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Hemp, The Real Fabric of Our Lives: Why hemp fabric makes cotton look so last season

You guessed it – we’re back with another reason to love the cannabis plant, and this time it’s for one of the seemingly infinite useful applications of industrial hemp: spinning high quality fabrics out of the strong, sustainable fibers naturally produced by the plant. Read on to learn why this fast-growing (literally!) fabric may be here to stay, how it disappeared in the first place, and why hemp is better than cotton in almost every way.

Environmental Impact

As agricultural crops go, industrial hemp has many benefits and few downsides. Relatively fast-growing and high-yielding, hemp practically defines “renewable resource” in most climates, producing 5-10 tons of cellulose fiber pulp per acre in four months – more fiber per acre than trees! 

The fast rate of growth creates a dense canopy that helps shade out weed competition, and the same compounds that make cannabis a powerful plant medicine also make it relatively resistant to pests and diseases, as compared to other field crops. Its long root system allows it to thrive on less water, all while helping to improve soil structure, retain topsoil and even remove pollutants from deep within the soil. These characteristics, along with the plant’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide (also at a greater rate than trees) will become increasingly important as we confront the reality of our changing climate. In fact, hemp is one of the only carbon-negative crops, meaning that it sequesters more carbon than it generates per growing cycle. If that weren’t enough, it’s also an extremely versatile crop, with a high diversity of usable material yield with each harvest. The “hurds,” or tough inner parts of the hemp stem, can be used to make a variety of biocomposites and building materials — in fact, hemp “plastics” are already widely utilized in the automotive industry, as its high tensile strength and scratch resistance make it an ideal material for auto body paneling and interiors.

You have to admit that hemp is outstanding in its field (pun most definitely intended), but what about cotton – the so-called “fabric of our lives”? In terms of environmental impact, there is no comparison — cotton production requires a longer growing season, twice the land, and four times the water as the same amount of hemp. In fact, manufacturing one cotton shirt uses 2,700 liters of water, which is equivalent to the amount an average human drinks in two-and-a-half years! Furthermore, cotton’s susceptibility to pests and diseases creates another ecological problem – in the United States alone, cotton crops occupy 1% of farmland, but account for 50% of all pesticide use (per the Stockholm Environment Institute). With most of our country currently either on literal fire or experiencing excessive heat and drought, it’s pretty clear that we need to actively protect the clean water we have left, as well as reducing water use overall. If hemp production is superior to cotton in all of these ways, why is hemp fabric still so rare in the fashion industry? And why are we still so comfortable wearing cotton? Comfort is certainly one reason, but turns out there are a few factors at play when it comes to the battle of the fine fabrics.

Woven into History 

Since the first hemp stems were processed by humans more than 10,000 years ago, the resulting high quality fiber has been used for food, rope, oil, paper, and various textiles for domestic and industrial use. Hemp was spun into cloth around 8,000 BC, and until the 1920’s (when the prohibition of cannabis began), 80% of clothing was made from hemp textiles (hempfoundation.net). Since then, there has been a significant decline in both production and demand for hemp-based fabrics and other products, at least in the United States. The majority of industrial hemp grown and sold today is from Europe, China, and Russia, although the 2018 federal legalization of hemp in the United States should help bolster our domestic hemp fiber market. 

Cotton also has “deep roots” in the United States. The so-called “Cotton Belt” – a line of southern states stretching coast to coast – still produces 16 million bales a year, second only to China, and generating the greatest revenue of any United States crop. As the transatlantic slave trade and its associated industries spread their ugly tentacles across the nation, RI’s textile mills became instrumental to the flourishing cotton economy. Over 167 textile mills were producing goods from cotton by 1815, and the quaint villages and townships that popped up around them are still admired today (worldhistory.us).

Fiber Quality Over Quantity

Due to the natural length of the fibers (up to 5 ft!) hemp fabric boasts three times the tensile strength of cotton, meaning it won’t stretch or lose shape — in fact, hemp fabric gets better over time! Its longer lifespan (20-30 years as compared to 10 years for cotton cloth) allows hemp clothing to be worn for far longer before it is recycled — a far cry from the “fast fashion” fabrics that can become literal trash after just a few wears. In addition, hemp fabric is naturally UV and microbe resistant (thanks again to the antimicrobial nature of the terpenes and cannabinoids in the plant) making it ideal for those with sensitive skin or allergies. It’s also lightweight (weighing one third less than cotton or wool, which makes it more sustainable to transport as well) and breathable, due to the natural thermoregulating properties of the fiber network of hemp. Because hemp can absorb up to 20% of its own weight in water while still feeling dry to the touch, the fabric retains less moisture and less odor-causing bacteria, meaning more wears between washes. Lastly, because it is not made from petrochemicals, hemp fabric is biodegradable and will not shed microplastics like other modern fabrics.

The long history and economics of cotton are not the only reasons it remains so popular today. Cotton fabric is known to be soft, comfortable, easy to dye, and relatively resistant to wrinkling. Processing hemp fiber into fabric does not yield the whiteness and softness of cotton fibers, so it tends to wrinkle a bit more easily, and colors may be slightly less vibrant. These perceived disadvantages, alongside decades of anti-cannabis stigma and the limited availability of the fabric, have resulted in lower demand from consumers for hemp fabric, at least in the United States. Couple that low demand with a limited supply chain due to the prohibition of marijuana, and it’s no wonder the hemp fabric market is so behind the times. 

On the other hand, our well-established cotton infrastructure allows a large amount of domestic production of cotton fabric, which keeps the price low, and that doesn’t even begin to account for the economic impact of hundreds of years of “free” agricultural labor by enslaved peoples. Despite being less expensive and resource-intensive to farm, the cost of hemp fiber is still twice that of cotton, and American consumers are often hesitant to pay a higher price point, even if the quality is superior.

The good news is that as demand for hemp fabric (and our ability to produce more of it) increases, the price will inevitably come down for consumers. The legalization of industrial hemp in 2018, coupled with increasing awareness and social pressure, has resulted in more brands than ever before offering hemp-based fabrics and fashions. Fortunately, the versatility of hemp fiber also means that it is easily blended with other fabrics like cotton and silk, so consumers hoping to reduce their fashion footprint can actually have the best of both worlds. Plus, because hemp fabric is basically a stronger version of linen (a similarly sustainable fabric made from flax fiber), so if you don’t mind dropping a little extra dough on higher quality fabrics to stay cool, comfortable, and climate-friendly this summer, consider choosing hemp fabric for your family, and make the comparison yourself!




