Cannabis – Ska-p (Letra)

Y saco un papelillo, me preparo un cigarrillo
y una china pal canuto de hachís ¡hachís!
saca ya la china, “tron”, ¡venga ya esa china, “tron”
quémame la china “tron”, ¡no hay chinas!
Saco un papelillo…
no hay chinas, no hay chinas hoy.
no hay chinas, no hay chinas hoy.
Saco un papelillo…
no hay chinas, no hay chinas hoy.
no hay chinas, no hay chinas hoy.

Legalegalización ¡cannabis!,
de calidad y barato
legalegalización ¡cannabis!,
basta de prohibición.

Ni en chueca, en la latina, no hay en tirso de molina
ni en vallekas ni siquiera en chamberí ¡hachís!
yo quiero una china “tron”, dame esa china “tron”
saca ya la china “tron” ¡no hay china!

Sin cortarme un pelo, yo quiero mi caramelo
voy corriendo buscando a mi amigo alí ¡alí!
pásame una china “tron”, yo quiero una china “tron”
una posturita “tron”
“no chinas, no chinas hoy”
¡no chinas, no chinas hoy!

¡cannabis, cannabis, cannabis!
yo te quiero marihuana…
¡legaliza, legaliza!, ¡le-ga-li-za-ción!
¡basta ya de hipocresía!, ¡le-ga-li-za-ción!
Cannabis – Ska-p (Letra)


How To Make Rick Simpson’s Medicinal Hemp Oil Safely


Heat is essential to decarboxylate the cannabinoids properly so you have active medicine, cold extractions will not cure you. If you make it wrong because you think you know better than the people who are curing others… you have only yourself to blame (and we don’t want that to happen). Best of health and happiness. – Christian Laurette a.k.a. “chrychek”)

Make your own hemp oil using Rick’s only OFFICIAL recipe…. free of charge, as always.

Ensuring the correct dosage is used is key to overcoming cancer and not becoming overly drowsy. Please take care to follow the directions.

1975 – Medical College of Virginia, published medical journal:

2000 – Madrid, Spain study:

– Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection

How To Make Rick Simpson’s Medicinal Hemp Oil Safely


Protecting Your Innovative Cannabis Strains With a Strong Intellectual Property Strategy: Part 3 – Trademark Protection for New Cannabis Strains

In the first two installments of this three-part series, we explored the reasons why cannabis breeders and growers should adopt a strong IP strategy and discussed the types of patent protection that they should consider. In this final installment, we examine trademark protection for new cannabis varieties and the unique trademark issues currently facing the cannabis industry.

What is a trademark and what does it really get me?

A trademark is a visual feature of some sort, such as a word, phrase, or symbol, which is used to identify a company’s goods and to distinguish those goods from the goods of a competitor. Like a patent, a trademark is effectively an exclusionary right, meaning that it gives the owner the right to exclude others from using the same mark, or a mark that is confusingly similar, in connection with the same type of goods. The test for determining whether a competitor’s mark infringes upon your trademark is whether there is a likelihood of confusion in the mind of consumers over the source of the goods. Put another way, the test is whether a consumer is likely to be confused into believing that your competitor’s goods are actually associated with your company.

How long does this exclusionary right last? So long as certain requirements are met, a trademark can last forever. While a patent that protects a new cannabis variety will expire in 20 years, a trademark that also covers that strain can be maintained forever, which allows patents and trademarks to be used together to offer both stronger and longer lasting protection over a new cannabis variety.

How do I get a trademark?

Trademarks exist under both state and federal law. In many states, to obtain common law trademark protection, one does not need to file anything with a government entity – you simply need to use the mark (e.g., the word or logo) in connection with your company’s goods and use a “TM” in conjunction with the mark. However, the protections afforded by such a common law mark are relatively limited, so it is generally advisable to register the mark with the state and/or federal government in order to strengthen the exclusionary rights. Along the same lines, federal registration offers certain advantages over state registration, such as the right to use the mark nationwide and the right to challenge infringers of the mark in federal court.

To register a trademark, breeders and growers need to file a trademark application with the relevant government entity – the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a federal mark or various state government offices for state marks. For both state and federal trademark registrations, an applicant typically must demonstrate that 1) he/she is the first to use and register the mark for the type of goods at issue, 2) that he/she is actually using the mark in commerce or has intent to do so, and 3) that the mark is distinctive. Of these three requirements, proving distinctiveness is often the one that gives applicants the most difficulty.

