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POT TOPICS: Opioid replacement bill sent to Rauner; Vermont legalizes weed

Gov. Bruce Rauner | AP Photo/Seth Perlman

POT TOPICS is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bill that would offer medical pot as opioid replacement sent to Rauner’s desk

Legislation that would give people who have been prescribed painkillers the option to instead use medical marijuana to treat their pain has been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk, but it’s unclear whether the Republican will sign it.

Senate Bill 336, dubbed the Alternatives to Opioids Act, was fully approved last month by the state Legislature. The measure, which was sent to Rauner’s desk for signing on June 29, would expand the state’s medical cannabis pilot program to give people who have been prescribed opioids the opportunity to obtain a medical marijuana card.

The governor’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment on the bill.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sponsored the legislation after hearing testimony last spring from medical cannabis patients who reported experiencing fewer side effects than they had while taking opioids — and that pot was actually giving them “a pathway out of opioid use.”

Earlier this year, Harmon claimed the state’s medical cannabis pilot program has “worked well” despite being hampered by Rauner’s “overly cautious” administration, which rejected many proposals the now-defunct Medical Cannabis Advisory Board offered to add new conditions.

State Sen. Don Harmon speaks at the Reader’s Medical Cannabis 101 event Monday night at mHUB in West Town. | Marina Labarth del Solar/Sun-Times

Vermont legalizes recreational cannabis

As of Sunday, the recreational use of marijuana is legal in Vermont, although certain boundaries of the law remain unclear.

Vermont becomes the ninth state to legalize marijuana and the first state to do so through its state legislature. Gov. Phil Scott signed the law in January with “mixed emotions.”

The law allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, as well as two mature and four immature plants. But authorities can’t answer some questions and say clarity of the rules will come with case law.

Some examples include how police will enforce the one-ounce marijuana limit when it comes to edibles, the boundaries in public versus private consumption and what exactly a secure pot garden looks like.

Nevada pot sales exceed year end projection after 10 months

Tax revenues from recreational weed sales in Nevada have exceeded projections for the entire fiscal year in the first 10 months since last July, when they became legal.

Nevada Department of Taxation Director Bill Anderson says the $6.5 million in pot tax revenues in April slipped a bit from the monthly high of $7 million in March.

Tax collections on recreational marijuana sales in Nevada have exceeded projections for the entire fiscal year in just the first 10 months since they became legal last July.

Tax collections on recreational marijuana sales in Nevada have exceeded projections for the entire fiscal year in just the first 10 months since they became legal last July. | AP file photo

But the combined revenues from medical and recreational marijuana are now at 110 percent of what was projected for all of the current fiscal year — a total of $55.5 million, so far. Overall sales have reached $433.5 million.

Anderson says taxable revenue from marijuana-related sales is growing about 17 percent faster than total sales tax collections.

Sales of taxable products and services statewide are up $1.96 billion over the 10 months, while marijuana-related sales have increased $338 million.

Snoop Dogg, Sir Patrick Stewart invest in British cannabis research firm

A British medical cannabis research firm announced last week that Snoop Dogg and Sir Patrick Stewart have invested in the company.

Snoop’s venture capital firm, Casa Verde Capital, and Imperial Brands Ventures Ltd — which manufactures cigarette brands like Kool, Salem and Winston — contributed heavily to Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies’ Series A funding round, according to a statement from the company, which “uses 21st century technology and modern drug development standards to explore the potential of cannabinoid medication and bring pioneering treatments to the market.”

Snoop Dogg’s venture capital firm, Casa Verde Capital, recently invested in the British medical cannabis research firm Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies. | AP file photo

In addition, Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies announced that Stewart had signed on as its patron. He will also serve as an unpaid member of the company’s advisory board.

“I am proud to become the patron of OCT,” Stewart said in the statement. “It’s wonderful that OCT have got together the funding that means that Britain will lead the way in what is, in my view, one of the world’s most exciting fields of medical research.”

“The possibilities seem to me to be virtually limitless,” he added.

Sir Patrick Stewart signed on as Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies’ patron and will join the company’s advisory board. | Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images

While the company didn’t say how much it raised, sources told Business Insider that the number was close to $10 million.

The funding will be used to establish a strategic research partnership and laboratory in Europe that will support the company’s “research into the mechanics of cannabinoids in order to develop treatments that improve the quality of life for millions of patients around the world.”

Brooklyn judge won’t put people back in prison for pot smoking.

A federal judge in Brooklyn vowed Thursday not to send people back to prison for using marijuana while on supervised release.

In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York Jack B. Weinstein, 96, said he had been sending people on supervised release back to prison for smoking pot despite many states legalizing the drug, according to the New York Times.

“Like many federal trial judges, I have been terminating supervision for ‘violations’ by individuals with long-term marijuana habits who are otherwise rehabilitated,” Judge Weinstein wrote. “No useful purpose is served through the continuation of supervised release for many defendants whose only illegal conduct is following the now largely socially acceptable habit of marijuana use.”

Supervised release, which is administered in courts nationwide by the federal probation agency, was created in the 1980s to help rehabilitate people who have finished their prison sentences. However, certain violations like using drugs can land a person back behind bars.

People on supervised release who use marijuana or refuse to be tested for it are required to be taken back into custody because the drug remains illegal under federal law. Judge Weinstein claimed that the practice of sending people back to prison for pot use was a waste of resources and had an implicit racial bias.

“In this court, the majority of supervisees who face a violation charge for marijuana use are African-Americans,” Weinstein added. “Since an African-American is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use, his or her chance of a supervised release violation for marijuana is much greater than a white person’s.”

Ex-Navy SEAL from Chicago area leading veterans’ battle for cannabis access

A former Navy SEAL from the Chicago area is leading the push to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level in an effort to give war-ravaged service members access to pot-based treatments through the Veterans Health Administration.

Nick Etten is a far cry from the stony pot activists of past generations. The west suburban native graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland before conducting counternarcotics operations in the 1990s as a member of SEAL Team 3. After completing his service, Etten earned a masters degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and began working in the finance industry.

Nick Etten, executive director of the Veterans Cannabis Project, traveling through Panama while serving as a member of SEAL Team 3. | Provided photo

During that time, he learned about the healing effects of cannabis and the legal barriers that stood in the way of many veterans accessing it. Compelled to serve his comrades, Etten left the private sector and started the Veterans Cannabis Project last year. The Chicago and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aims to change federal pot laws to expand treatment options for former soldiers, many of whom served during the War on Terror in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Cannabis offers a transformational solution for veterans with respect to the current veteran health crisis and some of the conditions that our community is dealing with,” Etten said.

Upcoming cannabis events in the Chicago area

• The Midwest Compassion Center holds its monthly patient social at 2 p.m. July 22 at 721 N. Independence Blvd. in Romeoville. Experts will answer questions and offer application assistance to prospective medical cannabis patients.

• The 420 Cannabis Social is set to take place at 11 a.m. July 29 at Cricket Hill near the intersection of Montrose Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. Attendees will discuss cannabis legalization, medicinal cannabis use and the drug’s health benefits.