Patient Advocate since 1977

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Foreign Corrupts Practices Act (FCPA) – by Simone Cimiluca Radzins

Many US brands are already working in the international cannabis market, through licensing out their product/service to other countries. But beyond the glory of carrying an international brand, there are certain risks of taking your cannabis brand global.Barriers to entry are tough in a foreign market, and making personal connections with foreign officials is key to integrating a brand into a new market. However, what did it take to get the brand into that country? Did it take a few meals or gifts to someone from the government? If so, there could be a violation of the Foreign Corrupts Practices Act.

What is the Foreign Corrupts Practices Act (FCPA)?

Congress enacted the FCPA in 1977 after revelations of widespread global corruption and discovering that more than 400 U.S. companies had paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to foreign government officials to secure business overseas. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and SEC started heavily pursuing companies (Walmart, Seimans, etc) in 2012.

The FCPA is known primarily for two of its main provisions, one that concerns bribery of foreign officials and the other that addresses accounting transparency requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

As mentioned above, there are two main provisions in the FCPA, which include:

  • Bribery of Foreign Officials: It is illegal for companies and individuals to influence a foreign official (or third parties/intermediaries to foreign officials) with any personal payments or rewards. This includes not only cash payments; it also may include travel and entertainment expenses or expensive gifts.
  • Accounting Transparency: The FCPA requires companies whose securities are listed in the United States to meet its accounting provisions.The accounting provisions also prohibit individuals and businesses from knowingly falsifying books and records or knowingly failing to implement internal controls.

How do you define what type of payments would be in violation of the FCPA? According to the FCPA, “payments intended to induce or influence a foreign official to use his or her position in order to assist … in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.”  Obtaining or retaining business can be defined as winning a contract, influencing the procurement process, avoiding contract termination, and more.

What you can do to ensure compliance with the FCPA

Companies engaging in business in emerging markets face a uniquely increased level of corruption and regulatory risk, but like everything – there are solutions. Here are three things that your company can do to mitigate FCPA risk.

1. Training: Implement a basic training program at your company. This training program should include all forms of compliance (code of conduct, sexual harassment, etc) and a separate FCPA training program.  Ensure that the accounting department, sales team, executive management, and the board of directors are trained.

2. Contracts: Include a FCPA clause in all contracts for customers and vendors.

3.  Monitoring: Continually monitor all controls that are in place to mitigate FCPA. This includes review of contracts and training requirements. An internal audit of transactions is also recommended depending on the size of operations.

FCPA does not mean zero contact with foreign officials. Under the FCPA, individuals still are able to engage and have an open dialogue with government officials. Gifts of “reasonable” value are allowed, if allowed by local law. However, there needs to be a clear internal structure to ensure full compliance with the law.

If you’re in cannabis, you’re in compliance. Global compliance is another game, make sure you’re prepared!


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ICBC Berlin Speakers – wow!

U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher

Currently serving his 13th term in Congress, Dana Rohrabacher represents California’s scenic 48th District. He also serves as Chairman of the Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is Vice Chairman on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Rohrabacher is a strong voice for lower government spending and taxes. His record of fiscal restraint and pro-growth policies has won him acclaim from the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Tommy Chong

Perhaps the most iconic name in all of cannabis, Tommy Chong is best known for his role in the classic Cheech & Chong movies that set the stage for the future of cannabis comedy. A tireless cannabis activist, Tommy Chong has continued his career in the cannabis industry to this day, and is now leading a well-branded line of cannabis products called Chong’s Choice.

Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen, MD

Born in 1957, academic studies of medicine at the University of Cologne. He is running a medical practice, mainly devoted to the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids. Dr. Grotenhermen is founder and chairman of the German Association for Cannabis as Medicine (ACM), founder and executive director of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM) ( and chairman of the Medical Cannabis Declaration (MCD). He is editor of the IACM-Bulletin, which is published bi-weekly in several languages and editor of the internet journal CANNABINOIDS, published on the website of the IACM. He is a principal of the nova-Institute based near Cologne and author of many articles, books and book chapters on the therapeutic potential, pharmacology and toxicology of the cannabinoids.

Dr. Donald Land, PhD

As Chief Scientific Consultant, Dr. Land guides the Science and Product Development groups at Steep Hill. His role includes optimizing scientific processes in the business, developing best practices, and evaluating new business opportunities from a scientific perspective. Dr. Land co-founded Halent Laboratory in 2010, which was then a major competitor to Steep Hill,later merging Halent into Steep Hill in 2013, to unite the two leading cannabis science firms. Dr. Land is a nationally recognized scientific expert on the chemistry of the cannabis plant and is in great demand as an educational speaker on its effects.

Dr. Land is also a currently a tenured professor at UC Davis where his research spans the fields of Forensic Science, Biotechnology and Sensor Development. Dr. Land is a member of the UC Davis Forensic Science Graduate Group and the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology, in addition to his continuing position in Chemistry. At UC Davis, he developed a program in interfacial analytical chemistry and a wide-ranging program in forensic chemistry.

