Politics

CBD Fights Back: Lawsuit Filed Against DEA
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by DJ Reetz

A lawsuit filed on January 13, 2017 aims to push back against a recent DEA decision to create a separate tracking number for “marihuana extracts” under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively codifying all cannabinoids derived from marijuana or hemp as Schedule I controlled substances. The lawsuit was filed by the Hoban Law Group in the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on the same day the new ruling was set to take effect, and seeks judicial review of the decision, claiming that the DEA has overstepped their authority in adding this definition of “marihuana extract” to the controlled substance schedule without following proper procedures to do so as outlined in the CSA. Serving as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Hemp Industries Association, Centura Natural Foods, and RMH Holdings.     

The DEA’s announcement in the federal registry published on December 14, 2016 raised concerns amongst many in the cannabis industry that the DEA would begin to target producers and distributors of hemp-derived CBD, which would fall under the definition of “an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis” outlined in the DEA’s final ruling.

“This is an action beyond the DEA’s authority. This final rule serves to threaten hundreds, if not thousands, of growing businesses, with massive economic and industry expansion opportunities, all of which conduct lawful business compliant with existing policy as it is understood and in reliance upon the federal government," said Hoban Law Group Managing Partner Robert Hoban in a press release.

The DEA has claimed that the ruling presented in the recent federal register amounted to little more than a clerical decision carried out in order to make tracking cannabinoid extracts easier, but many in the hemp CBD industry saw it as the first step toward a federal crackdown on the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has thus far operated nationally in somewhat of a legal gray area.

The true impact of the classification will likely be seen in the coming months and years.

 

2016 Election: Cannabis Wins Big
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by DJ Reetz

Results from the 2016 election might seem grim, but the silver lining seems to be the sweeping victory for cannabis. Nine states voted on cannabis measures, eight of which passed despite the often staunch opposition from the political hierarchy in many of these states.

The biggest news is likely the passage of Proposition 64 in California, which was approved by 56 percent of voters in the state. California has served as one of the vanguards of cannabis progress since passing the nation’s first medical marijuana law in 1996. Unlike some other measures, 64 saw strong support from the state’s elected officials, including an endorsement from Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Proposition 64 levies an excise tax of $9.25 per ounce of cannabis flower and $2.75 per ounce of leaves on cultivators, as well as 15 percent on retail sales. That money is designated for the state’s Marijuana Tax Fund, intended to cover administration of the state’s adult-use program, with excess going to research and harm mitigation. Some $10 million of this excise revenue will be handed out to public universities studying the impacts of legalization, $3 million has been earmarked annually for the California Highway Patrol to develop protocols fro determining driver impairment, $2 million will be given to UC San Diego for medical cannabis research, and $10 million will be given to local health departments and non-profits to pay for various substance abuse, mental health and job placement programs. That last number is set to increase by $10 million every year until it reaches $50 million in 2020. Any additional money held in the in the Marijuana Tax Fund will go toward youth programs, environmental mitigation related to illegal outdoor grows, and reducing the number of stoned drivers or other wise combating unforeseen negative effects of the measure. Additionally, local governments could impose their own sales tax.

Some concern was raised by members of California’s medical marijuana community, who worried that the taxes would be levied on patients, though 64 includes exemptions on some taxes for medical producers.    

 Nevada followed suit with the passage of Question 2. Similarly to California’s measure, the law imposes a 15 percent excise tax on cultivation and annual fees ranging from $3,000 to $30,000, depending on the type of license, in addition to the one-time application fee of $5,000. This money is designated to the Nevada Department of Taxation and local governments to cover the cost of administering the program. Any additional money has been earmarked for the State Distributive School Account.

In Massachusetts, Question 4 passed with support of 53.6 percent of voters, despite strong opposition from Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, among others. Adult-use sales will be subject to existing state sales taxes as well as 3.75 percent excise tax. Local governments will have the option to levy up to an additional 2 percent tax on sales. State taxes and licensing fees will go into the Marijuana Regulation Fund, which will pay for the program’s regulation.

Maine also legalized adult-use cannabis for those 21 and over with the passage of Question 1. Adult-use cannabis will be subject to a 10 percent excise tax on all sales. Notably, Question 1 included language relating to cannabis clubs, where cannabis could be both sold and consumed.

Of the adult-use measure on ballots, only Arizona’s failed to pass. In a narrow loss, Proposition 205 failed with a vote of 52.14 percent opposed to 47.86 in favor.  

On the medical front, victories in North Dakota, Arkansas and a sweep in Florida will bring medical cannabis programs to those states. A measure restoring some of the medical marijuana program in Montana, decimated by the state legislature in 2011, passed with 56.96 percent in favor.  

In Colorado, the progress on cannabis issues continued, or at least held firm. The defeat of Proposition 200 in Pueblo County and Proposition 300 in the city of Pueblo protects the adult-use industry there. Both measures sought to ban sales, production and testing of adult-use cannabis, which have provided the impoverished area with an estimated 1,000 jobs and millions in related revenue and taxes.

Voters in Denver narrowly approved Initiative 300, which will allow for cannabis consumption licenses as part of a city pilot program. The program will, for the first time since the opening of adult-use dispensaries in 2014, give cannabis purchasers in the city a legal place to consume outside of private residences, as well as allow for consumption events.

These victories represent significant progress for cannabis nationally. With nearly 50 million more people now living in adult-use states, a change in federal attitudes toward the plant seems closer than ever. Medical cannabis victories in states with heavy conservative leanings also show promise of shifting attitudes.

legalization-map

 

LivWell Announces Solidarity with Pueblo Cannabis Growers
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Colorado’s leading cannabis company announces Pueblo-grown cannabis now available in its stores to support the county’s cannabis industry in light of efforts to ban recreational sales.

 

DENVER—October 27, 2016 — LivWell Enlightened Health announced today that it will begin offering Pueblo-grown cannabis for sale at its adult-use stores to support Pueblo’s legal cannabis industry, which is currently under dire threat by Issue 200. Were 200 to pass this November, it would ban all legal and regulated adult-use cannabis sales in the county, devastating the area’s growing industry and breathing life back into the shrinking criminal market.