A mark is “distinctive” if it is capable of identifying the source of a particular good. Because of this requirement, a brand name that is generic or merely describes the goods, such as “Large Bud Cannabis Plants,” is often less desirable because it is less distinctive and thus may be difficult to register. Conversely, a brand name that is “arbitrary” or “fanciful,” such as “Moose Foot Cannabis,” is often more distinctive and therefore may be easier to register, generally making it a more desirable choice as a brand name. This issue of distinctiveness is something that cannabis growers and breeders should keep in mind as they develop a branding strategy for their new varieties.

Unique trademark issues for the cannabis industry

Like almost every aspect in the cannabis industry, there are some unique trademark issues that breeders and growers must contend with. With regard to federal registration, the USPTO will currently not allow registration of any trademark for cannabis products that are illegal under federal law. However, that does not mean that every cannabis-related product cannot obtain any federal trademark protection. The reason for this is that a federal trademark registration is tied to specific types of goods that are being sold under the mark, so the ability to register a desired brand name will depend on what type of goods are covered by the trademark.

To that end, a mark that covers actual cannabis products (like plants or edibles) cannot currently be federally registered even if the mark does not actually include the word cannabis. For example, a breeder likely could not federally register the brand name “River’s Edge Farms” for the sale of cannabis plants and plant parts. However, a mark that covers products that are related to the cannabis industry may be allowable – even if it references cannabis –if the goods being sold under the mark are not themselves illegal under federal law. For example, “Pot Maximizer,” a trademark name for a grow light that is being sold to cannabis growers, could be federally registered since it is not illegal to sell a grow light.

Under current federal law, which prohibits the cultivation and sale of cannabis plants and their parts, a federal trademark registration is certainly not currently available for new cannabis varieties. However, this does not mean that trademark registration for new cannabis varieties is impossible. Most states with legalized cannabis will allow registration of state trademarks for cannabis products (e.g., Washington, Oregon, Colorado).

Further, since branding is a long-term strategy it is important for growers and breeders to keep the requirements for federal registration in mind when adopting a branding strategy to ensure they can obtain federal protection for their current brand names if and when cannabis becomes federally legal.

The bottom line…

Despite the fact that there are currently some unique trademark issues for cannabis growers and breeders, trademark protection can be a very valuable asset that both increases the level of protection and extends it beyond what can be obtained through a patent alone. As such, breeders and growers should adopt a branding strategy for their new varieties that attempt to maximize trademark protections for those varieties, both now and in the future.

Breeders and growers should select brand names that are sufficiently distinctive to meet the requirements of both federal and state trademarks. Right now, they will likely need to focus on state trademark rights by applying for state trademark registrations where available and by making sure that they are treating the mark as a brand name of their company (e.g., using a “TM” after their marks). However, they should also keep a close eye on the status of federal registration laws so that they can apply for federal registration of their marks when it becomes available.

Additionally, as discussed in prior articles, growers and breeders should also be seeking to maximize patent protection for their new cannabis strains so that they can use that protection in addition to trademarks to create a stronger IP position. Cannabis growers and breeders who adopt such a comprehensive strategy now could reap huge rewards down the road, especially if (or when) cannabis becomes federally legal, either at the medical or recreational level.

Legal disclaimer: The material provided in this article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The opinions expressed herein are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney. The provision of this information and your receipt and/or use of it (1) is not provided in the course of and does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship, (2) is not intended as a solicitation, (3) is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice, and (4) is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney. You should not act upon any such information without first seeking qualified professional counsel on your specific matter.

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ASTM International and American Herbal Products Association Announce Partnership

According to a press release sent out on June 8th, ASTM International and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on cannabis standards. The press release says that ASTM International will coordinate the work to develop the standards with all stakeholders involved and AHPA will make technical contributions and regulatory recommendations. AHPA will get recognized for their contributions per the license agreement. ASTM International is a standards development organization that develops voluntary consensus-based standards for industries.

This announcement precedes the first committee meetings for the development of cannabis standards, which began Sunday, June 11th and continue through June 12th. That committee group has now grown to roughly 200 members, including businesses, laboratories, associations, governments and more. “Many of our stakeholders – manufacturers, dispensaries, labs, consultants, and others – have laid the groundwork for guidance on the safe use and legal commerce of cannabis,” says Jane Wilson, director of program development at AHPA. “We are thrilled to now be contributing to standards development through one of the world’s top standards organizations.”

