Boehner says government should ‘get out of the way’ of marijuana.

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WEST CHESTER, Ohio — For decades, John Boehner was against the use of marijuana in any form.

But since he left Congress and did some more research, Boehner has joined a company promoting medical marijuana.

“There’s a lot of evidence that it works,” he said.

Boehner sat down for an interview with WCPO while attending a golf outing fundraiser at Wetherington County Club for the Boys and Girls Club of West Chester Monday. The former House speaker now sits on the advisory board of Acreage Holdings a cannabis company working in 11 states, in addition to his full-time job with the Washington law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

He said the stories of sick children being helped by medical marijuana moved him.

“When you look at kids with epilepsy … they’re taking the non-psychotic part of this plant and reducing the number of seizures they have,” Boehner said.

Boehner also had conversations about medical marijuana with men and women who served in the military.

“Even with chronic pain, or veterans with PTSD, they ought to be able to have access to medical marijuana because we believe it actually helps them,” he said.

Boehner said he believes more research is needed on the issue, but universities won’t touch it because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug. So it’s up to states.

“When you look at the states where medical marijuana is pretty prevalent, the use of opioids is down 25 percent,” he said.

Even for recreational use, Boehner said the federal government should get out of the way. He said he no longer believes marijuana should be classified as a Schedule 1 drug.

“If the states decide they want to do this, this is up to them, but I am not going to be an advocate on what the states should and should not do,” Boehner said. “That’s clearly up to them.”

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How mapping marijuana DNA could change the future of cannabis.

Scientists hope that a “cannabis genome” could mean better results for growers and patients – but will it allow big pharma to take over?

Scientists are currently in the midst of exploring uncharted territory: The cannabis genome. Unlike with other plants, researchers don’t have a long history of closely analyzing the genetic makeup of the plant. But for the past seven years – as more and more states legalize medical and recreational pot – researchers have been working on producing a high-quality marijuana genome. Everyone from low-level researchers to larger companies are part of this effort, and they say mapping the cannabis genome could be highly beneficial to people who grow or use cannabis.

“No one has any idea what they’re smoking. Everything is name draw, so consumers and patients don’t know what they’re getting,” says Mowgli Holmes, co-founder and CEO of Phylos Bioscience, which has been working on its cannabis genome for over two years. “DNA sequencing uniquely identifies a plant, which allows growers to really tell their customers what plant they’re actually getting.”

Phylos Bioscience released its first reference genome for cannabis at the end of 2016. A team of Canadian researchers had released a cannabis genome in 2011, but, Holmes says, Phylos’ genome was far more complex and detailed. Though it’s been utilized by scientists around the world, Phylos is currently working to release an even more comprehensive genome.

In order to analyze a strain’s DNA, researchers put ground cannabis into a container and then add something called a lysis solution to release genomic DNA from the plant’s cells. From there, the researchers use several other solutions to separate out the different kinds of molecules in the cell so that DNA can be isolated for sequencing.

Phylos has a program where cannabis growers can send samples of their plants to the company to get the plant’s genetic information, which helps growers, and also helps the company add more genetic data to its genome. “We’ve now sequenced thousands of different plants, and we have by far the biggest database of individual plant data,” Holmes said.

Beyond just learning which plants most benefit growers and their customers, creating a comprehensive cannabis genome advances our understanding the medicinal properties of cannabis itself. Once scientists know how the DNA of the plant produces different compounds that can be used for medical purposes, says Holmes, they can breed medical marijuana for more specific purposes.

“The plants genetics control what chemicals they’re going to make,” Holmes says.

Though mapping cannabis’ genome is a large effort, the plant is relatively simple compared to the DNA sequence of other plants. Nolan Kane, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has worked on the cannabis genome, tells Rolling Stone that other genomes he’s worked are far more complicated.

“The genome itself doesn’t bring challenges that are insurmountable or unique, in the sense of the technical challenges,” Kane said. “It’s actually on the smaller side for a plant genome.”

An employee works in an indoor cultivation facility of Cannabis sativa plants at Medropharm GmbH, in Switzerland.

An employee works in an indoor cultivation facility of Cannabis sativa plants at Medropharm GmbH, pictured in Kradolf-Schoenenberg, Canton of Thurgau, Switzerland, on October 18, 2017.

