<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Bay Area Local News - [Bay Area Feature] In the Weeds]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/localen-usMon, 27 May 2019 01:53:18 -0700Mon, 27 May 2019 01:53:18 -0700NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Top Stories]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:05:25 -0700]]><![CDATA[Weed Rush]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:21:29 -0700]]><![CDATA[Featured Video: Drive-Thru Pot Dispensary]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:26:16 -0700]]><![CDATA[National Marijuana Stories]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:06:02 -0700]]><![CDATA[]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:06:12 -0700]]><![CDATA[California Senate OKs Special Banks for Marijuana Retailers]]>Tue, 21 May 2019 14:52:33 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-919971071.jpg

Shut out of the traditional banking system by federal laws, the country's largest legal marijuana market in California could benefit if the state approves a measure creating a special class of banks to handle pot money.

The state Senate voted 35-1 on Tuesday to pass a bill that would allow people to start banks and credit unions that could accept cash deposits from marijuana retailers.

Those banks could issue special checks to the retailers that could only be used for certain purposes, including paying taxes and California-based vendors.

State lawmakers also say such banks would make it easier for licensed pot retailers to pay their taxes, which fell far short of expectations in the first year after legalization.

"This is as close as we can get until the federal government changes its policy," said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Van Nuys Democrat and the author of the bill that now goes to the Assembly.

Marijuana has been legal in California since January 2018, but it's still illegal under federal law.

U.S. statutes also prohibit banks from handling money that comes from criminal activity. Banks that knowingly accept money from licensed marijuana retailers haven't been able to get federal deposit insurance.

Meanwhile, pot businesses can't get debit or credit cards or use checks, according to a report by legislative staffers.

The result, according to Hertzberg, is "millions of dollars buried in barrels." He called it a public safety issue, putting retailers at risk of robbery.

Marijuana tax collections were $100 million short of expectations in August. Earlier this month, marijuana revenue projections by the state through June 2020 were cut by $223 million.

Republican Sen. Jeff Stone said the state is losing "probably hundreds of millions" of dollars in taxes each year because marijuana retailers can't write a check to the state.

"They've got to come in with wheelbarrows to carry in all the cash," he said.

Retailers have also blamed low tax collections on sluggish sales due to a still flourishing black market.

Last week, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have temporarily lowered taxes on growers in an effort to help licensed retailers compete with the illegal sellers.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Lawmakers Nix Temporary Marijuana Tax Cut]]>Fri, 17 May 2019 11:44:06 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-919971071.jpg

An effort to jumpstart California's licensed marijuana retailers failed to clear a key legislative committee on Thursday, likely dooming its prospects for the year as the country's largest legal cannabis industry continues to flounder in the shadow of the illegal and tax free black market.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in California since Jan. 1, 2018, and consumers must pay a tax of 15% on pot purchased from licensed retailers. A group of state lawmakers, led by Democrat Assemblyman Rob Bonta, had hoped to temporarily lower that tax to 11% to help retailers compete with prices on the black market.

The bill failed to pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, meaning it won't advance to the Assembly floor and is likely dead for the year.

It's possible lawmakers could revive it using legislative maneuvers later this year, but it's unclear if they want to do that. California's marijuana tax collections are not at all what lawmakers had expected after voters agreed to legalize the drug in a state with nearly 40 million people.

State officials estimate if marijuana tax collections continue on their current pace — which is hard to predict because the industry is so new — the state will collect $270 million this year. That's $85 million less than initial estimates.

Last week, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration lowered marijuana tax revenue estimates for the budget year that begins July 1 by $223 million.

"The taxes are so high that there is a big incentive to avoid them,'' said Dale Gieringer, director of pro-marijuana group California NORML. "The black market is presently at least as large or larger as the legal market.''

State taxes are not the only barrier to California's emerging marijuana market. Industry advocates say local taxes and requirements on licensing and lab testing add up to make a legal marijuana business more expensive. Plus, retailers often don't have a place to put their money because most banks won't accept it because selling marijuana is still a federal crime.

Efforts to address the banking problem did survive the legislative deadline. The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced Senate Bill 51, which would create cannabis-limited charter banks and cannabis-limited charter credit unions. The law would allow those financial institutions to cash special-purpose checks.

"We can't sit by while the safety of legal business owners, their employees, and the general public are put at risk. SB 51 represents a first step in getting cannabis cash off the street and integrating these legal businesses into our economy,'' Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said in a news release.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cannabis: 'High' Growth Industry with Silicon Valley Roots]]>Mon, 29 Apr 2019 16:29:26 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PotBusiness+THUMB.png

Here in Silicon Valley, the stories sound all too familiar: a husband and wife starting a company in their cramped kitchen, or two friends setting up shop in a Palo Alto garage, before seeking out millions from wealthy investors.

In fact, some of those investors are the same people who rode the wave of the Internet to land among the Valley's elite. But this time, they're riding a different wave: one with countless hurdles and regulations to contend with, but immense profit potential if they get it right. It's what's led some venture capitalists to proclaim that for investors willing to take a risk, "cannabis is the new tech."

We visited some of the fastest-growing brands in the Bay Area's cannabis industry to learn how they operate and who's funding their growth.


Backed by $75 million from former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz and football great Joe Montana, San Jose-based Caliva is what's known as a "vertically integrated cannabis company" — one that grows, packages and sells its products all under one roof.

With a name that's starting to appear on billboards all over the Bay Area, Caliva thinks of itself as a product company first — one that also happens to own its supply chain, a retail store, and a delivery service.

"We'll use everything from this plant other than the stems, which we recycle," Caliva CEO Dennis O'Malley said, standing in the blinding orange light of one of Caliva's 13 cannabis grow rooms.

Large cannabis buds are sold individually, smaller buds go into Caliva's "roll-your-own" product, and the rest of the plant is used in countless other products, from creams to tinctures. O'Malley said that's the sort of efficiency that comes with vertical integration — but thanks to strict regulations, that doesn't come easily.

"We have one of the broadest portfolios of licenses in the state," he said. "It's very difficult to do."


Caliva sells direct-to-consumer, but it also sells through other channels including Eaze — an increasingly-popular online ordering platform for cannabis, with over $51 million in venture capital from both tech-focused and cannabis-focused investors.

Eaze is what the industry calls a "non-plant-touching" business model: it's strictly a software company, connecting customers with cannabis retailers that already have delivery services. But its president and chief operating officer also wants Eaze to be something else:

"It's incredibly important that we are seen as a place for education, and a place to learn about cannabis and how it can influence your life," Ro Choy said.

Prior to Eaze, Choy worked in executive roles at a host of tech companies.

"It's definitely a big difference," he said. "Cannabis is a much more dynamic industry than most."

Much like OpenTable does for restaurants, Eaze provides cannabis companies with software to use internally, managing orders and inventory. Choy says a key feature of the platform is its awareness of state and local regulations around cannabis, and its ability to change quickly when they do.


Over the past two years, data from Eaze shows cannabis customers are switching from smoking to vaping, with products like those from San Francisco-based Pax Labs.

Another non-plant-touching business, Pax has over $500 million in venture capital, which its CEO says wasn't as hard to come by as some might think.

"I don't know if (cannabis) is that different from self-driving cars," he said. "It will take a long time to build… but it doesn't make anyone less excited about investing in them today."

Now on the third version of its original product, a vaporizer that heats ground-up plant material — like smoking, but without the combustion — Pax has launched the Era vape pen as a separate and fast-growing part of its business.

The company sells empty "pods" to cannabis companies that fill them with liquid cannabis concentrates, seal them in Pax-provided packaging, and sell them at dispensaries alongside the Era pen itself, which comes with a mobile app to control temperature and dosage.


A Pax partner and seed-stage startup based in San Francisco, Level Blends sells what its CEO called "effects-based" cannabis products, both in Pax cartridges and in other forms, including pills.

Level's products come with names like "Elevate" and "Remedy" that describe how the specific blend of cannabinoids is intended to make the user feel. The company distills cannabis oil to separate it into its various parts, then recombines those parts in different ratios.

"Cannabis 2.0, if you will, or the next generation of cannabis, there's a lot of different ways you can use cannabis and get different effects from it," said CEO and founder Chris Emerson, who has a Ph.D. in small molecule chemistry.

Emerson said there's still plenty for science to discover about the plant — including lesser-known cannabinoids like THCV, which some believe could help curb your appetite and supercharge your attention span.


Another effects-based cannabis company, Plus Products began in a Palo Alto garage — but moved to Canada to go public on the Canadian Stock Exchange as it became the best-selling cannabis edibles brand in California.

Plus makes low-dose cannabis gummies: shiny, one-centimeter cubes that contain five milligrams of THC — or less, depending on the flavor.

"We try to address different need states, or things that the consumer's trying to get out of cannabis," said CEO Jacob Heimark. "We've identified a few that people love: for example, our sour blueberry we call 'Create' because is sort of excites your mind."

Heimark said Plus came to the edibles market at a time when dosing was a problem: cutting up a large brownie or cookie wasn't a very precise way to get a smaller amount of THC, and after one bad experience, many customers wouldn't try edibles again.

"I think everybody has that horror story they've heard of their cousin who had the brownie, who got locked in the couch and didn't move for 3 days," Heimark said.


Any mention of edibles has to include Kiva Confections, the Oakland-based chocolatier with a little something extra infused into its candy. Kristi Knoblich Palmer and her husband started the company in their kitchen during a recession that had seen their photography business dry up.

"The Kiva company was built in partnership with Google, because we Googled our way out of pretty much every problem that we encountered," Palmer said.

