Mississippi court upholds life sentence for pot possession

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a life sentence for a man convicted of a marijuana possession charge because he had previous convictions and those made him a habitual offender.

Allen Russell, 38, was sentenced to life in Forrest County in 2019 after a jury found him guilty of possession of more than 30 grams (1.05 ounces) of marijuana.

In Mississippi, a person can be sentenced to life without parole after serving at least one year in prison on two separate felonies, one of which must be a violent offense. Russell was convicted on two home burglaries in 2004 and for unlawful possession of a firearm in 2015.

By law, burglary is a violent offense in Mississippi, whether or not there is proof that violence occurred.

That was not the case when Russell was sentenced for home burglary in 2004. Then, burglary was only considered a violent crime if there was proof of violence. The law changed in 2014.

In his appeal, Russell argued that a life sentence constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate” to his crime of marijuana possession.

The Court of Appeals disagreed in its majority opinion, stating that Russell’s life sentence is in accordance with Mississippi law. Russell is not being sentenced solely for having marijuana, but for being a habitual offender, the judges said.

But several dissenting judges argued that the court can — and should — make exceptions.

“The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society,” Judge Latrice Westbrooks wrote. “The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal.”

Russell was given two concurrent 15-year sentences after pleading guilty to burglary in April 2004. The charging documents in those cases indicate the two burglaries involved the same house and occurred two days apart.

He served a little more than eight and a half years, and was released from prison in February 2014.

Russell pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon as a convicted felon in October 2015. He was sentenced to 10 years but was only required to serve two.

He was then arrested on November 29, 2017, for possessing marijuana. Under Mississippi law, possession of between 30 and 250 grams (1.05 and 8.8 ounces) of marijuana can carry a punishment of up to three years in prison, a $3,000 fine, or both.

Russell was found with five bags of a leafy green substance. Two of the bags, weighing around 44 grams (1.55 ounces), were tested by a lab and confirmed to be marijuana.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a criminal justice bill into law that expands parole eligibility for some people, but not habitual offenders. Senate Bill 2795 will become law July 1.

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Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Leah Willingham, The Associated Press

How A Tempe Marijuana Company's $2.1B Merger Could Change The Cannabis Industry

Harvest House of Cannabis Guadalupe dispensary sign

Tim Agne/KJZZ

The Harvest House of Cannabis Baseline Dispensary location in Guadalupe.

The cannabis industry was rocked this week by news that Florida-based producer and distributor Trulieve acquired Arizona’s Harvest Health in a $2.1 billion deal. Trulieve has operations in Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and California while Harvest also operates in those markets as well as having a foothold in Arizona and Maryland.

This merger creates the largest cannabis company in the United States and it’s forcing smaller companies to re-examine their market positions.

So what does a deal like this mean for the industry and for Arizonans, who recently voted to legalize recreational marijuana? To learn more about the scale of this merger, The Show spoke to Alan Brochstein, founder of 420 Investor and a market analyst focused on the cannabis industry.

More Stories From KJZZ

Wessel: Finance innovations bolster Arizona’s marijuana industry

By Sarah Wessel

Federal banking laws have created more than just an isolated crisis for Arizona’s multi-billion dollar marijuana industry. They’ve created a dangerous problem for the state of Arizona, where banking laws make it nearly impossible for cannabis dispensaries to obtain basic financial services such as a checking account.

As a result, a multi-billion dollar legal Arizona industry is forced to operate in all cash. Imagine driving around tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to pay vendors, landlords, suppliers and utility bills.

Imagine a legitimate business taking in millions in all cash that cannot be deposited in a bank account and must be stored on-site. This is the grim reality for cannabis dispensaries.

I am the co-founder of ALTA, an Arizona startup created to address this state-wide problem. We owe our creation to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s innovative FinTech Sandbox program.

The Sandbox program allows start up financial technology companies like ALTA to test our product while we obtain licenses and regulatory approval. It provided a degree of certainty as we navigated the road to approval. We are proud to report ALTA has officially launched and has successfully exited the Sandbox.

