TIME Marijuana

Uncle Sam Will Buy $69 Million Worth of Pot From Ole Miss

Legally-grown marijuana grows at a dispensary in Denver on May 8, 2014.
Brennan Linsley—AP Legally-grown marijuana grows at a dispensary in Denver on May 8, 2014.

The NIH will continue its exclusive deal with the University of Mississippi

Uncle Sam has awarded the University of Mississippi $68.8 million to grow marijuana and analyze it.

The contract awarded Monday by an arm of the National Institutes of Health will go to a marijuana research lab at Ole Miss, which has been the sole producer of federally legal marijuana since 1968. The project is ramping up to grow 30,000 plants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In its solicitation, the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse mandated a “secure and video monitored outdoor facility of approximately 12 acres” that could handle the “cultivation, growing, harvesting, analyzing, and storing of research grade cannabis,” according to a listing posted on a federal government website. “The indoor facility must be at least 1000 square feet, having controls for light intensity, photo cycles, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide concentration,” it added.

MORE: The Rise of Fake Pot

The government said it’s interested in developing new methods for growing plants that contain a variety of different levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical most responsible for pot’s psychological “high” effect, and cannabidiol, a nonpychoactive ingredient claimed in high-profile anecdotes to effectively treat medical disorders like epilepsy.

When the contract solicitation was posted online in August, an NIDA spokeswoman told TIME that the agency was simply starting a new bidding competition since its existing marijuana farm contract was set to expire in 2015.

There are 23 states with laws allowing access to medical marijuana and 18 states that have decriminalized pot, including four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska — that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Federal law still classifies marijuana as a drug on par with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

TIME Drugs

New Senate Bill Could Solve Medical Marijuana’s Tax Problems

Katy Steinmetz / TIME Bryan and Lanette Davies pose for a portrait at their "Christian-based" medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento in February 2014.

The bill aimed at healing the sick could save dispensary owners lots of money

When Bryan and Lanette Davies got an $875,000 bill from the Internal Revenue Service, they didn’t pay it. Instead, they took the IRS to court, arguing that a 1982 law meant to prevent drug traffickers from deducting business expenses should not apply to Canna Care, their small “Christian-based” medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento—or any other medical marijuana dispensary legal under state law.

The couple is in the midst of a years-long legal battle over these expenses, arguing that marijuana dispensaries should be treated like most other small businesses and be allowed to deduct payroll, rent and health benefits from their taxable income.

But a new bill introduced in the Senate could help bring their trial to a conclusion.

On March 10, three Senators introduced a historic bill called the CARERS Act that would end the federal ban on medical marijuana, clearing up the discrepancy between federal law that considers pot an illegal drug and the 23 state laws that sanction the use of medical weed. The bill explicitly does several things: It would reschedule marijuana as a drug with known medical uses to allow for research. It would allow banks to work with dispensaries—both medical and recreational—without fear of being prosecuted for money laundering. And it would create an exception in the Controlled Substances Act that essentially says it doesn’t apply to medical marijuana in states where that substance has been legalized. That last part may help solve legal pot’s tax problem.

An obscure bit of the tax code known as 280E states that businesses in violation of the Controlled Substances Act can’t take a tax deduction or receive any credits for any expenses connected with their trafficking of illegal drugs, which is what medical marijuana dispensaries are currently doing in the eyes of the federal government. (Due to a tax court ruling, the one deduction they can take is for the cost of goods sold). The costs can be crippling, and politicians have joined dispensary owners in saying that prohibiting cocaine dealers from writing off the boats they bought to ship the drug, as one lawyer put it, is not the same as businesses deducting quotidian operating costs while on the right side of the law in their state.

In 2010, a group of Congress members, including Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, sent letters to the IRS asking the agency to interpret the tax code in a way that would allow medical marijuana businesses to be taxed on net income instead of gross income. This is what the IRS told those members of Congress in response:

Because neither section 280E nor the Controlled Substances Act makes exception for medically necessary marijuana, we lack the authority to publish the guidance that you request. The result you seek would require the Congress to amend either the Internal Revenue Code or the Controlled Substances Act.

Legal experts have said that the IRS’ hands are essentially tied. If this bill passes, University of Denver’s Sam Kamin says that may be enough for the IRS to loosen the rope and issue that guidance. “It definitely puts marijuana on much sounder footing and makes much clearer what the legal rights of marijuana businesses are,” he says.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, who worked with the Senators’ offices on the Hill to craft the bill, is more absolute in his interpretation: “It resolves the 280E issue.”