 LivWell will immediately begin offering its customers $89.99 pre-weigh recreational ounces of cannabis grown outdoors by Pueblo cultivator, Los Sueňos Farms. LivWell historically produces the bulk of the cannabis it sells, but company owner and CEO John Lord believes that the threat facing Pueblo deserves more than just the monetary and political support the company has provided so far.

 “Issue 200 seeks to overturn the will of the voters who overwhelmingly approved of recreational cannabis with the passage of Amendment 64,” said Lord. “This is not just an issue for Pueblo, but for all of Colorado. We are proud to support those companies bringing good-paying jobs to Pueblo by offering the fruits of their labor to our recreational customers across the state.”

 Despite having no retail presence within the county, LivWell is already one of the top-5 financial backers of the effort to defeat 200. LivWell’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Neal Levine is also serving as part of the campaign leadership team. Earlier this year, Levine helped to lead the successful effort to keep a statewide measure off of the ballot that would have wiped out most of the adult use cannabis industry in Colorado.

 “We cannot sit idly by and allow the prohibitionists to wipe out 1,300 good paying jobs in Pueblo based on falsehoods and scare tactics.” said Levine, who also serves as a board member for the National Cannabis Industry Association, the cannabis industry’s national trade association

 The cannabis industry in Pueblo has brought a much-needed economic boost to an area still dealing with the aftershocks that accompanied the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980’s. The cannabis industry has contributed directly to the creation of more than 1,300 jobs there, and cannabis-related companies accounted for more than 65% of all the commercial building permits issued in the county last year. As of May 2015, the county’s unemployment rate of 7.1% is far higher than the state overall (4.2%). Passage of Issue 200 would devastate economic prospects in this southern Colorado jurisdiction, which have otherwise looked quite promising thanks to the hundreds of cannabis companies that currently comprise the region’s budding marijuana industry.

 “200 is another deceptive effort in an increasingly long line of deceptive efforts to roll back Amendment 64 piece by piece,” said Lord. “We expect the entire industry to continue to step up and fight these threats wherever and whenever they pop up.”

 By offering Pueblo-grown cannabis to its customers, LivWell aims to raise awareness about this important issue among its large customer base and to demonstrate solidarity with its fellow southern Colorado cannabis workers.

 

About LivWell

LivWell Enlightened Health is among Colorados largest cannabis companies, with fourteen locations across the state. LivWell provides its patients and customers with the best value, quality and variety of cannabis products including flower, topicals, tinctures, edibles, smoking accessories and more. LivWells team of innovative farmers and scientists grow more than 40 strains of cannabis to meet the varied and evolving tastes of its customers. LivWells searchable strain library can be found at http://www.livwell.com/product-category/strains/. LivWell employees undergo rigorous training and education through LivWell University, preparing them to be the most knowledgeable, helpful budtenders in the industry, and to become advocates of responsible use. LivWell employs approximately 500 Coloradans who enjoy higher-than-average salaries and benefits. For more information, including a list of LivWells locations, visit http://www.livwell.com.

Several States Voting on Legalization Measures
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By Erin Hiatt

November 8, 2016 could be the day that forever changes the trajectory of legalized marijuana in the United States and even perhaps drug policy throughout the world. Spanning California to Maine, five states have marijuana legalization on their ballots while three others will be voting on medical marijuana initiatives. True to the states-rights way, the ballot language varies and provides for different systems of regulation. What they do have in common is that an adult-use, legal market only applies to those 21-years and older.

Arizona

In Arizona, The Arizona Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act follows fairly closely the trail blazed by Colorado and is sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), an organization whose mission is to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Upon legalization, you may possess and consume cannabis and grow up to six plants. The initiative calls for a 15 percent tax on all marijuana sales that would be dedicated to education and healthcare. Arizona has had medical marijuana for six years and medical dispensaries, as part of this initiative, would be able to make the move to retail. There are several groups, including Arizonans for Mindful Regulation (a competing but defeated legalization initiative), the Arizona Republican Party, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry opposing the initiative, but many expect that it will pass.

Maine

The Maine Legalize Marijuana Initiative, or Question 1, would designate marijuana as an “agricultural product” and would lay the plant under the purview of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. Question 1 differs from other states in key ways. Like Amsterdam and Spain, Question 1 would allow for marijuana social clubs where adults may buy and consume on site. It also borrows from Washington DC’s “grow and give” model, where you may grow up to six flowering plants and keep the bounty. Question 1 has the endorsement of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and famous travel writer and marijuana enthusiast Rick Steves, who pledged to match donations to the initiative up to $50,000. Anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and local marijuana growers are opposed to Question 1, both of them fearing a takeover of the market by moneyed interests.

Massachusetts

Rick Steves, true to his traveling self, makes yet another appearance in Massachusetts, joining forces with the ACLU of Massachusetts to rally behind the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, aka Question 4. Should it pass, it would be legal to have one ounce of marijuana on your person and up to 10 ounces in your home. It also allows for a home grow of six plants and to give up to an ounce to another adult without payment. The law would create the Cannabis Control Commission that would oversee the regulations and ancillary services that go hand-in-hand with a legal market. The taxes collected from marijuana sales would go into the Marijuana Regulation Fund set-up to pay for the bill’s administration. Question 4 also provides some protections for marijuana-using adults who have minor children at home, ensuring that unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence of marijuana abuse that children will remain with their families.

Nevada

Question 2 in Nevada would allow for retail purchases and for those living more than 25 miles away from a licensed establishment permission to grow up to six plants, provided that the grow is enclosed and locked tight. The proposed 15 percent excise tax would be directed to the Department of Taxation, who would oversee all aspects of the program. Any funds in excess of those costs would go to the general fund and be designated to benefit public education. Helmed by MPP, Question 2 has wide support from local lawmakers who see it as a potential boon to the tourist industry, upon which Las Vegas in particular depends. Given its likelihood to pass, you can bet there will be more and more things happening and staying in Vegas.

