CVIndependent

Sat09222018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Charles Drabkin

Pesticides are a problem.

In August, the Environmental Working Group—a nonprofit “dedicated to protecting human health and the environment”—announced the results of a study it commissioned to test foods made with oats. The group found glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer, in nearly all of them. 

Pesticides are a problem when it comes to marijuana, too.

It’s complicated: Pesticides and herbicides are regulated by the federal government. However, the federal government continues to enforce cannabis prohibition. Therefore, there are currently no pesticides and herbicides approved for use on cannabis plants.

To make things even more complicated, marijuana can be used in so many different ways—smoked, eaten, vaporized, as a salve, etc.—and there is no consensus among scientists regarding safe levels of pesticides with cannabis. A chemical might be safe to consume on food—but highly toxic when exposed to the high heat of smoking or vaping. For example, Eagle 20EW, a common fungicide used on grapes and hops, is not approved for use on tobacco. Of course, this problem goes the other way, too; there is little to no research on what may or may not be safe to be used on cannabis that is eaten as opposed to smoked.

Here in the Coachella Valley, we are seeing the creation of massive indoor grow operations. The Cathedral City Sunniva space under construction, along Ramon Road, is going to be about the size of seven or eight football fields, capable of producing almost 10,000 pounds of cannabis per month. It’s likely that operators of such huge operations will need to turn to industrial-strength chemicals to keep away the molds and mites that can easily destroy a cannabis crop—while adhering to California’s strict regulatory climate.

Let’s face it: Almost all of us already consume pesticide-laden foods every day. Unless you are very committed to “clean eating,” you are already devouring a level of pesticides that the government has deemed safe; as that Environmental Working Group study proves, those oat-based breakfast O’s that you and perhaps your kids have been eating have had cancer causing-herbicides in them for longer than we would like to admit … and we all seem fine with this. Again, the problem lies in the vacuum of research that America’s ill-conceived cannabis prohibition created.

However, now we are finally starting to get some data. The California Bureau of Cannabis Control recently revealed that chemicals and molds are indeed finding their way into the cannabis market: Nearly 20 percent of samples in California showed unacceptable levels of pesticides, mold and bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, since mandatory testing began on July 1. Studies in Oregon and Colorado have found similar problems. Of course, this is not simply a post-prohibition problem; illegal and medical marijuana has had these same issues for years. However, with full state legality came regulation and testing, which has drawn back the curtain on the extent of the problem.

What does this all mean for consumers? It’s extremely complicated. On one hand, the testing and the removal of tainted products from shelves is driving prices higher—and dispensary prices are already much higher than the costs on the illegal market. On the other hand, we can go to sleep at night knowing the products we are consuming are much safer than they were in the days of complete prohibition; we can now make informed decisions about what we put in our bodies.

The real losers in all of this are low-income medical-marijuana patients. Some of them are returning to the illegal market for economic reasons—meaning the chances they are consuming tainted product is extremely high. Immunocompromised or other sick individuals who are using cannabis as form of medication need to be very cautious. The irony is that they may be ingesting cancer-causing chemicals while trying to treat the symptoms of cancer.

It is not just pesticides; mold allergies can be deadly. A friend of mine who cannot even eat blue cheese, much to his chagrin, has been advised to avoid cannabis edibles until we know the real extent of mold contamination throughout the industry.

The good news is the Food and Drug Administration may be finally starting to acknowledge that people are legitimately using cannabis. As more states end prohibition—and there is a strong likelihood that at least seven more states will either move to full legalization or decriminalize medical use in the coming year—better science will come to light. We are already seeing substantial growth in the cannabis-testing industry, which should lead to testing becoming less expensive for growers and producers alike. Hopefully as costs go down, the savings will be passed on to the consumer.

Overall, more testing and more information are good things. Whether a person is using cannabis as medicine or as a recreational drug, nobody should have to guess whether or not the product being consumed is laden with toxins.

Finding work in the Coachella Valley is not an easy task—unless you’re looking for a low-paying job without much opportunity for advancement.

Even people with a lot of skills and great work histories have trouble finding satisfying work. I have heard of people with doctorates in Spanish taking jobs as housekeepers just to pay the bills. I came out of the service industry, and taught in the culinary program at a community college for 13 years; I mistakenly assumed my skills would be in high demand when I came to the desert. Instead, I have had to hustle to find meaningful employment.

This is why the jobs the newish and thriving cannabis industry is bringing to the Coachella Valley are needed and welcome.

On Indeed.com alone, at last check, there were 11 local marijuana-industry positions paying $50,000 a year or more listed. It’s estimated that there are approximately 123,000 full-time jobs in the legal cannabis industry in the U.S., with more than a third of those jobs located here in California—and research firm BDS Analytics estimates that number will double in three years.

