Trulieve Cannabis Corp. Acquires Harvest Health And Recreation Inc. In $2 Billion Deal

Florida-based Trulieve Cannabis Corp. announced on Monday that it has reached an agreement to acquire Harvest Health and Recreation Inc. of Arizona in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $2.1 billion. The transaction creates a company with a combined footprint in 11 states in what Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers characterized as the “the largest and most exciting acquisition so far in our industry, creating the most profitable public multistate operator.”“This combination offers us the opportunity to leverage our respective strong foundations and propel us forward with an unparalleled platform for future growth,” Rivers said in a statement from Trulieve. “Harvest provides us with an immediate and significant presence in new and established markets and accelerates our entry into the adult-use space in Arizona. Trulieve and Harvest are leaders in our markets, recognized for our innovation, brands, and operational expertise with true depth and scale in our businesses.”Under the terms of the deal, shareholders of Harvest will receive 0.1170 of a subordinate voting share of Trulieve for each Harvest subordinate voting share owned. The rate of exchange for Harvest’s shares indicates a price of $4.79 per share, which equates to a premium of 34% over Friday’s close for stock in the company.Deal Boosts Trulieve’s GrowthTrulieve is a cannabis multistate operator (MSO) with operations in the northeast and the southeast United States, while Harvest’s business is focused in the southwest, west coast, and northeast. The combined company will have licensed cannabis operations in 11 states, including 22 cultivation and processing facilities with a total capacity of 3.1 million square feet, as well as 126 dispensaries retailing cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. Harvest is also a shareholder in Hightimes Holdings Corp., the parent company of High Times.Steve White, the CEO of Harvest, said that his company was thrilled to be joining Trulieve, which he noted “has achieved unrivaled success and scale in its home state of Florida.”“As one of the oldest multi-state operators,’ said White, “we believe our track record of identifying and developing attractive market opportunities combined with our recent successful launch of adult-use sales in Arizona will add tremendous value to the combined organization as it continues to expand and grow in the coming years.”The deal has been unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both Trulieve and Harvest. Additionally, Harvest shareholders representing more than 50% of the voting power of Harvest’s issued and outstanding shares have entered into an agreement with Trulieve to support the transaction.The deal supports Trulieve’s expansion in core markets including Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and establishes a southwest hub to service key markets including Arizona, where voters legalized the recreational use of cannabis for adults in last November’s general election. The combined company will hold a leading market share in both Arizona and Florida.Morgan Paxhia, co-founder and managing partner of Poseidon, one of the longest-running investment funds in the cannabis sector, told High Times in an email that Trulieve acquiring Harvest continues an ongoing trend of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the cannabis industry.“This combination creates a multi-state operator that is expected to generate over $1 billion in 2021 revenue. It is clear that the near-term growth and total addressable market are predominantly in the USA but we need SAFE banking to support our industry and enterprises of this scale,” Paxhia said. “Cannabis is growing up and M&A deals of this size are another key data point in its growth trajectory. The Trulieve acquisition of Harvest creates a new tier of multi-state operator with expected revenue of more than $1 billion in 2021.”

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Mississippi Cannabis Legalization Hits An Unfortunate Snag

Due to a publishing error, a Mississippi cannabis legalization proposal to make smokable cannabis legal wherever cigarette smoking is allowed in the state has been delayed. This unusual cannabis initiative would have been one-of-a-kind, but now, the state has a chance to push forward with full legalization and offer more opportunity for a growing industry or go backwards and not legalize at all. Now, instead of the originally passed Initiative 65, which was approved last November by Mississippi voters, Initiative 77 would let state residents decide whether to fully legalize cannabis, including cultivation, possession, and use.If passed, Initiative 77 would add a 7 percent sales tax to cannabis products, so that the state would be able to benefit from the increased revenue that cannabis sales can bring. And, similar to what Initiative 65 would have done, smoking cannabis would become legal in all the areas in which smoking tobacco is legal. Where Did This Mississippi Cannabis Legalization Initiative Go Wrong?So, why did this happen? Apparently, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office claims that the initial notice about the initiative didn’t appear in as many newspapers as are required by law, due to a mistake made by the Mississippi Press Association. While the Mississippi Press Association-affiliated Mississippi Press Services did distribute the notice to newspapers, it missed five on the list, and so all the publication that was legally required didn’t end up happening.While this error could raise eyebrows of folks skeptical that Mississippi was looking for a way out of legalizing, the Mississippi Press Association is so far accepting full responsibility.“We will work diligently to avoid this kind of oversight in the future,” said Laye Bruce, executive director of both the Mississippi Press Association and Mississippi Press Services.Now, in order to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again, the secretary of state has asked that the Mississippi Press Association make sure Initiative 77 will be published in five newspapers by the approaching deadline of May 13. Originally, voters could choose to back Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A, which were introduced as a way to push Mississippi cannabis legalization. Voters could choose one or the other, or back both. Initiative 65 would have tasked the Mississippi State Department of Health with controlling the medical cannabis program. It would have let patients with serious medical conditions access medical cannabis, as long as they got a doctor’s note and a medical card.There was definitely some backing for the initiative, as more than 200,000 people in Mississippi signed a petition to put it on the ballot. Initiative 65A, on the other hand, would have only provided cannabis to terminally ill patients, and physicians, nurses and pharmacists would have to oversee the medicine being administered.And, there was a lot of backlash against Initiative 65A, as many claimed it was only on the ballot to confuse voters, with the name being so similar to Initiative 65. It was also added without any additional guidance on how to begin the legalization process.  Initiative 65 received more support than 65A, including from Governor Tate, who backed the idea of a more robust medical cannabis program. Opponents of Initiative 65A argue it was only placed on the ballot to confuse voters, as it was done without many steadfast guidelines on how to begin the process of legalization.Both initiatives included being written into the state’s constitution.Many major figures in Mississippi came out against Initiative 65, including Governor Tate.At the time, State Health Officer Dr. Tomas Dobbs claimed he was concerned that Initiative 65 was too lax, calling it the “Wild West” version of medical cannabis. He felt that it offered medical cannabis to “pretty much every community.” Now, due to the publishing error, Mississippi cannabis legalization, for both medical cannabis and smoking in cigarette-friendly areas, is delayed, but voters also have another chance to try and legalize cannabis in full, by backing Initiative 77. However, if it doesn’t gain enough support, there is a chance that no cannabis legislation will move forward in Mississippi.

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Convenience and Fuel Retail Leader Alimentation Couche-Tard Launches Inaugural Green Bond Offering

Convenience and fuel retail company Alimentation Couche-Tard announced today the launch of a proposed $1 billion senior unsecured notes offering, which includes the company’s first unsecured green bonds. Alimentation Couche-Tard has more than 14,200 stores across 26 countries and territories, with brands including Couche-Tard and Circle K.

