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Pot Topics: Michigan legalizes pot; Marlboro maker invests in cannabis company

Pot Topics is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times. | Adobe stock 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:

  • Marlboro maker invests $2.4 billion in Toronto-based pot company
  • Michigan becomes 10th state to legalize marijuana
  • Chicago’s GTI and Cresco rated among best cannabis companies to work for
  • Lawsuit aims to block medical marijuana compromise in Utah
  • Rapper Wiz Khalifa partners with Canadia’s Supreme Cannabis

Altria Group invests billions in Canadian cannabis company

Altria Group Inc., the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, invested over $2 billion in Toronto-based pot company Cronos Group. | File photo

Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. shelled out $2.4 billion for a 45-percent stake in Cronos Group Inc., a Canadian pot company that confirmed the sale on Friday.

Altria will pay another $1.4 billion for warrants that, if exercised, would give the company 55 percent ownership stake in the Toronto-based pot company.

That would put Altria’s investment in the same league as the $4 billion Constellation Brands spent earlier this year to acquire shares of Canopy Growth, another Canadian pot producer. The August investment by Constellation — which makes Corona and Modelo beers and Svedka vodka — was the largest to date by a major U.S. corporation in the cannabis market.

Whatever hesitation larger corporations in the U.S. had about entering the weed market appears to be fading if there is a financial justification.

Altria’s huge investment lit up shares of cannabis companies that have begun to set up shop in Canada, where pot was fully legalized in October. Cronos’ shares jumped 31 percent and neared an all-time high at the opening bell Friday.

Michigan legalizes cannabis

Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska.

The state of Michigan legalized cannabis on Thursday, becoming the tenth 10th state to do so. | AP file photo

Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana on Thursday.

For the time being, Michiganders over the age of 21 will only be able to spark up in their homes, and pot users won’t be able to buy the drug from a store anytime soon.

Marijuana won’t be commercially available for sale until state regulators draft rules and regulations for the recreational market. They have until December 2019 and can then begin accepting applications for licenses, with the first commercial retail sales expected in 2020. After the medical marijuana industry was regulated in December 2016, the first licenses weren’t awarded until August 2018.

In the meantime, people can grow up to 12 plants to either use personally or give to friends and family. That may change if Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof has his way. Meekhof has introduced a bill that would ban people from growing their own marijuana, but it will need a super-majority —  or a three-fourths vote — to pass, which will be a difficult to accomplish.

Once weed becomes commercially available, people will be able possess and carry two and a half ounces of pot a day and can keep up to 10 ounces locked up in their homes. As part of the new law, police will no longer be able to arrest people for use or possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The state’s medical cannabis program won’t be affected by the changes. Caregivers still can grow up to 12 plants for each of the five cardholders they represent. The only difference for cardholders will be that a 3 percent excise tax on medical marijuana sales at dispensaries will go away in early 2019.

GTI, Cresco Labs named top pot companies to work for

Cannabis grower Jessica Ryan tending to crops at Cresco Labs' cultivation facility in Joliet. | Anne Costabile/Sun-Times

Chicago cannabis firms Green Thumb Industries and Cresco Labs were named two of the best cannabis companies to work for in the country. | Anne Costabile/Sun-Times

Chicago pot companies Green Thumb Industries and Cresco Labs were named included in a list of the 50 best cannabis companies to work for.

The list, published Tuesday by mg Cannabis Retailer, credits GTI for its paid education, stock incentives, career development, staff meals and snacks, telecommuting options and “generous vacation and holiday schedule.” Crain’s Chicago Business also recently named GTI one of the best places to work in the city.

“Our people are the absolute core of our business and we, at GTI, are infinitely better because of every single team member and their passion, hard work, and dedication,” according to Eunice Kim, GTI’s vice president of people. “Our culture and people are top-of-mind as we continue to refine and enhance our programs, perks and benefits to ensure that our employees know that they are appreciated.”

Meanwhile, Cresco offers employees fully-stocked kitchens, a daily stipend for lunch delivery, in-office massage visits, a 410k plan, ergonomic chairs, stand-up desks and the option to bring pets to the office, among other things. Additionally, salaried employees are given unlimited paid time off.

“We strive to create a workforce and culture that mirrors the dynamic nature of this fast growing industry and are honored to be recognized for our efforts by being named of the best cannabis companies to work for,” said Jason Erkes, Cresco’s chief communications officer.