Dr. Land received a PhD from the University of California, Irvine where he developed novel techniques using laser-induced thermal desorption with Fourier transform mass spectrometry, along with electron and ion spectroscopies. His work at UC Irvine earned him an IBM Corporation Graduate Research Fellowship, as well as a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship to conduct postdoctoral research in surface vibrational spectroscopy at the KFA Researchzentrum in Jülich, Germany. Dr. Land was subsequently hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Davis in 1991, at just 28 years of age.

Dr. Pierre Debs, PhD

is a scientist with 25+ years academic research experience with genetic engineering, stem cell biology, somatic cell reprogramming and the endocannabinoid system. After a family member with cancer began successfully self-medicating with cannabis extracts, Pierre started searching the scientific literature for clues as to why full spectrum cannabis extracts were helping, and found very little.  At the same time, he started studying the endocannabinoid system in cancer cells culture, then in various stem cells. In 2015 he left the lab and cofounded MedCann GmbH with the goal to produce cannabis medicines giving German patients more choices, to drive medical cannabis awareness and support clinical research. By the end of July 2016, MedCann had successfully imported medical cannabis from Canada and started distribution to German Pharmacies. Going from biological research direct to CEO of a cannabis start-up is an interesting adventure, more so in Germany. By the end of 2016, MedCann was acquired by Canopy Growth Corporation underscoring the importance of Germany to the growing European Cannabis Industry.

Dr. Ingo Michels, MD

Is currently working for the Institut of Addiction Research and as International Coordinator of the EU Central Asia Drug Action Programme (CADAP) at the University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt on Main, Germany. Had been working for a long period as Head of Unit of Federal Drug Commissioner of the Ministry of Health, Germany.

A sociologist and advisor for treatment of drug dependency, Dr. Michels has served as Head of the Drugs and Prison projects department of the German AIDS-Hilfe in Berlin, as Drug Commissioner of the Federal State of Bremen, Germany, and as Head of the Office of the Federal Drug Commissioner, Federal Ministry of Health in Berlin, Germany.

In 2007 he worked as a Consultant for the German International Development Organization GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit – Association for Technical Cooperation) on “HIV prevention among injecting drug users through harm reduction capacity building and advocacy” in Vietnam, Ukraine and Pakistan. Dr. Michels has published widely in international journals on substance use.

Dr. Reggie Gaudino, PhD

As Vice President for Science and Intellectual Property at Steep Hill, Dr. Gaudino is building the company’s Ynsight™ genetic analysis division as a companion to Steep Hill’s successful chemical profiling and chemical testing business. As Director of Genetics, Dr. Gaudino has been recognized as a leader in the field of cannabis genetics and was recently featured in Wired Magazine.

He is building a team to produce the highest quality and respected scientific results suitable for peer review in the field of cannabis research. Steep Hill will bring these scientific advancements to market for growers, breeders, and ultimately consumers. Dr. Gaudino also oversees the dayto- day scientific operations of Steep Hill’s laboratories in California, New Mexico and Washington, to insure they continue to define, lead and exceed industry standards. In addition, Dr. Gaudino identifies new IP opportunities and protects existing Steep Hill IP, through aggressive patent and trademark filing and prosecution.

Prior to his role at Steep Hill, Dr. Gaudino served as a published genetic researcher with 18 years of intellectual property experience in writing, prosecuting and managing patents and patent portfolios in fields as diverse as software and telecom to biotechnology and molecular genetics. Dr. Gaudino came to Steep Hill from Sequenom, Inc. (NASDAQ: SQNM) where he served as a Patent Agent. Previously, Dr. Gaudino managed IP based acquisitions for the Vortice Research Group, and he also has worked at several law firms such as Grant Anderson LLP, Biotechnology Law Group, Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich and Lyon & Lyon, in addition to serving as an advisor and consultant to portfolio investment companies.

Dr. Gaudino received his B.S. in Molecular Biology and Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and he conducted four years of post-doctoral research at the Washington University in St. Louis, studying transcriptional regulation of rRNA.

Linn Baumgardt

As Leafly’s Director of Marketing, Linn Baumgardt continuously strives to elevate the cannabis industry by breaking through barriers and partnering with mainstream companies such as Pandora and Twitter. Linn’s creativity, strategic mindset and drive to push boundaries have been invaluable in establishing Leafly as the fastest-growing privately held company in the Pacific Northwest. By analyzing market trends and legislation around the world she created a custom algorithm that has become the standard for how Leafly approaches new regions and global markets.

In addition, Linn launched Leafly’s largest media campaign, Leafly Vote, in support of cannabis legalization in nine states. Prior to Leafly, Linn worked with companies such as Microsoft, Discovery Channel, and consulted for clients such as Amazon, Sprint, and Red Box.

Jürgen Bickel

Jürgen Bickel is one of two managing partners at STORZ & BICKEL GmbH & Co. KG, the manufacturer of the first and –to date- only medical cannabinoid vaporizers on the market.

He holds a degree in civil engineering and acted as an international development worker in Peru for 5 years in the late 90ies, where he was dedicated to the water and sanitation sector in different cities like Chiclayo, Ayacucho and Tumbes.

