December 2018

Louisiana is trying to keep medical marijuana medical. It’s harder than it sounds

Baton Rouge (CNN Business)Ramsey Castleberry, 8, is what is known in autism circles as a “runner.”

“Every day you have to open up your cabinet and see something called ‘amphetamines’ and give them to your child,” says their mother, Katelyn Castleberry, looking at a shelf full of pill bottles. “The shock never wears off.”
Castleberry wants to do everything she can to help her boys have normal childhoods. But there’s one promising remedy she hasn’t been able to try: marijuana.
Unlike in most states, it’s technically legal for use as a therapy for autistic children in Louisiana. It’s just not available yet, and because of the thicket of rules the state legislature imposed to keep marijuana as medical as possible, Castleberry worries it never will be.
As state after state across America has moved to legalize marijuana for recreational as well as medical use — or medical use with such liberal rules that almost anyone qualifies — conservative Louisiana set out to make sure it’s used only for the conditions spelled out in its laws, and for research in a tightly controlled setting.
Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of medical marijuana access law, though not all of them have set up programs to implement them yet. If Louisiana succeeds, it could light the way for other conservative states that want marijuana’s therapeutic benefits — especially as a relatively non-addictive alternative to the opioids that have wreaked such havoc in communities across the country — but don’t want adults getting high just for fun.
In an effort to keep tight control over the marijuana industry, Louisiana has limited production to just two state universities, which makes the supply chain highly vulnerable to disruptions. Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says that in itself sets the program up for failure.
“Louisiana seems to be an example of how to over regulate the product,” Armentano says. “The program is not in the best interests of many of the patients it’s designed to serve.”
Washington isn’t helping matters. The Department of Justice in January rescinded an Obama-era policy that had eased the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where use had been deemed legal. Once again, federal prosecutors can decide how to go after people for the possession, sale or cultivation of marijuana. With cannabis still considered a Schedule 1 substance, the federal government also rarely funds research on it, the Food and Drug Administration won’t approve most drugs derived from it, and hospitals fear losing federal dollars if they even let it in the door.
    Other potential pitfalls for the program include limitations on the forms and potency the medication can take to a lack of clarity on whether physicians who recommend the drug will be punished for doing so. Because of testing and inspection delays, the first vials of tetrahydrocannabinol solution, or THC, that are approved for medical use won’t be on shelves until late January, and even then will be limited to the highest-need patients until more supply is available.
    Every once in a while, Castleberry thinks about moving to one of the seven states where parents can currently get medical marijuana for their autistic children. Instead, she’s been devoting her spare time to advocating for broadening access to the drug in Louisiana. But it’s a wrenching choice.
    “Do I stay in the place I love with my family and make where I live a better place?” she asks. “Or do I go to a place that will allow my sons to live?”

    A long slog toward making medicine

    Technically, some Louisiana patients have been legally entitled to marijuana for decades.
    The state first allowed cannabis back in 1978 for use by glaucoma and cancer patients. In 1991, they added spastic quadriplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. But the health department never set a system for production and distribution, mired in deep misgivings about a drug that meanwhile had sent thousands to prison.
    That finally changed with the Alison Neustrom Act of 2015, named after a 42-year-old pancreatic cancer patient who made legalization her dying wish.
    At the time, other states were designing their rules such that a diagnosis for back pain or trouble sleeping could get you virtually any type of cannabis in any amount from a shop down the street. Fred Mills, the Republican pharmacist who designed the new law, initially favored a more free-market system. But he soon learned that he’d have to go the other direction.
      “I could tell that the law enforcement community was so against the bill that I had to make it a lot more conservative,” says Mills. “It was worth it to at least see the program develop.”
      To do that, Louisiana came up with something unique: It granted a total monopoly over marijuana production to two public universities, Louisiana State University and Southern University, an historically black college in Baton Rouge. Both of them contracted with private companies to build and operate grow facilities, in partnership with academic researchers who would study the plants.
      In theory, that puts Louisiana — and the two companies with exclusive licenses — in an excellent position to develop a repository of proprietary therapeutic compounds that could prove lucrative if the drug were ever legalized on a national level.
      “Everyone from the United States is going to come to us to get these genetics,” says John Davis, president of the Louisiana division of GB Sciences, the Las Vegas-based company that won LSU’s contract.
      LSU is already very good at working with plants. Its agriculture department has for decades done research on cash crops like rice and sweet potatoes, and reaped financial rewards from licensing patents they obtained for different strains.
      That income is especially important after a decade of state budget cuts slashed funding for higher education in half. So when the prospect of doing the same thing for marijuana came up at the legislature, LSU jumped at the chance.
      “That’s where we see the benefit to the university long-term,” says Ashley Mullens, LSU’s coordinator for the marijuana program. “That’s why we decided to take this chance.”
        Agricultural research on rice, however, is a lot different from weed. For one thing, federal rules require all marijuana for research to come from a facility at the University of Mississippi, which since 1968 has had a sole-source contract with federal drug regulators to produce it. But researchers have long complained that it’s low-quality and doesn’t represent the varieties now available commercially.
        That’s why Louisiana’s program carries such promise — but also risk. They’re working around the prohibition, resting on assurances from federal prosecutors that state-sanctioned marijuana programs are not on their list of priorities. “We’re committed to operating under regulations established by state statutes,” says Hampton Grunewald, LSU AgCenter’s associate vice president for government relations.
        Because of elaborate security requirements imposed by regulators, the grow facility in an industrial park in South Baton Rouge looks like a cross between a biopharmaceutical lab and a prison.
        Along with the usual glass-walled rooms and whiteboards of a scientific research facility, there’s also a wall of televisions with feeds covering every inch of the building, a room in between the front door and the entrance that will catch any intruder, key card access to every room, and security guards on site 24/7.
        The plants themselves are grown on long tables in individually climate-controlled rooms, in a special nutrient mixture, irrigated with water that’s been fed through a reverse osmosis system to remove any impurities. Any visitors will wear full-body Tyvek suits In order to keep them sterile and free of contaminants. The goal: Make them as uniform as possible, to create compounds that are exactly the same every time.
        “Our approach has been to capture different varieties of cannabis and grow them in a way that any time you go to a pharmacy, it’s identical,” says Andrea Small-Howard, GB Sciences’ chief science officer. “It’s like you go to a pharmacy and pick up Advil or Tylenol or Aleve.”
        But that costs money. Lots of money.
        GB Sciences, which is a public companywith shares that are traded over the counter, made big promises: Investing $6.5 million in a grow facility, providing at least half a million dollars in research funding annually, and cutting the university in on 10% of its gross revenues, which with an estimated market of 60,000 to 100,000 eligible patients, could be substantial. Proceeds from any intellectual property that comes out of the partnership will be split 50-50.
          GB Sciences’ own future depends on that bet paying off. Although the company has been producing cannabis products for the recreational market in Nevada to generate revenue, it posted a net loss of $23 million in fiscal year 2018, and has been saying publicly that a successful patent could make it into a multi-billion dollar business.
          Winning the LSU contract was a big boost to GB Sciences’ credibility, and it gives them something few if any U.S.-based cannabis companies have at this point: The ability to do research in partnership with a university on marijuana grown in-house, rather than on the stuff that comes from Ole Miss.
          But unless and until those patents are granted, the medicine GB Sciences produces in Louisiana will have to start paying for itself — and the prolonged rollout has created huge pressures on the company to keep it affordable, especially since insurance doesn’t cover marijuana products and patients will have to pay out of pocket. Davis declined to provide pricing information, saying that it is a “very sensitive issue in this biopharmaceutical industry,” and promised that the cost would be on par with other states.
          But that’s only wholesale. The nine licensed pharmacy operators also have to recoup millions of dollars spent going through the arduous application process and building whole new buildings to house their marijuana operations. They have almost as much mandated security as the grow facilities, including a safe for cash that must be bolted to the ground.
          “The pharmacy will have no choice but to double the price,” says Randy Mire, a pharmacist who won the license for the Baton Rouge area.
          To make matters worse, the one institution that’s supposed to provide a check on GB Sciences’ pricing power — Southern University — has lagged far behind schedule.
          The school awarded its contract to a brand-new company called Advanced Biomedics, funded by a local racehorse trainer named Carol Castille who promised to invest between $6 million and $10 million in the new facility. But a legal dispute between him and an investor delayed the start of the program by months, and the company never actually hired the experienced team of researchers they had originally advertised.
          In November, another company bought out Advanced Biomedics, meaning that the program will essentially start from scratch.
          All of this has patients and their advocates worried that the supply of marijuana could be interrupted if GB Sciences has manufacturing problems or goes bankrupt, and in any case might be prohibitively expensive for all but the very wealthy, while the poor are forced out on to the vibrant but unregulated black market.
          “If there is only one producer, how much availability will we have for patients?” asks Kevin Caldwell, president of CommonsenseNOLA, a group that advocates for marijuana legalization. “And at what cost?”