FINALLY!: Rhode Island legalizes cannabis for adult use

Pardon my excitement, but WE DID IT!! After years of coordinated advocacy efforts and many months of negotiations between stakeholders, at long last RI lawmakers managed to put a unified legalization bill to a vote on the House and Senate floors, where it passed with minimal opposition and was signed into law by the governor the very next day. Of course, we knew this was coming — not that it was inevitable, as many have opined over the last few years, but that at some point, our legislature would get its act together to join the rest of New England and much of the country in legalizing cannabis for adult use. But even though I meant it every time I said “this is really the year we make it happen,” a part of me was still in shock as I watched the House vote from a wooden bench in the gallery, the back wall lined with police officers standing in solidarity — a thin blue line of stoic opposition. After spending one third of my life advocating for this very moment, it was surreal to see the names of representatives light up in green, one by one, on the Capitol TV screen on the wall. I couldn’t help but well up with emotions as the final gavel fell, signifying the end of cannabis prohibition and the start of a new chapter in RI. 

The Bill That Lived

Whether it was reduced stigma around cannabis due to legalization in 18 other states, continued advocacy work finally making an impact or just an increasingly acute awareness of the tax revenue being lost to MA every day, lawmakers seemed to come to the table with a different attitude this legislative session. 

For the first time in ten years, they managed to put differences aside to come up with a singular bill to file in both chambers – a compromise between the needs and demands of all the various stakeholders, without diluting the best parts of each approach. It’s a tall order, but it was that spirit of collaboration, coupled with some critical last-minute amendments, that brought this legislation over the finish line to become one of the best legalization laws we’ve seen yet in this country. 

Effective Immediately:

  • Possession – Adults (21+) can possess up to 1 oz of cannabis for personal use (maximum of 10 oz in storage per household) and possession of up to 2 oz for adults 18+ and older will be decriminalized, resulting in a civil penalty without the threat of jail time.
  • Home Grow – Adults (21+) can grow up to 6 plants for personal use (3 immature / 3 flowering), as long as safety requirements laid out in the legislation are met.
  • Expungement – While the automatic expungement process is pending (see “Stay Tuned” below), those eligible may petition the court immediately for expedited clearance of their case.
  • Social Equity Fund – All fees paid by legal cannabis businesses will be directed into a dedicated fund to provide assistance to applicants from communities disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis.
  • Licensing – New license structures will be available and set aside for social equity businesses (with at least 51% of owners or employees qualifying under specific criteria) and worker-owned cooperatives, the latter of which has never been done before – RI may have missed the boat on a lot of firsts when it comes to cannabis, but at least we can say that we led the way in one thing!

The Road to Retail

  • “Hybrid” Dispensaries – Starting August 1, 2022 (mere weeks from now!), the first stores to open for adult-use sales will likely be the ones that are already open. The amended legislation expedites the licensing for existing medical marijuana dispensaries – for a $125,000 fee — in an effort to streamline the path to adult-use cannabis sales.
  • New Licenses – Aside from the nine hybrid licenses that will presumably be granted to each of the existing compassion centers, 24 new retail licenses will also be available right away — of those, 25% of licenses must be awarded to social equity applicants, 25% to worker-owned cooperatives, and all 24 must be divided up equally between the six geographic zones laid out in the state.
  • Cultivation & Vertical Integration – There will be a moratorium on new cultivation licenses for two yearsUnlike our existing dispensary business model, the new licenses will be retail-only, and no single entity will be allowed to possess more than one business license. 
  • Taxes – Retail cannabis sales will be subject to a 7% state sales tax, 10% state excise tax, and 3% municipal tax (the latter of which will only be available to those cities and towns that allow for cannabis businesses).

Stay Tuned:

  • Expungement — The amended legislation mandates for state-initiated (automatic) expungement of criminal convictions for misdemeanor or felony possession up to 2 oz, a process that must be completed by July 1, 2024.
  • Regulatory Authority —  An independent Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) and new advisory board will be created to help craft regulations. Members of the CCC will be appointed by the governor using a suggested list compiled by the legislature — a compromise that was reached after Gov. McKee raised concerns about the constitutionality of too much legislative control over appointees. 
  • Medical Marijuana — All fees associated with application, renewal, and cultivation of medical marijuana for personal use will be eliminated completely as soon as adult-use sales begin, perhaps as early as December of this year.
  • Detecting Impairment — One of the more urgent issues to address as we move forward, at least according to opponents of the legislation, will be the criteria used by law enforcement to detect cannabis impairment in drivers. Proposed solutions include more “drug recognition experts” — a costly pseudoscientific training program, increasingly marketed to police departments in the age of legalization — the odor of cannabis, and blood testing of drivers for THC, but it should be noted that there are no scientifically reliable or valid forms of detecting cannabis impairment yet.

The work of building a stronger, more equitable cannabis industry in RI is far from over, but I believe we have laid a solid foundation with the Rhode Island Cannabis Act. I am sure that I will have plenty of opinions and criticism to offer as we move into the regulation and implementation phases, but for right now, I am quite proud of our small state.




How Clean is Your Cannabis?: A conversation with Cannalytics RI

With the evolving state of legal cannabis, it can be hard to keep track of the ever-changing regulations (even if it’s part of your job!), especially when it comes to testing requirements for cannabis products. Comprehensive testing requirements are essential to ensuring the quality and safety of a product intended to supply patients – many of whom are dealing with compromised immune systems, cancer, and other serious conditions – with the medicine they need to live. It is wild to imagine that potency and contamination testing would be treated as an afterthought, as it has been here in RI. Even as someone who closely follows cannabis industry and policy news, I wanted a refresher on the current status of state regulations for lab testing for cannabis. That is how I found myself in West Warwick on a typical damp and gray April day, where I stopped by RI’s newest state-licensed cannabis testing facility to see how the industry looks through the lab microscope – er, lens.