Ralph Paroli, Ph.D., the committee’s new chairman and the director of R&D in measurement science and standards at the National Research Council of Canada, says AHPA is a key organization in providing expertise on cannabis standards. “AHPA’s support for this new committee will help expedite international standards development, identify gaps, prevent duplicative efforts, and more,” says Paroli. The cannabis standards committee, officially designated D37, was formed on March 1st.

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Washington Changes Course, Selects MJ Freeway as New ASV

Two weeks ago, we reported on the State of Washington choosing Franwell as their apparent successful vendor (ASV) for their seed-to-sale traceability system contract. Late last week, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) sent out an email explaining that they are no longer going with Franwell and the new ASV is MJ Freeway.

The email (left) consisted of a letter sent by Peter Antolin, Deputy Director of the WSLCB, to licensees “who had written to the Board and staff regarding the marijuana traceability Apparent Successful Vendor and RFID tags.” Apparently, the reason behind switching the ASV to MJ Freeway is because Franwell’s system requires only one method for tagging plants- RFID tags. According to the letter, Deputy Director Antolin says the initial request for proposal (RFP) stated that the traceability system needs to support a variety of tagging methods, including bar codes and RFID. “The RFP requirements did not allow a vendor to make any assumptions regarding use of a single tagging methodology or allow vendors to include any such costs affecting the state or our licensees in their proposal,” says Antolin. As they made clear in the previous press release, the ASV is not the official contract winner until they complete negotiations and sign the contract.

On June 7th, Franwell withdrew their proposal for the state’s traceability system, thus Washington went with the second highest scoring vendor, MJ Freeway. Deputy Director Antolin says they submitted a strong bid, but there are still many questions left unanswered. How could such a glaring mistake be overlooked when the state named Franwell the highest scoring bidder? Is MJ Freeway’s system robust enough and capable of handling the state’s cannabis licensees’ traceability requirements even though they were not the highest scoring bidder? The deadline for the new system to be in place is October 31, 2017, which is quickly approaching for such a massive systems overhaul.

The WSLCB’s oversight highlights a few inadequacies with the state’s regulatory agency, particularly their indecision and lack of foresight. So much of the concept behind seed-to-sale traceability rests on Cole Memo compliance. A big reason why some states seek to implement a robust tracking system is to remain compliant with the Cole Memo; preventing diversion to crime organizations with regulatory oversight is a key tool that states use to tell the federal government they are complying with their directive and intend to protect their state’s legal cannabis operations from federal prosecution. Without a proper system in place, the state runs the risk of exposing their entire cannabis market to threats of federal enforcement, a scenario that seems unlikely but could be disastrous to cannabis businesses and the local economy.

The WSLCB needs to get their act together fast.

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Organic Cannabis Association & Ethical Cannabis Alliance Announce Merger

The Organic Cannabis Association and Ethical Cannabis Alliance announced today they are merging into one organization, the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), according to a press release. The new third-party certifications include “Organically Grown” and “Fairly Produced”, granting producers a seal for marketing if they achieve the certifications.

Ashley Preece, executive director of the Cannabis Certification Council

According to Ashley Preece of the Ethical Cannabis Alliance, now executive director at CCC, they plan on starting with the “Organically Grown” certification as first certification to market. “We are launching with Organically which will include robust labor standards as well as standards that go beyond [USDA] Organic,” says Preece. “The USDA Organic standard is watered down and we want to expand on proper horticulture practices so it relates directly to cannabis producers.” The process of designing that certification involves using that USDA Organic certification as a building block to draw from but not directly adopt.

“We will start by pulling from Organic and Fair Trade standards, then we will have a technical advisory committee (TAC), made up of multi-stakeholder agricultural industry and cannabis industry professionals to give input and adjust the standard accordingly,” says Preece. “From there we will have a pilot program, engaging with producers abiding by the standards’ requirements. After the pilot phase, we make final adjustments before bringing it to market.” In order to make sure their certification works across the board, Preece says they are engaging with stakeholders around the country and eventually globally. “We need to engage each different community to make sure this is applicable on a national level.” Preece also says they plan staying abreast of other standards, such as ASTM International’s, but those are geared more towards production safety. “We are looking towards more robust Organic and Fair Trade standards, and ‘cannabinizing’ them,” says Preece.

