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Pot Topics: Wrigley gum heir enters bud biz; new medical marijuana pills

Rep. Earl Blumenaer, an Oregon Democrat, introduced House Resolution 420, which would end the federal prohibition on marijuana. | Sun-Times Archives

POT TOPICS is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s this week’s top stories:

  • Former Wrigley Company CEO gets into the pot game;
  • The American Osteopathic Association wants the feds to reclassify marijuana;
  • Pharmacann introduces dissolvable cannabis capsules;
  • Denver pot sales continue to increase;
  • Study: Most DUI drivers in Colorado test positive for weed.

Wrigley heir joins medical cannabis company

William “Beau” Wrigley, Jr. | Sun-Times file photo
William “Beau” Wrigley, Jr. | Sun-Times file photo

William “Beau” Wrigley, Jr., former CEO of the Chicago-based Wrigley Company, was named board chairman of medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness on Monday.

Surterra recently closed a $65 million fundraising round that was led by Wrigley. The Atlanta-based company — which manufactures cannabis products and is licensed to operate medical dispensaries in Florida and Texas — has raised over $100 million since 2015.

“I am thrilled to join the Surterra team and help drive their mission to build a best-in-class cannabis healthcare business,” Wrigley said in a statement. “After extensive diligence, we determined that Surterra has the highest quality standards, best products, and most professional management team in the industry.”

During Wrigley’s time at the chewing gum giant, which was founded by his great grandfather, the company acquired Altoids and Life Savers before being sold in 2008 to Virginia-based Mars, the makers of Snickers, Twix and other popular candies. Wrigley currently serves as president of Wychwood Asset Management LLC., a firm that invests in venture capital and private equity interests.

Surterra plans to use cash raised in the latest round of funding to construct cultivation space in Florida, create partnerships with “premier consumer brands” and accelerate its product development. The company will also begin moving into new states and conducting clinical trials to research how cannabis affects anxiety, pain, PTSD and other health issues.

“We believe in the ability of cannabis to improve quality of life for patients across the county, and we are excited to build a global industry leader for the long term,” Wrigley said.

Chicago medical org pushes for review of pot reclassification

A report found that medical marijuana use in Illinois has increased by 80 percent. | Adobe file Photo
Medical cannabis | Adobe

The Chicago-based American Osteopathic Association passed a resolution calling for the review of the federal reclassification of cannabis as a Schedule II drug to allow for increased research, according to a statement released Tuesday. A class of Schedule II drugs include fentanyl, methadone and oxycodone.

Cannabis is currently considered a Schedule I drug, a class that also includes heroin, ecstasy and LSD.

“As a growing number of states change laws to facilitate the use of medical cannabis, it is important that we have a strong foundation of research that can support evidence-based policies,” American Osteopathic Association President William S. Mayo, DO said in a statement.

“Given the proven efficacy at treating certain symptoms, reclassification would reduce barriers and increase our understanding of how to safely and effectively use cannabinoid drugs for our patients, many of whom do not respond to other treatments,” Mayo added.

The American Osteopathic Association’s resolution also encourages the National Institutes of Health to back development of clinical research studies into cannabis. In fiscal year 2017, the agency funded roughly $140 million in grants for marijuana research, which pales in comparison to the NIH’s $1.1 billion in funding for research on opioid misuse and addiction for fiscal year 2018.

Local company’s new dissolvable medical cannabis

Pharmacann, an Oak Park-based cannabis company, introduced a groundbreaking line of dissolvable capsules last week to give medical marijuana patients a new way to ingest the drug.

The patent-pending capsules are the first to use self-emulsifying drug delivery system technology, which has been shown to improve the absorption of a variety of drugs, including antivirals and immunosuppressants.

“This product helps improve quality of life for patients and they report that it lasts longer and feels stronger than other oral delivery options,” said Chris Diorio, Pharmacann’s director of research and development. “The capsules are especially convenient for those who find it difficult to use other forms of cannabis or prefer the discretion of taking medication in oral form.”

The two main compounds found in cannabis — THC, which gets users high, and CBD, which doesn’t — are fat- and alcohol-soluble, meaning it’s extremely difficult to dissolve either in water.

The technology used in Pharmacann’s capsules is designed to absorb the drug in the stomach and intestines and bypass the liver, averting the “first pass effect” in which the liver metabolizes medication and prevents much of it from making it to the bloodstream. Instead, the cannabis in the capsules is absorbed partially by the lymphatic system, which allows more of the drug to get into the bloodstream and gives users a more predictable experience.

The capsules are currently being sold in New York and are expected to launch in Illinois this fall.

Denver dispensaries sold over $580 million in pot last year

Customer smelling cannabis strains. | AP
Customer smelling cannabis strains. | AP

Cannabis dispensaries in Denver sold roughly $584 million in marijuana last year, according to an annual report released by the city.

That marks a 16-percent increase from the previous year, when Denver tallied just over $503 million in pot sales. Additionally, statewide sales in Colorado topped $1.5 billion last year, up roughly 15 percent from 2016.

Revenue from pot sales in Denver grew to over $44 million last year, a 20-percent jump from the previous year. The revenue is used to pay for marijuana enforcement and regulation, as well as affordable housing, opioid intervention and other city services.

Majority of DUI drivers in Colorado test positive for pot

An officer cuts open what he believes is a cigarette containing marijuana.  | Sun-Times Archives
An officer cuts open what he believes is a cigarette containing marijuana. | Sun-Times Archives

A report published last month found that most DUI drivers in the state of Colorado tested positive for marijuana.

In 2016, about 73 percent of roughly 4,000 motorists charged with driving under the influence had pot in their systems, according to the study conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Safety. In addition, more than half of the DUI drivers had an illegal amount of THC in their blood.

“I have read thousands of research reports over the last 25 years – and this one is one of the most alarming, said Dr. Kevin Sabet, founder and president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “To make matters worse, marijuana impairment is most likely underrepresented in data due to the fact that it is so hard to gauge.”

A 2017 survey by the Colorado Department of Transportation found that almost 70 percent of cannabis consumers drove high at least once in the past year, while 27 percent said they drive high almost every day.

Meanwhile, California-based Hound Labs Inc. has developed a marijuana breathalyzer that can determine whether a driver has smoked pot. The hypersensitive, first-of-its-kind product can detect any THC potentiality on a driver’s breath, according to the company.

A breathalyzer able to determine if a driver smoked pot could roll out in select cities in the fall. | Hound Labs
A breathalyzer able to determine if a driver smoked pot could roll out in select cities in the fall. | Hound Labs

The breathalyzer “will help ensure safety on our roads and in the workplace while also promoting fairness to people who use marijuana legally and responsibly,” said Louisa Ashord, marketing manager for Hound Lab in a statement.

The device could be rolled out in select cities this fall.

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