Brian Hannasch, President and CEO, said:

“This initiative marks an important milestone in our journey to create sustainable value for all our stakeholders. We have already set our sights high by establishing ambitious 2025 sustainability targets around key areas where we believe we can have a meaningful impact. We are now taking a further step towards providing greater transparency and engagement on our efforts and our desire to have a positive impact on the communities we serve and the world around us.”

The bonds are being issued under Alimentation Couche-Tard’s newly released Green Bond Framework, which outlines eligible use of proceeds from green bond offerings. Eligible categories under the framework include Clean Transportation, such as electric vehicle charging stations; Energy Efficiency, including expenditures related to design, construction, operation and maintenance of energy-efficient facilities and infrastructure, such as HVAC and LED lighting; Renewable Energy, including including on-site or off-site solar, wind and small-scale hydropower generation and expenditure related to sourcing renewable fuels; Pollution Prevention and Control, including emissions reduction, waste prevention, recycling, sustainable packaging, among others; Sustainable Water and Wastewater Management, and; Green Buildings. The framework has received a second party opinion from ISS ESG.

Ina Strand, Chief People Officer & leader of Couche-Tard’s sustainability efforts, said:

‘’With the launch of our second sustainability report in 2020, we created a more defined framework and strengthened how we incorporate sustainability in our way of thinking and decision-marking, making it now a lens to our business and pushing forward our commitment to actionable results. This offering will allow us to accelerate investments towards the ambitious priorities that we previously laid out.’’

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EY US Announces ESG Leadership Appointments

Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) announced today a series of senior ESG appointments, including Orlan Boston as Americas ESG Markets Leader, Velislava Ivanova as Americas Chief Sustainability Officer, and Megan Hobson as US Corporate Sustainability Leader.

According to EY US, the new appointments come amidst an accelerating focus on ESG issues arising from a variety of forces including climate change, human capital and social injustice, with attention accelerating even more under the Biden administration.

EY US Chair and Managing Partner and Americas Managing Partner Kelly Grier said:

“Greater demand for ESG insights and perspectives has risen significantly due to the pandemic, natural disasters, social inequity and shifting preferences from institutional investors. As we engage with clients on ESG developments and support them on their sustainability journey, this team will play a critical role in helping to unlock strategic value for a wide range of stakeholders.”

Orlan Boston joined EY in 2012, most recently serving as Senior Advisory and Relationship Partner. Prior to EY US, Boston worked at Deloitte Consulting, including serving as Chief Diversity Officer. In his new role as Americas ESG Markets leader, his responsibilities will include helping companies to develop and drive comprehensive ESG strategies and to identify emerging opportunities in this rapidly evolving market.

Velislava Ivanova has been with EY for nearly six years, serving as Americas Leader Climate Change and Sustainability Services, leading EY’s environmental, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability services in the Americas, and advising clients on the transition to low-carbon, circular and inclusive economy. She has led close to 100 EHS and sustainability engagements, assisting clients from the oil & gas, mining, chemicals, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and retail sectors. Before joining EY, Ivanova held senior positions at sustainability-focused consulting and advisory firms including CH2M HILL and ERM. In her new position, she will advance EY sustainability objectives and initiatives to increase long-term value for clients.

Megan Hobson joined EY more than 25 years ago, most recently serving as EY Americas Administration Leader, responsible for the US firm’s Investment and Treasury operations as well as the Administrative and Workplace Services functions. She is a member of the Board of Directors for EY’s captive insurance company and EY Global Finance and serves as the Chairman of the US firm’s Retirement Investment Committee. Additionally, she is an advocate for disability inclusion, serving on the board for Disability:IN, a national non-profit committed to expanding opportunities in the workplace for people with disabilities, and as the Executive Sponsor of EY’s AccessAbilities professional network. As US Corporate Sustainability Leader, Hobson will be responsible for leading EY US internal environmental and operational business commitments.

Sam Johnson, EY Americas Vice Chair, Accounts, said:

“Having a strong ESG strategy can help create more inclusive economies and establish sustainability as the norm. C-suite and board leaders are recognizing their responsibility and seizing the opportunity to unlock ESG value to build long-term competitive advantage, enhance resiliency to accelerating sustainability risks and attract the increasingly socially conscious investors, talent and customers their organizations seek.”

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Massive Carbon Capture & Storage Project to Receive €2 Billion from Dutch Government

A consortium of four companies will receive a subsidy of approximately €2 billion from the Dutch government towards the development of Porthos, one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage projects, according to news reports from NOS and Reuters.

The Rotterdam port area accounts for around 15% of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. Beginning in 2024, the Porthos project could store approximately 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Porthos will transport and store CO2 that is captured by companies in Rotterdam such as hydrogen producers and refineries. The CO2 will be fed to a pipeline to be pressurised in a compressor station, and then transported through an offshore pipeline to a platform in the North Sea, approximately 20 km off the coast, and then pumped in an empty gas field more than 3km beneath the North Sea.

The four companies, including energy giants Shell and ExxonMobil and leading industrial gases companies Air Liquide and Air Products, requested the subsidies in January. Permit procedures for the project are expected to be complete in late 2021, with a final decision by the Porthos consortium planned for 2022, followed by construction of the system.

The project forms a significant part of the Netherlands’ decarbonization plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030 and 95% in 2050, compared with 1990 levels. Carbon capture and storage is one of the key pillars in the Dutch plans to cut emissions, along with growth in renewable energy, use of residual heat and geothermal energy, increased insulation for buildings, electric vehicles, process industry efficiency and recycling.

Porthos will be the biggest Dutch project for CO2 reduction and could make a significant contribution to meeting the Dutch climate accord. It aims to capture up to 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year from 2024. (1/2) #CCUS— Shell (@Shell) May 10, 2021

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Guest Post: ESG Reporting Opportunities Under New SEC Leadership

By Wes Bricker, PwC US Vice Chair and Assurance Leader

Corporations are at an inflection point when it comes to ESG. Under the Biden administration and new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) leadership, we expect to see further policymaking around ESG, as well as a higher demand for companies to publicly disclose metrics on environmental, human capital, diversity and inclusion (D&I) and governance topics. Currently, disclosure standards exist, but a lack of consistent market practice for ESG reporting makes it challenging for companies to determine the right information that investors are seeking.

While companies await further guidance from the new SEC leadership, there are steps they can take to begin improving the overall reporting process.

