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Oregon Cannabis: State of the State (2023)

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Welcome to the eighth annual “State of the State” post on Oregon cannabis. Last year was memorable for Oregon the industry, pockmarked by OLCC scandal, heavy regulatory swings, and even marquee litigation. We also saw the state’s first very-large-business failure, more trade association consolidation, and other altibajos as my mother-in-law might say. Let’s go!

Sales fell (again) along with licensee numbers (for the first time)

According to OLCC data, retail sales between January 1, 2023 and November 30, 2023 clocked in at $874 million. By my math, the state is on pace for roughly $953 million this year. That tally would be a 4.1% decrease from $994 million in 2022, which itself was the first calendar year cannabis sales contracted in Oregon. Someone with better credentials than me could ascertain whether this year’s drop is due to pricing decreases, volume decreases, or both, alongside whatever other factors (like population shrinkage). Overall, a 4.1% decline isn’t great news for industry, but it’s not terrible.

Nearly half, or 48.7%, of retail sales are “useable marijuana” (dried leaves and flower). The concentrates/extracts category sits at 24.7%; edibles/tinctures are 13.7%; inhalable products with “non-cannabis additives” are 7%; “other” is 5.2%; and industrial hemp products bring up the rear at 0.7%. This follows a years-long trend of usable marijuana sales decreasing per capita in favor of other categories. Like last year, my impression is that near-term growth may be limited to select SKUs and product categories.

In addition to decreased volume, prices remain low; but not as bad as last year. At this time in 2022, wholesale useable marijuana had been sitting at $600/lb for months, bottoming out at $550/lb for December. For the most recent three months of 2023, we’ve hovered at a respectable $745/lb. That said, the full effects of the Croptober harvest haven’t rippled through the system. This year’s harvest came in at an unwelcome 15% higher than 2022.

To the plus, we have slightly fewer licensees vying for market share than a year ago today. It’s not a big drop, but this was the first year I saw license numbers fall since the 2016 roll-out of the adult use program. Despite the number of “pending” license applications below, you can expect the number to flatline or fall a bit again next year. Yes, the HB 4016 licensing moratorium sunsets on March 31, 2024, but I’m guessing our legislators will pass an extension bill early in the 2024 session. Let’s see.

2022 2023 2023 (active + pending)
Producers 1,408 1,389 1,520
Processors 331 312 363
Wholesalers 276 269 299
Retailers 827 818 881
Labs 19 15 15
Research 1 1 4

 

Industry is in the doldrums, with one spectacular flameout

Last year at this time, I wrote that “quite a few businesses are struggling and others have failed.” Same deal today. All throughout the year, we helped people sell (and try to sell) businesses we had helped them buy just a couple of years ago. It feels like the largest number of “business sales” are little asset purchase agreements for naked licenses. We’ve also helped quite a few clients throw in the towel, and our litigation team continues to assist in a series of disputes related to business dysfunction—for those who can actually afford to litigate.

Nothing better exemplified the weak state of the Oregon market than the Chalice receivership sale (see: Chalice Receivership Update: Weak Market, Insiders Pounce). Interest was scant, offers were few, and ultimately 20+ businesses sold for a mere $3 million. Last year at this time, I observed that Chalice was one of the largest operators in Oregon, trailing only Nectar Markets. Today, in one of the biggest Oregon cannabis stories of 2023, the Canadian heavy has gone belly up, to the detriment of stiffed creditors and hapless employees.

Tough year for OLCC

If one state agency should be happy to leave 2023 behind, it’s got to be OLCC. I explained in an earlier post that OLCC and the cannabis industry were “at a nadir with two-bit scandals” this spring. Stellar investigative reporting around OLCC’s handling of the La Mota chain caused the Oregon Secretary of State to resign, but also lead to some unfortunate, reactionary rules for the cannabis industry (more on that below). Separately, the OLCC’s Executive Director resigned as well, in the context of separate misconduct.

Most recently, the Commission got some good news in that the former Secretary of State’s cannabis program audit will stand, albeit with a disclaimer, turning the page on a difficult chapter for pretty much everyone and giving the Commission room to maneuver. As an aside, one former OLCC official commented that the audit “reads like a Leafly blog”, due to its general and specific recommendations to loosen regulatory strictures. Industry favored those findings obviously, and it’s a shame the process was tarred.

