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From the Archives: Hello, is anyone out there? (1997)

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By Leslie Stackel

Conservative voices have held sway over talk-radio’s airwaves since the 1960s, selling a backlash against progressive ideas to a frightened public married to the status quo. How did it happen? Why does it continue, and where can someone tune in to hear a voice taking the liberal or, heaven forbid!, leftist position on political issues?

A year after comedian Al Franken published Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot (Thorndike Press, Thorndike, ME), the obese sultan of right-wing talk radio still rules the airwaves. Limbaugh and his ultraconservative cronies, most notably G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North, rant continuously against “feminazis,” environmental “wackos,” minorities and all things progressive in a rolling firestorm of sock-it-to-’em hate radio. Their brand of vitriol has earned them over 600 station spots, mostly Rush’s, on nationally syndicated radio, reaching more than 20 million listeners. And despite reams of bad press, reproach from more moderate Republicans and sagging ratings, the Limbaugh ilk continue to infect our country’s talk-radio continuum like a bad flu it can’t shake.

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Where will the cure for this epidemic virus come from? Where can the long-suffering listener tune in for a liberal shot in the ear? Who will present a balanced sensibility for the other side, and an overdue public hazing of Limbaugh and his prating dittoheads?

According to Michael Flarrison, editor of a broadcast publication called Talkers Magazine, talk radio isn’t entirely a conservative wasteland. Dozens of liberals can be found around the dial on local stations, he contends. “About 40% of radio dialog is liberal,” he estimates, “but the media have played up the rightists.”

Maybe. But his 40% figure pretty obviously depends on one’s definition of “liberal.” In one recent study on talk radio by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, for instance, such political talking heads as former New York Mayor Ed Koch and Washington, DC centrist Diane Rehm were somehow deemed “liberals.” By any reasonable definition, one is hard-pressed to find any nationally recognized leftist name in talk radio these days. Harrison concedes there is no Limbaugh of the left, no “national superstars with devoted followings.”

Dial around, though, and two likely candidates begin to emerge from the static. Jim Hightower, a former Texas state agriculture commissioner, is a populist hell-raiser from Austin whose sharply twangy political assaults and sly humor (as in his regular “Hog Report,” covering “pork” in government dealings and big business) have fetched him a 100-station listening public “from Maine to Maui” since 1991. And there’s Tom Leykis of Los Angeles, a rousingly souped-up, no-holds-barred, left-leaning political riffer with the flair of an AM-radio DJ. Leykis spares no one during his four-hour afternoon broadcasts on Westwood One radio, syndicated to 220 other stations, and he’s been working at it for 26 years. Former California Governor Jerry Brown may have more name recognition than either of these on-air personalities, but his “We The People” program is broadcast strictly over Pacifica nonprofit radio, limited in market scope.

However, neither Hightower nor Leykis, the two top-rated lefties, can be heard in New York City, or in very many other big-city radio markets—an absence not entirely accidental. Jim Hightower briefly broadcast his show over the ABC radio network before 1995, when it was summarily canceled without warning—immediately after word leaked of a planned merger between Disney and Capital Cities, which owns ABC. Despite drawing a sizable audience, Hightower was dropped from the network lineup, presumably for his outspoken criticism of this Mickey Mouse merger and the new Telecommunications Act that permitted it, aside from his regular muckraking features aimed at corporate America.

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The Mouse That Censored

ABC claimed insufficient ad revenue as an excuse for the cancellation, but Hightower points out that the network neglected to pursue his best identifiable source for sponsorship and ad dollars—labor unions. In fact, ABC rejected one union’s $20,000 offer to buy ad space, and dismissed all others as “advocacy advertisers,” unacceptable as commercial supporters. (Of course, the network would never consider that the corporate funders of their more conservative shows might harbor a political agenda, would they?)

Which raises the question whether leftslanted, populist talk radio is mutually exclusive with broad-scale commercial success. Hightower seems poised to discover the answer. Since mid-1996 he’s been airing a new call-in program from Austin’s downtown Chat & Chew restaurant over United Broadcasting, formerly known as the People’s Radio Network. With his unshakably leftist politics, he might serve as an ideal test case for progressives everywhere.

As Hightower points out, “We’re definitely about naming names. Unlike most liberal radio hosts, I don’t just talk about vague, social causes of things, but really focus on corporations, and do it by name. When taking on an issue, we go at it in terms of who’s putting up the money for the policy that’s involved with the issue.”

