Steve Chapman: Jeff Sessions gives a boost to legalization of pot – Opinion – New Bern Sun Journal


When Winston Churchill’s party lost an election in 1945, evicting him from the job of prime minister of Britain, his wife ventured that the defeat might be “a blessing in disguise.” He replied, “Well, at the moment, it’s certainly very well-disguised.”

For those who favor legalizing recreational and medical use of marijuana, there is plenty of bad news in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to reverse the Justice Department’s previous hands-off policy toward state experimentation. He ordered federal prosecutors “to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.” That directive poses a threat to cannabis growers, dispensaries, investors and users who had been operating under a permissive regime.

“This is going to create chaos in the dozens of states whose voters have chosen to regulate medical and adult use (of) marijuana rather than leaving it in the hands of criminals,” said Neill Franklin, executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which favors legalization. The Drug Enforcement Administration could raid dispensaries that states have allowed, as it did under President George W. Bush and even under Barack Obama.

But the crackdown could amount to the last gasp of marijuana prohibition. The best way to get rid of laws that are generally unpopular and destructive is to enforce them stringently. By threatening an assault on a sector that has established itself across the country, Sessions has picked a fight he is bound to lose.

His policy puts him at odds with the 29 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow medical use of the drug. Together, they comprise nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population. His order is especially hostile to the eight states that have legalized recreational pot. They include Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts and California, which account for 20 percent of Americans.

It also creates conflict with many people in his own party. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said the shift contradicted the assurance Sessions had given him, and he threatened to block all Justice Department nominations in response.

Fellow GOP Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rand Paul of Kentucky objected. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California accused Sessions of a “profound misreading of the Constitution, which allows states, not the heavy-handed federal government, to determine such issues.”

Sessions is a prisoner of his immutable belief that “using drugs will destroy your life.” But the more than 100 million Americans who have consumed cannabis, and particularly the 35 million who enjoy it on a regular basis, know better. The attorney general seems intent on proving that you don’t have to be stoned to be detached from reality.

He is also inviting a backlash. Just hours after his announcement, the Vermont House of Representatives approved a bill to allow recreational use of cannabis, which the Senate had passed last year, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott supports the idea. This week, the New Hampshire House voted to legalize possession of small amounts of pot, though Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is opposed.

Illinois, which allows medical marijuana, could benefit. State Sen. Heather Steans, who had already introduced a bill to legalize recreational use, says, “What the attorney general did may be pushing states further.”

Rohrabacher thinks Sessions’ move will encourage Congress to foil him. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she will introduce a bill to let states make their own choices on cannabis. She may find little opposition. Politico reported that it “could not find a single member of Congress who had issued a statement in support of Sessions’ actions.”

His mistake was to disturb a status quo that allowed members of Congress to accommodate public support for legalization without having to vote for it. Deference to state liberalization could be couched in terms of keeping the federal government from interfering with matters beyond its responsibilities — an approach that largely satisfied both Democrats and Republicans.

Sessions is forcing many members to choose between supporting prohibition of cannabis and siding with their own states and constituents. Given that two-thirds of Americans want to allow recreational weed, it’s not a shrewd strategy.

His position is more likely to boost support for legalization than to diminish it. That’s partly because he works for a president who is notably unpopular and partly because he himself has an approval rating of 24 percent. Legalization supporters could not ask for a more useful adversary.

They may lament Sessions’ ill-informed and punitive decision now. Someday, they may remember it as a blessing in disguise.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13.

 



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Some fans of Trump and pot feel allegiances go up in smoke






PORTLAND, Maine (AP) ��� The Trump administration’s anti-marijuana move has some members of the president’s voting base fuming.

Fans of President Donald Trump who use marijuana say Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ move to tighten federal oversight of the drug is the first time they’ve felt let down by the man they helped elect. The move feels especially punitive to Trump voters who work in the growing industry around legalized marijuana that has taken root in states of all political stripes.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s pot-loving voters will take their anger to the ballot box in 2018 and 2020. But pro-legalization conservatives are also chiding the administration’s anti-pot move as an affront to personal liberties and states’ rights.

“Trump needs to realize that a lot of his supporters are pro-cannabis and it would be extremely hurtful to them if he allowed Sessions to move forward with this,” said Damara Kelso, a Trump voter who runs Sugar Shack Farms, a marijuana grower in Eugene, Oregon. “It’s not lazy pothead stoners smoking weed all day in their parents’ basement.”

Sessions’ move allows federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules conflict with federal. It comes as legalization of marijuana is at an all-time high in popularity with Republicans.

A Gallup poll from last year found 51 percent of Republicans expressed support for legalization of the drug. It was the first time a majority of GOP supporters supported the idea and represented a jump of 9 percentage points from the previous year. In the early 2000s, only about one in five Republicans agreed with legalization.

Legalization has also flourished at the state level. Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts and California all voted to make recreational marijuana use legal for adults in 2016. It is also legal in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Washington, D.C. Alaska and Maine gave Trump electoral votes in 2016.