With all this talk of a “Green Rush,” it is easy to see how people might be drawn to the possibility of stock options and the chance to help build a company—and industry—from the ground floor. However, there are some things to consider when applying for work in the marijuana industry.

First and foremost: Not everyone will be supportive of your new career choice. After 50 years of prohibition, people have built up a lot of prejudices. I have heard stories about people being told that they’re destroying the possibility of future careers outside of the industry, and/or throwing away their current potential. Hopefully, here in California, that will not be the case—but these prejudices do exist and need to be considered. Before I started writing this column for the Independent, I had to take into consideration what friends, family and future employers would think once a Google search of my name turned up regular articles about cannabis.

Since the industry is so new and under development, you should do some research to make sure the company you are applying with is state-licensed. The Bureau of Cannabis Control is working hard to make sure that non-licensed companies are either brought into compliance with state law—or put out of business.

Furthermore, make sure you understand the rules and regulations of the industry—and there are a lot of them. Not only are there a bunch of currently changing state laws; every city has its own set of rules. Knowing the rules will give you a leg up on the competition and show your future employer you’re serious and not just looking for some discount smokes. By the way, it is currently not legal for cannabis companies to give away any product samples. Budtenders are supposed to be paying the same price for the merchandise as any consumer.

As with any job, networking is key. Attending conferences like the recent Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit is a way to get yourself noticed; so, too, are job fairs. Locally, the Coachella Valley Cannabis Alliance Network has a monthly networking dinner the first Monday of every month. If you find a company you would like to work for, try to make a connection. If you are looking to be a budtender, go into the dispensary and talk to the current budtenders to make sure it’s a place you would like to work. Alternately, reach out via Linkedin for an informational interview—or to just take someone out for coffee.

Additionally, research the types of jobs that interest you and for which you think you would be qualified. Just because you love smoking pot, that doesn’t mean you are ready to be the CFO of a cannabis company.

Finally—and I would think that this goes without saying, but friends in the industry tell me otherwise—do NOT show up to a job interview stoned. No employer is going to hire someone who comes to an interview impaired.

When it comes to jobs, the cannabis industry is really no different than any other, aside from the rapid rate of expansion and its quickly changing rules and regulations. The industry is becoming less Cheech and Chong and more Harvard Business School every day.

The final few weeks of this year’s session of the California State Legislature are here—and the fates of some important cannabis-related bills hang in the balance.

There are 17 cannabis-related bills, in fact, which must be decided on by the Aug. 31 adjournment, covering everything from after-school program funding to the veterinary use of cannabis. As this new industry continues to evolve, it’s important to pay attention—and speak up to ensure lawmakers in Sacramento know what the people of California think.

Here’s a list of those bills, and where they stand as of this posting on Aug. 14. Click the links to each bill to go to the Legislature’s website for up-to-date information.

AB 1744: This bill would mandate that cannabis-tax revenues be used to fund after-school education and safety programs—specifically programs that encourage healthy choices and improve school retention.

This bill is currently in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It should be a no-brainer; it passed the Assembly 73-0 and has sailed through two Senate committees so far.

AB 1793: This is a social justice bill, requiring the California Department of Justice to review all convictions that are potentially eligible for resentencing under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 and Proposition 64.

This bill would go a long way toward addressing the historical use of marijuana convictions to punish communities of color, although it is a far cry from general amnesty. This bill passed the Assembly in a 43-28 vote and is also in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Legislators should show the wisdom and compassion to address these historic wrongs.

AB 1863: This would personal income-tax deductions for licensed cannabis businesses. It, too, is waiting for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee after passing the Assembly in a 64-11 vote.

“Canna-preneurs” should have the same tax advantages as any other business owner. This is particularly important for small business owners.

AB 1996: This would create a cannabis research program here in California.

Using cannabis taxes to study cannabis seems perfectly reasonable—especially considering federal prohibition has created a vacuum of research. Without a thorough understanding of cannabis, how can we make informed decisions around its usage?

It is currently making its way through the Senate after a 73-0 vote in the Assembly.

AB 2020 and AB 2641: The former bill would authorize temporary event licenses, while the latter would allow for onsite sales at those events. Both easily passed through the Assembly and are in the hands of the Senate.

Last April, High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup event in San Bernardino was denied permits for sales … meaning the nation’s largest cannabis convention was held without any cannabis. These bills will hopefully eliminate this sort of snafu in the future.

AB 2215: This bill is a bit confusing. The California Veterinary Medical Board currently does not allow doctors to discuss or prescribe cannabis—and can revoke their license for doing so.

