Indictment Charges Russian Oligarch with Plot to Bribe and Obtain Cannabis License in Nevada

A whirlwind of conspiracy stretching across several states indicates a plot to alter elections and illegally obtain cannabis licenses in Nevada and other locations.

According to an indictment, which was unsealed for the public by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York on March 14, a Russian oligarch colluded with American officials to allegedly score a cannabis license illegally in Nevada. According to federal prosecutors, the actions amount to illegal political campaign contributions.

Andrey Muraviev—who happens to be a Russian oligarch—was charged with violating federal campaign finance laws in 2018. Muraviev is accused of illegally funneling donations to former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt—with the perk of winning an adult-use cannabis business license in Nevada. Laxalt has been accused of bribery before.

The news arrives at a time when businesses of all types are cutting ties with Russian oligarchs, albeit for a different reason, as the Ukraine conflict brews up.

Muraviev is charged with conspiring with Lev Parnas, Ukrainian-born Andrey Kukushkin and Igor Fruman and others—all of whom were convicted at trial or have pleaded guilty to related crimes. 

The five are charged with concocting a plot to get $1 million from Muraviev, and then give donations to political campaigns to back-scratch political candidates who could in turn pull strings to help Muraviev and co-conspirators obtain licenses.

A representative of the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) told High Times that they just discussed this particular issue at a recent board meeting that took place last December. “Muraviev was a lender and creditor, and it is the Board’s responsibility to know where funds go,” Chair Dennis Neilander said at a December 14 Cannabis Compliance Board meeting. “In this case, the funds came from an individual who is known to have associated with some other individuals that committed serious crimes.” Most members of the Board agreed.

Miami Herald reports that the plot involved securing cannabis licenses in several states, but it ultimately fizzled out after Parnas and Fruman and two other associates failed to submit the required paperwork on time to obtain licenses in Nevada and elsewhere.

Muraviev gained wealth as the CEO of a Russian cement company and through his holdings in the Russian online payment company QIWI. He had already invested in several California-based cannabis operations before he connected with Parnas and Fruman.

Muraviev is believed to be in Russia and remains at large, prosecutors said.

https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/press-release/file/1483151/download

Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced the unsealing in a press release.

“As alleged, Andrey Muraviev, a Russian national, attempted to influence the 2018 elections by conspiring to push a million dollars of his foreign funds to candidates and campaigns,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. “He attempted to corrupt our political system to advance his business interests. The Southern District of New York is committed to rooting out efforts by foreigners to interfere with our elections.”

The actions show that federal prosecutors will not tolerate illegal donations that are intended to alter elections.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll agreed, saying “as alleged, Muraviev, a Russian foreign national, made illegal political contributions and conspired with Parnas, Kukushkin and Fruman to obscure their true source. The money Muraviev injected into our political system, as alleged, was directed to politicians with views favorable to his business interests and those of his co-conspirators. As today’s action demonstrates, we will continue to aggressively pursue all those who seek to illegally affect our nation’s elections.”

The Nevada Independent reports that Parnas was found guilty last October on six counts related to funneling money into U.S. campaigns, and Laxalt testified at the trial, saying Parnas promised to hold a fundraiser that never took place. 

Fruman pleaded guilty to illegal foreign campaign contributions in September last year.

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Source: Hightimes

Judge Clears Florida Doctor Accused of Medical Cannabis Fraud

A doctor in Florida who was accused by the state of failing to conduct adequate evaluations of patients before ordering them medical cannabis prescriptions was cleared by a judge on Wednesday.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that an administrative judge ruled that Joseph Dorn, a Tallahassee physician, “didn’t do anything wrong” when he was the subject of a pair of undercover investigations.

Last month, the state’s Department of Health proposed a number of harsh penalties against Dorn in its written recommendation to Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins: a permanent ban from ordering medical cannabis for patients, a $10,000 fine, and a five-year suspension of Dorn’s medical license.

But on Wednesday, per the Tampa Bay Times, Watkins “issued an order recommending that the complaint against the doctor be dismissed, saying that health officials ‘failed to present competent substantial evidence in this case establishing … that Dr. Dorn acted, or failed to act, in any manner to defraud or trick any patient, or that any patient was actually defrauded or tricked.’”

The accusations against Dorn, who boasts three decades of experience practicing medicine in Florida, stem from his interactions with two different undercover patients, referred to as “Patient O.G.” and “Patient B.D” in the state’s complaint against the doctor.

