Business

Kickin' it Old School: An Interview with Chris Jetter
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by DJ Reetz

With his long blond hair flowing over his shoulders, Chris Jetter doesn’t look like he belongs at a meeting in a government building. He looks like the guy you would have bought weed from in high school, a guy who’s proud of his sick van (he is, and it is a sick van) or the dude who would randomly pass you a joint at a Metallica concert even though you’ve never met him before. It’s early March, and Jetter is the last person to arrive at the first meeting of the advisory committee convened to help shape the social cannabis use regulations approved by voters in Denver. Sitting at a configuration of tables is a quorum of business owners, activist, neighborhood representatives and city officials called together to discuss what this groundbreaking program will look like. It’s standing room only by the time Jetter arrives, with a crowd of concerned citizens filling every seat in the meeting room, eager to give comments on the program. At glance, one thing is apparent, even in this room packed with those eager to consume cannabis in public, Jetter smokes more weed than any of them.

“Legalization is a complete fucking joke.”

But while some of these folks are nervous to give testimony at what is perhaps their first time stepping into the public arena to support sensible cannabis policies, for Jetter this is tritely familiar. He’s carrying a bundle of dog-eared papers containing copies of current adult-use cannabis regulations, medical cannabis regulations, current regulations surrounding the sale of alcohol for comparison against the two, a copy of Colorado’s constitutional Amendment 64 subsection 3, copies of the charging documents from the last time he tried to establish a cannabis club in Denver almost two years prior, and various other documents that he will eagerly spread in front of any bewildered law maker that hasn’t given the same amount of attention to the issue that he has.

 

When he speaks, he does so with an energetic twinge of scattered neurosis, like someone who’s seen the inside of some vast conspiracy and wants desperately for others to believe him. It’s a flood of information that pours out, veering between a lawyerly assessment of the state constitution and an accusatory diatribe about the will of the voters. His impassioned speech rambles on until the meetings organizers are forced to remind him of his time limit.

 

This isn’t Jetter’s first appearance at an event like this. In fact, you can frequently find him at policy hearings, both state and local, that concern cannabis use or cultivation. It’s part of his long-standing commitment to the plant he loves, and the liberties that he’s been denied because of his affections for it.   

 

“I’m not an activist and I’m not a lawyer,” says Jetter, speaking later at his grow op in Aurora. “I play ‘em on Facebook and in real life because [the government is] all up in my space.”

Blue Mountains Van ("sick van" mentioned above)

Sitting alone in his facility, Jetter’s old-school aesthetic is on full display as he diligently trims buds for extraction, pushing waste through a hole cut in the middle of the table. The only noticeable differentiation between this process and that of an underground grow are the RFID tags he attaches to each bag of trimmed cannabis. His brand, Blue Mountains, produces only four strains — Sour Diesel, Flo, Durban Poison and Bruce Banner — all of which he has been growing more than 17 years; well before he ever made his first foray into the legal market. In the grow, classical music plays for the plants.

 

The company currently operates as a licensed adult-use wholesale provider, but it started life as a non-profit co-op in the decidedly unregulated space of the reimbursement model. In those days, one could find the Blue Mountains bus cruising around to various cannabis-related events in Colorado, offering dabs to anyone with proof of age.  The collective sprang up in early 2013, shortly after the passage of Amendment 64, quickly drawing the attention of the public. In May of that year, Blue Mountains was featured in an exposé published by The Denver Post titled “Colorado Pot Collectives Test Limits of Amendment 64,” which was accompanied by an image of Jetter hitting a dab. The article also featured comments from Tom Gorman, the director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a multi-state law enforcement organization operating under federal jurisdiction, who questioned the validity and motivation of co-ops like Jetter’s. “Why would you do that if it’s not for money?” Gorman questioned in the Post’s article. “Are they so thrilled with marijuana and think it’s such a great thing that it’s their responsibility to offer it as cheap as possible? Why would you go through all the trouble for no profit at all?”  

 

For Jetter, the answer to this question is rooted in a passion for cannabis that stretches back decades. Growing up in Colorado, he was sent to military school after getting caught smoking weed, where he would again run into trouble for cannabis use.

 

Thus began Jetter’s struggle: to use cannabis as though it were legal. It’s a struggle that has continued to define his life, even in the current era; an era in which, as he bluntly puts it, “Legalization is a complete fucking joke.”

 

In 1992, recently out of high school, Jetter began making bongs, a trade that would lead him to the underground cannabis celebration held in the hills of Colorado known as Bong-a-thon. In 1999, Jetter Glass provided the trophies for the competitive smoke-out that gives the event its name. After the party was raided by the Larimer County Sherriff’s office, a lengthy investigation led them to Jetter’s home studio, where a team of heavily armed SWAT officers would smash down the door and destroy all the glass they found inside. Jetter claims the police evidence log listed only $13,000 of the $15,000 in cash the police took from his home that day, as well as two fewer ounces of marijuana than what he claims was taken.

 

By the mid oughts, the Bush administration’s crackdown on paraphernalia sellers in the form of Operation Pipe Dreams brought the online glass directory he had been managing to a screeching halt, but Jetter continued to blow glass under the guise of custom gearshift knobs. He’s not shy of acknowledging hat even after his run in with the law he continued to ply the craft of growing cannabis. 

 

In 2009, after Obama took office and Attorney General Eric Holder made his intentions known not to pursue state-legal cannabis activity, Jetter was among the first to open as dispensary in Colorado. He reflects fondly on those days, when home growers could drop off their own product to be sold, before the tight regulations that mark the modern industry. This time period wasn’t without it’s own hazards though, and in 2010 an errant burglar alarm brought the Adams County police to his grow, which, despite providing officers at the scene with all the relevant paper work, would lead to a felony drug charge.

 

Thus, Jetter found himself once again thrown into the criminal justice system, and although the charges would eventually be dropped, the experience left a sour taste in his mouth. Around this time, unbeknownst to Jetter, his mother and business partner had negotiated the sale of the dispensary to one of the larger chains that was moving to consolidate the burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Not long after the sale of the majority interest, Jetter was handed a pink slip, his time in the medical marijuana business brought to an unpleasant end. In the more than five years since, he hasn’t spoken to his mother; something he says he never would have expected when he entered the industry.