The good news: This bill would prohibit the board from punishing vets for discussing cannabis. The band news: It would still be illegal for veterinarians to prescribe cannabis for pets, while the Veterinary Medical Board comes up with guidelines.

This bill passed the Assembly, 60-10, and is working its way through the Senate

AB 2255: This proposed law would prohibit licensed distributors from transporting amounts of cannabis that exceed the amount on the shipping manifest. It unanimously passed in the Assembly and is expected to easily pass in the Senate.

AB 2402: The bill would prohibit marijuana businesses from sharing your personal information without your consent—and would prohibit them from denying you service for withholding consent. It passed the Assembly unanimously and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2555: This is a “cleanup” bill that would create definitions for terms in state marijuana codes, including “immature cannabis plant,” “mature cannabis plant” and “plant.” It’s in the Senate’s hands after unanimously passing in the Assembly.

AB 2899: This is also a “cleanup” bill that would prohibit businesses with suspended licenses from advertising. It, too, passed unanimously in the Assembly and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2914: I have mixed feelings about this one. It prohibits cannabis licensees from producing or selling alcoholic beverages containing cannabis, and would stop alcoholic-beverage licensees from selling or providing cannabis products.

I have had wine with cannabis in it … and let’s just say a little goes a long way. This bill may prevent lots of Californians from getting the spins … but does seem a bit “nanny state.”

It passed through the Assembly unanimously and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2980: This would allow two or more licensed marijuana business to share common-use areas. Office and warehouse space is expensive, especially for small businesses, as long as they are complying with the law, why should they be treated differently from any other businesses?

It passed the Assembly in a 48-21 vote and is in the Senate’s hands.

AB 924: This would create the Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Act for Tribal Entities, forming a process through which the state can interact with sovereign tribes that are producing cannabis products.

It unanimously passed through the Assembly and is awaiting word from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 1459: This would allow county agricultural commissioners to include cannabis in its reporting process to the State Secretary of Food and Agriculture.

It unanimously passed through the Senate and is working its way through the Assembly.

SB 829: This bill would establish compassionate-care licenses for donors of medical use cannabis products to patients who are in need.

It was passed unanimously by the Senate and is now working its way through the Assembly.

SB 930: This is probably the piece of legislation that would do the most to reform the cannabis industry, making things better for the legal market and negatively impacting the illegal market.

This bill would create a state-sponsored credit union for licensed marijuana businesses to use. Because of federal prohibition, cannabis businesses can’t use the banking system, meaning most cannabis business deal with vast amounts of cash, making them vulnerable to crime. I have heard of bud-tenders being paid with stacks of $5 bills, landlords receiving thousands of dollars of rent in cash, and so on.

It passed the Senate on a 32-6 vote and is working its way through the Assembly.

It’s great to see so much work being done in Sacramento to reform and strengthen California’s cannabis industry. However, it’s disappointing that not one of these 17 bills was introduced by a Coachella Valley legislator. Considering the blooming importance of cannabis to our economy, it’s disappointing that these state legislators seem indifferent to the needs of their constituents.

On July 13, California’s three state cannabis-licensing authorities—the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the California Department of Public Health—announced the publication of proposed “non-emergency” regulations that would replace the rules under which the state’s marijuana industry has been operating.

Voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016, legalizing the sale and use of recreational cannabis in California as of Jan. 1, 2018—meaning there was only a little more than a year to create an entire state agency, licensing guidelines and regulatory processes.

Given the size of this task—and the size of this state—it’s no surprise that California has gotten off to a bumpy start. High taxes, both on the state and local level, are a major problem. In Washington, Oregon and Colorado, marijuana consumers saw a drop in the price of cannabis for the recreational user as soon as the supply chain was able to catch up to demand—so much so, in fact, that the black and gray markets were largely put out of business.

In California, this has not been the case. Because of both the incredibly high taxes on legal weed and the big production costs California’s state regulations have created, legal marijuana has remained expensive—so the illegal cannabis market has been able to maintain lower prices and, therefore, flourish. Non-licensed retailers have also thrived, providing customers with much lower prices than the licensed competition. (In some parts of the state, I have heard of regulators not realizing that a shop is unlicensed until they asked to see permits.) On the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s own Facebook page, the day the new regulations were announced, people were bragging and/or complaining that they have returned to the black market. 

Medical-marijuana patients are also suffering under these taxes, and many have had to return to the illegal market in order afford the medicine they need to control their very serious medical issues. Small growers who have been in the cannabis industry for decades have suffered and been driven out of business because of the onerous regulations placed on them—and as of July 1, a number of dispensaries were stuck with inventory that was all of a sudden illegal for them to sell, because it did not meet state standards.