Photo courtesy of L’Eagle Services

David Bronner, a prominent advocate of drug policy reform and CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, a top-selling soap brand in the US market place, will be providing seed funding and a matching grant to the CCC. “We are committed to making socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest value, and we are excited for the CCC to begin driving that ethos in the cannabis industry,” says Bronner. “The Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), with its unique mission, is a perfect vessel for us to support our values in the cannabis space.”

Preece says the “Fairly Produced” labor certification is going to be based off of Fair Trade practices. “That will include living wages per community and taking options of ownership into consideration, including different business models where employees might have shares or partial ownership,” says Preece. “As we know, this industry has come from the illicit market, where we saw a lot of inappropriate working environments, gender relations and pay schedules. So we want to ensure that workers have contracts in place, they are treated fairly just as any other industry and we want to mitigate any strange encounters that might have seeped into this regulated market.” Founding board members include Laura Rivero of Yerba Buena Farms; Amy Andrle of L’Eagle Services Denver; Nick Richards of Dill and Dill and Vicente Sederberg; and Ben Gelt of Par, with Ashley Preece as executive director. “This is a huge step for the cannabis industry,” says Preece. “Our collaboration reflects the priority of the mission ingrained in both parties, and together we will immediately be greater than the sum of our parts.”

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Applications for Tissue Culture in Cannabis Growing: Part 3

In the first part of this series, we introduced some relevant terms and principles to tissue culture micropropagation and reviewed Dr. Hope Jones’ background in the science of it. In the second part, we went into the advantages and disadvantages of using mother plants to clone and why tissue culture could help growers scale up. In the third part of this series, we are going to examine the five steps that Dr. Jones lays out to successfully micropropagate cannabis plants from tissue cultures.

Cleaning – Stage 0

Explant cuttings are obtained from mother plants. The cuttings are further separated into smaller stem pieces with a single node.

Micropropagation includes 5 stages. “Stage 0 is the preparation of mother plants and harvest of cuttings for the explant material,” says Dr. Jones. “To ensure the best chance of growing well in culture, those ladies [the mom’s] should be cleaned up and at their best. And hopefully not stressed by insects or pathogens.” She says growers should also make sure the plants are properly fertilized and watered before harvesting explants. “Obtaining the explants is done with a clean technique using new disposable blades and gloves,” says Dr. Jones. “Young shoot tips are harvested and placed in labeled, large Ziploc bags with a small amount of dilute bleach and surfactant solution, then placed in a cooler and taken to the lab.” This is a process that could be documented with record keeping and data logs to ensure the same care is taken for every explant. “Once in the lab, working in the sterile environment of the transfer hood, the cuttings are sterilized, typically with bleach and a little surfactant, and then rinsed several times with sterile water,” says Dr. Jones. Once they reach the sterile environment, Dr. Jones removes the leaves and cuts the stem down to individual nodes.

Establishment – Stage 1

Established explants propagating shoots

Establishment essentially means waiting for the shoots to develop. Establishing the culture requires an absolutely sterile environment, which is why the first step is so important. “Proper explant disinfection is equally as important is the control parameters of the facility itself,” says Dr. Jones. Mother plants are not grown in sterile facilities, but in an environment that is invariably contaminated with dust, which harbors micro-organisms, insects and other potential sources of contamination, including human handling. We discussed some of this in Part 2.

Explants, once sterilized and placed in the culture vessel, must establish to the new aseptic conditions. “Basically Stage 0 ends when the explants are cleaned and placed in the vessel. Stage 1 begins on the shelf while we patiently sit, watch and wait for the shoot growth,” says Dr. Jones. “Successful establishment means we properly disinfected the explants because the cultures do not become contaminated with bacteria or fungi and new shoot growth emerges.”

Multiplication – Stage 2

Stage 2 involves subculturing an explant to produce new shoots

This stage is rather self-explanatory as multiplication simplified means generating many more shoots per explant. In order to create a large number of plants needed for meeting the demand of weekly clone orders, Dr. Jones can break up, or subculture, one explant that contains multiple numerous new shoots. “Let’s say one vessel, which originally started with 4 explants each developed four new shoots. Working in the hood, I remove each explant from the vessel and place it on a sterile petri dish. Now I can divide each explant into 4 new explants and then place the four new explant cuttings into their own vessel. In this example, we started with one vessel with 4 explants,” says Dr. Jones. “Which when subcultured 4-6 weeks later, we now have 4 vessels with 16 plants.” This is instrumental in understanding how tissue culture micropropagation can help growers scale without the need for a ton of space and maintenance. From a single explant, you can potentially generate 70,000 plants after 48 weeks, according to Dr. Jones. “Starting with not 1, but 10 or 20 explants would significantly speed up multiplication.” Using tissue culture effectively, one can see how a grower can exponentially increase their production.