California

The legalization vote that everyone, especially law enforcement and policymakers will be keeping their eye on is California. If voters mark the “yes” box on the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” (AUMA), the untamed, unregulated medical marijuana market that CA has had for the past 20-years will get broken-in at last. California is the sixth largest economy in the world, so the performance of an adult-use market there may be a harbinger of marijuana’s economic impact in other states and countries. Should voters pass the AUMA, legal marijuana will be available to more people than all four current legal states combined. Heavy hitters like former Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and the California Medical Association are backing this initiative. Drug policy reform organizations have been working with lawmakers and others to painstakingly craft an initiative that addresses the myriad aspects of drug policy reform. Of the $1 billion in projected revenue, money is allocated to medical marijuana and legalization research, DUI protocols, and financial support for the communities, largely minority, who have suffered the most from punitive drug policies. They’ve also considered small growers, including a ban on large-scale manufacture for the first five years of the program, and have allocated funds to clean-up environmental damages wrought by illegal grows. Under the AUMA, marketing to minors would be banned and rules would be laid down from the onset regarding packaging, advertising, marketing, and labeling. A 15 percent retail tax would be assessed, with some exemption for medical marijuana. The AUMA also includes hemp and paves the way for those with marijuana convictions to be resentenced and their records cleared. Among those who have voiced opposition are the California Growers Association for fear they will be gobbled up by an adult-use market. Legalization plans for CA have been in the works for a very long time and some drug policy insiders believe that this is a “make or break” moment for a legal marijuana industry. Many are predicting that the AUMA will get the “yes” box checked, but when marijuana legalization was last on the ballot in 2010, voters in the Golden State said “no, thanks.”

Medical initiatives

If all the adult-use ballot initiatives become law that will bring the tally of fully legal states to nine, ten when you add the District of Columbia. There are three states voting on medical marijuana initiatives and if they pass, the number of medical states would jump to 28. Here are the states voting on medical marijuana this fall.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, the Medical Marijuana Act, if passed, would be by far the most extensive medical marijuana program in the south. It would allow for home grows under specific conditions, create payment systems for low-income patients, and cover an incredibly broad range of conditions. All caregivers and cannabis care centers potentially operating under the proposed law would have to function as a nonprofit. A second medical marijuana initiative has also qualified for the November ballot that would allow for-profit dispensaries, but local advocates worry that both initiatives on the ballot will doom medical marijuana in Arkansas altogether. 

North Dakota

North Dakota last attempted a medical marijuana initiative in 2012, but petition efforts were invalidated when it was discovered that some University of North Dakota football players, paid to circulate the petition, forged signatures. But advocates are back this year with the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act. The measure would create a system to treat debilitating conditions and all aspects of the system would be overseen by the Department of Health and operate as nonprofit.

Florida

Florida last voted on medical marijuana in 2014 when it narrowly missed the mark, but it’s back this election cycle wiser from its previous defeat. The initiative is written for the treatment of specific diseases like cancer, epilepsy, and Crohn’s Disease, and it also would allow for doctor discretion to recommend medical marijuana for a patient with an unapproved condition. This time around the initiative makes it clear “that doctors would not be immune from malpractice claims for negligent prescribing of marijuana” and will put a cap on the number of patients a caregiver can treat.

The United States is already at the halfway mark for marijuana legalization with 25 medical states, four of which have adult-use markets. Regardless of the outcomes on the 2016 ballots, the number 25 isn’t likely to go backwards. Here lies the moment of reckoning for lawmakers to reexamine both local and federal drug policies, because legal cannabis is here to stay.

Prop 64 Could Change the Country
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by Thor Benson

 

With Oregon, Alaska, Washington state and Colorado all working out the kinks of recreational marijuana, the conversation around cannabis is changing. As we watch these states generating mountains of cash, those who were previously skeptical about legalizing marijuana are starting to change their tune. Now let's imagine if the most populous state in the country did the same.

 

“The size of California in terms of population and the potential market dwarfs the other states thus far,” Tamar Todd, the director of the office of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told THC Magazine.  “It will certainly influence the national conversation and resulting federal and international policy.”

 

California has over 38 million people. Colorado and Washington have 5 and 7 million people respectively. If those states with populations that small can alter the national conversation, it's hard to even fathom how much California legalizing would change the game. Prop. 64, the initiative that would legalize marijuana in California, will be voted on in November. Full disclosure: I'm voting for it.

 

“It’s hard to overstate the impact of California’s probable legalization of marijuana this November,” Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority, told THC Magazine. “I’ll put it this way: The state is represented by 53 members of the U.S. House, a body in which we very narrowly lost a vote last year that would prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state marijuana legalization laws. If we flip just nine votes next time, we win."

 

California has more representatives than any other state, and most of them are Democrats. The Democratic Party's platform now includes language about supporting a “pathway to legalization” for marijuana, so California legalizing could be a major step forward in that process.

 

Does prop. 64 contain flaws? Yes, every law does. Some are worried about if it protects individual liberties enough or if it's too pro-business, but the fact of the matter is that California could legalize marijuana in November, and that's a huge deal. Laws can always be reformed.

 

“Prop. 64 is written to benefit the people of California,” Todd said. “It prevents the unnecessary criminalization of tens of thousands of Californians, it allows people to reduce or remove prior marijuana convictions from their records opening up opportunity to housing, employment, and schooling, it will raise a billion dollars in new revenue to be spent on environmental protection, youth prevention and treatment, and community re-investment.”

 

Todd said there are definitely some good things in the law. “The California initiative also includes a number of elements aimed at reducing criminalization, providing for reparative justice, and protecting youth and public health that will set a new standard for other states to follow,” he said.

 

With states like Colorado raking in around $1 billion per year in marijuana sales, you can imagine California's marijuana revenue would be incredible. The amount of money it could inject into the state's economy is hard to imagine. Some estimate the state has a $7 billion marijuana market waiting to be tapped.