The Department of Health said Dorn failed to conduct physical examinations of “Patient O.G.” and “Patient B.D,” as the News Service of Florida reported last month, and even went as far as accusing Dorn of using a “trick or scheme” in his practice.

“Instead of recognizing this responsibility, respondent (Dorn) used his designation as a qualified physician to liberally qualify patients to receive medical marijuana by only performing perfunctory consultations and ignoring many of the requirements imposed by the legislature,” attorneys for the Department of Health wrote in their recommendation to the judge last month.

But on Wednesday, Watkins said that the state lacked the evidence necessary to back those claims.

“The evidence of record undermines DOH’s argument that Dr. Dorn’s practice is nothing more than an ‘open gate’ to medical marijuana. In the case of both O.G. and B.D. (and presumably the other 28 patients examined), Dr. Dorn conducted a detailed and thorough assessment of the patient’s condition prior to prescribing medical marijuana,” Watkins wrote, as quoted by the Tampa Bay Times. “Furthermore, the preponderance of the competent substantial evidence in this case demonstrates that Dr. Dorn performed a meaningful review of O.G. and B.D.’s medical history and symptoms, identified and discussed their qualifying stressors, and noted the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms being experienced by each.”

The ruling amounts to vindication for Dorn, whose attorney, Ryan Andrews, said last month that the state “offered no evidence whatsoever to support its allegation,” and that the Department of Health “does not know what the health benefits or risks are of medical marijuana.”

On Wednesday, the Times reported that Andrews “threatened to take legal action against the health department and officials involved in the complaint against his client.”

“This action didn’t sound in good faith and now it’s our turn to seek justice and right this wrong against everyone involved. This entire action against Dr. Dorn is an embarrassment and disservice to the state of Florida. Dr. Dorn is excited to continue treating patients without these baseless and harmful accusations hanging over his head,” Andrews said in a statement.

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Source: Hightimes

Kentucky House Passes Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill

The Kentucky House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to legalize medical cannabis, only one week after the proposal was advanced by a key legislative committee. The measure, House Bill 136, was passed by the House with a vote of 59-34 and will now head to the state Senate for consideration. A similar bill was passed by the House in 2020 but failed to gain a hearing in the state legislature’s upper chamber.

Under the measure from Republican Representative Jason Nemes, patients with one or more specified medical conditions including any type of cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and nausea would be able to receive a recommendation to use cannabis medicinally. The legislation also establishes a regulatory framework to govern medical cannabis cultivators, processors, dispensaries, and testing laboratories.

On March 10, House Bill 136 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 15-1. In a hearing prior to the vote, Nemes said that the measure would help sick people. He also noted that he is not in favor of legalizing recreational pot and was once opposed to legalizing medical cannabis. But after talking to patients and experts, he has changed his stance on the matter.

“I’ll never forget this mother leaning forward and touching my hand. She told me what it meant to her child, and they all went around the room and said what it meant to them,” Nemes told the members of the committee. “And I thought, here’s good people, real good people, and I disagree with them. So, I was starting to question it. I talked to physicians, did a lot of research on the issue.”

Bill Passed After Emotional Debate

Prior to Thursday’s vote, members of the House discussed the bill in a sometimes emotional debate. Representative Al Gentry, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that he has personal experience with patients who have successfully used cannabis medicinally.

“I know real people that had their lives turned around by these products, and a lot of them are living in the closet or living in secrecy because they feel like they’re a criminal,” he said, as quoted by the McDowell News.

“Please, let’s pass this and allow some people to move on and live a happy life,” Gentry added.

The bill would establish four types of regulated medical weed businesses including cannabis farmers, processors, dispensaries, and safety testers. During Thursday’s debate, Nemes stressed to his colleagues that the legislation would create a new local economy for the Bluegrass State, saying the venture would be “Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky tested.”

Opponents of the bill expressed fears that permitting medical cannabis in Kentucky will lead to the legalization of recreational cannabis and public health problems, with some referencing the thoroughly debunked “gateway drug” theory. Republican Representative Chris Fugate took hyperbolic reefer madness to a new level, saying that the “common denominator of 99.9 percent of the drug addiction problem in America started with marijuana.”

“I didn’t come to Frankfort for liquor, for gambling, or for marijuana,” Fugate added. “I came here to stand against it.”