In 2002, Jürgen Bickel joined Markus Storz, inventor of the VOLCANO Vaporization System as a partner and STORZ & BICKEL GmbH & Co. KG was founded. Together, they established a fast growing and international business with highly demanded products. In 2016, STORZ & BICKEL built its “S&B Vapor Factory” in Tuttlingen, Germany, a town with a reputation for being the nexus of medical technology with nearly 500 medical device manufacturers located there. With the VOLCANO MEDIC and the MIGHTY MEDIC, STORZ & BICKEL provided the only validated application method for the administration of cannabinoids, which was crucial for the overall acceptance of cannabis as medicine.

Dr. Jokūbas Žiburkus, PhD

Dr. Jokūbas Žiburkus, PhD is a neuroscientist with over 20 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters. He is a tenured Associate Professor at the University of Houston where his research is focusing on epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and Alzheimer’s disease. The laboratory’s current focus is on cannabinoid actions in the brain and novel treatments for neurological disorders. Žiburkus is a recipient of both the Global Lithuanian Leader Award for intellectual capital dissemination and the University of Houston’s Teaching Excellence Award. He is a recognized public speaker with a widely watched Tedx Talk entitled, “There is something you should know about epilepsy and cannabis.” Žiburkus currently serves on several prestigious scientific, business, and editorial boards, including Dravet Syndrome Foundation’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board. He is also a co-founder of CannTelligence,an educational and biotechnological innovation hub for cannabis industry-related projects.

Marc Lustig

Mr. Lustig holds MSc and MBA degrees from McGill University. He began his professional career in the pharmaceutical industry at Merck & Co. In 2000, he started his capital markets career in institutional equity research in the Life Sciences sector at Orion Securities. For the next 14 years, Mr. Lustig worked as a Director at GMP Securities L.P. and as Head of Capital Markets at Dundee Capital Markets before becoming a Principal at KES 7 Capital. Mr. Lustig founded Cannabis Royalties & Holdings Corp. in early 2015.

Dr. Pavel Jeřábek

Dr. Jeřábek works in the Czech State Institute For Drug Control (SÚKL – State Agency for Medical Cannabis) as a medical cannabis specialist and cannabis inspector.

Dr. Pavel Kubů, MD

Dr. Pavel Kubů is an expert in the fields of medical informatics and addictology.

In 2001, he graduated in general medicine with a focus on disease prevention and public health from the Third Faculty of Medicine, Charles University.

Since 2005 he has been working for the Intel Corporation as a Business Development Manager, leading projects of the Intel World Ahead Programme for Healthcare in Central and Eastern Europe and Education in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In 2006 he was appointed as chair of the Ethics Commission at the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction.

Pavel has served since 2007 as a board member of the Czech National Forum for eHealth, from 2012 to 2015 as a member of the steering committee of the Czech Healthcare Forum and since 2013 as a board member of the medical cannabis patients’ organisation KOPAC. In these non-profit NGOs he is primarily devoted to the education of healthcare professionals, patients and caregivers and support for the research and development of new treatment and preventive methods.

In 2014 he became a cofounding member of Konomed, a company that focuses on research and development in the field of medical cannabis that was transformed to ICCI – International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute in 2016. ICCI founders share combined experience that includes clinical and basic research, direct patient advocacy, legislative efforts and studies, government relations, advisory and administration, medical informatics, the creation of product safety protocols such as quality control / quality assurance standards and laboratory analysis for the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of cannabis products and global entrepreneurship. Their unique position leverages unparalleled resources and experience to create a global cannabis resource.

Steve DeAngelo

Steve DeAngelo, Executive Director of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, is a cannabis industry leader, movement strategist and lifelong activist. Steve writes and speaks widely on the subject of cannabis, and his creation of the world’s model medical cannabis dispensary has been extensively covered in national and international news media.

His past accomplishments include organizing I- 59, Washington D.C.’s medical cannabis initiative; Hemp Tour, which brought hemp to the heartland; and Ecolution, Inc., which produced hemp garments and accessories 1990-2000. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Maryland, Steve is a founding, charter member of ASA (Americans for Safe Access); on the board of the Emerald Growers Association and the star of the Discovery Channel mini series, “Weed Wars” which is currently rolling out internationally.

Matei Olaru

Matei Olaru is the CEO of Lift, Canada’s most recognized cannabis media and technology company. A corporate lawyer and consultant by trade, Matei practiced law for the cannabis industry before joining Lift in 2016. Prior to that, Matei helped advise governments on business and investment policy as a consultant with the World Bank (IFC). Matei holds a law degree and a business degree, and has studied internationally in Italy and Singapore.

Georg Wurth

Georg Wurth is a former local politician of Germany’s Green Party. He has lead the German Hemp Association (DHV) since its foundation in 2002. The organisation is one of Europe’s biggest organizations calling for the regulation of recreational and medical cannabis. With 150,000 Facebook fans and more than 3 million Youtube views, the DHV is powerful on social media. After winning a popular vote, Georg became the first cannabis lobbyist to speak to German Chancellor Merkel about reform. In 2014 Georg’s reform campaign idea won one million Euros on a televised show, after which he launched Europe’s first cinema spot campaign against prohibition.