          Who will prescribe it?

          Even if you get the marijuana supply flowing, someone has to prescribe it. And in Louisiana, that’s proving to be another bottleneck.
          Other states have shielded physicians by allowing them to essentially write blank prescriptions saying that the patient has a qualifying condition under state law, leaving the dosage up to the pharmacist or the patient, and no physicians have yet been prosecuted for doing so. But Louisiana wanted to keep that control over dosing in the hands of the physicians, which leaves them potentially more vulnerable to legal scrutiny.
          To make matters even more perilous for the half of the state’s doctors who work for hospitals, most of their employers have not taken a stand on whether it’s ok to prescribe marijuana, for use inside or outside the hospital. Ochsner Health System, for example, said only that the issue was “extremely complex.”
          “In the interest of our patients and providers, Ochsner Health System is carefully considering all of the factors and continues to monitor discussions as more information becomes available,” it said in a statement.
          Physicians have to do an online course to get certified to prescribe marijuana, and to date, only 68 physicians in the entire state have done so. The state’s medical community hasn’t exactly been encouraging: The Louisiana State Medical Society didn’t support the 2015 legislation, citing a “lack of science-based evidence that shows it’s an effective treatment option, or safe, for patients.”
          There is substantial evidence on certain conditions like chronic pain, spasticity and multiple sclerosis, according to a comprehensive 2017 overview by the National Academies. The pace of research has accelerated in recent years, a review published in the journal Population Health Management found, with an increase in research on children and the elderly over the past five years.
          John Vanchiere, a Shreveport physician who is the president of the state’s chapter of the American Association of Pediatrics, remains skeptical of the entire project. He advocated for a requirement that doctors writing marijuana recommendations for autistic children consult with a pediatric sub-specialist, creating an additional barrier to access that regulators are still working to fully define.
          “Why would a physician wade into those waters with what the legislature believes will be helpful to children, based on compelling stories?” Vanchiere says. “I’d be surprised if many general pediatricians decide to take this on.”
          To get around the hospital problem, some physicians are forming their own marijuana-specific practices. Kathryn Thomas had built a chain of opioid addiction treatment clinics, which she sold in 2017. When the marijuana option opened up in Louisiana, she decided to open a new type of treatment clinic for people seeking therapeutic marijuana.
          Thomas then found five mostly young doctors employed at other hospitals who wanted to start the practice as a side job, and plans to contract with others. She already has a well-appointed office in Shreveport, with plans to expand to New Orleans as soon as product is available, and 3,000 people who have pre-registered on her website. Many of these people wouldn’t be comfortable asking their primary care physicians for marijuana, she says.
          “At least when you’re coming here, we hope to decrease the stigma, and provide compassionate, respectful care,” Thomas says.
          Another group that depends on physicians stepping up to write recommendations: The nine pharmacists who’ll be dispensing all of the state’s marijuana. They’re not allowed to advertise the product, even so much as creating a Facebook group or a website, so they’ll need doctor referrals.
          Doug Boudreaux is a third-generation pharmacist in Shreveport who decided to pursue a license because of the hospice patients with pain and nausea that no medication has managed to fix. “Imagine throwing up so much that you throw up fecal matter,” he says.
          After spending $200,000 on the application process, he poured another $800,000 into a new pharmacy right across the street from Shreveport’s major hospital cluster. He thinks he can break even within a few years, as long as the number of doctors licensed to recommend marijuana keeps rising.
          “It’s a slow process for them,” Boudreaux says. “But it is going up.”

          How much control is too much?

          Every state that decides to legalize marijuana in any form is making things up as they go along. So in some ways, Louisiana isn’t unusual.
          But currently, without the normal support system around other medicines — big pharmaceutical companies and federal funding to develop drugs, hospitals to administer them, and insurance companies to pay for them — the economics of going an exclusively medical route aren’t great.
          That’s partly why so many states end up legalizing marijuana for recreational use as well. Once that happens, most of the money flows into products that might have some therapeutic effect, but aren’t up to the standards of treating specific diseases. In states like California and Colorado, for example, medical and recreational products aren’t that different.
          “I think Louisiana has a chance to do something I would really appreciate,” says Jacob Irving, a pro-marijuana activist who suffers from spastic quadriplegia. “Which is to have a robust medical system that is so different from a recreational system that the two industries would be able to survive if the state ever does go down that route.”

          Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

          All of this could change, of course, if Congress were to legalize medical marijuana on a national level — a possibility that became slightly less remote with the new Democratic majority in the House and the recent departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had taken a hardline stance toward the drug.
          Andrew Freedman ran Colorado’s marijuana program until last year, and now consults with governments setting up their own systems. He thinks Louisiana’s approach could work, but it would help if the federal government opened up the market for investment in marijuana research, both public and private.
          “I do think that they can be a leader of making medical marijuana medical,” he says. “The truth is, without massive resources behind it, we can’t get the medical research anyway.”

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          ‘I don’t think I look like a stoner’: the women changing the face of the cannabis industry

          US cannabis laws are slackening, and a number of enterprising women are tapping into female interest in the drug through magazines, cooking, health and fashion. Candice Pires reports

          As weeds legal status loosens across the US, the way cannabis is being marketed, sold and celebrated is evolving. An industry that has been dominated by men is finding a female voice in consumers and new business owners. Search #womenofweed on Instagram and youll find a female chef drizzling cannabis oil on to a soup, and a woman relaxing in a rose-petalled bath with a spliff in hand. These are women who are celebrating cannabis as an important part of their lifestyles an aid to their health, as much as their creativity.

          The legality of using cannabis differs from state to state (and within states) in the US. In California, youre able to possess an ounce if youre aged 21 or over. In Indiana, possessing any amount could land you up to 180 days in jail. (In the UK, being caught with cannabis in small doses comes with a fine or warning, but production and supply can lead to a prison sentence.)

          Still, new business opportunities are emerging. There are now yoga retreats, workouts, day spas, parties, conferences all for women who like weed. One female artist is making gold-trimmed porcelain hash pipes that look more sculptural than functional. Whoopi Goldberg has started a line of cannabis products, including body balms and bath soaks, that help with PMT.

          As the weed market continues to grow, women are shifting perceptions of the drug and its users. Stoner stereotypes are being knocked back and women are talking openly about the place weed has in their lives. Ideas of community and equitable access to the industry are held as highly as enjoyment of the leaf. And aesthetic representations are being made through a female lens.

          Anja Charbonneau

          Editor of womens weed magazine Broccoli

          Women see Broccoli as an invitation to communicate about this really private part of their lives: Anja Charbonneau. Photograph: Jules Davies for the Observer

          In Portland, Oregon, a city in one of the nine states to legalise recreational marijuana, Anja Charbonneau recently launched Broccoli (a slang term for the drug). Broccoli looks like a design publication and calls itself a magazine created by and for women who love cannabis. The cover of the first issue featured weed ikebana, where a stylist crafted cannabis leaves according to the rules of the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging. Inside issue two, Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley, speaks about her grandparents legacy. And theres a photo story set in an imaginary cannabis dispensary for cats. Since Broccolis inception, other design-focused cannabis magazines have appeared.

          The idea for Broccoli came from cannabis dispensaries and seeing the little stacks of free magazines. I noticed they were all for men, by men, Charbonneau explains. Last summer she decided to test her idea of creating a weed magazine for women. She began by speaking to other women who enjoyed cannabis, as well as women in the industry, asking if theyd be interested in a magazine aimed at them. I almost didnt have to ask, she says. As I was explaining what I wanted to do, I was met with this resounding, Yes! Please do that, we want it. She got together a couple of ex-colleagues from the slow-living lifestyle magazine Kinfolk: a writer she knew and an editor shed admired online. Because cannabis is so new as a legal industry, it feels like theres this opportunity to make womens voices heard while its being built and thats pretty much never, ever happened with any other industry.

          Charbonneau has been receiving hundreds of messages of support from women sharing stories of their relationships with weed. It seems women felt like they didnt have permission to talk about this really private part of their lives, she says. Theyve seen Broccoli as an invitation to communicate about it, and theyre like, Let me tell you about my life. Its unlocked something.

          Andrea Drummond

          The marijuana chef

          I hope Im bringing some normalcy to cannabis: Andrea Drummond. Photograph: Amanda E Friedman for the Observer

          Andrea Drummonds path into the cannabis industry was rocky. Despite her religious upbringing, she tried cannabis aged 12 or 13, but the experience made her uncomfortable and after getting into a fight with a friend, she ended up doing community service. That made me think that if you smoke marijuana, you end up in jail, she says.