“We are asking as a body to go on emotion rather than a legal standpoint,” said Representative Matt Lockett, who voted against the bill. “Our federal government has said that marijuana is against the law.”

Bill Gets Support of Key Senator

Earlier this month, House Bill 136 gained the support of Senator Whitney Westerfield, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair. Although he expressed concerns over the possible recreational use of cannabis by young people, Westerfield said in a social media post that he would support the legislation.

“I also have concerns about the precedent we’re setting by ignoring federal law,” Westerfield wrote in a statement on Twitter. “However, I’ve heard too many stories, in my district and out, from those long suffering and their loved ones left behind, that marijuana brought comfort and relief when nothing else worked.”

Nemes told reporters that receiving Westerfield’s support improves the bill’s chances of getting a vote from the full Senate.

“It will go over to the Senate, it will be assigned to his committee and when you have the chairman in support that’s massive and so that’s why Whitney’s support is a game-changer,” Nemes said.

Unlike the last time the Kentucky House approved a medical pot legalization bill, House Bill 136 is expected to be scheduled for a hearing in the state Senate with Westerfield on board. Nemes is hopeful the measure will fare better this year.

“I don’t know what the numbers are exactly in the Senate, but I have been meeting with senators one on one and I feel really strong about the chances when we go over to the Senate,” Nemes said earlier this month.

If the bill is successful in the Kentucky Senate, it will head to the desk of Republican Governor Andy Beshear, who has expressed support for medical cannabis legalization.

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Source: Hightimes

Report States That Cannabis Legalization Has Not Increased Youth Consumption

A policy paper entitled, “Addressing Youth and Cannabis: Solutions to combat and prevent youth misuse through a federal regulatory system” was released by CPEAR on March 16, and reviews data regarding how youth cannabis consumption hasn’t increased since legalization began. The report was also presented during CPEAR’s roundtable event held on March 17, featuring Senator John Hickenlooper, CPEAR Co-Chair Greg Walden and more.

CPEAR Executive Director Andrew Freedman shared in a press release that this report will serve as a guide for community youth prevention and an inspiration for legislators to enact prevention regulations. “Over 100 million Americans live in a state with legalized, adult-use cannabis—but what we should consider is what that means for our nation’s youth,” said Freedman. “This research highlights how preventing youth from using cannabis requires local communities and stakeholders to be at the forefront of this effort. It further outlines the need for congressional action to build a federal cannabis framework rooted in data, correct the current patchwork of cannabis laws, and build preventative measures into place to protect America’s youth from cannabis misuse.”

One of the main topics that the report explores is that youth consumption either “decreases or remains flat in regulated markets.” In reviewing data on consumption of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, the results were fairly steady. “State legalization of cannabis has not, on average impacted the prevalence of cannabis use among adolescents,” the report states. “In other words, states with medical and/or adult use laws are not seeing larger increases in adolescent use relative to states where use remains illegal.” A Monitoring the Future graph shows a dramatic drop in consumption for 12th graders between 1975 and the 1990s (8th and 10th grade data was not collected at that time). All three grades dropped in 2020, most likely due to lack of availability or access to cannabis during the pandemic.

The report also shares that a combination of early prevention methods can continue to see a decrease in youth consumption as well, listing afterschool programs or school prevention programs, counseling opportunities, community initiatives and digital interventions. “The most successful public education campaign to date is the ‘Good to Know’ program that originated in Colorado, which provides evidence-based educational statements about laws and potential health effects of cannabis use in a judgement-free fashion,” the report shared. “A research study found that the campaign not only increased awareness, but significantly increased perceptions of risk associated with CUD, driving under the influence of cannabis, and negative cognitive outcomes associated with cannabis use.” It also proposes that an increase in youth-specific legislation would affect youth consumption rates, especially if more attention was paid to marketing and advertising.

Finally, the report also stated that if illicit cannabis sales were targeted, youth cannabis access would also decrease. “The legal cannabis market increases the availability of high-potency products, which have been associated with an increased risk of psychosis and CUD for some. However, unlike the tobacco and alcohol industries, there remains a pervasive illicit cannabis market that can easily provide youth with access to cannabis,” the report reads. “Cannabis purchased illicitly is more likely to contain contaminants, including other illicit substances relative to products available in a regulated market. Therefore, increased vigilance of legal sales of high-potency products may best balance reducing risks of youth cannabis-related harms.”