Next Chapter for the SEC

Gary Gensler’s confirmation as SEC Chair marks the next chapter for the agency. Among many other things, former SEC Chair Jay Clayton addressed disclosure policy related to human capital, while former SEC Chair Mary Jo White kept a keen eye on board governance. And while historically acting chairs have taken on differing priorities, during her time in the role, then Acting Chair Allison Lee focused her attention on climate-related disclosures—which Chair Gensler is expected to continue pushing forward. We also expect the SEC to prioritize other environmental aspects of ESG, as well as its continued focus on human capital management. We can expect continued emphasis on reporting illustrating how a company’s workforce creates value, andhow D&I has a direct connection with corporate strategy.

Until there is a standard market practice in place, companies can take steps to effectively communicate transparent information to stakeholders at regular intervals. Sustainability reporting has steadily increased over the last decade, and the Conference Board found45% of the 250 largest publicly traded U.S. companies (by revenue) included climate-related risks in their annual reports. Human capital reporting has also gained traction and attention over the last year. PwC found49% of business leaders plan to increase D&I reporting to internal and external stakeholders.

Companies can expect more clear and specific reporting guidance for environmental initiatives and human capital with a focus on providing investor-grade data. Business leaders will need to reconsider how their existing reports are being produced with proper processes and controls to help ensure data allows investors to best compare value propositions and reward companies that are truly creating sustainable value over time. 

Improving ESG Reporting – Looking at Net-Zero Emissions

In recent months, numerous companies have publicly made commitments to sustainability, with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions at the top of the list. The Biden administration also announced goals to cut emissions in half by 2030, setting the path to eventually achieving net-zero. Using net-zero emissions commitments as an example, relevant stakeholders can examine how this initiative impacts the reporting process, and what companies need to do to deliver results.

As the SEC, investors and other stakeholders look to companies to step up their commitments and provide high quality data,here are the key steps to developing consistent, reliable ESG reporting:

Integration: Determine how non-financial information and decisions integrate into value creation and financial effects. Regulators and investors are looking to companies to provide investment-grade data around net-zero emissions commitments and other ESG initiatives.Collaboration: A company’s ESG strategy spans a wide swath of the organization, requiring multiple functions to work together towards common goals and reporting that ties deeply and directly to the overall business strategy. Companies should focus on the policies and procedures that feed the development of ESG metrics as well as the internal controls that ensure the metrics are accurate and consistently prepared.Accountability and transparency: As companies track efforts toward achieving net-zero emissions, reliable and rigorous data is required to demonstrate progress against milestones.

Looking Ahead

Companies should not wait for further guidance from the SEC to begin evaluating the process and accuracy of their ESG reporting. Stakeholder needs and expectations are on the rise and now, more than ever, businesses need to demonstrate that their purpose is not just words, but actions that benefit all stakeholders.

About the author

Wesley “Wes” Bricker is a Vice Chair and PwC’s Assurance Leader for the US and Mexico. He previously served as the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Chief Accountant beginning in 2016. Wes returned to PwC in July 2019, where he previously served clients in the banking, capital markets, financial technology, and investment management sectors, and served as a member of the firm’s National Quality Organization. Wes’ responsibilities in his current role at PwC encompass audit quality, business development and portfolio strategy, human capital, diversity, innovation, and technology.

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Energy Investor EnCap Raises $1.2 Billion for First Energy Transition Fund

Energy-focused private equity firm EnCap Investments announced the close of EnCap Energy Transition Fund I, L.P., the firm’s first energy transition fund, with commitments of approximately $1.2 billion from a broad range of domestic and international investors including corporate and government-sponsored pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, family offices, endowments, foundations and high-net-worth individuals. 

EnCap Investments Managing Partner Jason DeLorenzo said:

“We are truly grateful for the enthusiastic support we received from both long-standing and new investors. As stewards of their capital, we appreciate the continued support of our investors. Coupling our 33-year investment track record with the power and renewable experience of our energy transition team, we have established a best-in-class platform to support a less carbon-intensive future and look forward to supporting its growth over the next decade.”

According to EnCap, the new fund aims to invest in companies that advance the transition to a lower-carbon future in the U.S., with a focus on creating wind, solar and energy storage enterprises.  The fund has already deployed capital in five platform investments in the battery storage, distributed power and utility-scale solar and wind sectors.

EnCap Energy Transition Managing Partner Jim Hughes said:

“With the support of our investors, we have been able to establish five enterprises that are supporting the transition of the power grid, and their early progress is exceeding our expectations. We have attracted the best talent in the wind, solar and energy storage markets, and each of our companies is ahead of its value-creation plan. We are very pleased with our decision to partner with EnCap and the future of the EnCap Energy Transition platform.”

EnCap Investments Managing Partner Doug Swanson added:

“EnCap’s Energy Transition Managing Partners Jim Hughes, Tim Rebhorn, Kellie Metcalf and Shawn Cumberland have done a remarkable job working with our investor relations team and other EnCap principals to raise the fund while simultaneously building a valuable portfolio. Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, we have attracted outstanding talent and begun building value. We believe there are continued profitable investment opportunities across the entire energy value chain, and the addition of this third platform allows us to create dynamic companies that are transforming North America’s power grid.”

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Stanford Becomes First U.S. University to Issue Bonds with Green and Social Designations

Stanford University announced that it has issued $375 million in bonds with dual climate and sustainability designations, marking a first for U.S. higher education institutions. Proceeds from the offering will be used to finance campus construction and renovation projects.

The university stated that the bonds are rooted in its commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility standards. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said:

“This combination of bond designations represents a first, not only for Stanford but for U.S. higher education. Such an achievement could only happen because of our persistent and deliberate actions – in all corners of our campus community – to curb our carbon footprint and to reduce social inequities. From our founding grant, Stanford has always strived to benefit the world around us. We recognize that we must operate by the same rigorous standards that we apply to research and scholarship, as we work to advance solutions to the urgent needs of our planet and society.”

The bonds received two externally verified designations, including the International Capital Markets Association’s (ICMA) Sustainability Bond designation and the Climate Bond Certification, which are both based on the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the University, in order to meet environmental sustainability requirements for the bonds, Stanford demonstrated efforts both for buildings and infrastructure and in broader policies and plans that together accelerate the university’s transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. These initiatives include the launch of a new school, announced last year, focused on climate and sustainability, drawing on expertise across academic units, and aligning efforts around research, education and impact.

On the social front, Stanford highlighted its initiatives to advance affordable on- and off-campus housing, healthcare access for marginalized populations in the U.S. and internationally, and to increase diversity and opportunities for medical students and healthcare professionals, under the university’s IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access in a Learning Environment) program.

As investor demand for investment products that meet their ESG goals has increased, sustainable finance products have developed a pricing advantage, or “greenuim,” for issuers. Stanford cited the financial incentives as one of the drivers of its sustainability bond offering.

