote here.”

Although born in Toronto, the member of notable bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Buffalo Springfield and Crazy Horse has lived in the U.S. since the 1960s.

“I’m proud to be a Canarican,” Young sang in a video embedded in another celebratory Instagram post while waving tiny Canadian and American flags.

The 78-year-old, who is married to actress and activist Darryl Hannah, has previously mentioned that his drive to become a U.S. citizen was partially fuelled by concerns over the current U.S. political climate. He cited a desire to “vote my conscience on Donald J. Trump and his fellow American candidates,” and the fact that “we’ve got a climate emergency and governments are not acting” as primary reasons for the change.

But Young faced problems acquiring his citizenship, which the singer-songwriter wrote on his website was primarily thanks to his cannabis consumption.

“When I recently applied for American citizenship, I passed the test. It was a conversation where I was asked many questions. I answered them truthfully and passed,” Young wrote late last year.

“However, I have been told that I must do another test, due to my use of marijuana and how some people who smoke it have exhibited a problem,” he noted.

Young is just one of many Canadians who has experienced issues with the U.S. as a result of cannabis consumption. Although the drug is legal for medical and/or adult use in many states, it remains federally prohibited due to its categorization by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule I substance.

Story from The GrowthOp

Marijuana legalization wars kick off this week in Albany, New York

By Tom Precious – Published January 19, 2020

ALBANY – Shortly before efforts to legalize marijuana failed in the State Senate last June, the measure’s sponsor made a dire prediction: The issue would be dead in 2020.

State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, believed then that lawmakers would fear taking on such a controversial issue in an election year.

“I’ve changed my mind,’’ Krueger said last week.

The author of the Senate bill, Krueger believes election-year politics are no longer the threat she thought they’d be. Now, she and other lawmakers believe the plan has a better chance of getting approved in the coming months than at any point in 2019.

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will present his 2020 state budget plan, a document in which he will also lay out his latest proposal for permitting the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of marijuana in New York.

Much of its contents are expected to mirror plans from last year, and there will still be much tussling over some of specifics. Among the top: how will the state spend the roughly $300 million in projected annual marijuana tax revenue.

There is already rising confidence among marijuana legalization supporters that this is their year, though a broad range of health, law enforcement and other opponents are now engaging to defeat the push again.

A visit to the Berkshires

Last year, legalization had support in the Democratic-run Assembly. But it stalled in the Senate in June over concerns raised by suburban New York City Democrats on Long Island and Westchester County.

Some were firmly opposed and some, such as freshman State Sen. Peter Harckham, wanted efforts to slow down.

Harckham, a Westchester County Democrat who represents parts of three suburban New York counties, last summer visited two communities in western Massachusetts, home to some of the commonwealth’s newest government-regulated stores that sell cannabis products from buds to gummy bears. Harckham talked to operators, to health care and law enforcement officials and to people in public schools. He saw the parking lots filled with cars – most license plates were from New York State, which has seen thousands of people cross state lines to buy marijuana.

Since that visit, Harckham has done more research, and his views have morphed. In an interview last week, he said he’s no longer in the slow-things-down side of the debate. He came away from Massachusetts, where voters legalized marijuana in 2016, with a key observation: “The sky is not falling,” he said.

On marijuana legalization this year in Albany, Harckham said: “I’m certainly in a better place.’’ He added: “The reality is you can buy marijuana anywhere in the state, in any high school. The private market has won, so we should be regulating this and getting the tax revenue.”

[RELATED: Here’s what held up the legalizing of marijuana in New York State]

Harckham’s support is significant because he is the chairman of the Senate’s alcoholism and substance abuse committee. He said Krueger has heavily amended her marijuana bill to secure backing from him and other senators; he said one change would give a “tremendous shot in the arm” to woefully underfunded substance abuse education, prevention and treatment programs by dedicating 25% of marijuana tax proceeds to such efforts.

Not all opponents or those sitting on the fence in the Senate have seen their concerns assuaged, making legalization still not a done deal for 2020.

Sen. Monica Martinez, a Democrat, represents the far eastern end of Long Island. A former educator, she has heard concerns about legalization from school officials, students and parents. If it came for a vote today, she would vote no, in part, because of what she witnesses as the drug’s effect on teens.

“I just think it’s a little bit hypocritical that we’re trying to fight an opioid epidemic but at the same time trying to legalize a drug,” she said of marijuana. Instead, if New York wants to legalize it, officials should hold a statewide referendum, as they did in 2013 for casino gambling.

“It’s an issue that should be in the hands of our voters,” the Suffolk County lawmaker said.

2020 versus 2019

Only two years after dismissing legalization efforts and calling marijuana a “gateway drug,” Cuomo jumped on the legalization bandwagon in 2019. He proposed a massive and complex regulatory and taxing scheme, guiding everything from the licensing of marijuana farms to rules for new smoking lounges.

But the effort faced organized opposition, led by law enforcement and health groups, the state PTA and a number of moderate lawmakers; especially nervous were new or relatively new Democratic senators from districts previously held by Republican senators.

[RELATED: Here’s how a legalization program has worked out in Oakland, Calif.]

In the end, two things killed the 2019 effort: a split within the Senate Democratic conference and an uneasiness by legalization proponents, including Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, over Cuomo’s refusal to guarantee that a large portion of the drug’s tax revenues would be steered to low-income communities hit hardest by decades of marijuana arrests.

“I’ve been most concerned about that,” Peoples-Stokes said last week. The sponsor of marijuana legalization in the Assembly, Peoples-Stokes recently met with Cuomo advisers to explain “in detail” why the revenue component she wants is so crucial. “I think they get it,” she said of the Cuomo administration. Whether that means Cuomo will embrace it in his budget plan won’t be known until Tuesday.

Cuomo’s office declined comment in advance of the budget release on Tuesday.

‘Momentum is there’

Krueger believes a key thing is playing out in 2020. “The governor is clearly much more interested this year than he was last year,” she said.

Last June, Krueger criticized Cuomo for not getting involved in efforts to convince fence-sitting Senate Democrats to back legalization. Cuomo has since met with neighboring governors to seek a consensus on legalization laws for the region. Today, he is “much more comfortable” with legalization, said Krueger, who is the influential chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.

But would Cuomo jump in this year to move reluctant Democrats? “Yes, my gut tells me he will,” Krueger said.

One way is if he jams the policy matter into the state’s budget. If shoved into budget bills, political cover is created for those who might not support legalization but can’t afford to vote no for a budget that contains everything from public school financing to popular health programs.

What’s driving the legalization optimism in Albany? Part of it is public opinion polling. Part of it is the decriminalization law passed last year when legalization failed. Part of it is the widespread market for CBD products, which are produced from hemp plants but don’t contain the ingredients to get people high. And part of it is legalization efforts that have occurred elsewhere, like Massachusetts.

“The momentum is there and it’s pretty fast and furious,” Krueger said of 2020 legalization. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat, recently said she believes legalization is “inevitable,” though she added more work is needed.

Foes ramping up for fight

Opponents are not sitting by. Several groups involved in last year’s battle held a conference call Tuesday to discuss strategy, and there is talk of a renewed focus on health concerns and problems – such as driving while high arrests and accidents – seen in some states that have legalized the drug.

Critics also wonder why the state is looking to ban flavored vaping products for adults at the same time it wants to legalize marijuana. And they note the dangers of marijuana were brought out in full display by the rash of lung-related illnesses and deaths across the nation among people who used THC-containing e-cigarettes, obtained in the vast majority of cases through what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “informal” sources, such as drug dealers or friends. Fifty-seven deaths have been attributed to the outbreak.

“I don’t understand why they would want to move forward with legalization,” said Kyle Belokopitsky, executive director of the New York State PTA, of the vaping crisis that emerged nationwide over the summer.

There is a “disconnect” between state public health efforts to crack down on vaping and tobacco products while at the same time legalizing marijuana, critics say. Moreover, it’s an election year, and Albany already is facing sticky fights over everything from tax hikes for the wealthy to to whether to change a controversial new cash bail law.

“I would agree they are excited,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, of Democrats’ push for marijuana this year. “But they are wrong.”

The state went too far last year, he believes, in decriminalizing possession of marijuana, making it a violation and not a crime to possess up to 2 ounces of the drug. “This is a massive, sweeping change that’s not being properly paid attention to,” Flanagan said of the legalization push.

Backers ‘cautiously optimistic’

Marijuana proponents say the issue has been studied and debated and that legalization will bring thousands of jobs – in the form of retail, agriculture and other sectors – as well as $300 million in annual tax revenue to New York once implemented.

Moreover, these backers believe the vaping crisis that hit states beginning last summer proves their point: that legalization will bring safer marijuana products, regulated by the state, to the marketplace and not be spiked with any range of fillers and other unknown ingredients.

“Consumers need to know what they’re getting,” said Melissa Moore, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York office.

Moore said conversations with lawmakers and Cuomo advisers continued after 2019 session’s end last June.

Proponents also know an Albany truism: Seldom do major policy ideas get approved in one year. For-profit companies that produce and distribute medical marijuana products in New York, which is already legal, are better coordinated in 2020 to lobby with pro-legalization groups in Albany, advocates say.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Moore said of legalization this session.

Those split on the issue could agree on one thing for the coming months in Albany. “It’s going to be a fight,” said Belokopitsky, the PTA leader.

Story from The Buffalo News

What the future holds for medical psychedelics in Canada

By Rachel Browne – Global News – December 27, 2019

Bruce Tobin became interested in psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, 10 years ago when he was approached by a woman who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

She was suffering from intense depression, anxiety and hopelessness and the prospect of imminent death. 

Fortunately, good treatment sent her cancer into remission. Yet she continued to experience these agonizing psychological symptoms, and conventional medical options proved ineffective in curbing them.

“The cancer was behind her, but there was this constant fear that it was going to return,” said Tobin, a psychotherapist based in Victoria, B.C., who has been practising for 35 years.

After exhausting other options, the woman tried psilocybin mushrooms. In a short period of time, her perspective drastically improved.

“She reported great gains in optimism, spiritual well-being, quality of life and an increased sense of acceptance of her death, whenever that happens,” Tobin said.

Her experience is in line with recent studies that have shown how psilocybin can help terminal cancer patients cope with anxiety stemming from their diagnosis. Other emerging research is showing the potential of psychedelics, some of which have been granted “breakthrough therapy” status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to possibly treat and cure a range of medical concerns from Alzheimer’s to depression to addiction.

Since his patients’ positive mushroom experience, Tobin has devoted himself to fighting for patient access to psilocybin and is willing to take his battle to the courts, similar to the way cannabis patients and advocates fought for access.