Cannalytics RI is tucked into a nondescript shopping plaza along the banks of the Pawtuxet River, and at first glance you may not realize that a state-of-the-art cannabis laboratory has made its home there – especially if, like me, you are slightly distracted by the independent donut shop that exists there as well. “Homemade Donuts” reads the sign most visible as you enter the plaza, the letters brightly colored in yellow and blue — a branding choice made in defiance of their pink and orange corporate counterpart, I am sure. I parked in front of the Family Dollar and made my way to the corner unit, where I found the door locked (as it always is, for security purposes). I rang the doorbell, and through the large windows I could see co-owner Mike Pytell emerge from behind a high tech instrument (a High Performance Liquid Chromatography-Photodiode Array Detection machine, I later learned) to let me into the bright and open lab space, which is surprisingly aesthetic in decor. 

I met Pytell and co-owner Tanya Luongo a couple of years ago at another lab, and I had been excited to learn that they had struck out on their own to open a new facility in RI earlier this year. Their combined thirty years of scientific experience, infused with a passion for plant medicine, led to a perfect fit in the marijuana testing industry. At the cannabis lab where they started together (and where I met them originally), Luongo and Pytell spent a full year developing extensive laboratory methods, procedures and manuals that resulted in the successful state licensure of one of only two cannabis labs in the state of RI at the time. In addition to navigating the challenges of obtaining state licensure, their professional backgrounds in various chemical industries gave them the skills to develop testing procedures and analysis methods not yet used by any cannabis laboratory in RI, such as low-level beverage extraction procedures and analysis methods.

“Cannalytics RI was born not only from a desire to provide lab services to the cannabis community, but to assist with regulation guidance and implementation as well,” Pytell explained when I asked why they wanted to start their own lab. “When Tanya and I met upon entering the confusing world of RI cannabis, it was quite obvious that the lab sector was rather underwhelming, and was screaming for reinforcement.” Dissatisfied with the state of the testing industry at the time, especially the “horribly underqualified” cannabis lab where they had met and worked together, Luongo and Pytell opened Cannalytics RI “to carry on our hard work, and to provide the community with a lab they can trust. The ability to control our own lab top to bottom is crucial; it’s how we are able to truly deliver the integrity and due diligence that our clients rightfully deserve.”

Despite its relative maturity, Pytell and Luongo felt that the RI cannabis industry was still underdeveloped, and there was a clear need for accurate, responsible and accessible lab services. “It’s kind of sad that we’re only at where we are, in 2022,” Pytell said about the RI cannabis industry.

Let’s look at where we came from, where we’re at and what lies ahead when it comes to regulating cannabis product safety in our state.

Medical marijuana was legalized in RI in 2006, and our first compassion center opened its doors in 2013. Would you believe that the state did not require third-party potency analysis on cannabis flower being sold to patients until JANUARY 14, 2021?! What about contamination by mold, heavy metals, and pesticides? It would be extremely dangerous to sell potentially contaminated medicine to sick patients, so the state must have had strict requirements when it came to testing for those components, right? WRONG! I hate to break it to you, but medical marijuana was not required to be tested for mold until March of 2021 (see motifri.com/cannabis-testing, Jan 2021), and heavy metal regulations followed in December of 2021, just a few months ago. Worse, there are STILL no regulations requiring pesticide and residual solvent analysis, and not even potency testing is required for edibles and other infused products sold at compassion centers. “I talk to cultivators who still don’t know that edible testing is not required,” Pytell tells me, his facial expression disclosing a combination of disbelief and resignation that has become quite common in the RI cannabis community. 

Without a requirement for even the most basic potency analysis – essential for accurate labeling and dosing — the only parties responsible for testing products and reporting results to consumers were the compassion centers themselves, with virtually no oversight or laboratory license requirements until 2021. As both producers and retailers, the vertically integrated dispensaries are incentivised to provide only the best results to patients, though I highly doubt that they were conducting internal contamination testing. They most likely knew the results would not be favorable for them, as even average consumers like myself have been aware of alleged improper pesticide use and issues with aging, moldy cultivation facilities for many years.

“How much untested or contaminated product was sold to unwitting patients in those years?” Pytell asked, a question that has echoed across the medical marijuana space for years. Patients and advocates have been raising the alarm about this issue for some time, and many still choose to rely on home-grow or a caregiver to provide them with safe cannabis for their condition. “The question is, what is medical cannabis to you? [In my opinion] it has to be clean – it’s contradictory to sell someone a mold-covered bud when you’re talking about medicine.”

Regulations aren’t the only challenge facing the cannabis lab industry, though, according to Pytell and Luongo. “The RI market seems to be seriously suffering from a lack of sales,” which they and others attribute to several factors. A major factor is decreased demand from patients, especially as neighboring states legalize cannabis. With such a huge array of high quality (and actually tested!) cannabis products available at nearby adult use dispensaries – many of which are located closer to many RI patients than our own state’s compassion centers — you don’t need to be an economist to understand how supply and demand works, or to predict this type of basic consumer response to market changes. In fact, advocates have been warning lawmakers of this exact scenario for years, encouraging our state to legalize cannabis for adult use in a timely fashion, lest the hard-earned coin of Rhode Islanders be swallowed up by the tax coffers of other states.

Add oversupply to an already decreased demand, and the situation only gets worse. Since 2017, the state has issued 68 cannabis cultivator licenses in an effort to gain more control over medical cannabis production in RI, replacing the caregiver-based model that our medical marijuana program initially relied on. This influx of licensed growers was meant to supply an expanded medical program and potential adult use market, or so we thought. Significant delays in the licensing of six new compassion centers and approval of adult-use legalization has created a situation that is increasingly untenable for both cultivator and laboratory licensees. With cultivators operating at half capacity and no one to sell their product to, “it introduces a sense of desperation,” Pytell said. “What are people supposed to do?” Even in the last year, the price for a pound of cannabis flower has reportedly been cut in half, with cultivators being forced to sell at whatever price the market demands. And with the “market” still tightly held in the political grip of “The Big Three” compassion centers, it is the small business owners and other cannabis license holders that have suffered the consequences.