Ophelia Chong

Ophelia Chong is the creative genius behind Stock Pot Images and Asian Americans for Cannabis Education (AACE). She is driven to help shape the new conversation of Cannabis and is guided by one mission: to advocate for the legalization of cannabis and offer truthful reflections of the faces and communities that embrace cannabis.

After graduating from the Art Center College of Design in 1989, she traveled the world for a few years and found her calling in photography. She began her career as the photographer for David Carson at Raygun Magazine, Sony Music, Mercury, Epitaph, and Interview Magazine. She went on to become the creative director at Strand Releasing, distributing over 50 films to the Sundance, Toronto, New York, Venice, Berlin and Outfest film festivals.  She moved into the stock and assignment photography business next. Since 1999, she has specialized in marketing and designing for photographers, photography monographs and photography agencies.

Ophelia teaches Marketing and Self-Promotion to photography students at the Art Center College of Design since 2010 and is an art director in the MFA writing program at CalArts since 2008.

Alan Dronkers

Ben Dronkers’ eldest son, Alan is a highly skilled and knowledgeable breeder and an integral part of Sensi Seeds breeding programs which took place at the now-legendary Cannabis Castle. Alan possesses an enormous wealth of information about medicinal and industrial cannabis genetics. He also takes a keen interest in the history and use of cannabis around the world as well as in the laws pertaining to the plant.

Alex Rogers

Visionary entrepreneur and political activist, Alex Rogers, is the founder and CEO of three thriving ancillary cannabis businesses. Cutting his teeth as an activist in the early nineties under the tutelage of Jack Herer, Alex has a deep proprietary knowledge of the industry. He has played a key role in professionalizing and mainstreaming the cannabis industry, building one of Oregon’s most popular medical marijuana clinics in a matter of a few years, and the first ever to advertise medical marijuana on network TV in America. He also founded and runs the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference (OMBC), the state’s biggest and longest running cannabis business conference. Living in five different countries throughout his life, and able to communicate in all respective languages, Alex considers himself an international citizen, thusly spawning his latest creation, the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC). The ICBC is the first and only cannabis business conference in the world to have multiple dates set in multiple different countries. A Magna Cum Laude graduate in Political Science, he has used his knowledge of law and politics to push cannabis policy forward all over the world.

Debby Goldsberry

Debby Goldsberry has 25 years as a leader in the medical and adult use marijuana industry. She co-founded the Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) medical cannabis collective in 1999. Directing its growth over 11 years, with 70 employees and up to 1,000 customer visits per day. At BPG, Ms. Goldsberry developed and implemented standard operating procedures for procurement, product safety, patient relations, and business management and operations, which have been replicated by dispensaries around the nation. As a community leader, she co-founded and directed Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Medical Cannabis Safety Council (MCSC), and Cannabis Action Network (CAN). She is a board member at California NORML, is a former board member of the Marijuana Policy Project, and teaches procurement and patient relations at Oaksterdam University. She has proven experience in business and human resources management, public and government relations, and product development and marketing. Ms. Goldsberry is currently the Ambassador at Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, CA and at Bloom Well in Bend, OR, two model medical cannabis dispensaries.

Ognjen Brborovic

Born 1972 in Zagreb, Croatia. Graduated on Medical School, University of Zagreb in 1998. In 2005 finished postgraduate studies in Public Health and successfully finished residency in Public Health. In 2010 acquired PHD with the thesis Association of formal education and pressure for changing health habits to self-perceived mental and physical health. In 2014 he became Assistant Professor at the Department of Healthcare Organization.

He is author in 20+ scientific papers published in peer reviewed journals.

Since 2003 he is one of the directors of symposium Media and Health that each year gathers most prominent Croatian journalists, politicians and professionals in health & healthcare area. In 2012 he became vice-president of Croatian Public Health Society, one of the societies of Croatian Medical Association.

As a vice-president of Croatian Public Health Society he advocated medical usage of cannabis on numerous occasions, in private encounters, public lectures and media. At the end of 2014 Croatian Minister of Health appointed him as a President of Minister Committee on Medical Cannabis that has successfully finished first phase of work with legal changes necessary to deliver cannabis medicine to patients. Committee’s further tasks are to track medical usage and abuse of cannabis, suggests improvements, indications and guidelines for medical professionals.

Marguerite Arnold

Marguerite Arnold is an American expat with German entrepreneurial roots. She has worked and lived in three countries (the U.S., UK and Germany).

She has over 25 years experience in the digitalization of industries (media, transportation/supply chain, structured finance and FinTech specifically) with stints at and for companies including Reuters, Morgan Stanley and Google. She was nominated for an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1999. She has just finished her EMBA at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

She is currently in talks with strategic co-founders and company partnerships as well as looking for seed financing for a “weedtech”/insuretech startup in Germany. She also currently covers the industry internationally for various publications in Europe and the U.S.