          For the bulk of her adult life, Drummond worked largely in roles advising kids to say no to drugs. But when she moved to California in her mid-30s, she looked at people around her and came to the conclusion that cannabis wasnt the gateway drug it had been touted as. I worked for a successful attorney who was an avid user and I became more open-minded.

          At 37, Drummond decided to follow her passion to become a chef and signed up for Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, later honing her craft at top Los Angeles restaurants and starting her own catering company. One evening, a friend asked her to make him some brownies from leftover cannabis leaves. I took it on as a challenge, Drummond says. It smelled so beautiful and Im not really big on sweets so I thought, This wants to be something else. Drummond made a cannabis butter for bruschetta. It completely enhanced the flavour of the dish, she says. Another friend insisted Drummond needed to sell her creation. That night in 2012, while high on bruschetta, the trio hatched a plan to start a cannabis catering company: Elevation VIP Cooperative.

          After obtaining a medical licence, they were able to serve anyone who held a California State Medical Marijuana ID Card, which werent difficult to acquire, but It wasnt received well, says Drummond. People were afraid and I was begging them to come for dinner at ridiculously low prices, like $30 a head for five courses. But Drummond kept at it, starting a side business in cannabis education to help people understand the plant better. For a while she was homeless and slept in her car. Then, one day, while working on the business from a Starbucks, she received a call from Netflix. They wanted her to cook for a documentary series called Chelsea Does, where host Chelsea Handler would be doing drugs. The exposure led to a flood of enquiries.

          On a personal level, she started using cannabis to treat the sciatica shed developed while working in kitchens. I didnt want to take prescription drugs but there were times I was completely immobile, she says. But as soon as I tried cannabis I knew it was the alternative for me.

          Last year Drummond published a cookery book, Cannabis Cuisine. I hope Im bringing some normalcy to cannabis with it, she says. I dont think I look like a stoner, she adds. Hopefully that helps normalise it, especially for other women.

          Tsion Sunshine Lencho and Amber Senter

          Supernova Women, marijuana advocacy organisation

          The plant can be used to heal our communities: Amber Senter, above right, with Tsion Sunshine Lencho of Supernova. Photograph: Winni Wintermeyer for the Observer

          In Oakland, California, Amber Senter focuses daily on getting other women into the cannabis industry. Her own introduction to weed came via pain relief. As an adult, Senter was diagnosed with lupus, and credits smoking with alleviating sore joints and digestive issues. Her medical condition led her to research the plant extensively and gave her a career in the industry.

          In 2015 Senter was working for a consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs apply for cannabis dispensary and cultivation permits. At a networking event she met Tsion Sunshine Lencho, an African-American, Stanford-educated lawyer who was looking for a job in the industry. Senter recruited Lencho and the two began working closely together. We noticed that the groups that we were writing applications for were all well-funded, all male and very white, she says. This is an industry that was built on the backs of black and brown people. We thought, Man, were gaining all this knowledge and essentially gentrifying our industry.

          The pair decided to start Supernova Women, to help people in the black community get into the cannabis industry. They recruited two other women with existing cannabis-delivery businesses, Nina Parks and Andrea Unsworth, and the four now work in advocacy, education and networking, primarily for women of colour.

          The biggest barrier to the cannabis industry is funding, says Senter. And all the people who know each other with money are white guys. Were teaching women of colour how to raise money and how to be good negotiators. The women we work with are equipped with the skills to run businesses they just dont have the resources or the pathways to money.

          On 1 January 2018, cannabis went from being medically to recreationally legal in California. There is a finite number of dispensary licences available. Supernova is now working with city councils on equity legislation for creating licensing programmes that give priority and assistance to marginalised groups.

          Ultimately, Supernova wants money made from the industry pumped back into the communities its affected. We dont just want people in the community becoming owners we also want to see the money reinvested in social programmes and education, says Senter. The plant can be used to heal our communities, she says, even though its been used to destroy them.

          Harlee Case & Co

          Ladies of Paradise, cannabis creative agency

          We want to help remove the stigma: Harlee Case, above left, with Jade Daniels, both of Ladies of Paradise. Photograph: Evie McShane for the Observer

          Harlee Case started smoking behind her super-religious, strait-laced parents backs when she was 17. She had grown up around cannabis without knowing it. Her small hometown of Central Point in southern Oregon is surrounded by land and perfect cannabis-growing conditions. Now I understand why everyone had these big farms in their back yards, says the 26-year-old, and why people always had cash.

          Case is one third of Ladies of Paradise, a women-in-cannabis blog and creative agency. The collective, which includes co-founder Jade Daniels, 30, and new recruit Leighana Martindale, 23, creates cannabis marketing for the female gaze.

          Case and Daniels met three years ago. Danielss boyfriend was buying a cannabis farm in southern Oregon and the couple moved to work on it. Both Case and Daniels had fashion backgrounds and large online followings through their Instagram shops, which led them to collaborate on photography and styling.

          Last autumn, working the harvest season on the farm and burnt out from their online work, they decided they wanted to redirect peoples eyes to the cannabis industry in a female-driven way, says Case. Our first idea was to spotlight women working in the industry by interviewing them about what theyre doing and styling them in a unique way. They took Danielss online jewellery shop, Ladies of Paradise, and set it off in a new direction. It felt risky and we lost a few followers, but most people were really up for it, says Daniels.

          Having recruited Martindale, who had been managing a cannabis dispensary, the trio now work with small cannabis brands that want to bring a female perspective to their photography, styling and events. When a vape pen company approached the women for a revamp of their Instagram feed, the first thing Case decided had to go were the bong girls. Theyre all over the internet, she explains. Case, whos a photographer, likes to feature different types of women. Its about women being women. When we do boudoir stuff, its for us. Not men.

          They are keen to broaden the appeal of cannabis among more women. Ideally, if youre my mum and youve never smoked cannabis, seeing a photo of a woman your age with a joint might make it seem less intimidating, says Case. We want to help remove the stigma.

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          Cannabis becomes legal in Canada

          Country becomes second and largest with legal national marijuana marketplace

          The Canadian government is ready to pardon those with a cannabis possession record of 30 grams or less as the country becomes the worlds second and largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace.

          A federal official said Canada would pardon people with convictions for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana, the new legal threshold, with a formal announcement due later on Wednesday.

          The use of medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001 and Justin Trudeaus government has spent two years working toward expanding that to include recreational marijuana. The goal is to better reflect societys changing opinion about marijuana and bring black market operators into a regulated system.

          Uruguay was the first country to legalise marijuana, in 2013.

          Legalisation began at midnight with shops in Canadas eastern-most provinces the first to sell the drug.

          I am living my dream. Teenage Tom Clarke is loving what I am doing with my life right now, said Tom Clarke, 43, whose shop in Newfoundland began business as soon as legally possible.

          Clarke has been dealing marijuana illegally in Canada for 30 years. He wrote in his high-school yearbook that his dream was to open a cafe in Amsterdam, the Dutch city where people have legally smoked weed in coffee shops since the 1970s.

          At least 111 legal pot shops are planning to open across the country of 37 million people on the first day, according to an Associated Press survey of the provinces.

          No stores will open in Ontario, which includes Toronto. The most populous province is working on its regulations and does not expect any stores to open until next spring.

          Canadians everywhere will be able to order marijuana products through websites run by provinces or private retailers and have it delivered to their homes by mail.

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          Pet Owners Are Calling Vets Because Their Dogs Are Sick With Marijuana Poisoning

          The landslide of legislation legalizing marijuana across the US is having a rather unusual side effect – an uptick in the number of people calling their vet because their pet has managed to get a hold of their stash.

          According to the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the number of concerned pet owners ringing up the Veterinary Services Poison Helpline has soared by 448 percent in just six years. And while cats and even raccoons have been known to ingest cannabis, dogs are the worst culprits. Ninety percent of incidents involve dogs, Laura Stern, a veterinarian with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, told NBC.

          First things first: Dogs are unlikely to die from cannabis. That is not to say THC, a chemical compound responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive properties, cannot result in some pretty horrid symptoms, including vomiting, abnormal heart rate, low body temperature, and low blood pressure.

          “The best way to compare it is to the idea of a really bad trip,” Peter Bowie, a veterinarian at Pet Emergency & Special Center of Marin, California, told NBC. He says he often sees four or five cases like these a week.

          In extreme cases, it can cause seizures, comas, and even death – so veterinarian attention as soon as you notice any symptoms (or realize your pet has been sneaking into your supply) is important. The good news is that while prevention is always best, there are treatments available should they be needed.

          The reason dogs display such an adverse reaction is due to their higher concentrations of cannabinoid receptors. This makes them more susceptible to the drug’s effects. The more concentrated the THC, therefore, the more severe the reaction.