READ MORE: Vancouver council shuts down motion to crack down on sale of ‘magic mushrooms’

Tobin is part of a growing number of health-care providers and researchers around the world who are championing the possibilities of mushrooms and other psychedelics that have been banned in Canada and the U.S. since the 1970s, but are now in the midst of a renaissance.

This fall, the University of Toronto launched the Centre for Psychedelic Studies, which will host the world’s first clinical trials on microdosing psilocybin. It joins a number of other prominent institutions devoting resources to psychedelics research, including other research centres at Johns Hopkins University and Imperial College London.

And in the year since cannabis became legal for recreational use in Canada, the world of psychedelics has also been attracting a number of cannabis executives who see it as the next frontier for therapeutic innovation.

Meanwhile, there are competing forces emerging across the country, differentiated by those who are willing to break the law to provide access to psychedelics and those who see legal channels as the best way forward.

In 2017, Tobin submitted an application to Health Canada requesting a special exemption to the current drug laws that would allow him to procure synthetic psilocybin and provide it to a group of terminal cancer patients who are experiencing end-of-life distress for which other treatments haven’t worked.

“They become depressed, demoralized, and life seems to lose its meaning. There’s no sense of future,” Tobin said.

Including his group of patients, Tobin estimates there are nearly 3,000 people in Canada for whom medical psilocybin could be beneficial.

He’s revised his application to Health Canada a number of times over the years, obtaining letters of support from members of psilocybin research teams across the United States, including from Johns Hopkins University.

But he says it’s been months since he’s heard from the federal health agency. If he gets rejected or doesn’t receive a response, Tobin says he plans to take the matter to court sometime next year.

“We’re talking about several thousands of Canadians that are suffering every day that treatment continues to be withheld from them,” Tobin said. “Treatment delayed is treatment denied.”

Health Canada would not comment on the specifics of the exemption applications that it receives, citing privacy reasons, but said it has received two applications regarding psilocybin, including one from 2017.

READ MORE: Health Canada allows more religious groups to import ayahuasca

Tobin’s arguments in favour of providing psilocybin are similar to those of the medical cannabis advocates whose successful court battles eventually forced Health Canada to create special regimes to allow patients to obtain licences to use and grow cannabis.

Tobin sees these precedents as laying the groundwork for his own case. However, he said he’s not in favour of psychedelics being decriminalized, as was done earlier this year in Denver, Colorado.

I am not supporting the liberalization of psilocybin for spiritual or recreational purposes. I am confining my message to the medical use of psilocybin,” he said.

While Tobin is fighting for access for psilocybin on behalf of his patients, he’s clear that he’s not an “underground therapist.” The patients are responsible for obtaining the substance themselves.

“I’ve always had the sense that if I go to court and I’ve been engaged in illegal activities, that could come back to bite me,” Tobin said. “So I’ve played the squeaky clean role here. But I’m not going to go away.”

Dana Larsen is taking the opposite approach.

The longtime cannabis rights advocate from Vancouver is known for protesting against drug laws by flagrantly violating them, and he has now set his sights on psychedelic mushrooms. While he shares Tobin’s goal of ensuring medical access to psilocybin, he eventually would like to see it fully legalized or decriminalized.

This summer, he opened an illegal mail-order website, The Medicinal Mushroom Dispensary, and plans to open a physical space next year where people can consume psychedelics with supervision.

“Expanding into psychedelics is a really natural progression. The time is right,” Larsen said.

His is one of a number of illicit online mushroom stores in Canada, but Larsen appears to be the only operator who’s open about his operation.

Other dispensaries have been ordered by Health Canada to cease operations altogether. In July, the health agency sent a letter to stating that its operations violated Canada’s drug laws.

“You are required to immediately suspend all activities in relation to psilocybin mushroom and to remove any content from your website related to the sale of a controlled substance,” states the letter, posted on the site.

Health Canada confirmed in an email that the Mungus letter is authentic and that it is one of a total of 6 such letters it has sent to websites offering psilocybin.

For Larsen, who has faced numerous cannabis charges, his mushroom dispensary is part of a broader push to normalize psychedelics and eventually get them legalized.

“The civil disobedience movement was not the only reason cannabis was legalized in Canada, but I don’t think it would have happened without it,” Larsen said. “And I think we’re going to see similar things with mushrooms and psychedelics.”

Larsen’s online venture offers its members a microdosing “regimen,” which, in this case, is a low dose of mushrooms meant to be taken a couple times a week. This is different from taking a dose large enough to induce a trip, which can last several hours.

Like many illegal or so-called “grey market” dispensaries that operated before cannabis legalization, Larsen says he will only sell to people located in Canada who provide proof of a diagnosis or a recommendation for psilocybin from a health-care practitioner.

This includes providing the substance to minors “if the parents consent in certain circumstances.”

Larsen says the mushroom dispensary’s membership has swelled to more than 1,000 people in the six months since he launched the site.

“It’s growing faster than when I was doing cannabis stuff, starting dispensaries and other projects 10 years ago,” he said. “But cannabis itself was easier to access to regular people, but mushrooms, especially microdoses, you have to know somebody.”

Former cannabis executives and researchers who are delving into psychedelics say that rigorous science and regulations must be pursued first to do justice to the burgeoning industry.

“My argument always has been that cannabis exists everywhere. Ignoring it helps illegal operators. It’s the exact same thing with psychedelics,” said Bruce Linton, formerly the co-CEO of cannabis giant Canopy Growth, who recently joined Toronto-based medical psychedelic firm Mind Medicine Inc.

“The job of the government is not to ignore. In this space, they should regulate, educate and monetize,” Linton, who still has one foot in the cannabis realm, said from a cannabis conference in Las Vegas. “Anybody who is opening illicit activities simply gives a stronger, compelling argument to the government to just smarten up.”

Linton’s company, also known as “Mindmed,” announced in September that it had invested in a molecule based on ibogaine, another psychedelic, to pursue its potential as a form of treatment for opioid addiction.

The company raised more than $6 million in new investment earlier this year, and it’s planning to go public in Canada in 2020.

Though Linton says the current scientific research around psychedelics is exciting and is in many ways more advanced than the science around cannabis, he doubts there will be a flood of cannabis execs like him entering the sector. To him, it requires harder work and more complicated ideas.

“You’re more likely to see researchers come out of the woodwork if there’s a proper way they can present themselves and not have the concern of access to capital or career,” Linton said.

Over the last 40 to 50 years, he said, much of the research has been “done in the shadows.”

“Now you have to be smart and pick jurisdictions where you can get work done and not be out of sight. What you don’t want to say is, ‘I’m going to change the rules in Canada and then do the work.’ No, go do the work and use the work to change the rules.”

Story From Global News

A few chocolate bars, a cookie and tea: Ontario unveils new legal cannabis edibles

More options are on the way in coming months, OCS says

‘There’s just no money coming in’: Cannabis sector bracing for wave of insolvencies in 2020

Oversupply, declining prices, and a slow rollout of stores in Ontario has led to consecutive quarters of weak revenue for many licensed

Financial Post – December 31, 2019

Cannabis industry insiders are bracing for a slew of bankruptcies in the coming year as small and medium-sized companies low on cash struggle to raise funds in the downtrodden sector.

“We have had a busy few years, but next year we’re going to be busy for a different reason — we expect a few million dollars in legal fees from insolvencies and consolidation,” said Ranjeev Dhillon, a partner at McCarthy Tetrault LLP and the firm’s cannabis group lead.

Dhillon says that his team is already seeing companies that are heading down that path.

“Companies that cannot distinguish their brands and don’t have the money to keep up operations on existing facilities will not be able to carry forward,” he told the Financial Post in an interview. “The only kind of money you can raise right now, if at all, is debt.”

There are currently more than 200 cannabis companies either in the cultivation, processing or extraction businesses, primarily supplying a domestic market that has yet to cross the $1 billion mark in annual sales.

Although cannabis sales have been increasing on a monthly basis since legalization in October 2018, inventory has been growing much more quickly, resulting in oversupply and declining prices.

That dynamic, coupled with a slow rollout in the number of cannabis stores in Ontario — which, to a large extent, choked the supply chain — has led to consecutive quarters of weak revenue for many licensed producers.

“We are definitely going to see some companies struggle. We’ve already seen two companies file for bankruptcy protection, and they certainly won’t be the last,” said Greg Engel, CEO of Organigram Holdings Inc., which has also been hit by slumping sales.

In December, Wayland Group Corp., one of the first pot companies to obtain a cultivation licence, filed for creditor protection. Two months earlier, DionyMed Brands Inc. had entered into receivership after failing to repay debt.

“Companies that don’t have a good cost structure will be in a really difficult position. It’s not about growing cannabis anymore, it’s about how efficient you are as a consumer packaged goods producer,” Engel added.

It’s not about growing cannabis anymore, it’s about how efficient you are as a consumer packaged goods producer

Greg Engel, CEO of Organigram Holdings

For Narbe Alexandrian, CEO of Canopy Rivers Inc., the venture capital arm of Canopy Growth Corp., the ongoing lack of institutional investor interest is the sector’s biggest red flag going into 2020.

“There’s just no money coming in, so if you have a low cash balance, you might be in trouble,” Alexandrian said. “We haven’t seen the blood on the streets yet.”

Quebec licensed producer Hexo Corp. saw its stock price plunge 20 per cent over the holiday period after it announced a discounted equity raise of US$25 million on Dec. 26. The company issued 15 million new shares at a price that was approximately 14 per cent below its closing price before markets closed on Christmas Eve.

The company had previously raised $70 million through a convertible debt deal, and introduced a new discounted dried flower product called Original Stash (priced roughly 50 per cent below market value), in an effort to boost its cash position.

Pablo Zuanic, an analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald called the deal “surprising.”

“Given the company had raised $70 million in convertible debentures after the October quarter, and had entered into an after-market facility to raise equity, we wonder about the need for these extra $32 million proceeds,” he wrote in a note to clients.

CIBC pot analyst John Zamparo had earlier forecast that Hexo’s “burn rate” of approximately $45 million per quarter suggested that the company would need additional funds by June 2020, or risk operating with just $5 million in cash.

Though he declined to name specific companies that could possibly face bankruptcy in 2020, McCarthy’s Dhillon said that he “wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more well-known licensed producers run into major cash issues.”

“You might be able to borrow money, but it will be very restricted, onerous terms. I think that’s when you’ll start seeing the private equity players and hedge funds get more involved because they’ll be able to strip these companies of assets that don’t make sense and restructure,” Dhillon added.