United Broadcasting, Hightower explains, funds itself essentially by acting as “a marketer of made-in-the-USA products. They’re like a Home Shopping Channel, so they’re not at the mercy of big brand-name advertisers.” Co-owned by the United Auto Workers union, founded by libertarian Pat Choate—a former Ross Perot running mate—the network is nothing if not political. With a nod to the current stagnant wave in radioland, United has signed as its other on-air celebrity, ironically, Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan’s sister.

Micropower to the People

Things are not likely to get much better before they get even worse, either, with Newt Gingrich et al slashing federal funds from National Public Radio, calling their studiedly neutral tone “too liberal.” Even lower-profile, listener-supported broadcasting venues are gradually caving in to conservative pressure, such as the five-station, 50-affiliate Pacifica Network.

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Federal attacks on their funding base have predictably prompted internal power struggles at some of these stations, further threatening their progressive programming. At Pacifica’s home-base station, KPFA in Berkeley, CA, the board of directors in 1994 purged the most radical voices and installed a slicker, more “professional” corporate-style management team. Now there are similar tugs-of-war raging at both KPFK in Los Angeles and WBAI in New York City—Pacifica’s flagship and longtime bastion of community activism and free speech. All this is leading left-wing talk radio in only one direction, say observers: underground.

“I see progressive voices on radio being forced underground, and I see pirate radio spreading all over the country, which is both good and bad,” says HIGH TIMES editor-at-large Bill Weinberg, cohost of “The Moorish Orthodox Crusade” on WBAI (a mix of anarchist political analysis and pop culture that he says is “hanging by a thread”). “Bad because when underground, things get more precarious and fewer people get to hear it. And good because being underground is purer and keeps you in that hardcore adversarial spirit, which has been eroded by progressive radio being on the federal teat for so long.”

Stephen Dunifer, an outspoken leader of the unlicensed pirate-radio movement, founded the rebel station Free Radio Berkeley in 1993. Dunifer says he was driven to defy the Federal Communications Commission by a mixture of factors: the Reaganite political climate of the 1980s and early ’90s; media coverage of the Gulf War and other foreign issues by press release and sound bite, and by the abandonment of local grass-roots activism on Pacifica’s stations.

The final straw came in 1993, with KPFA’s muting of Dunifer’s friend Dennis Bernstein, after Bernstein had challenged the mayor of Berkeley’s claim that she’d had no involvement in mobilizing a police riot squad during a protest that year in People’s Park. During an on-air interview, Bernstein produced some of the mayor’s correspondence, procured via the Public Records Act, between her and the UC Berkeley chancellor, proving they’d worked together “hand in glove” during the police action.

“She freaked out on the air,” says Dunifer. “Two weeks later, Dennis gets a message from the station manager saying ‘lay off the mayor.’ Very clearly, we were dealing with an established progressive-liberal political machine.” KPFA was no longer “the people’s station,” and so Dunifer set up Free Radio Berkeley at 104.1 on the dial to fill the void.

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Dunifer and other radio rebels “are reacting to a situation in their areas, where public radio is not quite as public as it’s supposed to be,” says Estelle Fennell, news director of KMUD (91.1 FM), a community station in Garberville, CA, 200 miles north of Berkeley. KMUD, she acknowledges, is “unique” in its independence at a time when all traditional alternatives to mainstream media are failing their listeners. “College stations are tied in to college politics,” she observes, “and too many community stations are tied in to a kind of polish and topdown mentality,” leaving activists with little choice but to seek other outlets.

KMUD, Fennell contends, exemplifies the necessary alternative—stations committed to their local listeners, regardless of the risk. Located in Humboldt County, a heavy potgrowing area, KMUD routinely airs up-to-the-minute reports and warnings of helicopter raids of growers’ fields—some while in progress—to the ire of regional cops and federal DEA agents. Apart from a few other stations “like KAOS in Seattle,” she says, “I can’t think of many other local [licensed] stations with a good, committed, free attitude.”

But others do exist, on both coasts. Chuck Rosina of Boston, the news director at MIT’s college station, WMBR (88.1 FM), is a hardcore homeless-rights advocate. On his own two-hour show, “No Censorship Radio,” Rosina says he generally pushes the limits of free speech on the Pacifica affiliate, and suggests management “looks the other way so long as we don’t get major complaints.”