Sebastián Marincolo

Sebastián Marincolo is a former student of the philosophers William G. Lycan, Simon Blackburn, and Manfred Frank. His research focuses on the philosophy of mind, neurocognition, and on altered states of mind. Marincolo has published various articles on the marijuana high, co-edited bewusstseinserweiterungen (“mind expansions”), an issue of the German internetzine “parapluie”, and published three books on the marijuana high: the study “High. Insights on Marijuana” (Dogearpublishing, Indiana, USA, 2010), the essay collection, “High. Das positive Potential von Marijuana” (in German, Klett Cotta/Tropen, Stuttgart, Germany, 2013), which contains his macro art series “The Art of Cannabis”, and the essay collection “What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin” (Khargala Press 2015).

Marincolo also worked with marijuana expert Harvard Associate Prof. Emeritus Lester Grinspoon on a book project. For more than five years he was a creative director and consultant for one of the biggest foundations in Germany and has more than 25 years of experience as a freelance photographer. His art photography from New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Bali and other places has been shown in various exhibitions and art galleries in Germany and the U.S. He is currently living in Stuttgart, Germany, and works as a freelance writer, creative consultant and photographer.

Òscar Parés

Òscar Parés Franquero has degrees in philosophy and anthropology and an MA in drug dependencies from the Barcelona University. He is currently the deputy director of the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education Research & Service Foundation (ICEERS). He is the main author of the Drug Policy Report: Catalonia, Innovation Born of Necessity (OSF, 2015) and co-authored the paper “How to regulate Cannabis Social Clubs: analyzing the experiences in Spain, Belgium and Uruguay” (2017 International Journal of Drug Policy). During 7 years he had collaborated with the Government of Catalonia in coordinating risk reduction programs in the nightlife context and, in the context of the regulation of the activity of Cannabis Social Clubs.

Ed Rosenthal

Ed Rosenthal is the world’s leading expert on the cultivation of marijuana. In his more than forty years as the “guru of ganja,” he has written or edited more than a dozen books about marijuana cultivation and social policy that cumulatively have sold over two million copies. His “Ask Ed”® marijuana advice column ran in High Times for several decades and still appears internationally. One of his books on marijuana cultivation is the only book of its type to be reviewed by The New York Times.

Currently Rosenthal consults for commercial growers throughout the world, both independently and as a team member of Quantum 9, a cannabis consulting service. He is also on the faculty of Oaksterdam University, the leading trade school for the cannabis industry. His classes teach pupils how different techniques can be used to improve the yield and efficiency of their gardens.

Beyond the garden, Rosenthal views marijuana law as a crucial social issue and has been active in promoting and developing policies of civil regulation. In 2003 he was tried in federal court for cultivation in a trial where the jury was not allowed to hear that he was deputized by the City of Oakland to provide marijuana for patients. His trial shifted public opinion in favor of state medical marijuana laws. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Green Aid: The Medical Marijuana Legal Defense and Education Fund.  Rosenthal has also served as an expert witness for federal, state, and civil marijuana cases for over thirty years.

Books by Ed Rosenthal include: Protect Your Garden, Marijuana Grower’s Handbook (2010), Marijuana Pest & Disease Control, Medical Marijuana 101, Why Marijuana Should be Legal, and The Big Book of Buds series.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom is editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf magazine. He also publishes and edits, one of the leading sources for marijuana and celebrity news on the web since 2007.

Steve was named editor of Freedom Leaf in November 2014.

He’s co-author of Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language and Life (Abrams Image, 2008) and Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide (Abrams Image, 2010).

A former editor of High Times, Steve produced the Stony and Doobie awards shows, and the Hempilation benefit albums for NORML during his more than 15 years with the magazine, from 1989 to 2006.

He was the recipient of NORML’s Media & Culture Award in 2004.

Steve’s also appeared as a moderator, panelist and speaker at many marijuana-reform events, including the NORML conference, the Drug Policy Alliance conference, the International Cannabis Business Conference, Seattle Hempfest, Boston Freedom Rally, Cannabis Peace March, and Cypress Hill’s SmokeOut and Spring Gathering events.

He and Willie Nelson founded the Teapot Party in 2010.

He’s also the author of Video Invaders (Arco, 1982) and Watch Out for the Little Guys (St. Martins Press, 1989).

He lives in Bronx, NY.

Michael Knodt

Michael Knodt was born in Hessen, Germany, and has been living in Berlin since the Berlin Wall fell. He initially studied history and journalism before receiving certification as a carpenter. He has worked as a freelancer for German-language hemp magazines since 2004 and from 2005 to 2013, he was the editor in chief of Germany’s biggest cannabis periodical. Currently, this father of two writes for Vice magazine,, Sensi Seeds, numerous German and English-language publications. He is also the face and presenter of DerMicha, his new YT-Channel on cannabis and its prohibition.

Susan Audino, PhD

Susan Audino obtained her PhD in Chemistry with an analytical chemistry major, physical and biochemistry minor areas.  Susan was the recipient of NSF Chemometric Graduate Fellowship and was a visiting scientist at NIST where she completed her graduate research.  She currently owns and operates a consulting firm to service chemical and biological laboratories, is an A2LA Lead Assessor and Instructor, and serves as a Board Member for the Center for Research on Environmental Medicine in Maryland.  She is also serving as Quality and/or Technical Director for several laboratories and has worked with a variety of laboratories to establish and/or improve their quality management and technical operations.