 

When Amendment 64 was introduced in 2012, Jetter’s love of cannabis goaded him forward once more. The promise of the government finally treating cannabis like alcohol spurred Jetter into the public arena, where he helped to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

 

When the measure passed, he quickly moved to set up Blue Mountains, and by August of 2013, the co-op was up and running, delivering cannabis to members and providing free dabs at events. The battle seemed to have been won, but for Jetter, the war was still being fought.

 

“When we passed Amendment 64, a lot of the people and even myself, thought that the drug war was over, victory was at hand and we could go out and party,” he says.

 

Instead, what followed was a disheartening slog through regulation guided by people that didn’t necessarily have the best intentions of cannabis consumers at heart as Jetter saw it. While the intention of the amendment was to treat cannabis like alcohol, regulations around the plant quickly began to more closely resemble those of medical marijuana, and Jetter was baffled when the liquor board wasn’t consulted at all.

 

Once again, Jetter found himself as the outsider, testing the limits of the law and the tolerances of those tasked with enforcing it. As the rules began taking shape, there seemed to be little room for people like him, who just wanted to treat cannabis as if it weren’t a dangerous substance in need of the highest levels of control.

Bruce Banner Live Resin

It wasn’t long before the glaring issue of public consumption reared its head. Voters had chosen to enact cannabis legalization, but local governments in Denver and the surrounding area were choosing to interpret the section of Amendment 64 stating explicitly that the measure had not legalized “open and public” consumption as explicitly forbidding it. Cannabis clubs that popped up around the city following legalization were quickly raided and closed, and once again Jetter was reminded that his desire to not be treated like a criminal for consuming a plant would remain unfulfilled. 

 

With the battle lines drawn by the city, Jetter once again stepped up to prod at the unjust enforcement with a cannabis club of his own. Called POTUS, an acronym for People of the United States, the smoking lounge opened in a former swingers’ club in southwest Denver in February of 2015. To be sure that there would be no surprises, Jetter’s partner sent certified letters to several city officials announcing their plan to open a cannabis club that would provide cannabis to members for reimbursement. In order to gain entry, one would simply have to sign up for membership. Blue Mountain would provide cannabis, but patrons were welcome to bring their own as well.

 

At the same time that he was pushing the legal envelope with POTUS, Jetter had been tapped to head the legal grow in Aurora that he now occupies.       

 

With hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment on the line — including the $400,000 of liquid assets that the city of Aurora requires before considering an application — for most this would have been an inopportune time to tempt fate with a smoking lounge, but for Jetter this wasn’t the case.

 

Sure enough, in early March police made their move. Undercover officers infiltrated the club after signing on as members and recorded a reimbursement. The sting ended with a misdemeanor distribution charge for Jetter and his partner charged with operating an unlicensed marijuana business.   

 

For some, this would be a clear defeat, an indication that this pipe dream of social cannabis consumption would remain out of reach — Jetter had POTUS reopened by the next day.

 

The club operated without incident until the weekend of 4/20, when city officials made their intentions known by raiding the two most prominent smoking lounges operating in Denver, one of them being POTUS. The raid played out much as it had the first time, with undercover officers infiltrating the packed club for a reimbursement and police moving in for the bust less than an hour before 4:20. This time, the results were more final. Jetter and his partner faced the same round of charges as before, but the city issued a cease and desist order.

 

After a protracted legal battle, Jetter ended up taking a bargain that saw him plead guilty to a public consumption offense. This wasn’t, he says, because he didn’t want to keep fighting, but because of the potential harm that the fight would cause to his grow application in Aurora, where the incident was being discussed as possible indication of a lack of moral character.

 

These days Jetter operates entirely in the white, but it’s not hard to see the rabble-rouser that hides just under the surface. He may have settled down some out of sheer necessity, but the old Jeter, the one not afraid to face arrest for what he thinks is right, is always waiting for the right time to make himself known. His opinions haven’t softened after all these years and all the arrests that have punctuated them, and he stills sees a fight yet to be won in the world of cannabis.

 

“When it was illegal, before 2009 when I opened a dispensary, I made a shitload of money. I had absolutely no responsibilities and I really enjoyed my life,” he opines. “Since legalization has happened and I’ve tried to be completely compliant in all facets, my income has dropped by over 80 percent, my responsibilities have increased by 50 fold, and I’m not having fun anymore. This isn’t the light, regulated like alcohol industry I was promised.”

 

For the past decade, he’s taken up the mantle of hosting Bong-a-thon, but it wasn’t until last year that the party finally found a home sanctioned by local authorities. Those who attend the annual smoke-out will likely find Jetter making the rounds, orchestrating the goings on while using the platform to encourage attendees to get involved and vote.

 

He’s got no shortage of opinions about the direction the cannabis industry is headed and it’s not hard to coax them out. As he sees it, what Colorado has settled on isn’t legalization, rather another form of prohibition, just with legalized sales.

“If it was legalized, there’d be no criminal cases because it would be legal. But it’s not legalized; it’s taxed and regulated..."

“If it was legalized, there’d be no criminal cases because it would be legal. But it’s not legalized; it’s taxed and regulated, and it’s slanted in the favor of people that have, well let’s just say, assets totaling over $400,000 liquid,” says Jetter.  As for consumer rights, in his assessment, there’s not really much advocacy aimed at the cause. “I think most people think that the industry groups are looking to support consumers’ rights and patients’ rights, and in my opinion the opposite is in fact the case,” he says.