At his home studio, “W Bla Bla Bla,” though, Rosina puts together show segments for general distribution, often collaborating with “pirates” from Boston and Berkeley, and in these projects, “no censorship” is the guaranteed uncompromising rule.

Stephen Dunifer, elaborating on Bill Weinberg’s comments, says massive numbers of independent thinkers and activists are turning to outlaw radio. The preferred term is “micropower broadcasting,” since pirate radio uses low wattage compared to commercial enterprises, and it’s been “popping up everywhere around the country.” Dunifer estimates about 400 stations now exist border-to-border. On the West Coast it’s rampant, and elsewhere as well its guerrilla reporters and interviewers are frontline activists, not just talking heads.

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In Texas, the three politically-minded co-founders of Kind Radio San Marcos (105.9 FM), southwest of Austin, for example, gained a degree of notoriety as members of the San Marcos Seven, a group that was arrested and served short jail terms in 1991 after a spontaneous potThis post contains affiliate links! smoke-in at the Hays County Jail. Their pirate operation, begun last March, features irreverent coverage of potThis post contains affiliate links! use and legalization, plus other timely and often taboo issues via news, interviews, talk, radio theater, poetry and music. “We devoted an entire ‘Common Sense’ call-in show to people’s first experiences with marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links!,” recalls co-founder Joe Ptak. Setting up and running a micropower station, he says, “is easy and fun.”

Even more ambitious in stamping out censorship is Free Speech TV, the Boulder, CO alternative-programming service which packages and distributes shows to about 70 cable and public-access TV stations nationwide, and runs a website (www.freespeech.org) using material from both pirate and licensed radio. “We believe in the aim of micropower radio, to take the airwaves away from the powers that be,” says Web editor Joey Manley. “We use stuff from people like Napoleon Williams of Black Liberation Radio in Detroit, who’s currently embattled in disputes with the FCC, and some other microstations.” This material is mixed in with great legit radio, like Mike Thornton’s “Full Logic Reverse” on KVMR in Nevada City, CO. “Any issue the left champions doesn’t get access to the media,” Manley notes. “What we want is to get these ideas into the mainstream of society.”

Getting organized is key, insists Paul Griffin, a Free Radio Berkeley show host and founder of the Association of Micro-Power Broadcasters. He urges folks to get involved with the group, and to attend the annual conference for micro proponents, held this year in Carson, CA.

FCC You, Limbaugh!

Free Radio Berkeley made history last April after winning a precedent-setting court case brought when the FCC tried to shut it down. Federal District Judge Claudia Wilken refused to grant the commission an injunction to close the rebel radio operation, the first repulse ever for the FCC in such a case, pointing out that “there were real constitutional questions here that should be resolved in a trial,” according to Dunifer. Mostly those questions revolve around obvious First Amendment free-speech issues.

Dunifer expects that the FCC’s second motion to cut off the station, now awaiting a ruling, will keep the case in the legal system till around the year 2000. By then, the micropower movement should be flourishing. Like all radical action, this systematic movement could influence and even empower mainstream, liberal and left-leaning “legitimate” broadcasters.

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Meanwhile, progressives in commercial radio are busy trying to compete with the tidal wave of conservative on-air hosts, striving to bowl over both listeners and station owners through style as much as substance. Pumping up listenership for these alternative hosts, though, often means learning to switch frequencies—not in terms of airwaves, but in their on-air personality and general modus operandi.

Tom Leykis, for one, believes that before station owners will come calling, progressives have to disprove the sticky myth that liberals make for boring radio.

“See,” he says, “Limbaugh has convinced people that no liberal is entertaining. There’s some truth in that,” he jokes, “but it’s not 100% true.” Moderates are all too often, by definition, moderate: “A lot of liberal hosts are afraid to take stands,” diagnoses Leykis, “’cause they’re afraid of offending people. You get all these nice liberals saying, ’Well, I can understand on the one hand how people would feel this way, and on the other hand how they’d feel that way’, like NPR, which induces coma.” Radio hosts, he insists, “have to be willing to get down in the mud with anyone” and “not afraid to take quotable, sound-bite stands.”

A one-time music DJ and stand-up comedian, Leykis says that what ultimately makes a gab-show zing is plain entertainment, not political discourse slanted either left or right. Political advocacy, he reckons, is secondary. And the fact that Rush Limbaugh’s megasuccess as an entertainer has been matched by neither liberal nor conservative stands as proof of Leykis’ canny insight.