Susan has been studying the chemistry and applications of cannabinoids and provides scientific and technical guidance to medical marijuana dispensaries, testing laboratories, medical personnel, and regulatory agencies. Dr. Audino’s interest most directly involves marijuana/cannabis consumer safety and protection, and promotes active research towards the development of official/consensus test methods specifically for this industry. Her perspective is that inadequate testing is worse than no testing.  In addition to serving on Expert Review Panels, she has been working closely with AOAC to develop interest and movement toward the development of scientifically sound methodologies for the cannabis sector, and is chairing the first such AOAC Cannabis Working Group.

Guenter Weiglein

Of the legal cannabis users in Germany, three patients have been able to take their cases against the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) for not allowing them to grow their own plants since the imports are incredibly expensive and not covered by health insurance.

Günther Weiglein is one of the three cannabis patients who the German court allowed the ability to potentially grow his own medicine.

Dean Arbit

Dean has been a trailblazer in Cannabis related media, helping found Smell the Truth on SFGate in 2011, where he currently serves as Publisher.  In 2015, Dean also conceptualized and co-founded New West Summit, which he sold the following year. Prior to entering the Cannabis space in 2011, Dean served as CEO of West Coast Outdoor Media Inc., which he founded 1998, and he help build into one of the largest independent outdoor advertising companies in the Western U.S., with clients such as Apple, NIKE, and Bank of America. New York-based private equity firm Flexis Capital acquired West Coast Outdoor Media in January of 2011. Dean studied Economics and International Finance at San Francisco State University.

Jamie Shaw

Jamie’s experience in the theatre and film industries saw her take up residence in New York, Toronto, Las Vegas and Los Angeles before locating in Vancouver. She was a Director and spokesperson for the BC Compassion Club Society (BCCCS), and served as President of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD). Her successful lobbying for these organizations Dispensary led the city of Vancouver to not only develop bylaws for dispensaries, but to create a separate class of license for compassion clubs like the BCCCS, that requires membership in CAMCD.

Jamie co-founded the Women Grow Vancouver Chapter, and is a prolific writer whose work is featured on the websites Canlio, and Lift. She continues to consult, lobby and advocate for dispensaries, and currently serves in the role of Government Relations for MMJ Canada.

Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is the co-founder and executive director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) – the only national trade association representing the social and political interests of legal cannabis businesses in the United States. Founded in 2010 and now representing nearly 1,000 member businesses, NCIA maintains offices in Washington, D.C. and Denver, Colorado.

Prior to launching NCIA, Aaron distinguished himself as a public advocate for common sense marijuana policy reforms — first under the auspices of a California-based medical cannabis advocacy group, Safe Access Now, and later as the California state policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. Aaron’s opinion pieces have appeared in major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, and he has been a frequent commentator on national television news networks. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Aaron is currently based in Denver, Colorado.

Kirk Tousaw

Kirk Tousaw is a barrister and advocate for law reform. His primary practice areas are Medical Cannabis Regulatory Compliance, Cannabis Criminal Defence and Strategic Litigation.

In addition to the daily practice of law, Kirk advocates for law reform. He sits on the all-volunteer Board of Directors of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. He also sits on the Board of NORML Canada, MAPS Canada and the Sensible BC Society. Kirk drafted the Sensible Policing Act, a recent ballot initiative in BC that garnered more than 200,000 signatures.

Kirk has written and spoken extensively on issues related to drug policy, privacy, religious freedom, and criminal justice policy. In addition, Kirk has had the privilege of testifying several times before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons and also before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. In 2015 he litigated the first medical cannabis case to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ross Mirkarimi

Ross Mirkarimi was elected the thirty-fifth Sheriff of the City and County of San Francisco, and served until 2016.  Prior to becoming Sheriff, he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (City Council) for two terms.  Throughout his 22 years of public service, Ross has been an outspoken advocate for the legalization of cannabis – the only Sheriff in California’s 58 counties.  In 2005, Ross was the first municipal legislator in California to author a comprehensive regulatory framework for legalizing medical cannabis. He received NORML’s “hero of the year” award in 2006. Appointed by the State Senate, Ross also served on the California Costal Commission between 2009-2011.   Since leaving public service, Ross is consulting governments domestic and abroad on criminal justice reforms, and implementation of cannabis regulations.

Ngaio Bealum

Ngaio Bealum is one of the premiere cannabis comics in the United States and you’ll see why he has performed at just about every Hempfest on the West Coast and too many cannabis-related events to even keep track of. He has appeared on Comedy Central, BET, MTV and many other networks and shows across your television dial.  Very recently, he was a featured guest on the hilarious podcast of Doug Benson (Super High Me, Half-Baked), Getting Doug With High. In addition to his cannabis comedy, he is the former editor of West Coast Cannabis Magazine and has been a tireless activist for legalization. While Ngaio’s comedy is hilarious whether you are a full-fledged member of the cannabis community or not, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Chris Driessen

Chris Driessen is the President of Organa Brands, the Colorado-based parent company of O.penVAPE, Bakked, District Edibles, Magic Buzz and Organa Labs products. Organa Brands is home to the largest consumer cannabis brands in the United States, with ancillary and CBD products in eight European countries. As President, Driessen is responsible for all aspects of day-to-day operations, corporate strategy and overall performance of the organization.