 

“Prop. 64 is written to benefit the people of California,” Todd said. “It prevents the unnecessary criminalization of tens of thousands of Californians, it allows people to reduce or remove prior marijuana convictions from their records opening up opportunity to housing, employment, and schooling, it will raise a billion dollars in new revenue to be spent on environmental protection, youth prevention and treatment, and community re-investment.”

 

That said, the United States has still not faced the issue of how to handle the money marijuana businesses make. Since marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, major banks won't take deposits from marijuana businesses, so that means California's theoretical legal marijuana market could involve billions of dollars that can't find its way into the banking system.

 

Furthermore, the tax code still doesn't know what to do with the marijuana industry. Because of an old piece of legislation from the 1980s that was meant to prevent drug dealers from writing off business expenses, many expenses a normal business would write off at the end of the year cannot be written off by marijuana businesses, so they end up paying exorbitant tax rates. Until Congress does something about that, California businesses may get stuck with a huge bill from the government.

 

The latest polls show over 60 percent of Californians support legalizing marijuana in November, so it looks likely to pass. California has always been a leader in American culture and cultures around the world, so this could be the state's chance to lead the charge again. Once California joins the recreational marijuana movement, it doesn't seem like it will take long before the whole country is on board.

NO MEANS NO: Prohibition in Pueblo
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By Jennifer Knight

Pueblo County may not be on the top-three list of famous cannabis-growing spots in the United States, but it does stand to lose a large number of tightly run businesses if a measure there being pushed by the group Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo is enacted by voters this November. Ballot question 200 would ban all adult-use retail, testing and grow facilities in Pueblo County, while question 300 would do the same for the city of Pueblo itself.

Roughly 1,300 members of the active marijuana workforce including the employees of twenty-one retail licensees, one hundred-twenty cultivators, and twenty-three MIP (Marijuana-infused Product) licensees will be negatively impacted if voters choose to ban retail marijuana establishments in Pueblo County.

“If things go well, then everything will remain the same. If things go badly, what the opposition has put on the ballot is a request for the closing of all retail cannabis facilities in the county of Pueblo which would be about 180 licenses that would have to be given up by October of 2017 - every retail business in the county, over 180 businesses, would be closed,” says Bob Degabrielle, chairman of the group Growing Pueblo’s Future, which was formed to opposed the measure. In addition to chairing the group, Degabrielle is a partner at Los Sueños Farms, a 36-acre cannabis farm in Pueblo County that would be shuttered if question 200 is approved, leaving the farm’s roughly 90 employees out of work.   

Pueblo typically ranks as one of the most impoverished areas in the state, and since the passage of Amendment 64, the county has seemingly embraced the legal cannabis industry as a means of replacing the steel industry that once thrived there. Favorable regulations and a conducive climate have allowed for businesses like Los Sueños. Colorado State University is in the process of creating the  preeminent cannabis research center in the country at its Pueblo campus, and high school graduates in the county receive an automatic $1,000 scholarship to attend either of the colleges there, funded entirely by cannabis taxes. Passage of these two ballot questions could mean an end to all of this, as well as an end to the associated economic activity that comes from ancillary businesses working with but not directly involved in the cannabis industry.       

“Think of the harm that would happen if that many businesses just up and disappeared,” says Chris Lindsey, Senior Legislative Council with the Marijuana Policy Project. “I mean, you’ve got leases, you’ve got contracts for equipment, you’ve got a lot of money that keeps coming into the system. For all that to stop, that would be bad. Bans don’t work. We know that banning fails. We tried that for decades. The solution is not to ban everybody. The solution is better regulation, and Colorado is leading the way on that. Other states are learning from what they’re doing. And that’s a good position for a state to be in and I think the community ought to work on it.”

“In Colorado, virtually all counties have three commissioners and they’re each elected county-wide. You just have to live in your commissioner district, so I roughly have 160,000 people in Pueblo,”says Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who supports the legitimate and fully-regulated local marijuana industry. Because of the dual ballot questions, voters in the city will be making the decision on adult-use cannabis twice. “Your voice will be heard on 200 and 300. Question 200 is a ban for the county, but all city residents are also residents of the county. Question 300 is a ban in the city,” says Pace.

So in effect, the voice of a private citizen from within Pueblo’s city limits may or may not carry a bit louder than a county-only voice. A “no” vote means no prohibition and a “yes” vote equals prohibition.

Dan Corsentino is a former sheriff in Pueblo County, elected for seventeen years, and a former Chief of Police in Fountain, Colorado, he currently provides security and private investigation services. Recently, Corsentino was head of security for an event called Bands in the Backyard, where he led a team of more than 100 security professionals and walked something like 12 miles over the course of one day. He awoke the next day unable to walk, until he tried a non-psychoactive CBD ointment, which was introduced by his significant other. Two hours later, he was walking. “I believe [the cannabis industry] is the best regulated industry there is right now anywhere. They’re much better regulated than liquor. They’re almost equal to the lottery in the state of Colorado. The only thing we’re missing in this industry is the banking industry, and the feds need to wake up and alleviate some of those concerns. My position is very strong. Cannabis is here to stay and if Pueblo voters decide to opt out [of legalization] they’re really positioning themselves for an extremely myopic perspective on the whole industry as it’s starting to explode nationwide,” he tells THC.

"Cannabis has been an economic driver to our community, including $25 million worth of construction expenditures in the last two years accounting for 40 percent of all construction permits in the city and county combined. It's employing 1,300 people and it's providing tax revenue for a number of really important, innovative programs like college scholarships for local kids to attend one of our two colleges, funding for medical marijuana research, and the creation of the Cannabis Studies Institute at Colorado State University, Pueblo. I'm of the opinion that people didn't start using cannabis with Amendment 64, we simply created a mechanism for researching, regulation, taxing, and testing that previously did not exist," says Pace.

 Writer bio as follows:

Jennifer F. Knight (http://bathtubjenn.com) is a Colorado-based gonzo journalist, podcaster, and part-time editorial consultant. She studied Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (for approximately 90 days) where she inadvertently became hooked on literature, music, comedy, weed, freedom and the American dream. Jennifer is also an ordained Dudeist priest. Knight can be reached by talk, text, email, or astral projection. She prefers astral projection.