In my view, however, a key issue with OLCC remains unaddressed, and that is the Commission’s disparate treatment of large and small cannabis companies (see: The Real OLCC Scandal is that There are Two Sets of Rules). OLCC has allowed the largest Oregon cannabis retailers to coast after citing them for significant and repeated violations– including allegations of cannabis diversion. Small businesses get their tickets punched for less. In all, I see scant rhyme or reason to OLCC’s erratic enforcement efforts.

New rules, highlighted by tax compliance (forever) and aspergillus testing (for a minute)

The Oregon regulatory landscape is ever changing. We had new rules to kick off the year, followed by new laws passed in Salem. Rulemaking commenced throughout the fall per usual. The biggest change, however, was the advent of “emergency” (and now permanent) tax compliance rules that arose from the La Mota scandal referenced above. All retailers and their “applicant” owners (but not producers or processors or wholesalers) are now required to certify tax compliance with OLCC via the Oregon Department of Revenue, to renew or transfer a marijuana license. Here in the office, we’ve seen the rules impact quite a few renewals and sales already.

Another huge story in Oregon cannabis for 2023 involves a rule that came and went, regarding aspergillus testing. In March, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) promulgated a rule that required marijuana testing for certain microbiological contaminants, including aspergillus. The Cannabis Industry Alliance (CIAO) and others filed a motion for emergency relief. These parties won a temporary “stay of enforcement” of the rule, pending completion of judicial review. Rather than defend the rule at a subsequent hearing, OHA withdrew it. And doesn’t appear to want a second bite at the apple.

This is a great result for our cannabis producer clients, at least in the short term. I admittedly did not think they could win. Whether it’s a good long-term play remains to be seen. Oregon producers have long pushed for cannabis export rights— which conceivably could happen sooner rather than later if federal law changes. (See: Audit: Marijuana-rich Oregon must prep for US legalization.) This is salient due to the fact that most states require aspergillus testing for cannabis. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where those states agree to accept Oregon cannabis “contaminated” with aspergillus.

Trade organizations merged

Finally, we have just one major trade organization in Oregon cannabis. Prior to October, the Oregon Cannabis Association (OCA) and the Cannabis Industry Alliance of Oregon existed side by side (quite a few others have come and gone over the years). Now, it’s all CIAO. Judging by all the emails I’m getting, the big-tent outfit is energized.

The first big task for CIAO should arise in the 2024 legislative session. I submit that the Oregon legislature seems less keen on dealing with cannabis issues over the past couple of sessions, than it has been historically. Given collateral damage to OCA from the La Mota scandal and all of the oxygen being taken up by Measure 110 scrutiny, CIAO will have its work cut out come February.

Hollowed out hemp

Oregon has only issued 187 hemp grower licenses as of December 7. This is a noteworthy drop from 294 licenses in 2022, to say nothing of the 1,961 licenses issued in the heyday of 2019. In spite of it all, Oregon is still a hemp leader on the national stage, somehow, per the 2023 National Hemp Report.

Last year I wrote:

the continued downward trend can’t last forever. Congress is scheduled to renew the Farm Bill in 2023. Changes on the table include everything from raising the “hemp threshold” from 0.3% THC to 1.0% THC, to addressing regulation of intoxicating cannabinoids derived from hemp. Another big driver will be the continued adoption of hemp-based textiles and building materials. Even though Oregon hemp has slowed dramatically, expect the state to remain at the fore if and when the trend reverses.

All of that is probably still true, except that Congress missed its deadline and we may not see a renewal of the Farm Bill until late in 2024. In the meantime, I and many others have been asking, “What Happed to Hemp”?

Odds and ends

We’ve seen some noteworthy activity around the edges, locally, which I’d be remiss to leave off:

  • Longtime cannabis champion, Earl Blumenauer, announced his coming retirement as an Oregon congressional representative. We’re going to miss him.
  • Scotts closed four cannabis supply warehouses in and around the Portland metro.
  • Curaleaf gave up on Oregon (and Colorado and California).
  • The dormant commerce clause lawsuit filed by our colleague Andrew DeWeese inched slowly forward, with a hearing now set for January 2024. Good luck Andrew!
  • Left Coast Financial Solutions, a shady money-services startup serving the industry, had its license suspended by the State Division of Financial Regulation.
  • Oregon’s cannabis sales tax revenues dropped in conjunction with falling sales, and continued diverting in part to deficient Measure 110 programs.