Both of them agree that the bill has the potential to affect other areas of life too, in states where medical marijuana is legal. It may prevent people from being fired for using marijuana as medicine. Parents may no longer lose custody of their kids for having medical marijuana in the house. Known medical-marijuana users could be allowed to legally own a firearm; if a drug user or addict currently possesses a firearm, that’s punishable by up to 10 years of jail time.

Malik Burnett, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance—which also had a hand in crafting the bill—cautions that these are only potential interpretations of a potential law and that separate, explicit legislation should be passed if reform advocates want to definitively solve these issues. But he says the bill would enable lawyers to make stronger arguments to protect clients who use medical marijuana. “You would certainly have more solid ground to stand on,” he says.

Since being introduced, the bill has gained two cosponsors: Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and, as of Monday, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. Despite bipartisan support for the bill, it remains unclear whether it will be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Davieses, in an interview for a previous article on their legal battle, said that they not only see themselves as a legitimate business but as a force of positive change in society. Lanette Davis said she felt they were being unfairly punished. “It has to do with taking care of the sick and ill. Jesus Christ made a statement that all people should care for one another, and this is our way of taking that to our community,” Lanette said. “What we try very hard to provide is a way for people to get well.”

TIME Drugs

These Five States Could Legalize Marijuana in 2016

marijuana california
Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images A vendor weighs marijuana for card-carrying medical marijuana patients attending Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market in Los Angeles, July 4, 2014.

Nevada's vote is set and advocates believe they can get similar measures on the ballot in four other states

On Friday, Nevada lawmakers adjourned without voting on a petition submitted by residents to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol. That means the initiative is going on the ballot in 2016, making Nevada the first state to officially be voting on pot legalization in the next election.

“Voters will have the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition next year and replace it with a policy that actually makes sense,” Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a statement. “Law enforcement officials will be able to spend their time addressing more serious crimes, and adults will no longer be punished simply for using marijuana.”

If voters approve the initiative, Nevada will become the fifth state—after Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska—to have a legal weed market. But chances are it won’t be the only state considering the option. Here are the four other states that marijuana law reformers are betting will have legalization votes on the ballot in 2016:

California: Groups like MPP and the Drug Policy Alliance are hard at work crafting the language for a ballot initiative in the Golden State. Issues like production limits and whether home-growing is allowed can divide voters and established medical marijuana businesses. For advocates, framing the initiative for success is particularly important given California’s influence as a regulatory laboratory.

“California was the first state to adopt a medical marijuana law and it inspired states around the country to adopt similar laws,” Tvert says. “It’s a state that carries a lot of weight nationwide. It’s a massive population center and it’s a very diverse state.” While California is packed with liberal politicians, the state also has conservative strongholds that have mobilized on ballot initiatives in the past. If an initiative passes there, advocates will trumpet it as evidence that legalization has wide bipartisan appeal.

Arizona: So far, legalization has taken root in Western liberal coastal states and libertarian mountain states. Conservative voters, which outnumber liberals in Arizona, are less likely to support recreational pot. But they are moving in that direction. A new poll from progressive firms SKDKnickerbocker and Benenson Strategy Group found that 61% of Americans support legalization nationwide, including 71% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans. In 2014, Gallup found that 51% of Americans support legalization, down from 58% the year before. “The federalism argument is starting to see traction,” says the Drug Policy Alliance’s Malik Burnett.

Young Republicans are driving the charge, with 6 in 10 of them siding with those who want to make weed legit. And young voters are more likely to turn out in a presidential election year like 2016. “That only bodes positive for the initiative,” Burnett says.

Maine: In 2012, Ron Paul won the majority of Republican delegates in Maine, a state next door to the one where Mitt Romney was governor. Which is to say: the libertarian vein runs deep. Voters in two Maine cities have also proved willing to legalize marijuana in largely symbolic votes in recent years. The state’s largest city, Portland, as well as South Portland, voted to make it legal for adults to possess a small amount of marijuana (though it remains illegal under state law and local law enforcement hasn’t changed their ways). The vote in Portland happened in 2013, making it the first city on the East Coast to pass such a measure.

The smaller city of Lewiston voted against a similar measure last year. But Tvert says that the most important result of the city-level campaigns is that people in the state are thinking about legalization and at least hearing the arguments from their side. “There’s been an ongoing public dialogue,” he says. “I’ve always believed that the more people learn about marijuana and the fact that it’s not as dangerous as they’ve been led to believe, the more likely they are to support treating it that way.”