Blue Mountains Full Melt Hash

While some have moved into the industry simply for the chance to make money in a developing market, that’s not an accusation that can be leveled at Jetter. It’s a cause that he’s fought for, and taken losses for. His involvement in cannabis was most recently used against him in a custody battle for his six-year-old daughter. As he sits, alone in his grow facility diligently moving his scissors, sermonizing on the points of personal liberty with regard to cannabis, he remarks that this is the first time in the past six years that he hasn’t had a court date awaiting him. Some activists may have adopted a more straight-laced approach to cannabis reform, but for Jetter, the need to stir the pot hasn’t passed. While other cannabis advocates have moved toward suits and ties, Jetter is still firmly in the scary stoner camp, and if the people making the laws are made uncomfortable by it, that’s just fine with him.

 

“I hope they’re uncomfortable. I hope they’re really goddamn uncomfortable,” says Jetter.  “I was really fucking uncomfortable when those bastards kicked in my door in 1999; I wasn’t very comfortable standing there while they looked like the ISIS militants with their hoods on tearing the curtains off my house so everybody can stare in, that wasn’t very comfortable; it wasn’t comfortable having an AK47 stuck in my face that day; it wasn’t comfortable being charged for an illegal grow in 2010 that I had all my paperwork for, that none of the detectives wanted to review, that wasn’t very comfortable; I wasn’t comfortable getting my mouth swabbed, my picture taken and going to court for five trial dates only to be told that I was right, my paperwork was in order; I wasn’t comfortable in 2015 when they dragged me out on the street in front of POTUS and put me in handcuffs for ‘questioning;’ I wasn’t comfortable when they handed me the two distribution tickets I got in 2015. None of that shit makes me comfortable, so if they’re a little uncomfortable, I’m sorry, but fuck it.”

The Man, The Myth, The Yeti: Who is Shawn Honaker?
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photos and article by Ben Owens

“I was invited to this little hash party. And so we were smoking some really good hash. We were smoking some King Hasan out of Morocco and…just some amazing old school hash; slab hash. And I kept seeing this guy walk around and he had this big-ass bong in his hand…and I kept hearing him say ‘Bong-a-Thon, Bong-a-Thon.’ So, finally, I stopped him, and I said, ‘What the hell is Bong-a-Thon?’ ‘Oh man, the deal is it's this party that started in 1974 and it's a big smoke-off and everyone parties…[but] we don't throw it anymore.’ I said, ‘I've got a 160-acre ranch in Fairplay, it's up at 10,000 feet.’’” And so begins one of many colorful and unique stories from the man behind Yeti Farms, Mr. Shawn Honaker.

To some, Honaker is the man who hosted the clandestine smoking competition known as Bong-a-Thon on his Park County ranch for five years, setting the record for fastest quarter smoked in an incredible six minutes and 23 seconds. To others, he’s the man that turned Siloam Road in Pueblo County into the bustling recreational cannabis farming community that it is today. And yet, the imagery often associated with a Yeti, the mysterious mountain-dwelling creature that finds pleasure in the back-country, is aptly the most accurate depiction of Honaker and his passions: keep it simple and take it back into nature.

Honaker grew up in the rural Midwest in the ‘90s, where his stepfather was a police officer for more than 20 years. Needless to say, cannabis wasn’t a prominent part of life. Having filed his first tax return at the age of 11, and every year since, hard work has always been very important to him. When it came time to go to college, he paid his way, coming out without any debt to pay off. But he never actually received his degree, dropping out just six months before graduation. “In my head I made a very simple financial decision and that was [that] I don’t need a damn degree to get a job.” At the time, a good friend of Honaker’s who had graduated with the same degree was making less in a year than it would cost Honaker to finish his degree.

Fast forward a few months and Honaker had moved on to a job at Bank One in Denver as a corporate financial planner while doing outside sales for a few other companies. Having done well in this role, he was able to buy his first home in the city at the age of 22. He quickly realized that city life was not for him, and sought out solace in the mountains doing a variety of jobs; car sales, granite and tile work, even laying a Japanese soak tub in Phil Collins’ house. By 26, he’d ended up working the oil fields in western Colorado.

After a few years working the fields, Honaker started his own oil field service company that operated 24/7, 365 and was responsible for 29 oilrigs with more than 70 employees and over 100 subcontractors. This was early 2008, and the prognosis for the economy was slowly turning. Sensing a change in direction, and having the opportunity for a buyout, Honaker took the chance that April and sold all of his holdings in the oil field industry in western Colorado. Not six months later, the economy was in disarray.

Growing up in the Midwest, alcohol was prevalent in Honaker’s household while cannabis was demonized. This ever-present aspect of alcohol came to an abrupt halt after Honaker realized that every oil deal was signed at a bar or strip club, and that he was slowly slipping toward alcoholism with each deal. After leaving the bar one night, Honaker swore he’d never touch the substance again. At the time, he was dating a “hippie chick” from southern Alabama who insisted he try cannabis. He’d only tried it once or twice in high school and again in college, but after that sampling, it took him about a month to smoke his first eighth. He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since.

“Cannabis made everything easier; I found cannabis to be nuclear powered rocket ship to galaxies I didn’t even know existed on this earth. And it just started to open up a lot of doors for me. Business became easier. Meeting with people became more fluid. And I kept doing more and more of it.”

Not long after, Honaker’s good friend, a Vietnam veteran,  posed the question, “How come when I smoke marijuana, sometimes I wake up and sometimes I sleep?” When Honaker didn’t have an answer, his friend responded, “Then fucking find out.” So, Honaker booked a ticket to Amsterdam for the High Times Cannabis Cup, telling his work he was going home for Thanksgiving, and telling his family he was working through the holiday. In Amsterdam he met Milo of Big Buddha Seeds and Arian of Greenhouse, along with many others who helped explain the difference between sativa and indica, and he immediately began poring through the books he’d purchased on his travels.

Upon his return, Honaker started cultivating; driving up to British Columbia to buy a BC Northern Lights BloomBox and meet with the team that made the apparatus. He also became one of the first people in the state of Colorado to own a professional trimmer. He managed his business during the day while growing at night to de-stress, which afforded him the ability to smoke more than he would if he were buying it at the going rate of the time of $400 per ounce.

