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POT TOPICS: Chicago-based weed company goes public in Canada; UK OKs medical pot

Cannabis flowers in jars. | Adobe stock photo

POT TOPICS is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s what’s happening this week in Chicago and around the country:

  • Chicago-based Green Thumb industries goes public in Canada;
  • British doctors can now prescribe medical cannabis;
  • Pot users now favoring edibles, vape cartridges over smokeable marijuana;
  • Past marijuana use will no longer be disqualifying for CPD applicants; and
  • Women in Illinois’ cannabis industry work together to break the “grass ceiling.”

Chicago-based cannabis company goes public in Canada

Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries recently took over a publicly-traded Canadian company, added an “Inc.” to its name and went public in the country, where marijuana will soon be broadly legalized.

The company raised $67 million, cash that will allow Green Thumb to get licenses in new states and open more retail stores across America.

“The phone rings more, we’re talking to more people, and business has expanded,” company founder Ben Kovler said. “We’re just excited about what’s happening.”

The Canadian Securities Exchange is quickly becoming the go-to place for U.S. cannabis companies orphaned by their own stock exchanges because the U.S. government still considers marijuana an illegal drug.

Green Thumb Industries CEO Ben Kovler | AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

In recent months, prominent U.S. pot companies including MedMen, Liberty Health Care and Chalice Farms have listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange, raising capital and drawing attention from wealthy investors in Asia, Europe and Australia who want to make a play in the cannabis industry but are spooked by the U.S. federal prohibition.

Many more U.S. marijuana companies are lined up to join them as the U.S. industry quickly expands. Acreage Holdings, one of the United States’ largest vertically integrated cannabis companies, announced Monday it will list on the Canadian Securities Exchange this fall because it’s become the “exchange of choice for U.S. companies like ours.”

U.S. companies need quick access to money to snap up limited production and retail licenses so they can quickly establish themselves in new markets.

Last week provided evidence of American investors’ willingness to jump into the marijuana market if given the chance. U.S. stock exchanges will not list companies that do business where marijuana is illegal, but several Canadian companies trade in the U.S. because their business is legal in the country where they are based.

Tilray Inc., a British Columbia-based medical marijuana company, became the first cannabis business to complete an initial public offering on a major U.S. stock exchange when it began trading on Nasdaq. It raised $153 million and the stock jumped nearly 33 percent on its first day of trading.

UK OKs medical pot after outcry over epileptic child

The British government says doctors will now be able to legally prescribe cannabis-based medicines, following criticism over the denial of medical treatment to severely epileptic children.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid relaxed the rules Thursday after considering expert advice from a specially commissioned review. The government has no plans to decriminalize the drug for recreational use.

The government changed its stance amid publicity surrounding the case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who needed to receive cannabis oil treatment to prevent life-threatening seizures.

British health authorities will now develop a definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product.

Billy Caldwell sits with his motherCharlotte.

The British government relented and allowed a 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who has epilepsy, to receive cannabis oil treatment that his mother said was needed to prevent life-threatening seizures. | Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP

Pot smokers now favoring edibles, pills and extracts over joints

Marijuana users across the country are setting down their bongs, putting away their joints and moving away from smoking pot.

It’s not that people are giving up on cannabis – far from it. But retailers across the country report that consumers are increasingly switching from smokable marijuana to other forms, including pot-infused foods known as edibles and vaporizer cartridges.

“The actual old-school smoking of cannabis is pretty much out the door,” said Jered DeCamp, co-owner of the Herbal Remedies marijuana store in Salem, Oregon. DeCamp said only about half of his sales are now traditional smoked marijuana.

Retailers across the country report that consumers are increasingly switching from smokable marijuana to other forms, including pot-infused foods known as edibles and vaporizer cartridges.

Retailers across the country report that consumers are increasingly switching from smokable marijuana to other forms, including pot-infused foods known as edibles and vaporizer cartridges. | Adobe Stock Photo

Marijuana enthusiasts say the trend reflects a desire by consumers for stronger, healthier or more discreet ways to consume cannabis. It’s a pattern seen from Colorado to California to Oregon.

In Colorado, for instance, smokable marijuana known as “flower” made up 67 percent of all sales at pot shops in 2014, when legal sales began. Today, it’s down to 44 percent, while sales of potent concentrates known as “honey” or “butter” have doubled to 31 percent.