CPEAR launched on March 11, 2021 and has acquired member support from tobacco and alcohol companies, such as Altria Client Services, Constellation Brands, Inc., Molson Coors Beverage Company. Many other studies have found the same observations regarding youth cannabis consumption, such as one that was published in the journal Substance Abuse in March 2021 or another published in The American Journal of Public Health in August 2020.

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Source: Hightimes

New Jersey Gets More Than 170 Cannabis Dispensary Applications On First Day

New Jersey began accepting applications on Tuesday from individuals hoping to get in on the ground floor of the state’s coming recreational cannabis industry. By day’s end, state regulators had attracted plenty of interest.

NJ.com reported that the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission said that by 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, it had received 172 applications from individuals interested in opening a cannabis retail store.

“Today is the day where the CRC (Cannabis Regulatory Commission) portal opens and applicants who wish to apply for a retail license to sell cannabis … are allowed to do so,” said Michael DeLoreto, a director at Gibbons’ Government and Regulatory Affairs Department, as quoted by NJ.com. “This is a day that a lot of businesses have been waiting for.”

New Jersey voters legalized recreational adult-use cannabis in 2020 when they approved a ballot measure (three other states –– Montana, Arizona and South Dakota –– likewise passed legalization proposals at the ballot that year).

In December, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission began accepting applications for recreational cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and testing labs. The commission said that by early afternoon on the first day of the application period, “the application platform was averaging 155 new users per hour.”

Within the first four hours, the commission said that it had received applications from nearly 500 individuals.

“We are happy to reach this milestone,” Jeff Brown, executive director of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, said at the time. “Applications are coming in, the platform is performing well, and we can officially mark the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis industry. Getting cultivators, manufacturers, and testing labs licensed and operating will set the framework and establish supply for retailers who will start licensing in March 2022.”

Late last month, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said that he believed adult-use sales would begin “within weeks.”

“If I had to predict, we are within weeks—I would hope in March—you would see implicit movement on the medical dispensaries, some of them being able to sell recreational,” Murphy said at the time. “They’ve got to prove they’ve got the supply for their medical customers. I hope shortly thereafter, the standalone recreational marijuana operators.”

Along those lines, NJ.com reported that Tuesday “also marked the day when the state panel expected to finish reviewing applications from eight of about [a] dozen alternative treatment centers that sell medical marijuana and are looking to the expand to the recreational market.”

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission has said that it is prioritizing applications from “designated target communities, for people with cannabis convictions (expunged or not), and for minorities, women, and disabled veterans.”

The three groups that will receive priority consideration from the commission are “minority-owned, woman-owned, or disabled veteran-owned,” businesses “owned by people who have lived in an Economically Disadvantaged Area of the state, or who have convictions for cannabis-related offenses (expunged or not),” and businesses “located in an Impact Zone, owned by people from an Impact Zone, or employing residents of Impact Zones.”

Expanding access to the cannabis industry for disadvantaged groups has become a common feature of recreational laws across the country. New York announced last week that at least 100 of the first licenses for adult-use cannabis retailers in the state will be designated for individuals convicted of a previous cannabis-related offense, or a family member of someone with a cannabis-related offense.

Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board in New York, said last month that the state is trying to “build a supportive ecosystem that allows people to participate no matter their economic background and we want everyone to know they have a real opportunity at a license as well as support so that their businesses will be ongoing enterprises that are successful and have the opportunity for growth.”

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Source: Hightimes

Russia Extends Brittney Griner’s Detention by Two Months

WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner will be held in a Russian prison on charges of possessing cannabis vape cartridges until May, according to information provided by the state media outlet on Thursday. Griner was taken into custody last month at an airport near Moscow after customs officials reportedly found the cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage. The Olympic gold medalist has been detained in Russia since her arrest.

On Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region had ruled to detain Griner for at least two more months as the case is investigated, according to a report from the Daily Mail.

“The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of U.S. citizen Griner’s detention until May 19,” the court ruled.

Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center and has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team twice.

Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for Phoenix. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.

WNBA Star Arrested Last Month

The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. Griner was not identified by name and the date of the arrest was not specified. The customs service also released a video that appears to depict Griner making her way through an airport security checkpoint.

TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February. After news of the arrest broke, the WNBA and the players’ union expressed support for the star player.

“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league said in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.

TASS reported on Thursday that Griner is being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights watchdog group Public Monitoring Commission, a semi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.