Driessen’s competitive background managing sales efforts for Starwood Hotels and Resorts allowed him to prepare Organa Brands as an international house of brands. Through intensive sales and brand training with Starwood (and other international hotel enterprises), Driessen understands the necessity for brand development and delivering a unique consumer experience. This background paved the way for Driessen to contribute to O.penVAPE becoming the most widely recognized and globally distributed brand in cannabis.

O.penVAPE’s dramatic revenue growth for the past several years is in part due to Driessen’s ability to lead and motivate his sales teams. With his sales leadership experience with Konica Minolta Business Solutions, one of the largest technology companies with offices in 49 countries worldwide, he brings systematic practices and highly developed organization skills to Organa Brands. He is responsible for tripling the size of Organa Brands’ licensee network within the United States and expanding the company’s international presence into both Europe and the Caribbean. The company revenues have grown 10X under his leadership as both a sales leader and executive.

As President, Driessen drives higher revenue by increasing efficiency and overseeing new product and upcoming brand roll outs in the THC and CBD markets. Chris directs all operations at Organa Labs, the Organa Brands Fulfillment Center and the Organa Brands Corporate Office.

Chris Driessen is committed to industry advocacy, corporate responsibility, scientific research, product innovation and safe access to cannabis.

Charles P. Rutherford II

Charlie is the Business Development Director at Boveda and his personal story is what informs Boveda’s mission in maximizing the quality of cannabis. In 2013 Charlie was hit on his motorcycle by a careless driver, resulting in amputation of his left foot. Desperate for a more effective and safer relief for phantom limb pain than increasing amounts of opiates, Charlie reluctantly turned to cannabis. In one night, he went from skeptic to believer. The quality of life that cannabis provides allows Charlie to compete in golf, mountain biking, downhill skiing and marksmanship. The only difference before and after the accident, he says, is that now he gets much better parking.

Kevin Jodrey

Kevin Jodrey is one of the most well known growers in Humboldt County and is an internationally respected cannabis expert, known for improving and forwarding the modern cannabis movement. As a world renowned hunter of ganja genetics, Kev is fascinated by the search for rare, desirable, and marketable traits.

Kevin is the creator of Port Royal, owner of Wonderland Nursery, and co-founder of The Ganjier. He’s been a cannabis cultivator for decades, running his own operations and offering consulting services to the broader community. He’s spoken at universities, judged at the Emerald Cup, and consulted on cannabis related educational shows for National Geographic and A&E.

Featured in the New York Times, a pulitzer prize winning Washington Post article, countless other articles, books, and radio, and tv shows, he is at the epicenter of the Green Rush (and graces the walls of the Oakland Museum to prove it) and is guiding the industry as it transitions to legalization.

Clint Younge

Clint Younge had ten years of Sales/PR, and Management experience before entering the Cannabis industry, where he worked his way up from budtender to assistant manager, to manager and brand ambassador before becoming CEO of MMJ Canada. He is a Director of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, and is an advocate who loves connecting people. MMJ Canada has eight stores (and growing) across Canada, and works closely with the LOST Organization, a mental health division that reflects Clint’s main focus with Cannabis.

Michael Robbie

Michael Robbie, P.Eng., MBA.  Michael is the Director of Marketing with Conviron – the world leading designer/supplier of controlled environments for plant growth rooms in the plant research and ag-biotech sectors having installed thousands of units around the world over the last 50 years.  Michael is leading Conviron’s expansion into the cannabis sector, leveraging their designs and technologies proven in the precision-based world of plant science and applying them to commercial cannabis production facilities.

Terry Roycroft

In 2010, Mr. Roycroft founded MCRCI, a private organization with licensed physicians that educate and sign in support of qualified patients looking for legal access and guidance for medicinal cannabis. MCRCI soon became the leading cannabis clinic in Canada with a team of doctors who specialize in prescribing cannabis. With his knowledge and experience in the medicinal cannabis industry, Mr. Roycroft soon became one of the top consultants in the country for the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) and the former Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). Mr. Roycroft continues to expand his network and database within the industry, locally and internationally, by working with production sites, pharmacists, medical laboratories, doctors, and patients. Mr. Roycroft has recently done talks in Australia to the College of Physicians and a number of talks across Canada to HR groups regarding medicinal cannabis in the workplace.

Maxim Zavet

A successful lawyer and businessman who knows firsthand how the naturally healing power of cannabis can replace traditional medicines, Max has taken his incredible passion for cannabis and transformed it into a company dedicated to helping others. From the extremely approachable and knowledgeable customer service team to the carefully selected strains available, Max wants every aspect of the #EmblemExperience to be a positive one.