The rollout of major new product lines as part of the legalization of edibles presents a significant risk to producers.

Most of the major licensed producers — Canopy Growth Corp., Hexo and Tilray — have invested heavily in cannabis-infused drinks that will hit the market in the first quarter of 2020, but some industry observers are predicting that beverages might be a failed venture altogether.

“When you look at the established markets in the U.S. — California, Oregon and Colorado — beverages are just two per cent of those markets. They never really took off,” said Jerome Hass of Lightwater Partners Ltd.

Hass believes that certain licensed producers are vastly overstating the impact beverages will have on overall sales. He says his company invested in a small brewery in Waterloo, Ont., that he once thought would be a “perfect play” for cannabis-infused drinks.

“They had a canning facility, and excess capacity so we thought these guys would be a prime beneficiary of cannabis 2.0. But management recently told us they spoke to a number of major LPs about the process of making cannabis drinks and decided the opportunity wasn’t worth their time,” Hass said.

A key aspect to the success of cannabis-infused drinks and edibles are the onset and offset times — how long it will take for the consumer to feel the “high” from the product, and subsequently, to sober up.

“Most companies are making gummies, chocolates, candies, drinks. So where the true innovation comes in will be who masters the onset and offset,” said Alexandrian, though he admits that many companies have been spreading themselves too thin in the race to offer up a variety of cannabis 2.0 products.

“I’m not sure yet what products will do well. It’s too early to tell. But the test for the industry going forward, next year and beyond, will be which companies can survive as consumer packaged goods companies. They need to be dead-set focused on how to deliver the best experience for the consumer. Those are the companies to invest in,” he said.

Story From Financial Post

Cannabis edibles set to be available at NSLC stores before Christmas – Nova Scotia

Spokesperson warns selection will be limited in the beginning

A limited number of cannabis edibles is expected to be available at a dozen Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation stores across the province beginning two days before Christmas.

The Crown corporation’s first orders to producers for the edibles was placed Monday, the first day possible. While edibles became legal in October, Health Canada required a 60-day review period for new products.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have a very small offering in our stores on Dec. 23,” said NSLC spokesperson Beverley Ware.

There are currently 12 NSLC stores that sell cannabis in Nova Scotia. Edibles will also be available online starting Jan. 6.

For this first order, the selection of cannabis edibles will be very limited, said Ware. She notes the NSLC expects to have a few edibles and extracts, but there won’t be baked goods or topicals.

Although customers might be thinking of purchasing the products as gifts for Christmas, none of the packaging will look holiday-themed, in keeping with Health Canada regulations around non-promotional packaging for cannabis products.

Much like the initially shortages when dried cannabis was legalized in 2018, Ware said she expects it to take awhile before the NSLC can offer an assortment of edibles.

“We expect a quite gradual introduction of products to the market and that this product assortment will grow over time,” said Ware.

Story From CBC

NHS will start prescribing its first cannabis-based medicine for epilepsy in just three weeks after health bosses ‘fast-track’ funding

The NHS will start prescribing its first cannabis medicine for epilepsy in less than three weeks’ time, it has announced.

Health bosses have officially confirmed the drug combination Epidyolex with clobazam will be available on prescription from January 6 in England.

The drug has been hailed as a game-changer for children with severe epilepsy and studies suggest it can cut seizure numbers by up to 40 per cent.

Some 2,000 patients could be eligible for the medicine, which costs a staggering £850 for a single 100ml bottle, although the NHS will pay a secretive lower price.

It was tipped for health bosses’ approval in November and this has now been finalised and the funding fast-tracked so patients can get it almost right away.

The announcement makes Epidyolex the third cannabis-based medicine to be approved for NHS prescription, and the first one for epilepsy.

This approval was made possible after a lengthy campaign by the parents of epileptic children, such as Charlotte Caldwell and her son Billy, persuaded the Government to legalise cannabis medicines.

Chief executive of the charity Epilepsy Action, Philip Lee, said he was ‘delighted’ by the news.

‘New treatment options for severe epilepsies do not come very often and many families feel they have already been waiting too long to access medicines like Epidyolex,’ he said.

‘This announcement brings much-needed hope and could be life-changing for some.’

Epidyolex and other cannabis-containing drugs were legalised by the Government in November 2018 but were not deemed cost-effective for the NHS.

A lack of official approval has meant doctors wanting to prescribe them had to do it on their own initiative and patients had to pay to get them privately.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published official guidance recommending Epidyolex for NHS patients on Wednesday this week.

NICE said people with the rare forms of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome, are now eligible to have the drug.

An estimated 3,000 people in England have Dravet syndrome and 5,000 Lennox Gastaut syndrome, the BBC reports – around 2,000 are expected to qualify for Epidyolex.

Epidyolex is an oral solution containing cannabidiol (CBD), which is legal, and has trace amounts of THC in it – the chemical which makes people high.

It is combined with the existing anti-epileptic drug clobazam, which is already used by many to keep seizures under control.


The Government legalised cannabis-based medicines in the UK in November 2018.

The law change was made after a high pressure public campaign by families of children with severe forms of epilepsy, who said their youngsters could benefit from the drugs.

However, patients have found it hard to access drugs since then because medications must also be licensed and funded before an NHS patient can get them.

Any licensed drug can be prescribed by a private doctor, but patients have to pay for them themselves.

Only three cannabis-based medicines currently have NHS funding.

Nabilone – Nabilone is a drug taken orally to reduce sickness in patients having chemotherapy for cancer. It was approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in August.

Sativex – Sativex is a nasal spray cannabis-based drug which is used to reduce spasticity (muscle stiffness) in some patients with multiple sclerosis. NICE approved Sativex in November.

Epidyolex with clobazam – Epidyolex is an oral solution used to reduce the frequency of seizures in children with Dravet syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome, severe forms of epilepsy. Clobazam is an already approved anti-epileptic drug which does not contain cannabis.

And the NHS today announced it has negotiated with the manufacturer, GW Pharma, to set up the supply chain in just 19 days.

This process usually takes three months.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: ‘The NHS is committed, through the Long Term Plan, to improving the lives of all those affected by rare diseases.

‘Thousands of people including children will now have access to this treatment, which has the potential to make a real difference.’

Dravet syndrome is a rare genetic illness affecting around one in every 15,000 children – it causes uncontrolled electric activity in the brain and seizures.

And Lennox Gastaut syndrome makes up between one and five per cent of childhood epilepsy cases and may be caused by brain damage at birth.

Both conditions can also cause development problems and learning difficulties.

GW Pharmaceuticals, which will supply the Epidyolex to the NHS, uses cannabis grown in the UK.

The product contains trace amounts of the chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive component that makes people ‘high’ and makes weed illegal.

Medicines containing cannabis were legalised 13 months ago by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

He pushed through the law change after a campaign of pressure from the parents of children with severe epilepsies such as Dravet syndrome.

Some families had discovered Epidyolex and similar drugs were slashing the number of life-threatening seizures their children were having and were buying it illegally or smuggling it into the country.

One mother at the forefront of the campaign, Charlotte Caldwell, was accosted at Heathrow and had her son’s medication confiscated after she tried to smuggle it from the Netherlands.

Epidyolex will become the third cannabis-based drug to be approved for prescription by NHS doctors, and the first one for epilepsy.

Sativex, a nasal spray used to treat muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis patients, and nabilone, which reduces vomiting in chemotherapy patients, are also approved.

GW Pharma said the move was a ‘milestone’ and would pave the way for more cannabis medications.

Its chief operating officer, Chris Tovey, said: ‘Its chief operating officer, Chris Tovey, said: ‘This demonstrates that if routed through rigorous clinical trials, approved by a medicines regulator and proven to be cost-effective, cannabis-based medicines can reach patients who need them.’

But Millie Hinton, director of campaign group End Our Pain, said the announcement would bring joy to some families but would prolong the suffering of people who need access to products containing CBD and THC.

Epidyolex only contains tiny amounts of THC, and is mostly CBD (cannabidiol), which is completely legal.

Some families are paying around £2,000 a month privately for products which contain both, she added.

Ms Hinton said: ‘They have been pushed to financial breaking point funding the only medicine that gives their children significant seizure control and the quality of life they deserve. Some have actually felt forced to sell their family homes.

‘So, whilst fast-tracking access to a CBD-only product is a step in the right direction for some desperate families, for those that need the products containing both CBD and THC it’s another false dawn and missed opportunity.

‘These families need immediate action to secure NHS prescriptions for the CBD and THC whole plant medical cannabis products.

‘It is unbelievably cruel to leave these vulnerable families in such a desperate state. All these families want for Christmas is for the Government to honour the promises they made to them.’

Story From The Dailymail UK

Legalizing hard drugs not a ‘panacea’ to opioids crisis, Justin Trudeau says

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s unconvinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is a “panacea” to the country’s ongoing opioids crisis, and other options need a chance before considering such a major policy shift.

But Trudeau once felt the same way about marijuana — conceding it during an interview this week — before changing his mind.

During the wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said the epidemic requires a complex set of answers and not simply decriminalizing opioids to undercut a tainted black-market supply, as some jurisdictions have suggested.

The prime minister said his government plans to focus on solutions such as giving doctors more authority to prescribe alternatives to street drugs and creating more supervised consumption sites across the country.

However, opening supervised sites is more difficult in places where people are leery of supplying sterile drug paraphernalia and workers who can respond quickly to overdoses, he said, particularly in provinces headed by “capital-C conservative” governments.

The most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that nearly 14,000 Canadians have been killed by opioids since 2016.

Nearly all of those deaths are due to accidental overdoses. The composition of street drugs is practically impossible for users to tell, and the advent of powdered fentanyl — a super-potent opioid, easily hidden and transported, and often cut and then passed off as a less powerful drug — has been a major factor.

Besides the thousands who have died, thousands more have been hospitalized or treated by paramedics. Some have suffered permanent harm.

Trudeau said possible government responses “haven’t yet been fully deployed.” They will make a difference without having to “immediately jump to the biggest, perhaps biggest, lever in our arsenal,” he said, in reference to decriminalization.

Though he didn’t rule out that something could change his mind.

“I was absolutely opposed to decriminalization of marijuana for many years and opposed to legalization. I am now opposed to decriminalization of hard drugs,” Trudeau said — and stopped, leaving the implication hanging.

Pushed for clarity, Trudeau said, “It is not something that I would be convinced is — or even could be — the panacea.” Other moves are “more likely to have a quicker and more significant impact in the coming years.”