          Edibles can be particularly troublesome, not just because of their higher THC content but because they can contain other harmful ingredients like chocolate or (if you prefer healthier options) raisins

          As far as medical marijuana for pets goes (yes, that is a thing), it may be worth giving it a miss, for now. There is evidence to suggest there may be therapeutic benefits to prescribing your canine or feline (THC-free) cannabis products but information concerning efficacy, dosage size, and potential side effects have not been fully established.

          If you have a pet that may be at risk, it may be time to rethink your storage solutions – particularly if you own a lab. After all, dogs are notorious food thieves

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          A Deadly Hunt for Hidden Treasure Spawns an Online Mystery

          Everybody is searching for something. Paul Ashby’s search began with an unexpected phone call on July 8, 2017. It was a Saturday night in Townsend, Tennessee, a small town just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An affable Army vet with gray hair, a goatee, and wire-frame glasses, Paul worked as a concierge at a rustic event space called the Barn. He was dressed in his usual top hat and coattails that night, greeting guests who were attending a wedding.

          Paul had lived in Townsend, off and on, since 1974. In 1990, he separated from his wife and moved with their 4-year-old son, Eric, into a mobile home, then a small hilltop house nearby. He turned the modest two-bedroom home into a hippie retreat, teaching himself to make artisan cheese and hanging a purple sign with his favorite quote by the front door (“There is no path to peace … The path IS peace”). He’d often take his son trekking through the nearby hills and rafting down the Little River.

          Paul had raised Eric mostly on his own, struggling to relate to his son’s fascination with computer games and anime. Eric would carry his laptop a quarter mile down the hill to a telephone pole in an attempt to speed up his internet. “He’d be sitting down there at 1 o’clock in the morning,” Paul recalls.

          Eric was grown now—31 years old—but still had that headstrong streak. He had recently developed a singular obsession: an epic treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains devised by an enigmatic art mogul named Forrest Fenn. In 2016, Eric had moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to devote more time to the hunt, which involves deciphering the clues in a cryptic poem, and on June 28, 2017, he told friends he had solved Fenn’s puzzle and was going to retrieve the treasure. Paul didn’t know much about the treasure hunt, but he was happy to hear his son was out hiking and rafting as he had as a boy. That day, Eric posted on Facebook. “I hope today turns out to be the success I’ve hoped for,” he wrote. “Wish me luck.” Ten days later at the Barn, Paul received a call from an unknown number.

          “Mr. Ashby?” said a young woman on the other end of the line.

          “Yes?” Paul replied.

          “Your son is dead. He fell out of a raft and drowned.”

          Paul figured his son was up to some kind of joke. “Tell Eric now is not the time to be playing pranks,” Paul replied. “I’m in the middle of a wedding.”

          “No, Mr. Ashby, you don’t understand,” the woman said. “Eric is dead.” Then she hung up.

          Paul clutched his phone as the wedding party swirled around him in what felt like slow motion. He tried calling the number back but no one answered. When he dialed Eric’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. Who was the unknown caller? Where was his son? And why would Eric risk his life for an eccentric old man’s game?

          Part of Forrest Fenn’s art collection.

          Daymon Gardner

          Forrest Fenn doesn’t own a watch, a cell phone, or a GPS. “I am not ready for the 21st century,” he told me. When I visited him one sunny afternoon last April, he didn’t seem to be much like a man for the 20th century either. He’s 87, with wispy white hair and inquisitive eyes. His favored outfit is blue jeans, a belt with an ornate turquoise buckle, and Hush Puppies shoes. He lives on a couple acres of land in a sprawling home on the Santa Fe Trail. American Indian artifacts and Western curios line his walls: buffalo skulls, arrowheads, moccasins, and original paintings by the masters of the frontier. “Ralph Lauren came here and tried to buy that headdress,” Fenn said, pointing to one in a feathered row hanging in his study. As with most of Fenn’s stories, it’s hard to know what to believe. As he admits in his self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, “one of my natural instincts is to embellish just a little.”

          Fenn grew up in Temple, Texas, and still carries the soft twang of the Lone Star State. Though his father was the headmaster of his grade school, he sometimes played hooky, hunting for arrowheads in nearby creek beds. “When the sun was out, the smell of freedom was more than I could resist,” he wrote in his memoir. He spent his summers working as a fishing guide in West Yellowstone, Montana, where his family had a cabin. After graduating from Temple High School in 1947 and marrying his high school sweetheart, Peggy Jean Proctor, he joined the Air Force. He flew hundreds of missions in Vietnam and was twice shot down, earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

          Fenn returned home on Christmas Eve, 1968, and retired from the Air Force two years later. He had been interested in American Indian artifacts since childhood, and he decided to make himself into an art and antiques dealer. In 1972, using the $12,000 annual stipend he received as retirement pay, Fenn moved his family to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and bought an adobe home, where he turned the ground floor into a gallery. Fenn made up for his lack of experience with a showman’s streak. Noticing that competing galleries took out small black-and-white ads in local newspapers, he spent $3,000 on a full-page color notice in Architectural Digest.

          His brash marketing methods worked, and wealthy collectors began visiting his gallery. “I’m a great schmoozer,” he told me. Before long he was among the top-selling art dealers in town, he claims, earning up to $1 million a year. He transformed his modest gallery into a lavish, two-acre homestead featuring three guest houses, a rapturous garden, and a pond containing two alligators named Elvis and Beowulf. Fenn says politicians and celebrities including former president Gerald Ford, Robert Redford, Cher, and Steve Martin made pilgrimages to Santa Fe to purchase his exotic goods and attend his legendary parties. Jackie Onassis once left behind a bottle of brandy, Fenn adds. He offered me a sip from what he claimed was the same 36-year-old bottle: “Shut your eyes and imagine you’re drinking it with her.”

          In 1988, at the age of 58, Fenn was given a diagnosis of kidney cancer. Two years earlier, his 81-year-old father, William, was told he had pancreatic cancer, Fenn says. After 18 months, William killed himself by taking 50 sleeping pills, according to his son. “I respected him for having the courage to go out on his own terms,” Fenn recalls. After being racked by chemotherapy and an unsuccessful surgery to remove the cancer, he says, he was given a 20 percent chance of surviving three years. As Fenn tells the tale, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps—but with his own swashbuckling twist. He would fill a treasure chest with gold and jewels, he thought, and carry it to a special place in the Rockies. Then he would swallow a bottle of sleeping pills and die beside his riches. But first, he would write a poem containing clues to the treasure’s location. “Take the chest,” read an early draft of his poem, “but leave my bones.”

          The “problem” with the plan, Fenn says, is that he recovered. Over the next several months, then years, he slowly grew stronger, and in 1993 he was declared cancer-free. After being homebound by his disease for years, Fenn was overcome with a renewed appreciation for nature and an urgent sense of purpose. “We need to get off the couch, out of the game room, and away from our electronic gadgets,” he says. He now saw his hunt as a way to entice people into the wild.

          Late at night, alone in his artifact-­laden study, he tweaked and revised his poem. Finally, in 2010, long after he first hatched the idea, he was satisfied. He acquired a 10- by 10-inch bronze treasure chest and filled it with emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and gold coins he’d collected over the years at gun shows and auctions. He added two gold nuggets from Alaska, “as large as chicken eggs,” he says, as well as an old Navajo bracelet with 22 prehistoric turquoise disc beads inlaid in silver.

          One summer afternoon that year, Fenn drove into the Rockies—for how far and how long, he won’t say—with the chest and the treasure in the trunk of his sedan. He made two trips to his destination. First, he loaded the empty, approximately 20-pound bronze box into a backpack and lugged it into the mountains, breathing heavily. He stashed it in a spot dear to his heart. Then he returned with the gold and jewels and filled the chest. “I was entering into strange territory in my mind,” he recalls. He walked back to his car feeling giddy about what he’d done. “I said in a loud voice, ‘Forrest Fenn, did you really do that?’ ” he says. “No one was around, and I started laughing.”

          In the fall of 2010, Fenn commenced the treasure hunt with the publication of The Thrill of the Chase, which includes his completed poem. The 24 lines contain nine clues to the chest’s location, “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe,” he says.

          Fenn originally printed just 1,000 copies of his memoir and stocked them at Collected Works, an indie bookstore in Santa Fe. In 2013, Hemispheres magazine ran a story on his treasure hunt. Soon after, the Today show aired a series on Fenn, and his slim, 150-page book became an overnight sensation. Thousands of buyers from as far as Italy and Ecuador flooded Collected Works’ website. (First prints of The Thrill of the Chase can now fetch more than $750 on Amazon.) Despite Fenn’s intent to lure people away from their devices, his hunt had all the ingredients—a cryptic puzzle, a tantalizing fortune, an intriguing mastermind—to go viral. News coverage followed, from national TV broadcasts and local newspapers throughout the Southwest. What started as one man’s quirky swan song became a real-life Ready Player One.