Whatever the formula for success in commercial radio, cracking the current conservative hegemony on call-in shows won’t be easy, says Steve Randall, senior analyst and resident talk-radio expert for FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Historically, he explains, “Political talk radio arose as a major phenomenon in the 1960s, and the first star of the form was Joe Pyne on KABC, who was considered a real hatemonger. Talk radio in those days was a bunch of white guys on the right railing against the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, women’s liberation and so on. It was born in backlash, and has been that way for 35 years.” By now, Randall says, right-wingers have well-paved inroads: “They’ve cultivated an audience who are used to their ideas, their political viewpoints, and what they consider humor.” Liberals have to do the same.

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Jim Hightower says liberal voices are on their way. People are obviously getting tired of Limbaugh: “He’s becoming boring and he’s essentially out of material, because he spends all his time on the air just attacking Bill Clinton and defending Newt Gingrich. He’s become the national press spokesman for the Republican Party.” Folks, he believes, are ready for real populism on the airwaves, not the “faux populism” of Rush. As for his kneejerk copycats, they’re losing not only credibility but ratings. In fact, notes Hightower, “If it weren’t for the Christian networks, Ollie North would be long gone.”

High Times Magazine, November 1997

Read the full issue here.



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Washington State Settles With Unicorn Brands Following Synthetic THC Probe

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The Liquor and Cannabis Board in the state of Washington said Wednesday that it has reached a settlement with Unicorn Brands LLC over a “a year-long investigation and multiple Administrative Violation Notices (AVNs) for creating synthetically-derived THC from hemp and distributing it into the state-regulated cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! market.”

The board said that Unicorn Brands “cooperated with the investigation” and ceased the conversion process that was under question. Last summer, the Liquor and CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! Board issued a policy statement that “made clear that synthetically-derived THC from hemp was prohibited under current rules and law.”

“This was an important case about the integrity of the legal cannabis system voters approved ten years ago and which today flourishes in Washington with a carefully controlled system of production, processing and selling of cannabis to adults,” Liquor and CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! Board chair David Postman said in an email to marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! license holders in the state, reminding the businesses “of the prohibition on the sort of laboratory conversions involved in the Unicorn case.”

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In October of last year, the board’s Education and Enforcement Division issued an Administrative Violation Notices to Unicorn Brands for four violations in its synthesis process: “1) Misuse of License, 2) Criminal Conduct, 3) Noncompliant Extraction, and 4) Traceability Failure.”

Under the terms of the “comprehensive settlement” between the two sides, the board said that Unicorn Brands “will not resume converting hemp into THC and brings an end to a lengthy and complex investigation.”

The board provided more details on the back-and-forth that preceded this week’s settlement.

“After extensive negotiations, the agency and Unicorn reached an agreement to settle these cases. As part of this settlement, the Enforcement and Education Division has agreed to fully withdraw the alleged criminal conduct charge,” the board said in a statement. “In exchange, Unicorn stipulates and fully admits to the remaining three violations: Misuse of License, Noncompliant Extraction, and Traceability Failure. Further, Unicorn has agreed to pay the standard monetary penalties for the three stipulated violations, accept forfeiture of the seized products, and waive further administrative review. Finally, Unicorn has agreed to the condition that “it shall not use its license to produce or manufacture Delta‑8 THC, Delta-9 THC, or any similar synthetically-produced THC from any hemp-based sources in the State of Washington unless explicitly authorized by a subsequent change in state law that allows the licensee to do so.”

The case highlights concerns surrounding the burgeoning Delta-8 market, with state regulators throughout the country struggling to stay on top of new (and, in some cases, illicit) products.

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In its press release on Wednesday, the Liquor and CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! Board called on lawmakers in Washington to take steps toward providing greater regulation on that front.

“The next important step in protecting the public health is to eliminate the burgeoning market for Delta 8 products and other synthetically-derived products outside the regulated market. These gummies and other edibles are being illegally sold in convenience stores and online in Washington and across the country. We hope the 2023 legislative session will see action to assist in eliminating these illegal sales,” the board said.

Regulation of Delta-8 is far from the only pressing matter facing Washington’s cannabis industry. The state experienced a surge in armed robberies of cannabis dispensaries earlier this year, a problem attributed to the large sums of cash on hand at such retailers.