I believe the Sandbox represents a commitment from Arizona to foster innovation. We are a leading example. It’s a unique problem-solving partnership between the public sector and the private sector.

ALTA is excited to offer a solution to an unfair situation faced by Arizona’s voter approved marijuana dispensaries that simply needed a safe and secure way to operate their legitimate businesses. It is a digital payment network where cash intensive businesses pay each other using digital tokens instead of cash. No bank account is required to use ALTA.

And while the lack of clarity rooted in federal banking laws may have caused this problem for legal cannabis dispensaries, our goal is to make Arizona an example of how to solve this problem nationwide. We plan to expand into other states as we increase our employee roster. We will proudly say that we were born and raised in Arizona.

And I suspect that is one of the reasons why the Sandbox program was created. It can indeed make Arizona a center of the financial technology industry, an industry with plenty of room for growth. That’s more jobs and more tax dollars for our state.

Stories about government red tape and excessive regulation impeding new business creation are nothing new. It is encouraging to know that Arizona is changing that narrative on multiple levels.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Department of Health Services executed a swift and sane roll out of recreational marijuana just months after it was approved by voters.

Now our Attorney General has helped foster a way for these legal dispensaries to solve what was a highly problematic financial services challenge for the industry and a safety concern for the state.

ALTA is proud to be part of these positive narratives. And we look forward to serving Arizona, and an emerging Arizona industry for years to come. Safely. And smartly.

Sarah Wessel is co-founder of ALTA. Learn more at whatisalta.com.

Self-service helps fuel cannabis dispensaries' nationwide expansion

Self-service technology will continue to play an important role in the expansion of cannabis related products — medical use, recreational use and non-THC and low-THC CBD products as lawmakers recognize the rising consumer demand.

Self-service helps fuel cannabis dispensaries' nationwide expansionPhoto courtesy of iLava.

(Editor’s note: This is part three in a four-part series on cannabis self service.)

Cannabis stores are one of the fastest growing industries, and self-order technology is playing an important role in this emerging sector, currently valued at more than $18 billion, according to Leafly, a cannabis industry information resrouce, supporting the equivalent of over 300,000 full-time jobs.

A total of 17 states currently have legal adult use, as shown on the accompanying chart. More states are expected to legalize adult use, given the fact that polls show strong public support for it.

Image courtesy of Cannabis Business Advisors.

The cannabis industry’s job growth in 2020 doubled that of the prior year, according to the Leafly Jobs report. One reason was that during COVID-19, governors in most states declared cannabis an essential product.

While the pandemic boosted cannabis sales, the job growth would have been greater were it not for the social distancing, shelter-in-place orders and occupancy restrictions that limited the number of employees.

In this environment, many dispensaries have begun to investigate self-order kiosks, as described in parts one and two of this series, in addition to online ordering, curbside pick-up and delivery.

Dispensaries face a learning curve

As with restaurants and other retailers that have preceded them on this journey, cannabis dispensaries face a learning curve with self-service technology.

Industry veteran Juan Perez, former CEO of Adusa Inc., a kiosk software and digital engagement provider, outlined some of these challenges in the 2020 Kiosk Industry Census. One of the biggest challenges is integrating the payment processing on the kiosk with the dispensary’s point-of-sale system.

Chart courtesy of Cannabis Business Advisors.

Regulatory constraints also create challenges for self-serve kiosks, such as guest identification and purchase limits. The hardware needed to for identity validation, especially if paired with cash processing hardware, can impact the device’s ROI.

Software integration issues

Moe Asnani, co-founder of iLava, a Tucson, Arizona cannabis cultivation company that operates two dispensaries, has found integration between kiosk software and his dispensary POS software challenging.

“It’s really incumbent upon the software companies in the kiosk space to make something that works well,” in terms of integrating with the retail POS, Asnani told Kiosk Marketplace in a phone interview. His company uses a cannabis POS software called Treez.