Kane says the sunflower genome is “3.5 Gigabases” – a measure of the plant’s nucleotides, or its genetic building blocks – which is nearly five times the size of cannabis’ genome. He says plants like pine trees and spruce trees have genomes that are 40 times larger than that of cannabis.

Of course, with all this information there could be some drawbacks. Many worry that certain cannabis strains could be patented by large agricultural or pharmaceutical companies, which could do harm to smaller cannabis growers who fear the legal ramifications of butting heads with their larger counterparts. One of the leading companies that is researching the cannabis genome, Sunrise Genetics, is fully aware of people’s patenting concerns and shares some of those worries.

Some broad patents were given to those looking to protect strains they have developed, and Sunrise argues knowing more about cannabis DNA could actually help invalidate those broad patents.

“One major concern of our company, and in the field in general, is that some of the most recent patents granted for cannabis appear too far-reaching,” says C.J. Schwartz, CEO of Sunrise Genetics. “A recent example is a patent claiming unique combinations of cannabinoid and terpene profiles. How can you say something is unique when there is nothing to compare it against? What if you get those same profiles with a different strain (and a different combination of genes)?”

Sean O’Connor, a law professor who focuses on intellectual property at the University of Washington, says that cannabis patenting by large companies is definitely on the way. “If we get federal legalization… you’re definitely going to see both recreational and pharma folks coming in and trying to patent what they can, and then there is going to be competition and lawsuits,” he says.

O’Connor points out that pharmaceutical companies will be able to isolate strains of cannabis DNA and then create compounds found in cannabis in the lab, and that will result in them patenting many drugs based on their creations.

“Some of the most exciting but controversial research is in isolating and identifying cannabinoids and particular chemical compounds, not THC that gets you high but other things that could have therapeutic benefits, and then folks will… just generate that chemical,” O’Connor said. “They don’t need the whole cannabis plant. What you’ll see is a pharmaceuticalization of medical marijuana.”

With all of the patenting concerns in mind, Holmes of Phylos Bioscience is actually already working to fight off future cannabis patents. An archive of over 1,000 strains he helped create called the Open Cannabis Project is documenting the different strains Holmes and others have sequenced. Since there is evidence these particular strains already exist, it could help prevent those strains from being patented. If someone tries to patent a strain that can be easily found in the database, the patent office would likely not grant the patent, because there would be evidence it’s not new.

“We can’t stop the way patenting works in the world,” Holmes says. “All we can do is make data public and make it hard for people to patent stuff they shouldn’t patent.”

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New Vermont marijuana law leaves medical patients with conflicting rules.

 

Next month, Vermont will throw off restrictions on adult marijuana use — leaving thousands of Vermonters, who already use the drug for medical purposes, in a somewhat awkward situation.

Vermont will have two conflicting sets of marijuana laws on the books on July 1: new legal liberties for members of the general public, and old strictures for the nearly 6,000 Vermonters who are registered as medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

The Legislature has failed to clarify how the two sets of rules will interact. Even minor updates died this year when Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill for unrelated reasons.

Here are the conflicts

Adults who are at least 21 years old will be allowed to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, plus an unlimited harvest from home-grown plants. A separate law limits medical marijuana patients to 2 ounces, with no exceptions for harvested marijuana.

The general public will be able to plant cannabis outdoors, as long as the growing space is securely enclosed and the property owner has given permission. Patients are allowed three additional immature plants, but they’re supposed to keep all of their plants indoors.

“We tried to update that,” said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It is what it is.”

Patients, who are allowed to be younger than 21 years old, can buy their marijuana from a dispensary. Adults in the general public will have no legal way to buy marijuana in Vermont.

“We need to figure out how to have two systems,” said Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chairwoman of the House Committee on Human Services. “Or for that matter, do we now need to have two systems?”

Does Vermont’s medical program have a future?

There’s evidence that some Vermonters may be dropping out of the medical marijuana program, or not signing up, in anticipation of July 1.

Lindsey Wells, the marijuana program administrator at the Department of Public Safety, said the registry’s growth has flattened in the last several months.

Nick Karabelas, a registered patient who grows and uses marijuana to relieve chronic pain, is considering giving up his patient card. There are no dispensaries near his home in Vershire, and he sees a disadvantage in following the medical growing restrictions.