Now making chocolates, mints and gummies at its Oakland factory, Kiva is also taking on distribution for other cannabis manufacturers. The company is growing with a Series A funding round from an investor who's managed to remain anonymous. Kiva has made a policy of not naming its investors.

"There is a lot of money coming into the space," Palmer said, "But it's still difficult to find the right profile of investor."

Palmer said investors in cannabis need a strong stomach for red tape — including regulations that can change from one month to the next — and an understanding of the industry whose potential for growth is, well, high as a kite.

Drawing a skyrocketing stock chart in the air with her hands, she proclaimed, "The growth expected out of the cannabis industry is hockey stick."

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<![CDATA[Dazed and Confused: States Push for Legal Clarity on CBD]]>Fri, 05 Apr 2019 03:45:15 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_19091653401837.jpg

CBD oil-infused gummy bears, lattes and other food, drinks and dietary supplements are selling quickly even though the U.S. government says they're illegal and local authorities have forced some retailers to pull products. The confusion has the nation's two largest states and others moving to legalize the cannabis compound that many see as beneficial to their health.

Lawmakers in Texas and California are often in opposition, but they're both pushing bipartisan legislation to sidestep federal law and allow sales of the compound found in hemp and marijuana. Republicans and Democrats in Congress also are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change its stance.

The FDA announced Tuesday that it will hold a public hearing in May to gather more information.

Resolving the confusion can't come quick enough for Jonathan Eppers, who makes Vybes, a popular CBD oil-infused beverage. California health inspectors raided his Los Angeles warehouse in January and impounded $100,000 worth of the drink.

Eppers said about 50 California retailers have since dropped his product and he's moved production to Texas. He estimates lost sales, legal costs and relocation expenses have cost him at least $500,000.

"What is going on is unbelievable and asinine," Eppers said. "They put us in this state of limbo that's costing us."

Eppers and CBD fans are mystified by the legal insecurity. After all, they say, retailers in California and nine other states that have broadly legalized marijuana sell edibles and other products that get people high, though pot is illegal under federal law. U.S. officials generally have taken a hands-off approach in states where pot is legal.

The FDA has oversight of CBD because it is the active ingredient in an approved prescription drug to treat two rare seizure disorders. The agency says CBD can't be added to food or sold as a dietary supplement because officials haven't determined if it's safe or effective for other conditions.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Congress last week that enforcement is being limited to sellers who make false health claims. He says the agency recently sent warning letters to three companies touting CBD as a treatment for cancer, Alzheimer's disease, fibromyalgia and drug addiction.

"But there are products on the market right now that, given our enforcement priorities and our limited resources, we haven't taken action against," he said.

Sellers and users say CBD helps with pain, anxiety and inflammation, though limited scientific research supports those claims. It's turning up in products ranging from lotions, cosmetics and soap to diet pills, juices, cocktails, candy and drinks.

Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-psychoactive molecule found in hemp and marijuana. Both are cannabis plants, but only marijuana has enough of the compound THC to get users high. CBD oil is extracted when the plant is processed. While hemp derivatives are essentially THC-free, CBD oil from marijuana may have very little or enough to produce a high.

State and local officials are taking nearly all the enforcement actions against CBD. Health officials in California, which has the nation's largest marijuana marketplace, warned retailers last summer that anything edible containing CBD is illegal until lawmakers or regulators say otherwise.

The warning was largely ignored until early 2019, when state and local health officials began forcing some small businesses to pull products after receiving complaints.

San Francisco health officials recently barred two small operators from selling CBD-infused food and drink, while authorities in rural Grass Valley, 140 miles away, did the same to a small, cooperatively owned grocery store.

"It caught us way off guard," said Gus Dabais, owner of Sidewalk Wellness, one of the stores targeted.

The San Francisco Health Department sent warning letters to 1,900 businesses last year, spokeswoman Veronica Vien said. She said inspectors are not looking for CBD but responding to complaints.

She said that's how they ended up "red tagging" products at Dabais' business and Steap Tea Bar, a popular Chinatown stop that sold CBD-infused bubble tea.

Similar scenarios are playing out in Ohio, where authorities in January ordered a Cincinnati grocery store to remove CBD from two outlets. The following month, New York City health inspectors removed CBD products from a number of restaurants. Police in March raided two Fort Worth, Texas, retailers and seized CBD products after the local district attorney declared the compound illegal.

In Texas, one of a handful of states that outlaws all forms of marijuana, lawmakers are pushing a measure that would legalize hemp oil-infused edibles. It sailed through its first committee in the House this week.

In California, a similar CBD measure has moved on to the full Assembly.

"A number of people have been using it for years, and you can find it on retail shelves all over the place, but now people are surprised to find it's against the law," said Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Napa-area Democrat who introduced the measure. "What this bill will do is clear up the confusion."

She said the legislation would stop state and local enforcement of the FDA's ban and hopes it becomes law by August.

"This would lift a legal cloud from a legitimate California business," said Jim Gross of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an industry association.

A growing number of federal lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, are urging the FDA to approve CBD. They backed a measure taking hemp off the U.S. government's list of banned substances.

"Hemp is a versatile crop with many uses and applications," McConnell and Wyden wrote to the FDA in February. "We are hopeful that by working with you on the implementation of our legislation, we can help ensure that hemp can be a new cash crop for farmers across the country."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Council Supports Cannabis Delivery in Concord, But No Stores]]>Wed, 03 Apr 2019 11:23:13 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/marijuana25.jpg

The Concord City Council expressed strong support Tuesday night for crafting an ordinance that would permit a marijuana delivery business to set up shop within city limits, but was less enthusiastic about the possibility of a dispensary selling cannabis for recreational use.

During a lengthy study session, in which city staff asked for direction on what kind of businesses to allow and other specifics, the council expressed unanimous support for permitting delivery businesses and testing laboratories.

Two such businesses, Fume Highroad in Lake County and Ohana Gardens in Sacramento, are already permitted to make deliveries in Concord.

However, because they are not located in the city, the tax revenue generated by those sales goes elsewhere.

There was also strong support for medicinal dispensaries, which would only sell cannabis products to patients with a valid doctor's recommendation, despite public comment from entrepreneurs who said that business model was not necessarily viable.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister and Mayor Carlyn Obringer stopped short of endorsing "adult use" marijuana sold for recreational purposes.

"I'm not convinced that retail sales for adult use is appropriate for our community," Hoffmeister said.

Councilman Dominic Aliano indicated he would support adult-use dispensaries, but not on Monument Boulevard in his district. Councilman Edi Birsan also said he would support adult-use dispensaries.

"To make it simple, I'm all in," Birsan said.

"On everything?" Obringer asked.

"Yes," he replied.

Vice Mayor Tim McGallian also proposed the possibility of permitting retail storefronts, so long as they did not sell vaping products or smokeable cannabis flowers, citing city policies on the sale of similar tobacco products.

During public comment, one woman asked if the councilmembers had ever visited a dispensary and four out of five of them answered in the affirmative by a show of hands.

A commercial cannabis ordinance has not yet been drafted, and the mayor pointed out that matters of policy were not being set in stone during Tuesday night's study session. City officials plan to hold at least one town hall meeting and multiple community workshops on the matter later this year.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Clash of Cannabis Laws: A Big Legal Mess]]>Wed, 13 Mar 2019 18:39:43 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PotLegal+smoking+pipe.png

John Casali grew up in Humboldt County, but at the age of 20, he began spending a lot of time in San Francisco — at the federal courthouse.

"I grew up around cannabis," he explained. "Ever since I was 10 years old, I would follow my mom around growing cannabis, just like zucchini in the vegetable garden."

Casali grew up during the movement that would lead to the passage of California Proposition 215, the ballot initiative that legalized cannabis for medical use across the state. It passed in 1996, while the country was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic.

"Cannabis was the only resource available to these patients to relieve their pain, help out with their appetite," said Stuart Watts, who owns cannabis tour company Green Guide Tours.

At the time, underground cannabis buyers' clubs — like the one run by Prop 215 co-authors Dennis Peron and John Entwistle — got most of their weed from either Mexico or the small family farms in California's "Emerald Triangle" — including Huckleberry Hill Farms, where Casali grew up. In that region, visits from the feds were a common occurrence.

"A blackhawk helicopter with four agents sitting out with AR-15s — that's pretty traumatic growing up as a kid to see that," Casali said.

But it wasn't until years later, when 20-year-old Casali was home by himself tending the plants, that federal agents paid him a visit and arrested him. After a four-year court battle, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and served 8 of them.

"They did what they did because I was breaking the law," he conceded.

Even after medical legalization, federal sweeps continued in California — forcing the shutdown of farms and dispensaries across the state. Among the casualties, San Francisco's Vapor Room dispensary was shut down for 7 years before reopening in early 2019.

Now that California voters have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, UC Hastings law professor Marsha Cohen says a delicate Obama-era compromise has allowed federal authorities to "look the other way" as states implement their own policies.

"States have just gone ahead and legalized something that is a violation of federal law," Cohen said. "We just have a mess. It really is, legally, just a mess."

It hasn't stopped a nascent industry from moving forward with what PAX Labs vice president Jeff Brown calls "the single largest consumer packaged goods event in the last 100 years."

With more than half of U.S. states allowing some form of cannabis use, Brown says it's only a matter of time before public opinion changes enough to sway the needed votes in Congress.

"Right now, there's a lot of members (of Congress) who we think would vote for it, but they just don't want to get beat up when they get home in the next election," Brown said.

