| VailDaily.com

Co-founder of Steamboat pot shop promoted to COO of international cannabis company

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The co-founder of Steamboat Springs’ first marijuana dispensary has been appointed second in command of one of the world’s largest cannabis companies.

Kevin Fisher, previous owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies on the west side of Steamboat, now serves as the chief operating officer for Parallel, a global company with headquarters in Georgia. His goal as COO is to expand markets across the world and develop new ways for customers to consume marijuana.  

Fisher and his business partner, RMR co-owner Ryan Fisher, announced their decision in July to sell their shares of the dispensary to the owners of Green Cross Colorado LLC, which operates eight dispensaries around the state under the chain name, Tumbleweed. Kevin Fisher said they expect to close on the deal in the next week or two. 

Fisher left RMR to serve as the executive director of Parallel, which changed its name from Surterra Wellness in October. His promotion to COO comes as the company looks to grow its footprint and customer base.

Parallel currently operates in four states, including Massachusetts, Nevada, Florida and Texas. The company also has international operations in Hungary and Colombia. Fisher said Parallel is in the process of trying to expand business in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana is legal but not recreational marijuana. 

Across the country, Fisher said people are warming up to the use of marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational purposes. He argues the substance is less harmful than, say, pharmaceutical drugs or alcohol. 

“There is a certain proportion of the population who seek an escape from the human condition,” he said. “We believe cannabinoids are the safest way to get that escape.”

Growth has not come without setbacks. A recent mysterious lung illness, which has been attributed to nicotine and marijuana vaping devices, has killed at least 40 people across the country and sickened thousands more.  

Marijuana vape sales tanked nationwide amid the scare, with some states reporting as much as a 60% drop in sales. Massachusetts, one of Parallel’s domestic markets, announced a four-month ban on product sales in September. 

Fisher said his company, which offers a broad range of marijuana products, has not been hit as hard by the drop in vape sales, which account for about 20% of Parallel’s business. He stood by the safety of his company’s vape devices, arguing well-made vapes in the legal market are not the problem. 

Federal officials have come to similar conclusions.

On Nov. 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report linking vaping illnesses to vitamin E acetate. According to the CDC, this is a sticky, honey-like substance added to some illicit vaping cartridges to dilute the marijuana oil and increase profits. Most of the people who have fallen sick obtained vapes illicitly from friends or on the street, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement urging people to stop using vaping products until more research is done.

According to Fisher, Parallel’s vaping cartridges abide by strict regulations and use only a marijuana distillate, which he said makes it “the same thing as smoking regular cannabis.”

Looking to the future, Fisher aims to bring innovations to the way people consume cannabis products. He has been researching ways to speed up the effects of certain edibles, which can sometimes take hours to take full effect. That makes it hard for people to get the dose they want and sometimes, can cause consumers to over-indulge.

One product line of beverages infused with THC, the cannabinoid that gets people high, is designed to take effect in as little as 10 minutes, according to Fisher.

Amid these changes, Fisher expressed gratitude to the Steamboat community for the support he received as a budding cannabis businessman. 

“It was a very high-risk environment back then,” he said. 

Though most of his work happens outside Colorado, Fisher still calls Steamboat home. 

Asked about potential moving plans, he said, “I’m not going anywhere.”

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

Colorado pot grower loses 20K plants due to early snow

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado marijuana grower has lost about 20,000 plants worth millions of dollars because of an early winter storm and says the impact is expected affect the state’s legal pot supply.

The Marijuana Business Daily reported Wednesday that Pueblo-based Los Sueños Farms lost the plants because of subfreezing temperatures and several inches of snow earlier this month.

Company employees say retailers and processors could face higher wholesale cannabis prices.

But extractors are expected to benefit by gaining access to additional plant material to manufacture goods such as infused marijuana products, edibles and concentrates.

Employees say they tried to salvage the marijuana by covering the plants with blankets and using hot water to keep their roots warm.

Los Sueños owns dozens of acres that it uses for outdoor production.

Colorado marijuana cultivator issues statewide recall over high mold and yeast levels

A Denver-based marijuana cultivator is voluntarily recalling retail marijuana products because of elevated yeast and mold counts.

Bonsai Cultivation, licensed under the LLC Redwood Investment Partners, is making the recall after a Denver Department of Public Health & Environment investigation of dried marijuana samples, including flower, shake, trim and pre-rolls, found potentially unsafe levels of yeast and mold, according to a DDPHE news release.