Luongo and Pytell had hoped that when the six new dispensaries open doors, the improved access to medicine in our state would lead to increased demand among their clients, most of whom are licensed cultivators, and that would in turn lead to better business for every one in the industry. But it’s hard to be optimistic with the regulatory track record RI has, and although there will be a two-year moratorium on issuing new cultivator licenses, that may not help much if all six new compassion centers end up sourcing much of their product from cultivators that may be “laterally-integrated” with the retail license holders, Pytell says. “If the new facilities are able to grow their own medicine, it could exacerbate the supply issues we already face…you’re going to have nine dispensaries that are self-sufficient, and a lot of cultivators still left with nowhere to sell – which begs the question of ‘Why?!’” 

To answer that question, I did some quick math — at around $20,000 per license per year, the state of RI is most likely bringing in over one million dollars in cultivator licensing fees alone, let alone the new compassion centers, labs, and existing dispensary fees. “It’s not even about the patients anymore, it’s all about the money,” Pytell says. Meanwhile, the state is rolling out more testing requirements, which is great, but means that the labs, much like cultivators, are forced to invest in expensive specialized equipment and instruments, which often run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to ensure that they are calibrated and ready to support the market once those testing regulations do become law.

Still, Luongo and Pytell are glad to be here. “In many ways, I do feel the industry here is still in its infancy and needs to be nurtured. However, we are a small state that has great potential, as there is a tight-knit group of talented licensed growers and extractors here..it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.” As I left the lab that day, I couldn’t help but notice the Douglas Adams quote emblazoned in gold letters against a navy blue accent wall, surrounded by golden molecules of cannabinoids and other chemical compounds: “To give real service, you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money. And that is sincerity and integrity” – two things we could certainly use more of here in the RI cannabis industry.




Featured Contributor April 2022: Emily Cotter

Emily Cotter is a native Rhode Islander with ten years of professional experience in organic agriculture and advocacy. Alongside her work as Cannabis Editor at Motif, Cotter is a co-owner and director of operations for Lovewell Farms, a USDA-Certified Organic hemp farm and CBD company based in Hope Valley, RI. She also teaches gardening skills and environmental education programming to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals for local non-profit GardenTime.

In her spare time, Cotter advocates for criminal justice reform and cannabis policy reform, and she organizes with other farmers around food justice issues. She is a proud alumna of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and continues to advocate for compassionate, science-based and equitable drug policies in RI and beyond.

Her passions for social justice, sustainability and all things plants are able to come together in the cannabis space, and she is driven to help create an industry that reflects the goals of the movement behind it. She believes in the power of community, and that the lines between food, drugs and medicine are not as distinct as one might think.




New York Set A New Standard for Social & Economic Equity in Legal Cannabis: Can Rhode Island do the same?

It is the responsibility of each state that legalizes cannabis to incorporate the lessons learned from other states into any proposed laws and regulations. Wasn’t that the whole point of the “wait and see” argument we heard year after year from RI lawmakers, seemingly content to let millions of dollars bleed over the border into Massachusetts? I’m not sure how much research, data analysis or outreach has been going on over on Smith Hill these past ten years, but since I’ve been working with this issue I have seen very little progress in the conversation, particularly around social and economic equity in RI cannabis policy. The study commission created in 2017 (“News Analysis: RI to Study, not Legalize, Cannabis”, Sep 6, 2017) expired without ever filing a report (“News Analysis: What Are Your Elected Officials Smoking?”, Apr 18, 2018). If it weren’t for long-time champions like Senator Josh Miller (D-PVD), whose recent legalization bill is the best attempt at equity we’ve seen so far, I would be inclined to believe that lawmakers haven’t been listening at all. 

In fact, in his introduction of the bill (S.2430) at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Miller emphasized the importance of integrating recent outcomes from other states, as well as feedback from advocates and stakeholders, whose input, he said, “is not only important, but critical to the process of getting this right so we are in a position to vote on it… I feel strongly that this will result in a better bill.”

In Massachusetts, it has been six years since voters legalized cannabis, yet less than 5% of those eligible for expungement have had their records cleared, and only five of over 100 “social equity” licenses have actually been awarded. Those directly harmed by the criminalization of cannabis are still suffering that burden, and prospective business owners have struggled to access the capital, real estate, and education necessary to compete with corporate conglomerates and multi-state operators. Without specific strategies to address these barriers, Little Rhody will go the way of “Big Weed” before we know it. 

Let’s take a look at New York, where the new cannabis policy has raised the bar when it comes to legislating for true social and economic equity in cannabis.  Many of the policies laid out were clearly crafted to try to avoid the pitfalls experienced by some of the early states and to include social equity within legalization.The NY Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act lays a framework for the strongest social and economic equity program we have seen thus far, especially when it comes to three key policy components: licensing, expungement, and social equity assistance funding. The program is both wide-reaching in scope and specific in language, with too many important provisions to include here, so it’s worth checking out the details (read the fact sheet at cannabis.ny.gov). Lawmakers should take notewe can both legalize cannabis this legislative session and ensure that we don’t leave some Rhode Islanders behind when we do.

Licensing

When it comes to issuing cannabis licenses, the devil is in the details. There are a few key parameters that have the potential to make or break the way a legal cannabis market is rolled out – and who profits from it. The number and type of licenses specifically designated for social equity applicants, as well as when they are awarded, can make a real difference when attempting to offer a leg up to communities that have been historically disadvantaged. In New York, 50% of all adult use licenses will be earmarked for social equity applicants – including women, minorities, disabled veterans and individuals from disproportionately impacted communities. The first licenses awarded will be to these groups, giving them a much-needed head start in the industry. Furthermore, the law will prioritize several low barrier-to-entry license models for social equity applicants – including delivery, microbusiness, cooperative and on-site consumption licenses – and any social equity license can only be sold or transferred to another qualified applicant (for at least three years). The two-tier market structure in New York doesn’t allow for vertical integration, which leaves more room for local businesses to compete with multi-state operators, and all non-equity license holders will be required to develop and implement a “social responsibility framework” for their businesses, and to annually report their progress to the Cannabis Control Board, or else their licenses will not be renewed. 

By contrast, RI is planning on offering the first retail licenses to the three existing medical marijuana dispensaries (which are all fully vertically-integrated, and owned by people who “knew a guy” at the right time) and they’ll be charged a hefty $125,000 license fee. 

But hey, it’s less than the $500,000 we’ve seen proposed so far – plus, it’ll all be going into the social equity fund, so all’s well that ends well, right? Not really, but at least under this law the dispensaries would be required to establish and maintain an agreement with a labor union – a move which is sure to be a welcome improvement for dispensary employees, who have tirelessly fought for their right to organize. 