But until the federal government gives a green light to cannabis, California businesses are legally caught in the middle. Under state law, dispensaries are required to check IDs at the door, and keep a record of who walks in — which might make customers uneasy, knowing that federal authorities could later look at those records. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Richard Rocha said those records are not likely to be used in an immigration probe.

"ICE mostly identifies people amenable for removability using information from law enforcement databases," Rocha said in a statement.

But there are other areas where the disagreement between state and federal laws has begun to cause problems. Doctors and pharmacies can't help patients get cannabis because they're licensed by federal agencies, and banks avoid doing business with dispensaries for fear of losing their federal insurance.

"It is really choking this industry," said Ashhok Umashankar, CEO of the Sacramento-based Guru Delivers dispensary. "If we can't take debit cards, how am I supposed to process this much cash, how am I supposed to move it out of here safely?"

The abundance of cash and weed lying around at dispensaries hasn't caused problems in San Francisco, according to the city's Office of Cannabis.

"Anecdotally, we haven't seen an increase in crime around dispensaries," said Eugene Hillman, acting director of the office.

Dispensaries are required to submit a "good neighbor policy" as part of their application for a permit to operate in San Francisco. Among those who can go to the front of the line for those coveted permits are San Franciscans who've been convicted of cannabis crimes, or were otherwise hurt by the War on Drugs.

"To give them priority is a way to kind of create a pathway for them to be successful," Hillsman said.

Casali got that pathway with help from his distributor, Flow Kana, which processes his cannabis and sells it at dispensaries like the Vapor Room that focus on products from local farms. Flow Kana works with farmers in the Emerald Triangle for whom making the transition into the legal side of the business might otherwise prove too costly.

"It was really 17 years out of my life that i gave for this plant," Casali said, pausing to choke back tears. "So it's taken on a special meaning to be a permitted farm in Humboldt County for me right now."

Like others in the business, Casali said he still worries from time to time about the possibility of renewed federal enforcement efforts, but believes the wheels of government will slowly catch up.

"Ten years from now, we're gonna look back on this and we will have made history," he said.

For an in-depth look on the evolution and history of pot culture in the Bay Area and the pioneers who fought to legalize it, watch our special documentary — Bay Area Revelations: Cannabis Rush.

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<![CDATA[Rebranding Weed: The Changing Face of Cannabis in California]]>Tue, 12 Feb 2019 16:13:35 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/PotDispensaries+NEW+THUMB.jpg

"What kind of high you looking for?" asks a man standing behind a case of cannabis concentrates that only a year ago would have required a doctor's note to purchase.

As sunlight streams into the steampunk-themed lounge at Urban Pharm in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, the "budtender" offers a few options to a young woman visiting from New York and allows her to sniff each one before making a purchase.

"Welcome to a non-prohibition state," he says gleefully.

"Great to be here!" she replies.

Just a year after San Francisco and other California cities began issuing permits for recreational sales and on-site consumption of marijuana, retailers like Urban Pharm are working hard to change the image of a plant that was illegal for generations, and convince people to come in and give it a try.

"This is a product — this is a manufactured product now, as opposed to just something from someone's backyard," said Marcy Leventhal of the Green Door dispensary.

The Green Door, which once catered only to medical customers, is across the street from Moscone West, a major hub for conventions. Leventhal said she now sees a steady flow of visitors from other states and countries coming into the dispensary for their first legal cannabis experience.

"(We) urge them to start small, make sure they're not overdoing it or going big the first time, and that they have products that they understand how to use," she said.

Customer-friendly weed has become a big deal in the legal cannabis industry — from vape pens that measure a precise dosage to edibles that are packed with flavor and light on THC, pot's psychoactive ingredient.

"We're designing the products for clarity and simplicity," said Bloom Room general manager Steven Rechif, who said his fastest-growing customer group is now Baby Boomers. "Generally when seniors come in, they feel very comfortable: 'This is not what I was expecting, this is much nicer than I would've thought it would be.'"

Across town on Geary Boulevard, Harvest is hoping to welcome seniors and first-time pot users by turning the "pharmacy counter" dispensary model on its head.

"Typically, what you'd do if you were shopping somewhere is you'd have some kind of a basket," said Harvest guest services manager Tom Powers.

Harvest resembles a high-end corner grocery store, with large plate glass windows, wide-open shelves and and display tables made of light-colored wood. Customers are invited to browse at their leisure, or ask for help.

"Is it Whole Foods, is it Starbucks, is it Apple?" Powers continued. "Those leading retailers that have … delivered something bright and clean and refreshing, so cannabis — we're not hiding in the shadows anymore."

Harvest is the first stop on a new bus tour offered by Green Guide Tours, a company that weaves San Francisco history together with a dose of cannabis education.

Stuart Watts, the tour company's founder and CEO, said his mission is to de-stigmatize a plant that's been banned in the country for 80 years.

"Years ago, I started a walking tour company that was doing food and beer tours," Watts said. "The way we saw people treating craft beer and craft food was eventually the way they're gonna treat craft cannabis."

On a three-hour tour of the city, Watts took guests to a handful of dispensaries along a route that snaked through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, passing houses where The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin once lived, while telling a version of marijuana's story that was likely different from what they'd learned in school.

"It's really interesting, but it's not super surprising, because a lot of what I grew up learning was true about history turned out not to be the real story," said Anya Khalamayzer after the tour wrapped up.

The stories included tales of the late Dennis Peron, who fought to legalize pot for medical use from his cannabis buyers' club in the Castro District, and ultimately convinced voters to pass Proposition 215. John Entwistle, Peron's husband and Prop 215 co-author, spoke to us in a room full of memorabilia from the political fight.

"The club was a good thing, but we figured at the end it would be like cigarettes, you'd be able to buy a box of pot in the gas station," he said. "It's not perfect yet. But it will be."

For an in-depth look on the evolution and history of pot culture in the Bay Area and the pioneers who fought to legalize it, watch our special documentary — Bay Area Revelations: Cannabis Rush.

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<![CDATA[California Endorses Marijuana Deliveries, Even in Areas That Ban Sales]]>Thu, 17 Jan 2019 23:52:34 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_18244120131731-CBD-.jpg

California endorsed a rule Wednesday that will allow home marijuana deliveries statewide, even into communities that have banned commercial pot sales.

The regulation by the state Bureau of Cannabis Control was opposed by police chiefs and other critics who predict it will create an unruly market of largely hidden pot transactions, while undercutting control by cities and counties.

Cannabis companies and consumers had pushed for the change, since vast stretches of the state have banned commercial pot activity or not set up rules to allow legal sales. That means residents in those areas were effectively cut off from legal marijuana purchases, even though sales are permitted for adults in California.

"The public spoke loud and clear in favor of statewide delivery," cannabis bureau spokesman Alex Traverso said in a statement.

The rule cleared by state lawyers sought to clarify what had been apparently conflicting law and regulations about where marijuana can be delivered in California, which kicked off broad legal sales last year.

Proposition 64, the law approved by voters in 2016 that opened the way for legal pot sales for adults, said that local governments had the authority to ban nonmedical pot businesses. But state regulators pointed to the business and professions code, which said local governments "shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads" by a licensed operator.

The cannabis bureau had said it was merely clarifying what had always been the case: A licensed pot delivery can be made to "any jurisdiction within the state."

The League of California Cities had opposed the rule, arguing that it would gut local control, overriding local regulations or bans.

It's likely the dispute will end up in court, or play out again in the Legislature.

Josh Drayton, of the California Cannabis Industry Association, said a patchwork of local rules in the state — some communities have embraced legal sales, while others have banned them — had created pot "deserts" where consumers were faced with long drives to find legal marijuana, edibles and other products.

The problem could be worse for the sick and frail who might not be able to leave their homes.

"At this point, you cannot stop regulated delivery services from entering a banned area to deliver to a consumer legally," he said.

The rule was released as part of hundreds of pages of regulations governing the legal marketplace from growing to retail sales, which received final approval Wednesday. The state market had been operating under temporary rules.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Richard Vogel/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Growing Like a Weed: A Look at Marijuana Milestones in 2018]]>Fri, 28 Dec 2018 05:20:09 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-769715421.jpg

It took less than a week for the Trump administration to kill the considerable buzz created Jan. 1 when California's broad marijuana legalization law took effect, creating the largest legal U.S. cannabis marketplace.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a policy shielding state-licensed medical marijuana operators from federal drug prosecutions.

The move sent a chill through the nascent legal industry. But ultimately it had little impact because federal prosecutors around the country showed little interest in going after legal operators.

Sessions, a staunch marijuana opponent, later lost his job and the cannabis industry thrived in a hugely significant year for the legal pot movement, in the United States and beyond.

Here are some highlights:

— Jan. 1: California's law takes effect, allowing people 21 and older to use marijuana.

— Jan. 4: Sessions rescinds policy.

— Jan. 22: Vermont's Legislature legalizes recreational marijuana. It's the first time a state legislature, rather than voters, approved such a law.

— June 25: U.S. health regulators approve the first prescription drug made from marijuana. The medication, Epidiolex, is used to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in young children.

— June 28: Oklahoma becomes the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana use.

— July 19: A Canadian company, Tilray Inc., is the first marijuana business to complete an initial public offering on a major U.S. stock exchange, raising $153 million as it began trading on the Nasdaq exchange.

— Aug. 15: Constellation Brands Inc., the parent company of Corona beer and other alcoholic drinks, makes a $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth Corp., a major Canadian pot producer.