All retail marijuana plant material or retail marijuana products bearing the OPC barcode 403R-00228 — sold widely throughout Colorado — are subject to recall, the release said.

Eleven manufacturing facilities, three cultivation facilities and 144 retail stores throughout Colorado received plant material subject to recall prior to Thursday, according to health officials.

Consumers or businesses who have recalled products should dispose of them or return products to where they were purchased.

Three Vail-area dispensaries were listed in the recall: RockyRoad Vail, High Country Healing and Tumbleweed in Edwards. See the full list from The Denver Post.

This article was updated with information from Vail Daily staff.

MMJ Rx: A personal account of (finally) getting a Colorado medical marijuana registry card

I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked through the doors of Silverpeak Apothecary since its debut five years ago as Aspen’s first adult-use cannabis dispensary, yet I never once set foot inside during the five years before that when it operated as a medical cannabis dispensary.

Last month, I arrived at the welcome kiosk in the lobby of Fat City Plaza where my ID was customarily checked. But this time, I came with my medical marijuana (MMJ) card in hand, too, and exclaimed, “I’m now a medical cannabis patient!” while proudly presenting the attendant with the 8.5” x 11” piece of printer paper — the state Medical Marijuana Registry no longer issues actual cards and proof is only necessary once you’re admitted into the store. Patients can also download their card for dispensaries to scan on a mobile phone.

I relocated to Colorado 12 years ago, just as the medical marijuana movement was taking shape, and swiftly found my Denver delivery guy, who I’d buy my weed from weekly up until Jan. 1, 2014 (sorry, Eric). What started early on in my adult life as recreating soon morphed into self-medicating for chronic pain and mental clarity. Cannabis is the cornerstone of my health and wellness routine.

It was only after a visit in July to check out Basalt’s newest dispensary and realizing it was medical-only upon arrival did I recognize I could benefit from obtaining a card and should participate in the pioneering state-regulated MMJ program. The good people at Goodpeople politely sent me on my way with the business card of Dr. Wendy Zaharko, an Aspen-based cannabis physician who’s served patients across the entire Western Slope since 2009.

As one of the first and only remaining MMJ-prescribing doctors living and working in the region today, I set up the appointment for my consultation ($150 for new patients). I arrived with my intake form covering questions about my overall health, family history, exercise routine and cannabis consumption habits. Over the course of an hour, “Dr. Z,” as she is lovingly known among locals, was clear that she does not recommend patients simply looking for relief from anxiety, sleep, depression, ADD/ADHD or bipolar disorder — increasingly common conditions for using cannabis and CBD.

What does classify as a qualifying condition is severe pain. Mine stems from scoliosis and sciatica only made worse after playing tennis competitively for more than a decade. At the end of our in-depth discussion, Dr. Z checked my curve and confirmed I was an MMJ candidate. In addition to purchasing MMJ through a dispensary, Dr. Z also prescribed me with the option of growing 12 plants yielding four ounces of cannabis per month (sadly, growing my own on my Snowmass community garden plot is prohibited for the foreseeable future).

Each caregiver is then responsible for submitting the recommendation directly through the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) Medical Marijuana Registry online patient portal. Each patient submits an application for an additional fee of $25 (a fee waiver and tax-exempt status is also available), which upon approval is valid for one year.

Back at Silverpeak while I eagerly got set up in its system, I asked medical manager Bobby Jones how many patients Silverpeak currently serves. “You’re the 10th,” he said. I was floored. During my exam, Dr. Z warned me about the difficulty of actually applying for a card through the CDPHE website, which Jones thinks has hindered the accessibility for the aging population. The only obstacle I personally found problematic was that the MMJ Registry did not alert me via email (as claimed online) that my application was received, pending or ultimately approved — instead, I logged into my account every few days to check the status manually.

But changes to make the program more user-friendly could be on the horizon when Colorado’s extensive new medical marijuana laws take effect Nov. 14. During its 2019 session, the Colorado Legislature passed a set of bills to allow doctors, dentists, some nurses and certain medical professionals with prescribing power and a “valid license to practice within his or her scope of practice” to recommend medical marijuana. The mandate also gives doctors the ability to recommend medical marijuana for PTSD and autism spectrum disorder, as well as any condition that qualifies for opioid medication. And both sides of legal marijuana sales will also soon have much-needed access to banking services from the House of Representatives’ recent passing of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

“I see these new laws going into effect only benefiting Silverpeak and the MMJ program overall,” Jones says. “I am encouraged by the new allowance of doctors and other physicians to prescribe treatments that involve cannabis, without fear of their licenses being jeopardized. As the only dispensary with a medical license in the Aspen area at the moment, I look forward to hopefully receiving more patients eager to avoid the opiate path of pain management, and ultimately anyone looking to treat an ailment without the use of potentially harmful pharmaceuticals.”