Oregon cannabis: that’s a wrap

Let me know in the comments if you think I missed anything worth mentioning, or shoot me an email. There is always something. In the meantime, here’s hoping for better times for Oregon cannabis in 2024.

For previous posts in this series, check out the following:



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Australia Cannabis: Recreational Use Legislation Update

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Australia is said to have one of the highest cannabis prevalence rates in the world and public attitudes to its use are shifting. North American, European and other cannabis companies looking for investment opportunities would do well to follow these shifts.

Growing cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes was legalized under federal law in 2016. Low-THC hemp foods were then legalized federally in 2017. Recreational use, though, remains prohibited under federal law. Similarly, at the state and territory level it is mostly illegal to use, possess, grow, and sell cannabis. Despite these continuing prohibitions, there are legislative trends toward legalization.

If passed, the Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 would change the federal landscape. It would legalize cannabis for adult recreational use in Australia. The Bill would establish the Cannabis Australia National Agency as a statutory agency to register cannabis strains and regulate cannabis activities. These activities include growing and possessing plants, manufacturing and selling cannabis products, operating cannabis cafes, and importing and exporting cannabis products.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is presently conducting an inquiry into the Bill. Submissions have now closed and public hearings have opened. The Committee’s reporting date is May 31, 2024. The Bill is expected to be debated in federal parliament later this year. At the same time, cannabis legalization bills are now being debated in several Australian states.

Despite shifting public attitudes, federal legalization may still be a way off. While the federal Bill has been promoted by a minority party, it does not enjoy the support of the ruling party or the major opposition party. It also lacks the support of the Australian Medical Association.

Stay tuned for updates on Legalising Cannabis Bill 2023 and all thing Australian cannabis. And please reach out to us if you are interested in doing business in Australia.



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Why Is Everyone Suddenly Eating Magic Mushrooms and Having Wild Sex?

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magic mushrooms and sex

New Study Reveals That Magic Mushroom Consumers Have Better Sex Lives


Magic mushrooms have been on a heyday, thanks to the numerous health and therapeutic benefits it has been proven to offer. These include, but are not limited to: treating anxiety and depression, PTSD, OC, suicidal thoughts, and other mental illnesses.

However, we’re only starting to discover the myriad of benefits that the humble magic mushroom has. Now, there’s even new science suggesting that psilocybin can help improve sex lives.

 

In what is believed to be the first-ever study to delve deeper into the connections between sex and arousal with magic mushrooms, researchers have discovered fascinating findings. Investigators at the Imperial College London surveyed almost 300 individuals before and after taking magic mushrooms. They focused on two subject groups: individuals who consumed psychedelics for recreation or wellness, and those who were consuming it for clinical study purposes to analyze its impacts on depression. Thanks to the data, they were able to pull incredible insight into the link between sex and psychedelic experiences.


The data shows that on average, there are improvements on several areas pertaining to sexual function for as long as 6 months after psychedelic experiences. Psychedelic consumption has been shown to positively impact arousal, sexual satisfaction, enjoyment, self-esteem, connection, communication, and attraction to one’s partner – all of which contribute to better sex lives. For the group who were taking magic mushrooms as part of a clinical trial for depression, nearly half experienced improvements when it came to interest in sex, satisfaction, and arousal. In contrast, individuals who are treated with popular pharmaceutical antidepressants usually say that their sex lives are negatively impacted.

 

“We believe this is the first scientific study to explore the effects of psychedelics on sexual functioning. Our findings suggest potential implications for conditions that negatively affect sexual health, including clinical depression and anxiety,” said Tomasso Barba, the study’s first author, and a PhD candidate at the Centre for Psychedelic Research.

 

“This is particularly significant given that sexual dysfunction, often induced by antidepressants, frequently results in people stopping these medications and subsequently relapsing,” they added.  


In addition, it’s nothing short of fascinating that the results showed that the improvements in sexual function were observed for up to 6 months among some participants. However, it’s important to note they didn’t study performance while high on the drug, which is how many people on psychedelics experiment with sex: while on magic mushrooms.