Marijuana legalization is typically most popular with the libertarian-leaning wing of the Republican Party. But any such Republicans who felt Trump would be a pro-marijuana president were misguided, said Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist who studies the economics of libertarianism with a focus on illegal drugs.

Weed-loving Trump fans might be experiencing buyer’s remorse, but it’s too early to say whether that could make a difference at the voting polls, Miron said.

“Libertarians certainly knew when he appointed Jeff Sessions that there was a serious risk in an escalation of the war on drugs,” he said. “I think you get what you pay for.”

Still, some of Trump’s high-profile supporters are criticizing the move.

Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign adviser with whom the president has a long and rocky history, shared a video on Facebook on Jan. 7 urging Trump to support legalization and block Sessions’ move. And some Republicans in Congress have also slammed the decision.

“We have a Constitution to protect people from the federal government,” Republican Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minnesota, a Trump voter, said in an interview. “This is a longstanding limited-government principle.”

Trump fans who use medical marijuana are also concerned they could lose access to treatment. In rural Fryeburg, Maine, college student Zac Mercauto drives two hours roundtrip, he said, to buy marijuana to manage chronic pain and other health problems. He said he would hate to lose that ability to federal politics.

Mercauto is also one of thousands of Mainers who helped give Trump his sole New England electoral vote. Unlike most states, Maine splits its electoral votes by congressional district, and Trump won the vast 2nd District, home to both New England conservatism and a marijuana culture.

Mercauto, who had his picture taken with Trump in 2016, said he is still a big fan of the president. But he believes the anti-pot move is bad for his state’s economy and health.

“I believe it’s going to take a hit at medical marijuana and the industry as a whole here in Maine,” he said. “It’s disappointing to see him take that stab at the industry. And I guarantee you all the tax money the state of Maine from medical marijuana really helps people all around.”



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Amodei: No ‘reason for panic’ about marijuana’s situation in Nevada, but Congress should ‘get off its butt’ and act | State & Regional


Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei sees no immediate threat to the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to overturn policy at the Justice Department that gave states protections from federal prosecution.

“I don’t think there is a reason for panic,” Amodei said on a call with reporters on Tuesday, several days after the decision was announced. “It is good to keep your eye on it.”

Although he doesn’t expect a crackdown, he believes Congress should act to clear up the issue of medical and recreational marijuana use.

“If we want some predictability and stability … it’s probably time … that Congress get off its butt and start dealing with the issues,” Amodei said.

The Northern Nevada lawmaker’s measured approach mirrors that of some in the state’s marijuana industry. Nick Spirtos, a doctor who runs The Apothecary Shoppe dispensary west of the Las Vegas Strip, said that while his customers were stressed by Sessions’ move, he entered the business with eyes wide open.

“I don’t worry about it,” Spirtos said in an interview after a Thursday press conference held at his dispensary. “Look, the federal government could’ve closed us down anytime they wanted. We undertook this with the understanding that there were risks. Hopefully they will appreciate what we’re doing to contribute to the overall health of the patients in this state.”

Democrats sounded the alarm about the move, calling Nevadans to fight for their state’s rights to maintain a marijuana industry in spite of federal prohibition. Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom, sometimes called the godfather of marijuana in Nevada, said he’d been fielding anxious calls from people in the industry.

“I tell them on the one hand, don’t worry, relax, calm down,” he said in an interview Thursday. “On the other hand, I’ll say, we need to push back. We need to scream bloody murder. This is unacceptable.”

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said that while Congress — which has anti-marijuana lawmakers in key leadership positions — has made virtually no progress on relaxing a federal marijuana ban, the anxiety over Sessions’ decision could force more lawmakers to take a stand.

“This may work to our advantage,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “Now that we see what this is really going to do, it may motivate more representatives from states to get busy and pass that legislation because they’ll be hearing from their constituents, they’ll be hearing from businesses and maybe we can make something good about that.”

Marijuana is currently classified with drugs such as heroin, that are deemed to be “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Amodei noted that he has been working with Titus to support legislation introduced by Maryland Republican Andy Harris that would legalize medical marijuana. He said the two also back a bill from Colorado Democrat Jared Polis that would allow recreational use to classify marijuana similar to alcohol.

Amodei said that marijuana could become an issue his re-election campaign since “in the election everything is fair game,” and underscored his belief that it is time for Congress to settle the matter.

“If you really want to address the issue, you’ll hear me say in the campaign cycle, ‘it’s time for us to act,’” said Amodei, who represents a heavily Republican district. “By the time that discussion starts in a few months, you’ll also hear me say… ‘here’s the legislation I’ve affiliated myself with, here’s why, here’s the research we’ve done.’”

He expects dealing with medical marijuana will be easier than dealing with recreational. While he is working with Titus, he said he had not seen the details of a bill co-sponsored recently by Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen that would prohibit federal prosecution of individuals for marijuana possession so long as they follow their state’s respective marijuana laws.