— Oct. 17: Canada legalizes marijuana use for people 19 or older in most provinces. It's the second country after Uruguay to legalize marijuana, and its First-World nation status adds greater credibility to the global marijuana marketplace.

— Oct. 31: Mexico's Supreme Court rules individuals can use marijuana under their right to decide their own recreational activities. The decision puts the country a major step closer to broad legalization.

— Nov. 7: Voters make Michigan the first Midwestern state and 10th overall to legalize recreational marijuana use. Missouri and Utah approve medicinal marijuana.

— Nov. 20: Massachusetts' first commercial pot shops open, more than two years after voters in the state approved of recreational marijuana for adults. The stores are the first to operate on the U.S. East Coast.

— Dec. 7: U.S. cigarette maker Altria invests $2.4 billion in Canada marijuana company Cronos Group.

— Dec. 10: New Zealand passes a law making medical marijuana widely available. A nationwide referendum on recreational pot is planned within two years.

— Dec. 20: President Donald Trump signs into law a farm bill that removes hemp, the cannabis plant cousin to marijuana, from the list of federally controlled substances.

— Dec. 25 — Thailand's legislature amends the country's drug law to allow the licensed medical use of marijuana.

— Dec. 25 — Israel's Parliament approves a law to permit exports of medical marijuana.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images/fStop, File]]>
<![CDATA[Pot Delivered to Your Door Can't Be Banned: California]]>Tue, 18 Dec 2018 16:45:44 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Pot_Delivery_6am.jpg

Starting next year recreational marijuana will be available everywhere in California via licensed delivery operations, even in places that have banned pot businesses.

The Bureau for Cannabis Control has decided voters approved Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana statewide, and if cities do not want businesses to operate in their jurisdictions, citizens are still entitled to access.

Del Mar was one of the cities in San Diego County that has banned recreational marijuana businesses within city limits. 

Some people in Del Mar were happy to hear marijuana deliveries will not be banned in their city while others said they worry marijuana deliveries will bring more crime such as robberies and driving under the influence.

The California Police Chiefs Association shares that concern and believes marijuana deliveries will increase costs for local law enforcement.

Torrey Holistics, a legal and licensed marijuana dispensary located in Sorrento Valley, is the northern-most dispensary but has been unable to deliver to other communities in the North County.

Kyle Dukes, Delivery Operations Manager at Torrey Holistics said up until now, the regulations were vague as to where they could deliver.

"Most folks took the conservative interpretation that we should not go into those communities until the state explicitly says 'You may go there' which is what they've done now," said Dukes.

He said if and when the new regulations take effect on Jan. 16, the dispensary will expand their service to approximately 20 additional deliveries per day.

“All customers will receive a compliant product from a legal service,” said Ruthie Edelson, Marketing Director and Educator at Torrey Holistics. “It’s really a safety issue more than anything for the customer and for the products they are receiving.” 

Edelson added the dispensary's drivers will be background checked. 

All delivery vehicles are required by the state to be tracked by a GPS locator, the inventory should be a reasonable amount and locked inside a safe within the vehicle.

The delivery issue was included in regulations drafted by the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which issues most retail permits. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

<![CDATA[California Police Are Fighting Statewide Marijuana Deliveries]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 20:39:14 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Marijuana+Delivery.jpg

A growing dispute over where legal marijuana can be delivered in California is unsettling the nation's largest pot market.

Police chiefs on Friday lined up against a proposed state rule that critics say would allow unchecked home marijuana deliveries anywhere in California — even in communities that have banned cannabis sales.

The California Police Chiefs Association, League of California Cities and United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council have set up a website that depicts wide-eyed children gesturing toward a pot delivery van outside a school. They are asking opponents to sign an online petition.

"Regulated marijuana dispensaries have tough security, checks for identity and legal age and strictly licensed workers. If marijuana can be delivered anywhere with virtually no regulation, California will lose these safeguards," council executive director James Araby said in a statement.

The proposal has become a major issue as the state considers a series of changes to rules governing the legal marketplace that launched in January. The dispute could end up in court.

There are strikingly different assessments of what the proposal would mean.

Because vast stretches of the state have prohibited local cannabis sales, supporters say it would allow legal deliveries by licensed companies into those so-called pot deserts.

They argue that sick and frail people in those areas who depend on marijuana to relieve pain or anxiety cannot make a lengthy drive to make a purchase, so they are being shut out of the legal market.

On the other side, police chiefs and other critics say it would create an unruly gray market of largely hidden pot transactions, opening the way for criminal activity.

At issue is apparently conflicting fine print in the maze of laws and regulations.

Proposition 64, the law approved by voters in 2016 that opened the way for legal pot sales for adults, says local governments can ban nonmedical pot businesses.

But state regulators point to the business and professions code, which says local governments "shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads" by a licensed operator.

The state Bureau of Cannabis Control, which oversees the market, has said the proposed rule is merely clarifying what has always been the case: A licensed pot delivery can be made to "any jurisdiction within the state."

A proposal in the Legislature intended to clarify that a licensed business can deliver cannabis anywhere in California stalled in the Senate. Meanwhile, online directories like Weedmaps advertise delivery services — some legal, some not.

In general, California treats pot like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of the drug and grow six plants at home.

California's legal market has gotten off to a bumpy start. Illicit sales are still thriving, a shaky supply chain has customers looking at barren shelves in some shops and there have been complaints about testing and hefty taxes.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

<![CDATA[California Bill Would Allow Medical Pot on School Campuses]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 18:18:30 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1492530661.jpg

Some California parents would be allowed to give their children medical marijuana on school campuses under a bill passed Monday by the state Assembly and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.

State law has allowed minors to access medical marijuana since the 1990s but prohibits it on school campuses. That means parents have to remove their children from school or meet them off campus to give them a dose.

The bill says the marijuana would have to be in non-smoking or vaping form, such as in capsules or oils, and it could only be given to students with a medical marijuana prescription. The bill lets school districts opt-in to the policy; it does not mandate them to allow it.

It was one of dozens of bills passed Monday by the Legislature ahead of a Friday deadline to complete its business for the year.

Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill, who carried the bill, said his legislation would aid children and teenagers with severe medical disabilities.

The bill was inspired in part by a South San Francisco teenager in his district who would have up to 50 seizures a day before he got a medical marijuana prescription, Hill's office said. In Santa Rosa, California, a court has allowed a 5-year-old girl to take cannabis oil with her to kindergarten to treat her rare form of epilepsy. The judge's order is temporary as he weighs a final ruling.

The school district tried to prohibit the child from bringing her medicine to school, which the family argued was a violation of protections for disabled students.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Breathalyzer May Detect Pot Impairment]]>Tue, 18 Sep 2018 16:49:47 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/185*120/GettyImages-51802579.jpg

A California company may have developed a game changer for detecting impaired drivers. 

The company Hound Labs created a breathalyzer able to detect the amount of THC in a driver's breath.

“It’s an incredibly challenging scientific problem to ensure the really, really low concentrations,” said Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn.

“We’re talking parts per trillion in your breath,” Lynn said.

The device uses the breath to measure THC, the psychoactive chemical in pot that makes you high.

Lynn told NBC 7 the breathalyzer can accurately detect if someone has smoked pot in the last few hours.

The Hound breathalyzer could be used by law enforcement and commercial use by winter 2018, said Lynn.

Correlating the level of THC with impairment is not an easy thing to do, according to Tom Marcott, the co-director at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research with UC San Diego.

“A person can have really high THC levels and be impaired, but within a half hour they can have a low THC level and still be impaired,” Marcott said.

Marcott is heading a three year, state-funded study on the impact of marijuana on driving ability.

The UC San Diego study is one of the first and most comprehensive studies nationwide. The results of the blind study are expected to be released in spring 2019.

The Hound breathalyzer could be used by law enforcement and commercial use by winter 2018, said Lynn.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Surge in Illegal California Pot Shops Undercuts Legal Market]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 13:33:41 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AP_18184788939366.jpg

A slight marijuana smell wafted out as a steady stream of customers walked into a warehouse, its doors and windows covered by bars.

Suddenly, police swooped in.

"Sheriff's department! Search warrant!" a Los Angeles County deputy shouted as the team thundered through the front door and began hauling out people in handcuffs.

The Compton 20 Cap Collective just south of Los Angeles that was raided earlier this spring is one of hundreds of illegal marijuana stores operating in LA County, where marijuana is legal for anyone 21 and over and retailers must be licensed to sell to them.

Broad marijuana legalization arrived in California at the start of the year. From the beginning, there was concern the legal market would be undercut by the massive black market that has existed for decades.

And that's what's happening. Nowhere is it a bigger problem than in the state's biggest legal local marijuana market: Los Angeles County.

The number of outlaw dispensaries in the county greatly outnumbers about 150 licensed storefront retailers.

That reality is a buzzkill for those trying to play by the rules.

Legal pot shops are losing customers who can get products more cheaply at illegal outlets that don't charge or pay taxes, said Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, a trade organization that represents cannabis growers, distributors and dispensary owners.

It's an "unfair competitive situation for licensed businesses," Spiker said.

"I think if you turn the tables and took cannabis out of the equation — if it was another industry that didn't have the stigmas — the government would do everything they could to give those licensed business paying taxes a level playing field."

One of the selling points for legalization was it would generate a tax windfall for state and local governments. However, during the first quarter, the state reported only $34 million from cultivation and excise taxes, putting it on pace to fall well below the $175 million forecast for the first six months.

