By John Schroyer and Omar Sacirbey
Marijuana vendors begin prepping for Super Bowl weekend, Facebook closes down social media pages for cannabis retailers across the United States, and the federal government certifies a hemp farm as “organic.”
Here’s a closer look at several notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.
Retailers across the country – particularly in Colorado and California – are gearing up for the big game on Sunday between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers with discounts, specials and promotions of all types.
“Anytime there’s a large party atmosphere around an event, it’s good for us,” said Tim Cullen, co-owner of Colorado Harvest Company, which is offering select flower strains for $99 an ounce or $16 an eighth, among other deals.
That’s especially true if you operate a cannabis company in a state that’s home to a team playing in the Super Bowl – or hosting the big event itself.
Denver-based retailer LivWell is also hoping to draw in some extra customers at its Stapleton location in east Denver by offering a free pipe or bowl to any customer who purchases an eighth of platinum or gold shelf flower. On top of that, customers who make purchases this week and provide their email at checkout will automatically be entered to win an eighth of Leafs by Snoop flower (Snoop Dogg’s new line of cannabis) and five different edibles.
Plenty of MMJ dispensaries around San Francisco’s bay area area, where the Super Bowl is being held, are also prepping for a big weekend.
Harborside Health Center in Oakland sent out an email blast on Thursday advertising special deals on some of its “best products,” including ounces for $150 that usually go for around twice that much, as well as 25% off Kiva Chocolate Edibles and Sublime Vape Cartridges.
These types of promotions can provide a sizable spike in traffic and win retailers new customers.
Facebook Declaring War on Cannabis?
Unexpected and swift.
Those words describe a move by Facebook this week to shut down the pages of at least two dozen marijuana retailers – possibly many more – in states with legal medical or recreational marijuana. The list includes dispensaries and rec shops in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey and Washington State.
Officials with dispensaries in New Jersey told reporters that when they tried to open their Facebook pages, they were greeted with an electronic message that said: “We remove any promotion or encouragement of drug use.”
Affected retailers now must pivot quickly to connect with their customers.
“Ultimately, we’re just going to have to rise to the challenge of communicating with patients through other forums,” said Raj Mukherji, a New Jersey Assemblyman and CEO of CannaPharmacy Sciences in Trenton, which owns the Garden State dispensary in Woodbridge.
In fact, Garden State has already been working on updating its website to create a password protected platform customized for patients who want to get information about the dispensary’s strains, prices and other information.
Mukherji is surprised that a company he considered progressive was acting contrary to the ideals of free speech.
“I would expect something better from them than shutting down legal businesses in a strictly controlled model,” Mukherji said. “I hope Facebook reconsiders its stance because there have been other cases in which they have defended free speech.”
A Facebook spokeswoman, Arielle Aryah, told the Associated Press that the pages were “removed for violating our Community Standards.” At the same time, many other dispensaries and rec shop pages are still active, so it’s unclear what the future holds.
An Organic Win
The news that a Colorado hemp farm recently won formal “organic” certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture flew somewhat under the radar this week.
But it shouldn’t have. At least, not for cannabis companies.
Hemp, along with marijuana, spent the majority of the 20th century in the United States as a banned crop. It was legal to possess goods made from hemp, but growing the plant itself was strictly forbidden, given its connection to its THC-ridden cousin.
And now, with marijuana reformers pounding on the doors of powerbrokers in Washington DC and demanding changes be made to cannabis laws, it’s a major victory that a federal agency has given its blessing to a hemp farm that wants to use the title “organic.”
It’s not hard to imagine word getting to the Drug Enforcement Administration, with the result being several bureaucrats in the Justice Department seething at the implicit signing off on even a non-psychoactive relative of marijuana. Especially since the state of Kentucky even had to sue the DEA in 2014 to win the release of hemp seeds imported legally from Italy, to be used in a pilot program for hemp cultivation.
So with the USDA now backing organic hemp, can further federal reforms be far away?
Maybe. But maybe not.
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]