Weekly Weed News Roundup: Hemp Is Almost Legal; New Study Says Vaping Gets You Higher
In other news, Iowa opened its first five medical marijuana dispensaries, and cannabis possession will become legal in Michigan this week.
Published on December 4, 2018

This week, Michigan will become the tenth U.S. state to allow adults to grow and possess cannabis for personal use. Legal pot sales may still be two years away, though, because state regulators still have to draft the necessary regulations before the business licensing process can begin. 

But while Michigan residents wait for local retail stores to open, farmers across the country may soon be able to legally plant cannabis crops for the first time in almost a century. Senate leadership has confirmed that the final version of this year's Farm Bill includes language that will legalize industrial hemp and all of its extracts, including CBD.

As more states legalize, it is becoming easier for scientists to research this once-demonized plant, and the body of cannabis research is expanding on a daily basis. A new study released last week has found that vaping marijuana can produce a stronger high than smoking it, while another new study is adding to the growing evidence that medical marijuana can help curb America's opioid crisis.

In other news, Iowa’s first medical marijuana dispensaries finally opened their doors this past weekend, allowing the state’s residents to legally explore the healing powers of pot. And in Canada, the legal weed industry has ballooned so quickly that Canadian cannabis companies are starting to import workers from other countries. This is the week in weed news, all in one location. 

Starting This Week, It Will Be Legal to Possess Weed in Michigan

During last month's midterm elections, 56% of Michigan voters cast their votes for Proposition 1, a ballot measure legalizing full adult pot sales and use in the Great Lake State. Last week, the election results were unanimously approved by the state Board of Canvassers, and this initiative will now become law this week. 

As of Thursday, December 6th, Michigan residents over the age of 21 will be able to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of flower and 15 grams of concentrates for private use, and can also grow up to 12 plants per household. The state maintains a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence, however, and public smoking also remains prohibited, punishable by a $100 fine. 

The ballot measure legalizes taxed and regulated retail sales, but it may be years before the first Michigan pot stores open their doors. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs must draft the regulations governing these sales before the licensing process can begin, which is expected to take until the end of next year. In the meantime, it remains illegal to sell cannabis, although adults are allowed to gift their home-grown weed to other adults. 

Proposition 1 does not specifically include provisions to allow former cannabis offenders to clear their records, but several local prosecutors are already instructing their staff to dismiss current minor pot-related charges. Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer has also promised to take action to help clear the records of former offenders when she takes office next year.

Cannabis advocates are celebrating this historic victory, but are hoping that their local efforts will inspire national efforts to end prohibition once and for all. "There’s no reason why Michigan’s congressional delegation shouldn’t be vociferously pursuing federal reform," Jeffrey Hank, director of MiLegalize — an advocacy group that supported Proposition 1 — told the Detroit Free Press. "There’s enough momentum now and I think Michigan may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back."

Hemp Could be Completely Legal by the End of the Year

2018 may be the year that hemp becomes legal again after 80 years of prohibition. Last Thursday, the chairs of the House and Senate agriculture committees released a statement confirming that the final version of this year’s Farm Bill will completely legalize the production of industrial hemp.

Hemp was an important crop for America's founders, who used it to make rope, fibers, and fuel, but cultivation of this plant was put to a stop in 1937, when all forms of cannabis were banned by the U.S. government. Since 1970, this non-psychoactive plant has been classified as a dangerous Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The 2018 Farm Bill would officially amend this act to define hemp plants containing less than 0.3% THC as distinct from marijuana plants. This reclassification would effectively legalize the hemp plant and all of its parts — including extracts like CBD.

Shawn Hauser, senior associate at cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg, told The Verge that the final version of the Farm Bill makes it “very clear that CBD derived from hemp would not be considered a controlled substance.” This would put an end to years of battles over the legality of this medicinal extract, which is legal in most states, but still federally prohibited. This bill marks “a pretty important step forward in terms of federal government’s recognition of what CBD is and what its lack of potential harm or risk is,” said John Hudak, author of Marijuana: A Short History.

Both chambers of Congress still need to approve the bill before it becomes law, but advocates are optimistic that this will happen before the end of the year. Although Republicans have traditionally opposed cannabis reform measures, this bill has strong bipartisan support — most notably from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who actually sponsored the hemp legalization provision. “The hemp part of the bill has never really been in dispute,” Eric Steenstra, president of advocacy group Vote Hemp, told the Huffington Post. “I feel very optimistic about this.”