In April, state regulators sent nearly 1,000 cease-and-desist letters to cannabis businesses they suspected were operating illegally. An analysis by the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily found about 64 percent of the businesses were in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Last month, the Los Angeles city attorney's office charged 142 people as part of a crackdown on illegal dispensaries. It also sent cease-and-desist letters but declined to say how many.

Los Angeles County boasts the nation's largest sheriff's department, but even it has nowhere near the manpower to take down all the illegal pot shops. A task force overseen by Lt. Frank Montez raids an average of one dispensary a week.

However, the voter-approved ballot measure legalizing cannabis in California included a provision that made possessing more than 28.5 grams only a misdemeanor. That means officers can seize businesses' cash and marijuana, but employees and owners rarely face jail, and illegal operations often quickly reopen.

"It's a money-lucrative business so there are people willing to take the risk," said Capt. Holly Francisco, who commands the sheriff's department's narcotics unit.

Montez sees his work as more than code enforcement. Marijuana sold illegally may be tainted with illegal pesticides and other harmful substances. And licensed marijuana shop owners who pay their taxes should have a fair playing field, he said.

"When you have an illegitimate, illegal dispensary operating, that not only hurts the industry as a whole but that really hurts the community," Montez said.

At the Compton store, a sign above a security window says customers must be at least 18 and have a physician's recommendation to buy medical marijuana and be 21 and have a valid photo ID for anything else. Like many others, the shop operated in plain sight and advertised online, including on WeedMaps, a go-to website for people looking to buy cannabis.

Inside, whiteboards on dirt-smudged walls advertised the prices for different types of cannabis and concentrates.

Cartridges for vapor pens and "Shatter," a honey-like oil containing cannabis extract, cost between $15 and $30. Large display cases held jars of branded marijuana strains — 28 grams of "Purple Dragon" sold for $160.

"People out here on the street are thinking it is a legitimate operation and are smoking this cannabis with all these dangerous pesticides, and they are really killing themselves," Montez said.

Some illegal pot shops look so legitimate that customers may not even realize they are illegal unless they figure out they aren't being charged tax. But like any shopper looking for the best deal, plenty know these places are illegal and go because it's cheaper.

While some illegal LA County pot shops grow their own plants, many are supplied by illegal grows in the hills of Northern California, long a major source of all U.S. pot.

Lake County, about 125 miles north of San Francisco, is home to many such grows because of its topography, which allows pot farmers to easily hide large operations. It has an abundance of federal and state forests and land where cartels set up operations.

Like the LA County Sheriff's Department, Lake County lacks the manpower to put much of a dent in illegal operations.

Deputies patrol on the ground and in helicopters, and last year they destroyed about 250,000 plants and arrested 46 people for illegal grows, Sheriff Brian Martin said.

He has no estimate for the number of illegal grows in the county but is confident the hundreds of thousands of plants deputies chop down each year are "just the tip of the iceberg."

Martin said his short-staffed department has assigned a single a detective full-time to marijuana eradication. He counts on help from state and federal agencies, but they too have their priorities.

"It's all about manpower," he said. "No one has enough of it."

Associated Press writer Paul Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[San Jose Pot Dispensary Booming Ahead of Likely Shortage]]>Tue, 03 Jul 2018 18:28:28 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sj_pot_dispensary_0703_3352999.JPG

Weed watchers say Northern California could be seeing a marijuana shortage in the next few weeks due to new regulations that create new challenges and a run on the current crop.

One San Jose dispensary had a very busy day Tuesday as customers tried to get ahead of the expected shortage. The afternoon crowd inside Caliva marijuana dispensary was growing while dispensary employees prepared the product along what's quickly becoming one of the state's more lucrative assembly lines.

But despite the demand, it's a nervous time for both dispensaries and customers because a shortage is likely on the way.

"For many dispensaries, it's gonna be tough to get compliant product," said Vince Bjurman of San Martin. "They're saying I have to wait it out. They don't know when the product will be available for them to purchase it for me."

New regulations that kicked in July 1 have left some dispensaries holding the bag and trying to play catch up.

"Every cannabis flower needs to be tested and approved by the state," Caliva CEO Dennis O'Malley said. "Has to all be in child proof packaging. The labeling has to be correct."

Caliva is ahead of the game for now, largely because of new hardware and software and lots of lab work. Each packet has to be ordered eight weeks in advance from China then the labeling goes on.

"It takes time. It takes investment," O'Malley said.

Some of the larger dispensaries like Caliva are able to sell product to the smaller ones, but nobody knows just how deep the shortage will be as dispensaries try to get approved product out.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[California Pot Shops Offer Discounts as New Standards Near]]>Wed, 27 Jun 2018 12:45:22 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/pot+buds.jpg

Bargain basement bud is on the menu in California, but you need to act fast to cash in on the cheap weed.

Regulations being phased in six months after the state broadly legalized marijuana require that pot sold after Saturday meet strict quality standards, so retailers unloading untested inventory are offering blowout prices.

Deep discounts on everything from edibles to joints reflect the last days of the heady first phase of legal recreational pot. They could be followed by empty shelves as many stores scramble to restock with properly tested and packaged products.

"You can smell it. There's a certain desperation from stores that bought too much and they have to dump it," said John Atari, CEO of Source Cannabis Farms, a licensed cultivator in Los Angeles. "There's going to be a big shortage of clean product come July 1."

At Firehaus, a shop along an LA freeway, a fire sale of sorts unfolded this month with a 50 percent off "summer blowout" sale advertised on a popular marijuana app and texted and emailed to regular customers.

Patrons leaving the brick storefront on a recent day were happy to double their value, but were unaware of the reason behind the bargains.

A half-dozen of those interviewed said they welcomed testing designed to weed out pesticides and contaminants such as solvents and mold, though they were largely unconcerned about the safety of the cannabis they've used for years.

"I smoked pot for 40 years that wasn't tested, from dealers on the street, and it smelled like anything from gasoline to perfume," said Catherine Lanzarotta, who stocked up on "Blue Dream." ''So I've never had that concern."

Testing will also examine concentrations and potency of the ingredient that gives users a buzz.

The change in rules was part of the state's decision to allow the industry in its legal infancy to get a running start at the beginning of the year. Shops were given six months to burn through supplies of grass grown and cookies and other products made without strict testing requirements.

Any marijuana harvested this year or for sale July 1 must meet quality and safety standards or be destroyed.

Before the legalization of recreational marijuana, testing of pot sold for medical purposes was largely done for marketing. Growers could promote the potency of their product or the fact that it was free of contaminants.

Robert Martin, co-founder and CEO of CW Analytical Laboratories in Oakland, said the voluminous new rules are draconian, with a mandate to test for heavy metals, which he said is unnecessary, and one to keep tested samples 45 days. There are also requirements about what technicians must wear, and lab employees have to pick up test samples directly from suppliers.

"The new regulations have us twisting," Martin said. "We feel like we're trying to do yoga on two mats."

There are concerns that the 28 testing facilities licensed by the state will not be enough, though labs said even with a spike in recent months, they have been able to handle capacity.

A larger concern is a lag in testing as business owners banked on delayed implementation of the new rules. That could put them in a precarious position as they try to push product through a limited pipeline to restock shops with clean weed.

The fear is there will be a repeat of what Oregon experienced two years ago as distributors held out for a rules reprieve that never materialized and held up the supply chain.

The resulting bottleneck at labs meant testing that should have taken days dragged on for weeks, said Lori Glauser, chief operating officer of EVIO Labs, which has locations in California, Oregon, Colorado, Florida and Massachusetts.

Glauser said the recent surge in business she's seen indicates a similar scenario in California that will lead to a temporary shortage of marijuana in dispensaries once they can no longer sell untested product.

Some shops prepared for the new regulations by gradually replacing pot they sold with products that pass the tests.

Jamie Garzot said she reopened her Shasta Lake medical marijuana shop to recreational customers Jan. 1 with the same untested inventory as the day before.

But by February, she estimated, about 15 percent of inventory at 530 Cannabis had been approved by testing labs. In April, that jumped to about 50 percent, and earlier this month Garzot said she figured about 95 percent of her goods passed muster.

"Everyone in the game knew this was coming," she said. "My hope is that everybody has been doing their job getting systems dialed in for an uninterrupted supply chain."

She was waiting until the final days of the month to see what remained in her stockpiles that could go in a limited blowout sale.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Where Pot Is Now Legal, No-Longer-Criminals Seek Forgiveness]]>Fri, 22 Jun 2018 09:25:02 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_18169489576250.jpg

Despite its name, hippie reputation and liberal spirit, Vermont hasn't always been kind to pot smokers. Now, as the state moves to legalize weed beyond medical use, those punished in the past for marijuana misdemeanors are seeking forgiveness.

On July 1, Vermont will become the ninth state, along with Washington, D.C., to legalize recreational marijuana. It will not set up a system to tax or regulate production, but adults will be able to possess an ounce of marijuana, two mature plants and four immature plants.

The law also brings an opportunity for those convicted of marijuana transgressions to have them removed from their records.

Past convictions have led to difficulty finding housing or a job. Some were turned away when they applied for a nursing license or federal student loans, attorneys say. Some can't get into neighboring Canada.

So prosecutors across the state are doing what they can to help — just as in many other places that have legalized marijuana, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Glyn Wilkinson, a 70-year-old semi-retired carpenter who ran for the state Senate in 2014 as a Libertarian, and came in last, was among the first to arrive at an "Expungement Day" workshop held last week in Burlington.

He received the first of his two marijuana convictions in 1968 — so far back in the Chittenden County records that the prosecutor's office had a hard time finding it. He has been turned back at the Canadian border, he said, and was disqualified from buying a firearm.