Thankfully, it seems like Lori Ajax, the chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), recognizes that there have been problems, and she seems to be interested in fixing them. The proposed regulations, which can be viewed here, are now open to a 45-day public-comment period. State law stipulates that the non-emergency regulations must be in place by the end of the year.

I find some portions of the new regulations to be very encouraging. I am still in the process of digesting the information that the BCC wants to be able to award research funding. One of my biggest beefs with the medical-cannabis industry is its promotion of cannabis as a cure-all for many ailments, when there are so few peer-reviewed studies regarding the medical benefits of marijuana. This is not necessarily the industry’s fault—federal law has essentially prohibited the use of marijuana for all purposes, including scientific ones—so the state’s possible foray into scientific research funding is a step in the right direction.

The new regulations also get rid of the necessity for establishments to have two sets of licenses; as of now, dispensaries need one for medical marijuana, and one for recreational adult use. With only a few differences in the requirements, it seems unnecessary to require businesses to apply for two types of licenses to sell the same product.

I also find the proposed codification of enforcement to be encouraging. Under the emergency regulations, there was no significant list of grounds for disciplinary action, meaning each licensing authority had the ability to discipline on a case-by-case basis—a system that is open to abuses. The proposed regulations will create a framework for licensing authorities to use when initiating or undertaking enforcement.

Unfortunately, the BCC is proposing to keep in place its requirements around packaging. Retailers would still not be able to package product onsite, and would still be required to place cannabis products in a resealable child-resistant opaque package before customers leave the store. This requirement has always seemed rather ridiculous: If the goal is to protect children, why do we not see these same sorts of requirements around tobacco and liquor? Given California’s push for a greener future, adding a new type of plastic waste feels counterproductive.

While I believe the Legislature still needs to step in to make some legal changes to ensure California’s cannabis industry—particularly small and minority-owned businesses—can thrive, these new regulations are a start.

Any interested party is encouraged to participate in the public-comment process—although consider yourself warned that reading through the proposed rule changes is not an easy process. (The Initial Statement of Reasons from the BCC is 567 pages long!) Comments on the proposed regulations are being accepted in both writing (via email or snail mail) and at public hearings throughout the state, comments cannot be made by phone. The closest hearings will be held in Los Angeles and Riverside (find a list here), so written comments may be a Coachella Valley resident’s best bet. Regarding BCC regulations, comments can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; in the subject line, type in the subject of the proposed regulation to which the comments apply. You can make your comment either in the body of the email or as an attached document. Physical mail can be sent to: Lori Ajax, Chief, Bureau of Cannabis Control, P.O. Box 419106, Rancho Cordova, CA, 95741. All information submitted becomes public information—so don’t include anything you want to remain confidential.

For about 162 years, marijuana and hemp were commonly and legally grown in the United States.

Hemp fiber, although derived from a cannabis varietal, contains little to no THC—0.3 percent or less in both the European Union and Canada—and it cannot get a person high. It has been used for centuries to make things like rope, cloth, paper and food. Our founding fathers grew hemp; the Model T was partially made from hemp, and hemp was even used as animal feed.

In the 1930s, the cultivation of hemp was curtailed in the U.S. A combination of big-money interests, including Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon—a major investor in DuPont—sought to make hemp illegal to make room for the synthetic (plastic) fiber industry—which, of course, also benefited the oil industry. Hemp paper posed a threat to the timber industry, too. However, since hemp was such a part of the American consciousness, it needed to be rebranded and demonized.

Enter the term marihuana (marijuana), then a rather obscure Mexican slang word for cannabis containing THC. The government and its allies in big business were able to use what we would today call “fake news” to create horror stories about cannabis use, including movies like Reefer Madness, a 1936 film that shows “reefer” driving people to become murderers.

In 1937, the Prohibitive Marihuana Tax Law was quickly moved through Congress. Because the public did not understand that hemp and “marihuana” had been looped together as the same thing—this was well before you could fact-check news on the internet—there was virtually no public outcry, despite opposition from the American Medical Association.

In the 1970s, the Controlled Substances Act further criminalized cannabis, even classifying industrial hemp as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal to grow or even research the uses of hemp.

The war on cannabis has now been going on for more than 80 years. For most of this time, the hemp industry has been working to decriminalize the growth of industrial hemp by actively working to decouple it from marijuana. However, that’s changed, as states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis—meaning the hemp industry is now in the process of re-hitching its wagon to a star.

As recently as 2015, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a leading industry trade organization, estimated that retail sales of hemp products in the U.S. totaled $573 million—largely using imported hemp. Hemp can be used not only for food, textiles and personal care, but also car parts, biodiesel, construction materials and many other things. From an environmental prospective, hemp just makes sense: One acre of hemp plants, grown in just three months, can yield as much paper as four acres of trees that have been planted for years. One acre of hemp can also provide as much fabric as two to three acres of cotton—while using a fraction of the pesticides. Hemp can also be carbon-neutral, as carbon that is released from burning hemp as fuel is reabsorbed by the next crop of plants as they grow.