Planning the Cannabis Industry: An interview with NCIA’s Event Planner Extraodinaire, Brooke Gilbert
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by DJ Reetz

In a small office across the street from the state capitol building, the National Cannabis Industry Association is hard at work advocating for the cannabis industry. From humble beginnings in the early days of the legal market in Colorado, the group has grown, now operating a lobbying arm in Washington D.C. in addition to its office in Denver. Part of that growth is seen in the roughly 50 events the group hosts every year, aimed at educating the public and connecting cannabis hopefuls with the opportunities for them to thrive. Organizing these events is no small task, and at NCIA’s Denver office, that challenge is met by Director of Events and Education Brooke Gilbert.

Gilbert began her work with the NCIA in 2013. At the time, she was only the third full-time staff member hired on at the non-profit, bringing with her several years of experience in the advocacy world.

For 28-year-old Gilbert, who has spent the entirety of her professional career in the world of drug policy reform and advocacy, the journey began in college, when a traffic stop forced her to confront the harsh realities of the war on drugs. “The police officer told me that he smelled marijuana in the car, said that he was going to perform a search. I was naive and scarred at the time and allowed him to do that. He found parts of a broken bowl in my car that had resin on it, and I got arrested for that,” says Gilbert.

The stop lead to a year of probation, but more importantly a more personal understanding of the war on drugs. “I really, you know, kinda went through the system; But at the same time, because I’m white and privileged and rich and in college, I saw the very, kind of, easier side of getting arrested for cannabis possession. So that kind of opened my eyes to how ridiculous drug policies in our country are.”

The ordeal, and the understanding gained from it, led Gilbert to Students for Sensible Drug Policy and a newfound purpose in life. “Once I saw how terrible the drug war really was, I switched my major to public policy and administration and just sort of dedicated myself to changing these failed policies,” she says. “It really just opened my eyes to this bigger movement that was going on.”

At SSDP, Gilbert’s passion for live music steered her toward the AMPLIFY project. “Basically the program was partnering with live musicians who travel around the country that agreed that the war on drugs was a failure and would let volunteers come and set up at their shows to talk to attendees about what local initiatives might be going on, how they can get involved in the broader drug policy reform debate, but then also it obviously touched on drug use that was going on at these shows,” says Gilbert.

From there, the next logical extension for Gilbert was joining DanceSafe, a non-profit organization that educates concert goers with a focus on harm reduction. Part of DanceSafe’s mission involves testing drugs at concerts for purity, as well as fact-based education on the effects of drug use. The mission appealed to Gilbert, whose passion for live music still draws her to dozens of concerts each year, and after a year of volunteering with the organization she found herself on DanceSafe’s board of directors. “I saw it as a very effective means of harm reduction for what I was seeing happen in the music community,” she says. “It was interesting when cannabis became legalized here in Colorado, especially from a harm reduction perspective, because people would come in from out of town, not be educated with concentrates, infused products, edibles, that sort of thing, and so DanceSafe was actually seeing these types of people have bad experiences at shows.”

Gilbert’s resume also includes a stint as the outreach and events coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, where she helped to organize the group’s first ever national conference. These days, She’s staying busy with the ever-increasing number of events that NCIA puts on, including the third annual Cannabis Business Summit that took place in Oakland last June and NCIA’s quarterly cannabis caucuses that take place all over the country. The advance of cannabis legalization has grown the need for NCIA’s services, and the number of events the group puts on has doubled over the past year. With the changing attitudes, the challenge of hosting cannabis-centric events in non-legal states is starting to lessen, says Gilbert, and the work being done at the NCIA is helping with that.

“The stigma is starting to die away,” she says. “Places like Florida, they definitely are like, ‘Well, can you tell me more about this event? There’s cannabis in the name, is anyone going to be  smoking?’ those sort of questions. We’ve done enough events at this point that we’ve put together a portfolio so that we can show that to event venues that might be a little cautious about working with us, because it is something that we get somewhat frequently.”

While the stigmas attached to cannabis are slowly rolling back thanks in part to groups like NCIA, Gilbert still sees work that needs to be done to quell the harm done in the broader war on drugs. “If you saw the failure of cannabis prohibition systemically… I think those arguments can definitely be made for other drugs,” she says. “It does behoove us to be involved in the larger conversation around other drugs.”

The cannabis industry is in full bloom, attracting progressively minded entrepreneurs, but Gilbert’s time working on harm reduction strategies still lingers in her mind, and she says it’s important to recognize that socially harmful policies still exist in this country. “I think there’s a lot of people here that are in the industry now that didn’t come from the social justice background of it,” she says. “What I think is important for organizations like us, and to continue to partner with organizations like [the Drug Policy Alliance] and [the Marijuana Policy Project] and SSDP, who work in the broader drug policy reform debate, is how we can infuse those messages so that we’re kind of this umbrella bringing in these people who might not necessarily see the social justice benefits of
ending the drug war … That’s a responsibility that we have as an advocacy group for sure.”

For information on NCIA’s upcoming events, including the inaugural Seed to Sale Show, which will take place in at the Denver Convention Center January 31 to February 1, visit thecannabisindustry.org/events.

NCIA Lobby Days: Positive Change for Marijuana on the Federal Level
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by Evan Hundhausen, all photos courtesy of Cannabis Camera

Michelle Rutter, photo by Cannabis Camera

Michelle Rutter, photo by Cannabis Camera

This year was the sixth annual NCIA Cannabis Industry Lobby Days, where over 150 cannabis professionals, from all over the country, flew out to D.C. to talk to Congress members on May 12 and 13.

Michelle Rutter, the government relations coordinator for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) in Washington, spoke to THC Mag about the event.

“Every year, we extend an invite to all of our members to come out to Washington DC to lobby congress on the main two issues NCIA focuses on, which is the banking and the tax issue,” Rutter says. “There were over 200 scheduled meetings with hill offices that people went and sat down and had, and then we did over 175 drop-in meetings, so we ended up touching about two thirds of Congress over the two days.”