A spokesperson for the Liquor and Cannabis Board said in February that the agency recommended dispensary owners “hire armed security guards, make frequent cash deposits so there isn’t much cash available in shops, post signs in businesses explaining that staff don’t have access to much cash, clearly communicate safety guidelines with staff so they know what to do in the event of a robbery.”



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Japanese Health Officials Propose Revision of Law To Allow Import, Medical Cannabis

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The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare stated on Sept. 29 that it recommends an amendment to the country’s drug law, known as the Cannabis Control Act. According to Reuters, the agency expressed the need to allow cannabis to be imported and permitted for medical use, which would align it with other countries that already have established medical cannabis programs.

Medical cannabis would be regulated like pharmaceuticals, and “would apply to marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! products whose safety and efficacy were confirmed under laws governing pharmaceuticals and medical devices,” according to Reuters.

According to translated documents published on Sept. 28 by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, a large number of individuals contributed to the review and recommendations, including professors and medical professionals. According to the report, only 1.4% of people in Japan report having ever used cannabis. In western countries, consumer percentages range between 20-40%.

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In the U.S., Epidiolex is the first CBD medicine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating children with epilepsy, and specifically those who suffer from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet’s syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex. As of March 2019, Epidiolex began undergoing clinical trials in Japan, although there have been no further reports or updates. The trials are exempt from the country’s Cannabis Control Act, which prohibits cannabis import/export and consumption. At the time, the country reported having 3,000 residents who suffer from Dravet syndrome, and 4,300 who suffer from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

In its current form, the Cannabis Control Act is limiting all forms of progress in relation to cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!, including hemp.

In January 2021, the Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association (HIHA) released a statement addressing the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare’s investigation on cannabis and other drugs. “The CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! Control Act is a profoundly unreasonable law that restricts all cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! regardless of the quantity or even presence of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links!, the chemical synthetic substance of which are designated as an illegal drug in Japan), and even prohibits the cultivation of hemp from overseas (see note below) containing none of this substance,” HIHA wrote. “First, concerning the Cannabis Control Act and problems with its application, we would like to recommend the development of a more reasonable law formulated based upon discussion that is made public to the citizens of Japan and upon scientific knowledge.”

HIHA concluded that the Cannabis Control Act is preventing the hemp industry from flourishing since it was enacted in 1948. “In order to develop a hemp industry on par with those overseas and protect national interests concerning industrial hemp, this country must revise the Cannabis Control Act and other related laws as soon as possible, position the hemp industry appropriately within the legal system, and strike a balance between the control of drugs and the encouragement of industry.”

In August 2021, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare released a report detailing their recommendations for allowing medical cannabis for patients. Earlier this year in May, the ministry met again to continue the discussion of medical cannabis, addressing the need for treatment for those who abuse cannabis use and how to address youth consumption.

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In December 2021, the gaming company Capcom partnered with the Osaka Prefectural Police to use its fictional character Ace Attorney to campaign against cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! youth consumption. According to the Japanese National Police Agency, there were 5,482 people who were caught violating the country’s cannabis law (4,537 were in possession of cannabis, while 273 were illegally selling the plant, and 230 were arrested for illegally cultivating). Beatles band member Paul McCartney received an 11-year ban from Japan for possessing half a pound of cannabis back in 1980.



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Canadian Government Tells Hockey Players in Russia, Belarus To Leave

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The Canadian federal government recently sent word to hockey teams traveling in Russia and Belarus to leave as soon as possible, according to the Toronto Sun. Forty-eight Canadian hockey athletes are on the roster for the Kontinental Hockey League, and 44 of them are playing in Russia and Belarus (the other four are in Kazakhstan).

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and Canada was an early supporter of Ukraine since the war began. The Canadian government has given $626 million in military aid, and $320 in humanitarian relief. “Our government has been very clear. Canadians should avoid all travel to Russia and Belarus,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement to The Canadian Press. “If they are in Russia or in Belarus, they should leave now. Our ability to provide consular services may become extremely limited.”

There could be a possibility that a situation similar to the imprisonment of U.S. WNBA athlete Brittney Griner could occur due to the ongoing conflict. According to Maria Popova, Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University in Quebec, there is a real threat to players. “Anybody who is in Russia is always in danger of being framed, incarcerated, used as a pawn in whatever the local government, central government et cetera decides to do,” Popova said. “I think something like what happened to Brittney Griner is possible. The same playbook can be repeated in a case against a Canadian player for sure.”