University Treasurer Karen Kearney said:

“This market evolution, together with a review of the annual Sustainability at Stanford report was a lightbulb moment for me. We had been contemplating green bonds for some time, and now we could identify a discernable pricing advantage by associating a bond issue with Stanford’s longstanding emphasis on the environment, access to education and social responsibility. Seeking ESG designations promised both financial advantages and the opportunity to extend Stanford’s environmental and social stewardship into the financing domain.”

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ESG Today: Week in Review

This week in ESG news: IFRS moves to add sustainability standards to mandate; Germany pushes for mandatory corporate ESG reporting; HVAC giant Trane ties senior pay to sustainability performance; investors push for sustainability action at McDonald’s, Exxon, succeed at Tesco; ECB President calls for green capital markets union in EU; UBS launches sustainability and impact organization; Allianz accelerates exit from coal-based business; Global accounting organization recommends sustainability reporting framework, and more.

See below for the highlights of the past week, and get all your ESG news at ESG Today:

Sustainability Goals, Initiatives and Achievements

HVAC Giant Trane Links Exec Compensation to Sustainability Goals

Lilly Announces ESG Goals and Transparency Commitments

Whirlpool Expands Sustainability Commitments with New 2030 Net Zero Goal

Government, Regulators and Politics

ECB President Lagarde Proposes Green Capital Markets Union, Says Sustainability Reporting is Key

EPA Moves to Phase Down GHGs Used in Refrigerators and Air Conditioners

Reporting and Disclosure

IFRS Proposes Expanding its Objectives to Include Development of Sustainability Standards

Germany Pushes for Mandatory Sustainability Reporting as Part of New Sustainable Finance Strategy

Global Accounting Organization IFAC Promotes Investor & Stakeholder Focused Sustainability Reporting

Investor Engagement & Action

Pressure Builds on Exxon as $2.5 Trillion Investor Group Targets Company on Climate, Governance

Amundi Files Proposal with McDonald’s Calling for Transparency on Antibiotic Use in Supply Chain

Tesco Commits to Boost Healthy Food Sales Following Activist Shareholder Campaign

Sustainable Finance

Tesco Launching Sustainability Linked Supply Chain Finance Program

Natura Issues $1 Billion Sustainability-Linked Bond with Interest Tied to Emissions, Sustainable Packaging

ESG Services and Tools

Arabesque Acquires The Reporting Exchange from WBCSD

Willis Towers Watson Launches Framework Enabling Insurance, Finance Providers to Assess Climate Transition Aligned Companies

Diginex Launches Platform Aimed at Improving Accessibility and Ease of ESG Reporting

Funds and Investors

BlueBay Launches Impact Investing Bond Fund

Nordea Life and Pension Requires Asset Managers to Commit to Net Zero Target by 2024

Energy Transition

Allianz Accelerates Exit from Insurance and Investment for Coal-Based Businesses

Bosch, Shell, and Volkswagen Launch Low Carbon Gasoline

Exec Appointments

UBS Launches Sustainability and Impact Organization with Key Appointments

Northern Trust AM Appoints Julie Moret Global Head of Sustainable Investing and Stewardship

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Texas Agriculture Commissioner Consultant, Todd Smith, Arrested Over Hemp License Scandal

Todd Smith, top political consultant to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, was arrested earlier this week over allegations that he schemed to accept money in exchange for state hemp licenses. The claims against him also alleged that he solicited campaign contributions. He allegedly took $55,000, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. In total, all those involved in the scheme are accused of soliciting a total of $150,000 for license guarantees. The group is said to have taken $25,000 up front for these deals. As a part of this, Smith is being charged with third-degree felony theft.  “Todd Smith created by words and his conduct, a false impression of fact that affected the judgment of others in the transactions to obtain a hemp license and/or conduct a survey that was never attempted by Todd Smith,” the affidavit claimed.Miller claimed in response to these allegations that he “had no idea” this was going on, and Smith could not be reached for comment. “That was Todd, between him and his clients,” Miller said regarding the situation. “This matter is being investigated by the Texas Rangers on behalf of the Department of Public Safety in collaboration with the Travis County District Attorney’s office,” Travis Considine, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said according to a statement. “Our offices will be keeping the community updated as more information becomes available.”Todd Smith Released on BondSmith was arrested this week and taken to the Travis County jail, but then released the next day on a personal recognizance bond, which was set at $10,000.The charges against Smith claim that he used another person as a middle man to help people obtain licenses, but the charges so far don’t name who that person is. Apparently, the middle man would tell those looking for licenses that he was “working directly with senior leadership at the TDA” and  “needed $150,000.00 in cash, with some of the money going toward campaign contributions, in order to receive the ‘guaranteed’ hemp license.”Things came to a head with the scheme, according to the affidavit, when one man looking for a license agreed to the bribe and delivered $30,000 in cash to the middle man. Later, the anonymous, hopeful hemp farmer learned he was not actually guaranteed a license. He called Smith, and Smith then “denied any knowledge but did admit to receiving a $5,000.00 gift from” the middle man in the situation, according to the claims. It is not yet clear who exactly was involved, or the extent of knowledge the different accused individuals had. Hemp licenses became available to interested parties in 2019 when House Bill 1325 was signed into law. This allowed state farmers to grow industrial hemp legally, although they are still not authorized to grow THC-containing cannabis. It is also not clear how long this has been an issue in the Texas hemp industry. This also isn’t the first time Smith has fallen on the wrong side of the law. He was previously called out for blurring lines in his campaign when he allegedly told a San Antonio businessman that donating to Miller’s campaign would get him a Texas Department of Agriculture appointment. Smith also asked the man for a $29,000 personal loan. This series of events does not look good for the current situation. Smith has been on Miller’s team for years, when Miller initially created four assistant commissioner positions to support his own position. Another was given to Smith’s wife, Kellie Housewright-Smith. Salaries for these positions started at $180,000. While the investigation is ongoing, there are many issues of concern so far for Smith, and Miller’s team. Hopefully, with this coming to light, things will be easier from now on for Texas hemp farmers.