"Can you really get used to it? You can forget about it, but it never really goes away," Wilkinson said. "Today it can actually go away."

Joshua Rowe could not make it to Burlington for the expungement event, but he has been working with Vermont Legal Aid to clear his record. A 31-year-old lighting designer who has worked on tours with Willie Nelson and Trombone Shorty, Rowe said his two misdemeanor convictions have prevented him from taking work in Canada.

"There are jobs I don't even want to attempt to take, because it will look bad on my record with them if I get denied going into Canada for a job," he said. "These old charges are holding me back."

The Canadian Border Services Agency confirmed that people like Rowe will be able to show their record has been cleared and allowed to enter.

Windsor County prosecutor David Cahill, who hosted a workshop similar to Burlington's, estimated there are roughly 2,800 marijuana misdemeanor convictions eligible for expungement across the state.

Other governments have grappled with what to do with those who have criminal convictions for something that is no longer a crime.

Provisions of California's 2016 law that broadly legalized marijuana also allowed for the expungement or reduction from felonies to misdemeanors of some old pot convictions. But there was no mechanism for getting that done.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has been looking at how jurisdictions nationwide are addressing marijuana convictions in the post-legalization world.

San Francisco, she said, stands out for clearing thousands of marijuana convictions without requiring individuals to specifically ask.

"They are wiping convictions off of people's records in one fell swoop, and my hope is that more officials will follow San Francisco," Clarke said.

District attorneys in four other California counties, including San Diego and Alameda — home to Oakland and Berkeley — have also begun expunging old marijuana convictions or reducing felonies to misdemeanors on their own, without the participation of the defendants.

San Diego said it is combing through about 4,000 old cases, and Alameda said as many as 6,000 cases may be eligible for expungement or reduction.

Public defenders throughout California have been hosting legal clinics to help people with convictions fill out the proper forms and file the petitions with the courts.

Colorado last year passed a law that allows those convicted of misdemeanor use or possession to ask to seal, but not erase, criminal records if it is not currently a crime, and the Oregon Legislature passed a similar bill in 2015.

In Vermont, a bill that would have fast-tracked misdemeanor marijuana convictions for expungement died in a legislative committee this year. So the law still requires that the person seeking expungement begin the process, something Sarah George, the lead prosecutor in Chittenden County, said limits who can be helped.

Getting an attorney can be expensive and a deterrent, she said.

A grant from the Pennywise Foundation covered the $90 filing fee for those who came out to the events in Windsor and Chittenden counties, but normally petitioners have to pay that amount for each case.

George and her colleagues in Windsor and Bennington counties said they hope the state moves toward automatic expungement.

"It's taking up time that we could be doing other things," George said, "but from my perspective it's well worth the time."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: David Jordan/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Discounts, Possible Shortage With New Rules Coming]]>Wed, 20 Jun 2018 09:12:19 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-151955716+edited.jpg

A big shake-up is coming in the marijuana business, and that means big discounts on weed here in the Bay Area. But it also might soon lead to a shortfall in product availability.

Customers are already seeing discounts of 30-50 percent on some marijuana items in the Bay Area, and that's likely to last a little while because dispensaries have to make room for newly regulated product.

Starting July 1, all medical and recreational cannabis must adhere to new state guidelines for testing and packaging. So dispensaries like Caliva in San Jose will have to sell all of their existing inventory to make room for newly labeled product.

"There is a lot of discounts that'll be out there over the next two weeks," said Larry Thacker, head of operations at Caliva.

The new labels will indicate where the product came from, when it was tested, the results of testing and a way to access those results online.

The discounts and inventory clearance could lead to a marijuana shortage later in the summer as the new product comes online, and that's especially worrisome for those who depend on medicinal marijuana.

"I have a big pain in my hip that wakes me up at night," said Tim Campisi, who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes.

And sellers aren't sure how long it will take to stock back up.

"It's difficult to know how long it's gonna take for supplies to get back on track," Thacker said. "I think you could see less product on the market, and we are starting to see signs of that already."

Some of the larger dispensaries like Caliva already have started to let customers know about both the coming discounts and possible shortage so people can stock up a now, just in case.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[California Senate Supports State-Backed Bank for Pot Money]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 19:40:20 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Pot+generic1.JPG

California lawmakers moved Wednesday to create a state-backed bank to handle the billions of dollars flowing from the newly legal recreational marijuana market.

The world's largest legal recreational marijuana economy, created under a law that took effect this year, is projected to grow to $7 billion.

The bill approved by a bipartisan 29-6 state Senate vote is designed to help pot entrepreneurs who usually deal in cash because most banks won't accept money from a product that remains illegal under federal law.

SB930 now goes to the Assembly for consideration.

The bill would permit charter banks and credit unions regulated by the state Department of Business Oversight to provide limited banking services to pot-related businesses.

They could use the banks to pay rent, state and local taxes and fees, vendors within California for goods and services related to the cannabis business and to buy state and local bonds and other investments.

"We're not using the federal system, we're not using the federal wire," Democratic Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys said of his proposal. "This is a short-term creative approach to deal with this extraordinary problem."

He said the banks would suffice until what proponents hope will be an eventual change in federal law.

Hertzberg said the current system is dangerous because it requires pot dealers to conduct their business using cash, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. He said he's heard of some businesses burying or hiding tens of millions of dollars for lack of an alternative.

State budget officials project California will collect $600 million in cannabis taxes in the upcoming year, but that often requires the businesses to haul duffel bags full of cash to tax agencies.

The cash economy also makes audits and other standard oversight measures difficult.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

<![CDATA[Study: Deadly Pesticide Use Increases at Illegal Pot Farms]]>Tue, 29 May 2018 11:40:44 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/potAP_18130643656414.jpg

Researchers and federal authorities are finding what they say is an alarming increase in the use of a powerful pesticide at illegal marijuana farms hidden on public land in California.

The pesticide residue is showing up in about 30 percent of the plants themselves, researcher Mourad Gabriel told The Associated Press.

Most of the illegally grown California pot is destined for Midwestern and Eastern states, federal prosecutors said. Federal and state authorities are announcing Tuesday that they will target the illegal grows with $2.5 million in federal money.

Researchers found the highly toxic pesticide Carbofuran at 72 percent of grow sites last year, up from 15 percent in 2012, said Gabriel, executive director and senior ecologist at Integral Ecology Research Center and one of the few researchers studying the ecological impact of illicit grow sites.

California has long allowed medicinal marijuana, and this year legalized recreational pot. While U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott will continue to enforce federal marijuana laws, he said he is targeting illicit grows on public land with cooperation from California's attorney general and the state's National Guard.

"What is happening here is illegal for all purposes under anybody's law," he said in an interview before Tuesday's announcement.

One of the dangers before legalization was that users could not be sure what was in the product they were smoking or eating, but authorities say the rise in Carbofuran use poses an increased danger.

The chemical is intended for use as an insecticide but is so powerful that a quarter of a teaspoon can kill a 300-pound bear, Gabriel said. Research by Gabriel and colleagues previously showed that the use of pesticides at illegal marijuana farms is poisoning significant numbers of California's few hundred remaining fishers, a threatened carnivore.

Carbofuran can't legally be used in the United States, and every bottle found at the grow sites since 2012 has been labeled in Spanish, Gabriel said.

Scott said it is being smuggled in from Mexico by drug cartels and the itinerant laborers hired to clear forestland and replant it with marijuana. The laborers have to pack in the plants, fertilizer, irrigation hose and camping supplies for the summer growing season.

Laborers apprehended by authorities tell Gabriel the remoteness of the growing sites is one reason highly toxic Carbofuran is so popular.

"What they are saying to us is this is extremely effective — it takes a little amount to kill a deer or a bear — so we don't need to bring a lot of it to last a season," he said.

At normal levels, a typical bottle containing less than 1 liter should be diluted with up to 5,000 gallons of water, he said. But illegal growers are diluting it with just 3 to 5 gallons of water to spray plants, or using the concentrate directly to kill wildlife.

At that concentration, the chemical takes at least 2 ½ years to dissipate instead of roughly a month if it is used at recommended dilutions.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women Cite 'Grass Ceiling' in Male-Dominated Weed Industry]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 10:57:02 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/AP_18131745684627.jpg

When Danielle Schumacher attended her first convention of marijuana activists about 15 years ago, she could count on one hand all the women in a room of older men.

The lack of diversity struck the then-college student, who remembers feeling out of place but also determined to make her mark.

"That feeling just really stuck with me that this isn't going to last. This is going to shift in my lifetime, and I want to be part of that," said the San Francisco-based Schumacher, who in 2014 co-founded THC Staffing Group, a recruitment firm that encourages a more diverse cannabis industry workforce.

As marijuana has become more mainstream, Schumacher has seen a gradual shift, with more women working in the industry. Women-centric groups focused on networking or providing a space for women curious about cannabis have proliferated, too.

But cannabis remains a male-dominated industry. How much so is unclear because the legal marijuana industry is so new. Since just nine states have broad legalization, there isn't much data on the so-called grass ceiling for women or minorities in leadership roles.

One of those states, Massachusetts, plans a study breaking down license holders by race and gender and looking at possible barriers to getting into the industry. Licensing in that state is expected to start this summer.

The trade publication Marijuana Business Daily surveyed 567 senior executives, company founders and those with ownership stakes in marijuana businesses, and found the percentage of women in executive roles fell from 36 percent in 2015 to 27 percent in 2017. One possible reason: the executive structure of more mainstream businesses, where men hold most senior-level positions, is seeping into the industry, said Eli McVey, an analyst with the publication.