In addition, 24 new retail licenses will be issued in six regions of RI, with six licenses reserved for social equity applicants, and six earmarked for worker-owned cooperatives. RI will be the first state to set aside licenses specifically for co-ops, and it seems we have tried to follow New York’s lead in terms of restricting the sale or transfer of a social equity or co-op license to only another eligible applicant. However, additional low barrier-to-entry license models are not fully fleshed out in this bill — rather, they are only listed as something the cannabis commission may recommend to the general assembly at a later time. The makeup of the commission will be a critical component to keep an eye on, as we cannot realistically expect equity to be prioritized if marginalized populations are not represented with a seat at the table.  Lawmakers should consider awarding more (and earlier) retail licenses to social equity applicants in RI, as well as taking inspiration from New York when it comes to creating a more accessible market structure and carefully defining “social responsibility” requirements for non-equity businesses.

Automatic (State-Initiated) Expungement

In states with automatic (state-initiated) clearance of criminal records for marijuana violations – including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — hundreds of thousands of citizens have been granted relief from the many burdens of a criminal conviction. By contrast, in non-automatic states, less than 5% of those eligible have actually received relief; expungement provisions in those laws turned out to be nothing more than lip service. So far, RI is setting itself up to be part of the latter group, as evidenced by the proposal of a non-automatic expungement process. Let’s learn from New York.

Social Equity Assistance Program & Fund 

In New York, 40% of tax revenue from the new dispensaries will be invested back into communities harmed by the failed War on Drugs, which has always disproportionately impacted people of color and will continue to do so in the age of legalization, unless we start making these changes now. Through the New York State Community Reinvestment Grant Fund, community-based non-profit organizations and local governments will be able to apply for funding to support community revitalization efforts. The governor of New York has also earmarked $200 million in this year’s budget to support social equity businesses, mostly to be spent on finding, securing and renovating storefronts for retailers. This unique concept of creating “turnkey” operations – where the state takes on the burden of dealing with the intimidating New York real estate market so that prospective owners without the necessary experience don’t have to – is a novel example of the type of individualized and outside-the-box thinking that we will need in order to figure out how to build equity in various contexts. 

The recent proposal from Sen. Miller also includes a social equity assistance program and fund, which thankfully looks like it will be maintained separately from the black hole of the state treasury that is the “General Fund,” and is to be funded by annual fees from adult-use cannabis businesses. The fund is meant to be used for grants, technical assistance, workforce development and mentoring for social equity applicants, as well as programming intended to support restorative justice, jail diversion and other services for communities impacted by the War on Cannabis.

As far as expungement and licensing provisions, we already have clear data from other states to show which policies have fallen short of achieving their purpose, and what the new standard for social and economic equity in cannabis law should be. I believe the most critical element is who is included in (or excluded from) the regulatory and decision-making processes, how exactly the social equity assistance program is funded and implemented, and if we choose to continue to criminalize Black and brown Rhode Islanders while the state and its power players profit.  Our legal cannabis market will only be made better by the diversity of Rhode Islanders that will make it up, and it’s beyond time for lawmakers to listen and learn from those who have lived experiences that can inform, influence and improve our cannabis industry.




Medical Marijuana Update: The Long-Awaited Lottery

We’re finally here folks, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – and I seriously hope none of you were holding your breath. 

It’s been two and a half long years since a major expansion of the medical marijuana program was approved, and almost a full year since the lottery was expected to take place, but Rhode Island finally has six new compassion centers! 

Oh wait, no, sorry, that’s five new centers – as it turns out, all is still not said and done. If you’ve been following along with the lottery to expand retail access to medical marijuana in our state, you know it’s been a really long, drawn-out train wreck in super slow motion. 

For laughs and embarrassment, let’s take a look at how it all went down, what took so long, and who stands to benefit.

Why do a lottery to begin with? 

When deciding amongst the qualified applicants (whatever that means), how the state attempted to ensure a fair, unbiased selection process was critical. Proponents of the lottery argued that it was a more equitable process than the typical merit-based selection method, while those opposed said that “leaving it all to chance” could be risky business when it comes to the health and safety of medical marijuana patients in RI. 

Among the seventy plus licensed cultivators in RI, many of whom applied for one of the coveted new retail licenses, opinions lay on both sides of the fence. 

Unsurprisingly, some are now bitter at losing their chance at the first green rush to hit RI since medical marijuana was legalized back in 2006. 

Many others, even some of those who didn’t get lucky in the lottery, are welcoming the changes, because none of the new dispensaries will be permitted to cultivate their own cannabis, thereby increasing the pool of potential buyers for the existing cultivators’ product nearly threefold.

This whole lottery thing started when former Governor Raimondo insisted on moving forward with the process, much to the chagrin of lawmakers, who were used to getting their way and wanted to manipulate… er, have a say in … the selection. 

Gina’s goal, and I can’t fault her for it, was to create an appearance of fairness in the process, sans the typical RI political cronyism we’ve come to expect from Smith Hill. 

After literal years of delays due to issues with the company contracted to run the lottery (lowest bidder, most likely — typical RI), disqualifications, appeals, and the like, the state took matters into its own hands and decided to conduct the lottery itself.  So it’s fitting that after all this, the conclusion of the lottery saga (for now) was just as much, if not more so, about creating the appearance of an unbiased selection process.

So, at 10am on a Fridayin late October, live streamed on Zoom for all to witness: 

  • One clear acrylic tumbler borrowed from Twin River Casino, an apparent symbol of the state’s commitment to transparency throughout the process.
  • 23 bouncing yellow plastic RI Lottery balls, each representing a “qualified” company. 
  • Two men of great power and responsibility, standing sheepishly at the helm of the ship they have been desperately trying to keep afloat. 
  • One (an FBI agent!) wears a pale short sleeved button-up and a blindfold, looking like a math teacher ready to smash a pinata
  • And both seem acutely aware of the seriousness of their duty, despite the absolute joke of a process. 

I wasn’t in the room, but I can only imagine the high fives and bro hugs shared by the lucky winners and their lawyers. 

Now that they’ve received their preliminary licenses, they have nine months to meet the requirements for a final license and open their doors – AKA blow any money they have left to make sure that the wheels don’t fall off this close to the finish line. 