          Fenn achieved Wonka-like status among the self-described Searchers, the online community that cropped up around his legend. Lovers of riddles and outdoor exploration converged to form a dedicated network of blogs, message boards, websites, and Facebook pages devoted to the hunt. Toby Younis, a retired digital media executive who cohosts a Fenn fanatic YouTube show, A Gypsy’s Kiss, says the internet helps them “crowdsolve” the puzzle. Searchers espouse theories in Fenn forums and detail their quests in YouTube testimonials. Dozens of Searchers meet in Santa Fe each June for Fennboree, an annual fanfest.

          But despite the hive mind enthusiasm of the Searchers, others grapple with doubts about the truth of Fenn’s tale. They imagine an 80-year-old man—or even a young, healthy person—carrying a bronze chest across his back. What kind of terrain—steep, wooded, rocky—could he traverse without tripping over tree roots and stones? Though a handful of Fenn’s family and friends claim they saw him filling the chest, there’s no way to prove what was inside, let alone what it could be worth. And, barring its discovery, there is no way to prove that he actually hid it. Given the more than 100,000 square miles of mountains where the box could be located, it seems unlikely that even the most intrepid Searchers will find it anytime soon, if ever. Still, over the past eight years, the possibility that the bounty does exist has been enough to spur treasure hunters into the red canyons of the high desert and wild rivers of the Rockies.

          Fenn claims he receives more than 100 “treasure emails” from eager seekers every day. He told me that 350,000 people have looked for the treasure, an estimate he bases on his always-full inbox. For devout Fennheads, the appeal isn’t just the money, it’s “matching wits with Forrest,” says 64-year-old Cynthia Meachum, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since retiring from her job as a semiconductor engineer in 2015, she’s devoted her life to looking for Fenn’s treasure, first in a remote valley near Taos, New Mexico, and now near Yellowstone National Park. The hunt tends to attract people with technical backgrounds, Meachum says. “We’re probably the most egotistical group of treasure hunters, because we all think, ‘I use logic every day in my job. I use flowcharts. I use schematics. How hard can this be?’ ” she muses. “Well, none of us have found it.”

          Over the years, Fenn’s poem has inspired Talmudic interpretation. One Searcher on the website Fenn Clues posits that, based on the first line, “We are almost surely looking for a location that satisfies ‘alone.’ So, a Solitary Geyser or a Lone Indian Peak would fit the bill.” Other determinations are more arcane. A Searcher nicknamed the White Knight insists the “blaze” in the 13th line refers to a turtle-shaped tattoo on the chest of a character in Marvel’s illustrated version of the 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. How that translates to the modern-day landscape is unclear.

          Since publishing his treasure riddle in 2010, Forrest Fenn has doled out about a dozen additional hints in interviews, books, and TV appearances.

          Though Fenn occasionally stokes the frenzy with interviews, he regards online sleuthing as unnecessary. “There is no reason for anyone to use the internet or social media when going to search for the treasure,” Fenn told me. “All they need is a map, a plan, good health, and a buddy to go along for safety reasons.”

          Perhaps inevitably, determined Searchers have disregarded his advice. In January 2016, Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old man from Broomfield, Colorado, disappeared with a raft while hunting for the treasure near Cochiti Lake in New Mexico. The news devastated the Searchers, who, for the first time, had lost one of their own. Bilyeu was embedded in the Fenn community: He was friendly with Dal Neitzel, who runs one of the most visited Fenn treasure websites, and he once met Fenn at a book signing in Santa Fe. Disturbed by the news, Fenn paid for a helicopter to carry a search party. Six months later, Bilyeu’s remains were found on the banks of the river.

          In June 2017, Jeff Murphy, an alleged Searcher from Batavia, Illinois, died of an apparent fall near the 7,000-foot Turkey Pen Peak in Yellowstone National Park. The same month, Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, Colorado, died near the Rio Grande. The deaths have only garnered more publicity for the treasure hunt, spurring stories by Nightline, The New York Times, CBS News, and others.

          The Searchers aren’t the only ones at risk. Fenn and his family have found strangers digging in his backyard for the treasure, he says. One woman wandered up the driveway to pray. In April 2017, Fenn sought a restraining order against a 55-year-old Texan who showed up at his home taking photos.

          Despite all this, Fenn insists it would be wrong to halt the hunt. “If I called off the search, what would I say to the 350,000 people who have had wonderful experiences hiking in the mountains with no ill effects except but a few mosquito bites?” he says. “An average of 12 people die each year at the Grand Canyon. There is a risk in nearly everything we do.”

          Paul Ashby in the former bedroom of his son, Eric, at his home in Townsend, Tennessee.

          Daymon Gardner

          After graduating from high school, Eric Ashby started cooking in restaurant kitchens around Townsend, nursing dreams of becoming a professional chef. With a wave of dark hair, mischievous eyes, and a ready laugh, he made friends easily. He never had much money, according to Heather Britt, a friend of his, but he didn’t seem to care about material things.

          Then, in 2014, a motorcycle accident left Eric with a gangrenous leg. He told his dad that a doctor prescribed him oxycodone for the pain, and he got hooked. Though Eric fully recovered from the accident, “he couldn’t get away from the pills,” Paul recalls. Later, Eric took a swing at a plainclothes police officer who had pulled him over. He was convicted of assault and sentenced to seven years’ probation.

          Eric first heard about Fenn’s treasure hunt in early 2016. He immediately geeked out over the riddle. As a child, Eric had immersed himself in fantasy books and sci-fi shows like The X-Files, and Fenn’s puzzle had a similar allure. Tempted by the mystery and still struggling to overcome his oxy habit, in April 2016 Eric moved to Colorado Springs, where he had some friends. He knew he was violating his probation but thought that if he stayed in Townsend he’d end up back in jail anyway.

          The change of scenery was just what he needed. He kicked the pills, his friends say, and found a job as a server at Edelweiss, a kitschy German restaurant. He lived in his car for a while to save money and started dating Jamie Longworth, a local medical marijuana grower.

          Eric Ashby

          By early 2017 Eric had become consumed by Fenn’s treasure hunt, talking about it incessantly. He often stayed up late after waiting tables, smoking weed and compiling clues on his laptop. He tracked possible locations for the treasure on maps, homing in on Royal Gorge Park an hour away. Often he’d call Longworth to tell her how close he was to decoding Fenn’s clues. Eric wasn’t driven by money, she says. He enjoyed the intellectual puzzle of it all. “He was one of the smartest guys I ever met,” Longworth recalls. “He would say his goal in life was to be fascinated by a blade of grass.”

          One day last spring, Eric met up with a group of friends and declared, “I know where Forrest Fenn’s treasure is,” says David Gambrell, who was there that day. According to Longworth, he believed the area where the “warm waters halt,” as the poem describes, was the Arkansas River. He connected another clue, “put in below the house of Brown,” to the home of a local physician, Dr. Brown, who had lived in the Gorge. And he deduced that the “blaze” Fenn cites referred to a fire that had happened nearby. When Eric described the precise location—nearly 60 miles southwest of Colorado Springs near Sunshine Falls, along the Arkansas River—Gambrell’s gut tightened. He urged Eric to take precautions. “Make sure somebody’s with you,” Gambrell told him. Eric replied that he’d already made a few trips to that area, but bad weather and high waters had prevented him from reaching his destination. When he told Longworth where he was headed, she urged him to reconsider. “I was completely convinced it was unsafe,” she recalls. “I didn’t want him going.” On June 28, Eric went anyway.

          Ten days later, Paul received the anonymous call while he was greeting wedding guests. When he couldn’t reach his son, he called the Fremont County sheriff’s office in Colorado Springs. They told him there had been a reported drowning, but no body had been found, so they couldn’t identify the victim. A few days later, he was contacted by detective Sterling Jenkins, a stocky, goateed officer who specialized in marijuana enforcement. Jenkins couldn’t find a missing person report for Eric Ashby. It wasn’t unheard of for people to vanish in the rivers and mountains around Colorado Springs, but it was unusual for the disappearance not to be reported. Paul later told Jenkins that he believed his son had been out searching for Fenn’s treasure, but the detective had never heard of the hunt. “I didn’t know if it was an accident,” Jenkins says. “I didn’t know if it was foul play. It could be a hoax.” The detective vowed to find out what had happened.

          Paul Ashby holds a copy of the contract drawn up by his son on the day he disappeared. The document stipulates that Eric will split the treasure among those hunting with him, should it be found.