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Griner was detained in Russia on Feb. 17, just before Russia invaded Ukraine. Popova did add, however, that while there’s a risk for players playing abroad, she doesn’t see a clear reason why Russia would choose to detain more athletes. “I don’t see why Russia would try to use these people as a pawn because Canada is not Russia’s main problem in this war,” Popova said. “There isn’t really any hope that Russia could change Canadian policy in Ukraine. They know Canada is firmly in NATO, clearly backing Ukraine.”

Adrien Blanchard, press secretary for Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, told CBC.ca that players should explain why they are choosing to stay in Russia and Belarus. “President [Vladimir] Putin’s war in Ukraine is a war on freedom, on democracy and on the rights of Ukrainians, and all people, to determine their own future,” Blanchard said. “Athletes who decide to play and associate with Russia and Belarus should explain their decisions to the public.”

Player-agent Ritchie Winter, based in Alberta, manages three players currently involved in the Kontinental Hockey League. In his opinion, players have every right to continue making a living.

“We live in a world where individuals are allowed to make those decisions. It’s just an individual decision related to an employment opportunity. Has every player that’s gone, push, tugged and pulled and wrestled with the decision? Yeah, absolutely,” Winter said. “At the end of the day, they’re husbands and fathers who have responsibilities to their families. If you’re a young family with limited resources because you played mostly in the minors, there’s a desire to take care of your family. Sometimes that leads people to the oilfields in Kazakhstan and sometimes it leads them to the KHL.”

An NBC News report from March shared that players often compete in Russia because they can possibly earn four or five times more than their U.S. salaries. Citing Ketra Armstrong, a professor of sport management and the director of the Center for Race & Ethnicity in Sport at the University of Michigan. “It’s a sad situation in many regards, but it’s not totally beyond the realm of understanding,” said Armstrong. “The amount of money that athletes can make throughout other parts of the world is incredible and almost a no-brainer depending on how good you are and your overall market appeal.”

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The National Hockey League (NHL) does conduct THCThis post contains affiliate links! drug tests on players, but CBDThis post contains affiliate links! is permitted. Rather than being punished for cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! use, the NHL refers the players to a Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.



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Deadline Passes in New York for First Round of Dispensary Licenses

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The deadline for the first adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses in New York arrived on Monday, and now hundreds of applicants await feedback from the state.

Monday’s deadline came a month after the state’s Office of Cannabis Management officially opened the application portal on August 25.

Since then, the agency has been flooded with applications from individuals hoping for the first crack at the Empire State’s legal marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! market.

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Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that roughly “500 applications had been submitted by Sunday,” adding that hundreds “of ineligible people have been turned away, but so have dozens more who did qualify and needed help navigating the state’s online portal.”

The state will award 150 licenses for the first round this fall, and those have been designated exclusively for applicants who have previously been convicted of a pot-related offense (or a family member of someone who has).

Billed as the “Seeding Opportunity Initiative,” the policy goes further than most of the so-called “social equity” provisions in other states’ marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! laws.

“New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in announcing the policy back in March. “The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind. I’m proud New York will be a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building.”

New York City has taken similar steps toward enhancing opportunities in the emerging cannabis industry for individuals adversely affected by erstwhile marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! laws.

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The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, announced last month “a first-of-its-kind initiative and suite of services to support the equitable growth of the cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! industry in New York City.”

The initiative, known as Cannabis NYC, will provide “technical assistance for cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! license applicants, as well as other business services to take entrepreneurs beyond licensing to a thriving operation,” while also supporting “cannabis entrepreneurs and their workers as the industry develops.”

It will also collaborate with “industry stakeholders to create good jobs, successful small businesses, and sustainable economic opportunities, while also addressing the harms of cannabis prohibition.” Adams’ office said that the “first phase of Cannabis NYC will focus on ensuring that justice involved New Yorkers are able to apply for and secure retail licenses from the state.”

“Today, we light up our economy and launch Cannabis NYC — a first-of-its-kind initiative to support equitable growth of the cannabis industry in New York City,” Adams said in a press release last month. “The regulated adult-use cannabis industry is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our underserved communities that have, for too long, faced disproportionate rates of drug-related incarceration to get in on the industry on the ground floor. Cannabis NYC will plant the seeds for the economy of tomorrow by helping New Yorkers apply for licenses and understand how to open and successfully run a business, while simultaneously rolling equity into our economy by giving those who have been justice-involved and those with a cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! conviction a chance to succeed. This is about creating good jobs, successful small businesses, and finally delivering equity to communities harmed by the ‘War on Drugs.’”