Amodei was not also prepared to advocate for language to be included in the annual spending bills that would prohibit use of federal funds to prosecute recreational use. Such a provision, offered by California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, exists for medical marijuana, which has been included in previous spending bills. California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock has proposed a provision to protect both. “I haven’t thought about it, but we are going to look at that,” Amodei said.

Asked if he had worked with any Senate counterparts, Amodei said, “I can’t tell you what they’re doing over in the Senate, but that’s not a news flash for me,” Amodei said.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who also chairs Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said he expects lawmakers from states with legalized marijuana, such as Nevada, to stand up for their constituents.

“The people of Colorado made it very clear what they wanted as it relates to marijuana, at first medical marijuana, then recreational marijuana, and I think it’s my job to protect those states’ rights and states’ decision,” Gardner said Tuesday. “I think senators in states … where they have legalized medical and recreational marijuana will find themselves in the same situation defending and protecting states’ rights.”

Heller issued a less forceful statement than Gardner when Sessions’ decision came down, encouraging the Department of Justice to work with Nevada’s governor, attorney general and congressional delegation. Segerblom called on Sen. Dean Heller to join Gardner in a more aggressive crusade.

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“If Heller would stand up and join with Gardner, they’d have to back off in a second. Then we’d have 51 votes on our side and no federal appointments or nothing,” Segerblom said. “So if those Republicans in states that have recreational would just get together and say ‘this is money, this is jobs,’ we’d be in good shape.”

Heller didn’t respond to a request Tuesday for additional comment.

Gardner, who has threatened to block all Department of Justice nominees, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys, was meeting with Sessions on Wednesday. “The bottom line is that this could be solved by the Department of Justice changing their decision to reverse the Cole Memorandum.”

Gardner said that he intends to discuss with Sessions a solution that would “allow (Sessions) to live up to his commitments he made to me prior to his confirmation.”

The Colorado senator, who voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general has said that he had commitments from Sessions and President Donald Trump that marijuana enforcement policy would not change.

Under Sessions’ pronouncement, U.S. attorneys will have broad discretion on whether to prosecute violations of federal marijuana law in their districts rather than adhering to guidelines provided under the Cole Memo. Gardner said that he was concerned by the comments issued Monday by the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts.

Although the U.S. Attorney in Colorado said last week that he would not seek to prosecute violations of federal law with regard to marijuana, the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, released a statement noting that he could not “provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution.”

The office of Nevada’s U.S. attorney, Dayle Elieson, declined to comment on Tuesday. Elieson, who hails from Dallas and began in the role on Friday, so far has not given any public indication about where she stands on the matter — a fact that concerns some marijuana proponents.

“It leaves it up to the discretion of the states. Some may be more aggressive than others in going after the businesses,” Titus said about Sessions’ decision. “Texas doesn’t have it, she doesn’t know much about it. We don’t know what that means, whether she’s going to be aggressive or not.”

“Now that we see what this is really going to do, it may motivate more representatives from states to get busy and pass that legislation because they’ll be hearing from their constituents …” — US Rep. Dina Titus



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Nothing Can Stop These Pot Stocks


Sin City is alive with technology this week.

The Consumer Electronics Show has taken over the town, and some of the most exciting tech companies on the planet are here.

Yet, despite all the latest and greatest gadgets that are on display, the only thing anyone can seem to talk about is where they’re getting their weed.

So many out-of-towners aren’t used to it yet, but in Nevada, you can walk into any number of dispensaries and legally buy cannabis.

This year there are nearly 200,000 people attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. And I’m willing to bet that more than half of them have spent a fair amount of their per diems on marijuana.

Of course, this should come as no surprise to you.

Back in August I told you how Nevada would quickly become one of the most lucrative cannabis markets in the U.S., primarily due to the steady flow of visitors it receives every day.

In 2016, 42.9 million people visited Las Vegas. This year, that number is expected to soar past 50 million.

Couple that with the 633,000 residents of Las Vegas — more than 40% who likely purchase and consume cannabis on a regular basis — and you have the recipe for one hell of an investment opportunity.

It Ain’t Rocket Science

Last year, it was predicted that Nevada would do $30 million in cannabis sales for 2017.

In October alone, the Silver State did $37.9 million.

When the final 2017 numbers come in, it’ll be well over $100 million. And remember, Nevada only began allowing for the sale of recreational cannabis in July.

Look, it ain’t rocket science.

This is, hands down, one of the most lucrative markets in the United States.

I’m actually still surprised that so many investors continue to ignore the legal cannabis market.

Especially after last week.

How to Get Rich in the Legal Cannabis Market

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that basically disallowed federal prosecutors from going after cannabis businesses operating in states where it has been legalized.

You see, the U.S. Attorney General is a very outspoken critic of legalization and continues to do whatever he can to stop the continued momentum we’ve been witnessing in this space. But what he and a lot of other folks fail to realize is that this momentum simply cannot be stopped.

If you need any proof, just look at how cannabis stocks reacted to Sessions’ announcement last week.