Good news is on the horizon: A provision in the 2018 Farm Bill—legislation totaling more than 1,000 pages dealing with everything from farm subsidies to food stamps—paves the way for the legalization of industrial growth. The bill is due to be voted on by the full Senate before its July 4 recess, and although it would only block federal authorities from punishing hemp farmers and researchers in states where industrial hemp is legal, it is the first meaningful reform we have seen in decades. Even ultra conservatives like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelll, a Kentucky Republican, are pushing for hemp legalization.

“I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this,” McConnell said about hemp as the bill passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee via a 20-1 vote on June 13. “… Younger farmers in my state are particularly interested in going in this direction. We have a lot of people in my state who are extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities. As we all know, hemp is very diversified.”

This is huge news. America’s attitude toward cannabis production from both an industrial and recreational/medical perspective is rapidly evolving—and we may finally see a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the commercial cultivation of hemp.

I have long proclaimed the greatness of using local produce grown and picked at the height of ripeness—something I learned after working in the restaurant industry.

I visit the farmers’ market in Palm Springs every week. The example I use to justify the extra expense and time it takes to shop at a farmers’ market is a tomato: Imagine those little red bags of water on the shelf of every grocery store. They have almost no smell, very little flavor, and often a mealy texture; they seem barely worth the effort. Now … think about the tomato you can get at the farmers’ market, or better yet, fresh out of a garden: They smell slightly acidic and rich with accumulated sunshine. All you need is that fresh tomato and a little salt, and you have a perfect lunch.

So … why shouldn’t I apply these same values to cannabis? If it makes sense to buy a fresh tomato from a local farmer, why wouldn’t I buy marijuana from a local grower?

Although the Coachella Valley is becoming a hot bed of the cannabis industry, our … shall I say, harsh summers mean most local growing is being done indoors. However, marijuana can be grown outdoors here; after all, plenty of farmers in northern climes have farms that are dormant at least three months of the year, so why can’t we? Cannabis is a hearty plant and has been cultivated by humans for eons, and to grow it commercially with success, one needs hot days, warm nights, lots of sun exposure and low humidity. That sounds like a perfect description of the Coachella Valley to me.

When I was growing up, indoor-grown cannabis was considered vastly superior, in large part due to prohibition: Outdoor growers couldn’t grow in optimal conditions, as they needed to keep their plants shaded to protect them from both the feds and organized crime. (If this sounds familiar, yes, it is the plot to every Cheech and Chong movie.) However, shade-grown cannabis produces lower yields, with lower THC content, than plants grown in the full sun.

With the huge amount of money to be had on the black market, indoor growers developed technologies to grow their crops quickly, with high THC percentages. However, the amount of energy it takes to control indoor-grow operations is phenomenal: Between heating, air conditioning, lighting and fans for airflow, published estimates have said cannabis is responsible for 1 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption—and 3 percent of California’s energy consumption! This means sun-grown cannabis has a much smaller carbon footprint. Even with the marijuana industry taking advantage of solar power and other sustainable technologies, sun-grown plants will always win by comparison.

Pest are another concern for both indoor and outdoor growers, although sun-grown cannabis has a natural resilience to many insects, meaning outdoor grows can be kept healthy with minimal cost or hassle. Indoor grows are also much more susceptible to mites, as well as mildew, which the grower must then control with a variety of chemicals—chemicals I personally do not want to consume. They also must utilize a larger variety of commercial fertilizers to optimize their investment.

Terrior is important, too. Sun-grown cannabis, much like a sun-grown tomato, has a much more complex flavor—and, I think, more interesting effects. After comparing the tastes and smell of indoor versus sun-grown product, I am finding sun-grown to be a much more enjoyable experience.

For these reasons, I am making a conscious choice to seek out sun-grown cannabis for my own consumption. Of course, I will never turn down cannabis when it is offered to me, but I want to use my purchasing power to support a sustainable industry. Unfortunately, since most sun-grown cannabis is coming out of Northern California as of now, there is the associated environmental cost of transportation to think about.

The best solution for me would be to grow my own plants, outdoors in my yard. Proposition 64 allows households to grow up to six plants at any given time. With an approximate three-month growing period, I could probably harvest three times a year. If each plant yields a half-pound of smokable product, that is about 9 pounds per year—plus all the extra bits that can be used to make oils.

There is only problem with this: I have the exact opposite of a green thumb. I have killed every “easy to keep alive” plant I have ever gotten. Luckily for me, I have several friends with green thumbs who have offered to give me hand.