Rooting – Stage 3

“When the decision is made to move cultures to the rooting stage, we typically need to subculture the plantlets to a different media formulated to induce rooting,” says Dr. Jones. “In some instances, the media is very dark, and that’s because of the addition of activated charcoal.” Using activated charcoal, according to Dr. Jones, helps darken the rooting environment, which closely mimics a normal rooting environment. “It helps remove high levels of cytokinin and other possible inhibitory compounds,” says Dr. Jones. Cytokinins are a type of plant growth hormone commonly used to promote healthy shoot growth, but it is important to make sure the culture contains the right ratio of hormones, including cytokinin and auxin for maximum root and shoot development. Dr. Jones suggests that growers research their own media formulation to ensure nice, healthy roots develop and that no tissue dies in the process. “With everything I grow in culture, when it comes to media, in any stage and with all new strains, I run some simple experiments in order to refine the media used,” says Dr. Jones. She puts a special focus on the concentrations and ratios of plant hormones in formulating her medias.

After harvesting and multiplying, these explants are ready for rooting

“We commonly think of auxin’s role in rooting, but it’s also important in leaves and acts as a regulator of apical shoot dominance,” says Dr. Jones. “So having no auxin may not be ideal for the shooting media used in Stages 1 and 2.” Auxin is a plant hormone that can help promote the elongation of cells, an important step in any plant’s growth. “And cytokinins are typically synthesized in the root and moves through xylem to shoots to regulate mitosis as well as inducing lateral bud branching, so again finding that nice balance between these two hormones is key.”

Acclimation & Hardening Off – Stage 4

“When plants have developed good looking healthy roots, it’s time to pop the top,” says Dr. Jones. This means opening the vessel, another risk for contamination, which is why having a clean environment is so crucial. “The location of these vessels needs to be tightly controlled for light, relative humidity, temperature and cleanliness.” In the culture, sugar is a main ingredient in the medium, because the growing explants are not very photosynthetically active. “By opening the lid of the vessel, carbon dioxide is introduced to the environment, which promotes and enhances photosynthesis, really getting the plants ready for cultivation.”

Harvesting explant material from mother plants

The very final step in tissue culture micropropagation is hardening, which involves the formation of the waxy cuticle on the leaves of the plant, according to Dr. Jones. This is what preps the plant to actually survive in an unsterile environment. “The rooted plants are removed from the culture vessel, the media washed off and placed in a potting mix/matrix or plug and kept in high humidity and low light,” says Dr. Jones. “Now that there is no sugar, contamination is no longer a threat, and these plants can be moved to the grow facility.” She says conditioning these plants can take one or two weeks. Over that time, growers should gradually increase light intensity and bring down the relative humidity to normal growing conditions.

Overall, this process, if done efficiently, can take roughly eleven weeks from prepping the explants to acclimation and hardening. If growers perform all the steps correctly and with extra care to reduce risks of contamination, one can produce thousands of plants in a matter of weeks.

In the fourth and final part of this series, we are going to dive into implementation. In that piece, we will discuss design principles for tissue culture facilities, equipment and instrumentation and some real-world case studies of tissue culture micropropagation.

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What Does it Really Mean To Be Organic in Cannabis?

If you ask an organic chemist, it’s any molecule with a carbon attached. If you ask a consumer of USDA Certified Organic vegetables, they might say it is food produced without chemicals pesticides, that it is safer and cleaner and even more nutritious. Possibly another consumer will say it’s just a hoax to pay more for food, but what does the USDA Certified Organic Farmer say?

Most will agree it is a very rigorous process of record keeping, fees, rules and oversight. The farmers have limited choices for pesticides and fertilizers; they incur higher labor costs, suffer potentially lower yields and generally have higher input costs. However, at the end of the day the farmer does get a higher price point.