Kalugina further reported that Griner has accepted her detention and was being held in a cell with two other women with no prior convictions who are also being held on drug-related charges. Griner’s only issue, she said, was that the prison’s beds are too small for the 6’9” basketball star.

“The beds in the cell are clearly designed for a shorter person,” Kalugina told TASS.

The human rights worker also said that U.S. authorities have not yet visited Griner in Russia, which invaded its neighbor Ukraine on February 24, plunging the region into a humanitarian and diplomatic crisis.

“In addition, for an unknown reason, the U.S. consul does not come to [see Griner], although the administration of the pre-trial detention center is ready to create all conditions for a visit,” TASS quoted Kalugina as saying.

Griner’s time in custody is being made easier by the women being held with her, the report continued.

“[Griner’s cellmates] also had no previous convictions and are charged with drug-related [offenses],” said Kalugina. “They speak English and help Griner communicate with the prison administration.”

“They helped her order books: she reads F. M. Dostoevsky and [a] biography of the members of the Rolling Stones,” she continued.

Uproar Over Griner’s Arrest

Griner’s arrest has led to an outcry from politicians and celebrities around the globe. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the basketball star’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into the circumstances of Griner’s arrest.

“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”

American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian was detained in Tehran by the Iranian government in 2014 and held in a notorious prison for 544 days, finally being released in 2016. He said that he sees similarities in his case and Griner’s.

“It’s the most audacious hostage taking by a state imaginable,” Rezaian told CNN. “I know from my own case that the supposed charges against me were not based in anything like reality, and they were used to perpetuate a narrative about why I was being held.”

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Source: Hightimes

Montana Supreme Court OKs Temporary Rules For Cannabis Expungement

The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday issued temporary rules related to expungement procedures for individuals previously convicted for a pot-related offense.

As reported by local television station KPAX, the new adult-use recreational cannabis law in Montana “says anyone convicted of an offense that would now be legal in the state can petition to have their conviction removed from their record, get a lesser sentence for it or reclassify it to a lesser offense.”

On Tuesday, per Montana Public Radio, the high court “approved temporary rules that outline procedures for expunging or revising marijuana-related convictions.”

Those temporary rules “are effective upon approval and adoption by the Montana Supreme Court,” the state said, adding that they will remain in effect until “a marijuana conviction court is created as authorized by the [Montana Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act].”

KPAX, citing a state court administrator, reported that “the biggest clarification [the state] wanted to make was letting people know they could submit their expungement request to the court where they were originally sentenced.”

The administrator said there “had been some confusion because of a separate expungement procedure for misdemeanors that requires all defendants to go through district courts.”

Montana voters passed a legalization initiative in the 2020 election, and the new law took effect last summer when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 701 to implement the new adult-use cannabis program.

Gianforte said he was particularly impressed with the HEART Fund, which will use revenue from the recreational pot program to fund substance abuse treatment.

“From the start, I’ve been clear that we need to bring more resources to bear to combat the drug epidemic that’s devastating our communities,” Gianforte said after signing the legislation. “Funding a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs for communities, the HEART Fund will offer new support to Montanans who want to get clean, sober and healthy.”

Recreational pot sales began in January, and the state raked in $1.5 million in weed sales on its opening weekend. By the end of the opening month, recreational pot sales had generated almost $12.9 million in Montana.

Kristan Barbour, an administrator with the revenue department’s Cannabis Control Division, said in January that the “rollout of the adult-use program went off without any issues from the department’s supported IT systems.”

“We were able to successfully verify with (the) industry that our licensing and seed to sales systems were working on Friday to ensure a successful launch on Saturday, January 1, 2022. The successful launch was a result of staff’s hard work and planning over the past six month to meet the challenges of implementing HB 701,” Barbour told the Independent Record at the time.

But the expungement process has seen a few hiccups since the law began. A report from the Associated Press in January noted that while some lawyers in Montana have said that “expungement cases have sailed through the courts and that the process has been accessible,” others say “expungement petitions are still facing a roadblock: stigma against cannabis that lingers in some of the state’s district courts.”

According to the AP, the new cannabis laws in the state “tell judges hearing expungement petitions that they must presume the case qualifies unless a prosecutor can raise a legitimate issue against it,” and that the “entire proceeding may include a hearing, but state law doesn’t require one to obtain an expungement.”

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Source: Hightimes