Each company had invested $10,000 just for the application fee. Then add on the costs of real estate, legal fees, and everything else that must be done to appear on paper as a “qualified” candidate. One company (a multi-state operator out of Massachusetts, no surprise there) submitted three separate applications! And that was all just to get in the door

The winners get to kick back … er, pay … $500,000 PER YEAR in licensing fees to the state. This pay-to-play scenario is not only the highest in the nation, but an impossible barrier to entry for any RI entrepreneur who doesn’t have significant financial backing.

That kind of money wrecked any chance of awarding licenses that prioritized socioeconomic equity, small business support, and reparative justice for those harmed by the war on cannabis.

We are going to see large, corporate, multi-state operators coming into RI to take advantage of both our insatiable demand for marijuana and our status as an “island of prohibition” among the rest of the New England states that have already moved to legalize cannabis for recreational use. 

I suppose we can be grateful that the nearly 20,000 medical marijuana patients in Rhode Island, plus the 18,000 out-of-state patients who rely on our medical program, will now have more than three options when purchasing their medicine. Not that this change will even begin to address the accessibility issues that patients face when it comes to medical marijuana. But that’s another topic for another day… For now, we’ll watch the winners of THC Bingo unfurl their business plans over the coming year.




Cannabis Gift Guide 2021: For Those On-the-Go

Whether your upcoming travel plans include heading to Grandma’s house for the holidays, hiking in the wintery woods, or finally getting on a plane again, here’s hoping this winter will offer the “booster” that we need, so more Americans can continue to maintain the go-go-go lifestyles we so love to hate. In that festive spirit, I’ve put together a gift guide for the cannabis lover in your life that is always on the move – clever, affordable, and convenient ways to take your ganja on the go, so you can “stay grinding” in style. 

Green Jay Rechargeable Windproof Electric Lighter – $20

I mean, it’s all in the name, isn’t it? This little device may look like it came out of a galaxy far away, but it just may be the ticket to a winter free from cold, wet, dead lighters. Safe, subtle, and completely wind-proof, this lighter is fossil fuel-free and can last up to 30 hours before recharging.

Verde Grinder Card – $20

Leave the bulky, sticky metal grinder at home, and slip this sleek little number into your wallet for convenient and effective herb grinding on-the-go. You may be skeptical at first (I know I was), but at only $20, you’ll be amazed at how well it does the job!

Stay On the Grass” Water Bottle – $21

Black woman-owned business Jane Parade always nails it with unique cannabis-themed gifts, and this 16oz Nalgene is no exception — a great choice for the subtle stoner in your life who takes their hydration seriously. Or, who really needs to start carrying a reusable water bottle…

The Battpack by Octave – $79

Is it a universal charger? A travel safe? It’s BATTPACK! This multitasker combines the convenience of a portable charger with the security of a secret stash container accessed by an “adult-proof” button. Now you can charge your device and store your valuables in one safe spot, and it even includes a sleek stainless steel magnetic tray for a clean, contained surface for… whatever….

PenSimple – $59.99

Another multitasker, PenSimple is advertised as “a revolutionary herb grinder and portable storage vault” that allows you to grind, store, and dispense up to 3 grams of ground cannabis (or any other herb, like dried basil) on-the-go. In a world where clean hands are more important than ever, I can definitely see the appeal of a tool like this.

Higher Standards x Revelry Companion – $55

Stylish and sturdy, this black-on-black fanny pack is durable, water-resistant and odor absorbing, complete with a carbon filtration system and secret stash pocket to keep it discrete. Form meets function to make the perfect gift for your cannabis-loving friend who rocks a fanny pack.




Now You’re Cooking With Gas: Cannabis oil infusion made easy

If you’re curious about making your own cannabis products in your kitchen, this guide will help you understand the basics of cannabis oil infusion, and how you can mix up the medicine to create your own custom concoctions at home. 

Cannabinoids (the powerful plant compounds found in cannabis, like THC and CBD) are fat-soluble, so infusing oils with cannabis is a great way to capture the beneficial compounds into a more usable form. Oil infused with cannabis can be used in place of butter or regular cooking oil in any recipe, or you can create your own topical remedy or cannabis tincture. Ingesting cannabis in food or tincture form can be important for those who are unable to smoke or vaporize marijuana, and the effects typically last longer at smaller doses.

Start with high quality source material: Although most people think of edibles as another way of accessing the psychoactive effects of cannabis, THC is not the only compound worthy of extracting from the cannabis plant. It is now easier than ever to find and purchase high-quality CBD flower to use in your kitchen. You can also purchase THC dominant flower or a hybrid strain at a compassion center or recreational dispensary, or you can use a cannabis extract, like RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), as your starting material. Whatever raw material you choose, be sure that it is trusted, tested, and organically produced if possible. If you are able to access the test results for your starting material, that will make calculating your dosage much easier, but you can also estimate based on the strain information. If you know a grower, infusing their leftover trimmings can make good use of otherwise wasted material, but it will likely create products of a lower dosage, due to the relative lack of beneficial compounds as compared to flower. On the contrary, using a more concentrated material like shake, kief, or other extracts can result in a stronger final product.

Choose your carrier oil: A “carrier oil” is the base oil into which plant material can be infused. For decades, butter seemed to be the carrier oil of choice for making edibles, but as we learn more about cannabis chemistry and other oil options become more readily available, it becomes important to choose your carrier oil based on your needs and preferences. Besides butter, popular carrier oils include olive oil, hemp seed oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil – although some have much lower smoke points than others (AKA easy to burn while infusing), and not all are suitable for ingestion. You can use any oil you like, but be sure to consider factors like flavor, melting point, and smoke point when choosing a carrier oil. In my opinion, the very best carrier oil to infuse with cannabis has got to be coconut oil. 