With so many misconceptions about organic food, it is difficult to know what is actually organic by definition. First let’s think about what the word pesticide means. A pesticide is “a substance used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or to animals.” By definition, a vacuum used to suck off spidermites is a pesticide, so instead we should say that no synthetic pesticides are used. These are pesticides that enter and reside for long periods of time within the plant, which are potentially harmful to the end consumer. Though organic food does not contain synthetic pesticides, the perception of the food being healthier is also not always accurate. Growers often use foliar applied teas or manures, which increase the chance of the product containing E. coli or other harmful microbes. In addition, certain sanitizing agents or gamma irradiation is not allowed, so the post-harvest cleaning is not always as thorough as for conventional foods. When cannabis is sold as a dried product, the consumer cannot wash the flower as they might do before eating an apple. As growers, we should make sure we are disinfecting the flower before harvest and keeping the plant/processes clean throughout curing.

I often hear cannabis growers saying they are producing an organic product, but this simply cannot be true. The term “organic” is a labeling term for agricultural products (food, fiber or feed) that have been produced in accordance to the federal government’s USDA organic regulations. Due to our (cannabis growers) ongoing disagreements with the federal government, this is not a term we can put on our product. However, we can still grow to the same standards as USDA-certified farmers. How can we do this? By using OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved products. OMRI is a third-party, nonprofit organization that lets growers know if a product can be used in certified Organic production. You can find this seal on many fertilizers or pesticides.

Next, if it is a pesticide product that is not OMRI approved, check to see if it is registered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The EPA will provide ingredients and crops that are approved, amounts which can be used safely and storage/disposal practices on the label. Products that are put through the EPA registration are evaluated for their environmental, human and residual risks. Companies pay a hefty fee for this process, and much research goes into providing this information – ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!

A couple of exceptions to an EPA registration are pesticides that are 25B-exempt and biological control. 25B-exempt pesticides are pesticides that pose minimal or no risk to humans. A complete list of these products can be found here. Examples of these pesticides include rosemary, garlic, spearmint, etc.

Biological control is a method for controlling pests by the use of natural enemies. Biological control agents are allowed in organic production. If you are still wondering which pesticides or fertilizer are OK to use in cannabis and you do not live in a state with already enforced regulation, check out allowed lists in states that do.

So we know we cannot be considered a USDA organic cannabis farmer, but we CAN strive to meet the same standards:

  • Follow your state’s regulations; they are there for a reason!
  • Use OMRI products, 25B-exempt products and BCAs.
  • Keep an eye out for upcoming third-party certification companies, such as Clean Green or MPS (beware of the ones that want you to only use their products), because we need more than the state to regulate what we put onto our crop.
  • Finally, always think about the microbial load you’ve put on your plants. Although many can be very beneficial and help to produce high quality crops, many species can be harmful to the end user.

The post What Does it Really Mean To Be Organic in Cannabis? appeared first on Cannabis Industry Journal.

Casualties of War: How Prohibition Affects Education

The devastating impact of the War on Drugs extends to higher education, as students caught with pot face losing out on federal financial aid and often, consequently, on an education. Drug offenses are the only crimes that must be reported on federal student-aid applications, and that’s unlikely to change under a new administration laden with drug warriors.

Christy Billett could be the poster child for exposing the enduring perniciousness of the Drug War’s attack on American college students. Her story also stands as a stark warning about what many students may face under the Trump administration with an Education Department headed by Betsy DeVos and a Justice Department led by Jeff Sessions.

Back in 2000, Billett—then a working-class young woman of 18—was a few courses shy of completing her associate’s degree at DuBois Business College in rural Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, where she was enrolled in a program that would have made her a medical-transcription administrator. But she found herself entrapped in a sting by a friend’s father, a man with cancer who had asked his son to find him a source of marijuana to ease his pain. Billett, who had some pot and occasionally sold some, offered to sell him two ounces, but it turned out he was setting her up. While closing the deal, Billett was arrested and, without an attorney, agreed to make a statement to police. She subsequently hired a lawyer who managed to get the court to change her plea to “no contest,” but the damage was done. A convicted drug felon under Pennsylvania law, when Billett filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January 2001 to cover her final semester’s tuition, she discovered that she was permanently banned from receiving any federal tuition grants or student loans.

Now 36, married and with three kids, Billett says that her once-bright dreams of a career in the health-care field are gone. “I could have gone back to school after they changed the aid ban in 2006,” she says, referring to a congressional reform that reduced the permanent ban for people convicted of selling small amounts of pot to “just” a two-year ban, and the ban on possession to one year. “But my life had moved on. And besides, I am still a convicted felon, which makes getting a job hard. I basically live off my husband’s income.”