The second the news came out, cannabis stocks sold off in a major way. But I knew it was merely a blip, because that announcement didn’t matter.

The truth is, there are few federal prosecutors who have the staff, resources, or even desire to go after these cannabis operations. Moreover, in the states where cannabis has been legalized, governors, mayors, and other local politicians are enjoying the windfall of tax revenue that has accompanied legalization.

Say what you want about politicians, but nothing motivates these guys more than state and local tax revenue. And they’re not giving that up for anyone.

Insiders knew the sell-off would be brief, so we started buying in large chunks. I also told members of my Green Chip Stocks community to use that opportunity to pick up some cheap shares of a few quality cannabis stocks.

One in particular was Innovative Industrial Properties (NYSE: IIPR).

Following Sessions’ announcement, shares of IIPR fell about 16%. But I didn’t flinch. This was a buying opportunity if I ever saw one. So I screamed from the rooftops: Buy the dip!

Here’s how that worked out…

As anticipated, the stock bounced back, closing out the next day at $29.42.

That’s a 16.8% gain in one day.

And that, dear reader, is just one of many that we took advantage of after Jeff Sessions made his announcement.

Another stock I told folks to pick up on the dip was MPX Bioceuticals (CSE: MPX)(OTCBB: MPXEF). That stock fell by about 12% on the day all those cannabis stocks sunk. Those who listened to my advice and picked up MPX on the dip enjoyed a 15.6% gain the next day.

mpxox

Of course, I’ve been singing the praises of MPX Bioceuticals for a long time. I even highlighted it in my October 3, 2017, issue of Energy and Capital. The stock was trading at about $0.36 that day. Had you bought it on my recommendation, you would’ve already more than doubled your money.

$20,000 back in October is now worth nearly $50,000.

That, dear reader, is how you get rich in the legal cannabis market!

Of course, while I told you about MPX back in October, I told members of my Green Chip Stocks community even earlier, thereby allowing them to make even more money. Indeed, membership to Green Chip Stocks does have its privileges.

Just take a look at our portfolio:

portov

Nearly every stock in this portfolio is a cannabis stock, and I’m adding more as we head into 2018 — which many insiders believe will be the biggest year for cannabis stocks yet.

One of those stocks has exposure to the Nevada market, too. Just like MPX Bioceuticals. But it’s still flying under the radar, which means it’s time to pounce.

You can get a piece of this action, too, by becoming a member of Green Chip Stocks today.

Once you sign up, you’ll also get a free copy of my best-selling e-book, “A Beginner’s Guide to Cannabis Investing.”  Plus, you’ll get my next pot stock recommendation, which we’ll soon be adding to our portfolio of triple- and quadruple-digit winners.

I plan on releasing this new recommendation in less than two weeks, so if you want in, you need to lock in your membership now.

Or you can just sit on the sidelines while the rest of us get rich.

To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth…

Jeff Siegel Signature

Jeff Siegel

follow basic@JeffSiegel on Twitter

Jeff is the founder and managing editor of Green Chip Stocks, a private investment community that capitalizes on opportunities in alternative energy, organic food markets, legal cannabis, and socially responsible investing. He has been a featured guest on Fox, CNBC, and Bloomberg Asia, and is the author of the best-selling book, Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks. For more on Jeff, go to his editor’s page.



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Denver considers nation’s first pot coffee shop


DENVER — It’s a common dilemma for cannabis customers in Colorado: Where to light up?

Because state law bans public consumption of any kind — no puffing a joint in the park or bringing your own pot-infused granola bar to a restaurant for dessert — locals are restricted to their homes. And tourists, who also are barred from using marijuana in rental cars or hotel rooms, face a buy-it-don’t-use-it paradox.

But that soon could change. Denver officials last month accepted an application from a coffee shop that plans to allow social marijuana use — the first of its kind in the country.

Nationwide, cities in the eight states that have legalized pot are debating whether customers should be allowed to toke up outside of private residences or clubs.

In Massachusetts, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission approved a policy in December allowing for pot cafes — establishments where people can buy and use marijuana in public. But legal sales don’t take effect there until July. In Nevada, where legal sales began last summer, Las Vegas officials are considering an ordinance that would pave the way for the creation of marijuana-friendly lounges. And several cities in California, including West Hollywood and Oakland, have expressed interest in allowing cannabis social spaces.

The battle in Denver dates back to late 2016, when voters here overwhelmingly passed an ordinance allowing cafes and restaurants to ask for permits to let customers use pot on site. Under the measure, Initiative 300, once a permit is issued, patrons can enjoy weed indoors, as long as they don’t smoke it. (Outside smoking areas, however, are OK.) In addition, businesses cannot sell alcohol and, among other things, are not allowed to be within 1,000 feet of schools, drug treatment centers or child-care facilities.

Because of these tough restrictions, more than a year after the measure passed, no applications had been submitted. But that changed last month, when Rita Tsalyuk applied — the first business owner and, so far, the only to apply for a public-use license. Denver officials expect more applications in the coming months.