Why coconut oil?: Increasingly popular in recent years due to its plant-based nature, health benefits, and yummy flavor, coconut oil is also a prime candidate for cannabis infusion on a molecular level. This is because it is one of the oils with the highest saturated fat content (about 60-80%, compared with about 20% in olive oil), which means there are plenty of binding sites for those fat-soluble compounds I mentioned earlier. Since cannabinoids are lipophilic (fat-loving) in nature, coconut oil is able to retain more of the beneficial plant compounds per serving, which increases the absorption rate upon consumption. Like butter, coconut oil stores well and remains solid at room temperature (although not at this time of year!), and it performs similarly to butter in extraction and in recipes. For a version of coconut oil that remains liquid at all temperatures, MCT oil (fractionated coconut oil) is a great choice. MCT, or medium chain triglycerides, are a type of saturated fat extracted from coconuts that are rapidly digested and absorbed by the body, and enjoyed by many as a health supplement on it’s own. With MCT oil, you get all the benefits of using coconut oil as a carrier but in a convenient liquid form with little to no flavor, making it an ideal carrier oil for many applications.

Decarboxylation — what it is and how to do it: Although the word may look intimidating, “decarbing” is the simple and necessary process of activating the cannabinoids present in the material, so that it can be processed by the body and provide the desired effects. In the context of smoking or vaporizing THC or CBD flower, the heat from the flame or vape oven causes decarboxylation to occur prior to inhalation, but in creating edibles or topicals, we usually need to decarb the plant material in order to infuse it properly (except if using a concentrate like RSO as your starting material, as most extracts are already activated and can be infused directly into oil).

To decarboxylate at home, grind or break up the flower into roughly equal pieces (use a food processor or coffee grinder if you like, but it may get sticky). Spread evenly on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil, and cover with more foil to keep the more volatile plant compounds, like terpenes, from evaporating during the process. Bake at 240ºF for 40 or 90 minutes (for THC-dominant and CBD flower, respectively), and leave covered to cool after removing from the oven – the material should look golden brown in color and have a fragrant aroma when complete. Now, you are ready to infuse!

How to infuse: I should mention – and anyone who has ever stunk up their parents’ kitchen attempting to make “special brownies” will already know this – that the process of decarboxylation and infusino can be aromatic, to say the least. For convenience, there are tools you can use to fully decarb and make infusions, all within a discreet and easy-to-use countertop machine – the Nova by Ardent Cannabis (which I own and recommend, although the volume capacity is somewhat small) or the Levo are great options for those who need to be tactful about their infusion, or expect to be making frequent batches. Additionally, if you can’t decarb at all, don’t worry – you can always just infuse the oil for longer to activate the compounds during the infusion process, but be extra careful not to overcook your oil if you do this and be aware that a longer infusion time will typically result in a stronger cannabis flavor to your oil.

There are several methods for infusing oil at home. Listed below are the basic parameters for each, but you can also find detailed instructions online for each method:

  • Water Bath – Heat water in stock pot or slow cooker on high until it reaches 185ºF, then lower heat. Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in mason jars, and place jars in water bath, ensuring that water covers the top of jars. Infuse for 4 hours, then strain oil and pour into clean jars to cool.
  • Slow-Cooker – Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in slow-cooker and infuse on low for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain oil and let cool. This method is probably the easiest, although it is less gentle than the water bath in terms of temperature control.
  • Double Boiler – Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in large glass bowl and heat 6-8 hours over slow-cooker or stock pot set to lowest heat, stirring occasionally. Strain infused oil and let cool.
  • Stove Top – Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in sauce pot and heat on lowest setting 2-3 hours, stirring frequently. This method is the fastest but also most likely to burn the oil or fry the flower material, which can decrease the overall potency/effectiveness of the final product.

Whichever method you choose, it’s a good idea to have a digital thermometer on hand to ensure that the oil never reaches 200ºF – 245°F (anything between 130 – 190ºF is ideal to maximize infusion without degrading the product). With any of the above methods, you can add a small amount of water to the mixture to help avoid burning. 

Once the infusion is complete, you will want to strain the infused oil using cheese cloth over a mesh strainer, but avoid squeezing every last bit of the oil out of the material if you don’t want your oil to take on a greenish hue, due to the presence of chlorophyll. You can also use a french press or a paper coffee filter and funnel to strain the oil, and the pulp can be saved to use in future recipes – smoothies, sauces, or salad dressings should all work well with cannabis pulp. Once your infused oil is complete, store it in a cool, dark, dry place, or stick it in the fridge or freezer for longer term storage.

Dosing: Accurately dosing your homemade cannabis products can be the trickiest part of the process. Luckily, there are some great edible dosage calculators online, but you will want to know the approximate potency of your strength material (% THC or % CBD), and the amount of material / carrier oil you will be using in your recipe (ex. 7g flower @ 15% THC in 2 cups of coconut oil). Using this example, you could calculate that your infused oil would have a total of 7,000mg THC x 0.15 =  1,050mg THC. Since the infusion process won’t result in 100% yield, you can make an assumption of around 75% yield, which would equal 787.5mg THC in the total volume of oil. If the infusion yields 1 cup of oil, that would result in a dosage of around 50mg THC / oz, or 25mg THC / tbsp.

Basic Cannabis Salve Recipe

Try making your own topicals with this easy salve formula – great for reducing inflammation, alleviating pain, and soothing painful or itchy skin conditions! 

  • 1 part beeswax
  • 4-5 parts oil
  • Optional – essential oils for scent/effect (ex. Lavender, peppermint)
  • Make it your own by adding other ingredients to increase efficacy (ex. arnica, aloe, menthol)



Taking the High Road: Tips for passing (joints) through the New England states this summer

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to vacationing in the summer months, I don’t feel the need to go very far from home. Of course there is a reason that so many tourists flock to our area in the summer months — loathe them though we may — and I, too, appreciate the natural beauty, outdoor recreation and convenience offered by traveling to nearby states during our short summer season here in New England. If you are like me (meaning you enjoy cannabis and are planning a weekend trip or two this summer), here are my best tips to keep your New England road trip safe, legal and just a little bit silly.

Know the Laws

Regardless of your road trip route, it is critical to understand your destination’s cannabis laws as well as those of states you will be passing through along the way. Luckily, almost every state in New England has legalized cannabis for adult use and possession, and even in those that haven’t yet (Hello, RI and NH!), medical marijuana and decriminalization laws make getting caught with cannabis much less dangerous than in years past. If you are a medical marijuana patient, be sure to bring your patient card with you, and if you happen to be traveling to a state with patient reciprocity laws (Maine or Rhode Island), you will be able to purchase from the medical dispensaries there. *Note: New Hampshire recognizes out-of-state patient cards when it comes to possession, but dispensaries are open to in-state patients only.