The first state-regulated recreational cannabis dispensaries in New York are not expected to open until late this year (as the earliest).

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But countless small business owners there have not waited to get in on the “kush rush.” New York City in particular is teeming with illicit cannabis shops, prompting state regulators to crack down on some.



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Is Big Tobacco Pivoting to Big Cannabis?

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British American Tobacco announced Monday that it has acquired a non-controlling minority stake in the Berlin-based marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! startup Sanity Group GmbH.

Kingsley Wheaton, the chief growth officer at BAT, characterized the deal as an example of the company’s “ongoing work to explore numerous areas beyond nicotine, positioning BAT for future portfolio growth across a range of categories and geographies.”

“We continue to transform our business, through better understanding of our current and future consumers, as part of our A Better Tomorrow purpose,” Wheaton said in a press release. 

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The acquisition could also be seen as a reflection of an emerging trend: cannabis is the future, while tobacco––specifically cigarettes––is increasingly a relic of the past.

A survey from Gallup last month found that a mere 11% of Americans reported as cigarette smokers, an all-time low. By contrast, 16% said they consider themselves current cannabis smokers.

Those consumer trends may continue to shift as marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! becomes legal in more markets both in the United States and beyond.

In Germany, government officials are readying plans to legalize recreational cannabis, a move that will make the country the world’s largest legal marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! market.

That coming change in policy almost certainly made Monday’s deal even more enticing for British American Tobacco, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.

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According to Bloomberg, Sanity “secured $37.6 million in the BAT-led Series B funding round,” noting that almost “half of the amount will go toward strengthening Sanity’s medical business, while the company will spend the rest on preparing for the potential legalization of recreational marijuana in Germany.”

Per Bloomberg, British American Tobacco made the investment along with Verde Capital, the investment fund co-founded by Snoop Dogg.

Sanity Group was founded in 2018 and now has more than 100 employees and has raised tens of millions from the likes of “Navy Capital, Redalpine, HV Capital, Calyx, Cherry Ventures, Bitburger Ventures, SOJE Capital, and various business angels and celebrities such as Will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas), Scooter Braun, Hollywood actor Alyssa Milano and German soccer player Mario Götze,” along with Verde Capital and now BAT.

The company says that its focus “is on pharmaceuticals (medical cannabis; finished pharmaceuticals) and medical products on the one hand, and cannabinoidThis post contains affiliate links!-based consumer goods on the other.”

Finn Age Hänsel, the founder and chief executive officer of Sanity Group, hailed the funding from British American Tobacco as “an important milestone for us and a strong signal towards the future of cannabis in Germany and Europe.”

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“I am grateful for the belief shown by both new and existing investors. Our goal is to leverage the full potential of the cannabis plant and to explore and harness the different cannabinoids – with the new capital, we will be able to accelerate our medical and consumer business units whilst preparing accordingly for cannabis legalization in Germany,” Hänsel said in a statement, as quoted by Tech Funding News.

According to Max Narr, the chief investment officer for Sanity Group, the “financing round is not only the largest funding round achieved by a European cannabis company to date, but also one of the few upsizing rounds in this current economic phase of the German startup scene.”

Hänsel told Bloomberg that Sanity has attracted “strong interest, not only from tobacco, but also from other industries like fast-moving consumer companies.”

He also said that the German government is “working actively on [the new marijuana law] and really want to come to a good draft of the law by the end of this year.”

“This is really a priority topic for the government,” he said.

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House of Kush to Go Global with Clever Leaves, Bringing Classic Strains to the Masses

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Classic genetics such as Bubba Kush Pre-98 and OG Kush varieties will be available on a global scale, as two powerhouses team up. On September 21, Colombia-based multinational juggernaut Clever Leaves announced a partnership with legacy brand House of Kush, to be the exclusive grower and distributor of genetics globally.

Clever Leaves will produce genetics for House of Kush—thus expanding their reach outside of the United States and Canada.

Clever Leaves will cultivate House of Kush’s genetics at facilities in Colombia and Portugal over the course of the next three years. Clever Leaves’ footprint is global with smokable flower already being sold in Germany, Israel, and Australia.

