Outlaw Johnny Boone, the “Godfather of Grass,” deported from Canada

Boone, 73, was convicted in the 1980s and spent a decade in prison for what prosecutors called the "largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history"

April 12, 2017

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A legendary outlaw known as the Godfather of Grass who disappeared almost a decade ago while federal agents were closing in on him was deported from Canada on Wednesday and was being held in a Vermont prison pending his return to Kentucky to face marijuana charges.

John Robert “Johnny” Boone was turned over to U.S. authorities by Canadian officials at the Highgate Springs port of entry. He was then taken to federal court in Burlington, where he was ordered held until he can be returned to his home state, Deputy U.S. Marshal John Curtis said.

Boone, 73, was convicted in the 1980s and spent a decade in prison for what prosecutors called the “largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history.” They said he was the head of the Cornbread Mafia, which had 29 farms in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Wisconsin.

Eventually, 70 Kentucky residents were charged with growing 182 tons of marijuana.

During Boone’s 1988 federal court sentencing hearing he invoked the hardships of the area where he lived southeast of Louisville.

“With the poverty at home, marijuana is sometimes one of the things that puts bread on the table,” Boone said. “We were working with our hands on earth God gave us.”

Boone, who was featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” and sparked a Facebook page called Run, Johnny, Run, has been described as a tattooed Santa Claus. Federal authorities who searched for him said that proved as difficult as “trying to catch a ghost.”

Boone, also known as the King of Pot, fled to Canada after a 2008 indictment on more federal marijuana charges in Kentucky.

The Montreal Gazette reported that Boone was arrested Dec. 22 by Montreal police at a shopping center.


Johns Hopkins pulls out of marijuana PTSD study, apparently over partner questioning federal rules

A spokesman for MAPS said the dispute was over whether to openly challenge policy that say medical cannabis research must rely on federally-grown marijuana

April 2, 2017

Eighteen months after joining a study on using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, Johns Hopkins University has pulled out without enrolling any veterans, the latest setback for the long-awaited research.

A Johns Hopkins spokeswoman said the university’s goals were no longer aligned with those of the administrator of the study, the Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). A spokesman for MAPS said the dispute was over federal drug policy, and whether to openly challenge federal rules that say medical cannabis research must rely on marijuana grown by the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse.

One of the lead researchers from MAPS recently did just that, in a PBS report that said the government-grown marijuana provided for the study was poor quality and contaminated with mold. Hopkins quit the study two days later.

Although MAPS will continue the research at a private lab in Arizona, the departure of the well-known university in Baltimore is a blow, analysts said, in part because the campus was considered a prime test site that could draw on Maryland’s large population of veterans.

The decision to withdraw coincides with uncertainty within the industry about whether President Donald Trump will continue the Obama administration’s support for regarding institutions that conduct research using marijuana, as well its hands-off approach to states that legalize pot for recreational or medical use.

“The future of scientific research under the Trump administration generally is quite shaky,” said John Hudak, a governance studies fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks marijuana research.

The MAPS study is meant to capture the first clinical evidence of whether or not marijuana can effectively treat PTSD. Favorable findings would aid efforts to add the condition to those that are authorized for treatment in state medical cannabis programs, as well as efforts to lift a prohibition on Veterans’ Administrations doctors from recommending or even discussing the drug as a way to alleviate anxiety and other symptoms.

“We’re trying to study what cannabis does for veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD,” said Sean Kiernan, president of the Weed for Warrior Project. “These are vets who have not been helped by the traditional regimen, and in many cases have been severely hurt.”

MAPS director Rick Doblin started planning the study in 2009 with co-administrator Suzanne Sisley, an Arizona psychiatrist and marijuana advocate.At the time Sisley was on the faculty of the University of Arizona. In 2012, their research proposal was approved by that university’s scientific review board.

But in 2014, the university fired Sisley and said her position as a physician educator for medical marijuana would no longer be funded. She says she was ousted because of controversy surrounding her marijuana PTSD study, an accusation the university denies.

MAPS got funding from Colorado, winning a $2.156 million research grant paid for with license fees from the state’s legalized marijuana industry.