As soon as summer ends here in the Coachella Valley, I plan on trying to cultivate a few plants. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Spending an afternoon or evening cooking with friends feeds both hunger and the soul—and adding cannabis to the mix can add a whole other layer of sociability and relaxation.

For many home cooks, the idea of first creating cannabis oil or butter, and then making edibles, can seem daunting. In theory, you could simply throw some raw flower into any dish—but doing so would not fully activate the THC, and it would probably leave you with some funky-tasting food. Beyond the time and work involved, the inconsistency of marijuana strength and the amount (and, therefore, the expense) of marijuana it can take lead most people to decide to consume only prepackaged edibles. I think is a shame.

If you have never cooked with cannabis, there are a few things you need to know before you begin. Let’s start with how much cannabis you want to use: A limited amount of cannabinoids—the active ingredients in the marijuana plant that include both CBD and THC—will dissolve in the oil. (By the way, in this piece, we’re using the words oil, butter and fat interchangeably.) By adding too much weed to your oil, you are simply wasting money and product. An ounce of cannabis infused into 16 ounces of butter or oil will give you a potent product that can later be cut with more fat as necessary. For my favorite lemon loaf, for instance, I use about two tablespoons of cannabis butter, and four tablespoons of regular butter.

Before using cannabis oil in a recipe, it must first be decarboxylated, a process that makes the THC into a substance that has intoxicating effects—not unlike how fermentation changes grape juice into wine. Heat is the fastest and most-effective method for creating this effect. So, when making cannabis-infused oil, temperature is vital: If your oil is too cool, the cannabinoids will either not all be released, or not released at all. If it’s too hot, you will vaporize your cannabinoids, losing potency and money.

Many people begin this process in a low-temperature oven (245 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 30 minutes, mixing the buds every 10 minutes or so, before coarsely grinding and transferring the buds into a slow-cooker with the oil, at 160-200 degrees, for three hours. But honestly … I hate this method. The time in the oven makes the entire house smell, which is not a major concern when we can have our doors and windows open—but come summer, when the house is shut up tight in 110-degree-plus temps, this is just not acceptable. Also: The amount of “active cooking” time is not practical for someone with a busy life. Finally, the unknowns around temperature make it difficult to get a consistent product.

Luckily, there is a great solution: the consumer grade sous-vide machine. Home cooks everywhere are discovering the joys of the precise time and temperature offered with this bath-cooking method. A sous-vide machine—several great brands are on the market for less than $200, including the Anova, which I use—allows you to place a sealed bag or canning jar in a water bath, with that water holding within a degree plus or minus, for as long as you need. Obviously, there is an initial cost, but once you have the cooker, you can use it for all sorts of cooking projects—and you’ll save money in the long run, because you’ll be making better, more-consistent oils.

You can “decarb” your flowers using a sealed bag under water, set to 203 degrees, for one hour. Then you coarse-grind the product, and place it and the fat in a sealed canning jar; put that in a water bath set to 185 degrees for four hours—and you are done. The beauty of the sous-vide system is that it can run without being monitored, so feel free to run errands or take a nap.

Once you have infused your cannabis oil, you will need to strain it. If you aren’t fond of the herbaceously green flavor of most homemade cannabis butters, I recommend lining a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, and letting gravity do the work. Don’t worry about getting every drop of oil out of the plant material; if you squeeze the cloth too hard, you will only succeed in getting lots of plant dust and chlorophyll in your oil, which gives it an off-putting flavor.

Even if you use the sous-vide machine, you’ll have spent a lot of time and energy making your lovely cannabis oil. Now it’s time to use it—but first, I recommend consuming a quarter-teaspoon of oil before you really start cooking; wait about an hour, and see how it affects you. You can then make some educated guesses about the dose that works for you.

Check out sousweed.com for lots of recipes. The lemon cake mentioned at the beginning of this article is delicious when made with fresh lemons; I skip the medicated bitters and use limoncello.

Enjoy!

The month of April (and the final weekend of March) just got a whole lot more entertaining here in the Coachella Valley: The Copa Room Palm Springs is hosting the immense talent of Varla Jean Merman, the naïve yet bawdy drag chanteuse with a heart of gold and razor-sharp wit, on Fridays and Saturdays over five weekends.

Although Merman—created and portrayed by Jeffery Roberson—has performed to sold-out crowds before in Palm Springs, most recently with her Bad Heroine show in October, she has never had a residency here like this. Over the 10 shows, she will both workshop new material and bring back old favorites in what she describes as a roulette wheel of shows where audiences never know what they’ll get.