Yeti Farms Concentrates

Eventually, Honaker’s smoking outpaced his modest hobby grow, and he needed a way to expand capacity. He buried a shipping container and began growing in this much larger space. Faced with excess product, he’d offer his extra medicine to dispensaries if they had the demand. This led to recognition of, and a demand for, his growing techniques that eventually grew into partial ownership of a dispensary in western Colorado. For two years Honaker partnered with a small shop owned by a husband and wife, focusing solely on indoor grows. But his passion was elsewhere.

At this point, Honaker had begun to grow outdoors, developing a proprietary blend of soil by comparing and mixing all of the soils available on the market. After his second year of cultivation, he’d found a winning mixture that allowed a single plant of Girl Scout Cookies to produce just over 8.76 pounds of dry material. At the time, that was a $24,000 plant that cost just under $300 to grow. He realized he was onto something, but his partners were focused on building out a new indoor grow in a brand new warehouse. So he took a buyout, and began to throw everything he had into greenhouse and his outdoor grow techniques.

Right around this time, 2009-2010, Honaker was introduced to BHO, or butane hash oil. Having hosted Bong-a-thon, participated in and won multiple competitions, and generally being known as a heavy smoker, he instantly fell in love with the potency and clarity of the high that BHO produced. Immediately after trying it, he was shown how to make extracts using 100-gallon cylinders and n-butane in a professional setting. “I’ve never used a tube, I’ve never used a can; I’ve never purchased a can...I’ve never been to Multi Line and bought a case of butane.”  He started with the best of the best, and that’s where his technique began to evolve; driven by a desire for increased purity and techniques that cooked out any residual solvents. Back in the day, there weren’t sesh’s and cups every night, Honaker explains. There were high-end, secret events that you had to be invited to, and he’d go and get everyone “super duper high.”

“I don’t dress up for people, I don’t change who I am for anybody. I don’t give a shit who you are. I wear boots, jeans and a t-shirt every day of my life, that’s just how I live my life…so I’m a noticeable guy [especially in a room of] tuxes and ballroom gowns.” He’d lay out two “flats” of hash (about two pounds of BHO, all different flavors) in ball jars, dab out a whole party of 300 people, and then drive four hours back to his residence in the mountains. That’s where the idea of the Yeti really began to take shape.

 

Life of a yeti: he doesn’t come to town; he stays in the mountains.

 

Many of the popular products only recently finding their way to the market are things that Honaker was pushing out of his small extraction setup years ago, people just hadn’t figured out why his extracts looked the way they did and had the effect that they did. “People would say, ‘Dude I just don’t understand why I’m so high. I don’t get it.” Now, we know a bit more about this technology and why these extracts produce much more intense effects.

Having left his dispensary partnership and fresh into an early retirement, thanks to the sizeable buyout of his oil field company, Honaker set his sights on Pueblo County. He bought the property that Yeti Farms stands on today on Siloam Road, a 55-acre plot with a 35-acre tract next door. He runs a tight ship; no nutrients, herbicides or pesticides are allowed anywhere on his farm. “We do everything organically. If the grasshoppers come…if they eat ‘em, they eat ‘em. I grew up in the Midwest in Indiana, and that’s all part of the gig. If bugs eat them, they eat them. That’s part of being a farmer. I’m willing to roll the dice as a cannabis farmer.”

Shawn Honaker

In this same tradition of farming, Honaker has an innate belief in the value of outdoor cultivation and believes that there is no value in separating the parts of the natural plant. “I didn’t believe in the future of indoor cultivation; [it’s] not sustainable for me…I’ve never had sweet corn from a warehouse that tasted good.” As the first hydrocarbon extraction company in Pueblo and one of the first large-scale outdoor cannabis farms, Yeti has continued this dedication to keeping it simple. They use the entire plant; fan leaves, sugar leaves, and buds, are all put into a bag together to purge for two weeks and then cure for upwards of two months. After that, the material is ground and extracted into budder, shatter, and a variety of other forms of concentrate. In addition to offering processing services for other brands and growers, Yeti Farms’ Blonde Sugar is their premium line of in-house, organically grown and extracted concentrates. “The Best Damn Dab in the West” is a full plant extract available at a variety of dispensaries throughout the state such as PotCo, Standing Akimbo and Three Rivers Organics in Pueblo.

The in-house standards that Yeti Farms uses for their products are very strict, 50 times stricter than the state’s standards, to be exact, says Honaker. No product leaves the facility if it tests over 100 parts per million for residual solvents (the state’s threshold is 5000 p.p.m.). If any sample tests above this, it is reprocessed and retested at Yeti Farms’ expense. This dedication to quality is why Honaker is in no rush to jump onto the latest trends. “We’re trying to find out what is the cool hype that will go away, and what is the thing that will stay the distance…Seems to me, when all the cool kids line up to do something, and it is the new hype, you either want to wait, or not do it... This is a long race; it’s a damn marathon. Let’s take our time.”

 

“We don’t get involved in the local politics around us”

 

Honaker is cautious to differentiate between his economic and political outlooks on the industry. While he believes he is very fortunate to be in a position to provide guidance to various agricultural groups in local, state, and national organizations, he is very clear about one thing: what he is doing is illegal on the federal level, and has been for the whole time he’s been doing it. So, he isn’t worried about how the administration change will affect his business. “If they’re going to close me down, I’m going to have to do something else anyways…Right now, I am operating illegally under federal law. These things honestly don’t ruffle my feathers and I highly suggest to the rest of the industry that it not ruffle yours.”

Locally, Honaker tries to stay out of politics, but there have been some issues that have caught his attention. In particular, a recent ballot initiative that sought to ban recreational cannabis cultivation in Pueblo County, which would have had dire consequences for Yeti Farms and other businesses in the area. To an extent, Honaker understands why people point to him as an example of the cannabis takeover of the area. When he moved into his farm, there were maybe twenty or so growers in the area, now there are licenses pending for upwards of 200. And this has him discussing the economics of oversupply with his fellow residents and business owners. “There’s a local outdoor farm selling pounds for $560 … If they’re doing that right now, this year… I’m really worried about where the future of this industry is going to go for all these growers that don’t have a license to get rid of any single thing but trim or flower. That’s all they can do. They don’t have resource to get rid of it [in any other form].”