Hopkins joined the study that year. Its scientific review board cleared the project in September 2015, but it took until January of this year for Hopkins to determine that the marijuana provided by the federal government was safe enough to give to veterans. The university received its first delivery of cannabis January 13.

Although Hopkins set up a phone line for veterans to register for clinical trials, it did not enroll anyone. Advocates say they first learned the school had withdrawn when veterans who called the phone number heard a recorded message saying the university was no longer participating.

“This has been ongoing for years – roadblock after roadblock after roadblock,” said Scott Murphy, co-founder of the Massachusetts-based Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care.

Sisley, backed by others at MAPS,had been trying to convince Hopkins to speak out about the mold issue as a way of questioning the government-provided marijuana and other federal requirements for marijuana research.

In March, she told PBS that the samples were moldy and had insufficient levels of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The next week, MAPS said some of the samples also tested positive for trace amounts of lead.

“It’s crucial that the public is aware that their taxpayer dollars are going to support a single government-enforced monopoly, the sole federally legal supply of cannabis for any and all cannabis controlled trials,” Sisley said this week.

Prior to the televised report, those involved in the study agreed they could use the government-provided marijuana despite its deficiencies, after at least five rounds of testing determined that mold and lead levels were low enough for the product to be safely consumed.

Hopkins did not respond to questions about whether the PBS report impacted its decision to withdraw. But MAPS spokesperson Brad Burge said the adverse publicity was the direct cause of the university’s abrupt departure.

The publicity also prompted the Food and Drug Administration to contact MAPS requesting certain changes to the study protocol.

Advocates have pushed for years for the government to allow more providers to supply marijuana for medical research. The Obama administration took initial steps to allow private suppliers, but did not complete the process. The Trump administration has not clarified its position.

The test center in Scottsdale, Arizona, where MAPS will continue with Sisley and other researchers, has close to a dozen veterans enrolled out of a planned 76, Burge said. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado who had been signed up to help with the study are continuing their participation.

Sisley said MAPS gave the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins “every opportunity to partner with us on these studies, and neither were willing to embrace it.”

“Ultimately, I think we will prove that we can conduct this research efficiently by working through the private system,” she said.

The Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.


420 Games are about defying the “lazy stoner” stereotype, says creator

“I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I’ve used cannabis as an athlete my whole life,” Jim McAlpine says

April 2, 2017

There are 5Ks with bubbles and neon paint and foam. There are races for fans of superheros and Disney characters and dogs. And now there’s a “fun run” for those who love cannabis.

The 420 Games are returning to Santa Monica on April 1, with a couple thousand people expected to pack the pier for the race and festival that follows.

It’s undoubtedly a light event, with runners known to wear weed-themed costumes and a finish line “village” packed with cannabis industry vendors, live music, performances by professional BMX riders, a beer garden and more.

But creator Jim McAlpine – a ski industry executive from the Bay Area – said the 420 Games are also focused on spreading some serious messages about defying the “lazy stoner” stereotype while celebrating the benefits of marrying cannabis and fitness.

“I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I’ve used cannabis as an athlete my whole life, from surfing to skiing to lifting weights,” he said.

McAlpine said he primarily uses the plant before he works out or does sports. He said smoking a bit of weed helps to quiet his brain and gives him that “eye of the tiger” feeling so he can focus on what he’s doing – a practice many professional athletes have told him they’ve also come to rely on.

Others use cannabis after they work out as part of their recovery, he said, to ease muscle soreness, prevent injuries and help them relax.

But given his day job as an executive, McAlpine said, “It’s been one of those secrets I’ve had to keep hidden.”

In 2014, he decided it was time to come out of the green closet.

McAlpine was looking for a way to keep busy anyhow, after California’s drought once again cut the snow season short.

He wanted to break away from the stoner-oriented festivals. And so the 420 Games were born that summer in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

“If you can make working out more fun, people will do it more and do it more often,” he said.

That message has clearly resonated, since the one-off event has become a nationwide tour.

The 2017 tour kicks off April 1 in Santa Monica before heading out to six states and eight cities, with stops later this year in San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Boulder, Portland, Seattle and Las Vegas.

This will be the second time Santa Monica has hosted the 420 Games. McAlpine said the city was a bit skeptical last year. But after seeing that they don’t allow public cannabis consumption during the games and how smoothly everything went, he said Santa Monica welcomed them back for this year’s games.

