The Deep Green Festival Will Have Plenty to Talk About

From the Oaksterdam raid to IRS audits and failed legalization attempts, medical cannabis is under siege. And festival organizers say it's high time for the weed culture to mature.

While the Bay Area smolders in the aftermath of the April 2 federal raid on Oaksterdam University, thousands of the medical cannabis and hemp industry’s best and brightest are regrouping to discuss the road ahead on April 21.

The second annual Deep Green Festival will take place at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion the day after 4/20, bringing together an A-list of political, medical, industrial, and nutritional cannabis leaders, led in part by budding Weed Wars celebrity Stephen DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland.

Dozens of California canna-businesses — from dispensaries to manufacturers of pot edibles, hemp product sellers, and cultivation experts — will have expo booths, alongside a day’s worth of entertainment, public speakers, and, of course, a vapor lounge and Prop 215 area. Advance tickets are $15 for the public.

Access to the festival, plus a private, daylong series of industry panels costs $60. And the experts have plenty to dive into.

Oaksterdam owner Richard Lee has said the Internal Revenue Service is pursuing him for taking ordinary business deductions on the operation of his city-permitted Oakland dispensary, CoffeeShop Blue Sky. A 1980s-era law bans “drug trafficking organizations” from taking routine business deductions, and it’s roughly doubling the federal taxes that dispensaries must now pay.

Harborside Health Center and San Francisco’s The Vapor Room are battling the IRS over the same issue. Harborside’s tax attorney, Henry Wykowski, said he represents about two dozen dispensaries that are being audited by the IRS.

In addition, some dispensaries are making less-than-desirable agreements with the IRS to settle their tax issues — a move that is “saddling the rest of us with those bad precedents,” DeAngelo said. He’s leading a national reform campaign that uses seminars to educate dispensary operators on their tax liabilities and how to fight the IRS.

Those IRS audits, combined with property forfeiture threats, bank account closures, and a lack of credit, have hobbled dispensaries over the last year, said DeAngelo, who will sit on a legalization panel at the Deep Green Festival with leading cannabis lawyers William Panzer and Patrick Goggin, along with union organizer Dan Rush.

At the same time, 2012 has officially become a year of lost opportunities for marijuana law reform at the ballot box. A half-dozen initiatives failed to gather enough signatures to even qualify by their April deadlines.

The multi-frontal federal assault helped hobble legalization efforts in 2012, DeAngelo said. “We’ve been very busy fighting a defensive campaign for several months. It seriously impacts our ability to run these initiatives,” he said.

Legalization groups are looking to the midterms of 2014, but another vote on more cannabis law reform might not materialize until 2016.

“I thought after Prop 19 in 2010 that it might happen in a year or two,” said Larry Bedard of the California Medical Association marijuana task force. “I believe it’ll take longer now.”

The California Medical Association made headlines in October when the 35,000-strong physicians’ lobby called for the legalization of cannabis for adult use. The public health costs of failed prohibition are too severe, the CMA stated.

Bedard was instrumental in the CMA’s decision, and will sit on a cannabis medicine panel with UC Berkeley’s Amanda Reiman, Robert Martin from lab CW Analytical, and Martin Lee, cofounder of Project CBD.

More and more patients are discovering the medical uses of the drug, even as the federal government prevents research on the benefits of smoking, vaporizing, or eating it, Reiman said. Berkeley Patients Group and others are conducting patient surveys to empirically record experiences, she said.

The discovery, isolation, and use of cannabis molecule cannabidiol, or CBD, to treat epilepsy and other disorders also presage an era of new therapies, Bedard said.

“We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits and the value in the plant,” he said. “I think the lack of regulation in California does not promote the research and science that is necessary.”

Cannabis labs that identify CBD have advanced rapidly over the last three years, but too many products are going untested and the federal crackdown is slowing efforts to increase safety for all Californians, said Robert Martin, of the Association of California Cannabis Labs. Some flowers and edibles still fail basic safety tests and quality assurance standards. Edibles usually lack tamper-proof packaging, expiration dates, and dosage guidelines.

“We find e.coli in hash,” he said. “We’re seeing pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that’s found in filth.” More and more patients, as a result, are demanding testing, said Martin. He praised the City of Richmond for mandating it.

Deep Green’s other aim is to counter negative stoner stereotypes with fact and maturity, said DeAngelo. He said he has grown weary of the typical Hempcon-style event, with its copious paraphernalia, booth babes, and $50 doctor visits.

“I see Deep Green as part of ongoing efforts to create a more mature and responsible picture of cannabis culture,” DeAngelo said.

“I embrace that. I think we need to have a more professional approach,” Martin agreed.

“A lot of cannabis culture has been stoner culture. Ever since cannabis became popular in the Sixties and Seventies there’s been this association with youth and youth culture,” DeAngelo said. “That’s a fallacy now. I’m 53 years old. I feel like Deep Green is part of the maturation of cannabis culture.”


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