Yeti Farms Blonde Sugar

To address this problem, Honaker is working on a few projects that would allow these businesses to contract out their material and split profits with processors. He’s constantly on the lookout for ways to help everyone in the industry stay afloat.

The authenticity of Honaker’s passion for quality drives home the underlying motif that a product speaks for itself. Yeti Farms barely advertises, and relies heavily on the reception and recommendations of its products by budtenders at its retailers. Honaker says that he’s the guy that comes in, has a great conversation with the team, and before they even know it, lunch is on its way to the dispensary. “I’m not doing it to kiss your ass. I’m doing it because you’re good people and you work very hard for me and you don’t get a paycheck from me. So let me buy you lunch or let me buy you ice cream.”

 

“I got to meet thousands of people that were all like-minded.”

 

Having hosted Bong-a-Thon on his property for five years prior to Park County officials shutting him down, Honaker is a self-proclaimed “old guy” at cannabis events, but enjoys the company and conversations of the many people he continues to meet throughout the industry.

So where does the Yeti go, and what does he do to escape the day-to-day? Honaker’s sanity finds reprieve beyond bongs and bud, to the adrenaline-inducing activities that some never engage in. When he’s not on the farm, you can find him entrenched in some combination of his current passions: cannabis, back-country snowmobiling, and free-dive spear fishing.

“When you’re under the water, and you’re holding your breath in an element where the fish now have the advantage. They’re in their element and you are not necessarily supposed to be there, that adds a new level of adrenaline. There’s obviously sharks, barracudas, stingrays; a lot of things that can make your life go bad pretty quickly. As my mind races through everything that I’m trying to achieve [I] try to find that one fish or that one lobster. It won’t allow me to think of anything else. So that’s where I really draw my happy place from is when I can’t think about anything but what I’m doing at that exact moment.”

 

Trump Threatens Adult-Use Cannabis
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by DJ Reetz

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday made the bold claim that the Trump Department of Justice would likely be targeting adult-use marijuana in the eight states that have voted to legalize it. While Spicer was clear that this would not include attacks on state medical marijuana programs, the news is troubling for the markets that have so far flourished in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, as well as the burgeoning industry in Alaska and the prospective industries in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine that have yet to take shape.

Spicer tied any forthcoming enforcement to an effort to stymie the opioid epidemic, saying that the federal government shouldn’t be “encouraging people” by allowing adult-use cannabis laws.

Drawing a clear distinction between medical laws, which have previously been protected from federal meddling by an attachment to a previous appropriations bill that barred the Department of Justice from spending money interfering with state-legal medical marijuana programs.

“That’s something that the Department of Justice, I think, will be further looking into,” said Spicer. “They are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana.”

Despite Spicer’s unfounded claim that adult-use marijuana somehow worsens the crisis of opioid addiction, most data shows that medical cannabis laws lessens opioid use.  A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed a 25 percent lower rate of death due to opioid overdose in states with medical marijuana laws between 1999 and 2010.

Another study out of the University of Athens looked at data from 2010 to 2013, finding that on average of doctors prescribed 1826 fewer doses of pain medications, including opioids, in states with medical marijuana programs.

A study published in The International Journal of Drug Policy found that 63 percent of respondents registered to receive medical cannabis were using the plant in place of prescription drugs.

Spicer’s claim that progressive cannabis laws lead to increased opioid use may not be based in fact, but the impact on tax revenues and local economies that enforcement actions predicated on this claim are more easily nailed down. Colorado sold over $1 billion in cannabis sales last year, generating more than $127 million in tax and fees for the state.

Earlier in the press conference, Spicer stated clearly that Trump represented a party that believed strongly in states’ rights. 

legalization-map

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.

 

NCIA's Seed to Sale Show - January 31st-February 1st, 2017
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NCIA's Seed To Sale Show is the only national show focused solely on innovative best practices, science, and cutting edge technology in cultivation, processing, and sales strategies. This January 31st-February 1st, over 2,000 of the nation’s leading cultivators, dispensary operators, extraction artists, ancillary product providers and infused product manufacturers will convene to discuss best practices, present case studies, and share information about the science and emerging technology surrounding the whole life cycle of the cannabis plant grown, processed, and sold in a regulated market. As the largest B2B cannabis event in Denver, #SeedToSaleShow will offer an impressive expo floor and will recognize the best in the industry with the Cannavation and Cannatech Awards. www.seedtosaleshow.com

Chong's Choice: An Interview with a Cannabis Legend
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by DJ Reetz

Celebrities are popping up everywhere in the legal cannabis industry these days, attempting to capitalize on their stoner images to form the basis of national brands.  Tommy Chong, elder statesman of weed, is no different. As an icon of cannabis culture, Chong’s status has attracted attention, for better or worse. For the worse like his 2003 arrest and prison sentence for selling cannabis paraphernalia in Pennsylvania; seemingly tied to his iconic status. Currently though, that status seems to be working out for the better with the launch of Chong’s Choice, a line of cannabis products available in multiple states. Because interstate cannabis commerce remains illegal, the brand will be using different growers in different markets.

THC caught up with Chong on the eve of the launch of his recreational line in Colorado to discuss the ins and outs of his celebrity cannabis brand, and to bask in his grandfatherly stoner wisdom shortly after the November election.

THC: Chong’s Choice is launching its adult-use line in Colorado. How did you determine which companies to work with?

Tommy Chong: We try the product. It’s very simple; we try the product, we look where they grow it, we look how they process it, see how organized and how together the operation is. Usually they’re great, because if they’re together enough to know that it would be good to have us on board fronting their product, that’s half the battle.

THC: Do you see any problems with having a brand across multiple states as far as consistency? If somebody were to buy a Chong’s Choice joint in Colorado it could be something totally different from what you get in California.