The Liberal platform included a promise to fund more in-patient rehab beds, expand supervised-consumption sites’ effectiveness by extending their hours, for instance, and allow first-time, non-violent offenders to go to drug-treatment courts when charged with simple possession of banned drugs.

The provincial courts, which are already funded by the federal government, allow people to get help for addictions as an alternative to being jailed.

But Trudeau has heard calls to work on safer opioid supplies. British Columbia’s provincial health officer made a request on Ottawa earlier this year and more recently Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart made the pitch directly to the prime minister. Vancouver is asking Health Canada for $6 million for the safe distribution of the painkiller diamorphine, better known as heroin.

Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu said the Liberals need to a have a full plan to address the epidemic, starting with prevention and ending with recovery. She cited mental-health supports, mandatory education in schools, pushing other countries like China to crack down on illegal drugs smuggled into Canada from abroad, and reducing the quantity of opioids prescribed in Canada.

Trudeau said any approach on hard drugs had to be different from that on marijuana.

Story From The Toronto Star

In one year, Canadians spent $908M on legal cannabis

OTTAWA — Canadians spent about $908 million on non-medical cannabis in the first year since legalization, but online sales dropped as more brick-and-mortar locations opened, said Statistics Canada .

Canadians spent $907,833,000 on non-medical cannabis between October 2018 and September 2019, the agency said, which works out to $24 per capita.

READ MORE: Cannabis and driving study casts doubt on zero-tolerance limits for THC

Canada legalized cannabis on Oct. 17, 2018, becoming the second country in the world — after Uruguay — to legalize the drug. Demand initially appeared to outstrip supply as retailers warned of a pending shortfall of product.

Over the year, demand appeared to be highest in the sparsely populated Yukon where sales per capita led the other provinces and territories at $103, according to Statistics Canada. It was not able to provide data for Nunavut _ the only area without a physical store.

Prince Edward Island sales per capita were the second highest at $97, while B.C. ranked lowest at $10.

Throughout the year, Canadians’ access to cannabis stores increased. The number of retail stores jumped from 217 this past March to 407 in July, according to the agency.

Alberta boasts the highest number of stores at 176 and B.C. took second place with 57 stores. Nunavut had the fewest with zero, followed by Prince Edward Island and the Yukon, both of which have four.

READ MORE: Cannabis vaping products won’t be sold in Quebec, N.L. in January

Nineteen per cent of Canadians lived three kilometres from a cannabis store as of July 2019. Thirty per cent lived 30 kilometres away and 45 per cent lived within 10 kilometres.

Albertans enjoyed the closest proximity to a store of any province, with half of the population living within three kilometres of a cannabis outlet. That figure rises to 63 per cent for five kilometres and 70 per cent for 10 kilometres.

Ontarians lived the furthest from cannabis stores on average. Nine per cent of the population resided three kilometres from a cannabis store. Eighteen per cent lived five kilometres away and 33 per cent were 10 kilometres away.

As the number of physical stores increased, the share of online sales dropped from 43.4 per cent in October 2018 to 5.9 per cent in September 2019.

READ MORE: Constellation executive David Klein named new CEO of Canopy Growth

“While online cannabis retail ensures access to all Canadians regardless of proximity to a physical store, accessibility continues to improve as more stores open across the country,” wrote Statistics Canada in its paper.

As of July, Canada had 407 cannabis retail stores, with the most being located in Alberta.

About 45 per cent of Canadians live within 10 kilometres of a cannabis store as of July, but that figure shoots up to encompass 70 per cent of the population in Alberta.

Canadian cannabis group appeals to Trudeau to help fix industry challenges

By Matt Lamers – November 14, 2019

An industry group representing Canada’s biggest cannabis companies is appealing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help address some of the industry’s most persistent challenges.

In a letter sent to Trudeau on Nov. 9 and made public Thursday night, the Cannabis Council of Canada highlighted a number of areas in need of improvement, including a tax on medical cannabis and banking issues that are stymieing legal businesses.

The group wants Trudeau to task his new cabinet with finding solutions.

The re-elected prime minister is set to appoint his new cabinet next week.
The council also requested a meeting early in the new year among cannabis CEOs and senior Trudeau officials, the leader of the civil service and heads of relevant departments.“We believe this meeting is integral to ensuring the government understands the pressures and opportunities facing the industry,” the letter notes.

Canada’s adult-use cannabis industry got off to a rocky start in late 2018, facing immediate headwinds, involving:

  • Retail build-outs.
  • Supply challenges.
  • Banking access.
  • Illicit market proliferation.
  • Taxation on medicine.

While some of those have been addressed in part or in full, challenges remain.

The Cannabis Council of Canada’s members includes Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis, which both reported disappointing earnings Thursday.

Among the issues the group would like addressed:

• National stamp: The council requested the incoming minister of revenue and finance address problems involving excise stamps.

“The current system of stamps designated for each province and territory has proven to be an expensive resource burden on the cannabis industry,” according to the letter.

“A pivot to a national stamp would also help mitigate supply issues in smaller jurisdictions and allow license holders to flexibly move product where there is demonstrated and/or urgent demand.”

• Medical tax: For the incoming minister of health, finance and revenue, the industry body urged that the excise taxes on medical cannabis eliminated.

The council said the current regime presents “serious barriers” to access and renders medical cannabis products unaffordable for lower-income Canadians.

• Illicit market: The Council asked the incoming ministers of public safety, finance, border security and organized crime reduction to discourage the proliferation of illegal online cannabis dispensaries.

The group suggested that ministries collaborate with provincial and territorial counterparts to increase enforcement and further restrict access to youth.

“We recommend that the government prioritize the closure and removal of both illegal brick and mortar stores, and actively seek out and shut down illegal online cannabis dispensaries,” the letter stipulates.

• Banking: Legal cannabis businesses continue to struggle to access regular banking services, which essentially acts as a competitive barrier to the legal cannabis industry.

The group said improvements “can be achieved in partnership with Canada’s banking sector to ensure legal cannabis businesses are given access to basic fiscal resources in order to grow their operations.”

• Export blueprint: To realize the potential for Canada’s regulated cannabis products in international markets, the Council recommended ministers develop a comprehensive medical cannabis export framework for launch in the next 12 months.

“This framework would serve to ensure the Canadian cannabis industry’s global competitiveness while adhering to the health and safety objectives of Health Canada,” the letter’s authors wrote.

• Licensing: The industry body recommended a review be undertaken of Health Canada’s timelines for license amendments and research applications.

The group cited ongoing delays in research license approvals for academics.

Story from Marijuana Business Daily

Canopy Growth – Pot company Canopy Growth reports bigger loss on charges

NOVEMBER 14, 2019

(Reuters) – Canopy Growth Corp reported a bigger quarterly loss on Thursday, as the Canadian pot producer was hit by restructuring charges.

U.S.-listed shares of the company were trading down 3.3% at $17.89 in premarket trading.

The company said it took a restructuring charge of C$32.7 million in the reported quarter for returns, return provisions, and pricing allowances primarily related to its softgel and oil portfolio.

“The last two quarters have been challenging for the Canadian cannabis sector as provinces have reduced purchases to lower inventory levels, retail store openings have fallen short of expectations, and Cannabis 2.0 products are yet to come to market,” said Chief Executive Officer Mark Zekulin.

Canada’s cannabis market is facing a supply glut as producers ramp up their production to dominate the nascent industry, while retail outlets in key provinces remain few.

Canopy has been investing in new product lines including vape products, beverages, CBD beauty products and other derivatives, gearing up for the so-called cannabis 2.0.

Cannabis 2.0 is the legalization of marijuana derivatives including edibles, beverages, extracts and vape pens which took effect last month, with sales expected in mid-December.

The biggest Canadian marijuana producer by market capitalization said it sold 998 kilograms of dried medical cannabis in the second quarter, down 41% from the year-ago quarter.

The Ontario-based company reported a wider net loss of C$374.6 million ($283.12 million), in the second quarter ended Sept. 30, from C$330.6 million, a year earlier.

On per share basis, the company reported a loss of C$1.08.

Net revenue rose to C$76.6 million from C$23.3 million.

Story from Reuters News

‘Playing with fire’: What to know if you’re getting on a flight with cannabis

Posted November 8, 2019

Flying within Canada with cannabis isn’t against the rules — but it may not be the smartest decision, according to an immigration lawyer.

The issue arose this week when a domestic Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver was diverted to Seattle. Some passengers on the flight reportedly raised concerns about whether they would be penalized for carrying the plant, even though it’s legal in Canada.

Les Saunders, a U.S.-based immigration lawyer, says that travellers might want to leave their cannabis products at home, even if travelling within Canada.

READ MORE: Flying high: rules surrounding passengers carrying cannabis at Canadian airports

“It’s playing with fire,” he said. “Canadians have to be careful when they’re on flights back and forth across Canada. I wouldn’t carry any of that stuff if I was a Canadian travelling by airplane.”

Saunders says the consequence of U.S. customs finding your cannabis could be a ban for life from the country, even if you weren’t meant to enter the U.S. or are in a state that has legalized cannabis, such as Washington state, because cannabis is still a controlled substance federally.

“It’s a lifetime bomber,” he said.

Saunders says he sees similar cases all the time when Canadians accidentally enter the U.S. by car.

In those cases, they get what’s called a “zero-tolerance fine,” which is about $500, according to Saunders, and the border agent will deem the person inadmissible because they were found in possession of a controlled substance.

It is currently legal for adults to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis in Canada, but illegal to cross the border with any cannabis products.

Cannabis products are already becoming more ubiquitous as different demographics give them a try — Saunders says seniors are starting to use it to treat arthritis — and will become more varied once edibles and lotions hit Canadian store shelves in December.

One option for air travellers who find themselves unexpectedly across the border with cannabis is to get rid of the stash on the plane, according to Saunders, but he’s not sure airlines can allow people to do that.

READ MORE: Travelling to Singapore? You may be drug tested for cannabis, Travel Canada warns

Ultimately, Saunders says it’s the personal responsibility of passengers to know what could happen, but the Canadian government and the airlines have a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to warn passengers of the risks of carrying cannabis products.

Currently, there are no warnings about cannabis products in the terminal for domestic flights, according to Saunders, but there are for international flights.

However, Air Canada’s website does warn customers about the possible consequences of carrying cannabis on domestic flights if the flight is diverted.

“If you are refused entry into a country because you have cannabis in your possession, you alone will be responsible for the consequences, including for payment of your return trip home,” the website reads.

In the recent example of the Air Canada flight on Nov. 3, passengers had to clear customs due to a mechanical issue found on the plane and had the option to stay in a hotel, but the airline says there were no reported issues clearing customs.