The role of the attendees at lobby days is to be a resource and an educator on Capitol Hill. Rutter and her boss, Michael Correia, the director of government relations at NCIA, put together training webinars for attendees to help prepare them for talking to members of congress and their staff, who for the most part are not well versed in the cannabis industry.

“Some of these members of congress are from medical marijuana states, some of them are from states that have nothing, so a lot of them don’t hear from people who actually deal with cannabis,” Rutter comments. “A lot of it, I think, is just them (Congress) learning and absorbing, and then being able to follow up … about next steps.”

On the morning of the first lobby day there was a breakfast, a training session, a group photo and then a press conference. Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, spoke about the unfairness of 280e and how congress needs to “fix” it. The rest of the afternoon and following day were spent lobbying congress.

Six members of Congress attended the breakfast and seven members attended an evening reception. Representatives who attended included Rep. Earl Blumenaur of Oregon, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, Rep. Denny Heck of Washington, Rep. Diana Degette of Colorado, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida, and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

According to NCIA, this year’s lobby days were the largest and most influential in history. “We did see a slight up tick in a couple of co-sponsorships on some of our bills after lobby days, so that was very powerful obviously to show people that their efforts have tangible results here.”

Rutter says her job is different every day, and it has a lot to do with what’s going on legislatively throughout the year. Right now, Rutter and her office are focusing on appropriation season.

“It’s just been a lot of outreach to offices that we think may be swing offices that we can get on our side to vote ‘yes’ on our amendments,” says Rutter. “Last week, I was at a fundraiser with Ed Perlmutter from Colorado, who’s a sponsor of our banking bill in the house.”

“We have an amendment on the VA, we have an amendment on medical marijuana, we have an amendment on adult use marijuana, and we have an amendment on CBD and an amendment on hemp, and these could be coming up in the next month,” says Rutter.

In Rutter’s opinion, one of the most important things NCIA has done was pushing for the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds in arresting or prosecuting medical marijuana patients or providers that are in compliance with state law.

“We (NCIA) are the only unified voice for the cannabis industry and its businesses on the federal level and I say ‘on the federal level’ being the key words there.”

Rutter says a presence in Washington is vital for business owners in the cannabis industry. To illustrate hardships faced by cannabis businesses, she tells a story about a friend of hers who showed up at the IRS building in Denver on tax day carrying a duffel bag full of cash. She was forced to park in the fire lane because she was deemed a “liability” due to all the cash she had on her, and was escorted into the premises by IRS security.

Currently, the IRS and 280e forces marijuana businesses to pay taxes in cash unless they are lucky enough to do business with a bank and have a checkbook. To add insult to injury, they are charged a six percent penalty for paying their taxes in cash. Unfortunately, few banks work with marijuana businesses. Rutter commented that banks are “risk averse,” and they take a risk by giving marijuana businesses a bank account.

NCIA holds events all over the country for their members. If you are ever in the D.C. area, Rutter says her office would be happy to give a tour of the NCIA facilities. To learn more about NCIA or to become a member check out their website at thecannabisindustry.org

Perceptions of the Cannabis Industry in Denver: One of the founders of Denver Relief talks about what led the city to cap marijuana businesses.
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by Matthew Van Deventer

Kayvan Khalatbari

Kayvan Khalatbari

Kayvan Khalatbari is the owner and founder of Denver Relief, one of the city’s oldest dispensaries, which expanded into Denver Relief Consulting, and which works with fledgling dispensaries across the country. He is also the owner and founder of Sexy Pizza and Sexpot Comedy.

He is known for chasing, then Mayor, John Hickenlooper around in a chicken suit, pressing him on marijuana reform. In 2014, he made an unsuccessful run at an at-large city council seat. Khalatbari has been a marijuana advocate for over a decade, and along with Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) campaigned for its legalization. After an April 11 City Council hearing on a bill that will significantly restrict Denver’s marijuana market in an effort to curb over-saturation, Khalatbari took to Facebook to call the industry out on its lack of community outreach, which he says is the inspiration behind the bill. He sat down with The Hemp Connoisseur to talk about what the industry did wrong, who’s doing good, and what Denver Relief Consulting is doing to make it right.

THC: I saw your post on Facebook about the council bill. I wanted to hear more about what you thought about it. They want to put a cap on locations and curb the saturation.

Kayvan: The saturation was created way back when. This is seven years ago, when Denver Relief started or shortly thereafter when these medical regulations came into place. We were required to find our location, get the lease in place with the verbiage that says they understand the kind of business we’re in—just finding landlords back then was not easy. So you found these places get pushed to these less desirable neighborhoods, to these industrial neighborhoods, where we’re having these “issues” right now. So we’re there because essentially the real estate market and the city pushed us into these places a long time ago, and now we’re having to deal with the repercussions.

My comments on Facebook were primarily related to, as this industry gets larger and more corporate and consolidates as we see these big brands pop up like LivWell and Tru Cannabis and Strainwise … and some of these places that have 15-20 stores, there just doesn’t seem to be that focus on advocacy on a community level; things that Denver Relief has done with the Green Team to reach out to the community for seven years now. What are our deficiencies in our mile radius around us and what can we do to create a benefit there? Even if we’re not solving that problem, just to have your neighbors see you out there doing something positive—is it going to solve the problem that we’re dealing with? Is it going to change council’s minds and everybody in the neighborhood’s
mind? No. But you are going to have some people on your side if you do that. You are going to garner favor over time and we’ve shown that with the Green Team.

Just the fact that the cannabis industry today doesn’t do any of that kind of outreach I think is a little sad. It’s gotten far too corporate. This is an industry that grew from the efforts of advocates. There were people that—such as myself, Mason Tvert, Steve Fox, Brian Vicente, Evan Ackerfield, Jordan Dietrich, there’s so many advocates that did this for no money for so long to put us in a position to be here and it really occurred through having transparent discussions with politicians, with our community members, and with other members of the industry. And as this industry’s gotten more corporatized, we’ve seen these discussions go behind closed doors. And they have happen through lobbyists … it creates a very cold perception of the industry and it’s misinterpreted by the community.