TC: Well, the great thing about our product is once your try it, it’s hard to determine what your name is, let alone whether or not the product is good [laughs]. The essence of what we sell, usually the quality is only known to connoisseurs like myself who have had experience enough to know. Like everything, a good 90 percent is in the packaging and the branding.

In fact, we got rid of some people in California that were trying to put inferior product into our brand; we got rid of them right away — it didn’t take long, we get complaints, we act on them right away.

Grape Stomper by Chong's Choice

Grape Stomper by Chong's Choice

THC: The red “Get America Stoned Again” hat that you’re wearing seems to be a play on Trump’s campaign slogan. What are your thoughts on the recent election? Big win for cannabis … but maybe not?

TC: Big, big win for cannabis. Big win for the people. I’ve just given it a lot of thought last night especially; I smoked up and I did some reflecting, and I realized that we’ve got the right guy in the president. The American people did not make a mistake.

You talk about underdogs — and that’s why America likes underdogs, for the very reason that they have to be totally honest. Underdogs are stripped bare of everything, they’re stripped bare of support and they’re examined closer than anybody. And in spite of all that, it was his energy to win under all those extreme odds — I mean, that was extreme odds he was up against. They had me convinced that he would be terrible for the presidency. Once he won, I realized our system of government is so superior because of that nature. Guys like me that could be swayed easily because of decorum and etiquette, we’re not the guys that have to deal with everyday problems like the people that voted for him. The people that voted for him, they saw what I see now. The Apprentice was not an accident; when we saw how he handled people with kinda minor problems compared to world problems. But he put his energy into each show and each problem, he put his total energy into it, and he’s going to do the same with America.

Don’t let the Christies and the Giulianis and all that worry you, because [with] Donald Trump, if you don’t perform, you’re done. One and done.

THC: You were a Bernie supporter

TC: I was a big Bernie supporter.

THC: It sounds like you’re now a Trump guy?

TC: I am totally a Trump guy; I turned. In fact, I was going to tweet it, but I thought, I’m going to do an interview, so I’ll let you guys do it for me. Trump did not come out against pot. He said he would respect whatever the states decide. And even though he doesn’t smoke it, that’s the best attitude: let the people decide.

THC: There was certainly some reaction, at least with the Republicans taking the House and Senate, that perhaps this doesn’t bode well for the legal cannabis industry that’s formed under the Obama administration. You don’t see it that way?  

TC: Not at all. I’ll tell you why, because the Republicans acted the way they acted because they had a Democratic president in there, and they were out to stifle everything that that president did — which is the way the American system should work, it should not be a rubber stamp. We don’t need dictators; we need people that have to answer for everything.

Like Trump now, he has to answer the backlash of the Hillary supporters or the other people that did not want him in, and now they’re the ones that are protesting. Isn’t it weird? It’s so ironic that Hilary’s people are the ones that are protesting the election. And it wasn’t a close election, it was over that night. It wasn’t the next day you had to count and recount or anything like that. Trump won, and I’m with people that think he’s going to be the best president we’ve had.     

THC: If there is a crackdown on the legal marijuana industry, seems like there’s at least one US attorney that might want to have another shot at you.

TC: Me? Not really. [When] I got busted it was my fault, because I didn’t protect myself legally. There were a lot of people in the business that knew enough to protect themselves legally. What I did wrong was I [used] my name and I did not protect myself behind corporations. Like, if I had a Trump advising me, I wouldn’t have went to jail; he would have said, ‘Ok, but make sure you’re protected.’

THC: It just seemed like the US attorney that prosecuted your case had a personal issue with you.

TC: It was more the Attorney General, Ashcroft.  What happened was I would do radio — I was on the road by myself, I would do stand-up with myself and my wife — and I’d go to right-wing radio. Right wing loved me because I’m controversial. So I was on right-wing radio and I was outing everybody that smoked pot, and I was making up names just to bug ‘em. And so I said Danny Sullivan, the race car driver, he’s a friend of mine. And I said, ‘Oh, Danny Sullivan, he smokes pot.’ I said that in St. Louis, and that was Ashcroft’s home state.  I’m quite sure that radio show got to him [...] and so they put a hit on me, they said, ‘Take this guy down.’ Plus it was the Iraqi war was just beginning so the Bush administration wanted to deflect some of the press to get the radical hippie side of it. And that’s when Bush came out and said that us potheads were supporting terrorism by selling bongs — we were supporting terrorism because all that money went into terrorist organizations […] And so they put a hit out on me and they created that Operation Pipe Dreams, and as a result, I was the only one that went to jail, because I was famous.

THC: It seemed like you were targeted because you were famous and had been a generational icon for cannabis consumption.

TC: And I was also an anti-war guy. I was totally against the war. I was against the war in Vietnam, I was against the war in Iraq; I had no idea.

THC: You’ve been pretty vocal about treating your prostate and colon cancer with medical cannabis. How’s your health these days?

TC: That’s another reason why I smoke pot. Luckily, I got cancer [laughs] so I could get my medical marijuana card. If I get stopped at the border or anything, I can just show them my medical marijuana card and tell them ‘I’ve got cancer guys.’ But the way it helped my cancer — this is the warning I try to put out to everybody: don’t rely on one method to cure anything […] make sure you get experts looking at your problem. That’s what I did. So, the doctors and oncologists they told me, ‘Yeah, use pot. But we’re still going to have to irradiate the area, you’re still going to have to get the operation to take out the tumor, and other than that, smoke all the pot you want. But this is what we have to do.’ And you have to do chemo, which I did. And now I’m cancer free.

What pot does to you when you’re sick, it gives you an appetite. Not only an appetite for food, but an appetite for life. You get your sense of humor back. That’s how you’re going to get through, you got to have your sense of humor and you’ve got to eat, because if you don’t eat, you die. As soon as I started smoking pot my operation healed, everything healed, and now I’m back on the road. I’m probably in the best physical shape of my life.

THC: That’s good to hear. Some people treat cannabis as a kind of wonder drug that can cure cancer all on its own, sounds like you think that’s a dangerous outlook.