“I wouldn’t want to be one of those people,” Saunders said.

Story from Global News

Congress should lift the ban on medical cannabis access for military veterans

By Paul Armentano, Opinion Contributor —

 Americans in 33 states and the District of Columbia have legal access to medical marijuana under a doctor’s authorization. But this same access is often lacking for many military veterans.

That is because the current policy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs explicitly prohibits V.A. physicians “from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in state-approved [medical marijuana] program[s].”

Some members of Congress have sought for years to change this policy. In 2016, majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate approved an amendment in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that would have ended this discriminatory policy.

Nonetheless, Republican leadership decided to remove the language during a concurrence vote. In 2018, similar language was approved by the U.S. Senate, but was later removed during conference committee negotiations.

This legislative session, Senate Bill 445 (sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz) and House Bill 1151 (sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee): The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act are pending in Congress.

Passage of these measures would, for the first time, allow doctors affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs “to recommend, complete forms for, or register veterans for participation in a treatment program involving medical marijuana that is approved by the law.” Similar legislation, HR 1647: The Veterans Equal Access Act (sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer), is also pending in the House of Representatives.

House and Senate legislation to facilitate federally-sponsored clinical research “of the effects of medical-grade cannabis on the health outcomes of veterans diagnosed with chronic pain [or] post-traumatic stress disorder” is also pending.

Continued congressional intransigence on this issue is unacceptable. Emerging evidence indicates that cannabis can potentially mitigate many of the symptoms plaguing our nation’s veterans.

Most recently, data published this month in the “Journal of Psychopharmacology” reported that those with a clinical diagnosis of PTSD who consume cannabis possess significantly lower rates of severe depression and suicidal ideation than those who do not.

Separate studies — such as those reported herehere, and here — report that chronic pain patients reduce their use of opioids following access to medical cannabis therapy. Other studies have shown that cannabinoids can mitigate the frequency and intensity of trauma-related nightmares in military personnel.

For these reasons and others, veterans’ advocacy groups are increasingly going on record in support of federal policy changes. According to nationwide survey data compiled by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 75 percent of military veterans “would be interested in using cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option if it were available.”

The American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, has adopted a resolution urging the “United States government to permit V.A. medical providers to be able to discuss with veterans the use of marijuana for medical purposes and recommend it in those states where medical marijuana laws exist.”

It is time for Congress to grant physicians affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs the same discretion as other doctors in medical cannabis states. Politicians should no longer put politics ahead of the health and well-being of America’s military veterans, some of whom may potentially benefit from medical marijuana.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He is the co-author of the book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” and the author of the book, “The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.”

Story from The Hill

Canopy Growth announces joint venture with Drake

Drake now majority owner of More Life Growth, which plans to sell cannabis and related products

Thomson Reuters – Nov 07, 2019

The biggest of Canada’s new brand of marijuana producers will join forces with Toronto-born rap star Drake to launch a fully licensed joint venture in the city to produce and distribute cannabis, the two sides said on Thursday.

Under the deal, the multi-Grammy award winner will take a 60 per cent stake in a subsidiary of stock-market listed Canopy Growth, which produces cannabis in Scarborough, Ont.

Canopy and Drake said the venture, called More Life Growth Co., would be “centred around wellness, discovery and overall personal growth.” Canopy will own the remaining 40 per cent of the subsidiary.

“Drake’s perspective as a culture leader and entrepreneur combined with Canopy Growth’s breadth of cannabis knowledge will allow our new company to bring an unmatched cannabis experience to global markets,” CEO Mark Zekulin said in a statement.

Drake teased the announcement earlier this week with an Instagram post and Toronto-based public relations campaign.

U.S.-listed shares of Canopy, which last year drew a major investment from Corona brewer Constellation Brands, rose around three per cent in early trading.

More Life Growth, in a trademark application from Dream Crew IP based out of West Hollywood, Calif., plans to sell cannabis, dried plants, herb teas and clothing products.

Drake is just the latest in a list of celebrities who have partnered with Canadian cannabis companies since the country approved the use of recreational marijuana.

Canopy Growth has previously announced assorted partnerships with Martha Stewart, Seth Rogen and Snoop Dogg.

Story from – CBC

Will more legal pot stores snuff out the black market? Probably not, heavy users say
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Ontario Chamber of Commerce suggests more private stores will increase convenience

Philip Lee-Shanok CBC News

It’s a basic tenet of retailing: if you want to reach more customers, you need more locations. And according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, that principle applies to pot just as much any other product.

The chamber says people in this province are open to allowing a bigger role for private industry in providing convenient access to cannabis, if it helps get rid of the black market — pointing to a Nanos survey conducted online at the end of October.

The poll, released Thursday, suggests 51 per cent of Ontarians would favour allowing private-sector companies to purchase, distribute and sell cannabis, with the province’s oversight. But not everyone’s convinced it will get rid of the illegal market, especially heavy smokers like Abi Roach.

“On product quality, price and convenience, right now, my drug dealer wins on all those things,” said Roach, who is the owner/operator of the Hotbox Cafe — a spot in Toronto’s Kensington Market where you can spark up a joint with your meal, even though you can’t buy cannabis there.

“He has a quality product at a much cheaper price and a much more convenient manner. And he’s authentic. I like him, I connect with him and I know him personally,” she told CBC Toronto.

And she says allowing the cannabis industry to have more involvement won’t change that.

‘It’s not their jam’

“These stores are very much geared towards, you know, the soccer mom. They’ll smoke a joint at a party, whereas the real consumer, the people who are still using the unregulated market, it’s not their jam. It’s just not the kind of atmosphere that they’re looking for.”

But according to Daniel Safayeni, director of policy for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the newly formed Ontario Cannabis Policy Council, easier access to legal weed could eventually get users like Roach to go legal.

“Ontarians are looking for increased convenience to be able to purchase from legal entities and legal means,” said Safayeni, adding that Ontario’s 25 brick-and-mortar shops for 14.6 million people aren’t nearly enough to present a viable option to the illicit or unregulated market, although 50 more stores were slated to begin opening in the province last month.

“We’re unfortunately not going to be able to do that with limited retail presence and we’re not going to be able to do that in the absence of an efficient retail market that can compete with the illegal markets,” said Safayeni.

In comparison, Alberta has 301 stores for a population of just over four million.

As seen in other provinces, Safayeni says access and convenience is improved when the private sector plays a greater role in the purchasing, distribution and retailing of cannabis.

Jay Rosenthal, co-founder and president of Business of Cannabis, which conducts research and hosts events on everything to do with weed, says convenience and access are key factors for many potential new consumers.

“It’s really a challenge in Ontario that it’s not convenient to buy [legal cannabis] unless you happen to be within walking distance of Queen Street West in Toronto,” he said.

Rosenthal says the Ontario government has been criticized pretty heavily in the year since adult recreational use became legal and it recognizes that to bring people into the regulated market, more retail options are needed.

The province announced it is considering a click-and-collect system that would allow consumers to buy products online and then pick them up at a government store. Also, licensed producers could be allowed to sell to the public directly at their main production sites.

But Rosenthal says those who have been consuming cannabis longer have priorities other than simple convenience.

“It’s not as if their source for cannabis closed down on October 17th, 2018. They still have that source. They may buy from the legal shop or they may buy from their source,” he said, adding it’s a minority of cannabis users who consume a majority of the cannabis.

And when it comes to those regular users, Rosenthal agrees with Roach: quality, price and convenience really matter.

For her part, Roach would like to see more small operators like her get a chance at transitioning to the legal market.

“We have to turn away 200 people a day and send them down the street because we can’t sell cannabis,” she said, adding that she’s not thrilled with the lottery system the province used to license the new stores.

“And the fact that I have to send those customers to a lottery winner who put $75 into a hat and then sold that licence for $15 million to some large corporation makes me want to vomit.”

Story from – CBC

Exhausting, expensive and cruel – this is what it’s like to travel abroad for medical cannabis

As a pharmacist, I can pass through customs with ease. But desperate patients bringing the legal medicine back without the right documents risk arrest, prosecution and imprisonment

Chris Ashton – November 7, 2019 – The Independent UK

Last week I made a gruelling journey to the Netherlands to pick up medical cannabis prescriptions for several patients. I woke up at 4am for the 7:45am flight to Amsterdam, then took an hour-long taxi ride to the Transvaal Pharmacy in The Hague, arriving a little after noon.

The Netherlands has the regulatory systems and infrastructure in place to ensure that, with the right documentation, fulfilling the prescriptions was simple. Returning to the UK that evening I declared the medicines to customs officials who checked all my documents and the prescriptions. Fortunately, I was waved through, medication in hand, ready to deliver to our patients.

As a pharmacist, this has been my professional life for nearly two decades. I understand how medicines work and I am fluent in the burdensome paperwork required to obtain them, and how to deal with any of the difficult, but necessary, questions from other pharmacists and customs officials.

However, it can be a very different story for the dozens of patients and parents who make this expensive, time-consuming, and for the less mobile, physically challenging, trip to fulfil their prescriptions every year.

The news is peppered with examples of parents who have also made the risky journey to obtain the medicine – Emma Appleby and her daughter Teagan, Lisa Quarrel and her son Cole, Tannine Mongtomery and her daughter Indie-Rose, worried mothers simply seeking treatment for their children’s severe epilepsy.

Sometimes they succeed in bringing the medicine home, sometimes they fail. Even if they are successful, the limitations on the amount of medicine that can be imported means it’s never long before they have to make that same trip again, and again, and again.

At Luton Airport one of the officials told me that in the last year she had seen many patients making this journey, often without the right documents. Her hands are tied – without the right papers, the best-case scenario is the medicine will be confiscated, the worst is the prospect of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

The journey alone is exhausting, but to return empty handed with a seriously ill child in tow, facing prosecution for the ‘crime’ of trying to obtain a legal medicine is unimaginable. Unfortunately, this is the cruel reality for parents and patients who suffer from conditions that do not respond to conventional medicines and are often seeking their “last resort”.

It does not have a well-established medical use, unlike morphine – another controlled drug – so importers need two licenses to get a medical cannabis prescription into the UK, one from the MHRA – the medicines regulator – and one from the Home Office at a combined cost of £155 per month, every month.

Not only do patients carry the financial burden, with some being forced to re-mortgage their home, but it can take up to 28 days in between prescriptions for the licences to be granted. Patients being forced to spend four weeks waiting between prescriptions, unsure that they will be able to get the medicine they need, simply isn’t good enough.