One way to boost investment in women- and minority-owned businesses is through more laws like the ones in some communities that reserve a certain number of marijuana licenses for those populations and by expunging criminal records for pot-related offenses, said Windy Borman, a Colorado-based filmmaker whose movie "Mary Janes: The Women of Weed" documents her evolution from skeptic to self-proclaimed "puffragette."

She also advocates training for skills like business-plan writing for those wanting to shift from the black market to legal market, and increased mentorship.

The industry must attract new consumers to expand, she said. Women generally make family decisions on health and wellness, and women have an opportunity to design products that fit with their lifestyle, she said.

"We're not necessarily interested in the largest bong ever built," she said. "We need products that fit into our lifestyle that are more discreet and they're not going to be covered in Jamaican flags and big pot leaves and things like that."

Jane Stinson, a self-described hippy during her 20s, worked for 20 years for an Alaska pipeline company. Her interest in cannabis was reignited when her mother was diagnosed with cancer and the family sought ways to help ease the side effects.

At roughly the same time, Stinson was ready to retire, her son learned how to grow marijuana in California, and voters legalized adult marijuana use in Alaska.

"The stars were aligned," said Stinson, who opened one of Alaska's first retail shops in Anchorage with her son and daughter.

It hasn't been easy getting into the industry: Stinson works up to 14 hours a day. But she now has 15 employees and is looking to expand. There is less of a stigma around marijuana in Alaska than there was five years ago, she said.

Stinson's shop has hosted meetings of Ellementa, an organization that promotes cannabis to women, focusing on wellness. Recent meeting topics have touched on insomnia and sex.

Meeting participants range from their 20s to 70s, said Aliza Sherman, a web entrepreneur and Ellementa CEO, who began using cannabis to ease neck pain and insomnia. Her company holds meetings in 30 cities nationally and is expanding into Canada and Europe.

Sherman, who lives in Anchorage, said women-owned businesses know what appeals to women.

Gia Morn, daughter of a New York City police detective and child of the Just Say No-era, saw great potential in expanding her PR business to include cannabis.

She was apprehensive at first but made the leap, believing she could bring value to the industry. In doing so, she pointed out instances where female representation was lacking, such as in the speaking lineup for Women Grow, a national networking group she now represents.

"Now you're seeing more successful, leading women in this space that are not only making serious inroads, but they're going well beyond the ceiling that's been placed over our heads and saying, `We're more than this, and we deserve to be at the table,"' she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer Docs Feel Unprepared, But Recommend Marijuana Anyway]]>Thu, 10 May 2018 16:18:40 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/potAP_18130643656414.jpg

Nearly half of U.S. cancer doctors who responded to a survey say they've recently recommended medical marijuana to patients, although most say they don't know enough about medicinal use.

The results reflect how marijuana policy in some states has outpaced research, the study authors said. All 29 states with medical marijuana programs allow doctors to recommend it to cancer patients. But no rigorous studies in cancer patients exist. That leaves doctors to make assumptions from other research on similar prescription drugs, or in other types of patients.

"The big takeaway is we need more research, plain and simple," said Dr. Ilana Braun of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led the study published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Patients want to know what their doctors think about using marijuana. In the new study, cancer doctors said their conversations about marijuana were almost always started by patients and their families, not by the doctors themselves.

Overall, nearly eight in 10 cancer doctors reported having discussed marijuana with patients or their families, with 46 percent recommending it for pain and other cancer-related problems to at least one patient in the past year.

Among those who said they recommended marijuana, 56 percent said they did not have sufficient knowledge to do so.

"They're not as close-minded as you might think, and they also feel they have a lot to learn," Braun said.

The survey was conducted in a random sample of cancer doctors; researchers got completed surveys from 237 doctors, or 63 percent.

Marijuana is considered an illegal drug by federal officials and federal restrictions have limited research. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded the lack of scientific information about marijuana poses a risk to public health.

There's evidence marijuana can treat chronic pain in adults and medications similar to marijuana can ease nausea from chemotherapy.

In the study, 67 percent of cancer doctors said they view marijuana as a useful addition to standard pain therapies, with 75 percent saying it posed less risk of overdose than opioids. About half view marijuana as equal to, or more effective than, standard treatments for cancer-related nausea.

Marijuana isn't harmless. The National Academies report said pot smoking may be linked to higher chances of traffic accidents, chronic bronchitis from long-term use and schizophrenia and other causes of psychosis, especially in the most frequent users.

Dr. Steven Pergam of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance answers questions about marijuana's safety from his colleagues at the treatment center.

His responses depend on the patient. A dying patient with cancer that's spread? "Whatever they want to do to make themselves comfortable," said Pergam, who wasn't involved in the new research. A patient with leukemia, however, should be warned of a theoretical possibility of a fungal infection tied to cannabis use.

"If we're not comfortable having these discussions, patients will get information from other sources, and it's not going to be as reliable," he said. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Report: Legal Marijuana Boosts Government Revenue - a Little]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 12:36:49 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Cannabis3.jpg

A new report finds that legalizing and taxing marijuana boosts revenue for state and local governments, but not by much.

The credit rating agency Moody's Investor Service says in a study released Tuesday that legalizing recreational use of marijuana brings governments more money than it costs to regulate it.

Despite high taxes on the legal sales of the drug, the revenue accounts for a small portion of government budgets. In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use, a marijuana tax brings in the equivalent of about 2 percent of the state budget.

In Washington state, gross revenue from marijuana legalization equaled 1.2 percent of general fund revenue in the 2015-17 state budget.

Most of the states that have legalized marijuana earmark the revenue for law enforcement, drug treatment and other specific programs, which doesn't help the states' financial flexibility.

Likewise, Moody's described the revenue effect as minimal on local governments in states with legalized pot.

Creating revenue for the state is one argument proponents use for legalization in New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy, who supports the effort, is planning on having an additional $60 million in taxes from legalized marijuana in the next fiscal year. That's less than 1 percent of the state's annual spending.

Twenty-nine states now allow marijuana for either medicinal or recreational uses, and the business is growing quickly. Moody's cited data from the market research firm Euromonitor International that projects it will grow from a $5.4 billion business in the U.S. in 2015 to $16 billion by 2020.

Meanwhile, illegal marijuana sales are estimated at $40 billion.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP]]>
<![CDATA[More Businesses Mellowing Out Over Hiring Pot Smokers]]>Thu, 03 May 2018 07:38:55 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/NowHiringSignGettyImages-651538652.jpg

FPI Management, a property company in California, wants to hire dozens of people. Factories from New Hampshire to Michigan need workers. Hotels in Las Vegas are desperate to fill jobs.

Those employers and many others are quietly taking what once would have been a radical step: They're dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees. Marijuana testing -- a fixture at large American employers for at least 30 years -- excludes too many potential workers, experts say, at a time when filling jobs is more challenging than it's been in nearly two decades.

"It has come out of nowhere," said Michael Clarkson, head of the drug testing practice at Ogletree Deakins, a law firm. "I have heard from lots of clients things like, 'I can't staff the third shift and test for marijuana.'"

Though still in its early stages, the shift away from marijuana testing appears likely to accelerate. More states are legalizing cannabis for recreational use; Michigan could become the 10th state to do so in November. Missouri appears on track to become the 30th state to allow medical pot use.

And medical marijuana users in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have won lawsuits in the past year against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for cannabis. Before last year, courts had always ruled in favor of employers.

The Trump administration also may be softening its resistance to legal marijuana. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta suggested at a congressional hearing last month that employers should take a "step back" on drug testing.

"We have all these Americans that are looking to work," Acosta said. "Are we aligning our ... drug testing policies with what's right for the workforce?"

There is no definitive data on how many companies conduct drug tests, though the Society of Human Resources Management found in a survey that 57 percent do so. Nor is there any recent data on how many have dropped marijuana from mandatory drug testing.

But interviews with hiring executives, employment lawyers and agencies that help employers fill jobs indicate that dropping marijuana testing is among the steps more companies are taking to expand their pool of applicants to fill a near-record level of openings.

Businesses are hiring more people without high school diplomas, for example, to the point where the unemployment rate for non-high school graduates has sunk more than a full percentage point in the past year to 5.5 percent. That's the steepest such drop for any educational group over that time. On Friday, the government is expected to report another robust jobs report for April.

Excluding marijuana from testing marks the first major shift in workplace drug policies since employers began regularly screening applicants in the late 1980s. They did so after a federal law required that government contractors maintain drug-free workplaces. Many private businesses adopted their own mandatory drug testing of applicants.

Most businesses that have dropped marijuana tests continue to screen for cocaine, opiates, heroin and other drugs. But James Reidy, an employment lawyer in New Hampshire, says companies are thinking harder about the types of jobs that should realistically require marijuana tests. If a manufacturing worker, for instance, isn't driving a forklift or operating industrial machinery, employers may deem a marijuana test unnecessary.

"Employers are saying, `We have a thin labor pool,' "Reidy said. " `So are we going to test and exclude a whole group of people? Or can we assume some risks, as long as they're not impaired at work?"'

Yet many companies are reluctant to acknowledge publicly that they've dropped marijuana testing.

"This is going to become the new don't ask, don't tell," Reidy said.

In most states that have legalized marijuana, like Colorado, businesses can still, if they wish, fire workers who test positive. On the other hand, Maine, which also legalized the drug, became the first state to bar companies from firing or refusing to hire someone for using marijuana outside of work.