Before the April 1 race, hundreds of people are expected to participate in a beach-side yoga session to warm up.

Runners will then go from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach before heading back for a 4.2(0)-mile loop. They can walk, jog, ride or skate the coastal course – or even follow nearby via stand-up paddle board.

A normal 5K equals out to just over 3 miles. So organizers are encouraging participants in the 420 Games to “go the extra mile for cannabis.”

McAlpine said the 420 Games are more about camaraderie than competition – made clear by the fact that everyone wears the same 420 bib number. But there are prizes and plenty of fun waiting at the finish line.

X Games skaters and BMX athletes will perform for the crowd. Lagunitas Brewery will host a 420 Beer Tasting. There will be music, food and more than 100 industry vendors.

There will also be a Power Plant Fitness challenge, named for the cannabis-themed gym McAlpine is opening in San Francisco with NFL player Ricky Williams later this year. During the challenge, competitors will complete an obstacle course with the goal of being named 420 Fitness King and Queen of the Beach.

There village will also include a keynote address by California cannabis industry pioneer Steve DeAngelo, of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center. And several NFL athletes will be running and speaking, including Kyle Turley of the New Orleans Saints, St Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs; Eben Britton of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears; Reggie Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals; and Boo Williams of the New Orleans Saints.

To cap it off, there will be an after-party that will run into the evening.

The 420 Games have started to attract more mainstream sponsors, with companies such as Bare Naked Granola on board. But McAlpine is still looking forward to the day when cannabis becomes so mainstream that they can land a big name from outside the industry.

“I’ll know we’ve been a success when we have a Nike or an Under Armour sponsoring our event,” he said.

If you go

What: 420 Games fun run and festival

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 1, with an after-party 4:20 to 8 p.m.

Where: Santa Monica Pier

How much: Tickets start at $4.20 for either the run or admission to the finish line village; other packages for beer tasting, the after party and more range from $15 to $60

More information: 420Games.org

This story was first published on TheCannifornian.com


Why sling pizza when you can sling weed? Denver restaurants face labor competition

Young workers who once saw employment opportunities in the restaurant business are flocking to grow facilities and dispensaries

March 30, 2017

It’s hard to think of an American city that isn’t experiencing a restaurant boom these days. Put Denver at the top of that list: By some accounts, 30 new spots will open this spring, among them an outpost of the beloved New York bar, Death & Company, and Departure Denver, a popular Asian small-plates spot transplanted from Portland, Ore.

However, the city is facing a major problem as a result of one of its biggest recent tourism drivers. The pot industry is taking a toll on local restaurant work forces and in some cases, liquor sales. “No one is talking about it,” said Bobby Stuckey, the James Beard award winning co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder and the soon-to-open Tavernetta in Denver.

Denver’s population has been steadily growing. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the best place to live in the country because of its proximity to the great outdoors, along with the tech boom, among other things. The city is particularly popular with millennials. A boom in restaurants soon followed, transforming a sleepy culinary scene into a particularly vibrant one. (Another reason for the expanding dining scene is the $54 million Union Station renovation, which opened in 2014 and brought a concentration of fine dining spots downtown.)

The demand for more restaurant workers dovetailed with the state’s pot boom. Since it was legalized in 2014, cannabis tourism has been big for Colorado, generating $1.1 billion in profit in 2016 and more than $150 million in tax revenue. Although a recent study shows pot tourism was down in 2016, as more states have legalized it, people spent more money on weed-related purchases in and around Denver.

Now, young workers who once saw employment opportunities in the restaurant business are flocking to grow facilities and dispensaries. Bryan Dayton, who co-owns three popular dining destinations in the Denver/Boulder area-Oak at Fourteenth, Acorn, and Brider-feels it acutely.

“Our work force is being drained by the pot industry,” he said bluntly. “There’s a very small work pool as it is. Enter the weed business, which pays $22 an hour with full benefits. You can come work in a kitchen for us for eight hours a day, in a hot kitchen. It’s a stressful life. Or you can go sort weed in a climate-controlled greenhouse. It’s a pretty obvious choice.” Dayton is especially sensitive to these realities as he prepares to recruit talent for a restaurant, a Spanish-inspired steakhouse with a rooftop bar, slated to open in the fall.