GTI and Cresco, two of Illinois’ leading pot companies, have a lot in common. Both River North-based companies grow and sell cannabis in multiple states, and both went public in Canada this year through reverse takeovers of existing companies. According to mg Cannabis Retailer, each company has over 100 employees and more than 20 job openings.

Groups sue to block Utah’s medical pot compromise

A pair of advocacy groups in Utah sued Thursday to block a compromise agreement legalizing medical marijuana, accusing the Mormon church of unconstitutional domination and interference involving a process that lead to the gutting of a measure approved by voters.

Utah lawmakers meet Dec. 3, 2018 to consider changes to a voter-approved ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana. | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

A pair of advocacy groups in Utah sued Thursday to block a compromise agreement legalizing medical marijuana, accusing the Mormon church of unconstitutional domination and interference involving a process that led to the gutting of a measure approved by voters.

The lawsuit alleges the revised initiative creates overwhelming obstacles for suffering patients who want to obtain the drug. It also asks a judge to set aside the revision passed by lawmakers and keep the original version that won with 53 percent of the vote in November.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long frowned upon marijuana use because of a key church health code called the “Word of Wisdom,” which prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. However, it previously stood behind the work it did to help craft the compromise before the election that it considers a safer medical marijuana program.

The changes signed into law on Monday ban many marijuana edibles; prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary; and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking marijuana wasn’t allowed in the original ballot measure and won’t be permitted under the new version.

The legal challenge isn’t a surprise. The plaintiffs — an organization called Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, and the Epilepsy Association of Utah — had warned they would sue if the ballot measure was altered. They were upset that the primary organization backing medical pot in the state agreed to the compromise before the election.

Utah law gives state legislators the authority to change the language of laws passed by voters. Supporters of the compromise, including some advocates of medical marijuana, say it was a key to guaranteeing quick legalization and convincing conservative lawmakers not to repeal the law.

Wiz Khalifa inks international pot deal

Rapper Wiz Khalifa’s Khalifa Kush Enterprises signed a deal to grow and sell his signature cannabis strain internationally. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Rapper Wiz Khalifa is teaming with the Toronto-based Supreme Cannabis Company to grow and sell his signature weed strain in Canada and possibly other countries outside the U.S.

As part of the agreement, Supreme Cannabis will exclusively grow and sell Khalifa’s proprietary pot strain internationally, according to Yahoo Finance. Khalifa Kush, or Wiz Khalifa OG, is a secretive hybrid that was bred specifically for the Pittsburgh rapper.

The product line will also include pre-rolled joints, extracts, capsules and cannabis oils, Yahoo said. In addition, a Canadian subsidiary of Khalifa’s company, Khalifa Kush Enterprises, will offer consulting services to Supreme Enterprises.

Khalifa, a multi-platinum-selling artist and longtime pot proponent, was named Stoner of the Year in 2012 by High Times magazine.

Associated Press and USA Today contributed to this report.

Upcoming cannabis events in the Chicago area

  • Dec. 8: Mission Illinois cannabis dispensary hosts “Cannaclass: Joint Rolling 101.” Mission, 8554 S. Commercial Ave.
  • Dec. 8: Operation 1620 hosts “Cars & Cannabis 2018.” Lucky E’s Garage in Bedford Park, 6528 S. Lavergne Ave.
  • Dec. 9: Midwest Compassion Center hosts an educational event detailing the medical benefits of cannabis. Will County Veterans Assistance Commission in Joliet, 2400 Glenwood Ave., Ste. 110.
  • Dec. 10: Compassionate Care Consulting offers services for prospective medical cannabis patients, including physician consultations and application processing. Compassionate Care Consulting in Bannockburn, 2101 Waukegan Rd., Ste. 200.
  • Dec. 12: Windy City Cannabis and Green Care Medical host an educational event about medical cannabis. The Cognitive Clinic in Palos Hills, 9944 S. Roberts Rd.
  • Dec. 12: Midwest Compassion Center hosts an educational event about medical cannabis. Morgan’s of Lockport in Lockport, 14929 S. Archer Ave.
  • Dec. 12: Ellementa Elgin hosts a “Cannabis Comfort and Joy” event. Entourage Clinical Services in West Dundee, 737 S. 8th St.
  • Dec. 12: Elementa Chicago hosts a “Cannabis Comfort and Joy” event. TLR, 2423 W. North Ave.

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