Officially setting up an account at Silverpeak as my primary MMJ dispensary, I am now able to purchase cannabis without the 15% retail marijuana tax on adult-use sales. While Silverpeak Farms doesn’t cultivate or sell medical-grade flower, the program also offers additional discounts and allows patients to purchase edibles in excess of the 100 milligram recreational limit per package. Jones personally curates a small selection and if there’s something specific I want to try that Silverpeak doesn’t stock, he’ll order it for me.

While every other area dispensary has phased out MMJ programs due to factors such as the tourist-heavy customer base and the higher revenue from recreational sales to the lack of availability of new products that can meet medicinal needs, Goodpeople has grown its roster to more than 60 patients in three months. And following a Basalt Town Council vote last week, the dispensary can now expand into recreational sales.

“We’re really optimistic that once we open the recreational store, we will use that as a tool to educate potential patients about the benefits of medicinal cannabis and recruit people for the MMJ program,” says Goodpeople co-owner Kale Lacroux. “The recreational legalization of marijuana is never going to happen without medical marijuana being federally legalized first. Just like it has rolled out state by state. So the passage of the SAFE Banking Act and our new state law are just two more milestones that will get us one step closer. It’s just a question of when now.”

Katie Shapiro can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.

Rifle man sentenced for 2,000-plant marijuana grow operation

A man charged with operating an illegal marijuana grow field in Rifle was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison Monday.

Long Luong, also known as Peter, pleaded guilty May 21 for participating in a conspiracy that involved between 400 and 700 kilograms, or between 800 and 1,542 pounds of marijuana.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Marcia S. Krieger also ordered Luong to pay $30,000 and serve 5 years supervised release during his sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Grand Junction.

Luong was one of three codefendants charged with conspiracy to grow and distribute more than 1,000 kg of marijuana and 1,000 or more marijuana plants.

According to court documents, including the stipulated facts in Luong’s plea agreement, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration learned of a large outdoor marijuana grow operation in Rifle on Sept. 16, 2016.

Agents confirmed the existence of the operation and began surveillance. Heung Yu Wong, a co-defendant in the case, owned the property where the grow operation was located. The Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Task Force (TRIDENT) assisted in the investigation.

The day after starting surveillance, agents observed numerous individuals harvesting marijuana plants and loading them into a large truck. 

A short while later, agents observed many of these individuals attempting to flee from the grow operation, and stepped in to arrest several individuals, including Luong and his wife, Guoying Tang, another codefendant.

Federal agents found 2,420 large, mature marijuana plants on the property.

Despite the arrest, Luong and Tang conspired again with others to set up another grow operation in southwestern Colorado.

Luong, while supervising at least five others, harvested this field and loaded it onto two large trucks. Agents apprehended one of the trucks on Sept. 23, 2017, and found 50 kg, or 110 pounds, of freshly harvested marijuana destined for Grand Junction.

Agents searched Luong’s Grand Junction home and found 179 marijuana plants, as well as a 9mm Beretta handgun hidden in a clothes hamper in the master bedroom.

“The DEA is committed to protecting our communities by working alongside our state and local law enforcement partners to identify and target the most significant threats to the public safety,” said Deanne Reuter, acting DEA special agent in charge. 

“Long Luong ran a massive illegal marijuana grow operation that flagrantly and grossly violated both federal and state law. The DEA will continue to target these large illegal grow operations that seek profit over the public well-being,” Reuter said.

“The cultivation of marijuana for the black market is an issue this office and our law enforcement partners continue to aggressively pursue,” U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said.  “The defendant will now face the consequences of growing and distributing this illegal product.”

Codefendants Tang and Wong have also made guilty pleas, and are awaiting sentencing.

US House passes bill giving pot businesses access to banking

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would grant legal marijuana businesses access to banking, a measure that would clear up a longstanding headache for the industry.

The bill, called the SAFE Banking Act, passed 321-103 on the strength of near-unanimous support from Democrats and nearly half of Republicans. Its prospects in the Senate are uncertain, but supporters said the amount of Republican support in the House was a good sign.