Billett isn’t alone. Since Congress passed a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act adding the deplorable Question 23 to FAFSA, hundreds of thousands of students have lost over $200 million in federal tuition aid. That question is: “Have you ever been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs?” Answering “yes” meant that you were permanently barred from receiving federal grants or even federally insured student loans for college, while answering “no” if you did have a drug conviction meant risking prosecution for defrauding the government—a federal offense carrying a fine of up to $20,000 and five years in prison. Most of those barred from receiving aid, like Billett, were already enrolled in college but found themselves unable to finish school and earn their degrees.

Things improved considerably in 2006, when Congress finally acted to modify the ban. Instead of a permanent ban on tuition aid for any drug conviction, now students are at risk only if they’re arrested while actually registered in school and already receiving federal aid. Then they face a one-year ban on aid if the arrest is for marijuana possession, and a two-year ban for selling it. A second possession bust while in school means a two-year ban on aid, and a third conviction makes the ban permanent—but there are also options to get the ban waived by completing an approved rehab program and passing two unannounced drug tests.

However, even under the program’s eased rules, students continue to get barred from receiving financial aid. As Betsy Mayotte, director of consumer outreach at American Student Assistance, explains: “A few thousand students got busted each year even after 2006—and even under the Obama administration, it’s been over 1,100 a year who end up losing their aid.” She explains that the law hits poor students and minorities the hardest, since they’re more likely to be arrested and often don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, leaving them at the mercy of police, prosecutors and judges. Meanwhile, the number of students losing their aid because of a drug conviction tells only part—perhaps a very small part—of the story. As Mayotte explains, “Nobody knows how many young people are not going to college because, when they start to fill out a FAFSA form to get tuition assistance and come to Question 23, if they have a drug record, they just mistakenly assume they aren’t eligible to get aid and give up on going.”

Efforts to obtain such data, as well as information about current and future policy on the student-aid ban, hit a brick wall at the Education Department, now headed by Christian activist and charter-school promoter Betsy DeVos. High Times sent a list of questions to the department’s press office—from the number of students currently banned from getting aid, to simple policy questions like whether a ban can be lifted once a student enrolls in an approved rehab program or whether it must be completed first. After two weeks of promising to supply the answers, press officer Jim Bradshaw sent the following e-mail to High Times:

We checked on your questions about federal student aid and here is what we can tell you. On background, not for quotation by name but attributed to “The US Department of Education” or an “Education Department spokesman”: “The Department does not have any comment at this time.”  

Betty Aldworth is the executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization that has been at the forefront of efforts to end the prohibitionists’ attack on student aid for those convicted of drug offenses. She notes that only drug convictions must be reported on the FAFSA form. (Convictions for coercive sex crimes are also supposed to prevent a student from receiving federal tuition assistance—but unlike with drug convictions, there is no requirement to report them on the FAFSA form.)

Incredibly, convictions for violent offenses—everything from breaking and entering to assault with a deadly weapon or even murder—do not prevent a person from receiving federal tuition assistance. In fact, although prisoners serving time in state or federal prison cannot receive federal loans or Pell Grants while behind bars, they are eligible for assistance if they’re in a county or municipal lock-up or a halfway house. All become eligible for aid once released from prison, even if they’re on parole—unless, of course, the conviction was for a drug-related offense.

Aldworth is concerned that after years of fairly relaxed enforcement of the aid ban—during the Obama administration, the Education Department appears not to have run any spot checks of those who answered “no” on Question 23 against criminal-conviction records—the Education Department under Trump could “start doing stricter enforcement of the drug ban again.”

Whatever DeVos’s views on banning student loans—she hasn’t said much on the issue, nor was she asked about it during her truncated Senate confirmation hearing—Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is known to be an uncompromising opponent of marijuana use. The former Alabama senator, who believes that cannabis is “only slightly less awful than heroin,” reportedly once said that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was okay until I found out that they smoked pot” and, more recently, during a Senate drug hearing in April 2016, proclaimed, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Sessions has made it clear that he intends to re-energize the discredited War on Drugs, including marijuana. In a recent memo to Justice Department prosecutors, Sessions said that he would be issuing new instructions requiring them to seek the maximum charge in any case—a reversal of a 2010 instruction from former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder that allowed prosecutors
to avoid higher charges and minimum-sentencing requirements, in part by not including the quantity of drugs confiscated during an arrest in the charges. As Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman told Politico, “Holder said you don’t have to charge mandatory minimums” in drug-arrest cases—but under AG Sessions, “it looks like they’re going to say, ‘Oh, yes, you do have to.’”