TC: It’s totally dangerous. Do what you’ve gotta do, but it’s not a miracle drug. Just Google marijuana […] it’s been effective on brain tumors, it’s been effective on skin cancer, but [only] on some people. Now that we’re getting it legal, doctors are going to be able to experiment with it. Up until now, it’s been illegal to even try to experiment with it, to test it. And now there’s testing. In fact, I saw an ad in the paper looking for people to volunteer to be smokers [chuckles] and you get paid something like $5,000.    

Durban Haze by Chong's Choice

Durban Haze by Chong's Choice

THC: Now that you’re cementing yourself as a figure in legal cannabis, do you think that the cannabis industry is still holding on to some of the ideals that you had in your younger days?

TC: More so. The thing is, I learned very early from very wise people. I got turned on by jazz musicians, and they’re probably the wisest people on the planet because they’re not only accomplished artists, they’re also intelligent gurus. You talk to any jazz musician and he’ll tell you the meaning of the universe, if you ask him. So I was taught very early.

What the cannabis did to me, it made me realize this is all I really need. I’m a body builder, I work out with weights, and I’ve been around very successful body builders, like Arnold Schwarzenegger for instance. I watched Arnold train during his reign when he was Mr. Olympia. The only substance he would do — he would not drink soda pop if it had any trace of sugar in it, he would not drink a bit of alcohol while he was training — but he would smoke a ton of pot. He’s six-time Mr. Olympia, he could smoke pot.

THC: Do you think he could smoke more pot than you?

TC: It’s funny you should say that. I was at a session that they had — they used to have a pot smoking session — and they had a giant bong, and all of these big muscle heads would put almost a half an ounce in the bowl and they would light it with a torch and then they would inhale. The whole trick of it was to breathe in so much that the pot would glow like a light bulb and then get sucked into the water and make an explosion sound.

Dave Draper was there, he did it, Arnold, a guy named Zaybo, Peanuts, there were all these big muscle heads, and I was there. They handed me the bowl and I took the smallest toke ever [chuckles] because I’m a one-toker. I took that one little toke and they all looked at me like ‘Ugh, who invited this guy?’

THC: Sounds like the conclusion there is that Arnold smoked you under the table.

TC: Anybody could. You could probably smoke me under the table. Here’s the trick though: it’s not how little you do, it’s how often you do it. I take that little bit, but I’m almost 80 years old and I’m still here. Arnold’s got bad knees and he’s limping around, but I can probably run down the block faster than he can.

THC: It seems like the character you created in the ‘70s is now used by the anti-cannabis crowd as a caricature of weed smokers, what are your thoughts on that?   

TC: Rightly so. It was a conscious decision of mine. When Cheech and I got together, we had a ton of characters; we had 200 characters that we could have done. But what we did when we were going to put two characters on the screen, I took sort of a page from Charlie Chaplin. Charlie, when he started his career, he had a lot of characters too. But the one that resonated with everybody was the tramp, because he was the lowest common denominator. So my character basically is based on Charlie Chaplin’s lowest common denominator. That’s why my character […] you can’t get much lower than him and still survive. And that’s another reason why I understand Trump, because he’d be right with him. I did that on purpose.

But my real persona is the guy that lasted longer than anybody on Dancing With the Stars, and I use that. I’ve got people of all ages that come up and say, ‘Hey man, you did great on Dancing With the Stars.’ I tried to do the stoner thing on Dancing With the Stars, but the producer said, ‘Oh Tom, every time you do that weed salute I have to cut to the mirror balls, so will you not do it?’

THC: Two hundred characters and the one that resonated with everybody is the Cheech and Chong character that we all recognize.

TC: Cheech the Chicano, the low rider who didn’t even have a door handle on his car, and Chong the ‘hey man.’ We called him ‘man’ because all he ever said was ‘hey man.’

Do you know the origin of ‘man’ by the way? I got it from the jazz musicians. The reason they used to call each other ‘ hey man,’ ‘good to see you man,’ was because back in the Jim Crow days they used to call black people boy. ‘Hey boy,’ ‘get over here boy,’ so as a protest they would call each other ‘man,’ because they’re not boys, they’re men. So I got that character right from the jazz guys.

THC: Any other characters that you still reflect fondly on, that you wish you would have continued to do?

TC: Ralph and Herbie, the doggies. But we’re too old to do what we used to do. That got us arrested one time in Tampa, Florida. We being Ralph and Herbie on our hands and knees, being little dogs, and Cheech went over and grabbed a cop — he was at the bottom of the stage looking out at the crowd — and Cheech leaned over and took the cop’s hat off of his head with his teeth. And then he peed on the cop. The next thing that we know we’re riding in a cop car going to get booked in jail.

THC: Seems like Cheech has gone on to establish himself as more of a mainstream actor, not associating himself with cannabis the way that you have continued to. But you’re doing a good amount of acting these days, like your appearance in “Zootopia”, Disney’s allegory for the drug war.

TC: Isn’t that something? I turned down Disney — I turned down “The Lion King” — much to everybody’s dismay, because Cheech made probably half a million dollars off of that, maybe more.

THC: It was supposed to be Cheech and Chong as the hyenas, right?

TC: Yeah, and I turned it down because it was Disney. I was making a protest, you know. If they won’t let me in their amusement park because I’m wearing a pot t-shirt, I’m sure not going to be in their movie. When they asked me to do “Zootopia” they knew exactly who they were getting, in fact they wrote the part around my ‘hey man’ character. Oh yeah, we’ve come a long way baby.

THC: An allegory for the drug war is certainly an interesting topic for Disney to tackle.

TC: Everybody’s evolving. That’s what I say with this country, this country is evolving. We’re going to be the Amsterdam of the continents.

THC: You come to Colorado fairly frequently.

TC: As much as I can.

THC: Where’s your favorite place to smoke weed in Colorado?

TC: In the mountains. In Aspen there’s a little grove they call the Jerry Garcia [Shrine], there’s a little shrine, I think Jerry Garcia’s picture is up there. The skiers come down and we meet there and we smoke. That’s one of my favorite places.