Asnani introduced 12-inch iPads for medical cannabis in 2017 when he launched the dispensary.

First-time medical cannabis customers cannot use the iPads to register. This is because there is a lot of information to fill out and Asnani feels it makes more sense to have someone assist customers with this process.

“If you’re an existing patient it’s very easy,” he said. “Because then you have done your order and it shows up in our system. It automatically matches your information to the record.”

“New patient registration for kiosks is something we would like to figure out in the next three to six months,” he said.

About 5% of the medical cannabis transactions are done on the iPads. One reason more medical users don’t use the kiosks is that many choose to order online from home, Asnani said.

Asnani recently introduced Frank Mayer and Associates Inc. kiosks with Elo software for the recreational cannabis kiosks, which account for closes to 10% of the recreational cannabis transactions. He thinks the Elo customer interaction is good, although it is not a cannabis specific software. Integration with the POS has taken some work.

Moe Asnani wants kiosk software to integrate better with dispensary POS software.

“The most important part for us is reducing transaction time,” Asnani said.

There will be three kiosks for recreational cannabis and three for medical at both of the company’s stores.

Asnani expects to invest more in self-order kiosks as the software improves.

Arizona does not permit cannabis to be dispensed by a machine, Asnani said, such as the one used by Kind Love in Glendale, Colorado described in part two of this series.

“Cannabis and liquor are very similarly regulated,” he said.

State laws vary, challenging software providers

One of the challenges facing kiosk software providers in the cannabis market is that state regulations are not uniform.

“A lot of the states are just getting comfortable with the sale of marijuana,” said Maxime Kot, director of licensing at Cannabis Business Advisors, a cannabis consultancy based in Phoenix, Arizona.

Self-order kiosks which allow customers to place an order without entering the showroom, such as the ones that iLava uses, are fairly well established in states that allow recreational cannabis, Kot said.

Two of the most common menu ordering platforms the kiosks need to integrate with are Leafly and Weedmaps, she said.

The outlook for vending machines that dispense the regulated cannabis is less certain than self-order kiosks since some states, like Arizona, do not allow unattended cannabis dispensing.

“It’s something cool to have,” Kot said for cannabis vending machines. “It’s a new concept. With COVID people might not want face-to-face with an actual person.”

The ILava dispensary has separate kiosks for recreational and medical cannabis orders.

“It depends on whether or not the regulations allow for something like that,” said Kot. “If it does, then it’s a matter of how much is it going to cost to have a vending machine type setup to make it worth their while.”

Cannabis without THC less affected

Cannabis products that do not contain THC are less stringently regulated, and can usually be sold in vending machines.

Chemesis International Inc., a CBD development company, has placed vending machines that dispense CBD products that do not contain THC in various locations nationwide, including health, fitness, liquor, retail, institutional, workplace and multi-tenant residential locations.

“Our sole focus today is CBD and like broad use functional care products including but not limited to; topicals, tinctures, consumables, cosmetics, and in some cases, smokable CBD flower,” said Josh Rosenberg, president of Chemesis International. “None of which have THC in the various products offered.”

Self-service technology will continue to play an important role in the expansion of cannabisproducts as lawmakers recognize the rising consumer demand. related offerings — medical use, recreational use and non-THC and low-THC CBD

Photos courtesy of iLava.

420Property.com Seeing a Land Rush Underway in New Jersey and New York For Cannabis Real Estate

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif., May 12, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — 420Property.com, the world’s leading business and real estate listing service for the cannabis industry is currently seeing a land rush underway as real estate speculators and cannabis entrepreneurs are getting an early start on securing properties in New Jersey and New York that will potentially meet cannabis business licensing requirements.

New Jersey’s and New York’s various license types are expected to have their own unique application requirements and it is expected that the application process will start with finding and securing the appropriate real estate for the license type applied for. In New York, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) requires applicants to either be the owner of the premises or be in possession of the premises under a written lease with a term not less than the license period at the time of application.

