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

  • Canada becomes the second country to legalize recreational cannabis
  • Will the U.S. place travel restrictions on Canadians in the cannabis business?
  • The NHL sticks with pot policy ahead of Canadian legalization
  • California rolls forward with pot delivery regulations
  • Colorado pot sales hit $1 billion
  • Studies show more vehicle crashes in states with legal marijuana

Canadians celebrate after country legalizes marijuana sales

Matthew Dahl celebrates being the first person to buy at a cannabis store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Matthew Dahl celebrates being the first person to buy at a cannabis store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. | John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP

Festivities erupted throughout the nation as Canada became the largest country on the planet with legal marijuana sales. At least 111 pot shops were expected to open Wednesday across the nation of 37 million people, with many more to come, according to an Associated Press survey of the provinces.

Canada has had legal medical cannabis since 2001 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has spent two years working toward expanding that to include so-called recreational cannabis. The goal is to better reflect society’s changing opinion about cannabis and bring black market operators into a regulated system.

Canada, which is the second country to fully legalize cannabis after Uruguay, now has the world’s largest pot marketplace.

Tom Clarke, an illegal pot dealer for three decades, opened a pot store in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, and made his first sale to his dad. He was cheered by the crowd waiting in line.

“This is awesome. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” Clarke said. “I am so happy to be living in Canada right now instead of south of the border.”

And there was more good news for pot aficionados: Hours before a handful of retail outlets opened in the country’s easternmost province a federal official told The Associated Press that Canada will pardon all those with convictions for possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis, the now-legal threshold.

Click here to read about other nations that could be influenced by Canada’s legalization.

Will Canadians in the pot business be barred from crossing the U.S. border?

Kyle Bell, of Numo Cannabis, helps a customer decide on his purchase of legal marijuana Wednesday in Edmonton, Alberta. | Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Canadian marijuana legalization has prompted widespread fears that U.S. border guards will block Canadians working in the cannabis industry from traveling into the United States, even into states that have also legalized pot.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol can permanently bar visitors if an agent decides they’ve participated in illegal drug trafficking — and under CBP rules, anyone working in Canada’s legal marijuana industry fits that definition.

“It’s become a very significant issue,” said Scott Bettridge, an immigration attorney and chairman of the law firm Cozen O’Connor in Miami. “They’ve confirmed that if you work in the industry or even an investor, you could potentially face a lifetime on entering the U.S. This isn’t a ban just on businesses travel – we’re talking vacation, family reasons, visiting your kid in school in the United States. It’s a lifetime ban. It’s very far-reaching.”

U.S. officials say Canadians working in the cannabis industry “will generally be admissible” if they’re simply vacationing in the United States, but may be barred if they are coming for any marijuana-related reason, which could include conferences, investment meetings or visiting a colleague’s store south of the border.

“It’s illegal in the U.S. And, theoretically, that makes you a drug trafficker,” Bettridge said.

The fear is real for many Canadians, who still remember in 2003 when President George Bush’s administration threatened to search every vehicle entering the United States if the Canadian government decriminalized or legalized cannabis, which would have created massive backups at a border that people can usually cross within minutes.

No changes planned to NHL’s lenient pot policy

Getty Images file photo

7 of the 24 National Hockey League teams are in Canada.  With marijuana now legal in that country, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association plan no changes to their joint drug-testing policy, under which players are not punished for positive marijuana tests. It is the most lenient approach to cannabis by any major North American professional sports league.

“The Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program for decades has been educating players on using drugs, legal or illegal,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “That process will continue and we will consider what changes, if any, in our program have to be made. But right now, we think based on the educational level and what we do test for and how we test, at least for the time being, we’re comfortable with where we are.”

While the NFL and NBA can suspend and MLB can fine players for multiple marijuana infractions, only a significantly high amount of the drug found in NHL/NHLPA testing triggers a referral to behavioral health program doctors.

California moves closer to regulation pot delivery

A growing dispute over where legal marijuana can be delivered in California is unsettling the nation's largest pot market.

A Pot Valet employee stands at a booth advertising the cannabis delivery company. | AP file photo

California moved a step closer Friday to allowing marijuana deliveries in communities that have banned retail sales of the drug as regulators rebuffed cities and police chiefs who are opposed to the rule.

The proposal is a major issue that could ultimately end up in court as the state continues to set myriad rules for how pot is grown, tested, packaged and since recreational sales became legal Jan. 1.

Cities have been able to ban retail sales, but state law says local governments cannot prevent cannabis deliveries on public roads so the state — at this point — rejected the plea from opponents who said it would jeopardize public safety and cause other problems.

The proposed delivery rule and changes in other draft regulations now face a 15-day public comment period. The rules are expected to be finalized in December.

Colorado pot sales hit $1 billion in 2018

Andrew Simons, a grower at a state-licensed growing facility in Denver, Colorado, tends to marijuana crops in 2014. | Dustin Park/Sun-Times file photo

As of August, sales of cannabis in Colorado topped $1 billion this year, with tax revenue from the sales reaching $200 million,  according to the Denver Post.

This is the earliest point in four years that combined sales of recreational and medical pot has hit that mark. The state is now on pace to topple the record $1.5 billion in sales tallied last year.

While sales of dry flower have stayed about the same, more edibles and concentrates, like hash oil, have been sold this year. From January to June, sales of edibles rose nearly 14 percent over the first six months of last year, and concentrates grew nearly 95 percent over that same period.

States with legal marijuana see rise in vehicle crashes: studies

Five people — including three newborn babies — were stabbed at an overnight day care center inside a New York City home early Friday, and a woman who had slashed her wrist and was found in the basement was taken into custody, police said. The victims were listed in critical but stable condition.

Sun-Times file photo

Vehicle crashes were up as much as 6 percent in states where the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, said two studies.

According to research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, the frequency of collision claims filed to insurers were higher in four states where marijuana is legal: Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The studies were presented Thursday at the Combating Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving summit. The Highway Loss Data Institute study focused on collision claims between 2012 and October 2017, and compared against four control states where marijuana remains illegal: Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

A separate study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety focused on police-reported crashes before and after retail marijuana was allowed found Colorado, Oregon and Washington saw a 5.2 percent increase in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations, compared with neighboring states.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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