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Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill (SB 158) Approved By Kansas House of Representatives

Members of the Kansas House of Representatives voted to approve a bill on Thursday that would legalize the medicinal use of cannabis. The measure, Senate Bill 158 (SB 158), was passed in the House by a vote of 79 to 42.The Kansas Senate approved SB 158 on March 25 and then sent the measure to the House, where it was amended by lawmakers. The bill will now head back to the upper chamber so that senators can consider the changes made in the House.“The state of Kansas is finally catching up to the twenty-first century,” said Rep. Louis Ruiz, the ranking Democrat on the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. “Kansans need to have access to all possible health options available to them, especially if they are experiencing chronic illnesses. This bill will do exactly that. Many of our neighboring states have passed similar legislation. It’s time for us to do the same.”Under SB 158, registered patients and caregivers would be permitted to buy up to a 90-day supply of medicinal cannabis products at a time. Patients would not be permitted to smoke or vape medical marijuana. The specific amount of cannabis would be determined by state officials, who would be tasked with drafting the rules and regulations for the medical marijuana program by July 1, 2023.Rep. Adam Thomas said that he saw the issue as an opportunity for lawmakers to be responsive to their constituents.“Kansans are tired of Kansas falling behind on major issues like legalizing medical marijuana and we can prove we can do it better,” the Republican lawmaker told his colleagues in the House.Republican House Majority Whip Blake Carpenter said on Thursday morning that he believed that lawmakers could come together and reach a compromise on the measure before the end of the current legislative session.“I think we have high expectations for this type of bill and we can work on it jointly, together to stay out of the weeds,” Carpenter said.Senate Approval for SB 158 Seems UnlikelyHowever, the bill is unlikely to be taken up again by the state Senate before the session ends, according to reports in local media. For activists including Lisa Sublett, who would like to use medicinal cannabis to treat an autoimmune disorder, it will probably be at least another year of waiting. Nonetheless, she is happy with the progress made in the legislature this year.“It’s been a long haul, a long fight,” said Sublett, who has been campaigning for cannabis policy reform for 10 years. “Even though it’s not everything I would want, it’s a starting place.”Public opinion polling has shown that more than 65% of Kansas residents support legalizing medical marijuana. House Democratic Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said that his party would continue to deliver what the people have said they want.“Kansas has needed this for a long time,” said Sawyer. “This is well overdue, but we’re not finished yet. We will continue to put the pressure on to make sure this bill becomes a reality. The bipartisan coalition led by Democrats that stepped up in committee and on the House floor to pass this bill worked extremely hard to ensure the majority of Kansans’ voices are heard. I’m really proud of the work they’ve done here.”If SB 158 is taken up by the Senate and passed during the current legislative session, the measure would head to the desk of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who is in favor of legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis.“Legalizing medical marijuana is commonsense, broadly popular policy that would improve Kansas’ overall health and economy while we recover from COVID-19 and beyond,” Kelly said in a statement on Thursday.

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Alabama Legislature Passes SB 46 To Bring Legal Medical Cannabis To The State

A senate bill to legalize medical marijuana in Alabama, SB 46, is now heading to the governor’s desk. The bill cleared its final hurdle in the state legislature on Thursday, when it passed out of the state House of Representatives by a vote of 68 to 34. The legislation passed out of the state Senate in February by a vote of 21 to 10.The ball is now in Republican Gov. Kay Ivey’s court. A spokesperson for Ivey said that the governor would review SB 46.“We appreciate the debate from the Legislature on the topic,” the statement from the spokesperson said, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser. “This is certainly an emotional issue. We are sensitive to that and will give it the diligence it deserves.”The moment has been years in the making for Alabama’s cannabis advocates. In 2019, a bill to legalize medical marijuana fizzled out in the legislature, which opted instead to create a commission to study the feasibility of the proposal.The commission held public hearings, where the panel heard from proponents and opponents to the idea. By the end of 2019, the commission recommended that the legislature legalize medical cannabis, and offered up a draft of potential legislation. But the idea never materialized last year, leaving  the door open yet again for the 2021 session.The chair of the commission was Republican state Sen. Tim Melson, who has been at the forefront of Alabama’s efforts to get medical marijuana passed. It was Melson who introduced and sponsored the bill that passed out of the state Senate in February and in the House of Representatives on Thursday.The Details of SB 46 The bill would establish a medical marijuana program in the state. Per the Montgomery Advertiser, Melson’s legislation “would authorize the use of medical cannabis for roughly a dozen conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, depression; sickle-cell anemia; terminal illnesses and HIV/AIDS,” while patients “would need doctor approval to use medical marijuana, which could only be obtained from special dispensaries, and would have to purchase a medical cannabis card, costing no more than $65 a year.”SB 46 would also forbid “smoking, vaping, or ingesting cannabis in baked goods,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser, permitting only “tablets, capsules, gelatins, or vaporized oils.” Melson said in January that the bill he introduced was the same as the one he offered up in 2020.“I’m not planning to change it,” Melson said at the time. “I’m looking forward to getting it introduced and seeing what happens.”The bill split some of Melson’s fellow Republicans. GOP state Rep. Mike Ball told CNN that the policy could shift the perception that some might have of Alabama.“It might make a statement about our compassion. It might make a statement that we’re not completely closed to everything,” Ball said. “A lot of times folks get set in their ways and it’s just hard to open your heart to something. … It just tells you that we are changing our mind about some things, it’s just a slow go.”But another Republican state senator, Rich Wingo, told CNN that he voted no to the legislation because of concerns of how it will be consumed and sold.“They are suggesting chewable gummy-type candy, I would rather see it in a form that is least appealing from a child’s view,” Wingo told CNN in an email. “My point is anything that is less attractive to a child, a child could possibly see these gummys [sic] (left unattended) and think they are candy or daily vitamins as example.”According to the Montgomery Advertiser, SB 46 “requires any cannabis gummies manufactured to have one flavor.”

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Fineco Expands ESG Investment Offerings with Addition of AXA IM Funds on its Platform

FinTech bank Fineco announced that funds from AXA Investment Managers (AXA IM) have been made available on its investing platform, in a move the company says will further strengthen its ESG offering for customers.

AXA IM, part of AXA Group, is a responsible asset manager, with ESG integrated into more than 90% of its core assets  across equity, fixed income and multi-asset. The company is a leading investor in green, social and sustainable markets, managing €555 billion of ESG-integrated, sustainable and impact assets.

According to Fineco, the addition of AXA IM funds to its platform will provide its growing customer base in the United Kingdom with greater access to a range of sustainable investing products. Fineco has recently added several sustainability focused funds to its platform, from companies including NinetyOne, Candriam, and Robeco.

Paolo Di Grazia, Deputy General Manager, Fineco, said:

“Responsible investing is becoming increasingly important to our customers, and this is why it is so important that we continue to partner with asset managers that are committed to driving environmental and social change through their investments. We know that the introduction of AXA IM will be highly welcomed by our customers, especially with the added benefit of Fineco’s competitive and transparent prices.”

John Stainsby, Head of Core Client Group UK, AXA Investment Managers, added:

“We are delighted to offer funds from our UK range to Fineco’s customer base, so they can tap into 20 years of our responsible investing experience. Half of all new funds launched in the UK now have some form of ESG built into the investment process. ESG is no longer an industry trend, it is the new normal, and a basic requirement for a growing number of investors.”

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Rockefeller Foundation, PIDG, Invest in Emerging Market Impact Investor Acre Impact Capital

Impact-focused investment manager Acre Impact Capital announced the closing of a capital investment from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG). According to the company, the catalytic investment will enable Acre to accelerate its strategic growth and support the launch of a number of private debt impact funds.