 

“It’s important to stress our work does not focus on what happens to sexual functioning while people are on psychedelics, and we are not talking about perceived ‘sexual performance’,   they emphasized.

 

They do call for more studies on the subject. “While the findings are indeed interesting, we are still far from a clear clinical application, because psychedelics are yet to be integrated into the medical system. In future, we may be able to see a clinical application, but more research is needed,” said Dr. David Erritzoe.

 

Can Psychedelics Unlock The Key To Better, More Satisfying Sex?

As millions of us are plagued by mental health disorders, ranging from everyday anxiety to more severe depression, our sex lives will naturally suffer.


It is known that for many of us, especially women, mental health is critical to sexual satisfaction and pleasure. Sure, it’s an integral part of being human – experiencing sexual joy and arousal, but when we’re suffering from hard-to-treat mental conditions, it can be difficult to enjoy sex. Perhaps that’s where the potential of psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, come in.

 

When one is struggling with family conditioning, previous traumas, depression, and self-acceptance, pleasure can be shameful and even painful to even address. But psychedelics can help open us up mentally, and challenge past thoughts that have to do with social conditioning, receiving love and pleasure. All in all, psychedelics can help create new mental pathways that make it easier for us to receive pleasure.

 

These days, it’s no longer uncommon for couples to medicate with psychedelics together. And we don’t just mean magic mushrooms: MDMA, LSD, and ayahuasca are other forms of healing psychedelics that can help couples work through their own traumas and issues together, and as a result, enjoy better sex.

 

In another study from 2021, researchers utilized interviews to conduct a qualitative study to understand the impact of microdosing MDMA on male and female couples whose ages ranged from 20 to 35 years old. The interview questions were focused on how microdosing psychedelics affected their sexuality, confidence, relationship satisfaction, inhibition, and openness.

The participants reported that microdosing did indeed have a positive effect on sexual well-being as well as other aspects, most especially because of its ability to reduce anxiety and stress. As a result, they experienced heightened sexual pleasure, desire, and communication. Overall, they reported better sex and they attributed it to microdosing.

 

Conclusion

 

Aside from these studies, psychedelics are already an accepted tool for young people all around the world to help them improve many aspects of their lives, including sex. It is becoming clear that the ability of psychedelics to help where pharmaceutical medications fail in treating everyday mental illnesses and stress that hinder sex lives, can transform how we relate, show up, and communicate in our intimate relationships. We hope to see more studies on the subject so we can learn more about the specifics involved, and the magic that psychedelics brings into human lives.

 

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How Can Cops Tell the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

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police test for hemp or cannabis

Researchers funded by the federal government have unveiled novel techniques for distinguishing between marijuana and hemp by precisely measuring the THC levels in both flowers and edibles.

 

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), a branch of the Justice Department, is championing the findings from two research endeavors it sponsored, focusing on refining cannabis lab testing. These findings are being disseminated to specific law enforcement agencies.

 

The primary goal of these projects was to streamline testing procedures to address the increasing backlog in crime labs, exacerbated by the federal legalization of hemp with THC levels of up to 0.3 percent under the 2018 Farm Bill. This legalization has complicated cannabis-related cases.

 

According to a recent update by NIJ, existing testing methods fall short of accurately quantifying THC levels in samples. However, the researchers supported by NIJ have made a breakthrough by utilizing two distinct forms of mass spectrometry—gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and direct analysis in real time-high-resolution mass spectrometry (DART-HRMS)—to isolate THC content, along with other cannabinoids.

 

Pioneering Techniques

 

The GC-MS methodology was pioneered by a team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), enabling them to extract THC from samples and conduct precise cannabinoid content analysis. The Department of Justice (DOJ) initially disclosed in 2020 its allocation of $350,000 in funding to NIST for this research endeavor.

 

Conversely, the DART-HRMS approach presents a solution to another complexity in cannabis testing encountered in forensic laboratories. This method facilitated the determination of THC levels in various products such as baked goods, candies, beverages, and plant materials with minimal pre-treatment requirements.

 

Rabi Musah, the primary researcher on the DART-HRMS team, envisions that the accelerated utilization of DART-HRMS for THC detection in cannabis samples could mitigate testing backlogs, reduce chemical reagent expenses, and streamline analysis protocols, as noted by NIJ.