          Daymon Gardner

          Word of Eric’s disappearance soon spread across Searcher blogs and message boards. But unlike Bilyeu, who had attended Fenn book events and was immersed in the Searcher community, Eric was unknown to other treasure hunters. Though he had spent hours poring over their theories and tips, Eric wasn’t an active participant in Searcher forums. He rarely shared his hunches online, and he often went treasure hunting alone. As details about Eric’s checkered past emerged, some in the close-knit Searcher network viewed Eric’s disappearance with skepticism. One faction pushed to distance the Fenn community from Eric’s case, arguing that his rumored drug use would cast the hunt in a negative light. Others questioned whether Eric was looking for Fenn’s treasure at all when he went missing. When I asked Neitzel about Eric’s case, he bristled and refused to answer. “Let’s move on,” he said gruffly. Eric, they seemed to say, wasn’t one of them.

          Without the aid of the Searchers, Eric’s friends and extended family dissected Fenn forums and Facebook pages for possible clues that might lead to him. “We called ourselves the Investigators,” recalls Britt, his friend from Townsend.

          Lisa Albritton, Eric’s half-sister on his mother’s side, led the family’s efforts from her home in Largo, Florida. Though she and Eric had grown up in different states, she in Florida and he in Tennessee, the siblings were in touch often.

          In truth, it didn’t take long to find out what had happened to Eric. Shortly after Paul received his mysterious phone call, Albritton went to Eric’s Facebook page and posted a query on the growing thread of comments from Eric’s concerned friends: “Does anybody know the names of the people my brother was with?” she wrote. “Please feel free to message me, add me, I don’t care I just need answers.”

          A friend of Eric’s in Colorado Springs quickly replied with a profile picture of a smiling, twentysomething woman with shoulder-length blond hair, dark eyebrows, and a fashionably shredded pink shirt, along with a name: Becca Nies. “Can somebody tell me what role she plays in this?” Albritton replied. Longworth offered an answer: “She was with him, as well as her boyfriend Jimi Booker, when he ‘drowned,’ ” she posted. She then provided a screenshot of a Facebook message that Nies, who had worked with Eric at Edelweiss, had sent her on Saturday, July 8, just hours after Paul got his mystery call, and 10 days after Eric had gone missing.

          Nies said that she was with Eric and three of her friends that day. “On wednesday june 28th,” Nies wrote, “we went on that treasure hunt. Eric drowned in the river unfortunately. Im sorry to tell you like this, you deserve to know.… Very sorry.”

          “If I called off the search, what would I say to the 350,000 people who have had wonderful experiences hiking in the mountains with no ill effects except but a few mosquito bites?”

          The note from Nies should have put an end to the sleuthing, but it only seemed to spark new clues and paths to investigate. “How does she know he drowned if he hasn’t been found?” one of Eric’s friends replied on the Facebook page. “Sounds like some bs to me,” offered another. The police weren’t giving any information, and Eric’s body had not been found. In that vacuum, and in the heated detective atmosphere of the treasure hunt, rumors flew: It was a fight that landed Eric in the water, a scheme to steal the treasure from Eric and leave him behind.

          The most vexing question remained: If four people had watched a man disappear underwater, why did they wait 10 days to tell anyone? That delay stoked its own conspiracies. “Something strange is going on it seems like with no one wanting to talk to anyone!!” one Investigator posted. “They really aren’t gonna like it when a bunch of people from Tennessee show up on their door step!!!”

          “Exactly!” Britt replied, “And that’s what it’s gonna take!”

          That July, Albritton launched a GoFundMe page hoping to raise money to drive to Colorado. Eric’s family continued to check in with Jenkins, but as far as Albritton could tell, the sheriff’s office was making little progress. She pleaded for help in finding her brother. To her surprise, she received $3,500 from a single donor: Forrest Fenn. Word about Eric’s disappearance had spread across Searcher blogs and message boards, eventually reaching the Wizard of Oz himself in Santa Fe.

          Albritton and a cousin made the drive from Florida to Colorado in four days. They arrived in Colorado Springs and checked in to a hotel. Days later, they went to Nies’ apartment. Eric’s red Mercury Cougar was still out front, where he left it the day he disappeared. Albritton cued up Facebook Live as she approached the car, video streaming—just in case anything happened. “We’re going in the car, and I’m just going to try to grab everything I can,” she narrated, her voice tense. In the back seat, Albritton found her brother’s backpack. Heart pounding, she grabbed it and sprinted back to their car.

          Back at their hotel, Albritton dumped out the contents of Eric’s bag: some moldy sandwiches, two cell phones, and a notebook. When she flipped the book open, she found a handwritten contract between Eric, Nies, and her friends agreeing to share whatever treasure they might find—51 percent for Eric and 49 percent to be split among the others. Albritton held the contract with a shaky hand. “Eric Ashby will be the executor of the selling and distribution (documented) of assets regarding said Quest,” the contract read. There was nothing treacherous in the document itself, but stoked by the hours she’d spent unspooling conspiracy theories among Investigators online, her mind reeled: Had there been a plot to kill her brother and steal the treasure? She reported what she had found to the Colorado Springs detectives.

          Alarmed, Paul flew to Colorado Springs to search for answers. He met with Jenkins, who took him out to the spot on the Arkansas River where Eric had last been seen. Jenkins told him that two photographers had been taking pictures of whitewater rafters that day and called 911 after witnessing a possible drowning. But there was no way of knowing if the person had been Eric—the victim was unidentified and no body had been found. The people who were with him had been questioned, but Jenkins had not yet reached any conclusions. Desperate and sleepless, Paul called his brother, an Army specialist, for advice. If no one else could find his son, then Paul wanted to search the rapids himself.

          “Can we go get him out of the river?” he asked.

          “Paul, don’t even bother,” his brother said, “If the river is ready, the river will give him back to you.”

          On the Arkansas River near Sunshine Falls—where Eric was last seen—the rapids are unpredictable.

          Daymon Gardner

          On July 28, a body was discovered by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer several miles down the Arkansas River. A Fremont County coroner later identified the victim as Eric Ashby.

          After several weeks of investigating—questioning Nies and her friends Jimi Booker and Anthony Mahone, as well as the two photographers who had witnessed the incident—Jenkins and his team pieced together what had happened that day in June. Eric had driven to Nies’ apartment, where the group drew up a handwritten contract. They set off toward the river in an old green Jaguar sedan, stopping along the way to buy a cheap, two-person raft. They wound along mountain roads to a parking lot near Royal Gorge Park, where a suspension bridge hovers nearly 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River.

          Eric led the group a few hundred yards through piñon pines to the edge of Sunshine Falls, a churning, boulder-strewn section of the river. As they watched rafts of tourists careen by, Booker told Jenkins, the current roared higher and faster than they had expected. Sunshine Falls is known for violent Class IV-V rapids, powerful enough to hurl rafters into the choppy water. Eric, who said he had been to the same spot on previous excursions, assured the others that it was still passable. “When he saw the river, he seemed OK with it,” Booker told me on Facebook Messenger, but “he said he had almost died on this hunt before.” (Nies and Mahone did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.)

          Eric told them he believed the treasure was on the other side of the river. He planned to float across in the raft, retrieve the box, and bring it back. Despite his insistence that he had plenty of experience whitewater rafting, Eric had taken no helmet or life vest. He tied one end of a rope around his body and gave the other end to his companions on the river’s shore. “We weren’t prepared,” Booker told me later. “We had seen whole teams of rafters ride by with maybe six or seven people on large rafts, and they were still having a hard time riding the current with a professional guiding them.”

          “They’re absolutely negligent. A life was lost. People watched it happen.”

          Midway across the river, Eric’s flimsy raft started pitching uncontrollably in the froth, and he fell into the rapids. (Nies and Booker told the sheriff’s office he jumped out of the raft.) The rope slipped free from his waist as he was swept away in the fast-moving current. He attempted to make it to the other side but plunged underwater. When he hit the next set of rapids, known as the Sledgehammer, he went under again. This time he emerged facedown. He was carried away by the current.

          From their post a short way downstream, the photographers looked on in horror as the body floated by. They frantically called 911 for help. Booker claimed that he and his friends searched along the shore of the river for half an hour, but the water was too violent. They returned to their car and drove away without waiting for the police to arrive. One of the photographers later told the police that he was troubled by the witnesses’ behavior, given the circumstances. “He told me it appeared as though they were not concerned with the unknown male’s well-being and had not bothered to attempt to assist the individual when he was in the river,” deputy Jeffery Moore wrote in his report.

          Booker told me they took off because they knew the photographers had already called for help and felt there was nothing they could do. “I felt so powerless that it kills me inside,” he wrote me, “because my natural instinct would have been to jump in that water, but I know I wouldn’t have made it.”

          Nies told Jenkins that she knew Eric had left Tennessee while on probation and didn’t report his disappearance to the authorities because she didn’t want to get him in trouble with the law. She said she wasn’t sure whether Eric was dead or alive. But by not giving the sheriff’s office Eric’s name, no one—including his family and friends—had known what had happened to him. “They’re absolutely negligent,” Jenkins says. “A life was lost. People watched it happen.”