For the uninitiated, Merman is purportedly the illegitimate daughter of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman, who was shipped off to a Louisiana convent after their real 38-day marriage—because she had Borgnine’s face. She is mannish minx, a raunchy physical comic with a rich, powerful singing voice.

I chatted with Roberson while he was in New Orleans preparing for an upcoming show. (Merman was unavailable, Roberson said. Why? “Varla lives in the storage unit, not in the house,” he said.) I’ve seen Roberson in action before as Merman, and his ability to engage an audience is indeed impressive. He said he’s too desperate for approval to ever let an audience go quiet.

“I’m like a dog with a bone when performing, and I always get lots of bones when in Palm Springs,” Roberson said.

Merman’s upcoming Palm Springs shows—titled Warm Sands, Cold Heart—will pay homage to the town and the neighborhood she stays in while here. Her opening number, which she describes as a love letter to Palm Springs, recalls the era when men used to walk the neighborhood at night, looking for Mr. Right Now. Although Roberson is what I’d describe as “Palm Springs young,” he understands that Merman’s material skews to a slightly older demographic—which is exactly why she loves playing here.

In fact, Merman has been performing in Palm Springs for at least 15 years, and she just unearthed a videotape from a show she did in 2003 at Heaven Night Club (now Zeldas) called Under a Big Top. She is resurrecting some of that circus theme for her upcoming shows … now that the world is being run by a clown.

Taking inspiration from the works of John Waters, Roberson started doing drag on video well before he stepped onstage; his shows used to feature six or seven videos, each up to 10 minutes long. However, since more and more of his audience spends large portions of their days staring at video screens, he feels people need to see Merman live onstage.

Roberson credits Merman’s role in the 2003 cult hit film Girls Will Be Girls with cementing the Varla we see today. That film—about three actresses navigating Hollywood, love and aging—was the first time someone else had written for his character, and seeing someone else’s perception of her helped Roberson solidify the beautiful character.

Roberson said he can’t believe he’s been performing as Merman for more than 20 years.

“Young people can get away with a lot more than some old lady,” he quipped about the challenges of aging.

As Merman and Roberson have aged and changed, so, too, has their comedy. Roberson watched the arc of the HIV epidemic, and when he first started, he said, jokes about promiscuity were just not seen as very funny. Today, he said, in contrast, jokes about using condoms seem dated.

“People just don’t see the humor in condoms filled with mayonnaise like they used to,” he observed.

Varla Jean Merman will perform Warm Sands, Cold Heart at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, March 30, through Saturday, April 28, at the Copa Room Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 to $35. For tickets or more information, visit www.varlaonline.com.

The passage of Proposition 64 not only decriminalized the adult use of marijuana; the Adult Use of Marijuana Act created a path for people to have prior pot convictions reduced—or entirely cleared from their records.

The legislation specifies that people can initiate this process on their own, but in some counties—most notably San Francisco and San Diego—district attorneys have taken it upon themselves to review cases and reduce or dismiss convictions.

Those who oppose relief from prior convictions often say that since a crime was committed—marijuana was illegal then, after all—people need to face the consequences. But this same argument did not hold water for alcohol Prohibition—and should people continue to pay for a crime that was the result of misguided government policies?

This is a social-justice issue—one that all of us who care about our democracy should pay attention to. Why? People of color were much more likely to be arrested and convicted under the old laws. In fact, recent studies have shown that although whites and people of color use marijuana at about the same rate, black people are almost four times as likely, and Latinos two to three times as likely, to have faced arrest—even for possession of a small amount of marijuana. An old pot conviction can negatively impact a person’s ability to vote, get a job, rent an apartment and get student loans—and it can affect child-custody and immigration decisions. Therefore, it is particularly important for the government to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.

Prop 64 makes it clear that not everyone is eligible for conviction reductions or dismissals: The law specifies that this relief is reserved for those with relatively low-level offenses. A person with a history of violence, multiple convictions or convictions for selling to minors is not eligible to have his or her records expunged or reduced. In other words, hard-core drug dealers and people working for drug cartels are unlikely to somehow be set free.

Here’s hoping that other district attorneys around the state choose to follow the lead of San Diego and San Francisco counties and review old convictions—because it can be expensive and intimidating for people to initiate the process on their own. If someone can’t get a job or student loans because of a past marijuana conviction, it’s unlikely that person can afford a lawyer. The Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations are hosting free expungement clinics, where lawyers and paralegals are present to help, but they tend to happen in and around larger cities—with none planned here in the Coachella Valley that I could find. (If you know of any, please let us know.) That means someone from here would need to drive into Los Angeles on the chance they might get to speak to a lawyer about possibly having an old conviction reduced. Also: This is not the most well-known piece of the law, and the government is unlikely to publicize this information—so spread the word.

