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Cannabis news briefs: New Jersey makes headway with cannabis legislation, hemp comes closer to legalization, and Lindsey Graham takes powerful new post

By Rick Schettino
Dec 04, 2018

A little over a week ago it seemed as if efforts by New Jersey lawmakers to legalize marijuana for recreational use could continue to drag on indefinitely. However, in a surprise move, three new bills were unveiled and then overwhelmingly approved by the state’s Senate and Assembly panels last week.

One of three bills, if signed by Gov. Phil Murphy will legalize adult-use marijuana. Another expands the state's existing medical cannabis program. And a third bill creates a system that would speed up criminal expungements of low-level cannabis offenses.

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Like other some other states, the measure allows for marijuana delivery services. Unlike most other states, the bill also permits the creation of  "consumption areas" within dispensaries where customers can smoke and vape cannabis in a social setting outside of their homes.

All three bills are expected to be passed by the full New Jersey legislature and could make their way to Murphy's desk within a few weeks.

Hemp could be legal by Christmas

Senate leaders have reportedly come to an agreement on the farm bill. Language in the bill which legalizes both the cultivation of hemp and the production of CBD oil remains unchanged and will be included in the final draft being sent to the president for signing.

Under the measure, industrial hemp — including the cannabinoid-rich varieties used to produce CBD oil — will be removed from the DEA’s list of controlled substances. Regulatory powers will be passed over to the Department of Agriculture.  

Under existing laws, any crop which surpasses the 0.3 percent THC limit must be destroyed. However, as a result of the new measures, hemp farmers will be allowed to purchase federal crop insurance which, among other protections, which covers losses due to overproduction of THC.

[South Korea to legalize medical cannabis]

Other provisions beneficial to the hemp industry include supporting extended federal funding for hemp research and improved access across state lines. Another crucial side effect of the bill is that it will likely open the door for banking access and other financial protections.

Although DEA oversight of CBD will end, the bill does not remove hemp products from FDA oversight. Nonetheless, a massive North American hemp industry push is assured.

Lindsey Graham to chair Senate Judiciary Committee

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will take over as chair of the important Senate Judiciary committee in 2019. Outgoing chairman, Iowa's Chuck Grassley is a staunch prohibitionist who has prevented cannabis reform measures from receiving Senate consideration.

Graham, who had previously signed on to co-sponsor the 2015 CARERS Act which brings several protections to medical marijuana, is expected to allow committee hearings on various cannabis reform measures, especially the STATES act which is co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Cannabis across the globe

South Korea has become the first country in East Asia to legalize medical marijuana. The country’s National Assembly voted to approve amendments to the “Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs.”

According to PotNetwork’s Meg Ellis, the move comes months after South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it would allow cannabis-based drugs such as Epidiolex, Marinol, Cesamet, and Sativex for conditions such as epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, and cancer.

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To be approved, patients must apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Center, a governmental agency tasked with facilitating patient access to rare and specific medication.

Although the move creates rules for medicinal use of marijuana, strict penalties will remain in place for illicit use of the drug. South Koreans still face up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won ($44,000) for growing, using, or transporting marijuana. Following the legalization of cannabis in Canada, South Korean citizens were warned not to indulge in pot use while traveling there.

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Gingko Bioworks Inc., a Boston-based biotech firm, has announced a partnership with the Cronos Group (NASDAQ:CRON) to produce cannabinoids via genetically modified yeast rather than via traditional cultivation.

Aside from the common cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, cannabis produces scores of additional cannabinoid compounds in minuscule amounts. By transferring DNA sequences responsible for producing those cannabinoids into yeast, Gingko hopes to be able to mass produce these potentially valuable compounds.

Gingko’s website states, “By transferring the DNA sequences for cannabinoid production into yeast, using the foundry and our existing high-throughput fermentation process, we’ll work to construct strains that produce a range of different cannabinoids at high quality and purity, identical to those extracted from the plant with traditional methods. By capitalizing on the power of biological manufacturing, we can unlock access to medically important cannabinoids that can be scaled up and produced reliably.”

PotNetwork’s Meg Ellis has more on this story.

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An Israeli cannabis technology company called PhytoPharma International has introduced a cannabinoid-infused honey — only this honey is infused by the bees themselves rather than in a factory. However, the bee-made honey is said to be vastly more potent.

As it turns out, the honey that is produced by bees that consume cannabis contains a full spectrum of cannabinoids. By feeding the bees different strains of cannabis, the honey can be tailored to produce specific blends of cannabinoids.

According to Avner Ben Aharon, CEO of Phytopharma International, there might be two mechanisms to explain the honey’s high-efficacy. First, the honey serves as a “high-efficient vector to cross the Blood-Brain Barrier.” And second “cannabinoids are transformed in the bees’ stomachs into superiorly efficient molecules."

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The cannabis honey is reported to have a unique fuchsia color and is said to reduce the onset time of cannabis effects from a half hour for traditional edibles down to no more than ten minutes while providing 100 times the efficacy of cannabis-infused honey.

CannaBeez honey is available in THC- and CBD-rich varieties.

Report: Teens trying cannabis before tobacco and liquor

According to a recently published research report published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, teens are choosing to try marijuana before alcohol and tobacco.

In her report, Professor Katherine M. Keyes of Columbia University writes, “As we’ve seen the dramatic declines in alcohol and tobacco, we haven’t seen dramatic declines in marijuana, so now every year it’s more and more likely that kids are starting their drug-use careers with marijuana.”

[Honey by bees that eat cannabinoids gives infused honey a run for its money]

As far back as 1995, approximately 75 percent of high school seniors had tried cigarettes before marijuana. By 2016, that number had been cut nearly in half. Today, less than half of teens try alcohol and cigarettes before trying cannabis.

PotNetwork’s Sean McCaughan has more on this story.

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