          On a rainy weekend in March, I attended an event for Eric at the Barn in Townsend, where Paul still works as a concierge. Paul had his son’s body cremated and brought back to the hills of Tennessee. Pictures of Eric hiking and cooking lined a table alongside a box bearing his cremains. Local country singers performed ballads on the small stage.

          Now Eric’s family wants to make sure such negligence doesn’t happen again. They’re working with Colorado and Tennessee legislators to pass Eric’s Law, a “duty to report” mandate that requires any witness who sees someone’s life in danger to notify 911. Paul hopes the law ensures that “no one walks away,” he says.

          He originally blamed Fenn for Eric’s death. “I wanted to see him hung out to dry,” he says. He’s since made his peace. Jenkins places responsibility on the Searchers. “As an adult,” he says, “if you make a decision to look for this treasure, you need to be prepared.”

          When I talked to Fenn, he had distanced himself from Eric’s death. “I told myself that he was on drugs and had nothing to do with the treasure,” Fenn says. He continues to encourage the treasure hunt. In a recent interview with a blog called Mysterious Writings, Fenn wrote that his “gut feeling is that someone will find it this summer.” In fact, he reveals, a Searcher recently came within 200 feet of it. “Someone told me exactly where they were,” he tells me, “and I knew they were close.” He declines to say more, wary of tipping off the Searcher. His prediction, of course, will likely only spur more Searchers to return to the wild.

          With each new death, the stakes of the search grow higher. Fenn continues to urge his followers to avoid putting themselves in life-threatening situations. (After all, he cautions, he was already 80 years old when he hid the treasure; there’s no need to assume feats of endurance.) This summer, thousands will take to the Rockies’ tributaries and trails, racing to glimpse the glint of a bronze chest in the wilderness. If it is discovered, many Searchers admit, it won’t just be the lost fortune they’ll miss—it will be the lure of adventure, the misfit community, the promise of the unknown around every bend.

          David Kushner’s latest book, Rise of the Dungeon Master, is based on his profile of Dungeons & Dragons cocreator Gary Gygax in issue 16.03.

          This article appears in the August issue. Subscribe now.

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          Olivia Newton-John Diagnosed With Cancer For 3rd Time

          LOS ANGELES (AP) — Olivia Newton-John says she has been diagnosed with cancer for the third time in three decades.

          The four-time Grammy winner, who will turn 70 on Sept. 26, told Australian news program “Sunday Night” doctors found a tumor in her lower back in 2017.

          Newton-John says she’s “treating it naturally and doing really well.” The “Grease” star says for pain, she is taking cannabis oil, made from marijuana her husband grows in California. She has undergone radiation treatments and has cut sugar out of her diet.

          She said, “I believe I will win over it.”

          She said she hopes her native Australia will legalize medical marijuana.

          Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, undergoing a partial mastectomy and reconstruction. She was diagnosed with breast cancer again in 2013.

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          More baby boomers turning to marijuana, study says

          (CNN)Seniors are increasingly passing the pipe. About 9% of US adults between the ages of 50 and 64 have used marijuana at least once during the survey year, while 3% of those over 65 have done so, new research finds.

          For middle-age adults, the percentage of cannabis users has doubled over nearly a decade, according to the study, published Thursday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Older adults have seen a seven-fold increase in that period.
          Though marijuana use is increasing among older Americans, “most of these people are not first-time users,” said Joseph Palamar, senior study author and an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University Langone Medical Center.
            “I don’t think we need to worry about millions of older people trying weed for the first time,” he said. “At least not yet.”

            ‘High rates of unhealthy substance use’

            Palamar examined data from 17,608 adults 50 and older who took the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has conducted this survey each year since 1971 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
            Participants answer questions about their tobacco, alcohol and drug use in addition to providing demographic information and details about their health.
            Analyzing survey data from 2015-16 and 2006-07, the researchers compared marijuana users and non-users within and across age groups both past and present.
            Prevalence of past-year marijuana use was 9% among middle-age adults and 2.9% among older adults, and past-month use prevalence was 5.7% among middle-age adults and 1.7% among older adults, according to the report.
            “We found high rates of unhealthy substance use (tobacco, alcohol, prescription drug misuse) by middle-aged and older adults who use marijuana,” Dr. Benjamin Han, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine, wrote in an email.
            For example, the study shows that nearly 5% of middle-age marijuana users had alcohol use problems, 9% depended on nicotine, and 3.5% misused opioids; among older adults, 1.5% had alcohol use problems, 3.5% depended on nicotine, and 1.2% misused opioids.
            In addition to opioids, past-year marijuana users were more likely to misuse sedatives and tranquilizers than their peers, according to the report.
            Han said that “polysubstance use” or the “use of multiple substances, especially unhealthy use, is particularly risky for older adults with chronic diseases.” Marijuana may intensify symptoms of existing conditions while interacting with prescribed medications.
            Palamar noted that “depending on the drugs combined, the effects can be much stronger.”
            “Combining marijuana with alcohol can really knock someone on their ass if they weren’t expecting such strong effects,” he said.

            Health and legal risks

            Baby boomers have more experience with marijuana than previous generations, the study authors said. More than half (almost 55%) of middle-age adults have used marijuana at some point in their lives, while over a fifth (about 22%) of older adults have done so, Han and Palamar found.
            With a growing number of states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, health care professionals find themselves in a bind, Han said.
            “I get asked more and more by older patients if they should try marijuana, mostly for sleep or pain,” said Han, who practices geriatric medicine. “Marijuana may be therapeutically useful for a variety of symptoms and medical conditions, but the research in this area is extremely limited.”
            More research is needed to define risks and benefits of using marijuana in these age groups while providing more information about safety, dosing, method of use (inhalation or ingestion) and symptoms, Han said.
            For now, though, it is “hard for us as providers to recommend it aside for very specific clinical indications (especially compared to well-studied other options),” Han wrote. “Especially if we do not fully understand its risks for older adults or those with multiple chronic medical conditions.”
            Another concern? Baby boomers face “potential legal risks of use if they live in a state where marijuana is illegal,” Palamar said.

            Opposite ends of the spectrum

            Christopher P. Salas-Wright, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, said the new study provides “high-quality information” that is essential in a time when public opinion and policies related to marijuana are changing rapidly.
            That said, a number of “credible studies” already provide “compelling evidence that marijuana use has increased meaningfully among adults in general, and among middle-aged and older adults in particular, over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Salas-Wright, who was not involved in the new study but has published research on the topic.
            It’s not only use but problem use of marijuana that has increased among adults in these age groups, he said.
            “There is strong evidence that regular marijuana use is related to outcomes such as motor vehicle accidents, symptoms of chronic bronchitis and addiction to marijuana and other substances,” he said.
            Although many baby boomers “likely use marijuana without experiencing any serious problems” — the same as alcohol — “we should not lose sight of the fact that marijuana is a psychoactive drug” and so poses the “risk of adverse consequences,” Salas-Wright said.
            In a national study published in 2015, Salas-Wright showed “that rates of marijuana use declined slightly among youth ages 12 to 14 and have remained flat among those ages 15 to 17 since 2002.”
            Baby boomers turning to cannabis, then, is happening alongside a decline in drug use and other risky behaviors among teens, Salas-Wright noted.
            Though the new study makes an “incremental contribution” to science, Namkee Choi, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, said that a different kind of marijuana study is needed today.
            Choi, who did not participate in the new research, said a 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine “summarizes very well how little scientific evidence we have so far about marijuana’s effects on health and mental health in adulthood.”
            “We know more about marijuana’s negative effects during formative years,” said Choi, who has published extensive research on cannabis’ effects. “More research is needed to evaluate marijuana’s beneficial and negative effects on health and mental health for all age groups and effective treatment modalities for marijuana use disorder.”

            Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

            Han said the number of baby boomers using weed will probably continue to grow due to changing laws. Because risky drug use could become a problem for some, he suggests that health care providers screen middle-age and older patients for substance use.

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            Maine investigates restaurant that gave lobsters marijuana

            Restaurant owner says blowing smoke over lobsters is meant to lessen their suffering before they are dropped in boiling water

            State health inspectors are investigating a Maine restaurant that tried to mellow out lobsters with marijuana before killing them to be served, cracked and eaten.

            The Portland Press Herald reported that Charlottes Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor remains open but has stopped allowing customers to request meat from lobsters sedated with marijuana.

            Owner Charlotte Gill is a state-licensed medical marijuana caregiver. She said on Friday she hoped to resume sales of smoked lobster meat by mid-October, a move meant to lessen the suffering of her lobsters before they are dropped in boiling water.

            It is unknown whether pot smoke calms lobsters or has any effect on their meat.