San Diego has already reduced the records of more than 700 people, and has identified more than 4,000 people who may be able to access this relief—yet Riverside County so far has reminded silent. Although a great number of people in the county have applied to have their records reduced or cleared, as of this writing, the office of District Attorney Mike Hestrin has made no public comment, nor did anyone from the office respond to my inquiries about plans to relive this burden. As a community that prides itself on progressive values, it’s incumbent upon us to put pressure on our local elected officials.

Legislative help may be on the way: Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, introduced Assembly Bill 1793 in January to “to allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction,” but the legislative process is a slow one. The bill went through its first reading in early January, and there has been no movement since. One possible reason for inaction: The Legislature would also need to provide financial resources to assist the counties in doing this work.

Real people continue to be harmed by old laws that the voters of the state of California have thrown out. Old felony convictions that today would be, at worst, misdemeanors—and possibly not even worthy of arrest—are keeping a disproportionate number of African Americans and Mexican Americans from fully participating in our democracy. After all, a right delayed is a right denied.

The Palm Springs Cultural Center accomplishes a lot in the Coachella Valley. In addition to doing the programming at the Camelot Theatres and running the area’s Certified Farmers’ Markets, the center produces several film festivals.

And now, the Palm Springs Cultural Center is getting involved with weed—by producing the first Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival and Summit, taking place largely at the Camelot Theatres April 17-22.

Giacomina Marie and Paul Palodichuk are the festival directors, as well as the directors of the Palm Springs Farmers’ Market, which they founded 10 years ago. (Full disclosure: I work with the Palm Springs Cultural Center as the volunteer coordinator.)

When asked why they decided to start the festival and summit, they talked about their connection to farmers, coming from Northern California and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They’re used to working directly not only with produce farmers, but also with local cannabis growers. With the Coachella Valley becoming a mecca for cannabis production and tourism, they felt the area was ripe for a public discussion about what we want the legal cannabis industry to look like. They also want to educate consumers about responsible consumption, both medicinally and recreationally—and clear up some of the confusion regarding the country’s split personality regarding legality.

The film festival and summit are designed to help ease apprehension regarding marijuana use. Taking a lesson from the gay-rights movement, many in the cannabis industry are working hard to get people to “come out” and tell their stories.

Programming and films are still being finalized for the conference. “Talking to Your Teens” will be led by Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerita of the San Francisco office of Drug Policy Alliance and author of the booklet Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. She will help parents and grandparents have informed discussions with young people about how to make good decisions in the recreational market. Although it is illegal for teens to use or possess marijuana … if teens today are anything like I was when I was in high school, they’re experimenting with marijuana.

Most of the films being chosen for the festival are documentaries exploring marijuana culture, both nationally and internationally.

While Marie and Palodichuk have more familiarity with small-scale operations due to their farmers’ market background, they said they’re taking great pains to invite representatives from large companies as well as boutique producers. Marie made a comparison to a person’s decision on where to shop for groceries: Some people are going to shop at farmers’ markets; others will only shop at large-scale grocery stores—but all of us are trying to make informed choices.

Looking at the schedule so far, there really is something for everyone, from first-time users to experienced cannabis entrepreneurs. If you are someone who hasn’t smoked a joint since the ’70s, or perhaps spent your entire life following the “Just Say No” message, there are talks specifically designed to help you overcome your understandable worries. Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of cannabis users, and Dr. Jonathan Bechard, from Eisenhower Medical Center, will lead a talk on the safe and effective uses of cannabis for pain and stress relief—and he’s coming to the discussion with a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the belief that cannabis is an all-encompassing cure-all. On the other end of the life cycle, the summit will look at how children with autism, epilepsy and life-threatening diseases might be helped. There is even a veterinarian coming in to talk about the benefits of cannabis use for your pet. As the owner of a hyperactive Pomeranian, I will be checking this out.

For those who are part of the lucrative cannabis industry—or who want to be—there are two tracks that might be right for you. A “Green Rush Series” will investigate the opportunities in marijuana retail, tourism, culinary businesses “and beyond”; and a “Business Case Industry Series” will explore the quickly changing federal, state, county and city legalities, as well as insurance and banking considerations when opening a cannabis related business.

Interested in learning to grow your own? Brooke Sinclair, founder of Sierra Bloom Collective, will lead a workshop on getting the most out of the six plants an individual can grow for themselves. Concerned about social justice? Check out keynote speaker Dr. Lori Ajax, chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.

But what if you just want to come and have fun? Sexologist Nick Karras, creator of the “The Passionate High” project, will present on how pot’s psychotropic and physical effects can help people to experience greater creativity and passion in their intimate relationships.

For more information or festival passes, visit pscff.jackalyst.com.

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