Massachusetts: Voters in Massachusetts also have marijuana fresh in their minds. In 2012, residents voted to legalize medical marijuana, after decriminalizing the drug in 2008; both measures passed with over 60% of the vote. In 2014, more than a dozen districts in the state supported non-binding ballot measures indicating support for legalizing marijuana, and the state legislature has heard testimony on a legalization bill.

As a result, activists are concentrating their efforts in the Commonwealth. Organizations are preparing to spend money and mobilize signature-gatherers once they’ve settled on the ballot wording. It won’t be a cakewalk. Some state lawmakers have expressed skepticism that the people there are prepared to legalize recreational weed while their market for medical marijuana is still getting off the ground, despite the state’s liberal bent. “I’m not sure people in the state are ready for that and I’m certainly not sure I’m ready for that,” a Democratic lawmaker told the Boston Globe.

Legalization advocates, of course, are betting that they can convince a majority of people heading to the polls that the time is right. “In any state we’re up against 80 years of marijuana prohibition and efforts to demonize marijuana,” Tvert says. “Our goal remains the same and that’s to educate voters.”

Read next: Colorado Sold Nearly 5 Million Marijuana Edibles in 2014

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TIME neuroscience

Teen Pot Smokers Have More Memory Damage, Study Says

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Getty Images

Chronic pot smoking may alter the shape of a region in the brain involved in memories

Smoking marijuana as a teenager can harm long-term memory, a new study suggests.

In the new research, published in the journal Hippocampus, researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine looked at 97 people and found that those who smoked marijuana every day for about three years performed worse on long-term memory assessments. A region of their brain associated with long-term memory—the hippocampus—also looked abnormal in an MRI.

“We focused on the brains of young adults who were teenagers when they began abusing cannabis,” says study author Matthew J. Smith, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We were interested in evaluating whether former cannabis abusers were characterized by differences in brain anatomy and memory performance after a period of abstinence.”

The researchers found that young adults in their 20s who were heavy marijuana smokers in their teenage years scored 18% worse on long-term memory tests that assessed their ability to code, file and recall memories, compared to young adults who had never smoked marijuana. The longer the person’s history of marijuana use, the more the shape of their hippocampus looked altered.

“The generalization we can make is that the greater the differences in the hippocampus shape associated with cannabis, the poorer the participants performed on the memory assessment,” says Smith.

The researchers also looked specifically at marijuana smokers with schizophrenia and found that they scored about 26% worse than the people with the disorder who did not smoke marijuana when they were younger.

According to Smith, components in marijuana can interfere with receptors in the brain that can impair brain chemistry and possibly impact the brain structure. This change, he says, could be what’s causing memory issues.

The study is still preliminary, since its sample size is small and the researchers only looked at one point in time. The hippocampus could also have changed before a young person started heavily using marijuana, the study authors acknowledge, which could make them more susceptible to the memory-related effects. Still, Smith says, the study suggests that smoking as a teen may not be benign for the developing brain.

TIME Drugs

Police Find More Than a Ton of Marijuana in Frozen Avocado Packages

Cook County Sheriff's Office Marijuana was found hidden inside bags of avocado pulp.

About $10 million of marijuana was found

Police in Illinois seized more than a ton of marijuana that was hidden in packages of frozen avocado pulp, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

About 2,100 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $10 million, was discovered on March 4 in bricks dispersed throughout more than 1,500 boxes of packaged avocado at a cold storage facility in Cook County.

According to the statement from the Sheriff’s Office, police were notified of a suspicious shipment and dispatched a narcotics K9, which detected the drugs inside the pallets.

TIME Congress

Senators Introduce Historic Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana

Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver on Dec. 27, 2013.
Brennan Linsley—AP Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver on Dec. 27, 2013.

A bipartisan group of three Senators will introduce a bill that could end the federal ban on medical marijuana

A bipartisan group of three Senators will introduce a historic bill Tuesday that could end the federal ban on medical marijuana, a substance that 23 states have now legalized.

The plan sponsored by Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand would “allow patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical-marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution,” according to a statement the three Senators released Monday. The measure would also reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug instead of a Schedule I, putting it on the same legal footing as narcotics rather than substances like heroin.

Reform advocates like Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project say the legislation “has legs.” His group, as well as the Drug Policy Alliance and Americans for Safe Access, helped shape the bill. Others are more skeptical. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has been following Congress’s movement on marijuana for the past 25 years. He says the bill may be “DOA” because some Republicans remain loath to touch such stuff.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the three Senators spoke alongside citizens with serious medical conditions who want to use medical marijuana but cannot access it or fear prosecution for violating federal law, even when they’re in a state that has legalized medical marijuana. Gillibrand dared her colleagues in the Senate to meet these people, like a young girl named Morgan who is debilitated by severe epilepsy, “and tell them they don’t deserve the medicine their doctors have prescribed.”