Founded in 2019, Acre invests in growth-stage, climate-aligned infrastructure in emerging markets by partnering and co-investing with leading commercial lenders and export credit agencies. The firm provides underserved communities in Africa access to essential services, through its investments in infrastructure sectors such as healthcare, education, social housing, transport, renewable power, agriculture, water and sanitation, waste management, climate adaptation, and technology/digital infrastructure.

Hussein Sefian, Founding Partner at Acre Impact Capital, said:

“We are thrilled to enter into a long-term partnership with aligned investors such as The Rockefeller Foundation and PIDG to advance Acre Impact Capital’s mission to provide access to essential services to underserved communities and contribute to reducing the infrastructure financing gap in Africa, which is estimated to be over $100 billion every year. Our funds invest in a commercial loan tranche of approximately 15% of each transaction, which needs to be in place before an ECA can provide a guarantee on the remaining 85% of the debt. Lack of bank funding on this commercial tranche – which has worsened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – prevents the completion of many otherwise bankable transactions.”

According to Acre, investing alongside well-established export credit agency partners mobilizes up to 5.6x private sector capital for every dollar invested, while minimizing the risks often associated with developing infrastructure in emerging markets.

Maria Kozloski, Senior Vice President of Innovative Finance at The Rockefeller Foundation, said:

“We are excited about the potential of Acre Impact Capital high impact and innovative strategy, which leverages the ECA market to mobilise largescale capital and address the huge financing gap for emerging market infrastructure.”

Emilio Cattaneo, Director at PIDG Technical Assistance, added:

“We are delighted to have been associated with the Acre Impact Capital project since its inception and to have supported the team in the development of such an innovative concept together with our friends at The Rockefeller Foundation. Through the use of PIDG Technical Assistance funding, we are proud to have been able to contribute to the initial capital required to enable Acre Impact Capital to be launched which demonstrates the power of strong partnerships and collaboration in delivering sustainable infrastructure in the countries where we can make a real difference.”

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Global Accounting Organization IFAC Promotes Investor & Stakeholder Focused Sustainability Reporting

Supports Sustainability Standards Board Under IFRS

Adding momentum to the movement towards global sustainability corporate reporting standards, global accountancy profession organization the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) announced today the publication of its roadmap for delivering a global system for sustainability reporting.

IFAC’s recommendations come as the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS) is exploring the development global sustainability standards for company reporting, and the establishment of an IFRS Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). Earlier this week, the IFRS launched a proposal to amend its constitution to encompass the development of sustainability standards within its objectives. IFAC stated that it supports a new standard-setting board under the IFRS Foundation that can lead to the coordination and harmonization of reporting and provide a baseline of requirements addressing sustainability information that is material to enterprise value.

The IFAC roadmap promotes reporting that focuses both on investors as well as on companies’ broader stakeholder impact, through a “building blocks” approach targeting each group. The investor focused aspect includes identifying sustainability factors that are material to short-, medium-, and long-term enterprise value, including qualitative information about governance, strategy and risk management. Investor-focused reporting would revolve around standards set by an IFRS Sustainability Standards Board.

Multi-stakeholder reporting aims to capture the impacts of the company on the broader economy, environment, and people other than investors. Standards in this area could include those from sustainability reporting initiatives such as GRI.

IFAC CEO Kevin Dancey said:

“As the IFRS Foundation continues to consider establishing a new International Sustainability Standards Board and as jurisdiction-specific initiatives progress, IFAC is lending its voice to clarify how components can best fit together to meet the needs of all stakeholders. The IFRS initiative—as well as jurisdiction-specific initiatives—should build on what already exists, help create or contribute to a global system, and accommodate  different views of what information stakeholders require. The building blocks approach makes this possible.”

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Eastern Cherokee Tribal Council Votes To Approve And Legalize Medical Marijuana

The tribal council for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted on Thursday to approve an ordinance that legalizes medical marijuana on tribal lands. The vote applies to the tribe’s lands known as the Qualla Boundary, which covers 100 square miles over five counties in western North Carolina.Cannabis is still illegal in North Carolina, although possession of less than one ounce is punishable by only a fine. The move by the council will make the tribe’s sovereign lands the only place within the state’s borders where marijuana can be legally possessed.Before the council’s vote, Principal Chief Richard Sneed said that the new ordinance is the first of several steps to fully legalize medical marijuana.“There’s so much science now supporting cannabis as a medicine,” Sneed told the tribal council. “This really is a quality of life issue as well for folks who have debilitating diseases, chronic pain, chronic back pain, cancer.”“This is really just the first step, or kind of the cornerstone of moving toward medicinal. We have to have this in place first,” he added.The council voted to remove a provision of the ordinance that would have allowed tribal members to give away but not sell small quantities of cannabis. Albert Rose, a member of the council who voted in favor of the ordinance, said that cannabis is already present on tribal land.“Go out and visit with some of the elders, it’s their medicine,” said Rose.Cherokee Tribe Plans More ReformsJeremy Wilson, the tribe’s government affairs liaison, said that “the people want cannabis, the world is changing, society is changing.” With possession of cannabis for medicinal use now legal on tribal lands, the next piece of the puzzle will be to draft and implement regulations for the production, manufacturing, and sale of medical marijuana products.“We want to have dispensaries here on the Qualla Boundary and to be able to sell, but we have to start with this phase first,” Wilson said.Council member Richard French said that legalizing medicinal cannabis could help stem the opioid epidemic in the area, saying at the meeting that “it’s for the betterment of our people.”“All of us have been affected by opioids,” he said. “All of us have lost someone.”After a meeting to consider the ordinance last month, Wilson said that legalizing medical marijuana would be a victory against addiction.“What we’re doing here is trying to find a pathway to finally doing something about the opioid crisis that we’ve dealt with for so long,” he said. “A lot of people would want to use marijuana for their ailments versus resorting to a higher dose of prescription medication. There’s multiple stories out there that those things do lead to addiction.”A Years-Long ProcessIn 2015, tribal leaders voted to begin drafting a medical cannabis ordinance. Since that time, the issue has steadily gained support from members of the tribe.“Over the course of three years that I’ve been working on this, we’ve gained a good momentum of support in the public and more and more people are starting to grasp the idea of cannabis, marijuana to be exact, to be our next game-changer,” Wilson said earlier this year.Currently, much of the economic opportunity for the Eastern Cherokee lies in the casino it operates on tribal lands. But some of that revenue could be jeopardized by a casino being developed by the Catawba Nation outside Charlotte at Kings Mountain. A newly legal medical marijuana industry on the Qualla Boundary could establish a new source of income for the Cherokee. “Getting us to a place and a legal framework to where we can have a dispensary here to supply the medical marijuana that the public would need and create a new revenue line for us,” Wilson said.