On a recent gelid afternoon, Tsalyuk sat at a high-top wooden table inside the Coffee Joint, her soon-to-open shop that will allow patrons to consume pot edibles and use marijuana vape pens. Next door is her recreational dispensary, 1136 Yuma, tucked in an industrial neighborhood lined with lumber and scrap metal yards.

“I think this is a natural step in the legalization movement,” Tsalyuk said, adding that she has the support of the local neighborhood association. “People want to use pot and have a nice social experience. … I want to provide that.”

Tsalyuk, who also works in real estate, jumped into the legal marijuana industry last year after seeing its success across much of the state. In 2016, Colorado pot sales and fees produced nearly $200 million in tax revenue. In Denver, the city raked in about $24 million, which, among other things, was used to build a recreation center near downtown.

“Clearly this state and city are on the front lines of the movement,” said Tsalyuk, undeterred by the Trump administration’s recent announcement it would scrap an Obama-era policy offering legal shelter for state-sanctioned marijuana sales. “This shop will be a part of the movement.”

But not everyone is onboard.

To Rachel O’Bryan, who led the campaign against Initiative 300, allowing pot in public places puts people at risk. She said she’d like to see more studies of how people respond to marijuana before it is allowed in public.

“We really don’t know how people are going to react to marijuana use … but now we’re going to allow it in public?” O’Bryan said. “It just seems like this could lead to situations where issues could occur.”

While Tsalyuk’s shop isn’t near any homes — a plus — O’Bryan said she worries that the city will get other applications in more residential areas. She also has concerns about people driving while high.

The state, however, has embarked on a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to inform residents about the risks of driving while stoned.

City regulators will hold a public hearing about Tsalyuk’s application in the weeks ahead, and if approved, she said she hopes to open her shop in the spring.

Outside her dispensary on a recent afternoon, Homer Santos, 21, showed off his recent purchase — a half-ounce of Grape Ape indica. Santos, a waiter who lives a short drive from the dispensary, said he likes to use marijuana with friends and said he’d visit the Coffee Joint when it opens.

“This way, if my friends and I want to eat a brownie and chill out with a cup of coffee, we can do that,” Santos said. “Sounds like a nice afternoon.”

The more he thought about the idea, he began to grin, adding: “I’d be a regular.”



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Your Evening Briefing – Bloomberg


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We’re not even two weeks into 2018 and global equities have already added $2.1 trillion in market value. The bull market is now in its ninth year and optimism abounds. Times are so good, in fact, that people are “having a hard time even imagining how the market could decline,” according to a new Morgan Stanley report. What’s the worst that could happen?—Josh Petri

“Populist” is a funny word. It sounds like a compliment—someone who respects the will of the people!—but it’s used as a put-down. The label has been applied to characters as different as President Donald Trump, the late leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, and Bernie Sanders, the liberal U.S. senator from Vermont. So are you a populist? And if you are one, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

These airlines listen when you vent on Twitter.  The last year has taught airlines to ignore social media at their peril. Many carriers now staff social media departments around the clock, offering customers quick service while monitoring internet chatter for potential trouble, celebrity tweets and video snippets that could go viral. Another person paying more attention to Twitter? FBI Director Christopher Wray.

President Donald Trump plans to attend the annual meeting of world financial elite in Davos, a celebration of globalization and free trade that runs counter to the “America First” populism he champions. Trump’s election victory dominated conversation at the World Economic Forum last year, though the administration didn’t send any official representatives.

A classified military satellite is missing after a SpaceX launch. The company’s Falcon 9 appeared to lift off successfully from the pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday carrying a classified payload. But afterward, the U.S. Strategic Command said it wasn’t tracking any new satellites, an indication that the satellite somehow failed to deploy properly.

Fake news and Elon Musk sent South Africa’s currency haywire. False reports on Tuesday suggested that South African President Jacob Zuma had unexpectedly resigned, spiking the rand more than 1 percent. News-reading algorithmic traders may have been confused by reports on the wires of a U.S. congressional aide saying that Zuma was lost—referring to the code name for the seemingly failed SpaceX mission, not the president.



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Year of the Dog brings optimism


January 09, 2018 3:00 AM
by

This year Chinese New Year lands on Feb. 16 with celebrations starting on its eve, the 15th. Given the economies of both Asia and the United States, there is more reason for optimism than pessimism that both Macau and Las Vegas stand to do very well for this particular New Year’s celebration.

Macau seems to have evolved past Mainland China’s crackdown on currency outflows and VIP gaming has returned. Even though the Chinese government has recently tightened how much their citizens can spend and take out of ATM machines while traveling out of the country, signs for Macau, barring weather or geo political surprises, are indicating this could be one of the most successful New Year celebrations Macau has seen in many years.