            A Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman, Emily Spencer, would not say if the state had asked Gill to halt such sales.

            But Gill told the Press Herald that after being contacted by the state, and upon reviewing its present laws and codes applicable to this arena, and then making a few minor adjustments to our procedure, we are completely confident that we will be able to proceed as planned.

            I imagine we will still have a push back from the state on our hands, she said, but we are confident that we will be able to field any issues they may have with us, and do it with grace.

            These are important issues and ones that can also benefit not only the lobster, but the industry as well. Truly we are not trying to go against [the states] wishes and would love to work with them in order for us all to make this world a kinder place.

            Spencer said it would be up to the Maine Medical Marijuana Program to determine if Gill was using cannabis appropriately. A program spokesman, David Heidrich, told the newspaper he could not confirm if it was investigating the lobster restaurant.

            But he added: Medical marijuana may only be grown for and provided to persons with a marijuana recommendation from a qualified medical provider. Lobsters are not people.

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            Briton ‘faces up to 15 years’ in Bali jail

            Image copyright Pip Holmes

            A British man says he could face up to 15 years in an Indonesian prison after being found with cannabis oil which he says he needed for medical reasons.

            Pip Holmes, from Cornwall, was arrested for drug smuggling when he went to collect a package containing the oil.

            The 45-year-old artist says he asked a friend to send it to him while he was living in Bali to help his arthritis.

            Indonesia has very strict anti-drugs laws and frequently arrests foreigners on drug-related charges.

            Mr Holmes says he was aware of the penalties and his actions were “foolish and dumb”.

            He was detained on 3 December after going to pick up the package, sent from Thailand, which contained essential oil bottles with cannabis oil inside.

            After spending six days in a police cell, Mr Holmes was transferred to a police hospital rehabilitation facility as his lawyers argued he was a drug user – after he failed a drugs test – rather than a trafficker.

            However, he is still facing a drug trafficking charge and was paraded in front of the cameras last week for what he calls a “very surreal and bizarre” news conference.

            He sat alongside four other men accused of drug smuggling, which can carry the death penalty in Indonesia.

            Despite reports that Mr Holmes could be facing that punishment, he says the small quantity of drugs found on him means that is not the case.

            Image copyright AFP
            Image caption Pip Holmes (second from right) is put in front of the local media alongside other foreigners

            Speaking from the rehabilitation centre, where he is locked in a room and guarded by two men but has access to a phone, he told the BBC the press conference was “really harrowing”.

            He said he doesn’t feel like he is a criminal drug trafficker, but the Indonesian press are painting a picture of him along those lines.

            “I just wanted to stand up and say I’m really not in this category, but the law is very different here and it’s very harsh.

            “It feels like a great injustice, but I’m not in the UK, I’m in Bali, so it’s my own fault.”

            In the UK medicinal cannabis products can be legally prescribed to some patients after rules were relaxed earlier this year – although access is very limited.

            The father of two, whose 11-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter live in the UK with his ex-wife, has had arthritis for eight years and says it was caused by years of practising Thai boxing.

            He says: “Marijuana makes a considerable difference to the pain – it’s not a leisure activity for me.”

            Mr Holmes is no stranger to travelling – he spent time in Canada earlier this year, while he has a tattoo studio in Thailand – and he arrived in Bali at the end of October planning to spend a couple of months surfing and painting.

            Image copyright Pip Holmes

            “I knew what I was getting into,” he says. “I knew there were very strict laws but I chose to come here anyway because the surf is the best in the world.”

            Indonesian law does not recognise medical marijuana use.

            He says he is facing a sentence of between five to 15 years at Kerobokan prison in Bali – a place Mr Holmes calls “horrendous” and “terrifying”. The BBC has been unable to confirm with the Indonesian authorities what sentence he might face.

            However at his next court date, expected to be in January, Mr Holmes is hoping to be classed as a marijuana addict and be eligible for a rehabilitation sentence.

            He says although the police reported that he was found with 31g of medicinal THC oil, that weight included the bottles (28g).

            Anything smaller than 5g, he says, would make him eligible for a sentence of around 12 months in a rehabilitation facility instead.

            He says he needs to raise money to fight his case.

            Image copyright Pip Holmes
            Image caption Pip Holmes, at one of his exhibitions, will be auctioning off some of his paintings to raise money

            He says: “I have no idea what is going to happen to me next.

            “I’m afraid because I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I can hug my children again. They are the only thing keeping me going right now.”

            A Foreign Office statement said: “Our staff are assisting a British man following his arrest in Bali, and are in contact with his family, lawyer and the Indonesian authorities.”

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            Here’s Where You Can Legally Consume Marijuana In The US In 2018

            The United States is gradually becoming the land of the red, white, and green.

            Nine states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Medical marijuana is legal in another 30 states after voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in June. 

            Support for the drug reached new highs in 2018. A Gallup poll showed that 64% of Americans favor legalization, and even a majority of Republicans back it.

            Legal marijuana sales exploded to $9.7 billion in North America in 2017, according to a report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. That represents a 33% increase over 2016, shattering previous expectations about how quickly the marijuana industry could grow in the face of federal prohibition. By 2022, Arcview expects global spending on legal cannabis to hit $32 billion by 2022, representing a 22% growth rate over the four-year period. 

            Here’s a summary of where Americans can legally light up — no doctor’s letter required — in 2018.


            Adults 21 and over can light up in Alaska. In early 2015, the northernmost US state made it legal for residents to use, possess, and transport up to an ounce of marijuana — roughly a sandwich bag full — for recreational use. The first pot shop opened for business in late 2016.

            Alaska has pounced on the opportunity to make its recreational pot shops a destination for tourists. More than two million people visit Alaska annually and spend $2 billion.


            It was the first state to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996. California became even more pot-friendly in 2016 when it made it legal to use and carry up to an ounce of marijuana.

            The law also permits adults 21 and over to buy up to eight grams of marijuana concentrates, which are found in edibles, and grow no more than six marijuana plants per household.

            But not all Californians can legally smoke marijuana, depending on where they live. Many cities in the Central Valley, including Fresno and Bakersfield, have moved to ban recreational sales.


            In Colorado, there are more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonalds locations combined. The state joined Washington in becoming the first two states to fully legalize the drug in 2012.

            Residents and tourists over the age of 21 can buy up to one ounce of marijuana or eight grams of concentrates. Some Colorado counties and cities have passed more restrictive laws.


            A ballot initiative gave Mainers the right to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, more than double the limit in most other states. But that doesn’t mean residents can buy the drug.

            Lawmakers in Maine reached an agreement in May to make the legalization bill law, though Gov. Paul LePage remains an opponent of marijuana legalization. Marijuana dispensaries are expected to open within the state by 2019, The Portland Press Herald reports. 

            De Canna Obscura



            In 2016, Massachusetts gave residents the green light to carry and use an ounce of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in their homes. But the future of the state’s legal market is hazy.

            Lawmakers delayed the opening of pot shops to July 2018, instead of the January 2018 date that voters approved in the election. Until then, there will be no sales of recreational weed.


            Residents and tourists who are 21 and over can buy an ounce of marijuana or one-eighth of an ounce of edibles or concentrates in Nevada — while supplies last. Less than two weeks after sales of recreational weed began on July 1, 2017, many stores ran out of marijuana to sell.

            The state has earned nearly $20 million in marijuana tax revenue since the market launched. 

            There’s bad news if you want to grow your own bud, though. Nevada residents must live 25 miles outside the nearest dispensary in order to be eligible for a grower’s license.


            Oregonians have enjoyed the right to carry an ounce of weed and grow up to four plants at home since 2015. It’s also legal to give edibles as a gift, as long as they’re ingested in private.

            Sales have exploded since legalization. In 2017, the state paid out $85 million in marijuana tax revenue to fund schools, public health initiatives, state police, and local government. 


            Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislature, rather than a ballot initiative, when Republic Governor Phil Scott signed a bill into law on January 22.

            Adults in the Green Mountain State will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and grow no more than two plants for recreational use. The new law goes into effect in July. But the bill is limited in scope. It doesn’t establish a legal market for the production and sale of the drug.


            Dispensaries in Washington have raked in over $1 billion in non-medical marijuana sales since the drug was legalized for recreational use in 2012.

            The state allows people to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, but they must require the drug for medicinal purposes in order to be eligible for a grower’s license. So you can smoke it, but not grow it if you’re toking for fun.

            Washington, DC

            Residents in the nation’s capital voted overwhelmingly to legalize nonmedical marijuana in November 2014.

            The bill took effect in 2015, allowing people to possess two ounces or less of marijuana and “gift” up to an ounce, if neither money nor goods or services are exchanged.

            Ryland zweifel/Shutterstock

            Read the original article on Business Insider. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2018.

            Read next on Business Insider: This map shows every state that has legalized marijuana

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