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Idaho Senate Passes Bill (SB 1218) To Ban Marijuana Advertising

In a move that could limit the options of advocates promoting cannabis legalization initiatives, the Idaho Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would ban advertising for marijuana in the state. The Senate passed the measure, SB 1218, with a vote of 21 to 14, sending the legislation to the state House of Representatives for consideration.During debate on the bill, Sen. Scott Grow, the sponsor of the measure, said that billboards in western Idaho advertise cannabis businesses just over the border in Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal for adults.“People are being encouraged to violate the law,” Grow said. “They’re being encouraged to go over and get something they know is illegal in Idaho.”Earlier on Wednesday, the bill had been placed on a fast track for approval, receiving a committee hearing with little notice for the public to participate. Nonetheless, four citizens appeared at the meeting to oppose the measure, while no one showed up to speak in favor of the bill. Their efforts were in vain, however, with the panel’s Republican majority approving the bill with a vote of 7 to 2 along party lines.Serra Frank, a cannabis activist and the organizer of Boise Hempfest, told High Times that anti-cannabis lawmakers are going to extreme measures to thwart reform.“They introduced this bill late in the evening, without even posting it online for the citizens of Idaho to have a chance to read and respond. Then passed it the next morning, despite unanimous opposition in the audience,” Frank wrote in an email. “Their shady tactics and immoral attacks on the rights of Idaho citizens simply continues to expose them for what they really are– terrified of the inevitability of the legalization of marijuana in Idaho.”“The Idaho prohibitionists are fighting tooth and nail this session to pass anything they can that will make it almost impossible to reform Idaho’s harmful marijuana laws; from choking the life out of our initiative process to a proposed amendment to the constitution that would have forever banned the legalization of any drug that is currently illegal in Idaho,” she added. SB 1218 Could Limit Legalization EffortsFrank and other activists are worried that the rushed legislation will do more than prevent the advertising of marijuana businesses and could be used to quash efforts to promote cannabis reform in Idaho.“The latest attack on Idaho citizens is an affront to the 1st Amendment protections of freedom of speech, of the press, and of the ability of all Idahoans to petition the government for a redress of our grievances,” Frank said. “The words of SB 1218 are so vague and poorly crafted that it would essentially punish anyone in Idaho for promoting even the legalization of marijuana through a t-shirt, a flyer, an initiative such as the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act, or even through an event like Boise Hempfest.”After the committee meeting, Grow said that he did not know how  SB 1218 would affect attempts to gather signatures for cannabis legalization initiatives.“That would take a legal opinion,” Grow said.Republican Sen. Regina Bayer expressed reservations about the measure, saying that she receives health supplement magazines with advertisements for CBD oil that contains THC, which is illegal in Idaho. She wondered if the bill would subject people who have such materials to a misdemeanor criminal charge.“It’s in my mailbox. It’s on my front door. It’s on my kitchen counter. It’s advertising,” she said. “I really wonder how this bill addresses that and if there are any concerns to be had there.”Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne opposed the bill, noting that the state’s residents have already been subject to advertising for activities illegal in Idaho without action from the legislature.“There’s been a casino in Jackpot, Nevada that has been wanting me to ride a fun bus to Nevada to do something in Nevada that I can’t do here in Idaho except on an Indian reservation because it is illegal to do it in Idaho,” Burgoyne said. “That’s gambling.”With Wednesday’s approval of SB 1218 in the Idaho Senate, the measure heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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After Four Years, West Virginia Finally Opens Medical Cannabis Registration

It’s been four years since West Virginia legalized medical cannabis, and until now, they have not had an actual program in place for patients to get relief. Now, eligible patients can finally register and officially become a part of the program.While medical cannabis business permits started being awarded as far back as October of last year, it has taken this long for them to get things up and running for patients to be able to get involved. The state just recently was able to get a testing lab approved, which was a missing step necessary for the program to move forward.Patients who suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chronic pain are eligible to register. In order to get medical cannabis, like in other legal states, patients must get a recommendation from a registered doctor. In order to get a medical cannabis card, once they are approved, patients can visit that sales are on track to start, they are expected to reach up to $700,000 this year in the state. A Promising Start For Medical Cannabis In West VirginiaAs of Monday of this week, according to the Office of Medical Cannabis, a subset of the Department of Health and Human Resources, almost 1,400 applications have been received from potential patients.“There are many West Virginians who are experiencing chronic pain due to a serious medical condition,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state health officer and commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “Registering for a medical cannabis card through the web portal will ensure these patients will have access to medical cannabis at the time products are available, which is anticipated by fall 2021.”So far, DHHR has announced Analabs Inc. as the testing laboratory for the industry. In total, The Office of Medical Cannabis has granted licenses to 100 dispensaries as well as 10 growers and 10 processors to produce the product. Of the dispensaries, there are 32 different companies, and 23 counties will be dispensary sites.This will probably be the extent of the program growth so far, as the state’s legislature has capped the program at 10 permits for growers and 10 for processors. However, it remains to be seen whether or not this will be enough to supply the fledgling industry.The reason it took so long to get medical cannabis up and running in West Virginia has to do with the issues the state encountered in 2019 regarding fees, penalties and taxes and how to handle them with the new industry. A lot of that had to do with federal laws and issues with banking, and now that a federal bill has been passed to support cannabis banking, the industry was able to move forward. This is all good news, but even though the industry was able to move forward, they still have not been able to pass a law that adds more dispensaries, processors, and growers. Smokable cannabis and edibles, to favorites for many patients, are also still not allowed. West Virginia only allows for cannabis vaping, but it is not clear how that law will be enforced once product is purchased. “The timing is based on the progress that the growers and processors are making to continue to build out the industry,” said DHHR spokesperson Andrea Lannom. “We anticipate that products will be available to consumers in the fall, but that can change if delays with these two groups are experienced.”While there have been many setbacks, and it’s unclear what the future of cannabis looks like in West Virginia, medical patients across the state are rejoicing that they can finally get the product they need.