There is no single solution to overcoming the cumbersome and bureaucratic experience patients face. A clear first step would be to allow the import of medical cannabis products as we do for unlicensed controlled medicines.

Licensing costs would be minimised and stock could be held in the UK ready to supply patients. Controls for this process are already proven and in place, and it would bring welcome relief from the financial burdens placed upon these desperate families.

We also need to face up to our double standards. The UK is the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis, but we lack the regulations and infrastructure to develop a domestic industry as other countries have.

Beyond the clear economic benefits this could bring, imagine the pressure we could lift from those suffering if they were able to access safe, proven, NHS-approved treatments without the fear of arrest or bankruptcy.

Whatever the outcome of the general election, those leading the country will be faced with a simple choice: continue to put patients and their families under enormous physical and emotional stress, or do right by them and make medical cannabis truly accessible to patients with unmet medical needs.

Chris Ashton is the Chief Pharmacist for Lyphe Group

Story from The Independent UK

Air Canada passengers ‘abandoned’ to deal with delays, cannabis possession after diverted flight

Penny Daflos – Reporter – CTV Vancouver
November 7, 2019

VANCOUVER – More than 200 Air Canada passengers on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver found themselves unexpectedly in Washington State earlier this week, with little help from airline staff as they scrambled to make arrangements and figure out what to do about cannabis products.

Flight AC 125 re-routed to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport late in the evening Sunday after foggy conditions kept it from landing at YVR and other Canadian airports. The airline says a mechanical issue that came up as the 787 Dreamliner was grounded necessitated the removal of passengers from the aircraft altogether.

Harold Wax, a frequent traveler, was on the flight and said passengers began discussing potential issues with customs, considering few passengers were likely to have brought passports or visas for what was scheduled as a domestic flight.

“I said to my neighbour, ‘I wonder how many passengers on this plane have cannabis or CBD on them and weren’t anticipating landing in the United States,’ and her eyes literally popped out of her skull and she said ‘I have CBD oil on me for my bad joints,’” Wax told CTV News Vancouver.

While it’s legal for adults to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis in Canada, officials have warned that no one should cross international borders with it, especially to a country like the U.S., where some states have legalized the drug, but the federal policy remains strictly opposed to cannabis.

“They risked lifetime bans from the United States and the only way to overcome that is hundreds of dollars of a special fee each time they seek entry,” said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

He believes airlines like Air Canada should do more to protect passengers, suggesting they have an obligation to do so.

“As soon as Air Canada pilots are aware of emergency landing in the United States two things should happen,” said Kurland. “First, they should alert the passengers of an immigration customs search of material in their possession, that will include cannabis. Second thing, keep those washrooms open for as long as possible because people who are in possession of what’s legal in Canada have to decide: do I want to risk lifetime ban in the United States, or do I want to just trash my stash?”

“We’re on our own”

For Wax, a long-time security consultant, he was more concerned about the lack of support from Air Canada after three hours spent waiting on the tarmac.

“On the plane they’re telling us get off the plane, get off, customs and everything will be ok, there’ll be someone waiting for you on the other side – but not only is there nobody there, now you’re stuck,” he said. “You can’t get back through security, there’s literally nobody there to help us and we’re on our own. It definitely felt an abandonment from Air Canada.”

The airline sent an email statement to CTV News, which reads in part: “Air Canada is handled by a partner company in Seattle, and special, exceptional arrangements were immediately made for the U.S. authorities to enable all customers to clear customs without the usual documentation. We were advised there were no issues during the customs clearance process.”

But Air Canada also acknowledges there was only one staffer at the airport to handle baggage, customer service duties and customs issues. It says “they returned to the desk to advise customers that arrangements had been made for people to proceed directly to local hotels where accommodations had been secured. Air Canada agents from YVR were also sent to Seattle to assist customers.”

Wax said passengers had to make their own arrangements and was told by a customer service agent on the phone that they would be reimbursed later.

“I’ve got the means to fend for myself, but I guarantee there’s other people on this plane that either don’t have credit cards, don’t have money. What are they going to do? You’re kind of leaving people in the lurch,” he told the agent.

Story from CBC

Quebec raises legal consumption age for cannabis to 21

Tracey Lindeman in Ottawa –

New law, which goes into effect 1 January, is intended to ‘protect’ teens and their developing brains, said junior health minister

The day cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, the line outside of Quebec’s government-run pot shop in downtown Montreal ran hundreds deep down multiple city blocks.

At least some of those enthusiasts will be gravely disappointed after a new law passed by the provincial government has raised the legal consumption age from 18 to 21. The change, announced this week, is intended to “protect” teenagers and their developing brains, according to the junior health minister, Lionel Carmant.

The new law, which comes into effect on 1 January, also prohibits the consumption of cannabis on public roads, in bus shelters, under big-top tents and in playgrounds. These changes take effect this week.

No other province in Canada has a legal cannabis consumption age over 19.

When campaigning for the seat of Quebec premier last year, the Coalition Avenir Québec party’s leader, François Legault, promised to increase the age limit for cannabis. A government spokesperson said 65% of Québécois agreed with the new age limit.

Quebec’s stringent cannabis laws are unique in the country. The province also prohibits people from growing their own at home, it has one of the lowest allowances for home storage of processed cannabis and it also prohibits the sale of edibles, which only became legal in Canada this month.

The government is also in the process of appealing against a ruling in a legal challenge to its no-home-growing law. In September, a Quebec court judge said the law was invalid because it trespassed on federal rights given to Canadians. Quebec has vowed to fight that ruling.

Despite these laws, legal cannabis has been extremely popular in the province – and lucrative for the government. In its first five months of operation, the government cannabis store network (SQDC) sold $71m worth – 9.9 tonnes – of the stuff to Quebec consumers.

Opponents to Quebec’s new age limit say that the law is unfair and that it will encourage the sale of grey- and black-market cannabis.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a spokesman for official Opposition party Québec Solidaire, said that it creates “two classes of adults”.

The legal age to vote, buy cigarettes and drink in Quebec is 18.

Story from – The Guardian

Demand for illegal cannabis still high, 1 year after legalization …

More Canadians are buying cannabis from illegal sources than legal ones, according to Statistics Canada

One year after the federal government legalized recreational marijuana, 60 per cent of Canadians are still buying the drug on the black market or from sources that are not entirely legal, according to Statistics Canada data.

The Liberal government’s main argument for legalization was a push to take the drug out of the hands of children and the profits out of those of criminals.

And although the percentage of illegal sales has steadily been going down since Oct. 17 of last year, the black market today remains a $4-billion-a-year industry, according to numbers from Statistics Canada.

Those illegal sales can take many shapes.

Jay LeBourque opened a lounge the day after legalization. In exchange for buying a sticker, at a price that can range anywhere from $3 to $30, he offers his clients cannabis — it’s a gift, he says. That’s how he tries to get around the law.

“I’m pushing it, yeah,” said LeBourque, who owns and operates Touch of Grey in Moncton.

“Because I do not agree with it.”

LeBourque said he feels the government-operated stores are failing to deliver a strong product at a competitive price.

Cannabis NB is currently the only authorized retailer of recreational cannabis in the province, and consumers have complained of high prices.

LeBourque doesn’t grow his own cannabis, and he admitted to buying it from someone who harvests it illegally.

“I’m allowed to give the whole country 30 grams a day,” he said. “I’m in a grey zone.”

What’s clear is the demand for illegal cannabis hasn’t vanished overnight.

In the second quarter of 2019, Statistics Canada estimates Canadians spent $918 million on illegal cannabis. That’s compared to $443 million for legal recreational cannabis during the same period, and $150 million for medicinal products.

Government ‘naive’

Those numbers don’t shock Rodney Wilson, director of the New Brunswick Craft Cannabis Association.

“The black market was a low production cost cottage industry slash side hustle that had strong customer relationships, that were supported by a multi-level distribution network that had been developed over decades,” said Wilson.

“And for the government to think that by just passing some laws and regulations, that such a formidable and ubiquitous competitor, you could take market shares from them, was naive.”

Wilson is applying for a licence from Health Canada. He’s building a nursery to house 4,000 plants by next summer and wants to be a craft cannabis grower.

He’s doing business with three “legacy growers” — people who were growing cannabis before it became legal — and Slim Hippie Farms is providing the space.

To get the small grow room up to code, it costs $500,000. And that’s just to grow the plant. Someone else will harvest his crop.

Though he has chosen the legal route, he said many don’t have the money.

“They just cannot afford to comply with the red tape,” he said. “The cost to comply with that is astronomical.”

Story from CBC

The good, the bad and the ugly from Canada’s first year of legal pot

By David George-Cosh

Nearly a year ago, Canada became the second country in the world – and the first developed nation – to legalize recreational adult use of cannabis. For decades, the drug operated in the shadows, vilified by law enforcement and policymakers as a gateway to the criminal world. But times have changed. Cannabis is better known as an agricultural product than a gateway drug and has many applications in the medical and recreational market. Today, more than three dozen countries have legalized cannabis for medical use while dozens more have decriminalized marijuana, spurring billions of dollars in investment into the once-maligned drug.

BNN Bloomberg takes a look at how the end of cannabis prohibition has fared in Canada, warts and all.

The Good

Cannabis emerged as a growth driver, contributing $8.26 billion to Canada’s economy as of July while accounting for 9,200 people currently working in the sector, according to Statistics Canada. Legalization also opened the door for research funds to fine-tune how the cannabis plant’s various cannabinoids can be used to treat pain, anxiety, and cancer, among other ailments.

From a public policy standpoint, legalizing pot gave the government an opportunity keep cannabis out of the hands of youth while collecting tax revenue – even if it’s lower than what was first expected – and make sure it doesn’t stay in the underground economy. Also, by regulating the product and setting standards on how legal cannabis should be produced, pot users will be able to consume the drug safely without any unknown additives.

Momentum to federally legalize cannabis in the U.S., the world’s largest market, has moved in a positive direction. Several states have legalized recreational use of the drug and more are on the way over the next year, while new legislation moves through U.S. Congress to allow U.S. cannabis companies to conduct financial services without fear of penalty.

The Bad

For all the optimism that legalizing pot brought, the industry encountered several headwinds over the course of the year getting products into the hands of customers. Indeed, finding a store was a challenge given the delayed rollout of sales locations across the country, notably in Ontario. The province currently only has 24 pot stores open thanks to a lottery process which was recently mired in a legal battle as well as the provincial government’s insistence that there wasn’t enough supply in the market to fulfill stores.