Remember that just because a state has legalized, that doesn’t mean that there will be dispensaries open for business when you arrive. It takes time to launch a legal cannabis market, so some recently legal states, such as New York and Connecticut, have yet to open doors on recreational dispensaries. Fortunately, in those states you can legally possess 3 oz and 1.5 oz respectively, so you can at least feel a little more comfortable traveling (or sitting in traffic) with cannabis in your vehicle.

To stay up-to-date with various state cannabis laws and ensure that you are within legal limits, do a little research before your trip (I recommend Marijuana Policy Project’s interactive state policy map), and plan accordingly. 

Pit Stops at Pot Shops

If you are driving through Massachusetts or Maine, you will likely see plenty of dispensaries along your route, and the recreational stores should be open to anyone who is 21+ (just don’t forget your ID, because these places are serious about carding). If you are traveling to a new area and want some help finding “pot stops” along the way, there are a couple of apps that I would recommend: Weedmaps provides a user-friendly map of dispensaries based on your location, and Leafly offers both a dispensary finder and a strain explorer tool, if you would like to explore your options beforehand. If you are still unsure about what to purchase, you can always ask the budtender at the dispensary for advice. It’s part of their job to educate and inform customers about the offerings on the menu. Lastly, keep in mind that most states have a strictly enforced purchase limit, which is probably for the best if you are traveling with cannabis, as you will want to keep your possessed amount within state legal limitations. 

Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe

While New England state laws are becoming more favorable for cannabis users, we can’t forget that it remains federally illegal to carry marijuana (a Schedule 1 substance, according to them) across state lines, even when traveling between legal states. Although I do believe that you would be unlikely to be charged with a federal crime while adhering to state law, it’s still best to play it safe when you have cannabis in your cargo. I would definitely avoid crossing international borders with any amount of marijuana, though, as that would be more likely to fall under federal jurisdiction. In general, keep your products secured and out of sight (in the trunk is best), and be especially cautious about keeping products locked up and out of reach when traveling with children or pets. Most state laws treat cannabis products similarly to an open container of alcohol, so keep that in mind when hitting the road.

Be a Good Driver

We should always obey traffic laws, obviously, but we should be extra sure to do so when traveling with cannabis. As a teenager, I learned this concept as “One Crime at a Time,” but even in this new age of legal cannabis, it’s best to not provide any possible reason for an interaction with law enforcement. So don’t speed, and avoid driving while partaking. It’s best to wait until your destination or plan a leisurely stop along the way, so you can actually relax and enjoy yourself. If you are traveling with friends, designate a sober driver or take turns on longer trips. Wherever you are, avoid smoking in public, and be mindful of the rules of your accommodations when it comes to being “4/20 friendly.” 

No matter your destination, the most important part of a road trip is the journey. We all work too much, so I hope that you can plan a good old fashioned New England getaway this summer. What a great opportunity to slow down, put on a dope playlist, take the scenic route and enjoy the ride! Just don’t forget the snacks.  




2021 Legislative Recap: What happened, and what’s next for cannabis in RI?

So here we are — the 2021 legislative session is over and we still don’t have legal cannabis in Rhode Island. Some really critical pieces of legislation were passed, and I heard members from both sides of the aisle expressing support for common sense measures that will do right by Rhode Islanders, including prioritizing racial/gender equity in the workplace and in public health spaces, supporting small businesses and embracing principles of harm reduction when it comes to drug use/misuse. There was a sense of understanding of the issues and a willingness to seek out novel solutions, and we have to be proud of what our elected officials were able to pass this session. The process of law-making is a slow one even in normal times, and many important measures can take years to come to fruition. Case in point: legalizing cannabis, an issue that, although it has been discussed at the State House every session for the better part of the last decade, we still haven’t been able to get passed.

When the session began, many predicted (again) that finally, this would be the year we would legalize adult-use cannabis in Rhode Island. After all, every one of our neighboring states and many others across the country have been legalizing over the last few years, like some sort of reverse manifest destiny domino line stretching from the West Coast all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to that “green wave,” changes in the RI legislative leadership and executive branch had legalization proponents hoping for a more favorable atmosphere at the State House, mostly because the conservative-Cranstonite-formerly-known-as-speaker-of-the-house would no longer be the major roadblock he had been for so many years.

What Happened?

It’s not news that RI politics is not very straightforward, and this session turned out to be just as messy, if not more so, than what we’ve seen in the past. Everyone wanted a hand in creating the legislation, but they didn’t collaborate with each other and with stakeholders, so we ended up with three very different and far-from-perfect legalization proposals. The governor’s proposal was seriously lacking, the Senate bill made an attempt but fell way short, and the last-minute House bill endeavored to present the best of both, with some additional improvements when it comes to social equity licensing and automatic expungement. (Check out our recent cannabis coverage for more details on the three proposals.)

It turns out that advocates were right about at least one thing when it came to this session. With Mattiello out of the way, S0568 sponsored by Senator Josh Miller was not only voted out of the senate judiciary committee, but was approved by the full senate on June 20, 2021 — a huge accomplishment, considering that the former speaker never even allowed the issue to be voted on in committee.

I didn’t feel the sense of joy that I thought I would at this milestone, particularly because amendments actually made the social equity provisions worse than before (and they weren’t very good to start with). I felt that familiar frustration from years past, as if decisions were being made behind closed doors, with only the richest and most powerful sitting at the table. I feared that the rules being written would leave a lot of Rhode Islanders in the lurch, and it didn’t sit right with me or the other citizen activists who had been working so hard to make sure that marginalized communities were included in the conversation.

What Now?

Although we came closer than ever before, legalization didn’t cross the finish line this legislative session, and it looks like the issue is heading for a special session in the fall. In the meantime, it is critical to keep pressuring lawmakers to do the right thing when it comes to cannabis equity. This is a conversation that will continue to happen post-legalization, and our legal cannabis policies will need to be improved over time regardless, but there are some elements that must be included from the beginning. We need to put our money where our mouths are, quite literally, when we say that we care about all Rhode Islanders. We need to consider the impact of our laws and regulations as well as our intentions, and we would be wise to look around (in virtually any direction, at this point) to see what has worked and what has failed in other states. Stay tuned for more updates!