Even if Gillibrand’s colleagues don’t get on board, just the introduction of the bill remains significant. It’s a sign that some of the winds legalization advocates like St. Pierre have been fighting against for decades are now at their back. He calls the bill “historic,” noting that though the House has attempted marijuana reform for years, the Senate has largely been silent on the issue. Now they’re speaking out. Gillibrand insisted that making medical marijuana accessible is needed to “take care of America’s kids.”

At the conference Booker emphasized the need for veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder, to be able to access the drug; prescriptions are currently not allowed at veterans’ hospitals, even in states where the substance is legalized. “These laws must change,” he said. “The government has overstepped.” The last guest he introduced was a man who grows marijuana that supplies medical marijuana dispensaries in D.C., and he spoke at length about the trials and dangers of being forced to operate entirely in cash because of federal banking restrictions.

“Marijuana prohibition is not going to end without a public conversation,” St. Pierre says. “This bill will be [introduced] and then these discussions will be happening.”

While only a slim majority of Americans favor the legalization of recreational marijuana, medical marijuana is a more decided issue. In conservative states like Kentucky, the approval ratings are still at 52%, while they climb as high as 81% in purple states like Iowa. In February, the leader of the Republican majority in West Virginia’s state senate introduced a bill to allow residents to grow and use medical marijuana if it’s recommended by a doctor. The measure was co-sponsored by the senate’s Democratic minority leader.

Paul, as St. Pierre says, is a “dyed-in-the-wool libertarian.” At the conference, he spoke the need for research to be done on the drug—something that becomes more feasible if it’s classified as a Schedule II substance—and he said that the government is “restricting people’s choices,” adding that what America needs is “more freedom for states and individuals.” His federalist tack shows how it’s possible for this to be a social issue on which Republicans can evolve and use as a carrot for younger voters. The Marijuana Policy Project’s Riffle says that ending the federal ban would get the government out of doctor-patient relationships and save taxpayer money on medical dispensary raids. “Talking about reducing the role of government interference in our personal lives and enhancing personal freedom and autonomy, reducing government spending — those are all conservative talking points,” he says.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, where it is a ritual for Republican presidential hopefuls to court the base, Republican Senator Ted Cruz endorsed a federalist approach to Colorado’s marijuana legalization, saying it was a “great embodiment” of states acting as “laboratories of democracy.”

“If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative,” he said. “I don’t agree with it, but that’s their rights.” Aaron Houston, a political strategist with Weedmaps who has been trying to get the Senate to take up marijuana reform for years, calls Cruz’s position “remarkable” and the bill “hugely significant.”

The Senators pushing this measure have precedents beyond state-level actions to cite. The spending bill that President Obama signed in December contained an amendment that prohibited the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state-level medical-marijuana programs. That new law gave many in the medical-marijuana world some peace of mind, as they continue to operate in a sphere where their actions are legal in their state and illegal in their country. Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken proponent of marijuana reform, heralded it as “the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana.”

California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. The years in the interim, Riffle says, were like a “wait-and-see phase” where the sticky discrepancy between state and federal law was largely ignored. Regardless of whether the bill goes anywhere, he believes the introduction is a signal that the wait-and-see phase is over. “This is a legitimate, mainstream topic of debate,” Riffle says. “We’re ready to see Congress actually do something about it.”

TIME Food & Drink

Ben & Jerry’s Founders Think Pot Ice Cream ‘Makes Sense’

Just think of the pun possibilities

Ice cream icons Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (a.k.a. the dairy deities behind Ben & Jerry’s) are in favor of a new flavor idea.

In a recent interview with Huffington Post Live, Cohen and Greenfield were asked about the possibility of making a pot-infused ice cream. “Makes sense to me,” Cohen said. “Combine your pleasures.”

“Ben and I have had previous experiences with substances,” added Greenfield, whose namesake company makes flavors like Satisfy My Bowl and Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownies Encore Edition. “I think legalizing marijuana is a wonderful thing, rather than putting people in jail for not hurting anyone.”

Does that mean cannabis-flavored edible marijuana ice cream will be on the shelf next to Half-Baked and Cherry Garcia in Washington, Alaska and Colorado, where weed is now legal? Potentially, but it’s not up to Cohen and Greenfield, who sold the company to Unilever in 2001. As Greenfield describes, “It’s not my decision. If it were my decision, I’d be doing it, but fortunately we have wiser heads at the company that figure those things out.”