The jury is arguably out on whether there’s enough cannabis in the Canadian market to fulfill demand; or, more importantly, if there’s enough cannabis that people  actually want. There are signs now that pot producers are growing nearly enough legal cannabis to meet annual demand. Anecdotally, it appears that consumers typically prefer dried flower products that contain high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound in cannabis that gets you “stoned”. The problem? The bulk of products available in the market are believed to contain less THC than what consumers could obtain in the black market, which continues to flourish despite legalization.

In late June, Canopy Growth Corp. co-CEO and Founder Bruce Linton was unceremoniously given his walking papers. Linton, who also served as the industry’s de factor spokesperson, was let go after executives at Canopy’s largest shareholder, Constellation Brands Inc., grew frustrated with the pot giant’s overspending and lack of profitability. Since then, Linton has become an investor, advisor and board member of several emerging U.S. and Canadian cannabis companies.

Canopy wasn’t the only cannabis company to stubbornly post losses during the first year of legalization. Dozens of publicly-listed cannabis producers reported quarter after quarter of disappointing earnings, bucking the lofty expectations made a year earlier.

The Ugly

It’s been a rough year for investors in the cannabis space over the past year, especially those who’ve clung to their positions. Many cannabis stocks are broadly trading around 52-week lows as the sector continues to get pummelled by setbacks and regulatory uncertainty.

CannTrust Holdings Inc. became a lightning rod for controversy, and a poster child for regulatory risk, this summer after announcing its operations were found to be non-compliant by Health Canada. A steady drip of negative headlines weighed on the company, notably news that cannabis was produced in unlicensed rooms, apparently hidden behind fake walls to avoid detection by Health Canada inspectors and amid allegations that seeds sourced from the black market entered the company’s production facility. CannTrust’s CEO and chairman were dismissed and its ability to sell and produce cannabis is now suspended by Health Canada as the company looks to get back to a state of regulatory compliance.

CannTrust’s woes came several months after short-sellers alleged self-dealing among Aphria Inc. insiders as well as claims the company paid inflated prices for Latin American assets. The development decimated the Leamington, Ont.-based pot producer’s value and led to the resignation of CEO Vic Neufeld and co-founder Cole Cacciavillani a month later. A special committee later determined the price paid for acquisitions was within an “acceptable range”, but there were certain conflicts in the boardroom that weren’t properly disclosed.

Meanwhile, vape products that contain THC were identified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as playing a significant role in an outbreak of severe lung illness. The THC vape products are suspected to be behind more than 1,000 people suffering vaping-related illness, as well as 28 deaths. As a result, the FDA warned consumers to avoid using THC vaping products until the outbreak can be contained.

What’s next?

While dark clouds currently circle above the cannabis space, there are some reasons to be hopeful that better days are ahead. Higher-margin products including cannabis-infused edibles and topicals will soon hit the market, giving consumers more choice on how they use cannabis while providing producers with a much-needed revenue boost.

There will also be a lot more cannabis stores eventually open in Canada, which should also bolster sales and help drive people away from the black market. And while the illicit market is unlikely to be eradicated anytime soon, some analysts believe there’ll be an oversupply of pot in Canada, which would cause prices to decline.

Story from BNN Bloomberg News

Puff luck: Provincial pot websites have hugely uneven supply and selection

Our survey of the sites found ridiculously irregular inventory across the country, reflecting problems in the market as a whole

Claire Brownell – September 19, 2019

At midnight on Oct. 17, 2018—the second it became legal to sell cannabis—Christopher Duffitt was ready. His store, Puff Puff Pass Head Shop, opened its doors to a lineup of customers in Clarenville, Nfld., a town of 6,300 people northwest of St. John’s. But it quickly became clear that the business wouldn’t be open for long.

Duffitt had assumed his would be the only legal cannabis shop in the small town of Clarenville when he applied for a licence, but the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation approved another retailer in a gas station. Newfoundland allows big corporations such as Loblaws and Esso to sell marijuana in their stores and—more importantly—lets retailers negotiate directly with cannabis producers. Small players like Duffitt have to compete for limited supply with much bigger, better-resourced competitors. Duffitt had heard the producers were giving the corporate retailers first dibs on the best weed, leaving him with boxes of weak buds that no one wanted and none of the stronger stuff that was actually in demand.

In January, Duffitt hung a sign on his door announcing he would close his shop for good on the 31st. “Due to government’s (Newfoundland Liquor Corporation) over-regulation of this industry and their inability to control the suppliers which have shown favouritism to the corporate sites … we have no choice but to close up shop,” the sign read. “The private independent sites are suffering as a result and we are the first casualty.”

Duffitt is not the only Newfoundlander struggling with the province’s approach to cannabis legalization. The Atlantic province has the biggest cannabis supply problem in the country, exclusive data collected and analyzed by Maclean’s shows. No province or territory has done a perfect job of making cannabis legally available for the first time, but our data reveals that Canadians who live in some provinces enjoy a much better selection of products at lower prices than others.

READ: What Canada’s plan for regulating legal marijuana gets wrong

In a prepared response, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation noted provinces and territories across the country have struggled with supply shortages since legalization. The response said the regulator was unaware of any unfair advantages enjoyed by corporate retailers and told cannabis producers they must treat everyone the same regardless of size.

But Duffitt says if he had known then what he knows now, he would have never opened the store. “It was an education for me,” he says. “I probably lost $20, $30, $40,000.”

The entire cannabis industry has been receiving an education over the past year. Retailers, cannabis producers and Statistics Canada now have crucial information that was completely unknown at launch, such as the scale of consumer demand and the prices shoppers are willing to pay.

Statistics Canada regularly releases data on the cannabis industry, such as month-over-month sales in each province and estimates of the size of the legal and black markets. Yet the agency doesn’t collect data on selection and availability. Because a limited number of companies are allowed to grow the cannabis that’s approved for sale, supply shortages are a major problem for legal retailers. Provinces and privately owned shops all compete for that short supply, seriously affecting their ability to compete with the black market.

To paint a fuller picture of the options available to Canadians who want to buy legal weed, Maclean’s collected data on dried flower cannabis for sale at all 10 provincially and territorially run online cannabis stores. That’s every province and territory except Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nunavut, where private retailers are allowed to set up e-commerce shops. There’s more to the legal market than these government-run online stores, but experts who reviewed the data said it reflected what they had been hearing about supply problems in various jurisdictions. We are publishing statistics from July 10, which we ensured was a typical day by comparing the numbers to those collected on other days throughout the summer.

To make sense of the numbers, it helps to understand how the provinces and territories present legal cannabis for sale online. Each store offers various brands of marijuana, and the number of dried flower products ranges from just five in the Northwest Territories to 338 in Alberta. Most of the time, the store will offer each product in a variety of standard weights, similar to how a liquor store may sell the same brand of vodka in 375-millilitre, 750-millilitre and 1.13-litre sizes. Some, none or all of those weights could be in stock at any given time.

With a few exceptions, the provinces with the largest populations have the widest product selections and the highest percentage of in-stock weights. In Alberta, 78 per cent of the product weights listed in its online store were actually available for purchase; B.C. kept 69 per cent of weights in stock. Meanwhile, the smaller provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland struggled, with just 51 per cent, 47 per cent and 20 per cent of the product weights listed on their e-commerce sites respectively available for purchase.

Jay Rosenthal, co-founder and president of the news and analysis company Business of Cannabis, says the larger provinces have leverage in negotiations for the scarce supply of legal cannabis because they’re buying in such large quantities. Meanwhile, the smaller provinces are cutting smaller deals for smaller markets. Newfoundland has a small population to begin with, and without the government acting as a wholesale buyer, its retailers are left making purchases that are the least lucrative for producers.

“The bigger provinces have better bargaining power,” Rosenthal says. “The retailers have basically none, because they’re one-offs or two-offs, especially out east.”

In its response, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation said it’s not responsible for the low percentage of in-stock products on its website. Unlike its counterparts in other provinces, the liquor board doesn’t buy cannabis products wholesale or manage the inventory available on its online store. Its site acts essentially as a portal connecting consumers to producers; producers ship directly to the buyers. “Given the infancy of the industry, [licensed producers] are trying to gauge the appropriate inventory levels needed to supply e-commerce customers,” the statement said. “As the NLC evaluates this new industry, you should see product offerings [on the site] better align with inventory.”

There are exceptions to the rule of larger provinces having better product availability. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon managed to keep 100 per cent of the weights they offered in stock, although that’s a lot easier to do with an extremely limited selection of five and 26 products, respectively. And the province with the highest percentage of in-stock weights was not a big province like Alberta or Ontario—it was Nova Scotia, which had 96 per cent of the weights it offered for 99 products available. Greg Engel, chief executive of the licensed cannabis producer OrganiGram, says the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation got a lot of things right from the get-go by leveraging its expertise as a regulator and retailer of alcohol to have its physical stores ready to open in October 2018.

Then there’s Quebec, a larger province that on July 10 had 89 products available and just 43 per cent of the weights it offered listed in stock. Availability was as high as 56 per cent on other days we examined. Éliane Hamel, a spokeswoman for the Société québécoise du cannabis, says the regulator has focused on securing deals with producers who can deliver a high quantity of product as opposed to a large selection and says it has received good customer feedback: “This offer seems to satisfy our consumers if we refer to the positive comments published on websites.”

There are signs not every customer in Quebec is satisfied, however. Shortly after legalization, the province’s government-run stores shut down three days a week to keep them from completely running out of stock. Ottawa-based cannabis lawyer Trina Fraser says the provincial government’s proposal to ban the sale of topical creams and most cannabis edibles when they become legal is likely affecting the regulator’s negotiations with licensed producers. “While you have a shortage of supply, you’re probably going to allocate that supply to the provinces where you have the ability to sell your full range of products,” she says.

READ: The grandfather who bought Canada’s first legal weed (near as anyone can tell)

It’s less clear how Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, the two provinces and one territory that don’t have government-run online stores and allow private retailers to operate e-commerce sites instead, compare. Lacey Norton, vice-president of retail at Canopy-owned Tweed and Tokyo Smoke stores, works with all three jurisdictions. Norton says the ability to operate online stores as a private retailer doesn’t affect sales much—less than 10 per cent comes from e-commerce—and is mostly useful for marketing purposes. She expects sales will pick up as supply improves and customers need less help selecting products.

There’s no countrywide data available on the percentage of cannabis sales coming from e-commerce, but Statistics Canada’s monthly provincial sales numbers suggest that Canopy is not the only legal retailer generating the vast majority of its revenue from brick-and-mortar stores. The numbers show a correlation between physical stores per capita and revenue. For example, when Ontario opened its first 25 legal retail stores in April, total sales shot up from $7.6 million to $19.6 million.