Chinese New Year celebrations usually run seven days. This year the holiday starts on a Thursday and neatly runs into the weekend, which will help feed special events here in Las Vegas. By coincidence the new payroll deduction rates are expected to go into affect around the same time so Las Vegas casinos will likely see a bump from both the New Year celebrations and the sudden bump in discretionary cash available to traditional customers.

With the gains in the stock market, consumer confidence, increases in personal disposable cash from the Tax Reform Act, Super Bowl on Feb. 4, Chinese New Year starting on Feb. 15, Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day on Feb. 19 (coincidentally making Chinese New Year a three-day weekend in the U.S.) February 2018 could be a record setting month in Las Vegas not only for casino revenue but all categories (hotel, F&B, shops, entertainment) of revenue.

In the Chinese zodiac, the sign of the Dog while generally considered playful is also given attributes for the gathering and protection of money. Hopefully, superstition or not, this year of the Dog will mean a great gathering of wealth for our Las Vegas casinos.

Closing before New Year?

On a separate but somewhat related note, on learning of the casino closure of the Lucky Dragon, I for one was surprised, not that it is closing but that they are doing so before Chinese New Year. One would think a Chinese themed property would look to be open during such a potentially busy time.

While company announcements have indicated they will reopen within six months, reformatted for an expanded market appeal, I hope their reformatting includes a unique enticement or two that will stimulate both locals and tourists to make the trek to their uniquely located facility.

While I personally wish them well, 200 hotel rooms is not enough to support a casino, and absent an attraction to pull in tourists or locals, it is likely to remain a property that feeds into neighboring facilities rather than drawing from them.

As was noted in last week’s column, if an over 800-room hotel (the Westin) cannot support a casino, the prospects of a casino surviving with 200 rooms with no material local or walk-in tourist traffic will be challenging. I will look forward to seeing how they solve their seeming dilemma, which I hope they spectacularly do.

Sticky questions

February is also expected to see the reconvening of the Gaming Policy Committee and the addressing of the sticky questions around Nevada’s legal marijuana business and the Nevada Gaming Commission’s position on the outright prohibition of any interactivity with any level of that business.

Of course the recent memo from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, basically green lighting the prosecution by each state’s assigned U.S. attorney, threw another topic into the ongoing discussions. Perhaps Nevada’s newly assigned U.S. attorney, Texas lawyer Dayle Elieson, will be invited to the next meeting and real guidance could be gotten about what to do until Congress finally addresses the marijuana issue – make it legal or leave it illegal – at the federal level.

While there is probably not much in the way of material resolution coming soon to the question of boundaries around the intersection of legal marijuana and the gaming industry, I hope the Committee does come to at least one recommendation to bring harmony to state laws and regulations. The citizens of Nevada, through a change in state law, have made medical and recreational marijuana legal.

While, I am not a fan of its use in casino resorts, I find it silly that gaming operators are at risk from a regulation – not a law, if they overtly or inadvertently do something related directly or indirectly to Nevada’s legal marijuana industry. I do not believe either the Gaming Control Board or the Gaming Commission should be able to set their regulations above the will of Nevada voters, as expressed through the new law, and put gaming operators at a double jeopardy risk between gaming regulations and federal law for an otherwise legal activity within Nevada.



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Rosen Bill Would Protect Nevadan’s From Fed Marijuana Crackdown


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Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is a co-sponsor of H.R. 975, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, a bipartisan bill that would prohibit federal prosecution of individuals for marijuana possession, so long as they follow their state’s marijuana laws. Rosen says “Nevada’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016 has resulted in millions of dollars in new revenue for Nevada’s state budget and thousands of new jobs that have helped grow our local economy.” She says The Justice Department should not change its enforcement priorities to start going after individuals or small businesses who are operating legally in our state. Rosen also co-sponsored a separate bipartisan amendment to prohibit federal funds from being used to penalize financial institutions that serve legal marijuana businesses.



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Tourism officials wrestle with marijuana marketing | News


BOSTON — Legal marijuana in Massachusetts is expected to draw visitors from states where the drug remains illegal, providing a major boost to the tourism industry from users apt to spend money in hotels, restaurants and other retail outlets.

But whether state tourism officials will promote the budding, multimillion-dollar industry remains to be seen.

At present, there are no restrictions on using state tourism dollars to market marijuana businesses.

Draft regulations approved two weeks ago by the Cannabis Control Commission focus only on restricting the marketing of retail pot businesses to underage users. But the state’s 16 regional tourism councils are starting to discuss how to handle a new industry that could become a major draw.

Ann Marie Casey, executive director of the North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’s become a hot topic. The regional council’s leaders plan to convene a panel to discuss the issue and how it relates to the region’s overall marketing plans.

“It’s definitely something that’s on our radar,” said Casey, who noted that the regional council’s board of directors will ultimately decide how to proceed.

For now, the visitors bureau plans to continue its focus on selling the region for its open space, arts, culture and entertainment.

“We have so many natural assets, beautiful museums, restaurants and other attractions, and we’ll continue to market that,” she said. “But I do not know if we’re going to be actively marketing recreational use of marijuana.”