Companies in labor-intensive industries -- hoteliers and home health care providers and employers with many warehouse and assembly jobs -- are most likely to drop marijuana testing. By contrast, businesses that contract with the government or that are in regulated industries, like air travel, or that have safety concerns involving machinery, are continuing marijuana tests, employment lawyers say. Federal regulations require the testing of pilots, train operators and other key transportation workers.

Dropping marijuana testing is more common among employers in the nine states, along with the District of Columbia, that have legalized pot for recreational use. An additional 20 states allow marijuana for medical use only. But historically low unemployment is driving change even where pot remains illegal.

After the Drug-Free Workplace Act was enacted in 1988, amid concerns about cocaine use, drug testing spread to most large companies. All Fortune 500 companies now engage in some form of drug testing, according to Barry Sample, a senior director at Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testing firms.

In Denver, in a state with just 3 percent unemployment, 10 percent of employers that screen for drugs had dropped marijuana as of 2016, according to a survey by the Employers Council, which provides corporate legal and human resources services.

"It's because unemployment is virtually non-existent" in Colorado, said Curtis Graves, a lawyer at the council. "People cannot afford to take a hard line against off-duty marijuana usage if they want to hire."

That's particularly true in Colorado's resort areas, where hotels and ski lifts are heavily staffed with young workers, Graves said: "They can lose their jobs and walk across the street and get another one."

FPI, a property-management firm in San Francisco that employs 2,900 around the country, from leasing managers to groundskeepers, has dozens of jobs listed on online boards. Its ads say applicants must pass a "full background check and drug screening."

But it adds, "As it relates to marijuana use, FPI will consider any applicable state law when dispositioning test results."

FPI didn't respond to requests for comment, which isn't unusual given that companies that have dropped marijuana tests aren't exactly billboarding their decisions. Most still seek to maintain drug-free workplaces and still test for harder drugs.

"They're pretty hush-hush about it," Graves said.

AutoNation, which operates dealerships in 17 states, is one of the few that have gone public. The company stopped testing for marijuana about a year ago. Marc Cannon, a company spokesman, said it did so mostly in response to evolving public attitudes. But it also feared losing prospective employees.

"The labor market has tightened up," Cannon said.

AutoNation heard from other business leaders, Cannon said. They said things like, "'We're doing the same thing; we just didn't want to share it publicly."'

Relaxed attitudes among employers are spreading from states where recreational marijuana is legal to those where it's lawful only for medical use, such as Michigan and New Hampshire.

Janis Petrini, who owns an Express Employment staffing agency in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says that with the area's unemployment rate below 3 percent, employers are growing desperate. Some are willing to ignore the results of drug tests performed by Express, which still screens for marijuana and won't place workers who test positive.

"We have had companies say to us, 'We don't worry about that as much as we used to,'" Petrini said. "We say, 'OK, well, we are still following our standards.'"

One of Reidy's clients, a manufacturer in New Hampshire, has dropped marijuana testing because it draws some workers from neighboring Massachusetts and Maine, which have legalized pot for recreational use. Another client, which runs assisted living facilities from Florida to Maine, has stopped testing its housekeeping and food service workers for marijuana.

The stigma surrounding marijuana use is eroding, compounding pressure on employers to stop testing. Sixty-four percent of Americans support legalizing pot, a Gallup poll found, the highest percentage in a half-century of surveys.

In Las Vegas, where recreational use is legal, marijuana dispensaries "look almost like Apple stores," said Thoran Towler, CEO of the Nevada Association of Employers.

Many high-tech companies have been moving from California to Nevada to escape California's high costs, and they're seeking workers. Towler says the most common question from his 400 member executives is, "Where do I find employees?"

He estimates that roughly one-tenth of his group's members have stopped testing for marijuana out of frustration.

"They say, 'I have to get people on the casino floor or make the beds, and I can't worry about what they're doing in their spare time,'" Towler said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[20,000 Celebrate First Legal 4/20 at SF's Hippie Hill]]>Sat, 21 Apr 2018 10:42:00 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/420-2010.jpg

Friday marked a 4/20 celebration like never before.

The annual day when thousands take part in the ceremonious marijuana smokeout has a slightly different air about it this year now that recreational pot has been legalized in California.

"The stigma has been lifted," said Andrew Deangelo, the director of operations at Harborside Health Center in Oakland.

Deangelo said the demographic of people who have been coming to the dispensary since the legalization has changed.

"A lot them are your grandmother or you father, a lot of folks over the age of 50, 55 years old are coming in to the dispensary and feeling safe and comfortable," Deangelo explained.

One of the biggest 4/20 celebrations was at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park at Hippie Hill at the east end of the park. Around 20,000 people lit up their marijuana product of choice at 4:20 p.m.

San Francisco Police Department said they made three arrests for DUI involving marijuana usage. Six people were evacuated, while 12 others were transported for medical care, officials said. 

Attendees said the vibe at this year's Hippie Hill was different, being the first year it's celebrated since the legalization of the recreational drug.

"It's better because you don't have to (be) in fear of like someone is going to snitch on you," said Cameron Jenkins from Oakland. "It’s about having a good time and no misconceptions about weed!”

But while marijuana consumption is now legal, the California Highway Patrol is reminding people that it's still illegal to drive under the influence.

"The big message we want to get out is if you're going to partake, then do it responsibly, just like alcohol," CHP spokesman Officer Vu Williams said. "You still can't consume it or be under the influence while you're driving. That's the big thing we're going to be out looking for."

Williams said it's illegal even to smoke pot inside a non-moving vehicle, and if a driver has marijuana in the vehicle, it must be sealed. He said the CHP will have additional patrols during the day and at nighttime Friday.

"We're going to see quite a big increase in use, if you will, and we're concerned, of course, about the amount of impaired driving and collisions that may come with that," he said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Business of Pot: California Still Figuring it Out]]>Sat, 21 Apr 2018 14:52:11 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/04202018marijuana_2475664.JPG

Marijuana vendors say their bottom line has been helped by more than just California's new law. But there's still a haze over the business. Some said the legal marijuana industry is going corporate too quickly. Scott Budman reports.]]>
<![CDATA[South Californians Behind New Sales Kiosk for Dispensaries]]>Tue, 17 Apr 2018 17:11:45 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GreenSTOPkiosk-2018.jpg

Vending machines can be used to sell everything from beverages to condoms and one Southern California believes their technology could mean fewer lines and more business for recreational marijuana shops.

GreenSTOP has developed what it's labeled as the first four-person kiosk designed specifically for marijuana dispensaries.

Other companies have developed a vending machine using the same technology as those found in a workplace lunchroom but GreenSTOP, run by two men with strong ties to San Diego, is looking at breaking the mold when it comes to how many customers can be served in a neighborhood dispensary.

San Diego native James Edwards, who attended Mission Bay High School, has partnered with former San Diego State University student Tim Island to launch the Manhattan Beach-based company.

He said an average marijuana dispensary will have five to six employees or “budtenders” who answer questions from customers.

However, an issue arises when the time comes to pay. 

“They have bottlenecking,” he explained, meaning multiple customers are in line waiting for one register.

The GreenSTOP technology will create a kiosk that is self-serve and allows multiple users to shop, select and buy from the dispensary’s stash. It can even incorporate reviews of the products from credible sources.

The current business model is to rent the kiosks to dispensaries and take a percentage of sales.

Edwards and Island said they have a large interest list but they’re discussing the company’s potential with investors and their legal team before entering into contracts.

The plan is to launch in Los Angeles by the end of 2018 with the potential of kiosks in San Diego County in 2019, Edwards said.

The kiosks are not affiliated with any dispensaries in San Diego County under the same name.

Photo Credit: GreenSTOP]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Trade Show Focuses on High Tech, Soaring Costs]]>Thu, 12 Apr 2018 06:50:54 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pot_conference_0411_2361291.JPG

Technology has taken center stage at a trade show in Silicon Valley. But the industry of focus is not software, gadgets or the cloud.

It's weed.

The Terpenes and Testing World Conference at San Jose McEnery Convention Center is geared toward the business of buying and selling marijuana, a budding venture in California. It comes as a new report shows legal pot sales in the state aren't meeting expectations while black market pot sales are said to be soaring.

The technology on display at the conference is impressive, from a grow box that can replace a greenhouse to ways for testing the potency of home pot without a lab.

But people in the business of selling pot legally say more efficiency is necessary because operating expenses, and especially high state and local taxes, are driving up costs and driving many consumers away.

"Not many people who used to go to dispensaries are going anymore," one industry rep said. "It seems there’s a lot of newer people who are going, and that’s what is actually helping keep the show going. A lot of people I’m imagining are reverting to the black market."

A new report by BDS Analytics says the first two months of legalized cannabis sales in California fell $44 million short of projections. And the high price of legal pot is benefiting so-called unlicensed retailers who ignore regulations and standards.

"This industry, there is an element where you can be a rat in a wheel, where you have regs and these standards," conference producer Celeste Miranda said. "You get caught up. And tomorrow, it’s completely different."

Marijuana legalization also means lower wholesale prices for local growers and more profit in illegal markets. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office marijuana eradication team points out 80 percent of pot sold in the U.S. comes from California.

"We aren’t concerned so much at the consumer level but more on the cultivation level, those that are growing marijuana and where that marijuana is going," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Richard Glennon said.

The drop in sales and the thriving black market seem to have caught the attention of legislators. Advocates at the conference say there are now some proposals to lower state taxes and with it lower the price for legal pot.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>