Several experts cited privacy concerns and the ability to ask knowledgeable staff questions as reasons why Canadians seem to overwhelmingly prefer to buy their legal weed in person. But an internet search for the phrase “buy marijuana online Canada” suggests another explanation. That search returns page after page of links to black market retailers who offer cannabis at much lower prices than those found at the legal online stores.

Two long-time Toronto-based cannabis activists and entrepreneurs, Abi Roach and Chris James, say they know a number of business owners who have given up on ever getting one of Ontario’s limited number of retail licenses and opened illegal online dispensaries instead. Police tend to focus more on shutting down physical dispensaries, so illegal online stores have a lot working in their favour.

Illicit online vendors can sell higher-quality weed obtained from black market sources with none of the supply issues plaguing the legal industry, no costs associated with regulatory compliance and a much lower risk of running into trouble with the law. And despite stiff competition from the black market, legal marijuana is much more expensive, thanks to limited supply and the cost of staying on the right side of strict regulations.

If provincial governments don’t loosen their regulations and make it easier for entrepreneurs to open legal cannabis stores, says James, the lucky few with licences are eventually going to find themselves completely unable to compete. “They don’t know the threat that’s looming online,” he says. “They’re just happy to have a store. They’re selling out of product every day, so they don’t even realize it’s peanuts . . . compared to what’s being sold online.”

Still, James hopes to become one of those lucky few with a licence. He says he shut down his lucrative black-market online cannabis businesses, including the delivery service Weedora, in the hopes of getting a chance to run a legal store. However, the decision—like Duffitt’s in Newfoundland—hasn’t worked out for him so far.

READ: 13 things you’ve probably wondered about marijuana but were too afraid to ask

James opened a shop in downtown Toronto called Coffee and Cannabis, making do with sales from the coffee in anticipation that he’d get a licence to sell the cannabis. Then Ontario’s provincial government announced it would give out licences at random, announcing the winners of its second lottery on Aug. 21. James didn’t get a golden ticket—but an address associated with Cafe, a Toronto dispensary shut down by police, did. Coffee and Cannabis is now closed for renovations as James holds out hope that he’ll get a licence eventually when the province realizes a system that rewards people who have no experience, or are active participants in the black market, is a bad idea.

James is livid about the money he’s lost trying to play by the rules while Ontario rewards those who haven’t bothered. “It’s been a complete reversal,” he says of his life as a black-market vendor compared to life as a would-be legal cannabis entrepreneur. “I didn’t get into it for money, but it’s gone from where I was making enough to survive and pay my bills and pay my rent to, now, I’m just losing money waiting for the government to get its act together and hoping I’ll recover that money in the long term.”

Unlike Duffitt, James isn’t giving up for now. But if Canada’s various levels of government don’t fix the supply issues plaguing legal cannabis, and the patchwork of regulations plaguing would-be legal retailers, more like him will.

Currently, the black market still reigns supreme. It accounts for about 80 per cent of the country’s annual $5.9 billion in household spending on cannabis, according to Statistics Canada. A lot needs to change before legal weed takes its place. Until then, expect the “closed” signs on businesses like Cannabis and Coffee and Puff Puff Pass Head Shop to remain up.

Story from Macleans

Next federal government needs to amend Cannabis Act, say First Nation chiefs
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Some leaders worry status quo could lead to conflict

Jorge Barrera – CBC News – Sep 29, 2019

The next federal government needs to amend the Cannabis Act so First Nations can have jurisdiction over the industry on their territories, to seize its economic potential and avoid potential conflicts, according to some Indigenous leaders.

First Nations were left out of the jurisdictional equation when the Liberal government passed its cannabis law, which put regulation of distribution and retail in the hands of the provinces while Ottawa oversees production.

This left them at the mercy of provincial decisions when it came to opening dispensaries on reserve — a situation rejected by many bands who see provincial governments as interlopers in a nation-to-nation relationship they believe should be strictly with Ottawa.

Alderville First Nation Chief Dave Mowat, whose community near Peterborough, Ont., has 13 unlicensed cannabis shops, said the next federal government needs empower band councils.

“There has to be a political will to amend the [Cannabis Act] so we can have a firmer footing, one that recognizes our jurisdiction and recognizes who we are,” he said.

Mowat said he worries that the status quo would lead to police action and conflict.

“I don’t want to see a raid happen on the reserve. Someone will get hurt if that happens,” he said.

“There are sizeable investments that have been made in some of these shops that could lead to serious altercations if that happens.”

Mowat, who was elected in July, said his band council is working on a law to regulate the industry in the community.

In Mowat’s view, the province has no jurisdiction on his First Nation. He said their law will be as strong or stronger than Ontario’s.

“Everyone wants to live in a safe community and I also want to see the community itself reap some of the benefits as well,” he said.

Several First Nations across the country are drafting or have passed their own cannabis laws, but it remains unclear whether they’ll be able to enforce them.

‘Behind the eight-ball’

Chief Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation, near North Bay, Ont. said the next federal government can’t drag its feet on the issue because community members will lose patience.

“My political capital with our own nation members is going to wear thin and it may be the tobacco scenario all over again,” he said, referring to Ottawa’s decades-long battle with First Nations over cigarette taxes — which led to multiple raids in the 1990s and the criminalization of untaxed tobacco sales under the Harper government.

“Again, Canada and the provinces will have put First Nations behind the eight-ball,” he said.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod says Ottawa needs to amend the Cannabis Act. (Erik White/CBC)

McLeod said there are no cannabis shops in his community yet, but the band has supported a member’s application to the province for a licence. It also passed a cannabis law modelled after Ottawa and Ontario’s laws, that is tailored to the First Nation’s needs.

“We are serious about accessing the economy, but what is stopping us is the legislation of the federal government and the fact that they wrongfully delegated the responsibility to the provinces and left First Nations communities out of the fold,” he said.

“This could have been easily worked out prior to the legalization of cannabis … but it wasn’t and now here we are once again — in the era of truth and reconciliation but 153 years after Confederation we are still being left out of the economy and we are being forced into either black markets or grey markets once again by mainstream Canada.”

There have been several raids on dispensaries on or near reserves this year in Ontario. Most were in First Nations with one or two dispensaries. The latest was earlier this month in Wahnapitae, about 45 kilometres north of Sudbury, where the Anishinabek Police Service raided two shops.

As of May of this year, there were about 79 unlicensed dispensaries in 23 First Nations across the province, according to an Ontario Provincial Police presentation posted on the website of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario.

That same presentation, however, acknowledges that First Nations have certain “sovereign rights” and that band councils direct “enforcement actions.”

‘An extreme situation’

No other First Nation has seen such explosive growth in the cannabis industry as Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, a fiercely independent community about 60 kilometres west of Kingston, Ont.

It has about 30 dispensaries which have triggered an influx of cash, employment and economic development — along with increasing vehicle traffic and safety concerns.

“We need something in our community that is going to take care of our community as a whole, not just certain portions of it,” said Doug Brant, who was on a committee working on a band cannabis law.

“We have to have some sort of regulations, some sort of bylaws, zoning, whatever it takes … we are in an extreme situation.”

On Sept. 12, the band council presented a proposed cannabis law to regulate the industry from seed to sale.

But it got a skeptical reception from some.

“We all are in agreement that we need some kind of rules and regulations,” said Jamie Kunkle, owner of Smoke Signals dispensary.

“The format they are offering, that’s not the one.”

Even if Tyendinaga passes a law, it’s unclear whether it could enforce it, said Larry Hay, a former Tyendinaga police chief who was hired as a consultant on the issue.

“Prosecution may require the federal government to accept these laws,” said Hay.

Sara Mainville, with the Olthuis Kleer Townshend law firm, helped draft Tyendinaga’s proposed law. She said the Cannabis Act is “watertight” and leaves no opening for First Nations jurisdiction.

However, she said it is possible to devise a legal strategy to push back against provincial jurisdiction.

“Coupled with very careful strategy we do think there is a solution here,” she said.

“We definitely need the governments to see the writing on the wall … and allow First Nations the authority to control cannabis. That is the only way out of this quagmire.”

Story from – CBC

Toronto firm to build world’s first ‘magic mushroom’ research lab

By David George-Cosh

Field Trip Ventures Inc., a Toronto-based firm aimed at using psychedelics to treat mental illness, is planning to build the world’s first legal research and cultivation facility for psilocybin-producing mushrooms.

“The mental health options that we have today are broken,” said Mujeeb Jafferi, Field Trip’s president, in an interview with BNN Bloomberg at the company’s downtown Toronto offices. “This is something that provides an alternative to traditional anti-depressants which may not have worked for some people.”

The company, whose founders include several former Aurora Cannabis Inc. senior executives, will begin construction on a 3,000 square-foot research lab this month in the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, where psilocybin-producing mushrooms are legal, said Jafferi.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Jafferi said the university will assist with providing the company research staff and academic advisors.

Field Trip’s work in exploring how psychedelics – which include psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA – can be used to treat anxiety or depression comes amid growing public sentiment toward the drugs.

In the past year, several U.S. cities such as Oakland and Denver have decriminalized psychedelics, while former Canopy Growth Corp. co-chief executive Bruce Linton announced plans to become a director at Mind Medicine, Inc., another Toronto-based company looking to establish safe psychedelic-assisted treatments for mental illnesses. 

Those drugs remain classified as illegal Schedule 1 controlled substances in the U.S., although proponents of psychedelics believe focusing on medical treatments could see the narcotics follow a similar path that led to the legalization of cannabis in Canada.

Field Trip’s Jafferi believes the Jamaican research lab could provide a better understanding of how some of the 180-odd mushrooms known to contain mind-altering molecules work as it aims to enter them into clinical trials.

“One of the goals is to build a library of psychoactive fungi and developing scalable commercialization options,” said Jafferi. “We know of a few alkaloids based in these mushrooms but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

Aside from developing its research lab, Field Trip also plans to open a series of clinics in Toronto, New York, London and Los Angeles where doctors will be able to prescribe ketamine and monitor patients seeking mental health treatment, Jafferi said.

He added that unlike cannabis, which can be used as medicine in an “as-needed” basis, there is already documented research from the 1970s that suggest psychedelics are an effective treatment for mental health when they are prescribed in a controlled and safe setting.

“It’s not that far out for us to see doctors prescribing some psychedelics for a particular mental health disorder,” Jafferi said.

Story from Bloomberg News

What are vaping-associated illnesses and why are doctors concerned?

Medical community starting to realize vaping can be a ‘chemical insult to the lungs’