A year ago, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Robert Casey (D-PA) teamed up in a bipartisan attempt to insert an amendment into the Higher Education Act eliminating Question 23 from the FAFSA form, but the measure died when the Senate failed to even vote on the HEA. Most politicians contacted said that given the Trump administration’s focus on issues like immigration, ending the Affordable Care Act and cobbling together a replacement for it, and tackling campaign promises like an infrastructure bill and increased military spending, it’s unlikely that any effort to remove Question 23 would get very far in the current Congress. It’s also unclear what the mercurial Trump’s position would be on it.

Certainly his nomination of Sessions appears to be an endorsement of a harder line on drugs, including pot. Meanwhile, just word that the Trump administration is reviving the Drug War, and fears that the Education Department could become more aggressive in enforcing the ban on student aid for those convicted of drug crimes, is likely to make colleges and universities stricter in enforcing both state and local drug laws as well as university sanctions against students busted for drug use or sales.

Consider Pennsylvania State University, one of the country’s biggest public higher-education institutions. Although State College, the small town where Penn State is located, recently decriminalized marijuana possession, the university—which has its own much larger state-sworn campus police force—has instructed its officers to charge students busted for cannabis with a misdemeanor, and to refer their cases to the Centre County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

The justification for this harsh approach was explained as follows in a note sent to High Times by a university spokesman:

As a public university, Penn State must follow federal law or the University could risk losing all federal funding. Federal law still considers marijuana use and possession a misdemeanor.  

Following state and federal law, university police will charge individuals who violate the law. Whether they lose their aid is not something I can confirm, because every situation and police encounter is fact-specific to that case and there are a number of factors that trigger the loss of aid—beyond our control.

Police make arrests and refer cases to the prosecutor’s office, which ultimately decides to charge an individual or to not bring charges in the case.

In practice, the county DA generally says it offers arrested students—most of them middle-class white kids—a chance to enter an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) involving one year of probation and expungement of the arrest record if no further arrests have occurred during that period. But neither the DA’s office nor Penn State could provide any information on how many students caught up in campus pot busts had received ARDs or how many Penn State students have lost their aid because of arrests. ARDs are not offered to students arrested for selling drugs on campus, only for possession charges.

Betty Aldworth finds college crackdowns on weed use understandable if ill-considered. “It’s a pressure point for the Department of Education,” she explains. “The text of the Higher Education Act says universities have to have rules against possession or the use of drugs on campus.
It doesn’t say what those rules must be, but schools are terrified about losing their loan allocations.”

For her part, drug-ban victim Christy Billett, while unable to find a good job thanks to her felony record, has been fighting back by trying to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania. She founded and is executive director of Pennsylvanians for Safe Access (, which advocates the right of anyone in the state to grow marijuana for personal use. Her site was instrumental in getting the state’s Republican-run legislature to legalize medical cannabis last year.

Dave Lindorff is an award-winning veteran investigative journalist based in Philadelphia. The author of four books, a former Business Week China/Hong Kong correspondent and contributor to many magazines, he is also the founder of the collectively run journalist website This Can’t Be Happening! (

Grow Q&A: How Do I Know If My Female Pot Plant Has Been Pollinated?

Automatic Haze Seed photo courtesy of Dinafem Seeds.

Dear Dan,
How do you tell if a female plant has been pollinated? —

Dear John,

Shortly after a female flower has encountered male pollen, it will begin to shift over its efforts from expanding bud growth to producing seeds. The bracts will begin to swell and the white hairs will quickly start to turn red and then shrivel up. Soon after, the swollen calyxes will open and a seed can be seen protruding from it.

Pollination and seed production can only occur in the presence of male pollen (or a female hermaphrodite that produces pollen), so its important to limit exposure to males and hermaphroditic plants. Check your plants for signs of male flowers often, especially during the first three weeks of the flowering period. Kill all males or hermaphrodites with extreme prejudice as soon as they are discovered unless you want a harvest riddled with beans instead of buds.

Don’t miss our previous Grow Q&A: What Can I Do Now To Harvest More Pot This Fall?
For all of HIGH TIMES’ grow coverage, click here.