The state Office of Travel and Tourism, which oversees the regional councils, declined to comment for this story.

Tourism is the state’s third-largest industry. Visitors generate about $20.2 billion a year, including $1.3 billion in taxes.

The industry employs 135,000 people and pays $4.4 billion in wages, according to the state Office of Travel and Tourism.

The state gets more than 25 million visitors a year from within the United States and an additional 2.5 million overseas.

Jim Borghesani of the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that backed legal weed, says it would be unfair for state tourism officials to continue to promote businesses that sell alcoholic beverages while turning a cold shoulder to marijuana marketing.

The state’s official tourism website, for example, enthusiastically promotes wineries, cider houses, microbreweries and mom-and-pop distilleries that make vodka and other alcoholic beverages.

“There’s nothing preventing state tourism dollars for cannabis tourism promotion,” Borghesani said. “Frankly, it would be hypocritical of them not to promote it.”

That seems unlikely under the Baker administration, however, despite tens of millions of dollars in anticipated tax revenue from retail sales scheduled to begin later this year.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott Republican, firmly opposed legalization and actively campaigned against Question 4, which was approved by voters in 2016.

“I honestly don’t expect strong leadership from the state’s tourism officials, and it will probably be awhile before the state moves forward with any expenditures on this,” Borghesani said. “The politicians and elected officials have traditionally been behind the general public when it comes support for legalization issues.”

The state is also likely to face additional scrutiny following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision Thursday to rescind an Obama-era policy that kept the federal government from standing in the way of states that legalize weed.

It wasn’t immediately clear what that reversal would mean for the state’s new pot law.

Massachusetts’ voter-approved law allows adults 21 and older to carry up to an ounce of marijuana in public and grow up to a dozen plants on their property.

It also permits retail sales and commercial growing.

Eight states and Washington, D.C. allow adult-use recreational marijuana; 29 states have approved medical marijuana programs.

Marijuana remains on the federal government’s list of controlled substances, however.

Other states where pot is legal have also taken a wait-and-see approach to marketing the industry.

In Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012, the state has seen a massive influx of tourists who have contributed to retail sales of more than $1.3 billion a year. Tours are bringing busloads of visitors from as far away as Florida and Texas to shop at hundreds of dispensaries in the state.

Still, state tourism officials say they cannot promote the industry, citing restrictions in Colorado’s adult-use law and the fact marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Tourism officials in Nevada, the most recent state to legalize pot, don’t appear to be shrugging off the potential impact of the new industry. They’re conducting market research over the next year to determine whether to incorporate marijuana commerce into marketing for Las Vegas and other destinations.

In Massachusetts, rules for the new industry are still taking shape as state officials prepare for the advent of retail pot shops in July.

Two weeks ago, the state’s five-member Cannabis Control Commission adopted draft rules that limit marijuana advertising on public property, ban marketing designed to appeal to minors, and set strict requirements for retailers marketing their marijuana products.

Direct advertising using television, radio, internet or other electronic communication, billboard or other outdoor advertising, or print publications, will be banned unless marketers can prove that “at least 85 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older.”

The regulations are not final and can be amended or changed before they go into effect in March, according to the commission.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has already extended rules that ban tobacco ads at MBTA stations, buses, subway cars and trains to include advertising that “promotes the sale, use or cultivation of marijuana or marijuana-related products.”

Borghesani said tourism officials “would be remiss” if they didn’t consider the potential benefits of promoting the state as a destination for pot tourists.

He expects Beacon Hill policymakers will warm to the idea when they begin see revenue from retail sales and the influx of visitors.

“It’s going to take some time, and there’s still a lot of stigma,” he said. “But I think once politicians see the revenue, it will completely change the discussion.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.



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Recreational marijuana sales now legal in California, but not in Nevada County


No one stood outside All About Wellness some 30 minutes before the 19th Street Sacramento dispensary started selling recreational marijuana for the first time.

Then Gremmi walked up.

Declining to give his full name, Gremmi was unsure of what he’d buy. He just knew he’d get something.

“Because it’s legal,” he said. “It’s an exciting time.”

It was possible he or anyone could have purchased cannabis grown in Nevada County at the dispensary. Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said a local grower could have sold marijuana to a medical dispensary before New Year’s Day — the first day of recreational sales. That dispensary, if it obtained an adult-use retailer license from the state, could then sell that product recreationally.

However, the days of that scenario are numbered — and not because of the Thursday move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to revoke an Obama-era cannabis policy.

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A licensed dispensary can only buy from licensed growers. Nevada County has no licensed cultivators because its grow ordinance forbids commercial activity. Local growers can’t get state licenses because of that ordinance.

That means once a dispensary sells all its Nevada County product, there won’t be any more.

“It’ll be very difficult for new growers to break in,” Allen said.

Business

Phil Blurton, owner of All About Wellness, has operated his medicinal dispensary about eight years. He figures about 75 percent of his flower, also known as bud, came from Placer and Nevada counties. He now can get marijuana from neither.