Oregon saw flower sales drop from 51 percent to 44 percent in a single year, and in California, flower sales have dropped 3 percent in just four months this year. The data provided by BDS Analytics show that while overall sales of marijuana products continues to grow, marijuana in its simplest form is losing popularity.

A new study of Colorado marijuana consumers reflects the trend: Among adult marijuana consumers, the number of people eating or drinking cannabis products increased from 35.2 percent in 2016 to 40.4 percent in 2017, the state’s newly released Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey showed.

In addition to consumer demand for different products, increased competition among marijuana growers is pushing down flower prices and removing much of the profit.

Past ‘pot’ use will no longer bar you from becoming a Chicago cop

The Chicago Police Department has quietly relaxed its hiring standards to eliminate past marijuana use as an automatic disqualifier, provided candidates have not smoked pot in the last three years, the chairman of the city’s Human Resources Board disclosed last week.

Testifying before the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development, Chairman Salvador A. Cicero also disclosed that the three-member board is seeing a lot of appeals from police candidates who have been disqualified for using the stimulant Adderall, the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported.

“Apparently, a lot of people within the last generation have been using Adderall without a prescription,” Cicero told aldermen, who voted to reappoint him.

“We were faced with a lot of cases that were getting taken off the list from people who had been given Adderall. So then, you turn to, `Did you take it knowing that it was prescribed for somebody else? Or did somebody give you this?’“

Cicero said the board has changed the way it handles Adderall- and marijuana-related disqualifications because the police department has relaxed its standards.

Sun-Times file photo

“We have rules that have to do with, `You cannot use drugs that have not been prescribed to you.’ And we have to follow those rules. Those actually have been revised by the police . . . If you’re given a drug not prescribed to you that’ll probably make you ineligible. But it’s on a specific case-by-case basis,” the chairman said.

“Before, there were different types of drug usage that would knock you off. Those have also been revised…Now, if you’ve used marijuana within three years, then you’re out….It’s less time than before.”

Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi was asked how and why the hiring rules were revised.

“While current drug use is grounds for disqualification for hire with the Chicago Police Department, we look at each applicant on a case-by-case basis to evaluate the circumstances around historical usage and experimentation,” he said.

“For the current hiring plan, our standards were recently modified and conform to national best hiring practices for major city police departments and many federal law enforcement agencies. Individuals who have used or experimented with certain types of narcotics in the past must undergo additional background investigation into the reasons behind the drug use.”

Illinois women working to break cannabis industry’s so-called ‘grass ceiling’

Dina Rollman and Wendy Berger-Shapiro saw their chance back in August 2014, a month before Illinois started taking applications from people who wanted to grow or sell medical marijuana.

Here was a new industry, Rollman thought, where women had a chance at a level playing field. So they started Illinois Women in Cannabis, the Sun-Times’ Tom Schuba reported.

“I wanted women thinking, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where you have a brand new industry come to your state that’s never existed before, that’s not male-dominated because it’s too new to have a glass ceiling,” she said.

Dina Rollman, co-founder of Illinois Women in Cannabis | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Illinois Women in Cannabis — a nonprofit that boasts about 200 members, men and women alike — currently organizes social and educational events across the Chicago area. The group hosted its third annual summer mixer July 19 at Bottom Lounge on the Near West Side, bringing together pot professionals and some of the top players in the state’s grass game.

Because the legal weed industry is so new, there’s little data on the so-called “grass ceiling” for women and minorities in leadership roles.

However, Rollman and Berger-Shapiro both conceded that men now own the vast majority of the state’s marijuana cultivation and dispensary facilities.

Some of the barriers to entry have been really tough because you need to be really well-capitalized,” Rollman said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, let’s put it that way, in terms of having women-owned businesses.”

Back in 2014, Rollman was working as a litigation attorney at a Chicago law firm and courting her first client in the pot business, the aforementioned Green Thumb Industries. Rollman is now Green Thumb’s chief compliance counsel, while Berger-Shapiro serves as an independent director and was an early investor in the company.

Upcoming cannabis events in the Chicago area

  • Modern Cannabis holds a “Get a Card” event at 11 a.m. July 28 at Emporium Logan Square, 2363 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • The 420 Cannabis Social is set to take place at 11 a.m. July 29 at Cricket Hill near the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Lake Shore Drive. Attendees will discuss cannabis legalization, medicinal cannabis use and the drug’s health benefits.

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