And then any hotel room that says no smoking, that’s my favorite place.

THC: You ever get in trouble for doing that?

TC: I got yelled at a few times. In Boulder, it’s weird, we’ve been going there for a few years and the hotel [management called us], ‘Mr. Chong, we’ve got a report of some smoke coming out of your room.’  And I said, ‘Ah, no worries, there’s no fire here.’

THC: So you guys are launching the adult-use line of Chong’s Choice here. California just went rec, I assume that’s in your future?

TC: Chong’s Choice in California! All over.

THC: The Chong’s Choice website even shows your line available at a medical dispensary in Arizona, which is certainly not known for a robust medical marijuana market or cannabis culture.

TC: There are people everywhere. You know the most popular state probably is New York, and it’s not [recreationally] legal there either. New York [City] used to be the hub of marijuana use in the financial district. You could walk down the financial district and people would be just puffing away. But then you got guys like Giuliani and idiots like that. But it’s going to be all over the world, believe me.

THC: There was definitely a broad referendum on cannabis this election cycle.  

TC: They did it. Look at Trump’s stance on cannabis.

THC: You think you could get Trump to smoke weed with you?

TC: I don’t think so. Trump has got his own agenda; he’s got his own addictions, and pot’s not one of them.  There are certain people that I would prefer, ya know, to be very straight, and Trump’s one of them, or the president — unless you need it. Only smoke it if you need it, that’s my thing. Don’t smoke it if you don’t wanna.

THC: Anything else you’d like to add?

TC: I just want to thank everybody. I want to thank the people that support Chong’s Choice, because if it wasn’t for you guys we wouldn’t be in business. So I really owe a debt of gratitude to everybody out there that uses my product, buys my records and supports my dancing and everything else. I love my fans. Without you guys, I would be just a stoned pot head somewhere.


After our interview, THC was contacted by a representative of Mr. Chong to clarify that while he is optimistic about the presidency of Donald Trump, he does take issue with the appointment of climate-change denier Myron Ebell to head the EPA.  Chong’s Choice is grown locally by the good folks at Verde Natural using organic, soil-based techniques. Look for the line at any number of adult-use dispensaries around Colorado.

     

 

 

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.

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.

How to Create More Diversity in the Cannabis Industry
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by Ngaio Bealum

There have been umpteen different articles written about how the cannabis industry needs more diversity, and a few more about how white people (white men in particular) are poised to get rich by selling cannabis, while people of color (the people that have been disproportionately affected by the extremely racist “war on drugs”) have been systematically shut out of the new cannabis industry. What can be done to fix this imbalance? I am glad you asked. And away we go…

Hire More Black and Brown People
It sounds simple, but it just doesn’t happen. Many employers don't even notice that their workforce is somewhat monochromatic, and while you may not notice, people of color pay attention to these types of things. Having a diverse workforce means you will attract a diverse customer base. It is up to the people that do the hiring to make sure that their business reflects the diversity of cannabis culture. Steve DeAngelo, owner of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center (known for being the largest cannabis dispensary in the country) likes to say, “Our new industry should enthusiastically embrace diversity as a strength, not grudgingly accept it as a legal duty.” He is correct. Studies show that businesses (any businesses, not just canna-businesses) with a diverse employee base make more money and are more successful. Having a diverse workforce helps the bottom line, so even if “social justice” isn’t part of the business plan, if the only goal is to make money, it still makes sense to be diverse.

Reach Out
The idea that being in the cannabis industry is a good way to have a legitimate career is still a new concept. A lot of people with good business acumen and a skill set that aligns with what this new industry needs have yet to consider the cannabis industry as a viable option. With a new wave of legalization on the horizon (five states have adult-use cannabis legalization initiatives on the ballot this year); there has never been a better time for people to get involved. While the legal risks are still higher for minorities than they are for white people, the odds that the federal government will choose to prosecute legitimate cannabis businesses acting in accordance with state law are extremely low. There are some groups (the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the newly formed California Minority Alliance come to mind) that can put employers in touch with qualified prospects. Throw a job fair, go to under-served communities and let them know that the cannabis industry is hiring.

Ancillary Businesses Should Get Involved
The cannabis industry isn't just growers and budtenders. Accountants, lawyers, engineers, event planners, architects, carpenters, food service professionals, marketers, IT professionals, graphic designers, copywriters and other businesses can all find a spot in the circle. Entrepreneurs of color should seek out cannabis businesses and look for ways to get involved. Alaska based activist Charlo Greene produces a series on cannabis diversity summits in different towns across the country (www.gogreene.org). These events can be a good way to network with folks that are already in the cannabis industry.

Lower the Barriers to Entry
Getting started in this new industry is expensive. New permits sell for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many folks don't have the financial backing to get involved. Just going to a cannabis business conference can cost upwards of two or three thousand dollars once you include the costs of travel and accommodations. Conferences and Associations need to start offering scholarships and no cost/low cost options to those who may have the desire and the skills, but not the money to get started. Making sure that the people that have been most affected by the drug war at least get a chance to be a part of the new paradigm is vitally important.

Remember how this started
Cannabis legalization wasn't always about millions of dollars of revenue and profits. Sure, money has always been a factor in the argument, but really, folks just wanted to stay out of jail and smoke weed free from the threat of arrest. California’s Proposition 215 (The 1996 medical marijuana initiative that got this whole joint rolling) was started because activists wanted to keep the police from arresting people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer. I hate to sound like an old hippie, but to ignore the compassion and equality ingrained into the history of cannabis legalization in favor of naked capitalism is to invite bad karma. Working to address the harms done to communities of color by cultivating business and hiring from within those communities invites good karma.

All of these suggestions are fairly simple to accomplish. It just takes a little willpower and a bit of mindfulness. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day actions of running a successful business, but it is vitally important to be aware of and to respect the vitality and diversity of the entire cannabis community.

 

Originally published in the Fall 2016 National Issue of The Hemp Connoisseur

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