Vaping Weed Can Get You Higher Than Smoking It, New Study Finds

Not only does vaping cannabis pose less of a health risk than smoking, it may actually get you higher, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit enlisted 17 participants who had smoked pot in the last year, but not in the past 30 days, to either smoke or vape three kinds of flower containing either 0mg, 10mg, or 25mg of THC. After consuming, participants were subjected to a number of physiological and cognitive tests and asked to subjectively rate their experience on a questionnaire.

Researchers found little difference between smoking and vaping a 25mg dose of THC, but discovered that vaping produced a much stronger effect with the 10mg dose. “Notably, vaporized cannabis produced greater changes in study outcomes relative to smoked cannabis,” the researchers concluded. “As the legal cannabis marketplace continues to expand, future studies should further explore the effects of vaporizers and other novel methods for cannabis administration in users with different degrees of experience with cannabis.” This study may have implications for medical marijuana programs in states like Florida and Oklahoma that allow vaping, but have attempted to ban smokable medical cannabis.

Study Finds That Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Associated with Lower Rates of Opioid Deaths

Hardline prohibitionists have often argued that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that can lead to opioid abuse, but scientists are finding more and more proof that the reverse is actually true. Numerous studies have discovered that medical marijuana can be a safe and effective alternative to addictive pharmaceuticals, and a growing number of states are approving chronic pain or opioid abuse as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

A new study published in the SSRN journal is confirming previous research demonstrating that medical marijuana could help curtail the opioid crisis. The study, conducted by researchers from Claremont McKenna College in California, the University of Georgia, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, reports a strong association between the existence of medical cannabis dispensaries and a reduction in opioid-related deaths. The researchers found that “counties with dispensaries experience 6% to 8% fewer opioid-related deaths among non-Hispanic white men,” while “mortality involving heroin declines by approximately 10% following the opening of a dispensary.”

Iowa Opens Its First Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

This past weekend, Iowa's first five medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors, and customers lined up around the block in wet winter weather for a chance to finally experience the healing powers of cannabis. The state's limited MMJ program allows patients with a small number of qualifying conditions to use capsules, tinctures, and creams containing no more than 3% THC, but smokable flower, concentrates, and edibles are all prohibited. All of the state's medical cannabis products are currently being produced by one business, the Des Moines-based MedPharm, but a second manufacturer is expected to begin providing product next summer.

Iowa became the 32nd state to legalize medical marijuana last year, and there are now around 1,500 patients and caregivers registered with the state's program. This Saturday, five dispensaries in Council Bluffs, Davenport, Sioux City, Windsor Heights, and Waterloo opened their doors to the public, and demand has already been strong. "The reaction we've gotten from the community about the opening has been amazing," Lucas Nelson, general manager of MedPharm, told the Des Moines Register. "People have been stopping by and asking when we're opening, how they can get involved, and what will be available here."

Canada's Demand for Legal Weed Is So Strong that Businesses Are Importing Workers

Recreational pot has been legal in Canada for seven weeks now, but demand has been so strong that retailers can't keep product on their shelves. The country's new cannabis firms are looking to ramp up production as fast as they can, and some companies have gone as far as importing foreign workers to tackle jobs that locals are unwilling to handle.

Ontario-based Aphria Inc. reportedly had to destroy over 14,000 cannabis plants this summer after the majority of their greenhouse staff quit, unable to handle the summer heat. For its next harvest, the company just hired 50 temporary workers from the Caribbean and Guatemala via Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, and plans to hire up to 100 more people.

Canada's weed industry is also on the lookout for employees closer to home. Eight of the country's largest companies have recently posted around 1,700 job openings, and that number is expected to grow as more producers are awarded business licenses. Alison McMahon, CEO of recruitment firm Cannabis At Work, told Bloomberg that she expects to see the industry expand to 125,000 jobs by next year, a significant increase over the 2,400 workers employed in the field last year. “We’re going to see a lot of R&D positions and a lot of science-based positions around extraction and formulations,” she predicted.

Cam Battley, COO of Aurora Cannabis Inc., said that his company is “bringing in people from mature industries who probably wouldn’t have considered a career in the cannabis business two years ago. We’ve got people coming in from the logistics business, we’ve got people coming in from agriculture and different sciences, we’ve got people coming in from oil and gas.” Competition for these positions is extreme – applications for each position at Aurora have ranged from two hundred to thousands.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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