Kimberly Cargile — executive director of A Therapeutic Alternative and a board member of Nevada County Wellness, the latter of which applied for a medicinal dispensary in Nevada City — shares that problem. Her H Street Sacramento facility has operated for about a decade. She estimated that 10 to 30 percent of her cannabis has come from Nevada County in any given year.

If given the opportunity, Blurton said he’d again buy from Nevada County growers. Cargile isn’t sure.

“Whoever we build relationships with right now will get their foot in the door,” she said. “Every day hurts the economy in Nevada County, absolutely.”

Anyone getting into the cannabis business — grower, retailer or otherwise — will have license fees to pay. Capital costs are another hurdle, as are taxes.

Blurton said he must pay over $100,000 a year for his state and local licenses. Sacramento charged him $42,600. The state license is $72,000.

A retailer making over $4.5 million a year must pay $72,000 for the state license. Someone making up to $500,000 would pay $4,000 for the same license, said Alex Traverso, assistant chief of communications with the state Bureau of Cannabis Control.

In comparison, a beer and wine retailer pays $283 for an annual state license. A store with liquor sales must pay $646.

“It’s a little disturbing the amount of money the city and state are requiring for businesses,” Blurton said.

Growers face state license fees as well, though it appears local cultivators would pay significantly less than a retailer.

Draft recommendations for a new Nevada County grow ordinance call for allowing three license types — specialty cottage, specialty and small. Prices for state licenses differ depending on outdoor, indoor and mixed light.

Specialty cottage outdoor, a maximum of 25 plants, would cost $1,205. Specialty outdoor, 5,000 square feet or 50 plants, would be $2,410. Small outdoor, 5,001 to 10,000 square feet, would cost $4,820.

Those costs don’t include any fees Nevada County would impose. The price of any local fees remains undecided.

Growing hope

Nevada County supervisors this Tuesday will examine recommendations for a new grow ordinance developed over several months by a citizen’s group. Previously setting March as a goal for approving a new ordinance, county officials have since said they’ll likely miss that deadline.

A delay until April or even June doesn’t significantly bother members of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance’s executive board, though Cargile’s comment — that she would forego local growers if her dispensary builds relationships with others — is concerning.

“We’re at a disadvantage here in Nevada County because we don’t have a licensing system yet,” said Maria Herrera, the alliance’s communications director.

Jonathan Collier, a member of the alliance’s executive committee, said Cargile’s comment shows the competitiveness of the emerging, legal cannabis market. Many want their products to reach market first. However, that doesn’t mean those who come second or third stand no chance.

“We’re four to six months behind, realistically,” Collier said. “Four to six months — we’re right in our comfort zone. If it goes more than that, then it gets really scary for us.”

Convincing county officials to have an open registration immediately after passing a new grow ordinance would help locals, said Diana Gamzon, the alliance’s director.

Growers could register with the county, giving them local authorization and enabling them to apply for a state license. County officials would then spend the following months developing their permitting rules, streamlining the application process, Gamzon said.

Education, and a savvy business sense, is essential to success, all three said.

“The hope lies in education,” Herrera said. “Collaboration is going to be key to survival.”

Collier said growers must become and act like professional businesses to succeed. Herrera said the growers that survive will be the ones who view their garden as a serious business.

“If we don’t operate professionally, we will fail,” Collier said.

In session

Last Thursday U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed a 2013 policy that called for the federal government to take a hands-off approach to cannabis in states that had approved it. Long an opponent of marijuana, Sessions has opened the door to federal prosecutors who want to pursue marijuana-related charges.

Executive director of the California Growers Association, Allen in an email said he was surprised it took this long for Sessions to revoke the policy.

“I am more concerned with policy decisions being made in Sacramento than Washington,” Allen said. “I grew up in the cannabis community. Fear of law enforcement — of the continued enforcement of unjust and unpopular drug laws in question — is something I stopped feeling long ago.”

Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, said in a statement that California officials are talking to other states in the wake of Sessions’ action.

“We expect the federal government to respect the rights of states and the votes of millions of people across America and if they won’t, Congress should act,” Ajax said in an email. “Regardless, we’ll continue to move forward with the state’s regulatory processes covering both medicinal and adult-use cannabis consistent with the will of California’s voters, while defending our state’s laws to the fullest extent.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of California in a statement noted that growing, distributing and possessing marijuana is a violation of federal law.

“We will evaluate violations of those laws in accordance with our district’s federal law enforcement priorities and resources,” the office stated. “We will continue our long-standing efforts to assess and address the unique threats and challenges facing our district together with our state, local and federal law enforcement partners.”

Sessions’ announcement came three days after Gremmi, the first adult-use customer at All About Wellness on 19th Street in Sacramento, walked inside the squat building. Six others followed him inside and an unknown number across the state, spending money that a study released last year said could reach $5 billion annually.

Gremmi spent about 10 minutes before leaving, legal product in his hands.

“I just got strong (stuff),” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.



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