“I find myself wondering, ‘What are the benefits of being a patient in the registry?'” Karabelas wrote to lawmakers in May. “If the state and the dispensaries want to continue with the program, they’re going to need patients. As someone who advises and helps register patients, it’s getting progressively more difficult to encourage them to participate in the program.”

Shayne Lynn, executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary in Burlington, says medical marijuana delivery would benefit patients.

Shayne Lynn, a leader of two Vermont medical marijuana dispensaries, argues that the medical program remains valuable. Dispensaries offer expertise, testing, selection and a consistent way to buy marijuana.

In addition, the medical program is overseen by state government. Recreational marijuana, whether it comes from a backyard or the black market, will not be regulated by Vermont.

“From our point of view, we think it’s worth it,” said Lynn, who is executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness in Brattleboro.

How lawmakers left the medical program hanging 

The Vermont Senate passed a bill in March that would have adjusted the medical program, including opening the program to patients with any medical condition or symptom.

The bill stalled in the House Human Services Committee.

“To be perfectly honest, there were issues of greater importance to more Vermonters that came across from the Senate that we needed to deal with first,” Pugh said.

After watching the bill wend through the Legislature, Karabelas said, “I find it personally rude and insulting, as a patient, that they don’t want to deal with it.”

The Senate has now passed a special session bill that would resurrect medical marijuana changes that died with a wide-ranging bill Gov. Scott vetoed for unrelated reasons. They would include the following:

  • Locked container transport: Patients are currently required to transport their marijuana in a locked container. No such requirement exists for adults in the general public.
  • Protection for caregivers of young medical marijuana patients: When Vermont legalized adult-use marijuana, lawmakers also voted to penalize anyone who provides marijuana to children and adults under the age of 21. Some medical marijuana patients are younger than 21, and their parents who serve as caregivers have no assurance that they will be exempt from the new criminal penalties.
  • Background checks for dispensary employees: Medical marijuana dispensaries have asked for changes that would allow new employees to start work while their background check is being processed. The background check process can take several weeks.

Additional questions will remain waiting when lawmakers return in January 2019. By that time, state officials will have witnessed six months of legalization and should have a better sense of what needs to be changed.

“Things that are fuzzy don’t usually sit well with folks,” Lynn said. “I hope the powers that be will clarify this. … Let’s have one set of rules for cannabis in Vermont.”

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Trump said he’s likely to sign a bill protecting states with legalized marijuana, directly opposing Jeff Sessions.

President Donald Trump said Friday that he will likely support a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would give states autonomy over their marijuana policy, putting himself directly at odds with his own attorney general.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long held a hardline stance on marijuana. In January, he rescinded the Cole Memo, a set of Obama-era guidelines that instructed federal law enforcement not to target marijuana operations in states where the drug is legal.

Co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States, or STATES Act, would protect businesses in states with legalized marijuana from federal government interference and prosecution from the Department of Justice.

Marijuana is considered an illegal, Schedule I substance by the federal government. However, it’s available for recreational use in nine states and the District of Columbia. Both senators hail from states that have legalized marijuana.

“I know exactly what [Gardner is] doing,” Trump told reporters at the G7 conference in Quebec. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that.”

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” Trump added.

Gardner, for his part, said in a Thursday press conference announcing the bill that he had spoken with Trump about the bill.

“I have talked to the president about this bill,” Gardner said. “He talked about his support for a states’ rights approach during the campaign. Not putting words in the mouth of the White House, but I think this will be an opportunity for us to fulfill what is that federalism approach.”

Gardner cut a deal with Trump to support the bill after a showdown over Justice Department nominees. Gardner blocked nominees after Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in January.

Trump, so far, has remained mum on the topic of federal legalization throughout his term, though during the 2016 campaign that he supports state’s rights to choose how to regulate marijuana — an approach that’s directly in line with Warren and Gardner’s bill.

Because of federal regulations, most marijuana businesses are barred from traditional banks and opening lines of credit. That forces much of the industry to operate on an all-cash basis, presenting serious concerns over theft and making tax collection difficult.

“No legitimate business should be blocked from basic banking services – but that’s exactly what’s happening to law-abiding marijuana businesses,” Warren tweeted on Thursday. “My new bipartisan bill will help decrease the public safety risk that arises when these businesses are forced to operate in all-cash.”

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