Many details relating to land use and zoning requirements remain unknown in both New Jersey and New York at this time. However, in New York, the MRTA has provided some provisions regarding where future cannabis facilities can be potentially located. For example, the MRTA specifically limits the location of retail dispensary storefronts or on-site consumption licenses are permitted within 500 feet of school grounds or 200 feet from a house of worship.

420Property.com has seen over a 65% increase in traffic in New Jersey and New York since last year and expects that number to grow to 300% once licensing applications are being accepted.

Start your search or list a property today on 420Property.com.

See all the available listings offered by 420Property.com here:

New Jersey Cannabis Real Estate Listings: 

https://www.420property.com/NEW-JERSEY/

New York Cannabis Real Estate Listings: 

https://www.420property.com/NEW-YORK/

Media Contact:
Ryan George
925-478-9805
[email protected]

SOURCE 420Property.com

Related Links

http://420Property.com

Trulieve’s $2.1 Billion Harvest Acquisition Would Create One Of The Cannabis Industry’s Biggest Companies

Trulieve Cannabis, the largest cannabis cultivator and retailer in Florida, announced that it will acquire Harvest Health and Recreation, the largest cannabis operator in Arizona, in an all stock deal valued at $2.1 billion.

The transaction must be approved by regulators, but if completed it would create one of largest cannabis companies in the U.S. Both companies are publicly traded in Canada and over-the-counter in the U.S.

The acquisition will expand Trulieve’s footprint to 126 dispensaries and 22 cultivation facilities across 11 states. Analysts estimate that the combined companies’ revenue will surpass $1.2 billion by the end of the year, which would make Trulieve one of the largest companies in the U.S. marijuana market.

“It’s a significant moment for both of our companies as we create the most profitable cannabis company in the largest market in the world,” says Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers.

Trulieve will be neck and neck with Curaleaf, the industry’s current leader in terms of revenue and size, analysts say.

In a note published after the deal’s announcement, Cowen Research said that the deal will give Trulieve industry-leading margins at 37%. “The transaction will create the largest U.S. cannabis operator on a combined retail and cultivation basis and the most profitable U.S. [cannabis company] on an adjusted EBITDA basis,” Cowen’s Viven Azer wrote.

Matt McGinley, an analyst at Needham, estimates that the mega acquisition would make Trulieve “slightly larger” than Curaleaf by revenue and says it will be “transformative” for the company.

Today, Trulieve, which is the largest Florida cannabis company by far with about 50% market share, operates in six states with 82 of its 87 dispensaries in the Sunshine State. (Three more are in Pennsylvania and the company operates one each in Connecticut and California.) Harvest will add 39 dispensaries in nine states, 15 of which are in Arizona, nine in Pennsylvania, eight in Florida and four in California.

“Trulieve, before this deal, were realistically a competitor but this makes them a much more viable competitor,” says McGinley.

Rivers will remain CEO. Steve White, the founder and CEO of Harvest, says his role is to be determined. Rivers says Trulieve has been on the hunt for an acquisition for some time and Harvest’s footprint is in line with Trulieve’s strategy of building regional hubs.

“What we learned in Florida is that scale is important,” says Rivers.

Rivers says her strategy divides the country into regions and each region is anchored by largescale operations. Today, Trulieve has anchored its southeast operations in Florida and once the deal is complete Trulieve will have a hub in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Arizona already has recreational sales while Florida and Pennsylvania, both of which have strong medical markets, are expected to legalize adult-use soon.

Rivers says when federal law changes, her company’s operations will help fuel a national distribution model. But in the near and mid-term, she says Trulieve’s operations in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania will help drive efficiencies in each region.

“While we can’t transport cannabis across state lines, we can share talent, we can share skillsets and we can have purchasing power for non-cannabis pieces of the supply chain,” says Rivers. “We think about it more as a distribution play.”

As for expanding to new markets, like New York and New Mexico, Rivers says Trulieve is likely to expand to other states only if they can build large-scale operations.