Colorado sold nearly five million edibles last year.

Read next: Jimmy Fallon Just Got a New Ben & Jerry’s Flavor

TIME Drugs

Officials Seize 15 Tons of Pot in Second-Largest Border Drug Bust

US Pot Bust
AP More than 15 tons of marijuana hidden in a truck was seized by the Border Patrol at the Otay Mesa border crossing with Mexico in San Diego, Calif., Feb. 26, 2015.

Federal authorities confiscated more than 15 tons of marijuana en route to the United States from Mexico last week in the second-largest drug seizure at a U.S. border ever, officials said.

The attempted smuggling, which occurred Friday at a California border crossing, in some ways seems like a textbook case of how not to try to fool border patrol officers. The driver listed the contents of his trailer as “mattresses and cushions,” but instead the vehicle contained 1,296 unhidden packages of marijuana that didn’t resemble mattresses. Border officials noticed the discrepancy during an X-ray scan and opened the truck to find it overflowing with almost $19 million in pot. There were a few mattresses at the opposite end of the trailer.

“I am extremely proud of the work my officers do. Officers never give up their enforcement posture and demonstrate each and every day that they remain guardians of our nation,” said Rosa Hernandez,Director at Otay Mesa Cargo Port, where the stop occurred.

 

TIME Drugs

Colorado Sold Nearly 5 Million Marijuana Edibles in 2014

Smaller-dose pot-infused cookies, called the Rookie Cookie, sit on the packaging table at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder. Colorado on Sept. 26, 2014.
Brennan Linsley—AP Smaller-dose pot-infused cookies, called the Rookie Cookie, sit on the packaging table at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder. Colorado on Sept. 26, 2014.

The state's marijuana overseers issued their first annual report

Colorado just got its first year-long batch of data on the state’s grand experiment with legal marijuana. In the first annual report on supply and demand, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division disclosed on Friday that 4.8 million edible marijuana products and nearly 150,000 lbs. of marijuana flowers were sold in 2014.

The numbers will give state officials a baseline for gauging the size of the market, particularly for edibles. In July, the state attempted to estimate how much marijuana would be sold in 2014 and said they really didn’t have a method of estimating edible demand. “The data reported into the system clearly illustrates a strong demand for edibles in general, but especially for retail marijuana edibles,” the authors conclude.

The totals take into account both medical and recreational sales. While more flowering marijuana—the kind one smokes—was sold in the medical market, far more edibles were sold in the recreational market.

Colorado issued licenses to 322 retail stores and 505 medical dispensaries in 2014, according to the report. Just 67 of the state’s 321 jurisdictions, or around 20%, opted to allow medical and retail sales, but those jurisdictions include many of the state’s most populous areas. In February, a poll from Quinnipiac University found that 58% of Colorado residents say they still support the law, while 38% oppose it.

The sales figures for edibles come as Colorado officials struggle with how to regulate the marijuana-laced treats, which can range from pastries to soda pop. Some advocacy groups and state lawmakers want to ban certain types of products—like gummy bears and rainbow belts—that may be especially appealing to children and are indistinguishable from regular candy once removed from the package. Several children showed up in Colorado emergency rooms last year after accidentally ingesting the substance.

But the more value edibles represent, the harder time those advocates are going to have in convincing the industry to shut down or revamp product lines. At one point last year, officials from Colorado’s public health department floated the idea of limiting edibles to tinctures and lozenges, eliminating everything else. But their announcement caused such uproar that officials issued a release clarifying that it was “just” a recommendation and did not represent the view of the governor’s office.

Proponents of the current system argue that cracking down on popular edibles will drive consumers to the underground market—where there is no one regulating THC content or mandating childproof packaging. Eliminating the black market, while bringing in revenue for the state, was one of the selling points when voters decided to legalize marijuana in the first place.

There may also be a legal hurdle. The amendment voters passed in 2012 defined marijuana as: “all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis … and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant.” While industry players say that makes every kind of edible fair game, the Denver Post argued in an editorial that “there is no constitutional provision that says edible marijuana must be available as granola, soda pop, or candy bars that look like what children eat.”

Washington, which followed Colorado as the second state to open a recreational marijuana market, has set much stricter limits on the types of allowed edibles. Regulators setting up recreational markets in Oregon and Alaska say that avoiding the edible problems they’ve seen in Colorado will be a big focus of their work in coming months.

TIME cities

Know Right Now: Washington, D.C. Legalizes Pot

Four other states have already legalized recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana use and adult possession (up to two ounces) became legal in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, but there’s still no way to legally buy the drug. Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

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