“This is a sign the time has come for comprehensive cannabis reform,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “The fact that we got almost half the Republicans is a huge sign we’re moving in the right direction toward sensible policies.”

Thirty-three states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. But the federal prohibition on the drug has made it difficult for businesses in the multibillion-dollar industry to get bank accounts, loans and other financial services.

The bill would allow businesses legitimately operating under state laws to access loans, lines of credit and other banking services, while sheltering financial institutions from prosecution for handling marijuana-linked money.

More financial institutions began banking with the industry as legalization spread and as the Obama administration instituted policies that allowed them to do so, with some important caveats. But the Trump administration rescinded those guidelines under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Many pot businesses have had to conduct sales and pay vendors or taxes in cash, making them potential robbery targets — and making it harder to detect theft, tax evasion and money laundering.

Supporters of the banking bill, including Democratic Reps. Denny Heck of Washington and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, characterized it as a public safety measure. In urging lawmakers to vote yes, Heck relayed the story of a 24-year-old Marine veteran, Travis Mason, who was shot and killed during a robbery of a dispensary in suburban Denver in 2016.

“Because the federal law did not allow for that business to be banked, to be within the guardrails of the financial system, an evil person walked in that night and shot Travis dead,” Heck said. “That does not have to happen. It is not hypothetical.”

Rob Nichols, president of the American Bankers Association, called the vote “a significant step forward for public safety, transparency and common sense.”

“By helping to provide clarity for the financial sector in those states where cannabis is legal, this bill will help banks meet the needs of their communities while reducing cash-motivated crimes, increasing the efficiency of tax collections and improving the cannabis industry’s financial accountability,” he said.

Opponents said it would facilitate the spread of marijuana. In a written statement, Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, noted that hundreds of people have been sickened and several have died after using marijuana vaping products.

“Surely this is not the time to reward Big Marijuana with investment opportunities,” Sabet said. “Granting this industry access to banks will bring billions of dollars of institutional investment from the titans of addiction and vastly expand the harms we are already witnessing.”

Colorado’s average price of a pound of wholesale marijuana grows for fourth straight quarter

Like a hiker with a fourteener fix, the price of wholesale pot just keeps climbing in Colorado, according to the state statistics.

Between May 1 and July 31, the average price of a pound of dried marijuana sold wholesale to stores hit $999, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. That’s a nearly $150 jump over the $850 average the state recorded in July.

The $999 average market rate price, a figure used by the state when assessing its 15% excise tax on retail marijuana sales and transfers, takes effect Oct. 1. It marks the fourth straight three-month reporting period during which the cost of bud rose. In October 2018, a pound was going for $759 on average.

The average cost of buds destined to be turned into extract products also rose during the reporting period, hitting $254, up from $227. Whole undried plants rose to $173 per pound from $152 and average seed costs rose to $5 each from $4. The prices of wholesale trim and immature plants were flat at $325 per pound and $8 apiece respectively.

The record average price per pound of wholesale bud was set in January 2015 at $2,007, state data shows. The last time the average price per pound was over $1,000 was in April of last year.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Marijuana industry addresses vaping backlash

The once high-riding vaping industry now finds itself in crisis mode after reports of severe lung diseases linked to both nicotine and cannabis consumption.

Punctuating the bad publicity was last week’s announcement that the Trump administration — following in the footsteps of Aspen City Counciland other municipalities — is looking to ban sales of flavored e-cigarettes.

In June, Aspen city leaders took the ban a step further, outlawing the sales of flavored nicotine products including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes and vape pens. The majority of council supported the ban out of concern that Aspen-area youth are drawn to flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products and are becoming addicted. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Concerns have now reached the federal level.

“We’ve got to figure out to how to regulate it and we’ve got to do it quickly, because there’s a whole generation of Coloradoans and kids all over America that are being told that this is somehow safe, and are getting addicted to this nicotine,” Sen. Michael Bennet, also a presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination, said at a town hall meeting in Aspen on Aug. 30.

The potential federal ban of flavored nicotine vaporizers, along with the city’s broader one, doesn’t apply to the legal marijuana trade, but the industry is watching. Aspen has seven dispensaries that sell recreational cannabis.

“At this point, we don’t know what this effect will be,” said Alex Levine, one of the owners of the Colorado-based Green Dragon pot shop chain, which has a shop in downtown Aspen. “If they ban flavored e-cigarettes, we don’t know how that will affect the cannabis industry.”