“We’ll continue to invest dollars where it makes sense,” she says, “but only where we’ll have some level of market penetration.”

Rivers says she still sees expansion opportunities for Trulieve in Arizona and Florida.

White, who founded Harvest in 2011, launched the company with one dispensary in Arizona. “If you think about what our beginnings were and our aspirations were, and you fast-forward to today, they’re not even in the same galaxy,” says White.

Rivers says that as recreational cannabis is now legal in 17 states, she expects Pennsylvania and Florida to legalize adult-use soon. But the biggest development Rivers and the whole industry will be watching is at the federal level.  

“It’s becoming more common to have a marijuana program instead of less so,” says Rivers. “Of course, we’re waiting on Senator Chuck Schumer’s bill with bated breath.”

What a record $2.1 billion deal says about America's marijuana sector

The deals in American cannabis just keep getting bigger.

Case in point: Florida-based cannabis company Trulieve (TCNNF) set a new record Monday with its $2.1 billion all-stock deal to acquire Arizona-based Harvest Health. The combination sets Trulieve up to increase its national footprint from six states to 11, and sets it up to be the most profitable multi-state operator with adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) forecasted to top $460 million on the year.

It also goes to show how much America’s largest cannabis companies are willing to pay to gain access into states that recently legalized marijuana, like Arizona, since federal laws still restrict operating across state lines. As Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers told Yahoo Finance, sometimes it can make sense to build in a new state from the ground up — but with Harvest’s lead in Arizona, which only started recreational marijuana sales in 2021—sometimes it makes more sense to buy the leader.

“In this industry, it’s important to not only ensure that you’re in the right markets and that you have the right products at the right value propositions for customers,” she said. “It’s also important that you’re proving that profitability because of the limitations that we have in this industry due to federal constraints.”

Trulieve, which has long flexed its lead over other cannabis companies when it comes to profitability, also flexed in the announcement that Harvest recently tripled profitability during their latest quarter as Arizona’s market leader. Harvest also now gives Trulieve important ground to build on with their presence in Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. It also expands the total retail footprint to 126 dispensaries. While it remains illegal for cannabis to cross state lines, Rivers says the deal allows Trulieve to establish distribution channels in key markets.

The calculus on a major deal, of course, is always a bit easier to justify when one cannabis company doesn’t have an existing footprint in the states it’s paying to pick up. Where Rivers says this deal also stands out, though, isn’t just in added revenue, but also in benefiting sustained profits. 

“I think it’s easy to go out and acquire top-line [growth,]” she said. “It’s quite a different story when you’re talking about converting that top line into bottom-line value for shareholders over the long term.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts-based multi-state operator Curaleaf (CURLF) has boosted both its top and bottom lines with its own expansions to boast the largest U.S. footprint at 23 states. In 2019, the company paid nearly $1 billion for the Select cannabis brand to bolster its presence on the West coast. Later that same year, the company paid an additional $875 million in cash and stock to pick up seven more states in a deal to acquire Grassroots. Curaleaf CEO Joe Bayern told Yahoo Finance that Trulieve’s expansion as a sign of more consolidation was not unexpected.

“We know there’s going to be continued consolidation in the market and there’s going to be plenty of space to participate in the industry,” he said. “Everything we’ve done for the last several years has been in preparation of building out that national foundation.”

Zack Guzman is an anchor for Yahoo Finance Live as well as a senior writer covering entrepreneurship, crypto, cannabis, startups, and breaking news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.

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More South Jersey towns are banning recreational marijuana this week: A town-by-town guide

Galloway already has ordinances prohibiting smoking on township property or in township parks. On Tuesday, May 11, there will be a second reading of an ordinance that would prevent legalized marijuana from being smoked on township property or in township parks.

As a side note, one it largest institutions, Stockton University is rapidly expanding its educational offerings related to cannabis, including the creation of the Cannabis & Hemp Research Institute at Stockton.