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Clever Leaves will produce House of Kush’s signature strain—Bubba Kush Pre-98—as well as other classics such as San Fernando Valley OG Kush. Different theories abound, but Bubba Kush appeared on the market in the ‘90s, noted by its sedative effects. People have turned to it to help with pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

The scale is massive: In Colombia, Clever Leaves boasts 18 hectares (44.4 acres) of cultivation. More importantly though, the company holds European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (EU GMP) Certification, a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Certification by Colombia National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute – Invima, and Good Agricultural and Collecting Practices (GACP) Certification.

In Portugal, Clever Leaves operates on about nine million square feet of land, with 260,000 square feet of greenhouse facilities. They also have regulatory privilege there with a license from INFARMED I.P., the Portuguese pharmaceutical regulatory authority, with (EU-GMP) certification and are (GACP) certified.

Courtesy House of Kush

House of Kush Genetics

The partnership will deliver House of Kush’s genetics to a wider market. “Going international was really a big step,” says House of Kush co-founder and Chief Sales Officer Steve Gardner. “Clever Leaves do such good work. And we’ve been so impressed with them. And we’ve really been working on this deal for almost a year. But when you get plugged in with a group like that, that can take you all over the place.” Gardner’s roles as serial entrepreneur, advisor, investor in sports and entertainment date back 30 years.

“I would echo that sentiment and also just bring in the point that other countries are more quickly adopting and having more open, flexible laws than what we’re experiencing currently in the U.S.,” says House of Kush co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Reggie Harris. “So having the opportunity to get there early in our growth strategy not only helps us improve our status as a U.S. company, but everybody’s in the game to be able to spread that knowledge and the product and be able to get out there. So [it’s as much of an] exposure type thing as it is a financial benefit as well, that the two kind of go together. It’s not one without the other.” Harris’ background as a senior executive in sports and entertainment goes back two decades.

“Our first introduction to Bubba Kush was actually through Matt Bubba Berger, who was one of the original cultivators, and obviously Bubba Kush was part of that founding group that came up with OG Kush as well,” Harris adds. “And I was looking at it and reached out to Steve [Gardner] and said, ‘You know, I got this interesting call, product opportunity. Let’s go sit down and talk about it.’”

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Protecting those genetics is another story. While House of Kush has explored blockchain technology and other ways of protecting their genetics, continuing to develop their reputation as a brand is more valuable.

“The biggest protection for us is quality assurance,” Harris adds. “We’ve created a kush certified program, to where we go through and we tell people, these are the recommended ways of growing the genetics, this is the proper way, the proper soil, the proper water, all that type of stuff, because we know ultimately, right now, federally, we can’t protect it, it’s going to be some somebody could take it, we will lose more money trying to defend it, then we will just go on out being better than they are. So we spent a lot of time just trying to have the great genetics and the great SOPs around that to make sure that it comes out right on the other side and up to our standard.”

Gustavo Escobar / Courtesy Clever Leaves

Regulatory Perks of Going International

Clever Leaves’ footprint is all over the globe, but each facility has a distinctive purpose. “We have two facilities, one in Colombia, one in Portugal,” says Julián Wilches, co-founder and Chief Regulatory Officer of Clever Leaves. “The Portugal facility is focused on flower. And in Colombia, the Colombian facility has been focused on extracts, raw materials, and finished products such as oils. Now, we have the opportunity, also of exporting flower from Colombia, which is something that we plan to do in the coming months. But now it is very important for us and we’re going to have access to additional genetics.”

One of Clever Leaves’ advantages is holding certifications in Europe. But one of the keys to growth is expanding internationally to improve chances of success.

“If you cultivate in the U.S., you cannot export it, because of the federal prohibition in the U.S.,” says Gustavo Escobar, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Clever Leaves. “So the fact that we can cultivate in Colombia and export it for medicinal purposes, opens the global market. We’re focused on four markets in addition to the U.S.: Australia, Israel, Germany, and Brazil. In Brazil, we cannot sell flower. So I would say three markets for flower: Israel, Australia, and Germany. But there are additional markets like Portugal and Italy, U.K., Ireland, most likely France, and Spain. Now we have Thailand. So the world is moving towards medicine and medicinal legalization.”

The partnership benefits both companies in ways that were not possible before.

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“Working together, you can do better things,” Wilches adds. “So partnering with people with good genetics, and having the capabilities that were described—that will give us a better opportunity of success in those markets. So we believe in partnerships and we believe in working together and creating long-term relationships for being in the market in the long term with really high quality and good product.”



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