I’m not saying they’re bad players, that they’re ill-intentioned. They may be the most well-intending people in the industry, but they’re certainly not showing their communities that they are. And when, I think it was Councilman Lopez, got up and said “all you industry people got up here and spoke, not one of you mentioned community integration plan or environmental plan or anything like that”. And it’s my understanding that there were other people in the audience that wanted to speak, but because there were so many people they did a lottery. And it just so happened supposedly, that none of the people that wanted to speak to community/environment issues had the opportunity to speak. So that was an issue. But still, the fact that—I don’t know how many people got up to speak, I think it was ten on the behalf of the industry — nobody fucking spoke of these issues. And when the concerns that you’re hearing are from the community, complaining to city council members who are bringing this to our doorstep, when no one even references that, I think that’s really sad.”

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Green Team volunteers fixing bicycles at Denver Relief

What were they speaking about?

Money. This is going to ruin my business. This is going to make me move my business and cost me millions of dollars. Do you think the neighbors or city council gives a shit about that? I know that not everybody in this industry is making gobs of money. [Denver Relief is] a small shop and we’re not. We’re a mom and pop getting pushed by these low prices from consolidated businesses. But I’ll tell you what, there are people making gobs of money in this industry and the fact they’re not participating in this kind of perception shift and this kind of community outreach work, it’s appalling. They’re creating their own disservice if you ask me, or at least contributing to it. So the inaction of not reaching out to the community has created this stalemate to deal with. All they care about is money. And even if they don’t, that’s the perception that they’ve created is that all they care about is money. And you’re not going to get any favors from city council or your neighbors if that’s your only concern visibly to them.

So you would like to see these larger companies reaching out to the communities asking, what can we do for you in your neighborhood?

I’ve seen LivWell sponsor a highway — congradufuckinglations, you cut a check. Why not take that money and actually incorporate it into Elyria-Swansea neighborhood or Cole or Wittier or Five Points, and help them get fresh fruit or produce or help contribute to the homeless situation positively or do something that these neighborhoods actually need instead of just cutting a check and putting up a sign and saying, ‘we did our part.’ That’s the corporate mentality the cannabis industry was not built on, and I was hoping that this industry could have retained its soul a little bit longer, but it seems to be having a very difficult time understanding that because of the people at the top of theses businesses nowadays, especially LivWell, are giant corporate establishments that
have never participated in cannabis. They don’t get what it means to be an advocate, and they don’t get what people have done for the last two decades in Colorado to put us in the position to be here to give them the opportunity to make their gobs of money. That’s what gets me feisty and aggressive on this issue. It’s the fact that they’re essentially taking their opportunity on the backs of folks like myself and other advocates that have worked really hard the last decade plus in Colorado.

This proposal that they’re running through council, do you think that it will help curb over-saturation? Do you think that’s something needed right now?

I don’t think over-saturation itself is an issue, and I don’t think that they would even be discussing it. Again, I don’t think our neighbors would be complaining about it if they understood these cannabis businesses to be [run by] good people. These businesses don’t have a face anymore; these people don’t get out there and—take breweries for instance. We sit in the mayor’s office meetings that the industry gets invited to once a month to discuss odor control and things like that. On the odor control plan they’re having any industry that has complaints about odor, so like food processing for pet food and some other industrial practices, and cannabis is on that list as well. Breweries stink as much as anything else, honesty … The smell of hops fermenting is grosser than cannabis in my opinion. That wasn’t on this list. I wrote the mayor’s office, replied and asked why aren’t breweries on that list, can we add that? And all I heard back was,that’s a great suggestion, however, no one is complaining about it so it’s not an issue.”

To me it’s more noxious. One, breweries do have a better perception in the communities because they do do outreach, they fund these walks, or non-profit organizations, they do do fundraisers in their place, they bring in comedy shows and live music and engage their communities. Therefore they don’t have that issue. And I think that’s a perfect example of it. [Alcohol is] a vice that actually kills people, that actually puts a large detriment on our society, and they don’t have any issues because they engage their community. Granted they’re more established, more tenured, people have had more time to get used to the fact that they’re there. But, they don’t have issues because they engage and because they approach it differently than lobbying behind closed doors and making it a secret game of protectionism, which is what the cannabis industry is doing right now. That’s my main issue with some of these big places. The Marijuana Industry Group is a perfect example of this. They’re the Wal-Mart representation of this industry and all they care about is lobbying and protecting their businesses. They could give two shits about the furtherance of the industry here, to make a fair game for businesses of all sizes—they don’t care. They’re there to protect their interests and to keep making more money and expanding their interests and that’s a problem.

Do you see this changing anytime soon?

Nope, I don’t. I see more consolidation happening. I see these brands getting bigger. But that’s something I’m excited about with Denver Relief Consulting. Emmett [Reistroffer] in our office here recently took over the head policy consultant title. We are creating a plan right now, outside of these groups and these issues, for their neighborhoods that they operate in that’s going to hopefully bring together stakeholders in those neighborhoods, that’s going to bring together City Council and that’s going to bring together industry that wants to participate with us. 

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Green Team volunteers cleaning up after the 420 Rally

We’re going to sit down and ask, ‘what are your deficiencies and what can the cannabis industry do to improve them?’ Let’s do audits on these facilities with regard to security and odor mitigation. Do they have to act on this? No, I can’t make the cannabis industry do anything. But I can make recommendations. With our Green Team we can do tree planting and neighborhood gentrification, we can help redistribute fresh produce, fruit and vegetables to these neighborhoods and help engage these no-cost grocery programs, which we’re already doing with Growhaus and Denver Food Rescue. We can help develop college scholarship programs for under-served youth in those areas. We can do food, coat, clothing, hygiene product collection drives that we’re already doing in our neighborhood; we can take those there. And whether we get the industry’s buy in or not on that, Denver Relief Consulting is going to push that agenda and make those things happen.