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Tennessee Congress Passes SB 118, Sending Limited Medical Cannabis Bill To Governor’s Desk

The Tennessee Senate passed a bill on Tuesday, SB 118, that establishes a strictly limited medicinal cannabis program for patients with certain qualifying conditions. The move comes following a compromise reached between senators and members of the Tennessee House of Representatives, where a bill to establish a more extensive medical cannabis program was voted down last week. Wednesday afternoon, the Tennessee House voted in favor of SB 118.The Details of SB 118Under SB 118, patients with one or more debilitating illnesses would be permitted to use CBD oil medications containing no more than 0.9% THC. Under current state law, only patients with epilepsy are permitted to use such medications. The bill allows for slightly more THC than the federal limit established for legal hemp products under the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill does not allow for the production or sale of cannabis medications in Tennessee, leaving patients with no options for legally obtaining their medicine in the state.In order to use the low-THC CBD oil, patients would have to obtain a letter from a physician stating that they have one of the qualifying medical conditions and that conventional medical treatments have already been tried. Recommendations from physicians to use medical cannabis would only be valid for six months, at which time a new letter would have to be issued.The qualifying medical conditions listed in the bill include Alzheimer’s disease; ALS; cancer diagnosed as end-stage; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; epilepsy or seizures; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; HIV or AIDS; and sickle cell disease.The measure also establishes a commission to study medical marijuana in advance of a possible rescheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act by the federal government. The nine members of the commission will be appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee and the speakers of the House and Senate.The bill was put on a fast track for consideration by the legislature and was cleared by six House committees and another in the Senate on Tuesday, one of the final days of the current legislative session. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill later in the day with a vote of 19 to 12, with some of the senators opposed to the measure rejecting any bid to reform cannabis policy and others calling for more wide-reaching legislation. The bill was ultimately passed by the House today, with a vote of 74 to 17.Less Restrictive Bill Rejected Last WeekPassage of the measure came only a week after lawmakers in the Tennessee House of Representatives voted against a bill that would have decriminalized the medical use of cannabis. The measure was rejected by the House criminal justice committee on April 27 with a vote of 9 to 8.The bill would not have allowed for legal sales of medicinal marijuana products nor would it have permitted doctors to write prescriptions for medical cannabis. But it would have given patients using cannabis as medicine some protection from criminal prosecution.Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile, the sponsor of the bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday, said that the measure rejected by the House committee last week was the starting point for the compromise reached by lawmakers.“We pared that down as much as we could,” said Haile, referring to a small portion of the more wide-reaching bill.“Not everybody is happy with the compromise,” Haile acknowledged during a meeting of the Senate finance committee.  But he added that he strongly believes that the state should create a study commission to have a plan in place in case federal marijuana regulations change.SB 118 now heads to the desk of Tennessee governor Bill Lee for final consideration. Lee is expected to approve the limited legislation after recently saying he has “removed his philosophical flag” against cannabis reform.

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George Jung, Drug Smuggler and Inspiration for the Film Blow, Dies at 78

George Jung, the cocaine smuggler whose exploits served as the inspiration for the movie Blow, has reportedly died. He was 78.The news was first reported Wednesday by TMZ, which cited sources close to the situation in saying that Jung passed Wednesday morning at his home in the Boston area, adding that the “cause of death is currently not known, though he had recently been experiencing liver and kidney failure.”TMZ reported that Jung had been in “home hospice care since this past weekend and died with his girlfriend, Ronda, and friend, Roger, by his side.”A post on Jung’s Instagram account provided further confirmation, saying that he died Wednesday morning at his home in Weymouth, Massachusetts. George Jung: A Wild LifeOne of the best known drug smugglers, George Jung was born on August 6, 1942 in the Boston area. His stomping ground would ultimately form the basis for his famed moniker: “Boston George.”His entry into the drug trade began in the 1960s, when Jung started transporting marijuana across the Mexico border into the United States. In a 2007 interview with PBS’s “Frontline,” Jung recalled his origins as a smuggler:“Well, smoking marijuana—or most everybody who smokes marijuana deals it in small amounts to their friends, innocently enough. I think it’s innocently enough,” Jung said in the interview.“Then I begin to see the money aspect of it. That was the driving force. I suddenly began to realize that to become an entrepreneur in the marijuana business would make me fairly well off. And I also liked the lifestyle, my own working hours. Basically, the whole conception of this came about when a friend of mine came out to Manhattan Beach for the summer in California. He was attending U-Mass at Amherst and I had a large punch bowl of pot sitting on the table, for anybody to use at their leisure.”“He asked me how much it was worth and I told him something like $60.00 per kilo. He told me that it sold for $300.00 back East in Amherst. The wheels began to turn and the next thing I knew we were purchasing the $60.00 kilos and transporting pot back to Amherst making a profit of approximately $200.00 on each one less the airline fare, what have you. At that time that was a lot of money.”George Jung was busted in 1974 and was sentenced to four years in the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut, where he met a cartel associate from Medellin named Carlos Lehder. Jung and Lehder “conspired to rain a white-powder blizzard down upon America that would inhibit the serotonin reuptake of millions of party people at the end of the ’70s, making them both incredibly rich men,” as High Times put it in 2015.It was Lehder who would eventually introduce Jung to Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug kingpin.Jung ultimately found out that Lehder was selling out the cartel, prompting Jung to testify against Lehder.High Times archiveIn a 2015 interview with High Times, Jung detailed how he sought permission from Escobar before testifying:“I mean, that was a dirty word to me. And, actually, it was still under the one-third-parole situation—I was going to do no more than five years. I wasn’t afraid of the time in prison; five years was not much,” Jung said at the time.“I was approached to testify, and I told them no way, I would never do that. Then, several weeks later, it was in the Miami Herald that Carlos had written a letter to George Bush saying that he was going to give up all the information that he could about the cartel for his freedom. I was being held at the North Dade Correctional Center, and they showed me the paper, and then the top of my head blew off. That’s when I agreed to do that—but I asked permission and was told to go ahead.”In 2001, Jung’s extraordinary life was immortalized on the silver screen, when he was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the biopic Blow.Jung told High Times that Denis Leary, who was a producer on the film, told him that the movie would star Depp. The problem: Jung didn’t know who that was.“The producer, Denis Leary, called and he said, ‘I found the right person—Johnny Depp,’” Jung recalled. “And I said, ‘Who the hell is that?’ And he said, ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ And I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ And he said, ‘Meet him.’”“And Johnny got the special visit, and he came in and he looked like he had slept in a dumpster—skinny, his hair hanging down and greasy, ripped leather jacket, holes in the sleeves, Vietnam army boots—and I said, ‘Jesus Christ, what happened to you?’ He said, ‘I was up all night thinking of what to bring you. It drove me crazy.’”“And he handed me On the Road, by Kerouac. He said, ‘This is my Bible. I carry it with me everywhere I go. I want you to have it.’ I had read it when I was in high school, and that Kerouac pumped me up to be crazier than I was going to be, all right? And that’s when we bonded.”Jung continued: “He would come on visiting days, and I would just walk around in circles and keep talking and he would watch me, and one day I told him, ‘I’m not walking any more circles—it’s over.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, I got it.’ And the parts that I did see of Blow, he got it. He became me.”George Jung lived a full and interesting life, and his story and legacy has been immortalized in print and on screen. Our deepest sympathies to his friends and family. Rest in peace, George.

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