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Pot Topics: Rahm wants pot to pay for pensions; Congress votes to legalize hemp


The upcoming implementation of key aspects of the Alternative to Opioids Act aims to give patients quicker access to medical cannabis. | AP file photo

Pot Topics is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s the latest news for this week:

  • Emanuel proposes using cannabis revenue to help pay for public pensions
  • Hemp expected to become multi-billion dollar industry after Congress votes to legalize
  • Former Democratic presidential candidate joins pot firm’s advisory board
  • Chicago-based cannabis company to open first medical dispensary in Ohio
  • The Sun-Times’ list of the 10 most influential people in Illinois cannabis

Emanuel pitches pot legalization as possible pension fix

Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel takes questions from reporters after his last major speech as mayor outlining his ideas to help fix the city’s pension crisis. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged that tax dollars from legal pot sales could be used to help address Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis during a speech Wednesday to the City Council.

Emanuel, who won’t seek re-election next year, stopped short of endorsing recreational pot legalization and instead noted that lawmakers in Springfield were considering the move.

“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” the mayor said. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of workers who depend on them.”

Emanuel’s appeal was apparently in reference to new legislation that state Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy plan to introduce when lawmakers return to Springfield next month. The Chicago Democrats introduced similar bills last year, but they were never voted on. This time around, their legislation will likely gain more traction if they can garner support from pro-pot Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan, who recently backed Pritzker’s broad plan to legalize marijuana.

Emanuel’s pitch also includes a $10 billion pension borrowing plan and full-throated calls for state lawmakers to legalize casino gambling and remove the pension protection clause from the state constitution. His comments about pot, however, were more measured.

“I believe recreational marijuana has social costs that must be considered. And like a casino, revenue would take time to be realized,” said Emanuel, who has also proposed a home rule taxing authority to allow the city to raise its own revenue from cannabis.

Hemp sales expected to boom after Congress approves farm bill

Hemp is about to get the nod from the federal government that marijuana, its cannabis plant cousin, craves.

Congress approved the 2018 federal farm bill this week. The legislation includes a provision that would remove hemp from the list of federally controlled substances. | AP file photo

Hemp is about to get the nod from the federal government that marijuana, its cannabis plant cousin, craves.

A provision of the farm bill that received final approval in Congress on Wednesday removes hemp from the list of federally controlled substances and treats the low-THC version of the cannabis plant like any other agricultural crop. THC is the cannabis compound that gives pot its high.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law next week.

The change sets the stage for greater expansion in an industry already seeing explosive growth because of growing demand for cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in hemp that many see as a way to better health.

Federal legalization could triple the overall hemp market to $2.5 billion by 2022, with $1.3 billion of those sales from hemp-derived CBD products, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis market research firm.

“It’s a huge deal because it’s a domino effect. Banks can get involved now and if banks get involved, then credit card processors get involved — and if that happens, then big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart get into it,” said Sean Murphy, a New Frontier data analyst who’s tracked the industry since its infancy in 2015. “All these big players are going to come in.”

Hemp, like marijuana, already is legal in some states. Approval at the national level brings a host of benefits that the pot industry has yet to see. Hemp farmers will be able to buy crop insurance, apply for loans and grants, and write off their business expenses on their taxes like any other farmer.

And those who sell dried flower or CBD-infused products made from hemp can now ship across state lines without fear of prosecution as long as they are careful not to run afoul of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many did so before, but always looked over their shoulder because the law was unclear.

Howard Dean to join Canadian pot company

Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean was tapped this week to join the advisory board of Canadian pot company Tilray. | File photo

Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean was named Thursday to the international advisory board of the leading Canadian cannabis firm Tilray.

In July, Nanaimo-based Tilray became the first pot company to start trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange with an initial public offering. To keep up with the company’s “aggressive global growth strategy,” Tilray has named Dean and nine other business and government leaders to its new advisory board.

After serving six terms as Vermont’s governor, Dean lost the 2004 Democratic presidential primary to former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who was later bested by incumbent Republican George W. Bush. Following the election, Dean would go on to serve as the chairmen of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009.

Tilray’s board will also include Michael Steele — the ex-chairman of the Republican National Committee and former Maryland lieutenant governor — and former U.S. State Department official James O’Brien, among others.

“We are honored to welcome this impressive group of distinguished leaders to the Tilray team,” Tilray CEO Brendan Kennedy said in a statement. “As we pioneer the future of our industry around the world, the experts on our International Advisory Board will advise us on our rapidly expanding global business.”

Other former politicos have also started exploring the pot industry. In April, Acreage Holdings named former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to its advisory board. Boehner, a staunch Republican and longtime pot opponent, claimed his position on the drug “has evolved” and vowed to fight for nationwide legalization as a way to offer relief for veterans and opioid users.

Cresco Labs to open Ohio’s first medical pot shop

A Cresco grower tending to marijuana plants at a cultivation facility. | Cresco website

River North-based Cresco Labs will soon open the first medical marijuana dispensary in Ohio.

In a statement Wednesday, Cresco CEO Charlie Bachtell announced the company had been granted approval to start selling cannabis at a retail location in Wintersville, a small village in the eastern part of the state.

“Receiving the first approval to operate is a major milestone in the transformation of the cannabis program in Ohio,” he said. “This is also a big step forward for Cresco along our path of unparalleled speed to market, powerful influence in industry development, and proven execution in consumer markets.”

Cresco, which currently has dispensary and cultivation operations in six states, now plans to expand to New York and Massachusetts, where recreational pot was recently legalized. After raising $100 million during a recent private funding round, the pot firm carried out a reverse takeover of an existing company and began trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange in October.

Cresco’s first dispensary in Ohio, called CY+, will offer pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products to patients with any of the 21 medical conditions that have been approved by the state.

“At Cresco, we pride ourselves on understanding the individual needs of each and every one of our patients,” Bachtell said. “Our Wintersville staff is trained by leading cannabis doctors and researchers across the country to ensure that our patients’ specific needs are consistently met. In Wintersville we will continue to advance our mission of normalizing and professionalizing the cannabis industry for consumers.”

Additionally, Cresco has built a 50,000 square foot cultivation center in southwest Ohio that will supply dispensaries in the state with a range of pot products.

The 2018 Cannabis Top 10: Illinoisans impacting policy, business and advocacy

Pot Topics is the Sun-Times weekly round-up of cannabis news and events.

From business leaders to advocates to lawmakers, the Sun-Times has collected a list of some of the key figures in Illinois cannabis. | Adobe Stock Photo

Earlier this week, the Sun-Times published its 2018 Cannabis Top 10 list, featuring lawmakers, advocates and business leaders impacting Illinois cannabis.

Cannabis is becoming big business in Illinois, with some local pot companies emerging as national leaders after inking record-setting deals and starting to trade publicly in Canada, where marijuana was recently legalized. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are moving again to legalize recreational cannabis statewide — this time with the support of Pritzker and Madigan.

Many of those involved in these expanding efforts make up the Sun-Times’ list of the 10 most influential people in Illinois cannabis for 2018.

Associated Press contributed to this report

Upcoming cannabis events in the Chicago area

  • Dec. 15: MOCA hosts a “Get a Card” event. Emporium Wicker Park, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • Dec. 17: Compassionate Care Consulting hosts an educational event about becoming a medical cannabis patient. Compassionate Care Consulting, 2101 Waukegan Road in Bannockburn.

Sun-Times Cannabis 101 Guides