We’ve sent a letter to Council member Lopez yesterday just stating that we were just as appalled as he was to not hear anybody say that the cannabis industry cares about these issues and told him that a longer plan or proposal was forthcoming that we were going to send to the entire council in an effort to engage [council and community leaders] proactively, productively. I want to talk to the loudest, most pessimistic person on cannabis in those neighborhoods and find out truly what they’re concerned about. And I want to work on behalf of the cannabis industry—again, whether they want to participate or not—in finding resolve in those issues and if that comes from cannabis money, if it comes from cannabis companies organizing volunteers or other resources, we’re
going to do that.

You want to go forward with this outreach with or without the support of the cannabis industry. Will that cause tension, head-butting or issues within the industry and with your business?

I hope so. If they’re upset with me for being a good steward of this industry, of our communities, then fuck them is honestly how I feel about it. There are people in this industry like myself, not just in Colorado but on a national level—Amanda Reiman with Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is a perfect example of this in Berkley. She initially was the community outreach director for Berkley Patients Group. Berkley Patients Group is the oldest dispensary in the world and, the basis for Denver Relief. We created our foundation on their model. They’ve been threatened to be kicked out by the feds, by the state, by landlords, by everybody. Their community came to their side and said, “No, we want them here. They’re good for our community, they provide jobs, they create a safe neighborhood, they donate to our schools, they do all this stuff.” The community fought for them. That’s not happening here because our industry doesn’t do it and that’s unfortunate.GT

So Amanda Reiman is leading this project that I’m very excited about, highlighting businesses in the cannabis industry that are doing good. Now, maybe that is just cutting a check, but it’s not cutting a check for a fucking highway and putting a sign up. It’s, let’s pay for air-conditioning for the school and let’s actually do something that creates a value for the people that live in these neighborhoods. And she’s going to start highlighting these companies. If it’s shaming, great. They’re going to shame other business into wanting to do good, because now we’re looking at it, not
just doing the right thing and dealing with the safety of our businesses, but creating a marketing opportunity in that. And if you’re a cannabis business that’s perceived as doing better, of doing well, of having good intentions, of having a personality and a face, that’s a great marketing opportunity for what is turning into a faceless industry.

You said Denver Relief runs the Green Team. Is that a big part of its community outreach?

Yup! Seven years we’ve been doing it. [At] Ekar Farm, we had as many as 70 or 80 volunteers at certain events. Ekar Farm is one of the largest urban farms in America. They’re down on Alameda and Monaco. We’ve been doing events down there for five years. We go down there and do planting; we’ve helped build hoop houses for them, weeding, harvesting. I think they donated like 15,000 pounds of organic vegetables last year to local food pantries. We do our free bicycle/wheelchair repair clinics out in the courtyard every month in the spring, summer and fall months. We’ve been doing that for six years. We do the perpetual food, coat, clothing drives downstairs, we’ve helped coordinate volunteers for needle exchanges with the Harm Reduction Action Center, we’re doing trash clean-up that’s being put on by Harm Reduction Action Center that’s being done up and down Colfax.10518577_800918356637878_1024159532968674101_o

We’re trained in naloxone administration, which is to kill an opiate overdose essentially. It stops the receptors from taking in those opiates and allows people that are overdosing to live. Melissa, who sits at our front desk, her boyfriend actually saved someone just a few months ago using that. We’ve been doing these things for so long and that was one of the first priorities as a cannabis business, it’s in our first meeting agenda, that we want to change the perception of cannabis. We want to create a benefit for our community because we knew that people did not view cannabis positively and that is was viewed as just another drug, and we’ve always been under the mindset that it’s not. It is a medicine, but it’s also a safer recreational drug than what a lot of people choose to use. And we just want to show folks—as much as I hate the word—that we’re normal, that our business tactics are normal, that we’re good people. And we’re actually probably doing more than most businesses, cannabis or non, in the city, with just reaching out and developing these grassroots efforts.

Who are those other players like yourself or Reiman that are positive players in the cannabis industry here?

Vicente Sederberg, is a law firm, does pretty well. They’re about as connected within our regulatory department on the state and local levels as anybody; they’re very engaged in the community. Brian Vicente was one of the guys that got me into cannabis a decade plus ago with Sensible Colorado. They’re in it for the right reasons. But they manage to balance being great at business, and furthering big business, with being advocates and understanding what got us here in the first place and not just thinking about cannabis policy but drug policy at large. They push very hard for that. They’ve done that with Harm Reduction Action Center especially. They host endless amounts of fundraisers for policy and advocacy groups and homeless organizations. They’re true advocates. So they’re not operators in the industry, but they work with plenty of operators. Walking Raven collaborates on all of our Green Team stuff; they’ve done that for several years. These are the people that have participated with us in the past: Cannabis Camera and Kim Sidwell; Craft 710, a concentrate company; Gia’s Garden; Green Dot Labs, another concentrate company; Incredibles; MassRoots; TerpX; The Farm and Walking Raven and The Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, have all been sponsors of the Green Team in the past and pushed these efforts out there. MMC Depot on the packaging side. But not a lot of cannabis industry participants, very few people. The Clinic, although members of that Marijuana Industry Group, do well at raising funds for MS as well, which should be applauded.

Green Team Volunteers at EKAR Farms in Denver, Colorado

Green Team Volunteers at EKAR Farms in Denver, Colorado

On the topic of the Green Team, this has probably been the most disgusting thing I’ve been a part of in this industry. The Green Team started six years ago…, seven years ago at the 4/20 rally. We went down there and organized volunteers. We all had our Green Team shirts on with compostable trash bags to pick up trash all day because Civic Center Park when that 4/20 rally is over, it’s a fucking mess. And how does that look for the cannabis industry? So we would go and participate in that but we haven’t for the past couple of years, because I think it was Frosted Leaf, they wouldn’t let us coordinate volunteers and let us pick up trash unless it said “Frosted Relief Green Team”. That’s how fucking corporate this has gotten. That’s the kind of gross thing that’s happening in the cannabis industry right now, people just care more about themselves than doing the right thing and continuing this industry as something different and unique—that’s just sad. 

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