Dayton has also documented a small decline in liquor sales that he attributes to people eating a pot-infused gummy bear and then forgoing a glass of wine or shot of whiskey. His alcohol sales are down about 2 percent, or $100,000, at both Acorn and Oak. He compared notes and found out that his distillers and distributors report sales down by about that percentage.

Jennifer Jasinski, a Wolfgang Puck alum whose Denver restaurant empire includes seafood-oriented Stoic and Genuine, beer joint Euclid Hall, and her flagship Rioja, agreed.

“Cooks take trimming jobs and make $20 an hour, but it’s not just that. Pastry chefs are in high demand in the pot world. Laced candies and gummy bears are sought-after treats when they are made well, so pastry chefs and cooks can make them for three to four times the money a restaurant can pay. All this just exacerbates an already tight work force in Denver.”

There’s no way restaurants can compete, she said. “We have tiny margins as it is.” Jasinski has seen a decline of more than 4 percent in beer, spirit, and wine sales at Euclid Hall, her restaurant that caters to the youngest clientele.

Stuckey echoed these sentiments. “A line cook, it’s not a highly paid position: a lot of work, lot of hours, very intense. And you’re having a bad week. It’s hard not to quit for a grow facility where you’re making several dollars more an hour.” He also said there’s no way to compete with the siren call of the pot industry. “If you make 10 percent profit in the restaurant business, you are in the hall of fame as a great operator. Compare that to most other businesses-and presumably the legal pot industry-where if you did 20 percent profit, you would be fired as the [chief executive officer].”

Stuckey estimates that at his Pizzeria Locale chain, someone departs for the pot industry every few weeks. He said labor departures have hit the area’s construction business equally hard.

“The economy here is booming, but there’s not enough construction workers to get the buildings constructed; they all want to work in grow facilities,” said Stuckey. “Everybody wants to hear funny stories about the pot industry, but it’s a serious part of the business.”

Michael Leibowitz, the Denver-based owner of Veritas Fine Cannabis, a growing company, plus some concentrate businesses and a retail dispensary, has been in the field for eight years.

“For the first six years, you could just put weed in a bag and sell it,” he recalled. “Now supply has caught up, and almost outstripped demand. We consider our brand to be high-end cannabis, and you need skilled workers to help achieve that.”

His cultivators start at $20 an hour, and he’s working on securing health-care benefits for his 50 or so employees. (Leibowitz said a lot of health-care providers don’t want to work with weed companies “yet.”)

Still, there are unexpected upsides to the weed business, apart from the influx of tourist dollars it’s brought to restaurants.

“More hungry customers,” observed Dayton. Jasinski said that at her husband Max MacKissock’s pizza restaurant, Bar Dough, a chef came back to work after having quit. “He told my husband, ‘I made a bunch of money at the dispensary, I have my nest egg. I want to cook again.'”

Stuckey said that on the bright side, the pot industry has brought more sophisticated customers to his restaurant, Frasca.

“The owners of these grow facilities are pretty sophisticated, and they’re curious about what they’re drinking,” said Stuckey, whose wine program won him a James Beard award. “If you’re into the differences between different strains of weed, like Kush or Pineapple Express, or Incredible Hulk, then I have some old bottles of nebiollo that I want to taste you on.”


Bipartisan “Path to Marijuana Reform” bills introduced to decriminalize, protect, regulate cannabis industry

Three marijuana-related bills address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation

March 30, 2017

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of marijuana reform bills aimed at protecting and preserving existing state-based programs while laying framework for the federal regulation of cannabis.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, announced the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of three marijuana-related bills that address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation. Included in the package is the reintroduction of legislation from Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Wyden said in a statement, referencing the legalization efforts in his home state and those made elsewhere. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

The Path to Marijuana Reform includes the following bills, according to the announcement from Wyman and Blumenauer:

The Small Business Tax Equity Act — Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden’s Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act — Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; prohibits residents of marijuana-legal states to be required to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and easing barriers for medical marijuana research.

Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Rep. Polis is sponsoring a portion of this legislation in the House.