 

NIST’s GC-MS technique has already catalyzed the development of new standard operating procedures for laboratories, with outcomes integrated into training procedures for law enforcement entities like the Montgomery County Police Department and Maryland State Police.

 

Furthermore, in 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a call for portable marijuana analyzers to expedite cannabinoid profile identification and aid in differentiating between marijuana and hemp.

 

In a separate initiative, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced in 2019 its pursuit of a device capable of distinguishing between hemp and marijuana, particularly since the legalization of the former crop.

 

The ramifications of hemp legalization became evident in Texas, where marijuana possession arrests decreased by nearly 30% from 2018 to 2019 after the state legalized the non-intoxicating cannabis crop. Subsequently, prosecutors in Texas dismissed numerous low-level cannabis cases following hemp legalization. In 2020, officials announced that laboratories would no longer conduct testing in misdemeanor cases, citing capacity limitations within the Department of Public Safety.

 

Meanwhile, stakeholders in the hemp industry and agricultural officials nationwide are urging Congress to increase the THC limit for hemp to one percent by dry weight. A researcher from the Department of Justice recently questioned the rationale behind the current 0.3 percent THC limit, suggesting it was arbitrarily based on a decades-old anecdote.

 

Advancements in Law Enforcement Procedures

 

The integration of novel testing methods heralds a significant shift in law enforcement strategies concerning cannabis-related cases. Crime lab forensic studies have advanced to a new level of paradigm with the use of the DART-HRMS method and the GC-MS technology developed by NIST. Law enforcement officers will be able to distinguish between marijuana and hemp with remarkable accuracy thanks to these state-of-the-art approaches, which promise increased precision and efficiency. By integrating these advanced technologies into routines for standard operating procedures and training, law enforcement organizations are providing their staff with the necessary resources to handle the complex terrain of changing cannabis laws.

 

This revolutionary method improves the ability to conduct investigations and makes it easier to comply with state and federal laws on cannabis. Law enforcement organizations may ensure compliance with the ever-changing legal framework pertaining to cannabis cultivation, distribution, and use while efficiently upholding justice with the use of these cutting-edge tactics. Officers will be better prepared to handle the issues raised by the legalization of cannabis and its effects on law enforcement procedures as they become used to these innovative techniques.

 

Legal and Regulatory Implications of Hemp Legalization

 

The legalization of hemp with THC levels of up to 0.3 percent under the 2018 Farm Bill has sparked significant legal and regulatory ramifications. This legislative shift has not only complicated cannabis-related cases but has also necessitated a reevaluation of existing law enforcement protocols. As prosecutors and law enforcement officials grapple with the distinction between marijuana and hemp, the landscape of criminal justice procedures undergoes notable evolution. The dismissal of numerous low-level cannabis cases in states like Texas following hemp legalization underscores the profound impact of this legislative change on law enforcement practices.

 

Furthermore, the proposal to raise hemp’s THC limitations to 1% of dry weight is indicative of continuing discussions about federal cannabis legislation. The debate over THC restrictions highlights the necessity for a nuanced approach to cannabis regulation as advocates for legislative changes, including agricultural officials and hemp sector players, are in favor of it. In the meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s examination of the present THC restriction of 0.3 percent emphasizes how crucial evidence-based policymaking is to determining how cannabis legislation will develop in the future. Stakeholders from a variety of industries must negotiate the tricky convergence of legal, scientific, and sociological factors surrounding the legalization of hemp as regulatory frameworks continue to change.

 

Bottom Line

 

The integration of novel cannabis testing methods, including DART-HRMS and GC-MS, marks a significant advancement in law enforcement’s ability to differentiate between marijuana and hemp, streamlining investigative procedures and ensuring compliance with evolving legal frameworks. These state-of-the-art technologies promise heightened precision and efficiency, empowering law enforcement agencies to navigate the complexities of cannabis-related cases with unprecedented accuracy. As debates surrounding THC limits and federal cannabis legislation persist, stakeholders must engage in evidence-based policymaking to shape the future of hemp regulation. By staying abreast of legal and regulatory developments, law enforcement agencies can adapt their procedures accordingly, ensuring justice is served while upholding compliance with the law, thus paving the way for more effective practices in the dynamic landscape of cannabis legalization.

 

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