Complicating the matter is that marijuana is illegal under the federal system, he said.

On Sept. 6, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 450 cases of vaping-related illnesses were spread across 33 states, but Thursday it dropped that number to 380 cases in 36 states — including the U.S. Virgin Islands — after it changed its definition of the cases to those that are confirmed or probable.

Aspen Valley Hospital has no reported cases of patients with respiratory illnesses related to vaping, either THC or nicotine, according to Jennifer Slaugher, the hospital’s director of community relations.

Nationwide, six deaths have been reported so far, including one case in Oregon where a person died in July and had reportedly used a vaporizer containing cannabis acquired from a legal marijuana dispensary.

The FDA has said a potential common link — though the definitive cause is yet to be known — in the related illnesses is vitamin E acetate, a chemical also found in some of the oil used in marijuana vapes and used frequently on the black market.

Levine said marijuana vape oil sold by Green Dragon, which uses in-house products for vape products and also works with wholesalers, doesn’t have that chemical.

“In terms of compounds that are not good for you, like vitamin E acetate, we use none of those products,” he said.

Boulder-based Rm3 Labs is voluntarily taking measures to test for vitamin E acetate in cannabis oils, said company founder Ian Barringer. Rm3 is a state-licensed cannabis testing facility and laboratory.

“At this point basically we’ve not received any guidance from the federal level or state level on how to proceed,” he said.

But reports of vitamin E acetate — a cutting agent — being the potential culprit for the health ailments prompted the lab, which has some 300 clients, to start its own testing.

“We’ve pretty much taken upon ourselves,” Barringer said. “We have a number of clients that like to be ahead of the curve on quality control and consumer protection.”

Products testing positive for the chemical will be shelved, he said.

“It will get locked up in the state inventory and (the makers) can purge it and send it back to retest,” he said.

He added, “Frankly I don’t know if any manufacturers (in Colorado) include vitamine E in their products. These companies have to stand behind their products.”

Levine said the headlines about the ills of vaping haven’t meant a drop in sales of vaping products, but an increase in customer concerns.

“The consumers are coming in with all of these questions, now that they’ve heard of this issue, and they don’t understand,” he said. “We’re making a serious effort to educate them.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

High Country Healing cannabis community rallying to support GM recently diagnosed with cancer

The High Country Healing cannabis community is rallying to support one of its own on Friday.

A portion of sales from the marijuana shop in EagleVail will go toward a GoFundMe for Colby Hockersmith, the store’s general manager who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

“He’s been at High Country since the very beginning,” said Louis Magor, concentrate purchasing manager for the shop. “He’s the one who started this store over here for us and was the GM since Day 1.”

Hockersmith is undergoing his second week of chemotherapy, Magor said, and funds raised will help him and his family during a difficult time.

“It’s a way for the brands to give back to him,” Magor said, adding that each brand will be donating up to 25% of its sales from the shop that day to Hockersmith.

High Country Healing general manager Colby Hockersmith has been with the EagleVail store since Day 1.
Special to the Daily

On Saturday, Turtle Bus is offering a discounted bus ride and float trip, with all funds going to Hockersmith. The Turtle Bus deal on Saturday is $40 for transportation, a breakfast burrito and equipment for tubing.

To help support Hockersmith, visit his GoFundMe page, “Team Colb Dieszel.” Since Aug. 22, the site has raised over $16,000 of the $25,000 goal.

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

About 500 people “hotboxed” weed at a Denver art festival, and it was perfectly legal

For the first time since recreational pot was legalized in Colorado, a Denver-based company set up a mobile weed-smoking lounge at a festival.

And nothing went wrong.

The debut of HTBX LLC’s “hotbox” shipping container was a “smashing success” at the Crush Walls art festival in RiNo, owner John McCaskill said Monday. It was first of its kind since Denver voters approved social consumption marijuana licenses in 2016.

Officials from the city’s excise and licenses department as well as the state department of public health didn’t receive any complaints about the unit, spokespersons from both departments said. Denver police did not return a request for comment.

McCaskill has been working with city officials, state legislators and regulatory agencies since Denver voters approved the business licenses for cannabis consumption in designated areas. He applied for the city’s first special-event license for cannabis consumption in January and received the final stamp of approval just minutes before the festivities began Friday in the RiNo Arts District.

Read more via The Denver Post.