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24 countries where cannabis is legal

Israel – God’s own country is on its way to decriminalize the use of *weed* for self pleasure.

According to reports, it is estimated that 9% of the population in Israel use weed. With the decriminalisation of weed which was announced by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Israelis will be allowed to possess up to 15 grammes of weed.

If a first timer is caught possessing over the stipulated limit he or she would pay a fine of 1000 shekels (roughly N122,000). This will also not show up on the person’s record.

Israel is one of the leading countries in medical weed research. The country has joined other countries in Europe and North America to decriminalise or legalise cannabis.

1. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that growing, possessing and smoking weed for recreation is legal under the right to freedom.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

The measure was approved in 4-1 vote on the five-justice panel, backing the argument that smoking weed is covered under the right of “free development of personality.”

Here’s a quick look at 26 countries where weed is legal and what the law states:

2. Czech Republic

Czech Republic permits possession of up to 15 grams for personal use. Weed for medical use on prescription has been legalised since April 2013.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

3. Switzerland

According to Switzerland laws, growing weed on private property for personal consumption by adults is legal. However, buying or selling weed is a strict criminal offence and punishable by a fine.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

In 2013, the mountainous Central European country decriminalized weed for people over 18 with 10 grams or less of the drug. There’s still a fine if you’re caught — about $110 — but it doesn’t go on your permanent record and you don’t have to make a court appearance.

But with the country’s high salaries, that works out to quite a cheap fine. You’ll still want to smoke in private, though; taking the drug is illegal and can result in much higher fines, especially if you’re a repeat offender.

4. North Korea

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Surprising as it may seem, but the growth, sale and consumption of weed in the communist country is legal and widely unregulated by the government. Just remember it’s North Korea!

5. Uruguay

While Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has legalised Cannabis, you need to be over 18 years of age to buy it. The law states that to buy people should be residents of the country, above 18 years of age and must register with the authorities.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Besides, there isn’t any law as of yet that specifies the quantity or mandated any rules for selling, transporting or cultivating weed.

6. Argentina

Possession of Cannabis is illegal, but decriminalised. It is legal for personal consumption in small quantities inside a private property.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

While consumption for medical reasons is acceptable within a private property, sale, transportation and cultivation is illegal by law.

7. Jamaica

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Growing, selling and consuming weed is illegal. But it’s been decriminalised in 2013 if a person is found with a small amount.

8. Spain

Spain has a complicated system of drug laws, but weed is not criminalized as long as you smoke in private. Since the ’90s, if you are caught with banned substances in public, you won’t be punished by jail time, but you might get a hefty fine of about $330.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

You can grow two plants for personal use, but buying or carrying is still illegal. In a creative way around these seemingly contradictory laws, “private clubs” have flourished. In cities like Barcelona, you can easily join a members-only pot club where you can smoke your own weed or buy some of theirs.

Tourists, beware, though. The regional government has tried to stymie weed tourism by limiting membership to Spanish residents.

9. Portugal

Portugal has decriminalized possession and consumption of all dr*gs, as long as you don’t have more than a 10-day supply. If you’re caught with this small amount you can be sent to a treatment center or be forced to a pay a fine.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

A three-person committee decides your fate, but often there is no penalty. In addition to benefiting weed users, that 2014 European Monitoring Center for Dr*gs and Drug Addiction Policy report showed that the law has led to a reduction in drug deaths and HIV cases.

10. Australia

Much like the US, Australia has decriminalized weed in some states but opted to keep it a more substantially-punishable offense in others.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

With their natural proclivity to co-exist with crocs, Russell Crowe, and other nightmarish animals, you’d think they wouldn’t be afraid of a little old fashioned relaxation.

11. Belgium

As far as legality, it’s only allowed if you only grow one bedrocan female plant and nothing else.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Possession has been made illegal again—so that means you just have to hang on to that one female plant.

12. Cambodia

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

The use of weed is widespread among the Khmer people and foreigners alike—there are even places designated as “Happy Restaurants” in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville that publicly offer food cooked with weed.

13. Canada

You have to try really hard to get in trouble for anything in Canada.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

The least of which is smoking weed. You can probably walk down their one highway smoking a joint, playing Springsteen, and shouting “USA! USA!” and all that’ll happen is a passerby will likely offer you a ride.

14. Columbia

Pot has actually been decriminalized in Columbia since 1994 and up to 22 grams is fine under the eyes of the law.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

However, if you’re caught with over 20 plants—which is a bit much—you will have to face some unpleasant music.

15. Costa Rica

A de facto decriminalization policy of possession has been upheld throughout the country, and there’s no minimum or maximum amount assigned as of yet.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Just another nugget of gold from the chill country that has sloths and sharks on its money.

16. Croatia

Selling cannabis in Croatia is punishable by a mandatory prison sentence of three years—so that’s out, but possessing a small amount of the drug is only met with a light fine.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

17. Ecuador

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Ten grams is the legal limit in Ecuador, whereas selling, cultivating or transporting the stuff will get you in serious trouble.

18. Estonia

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Pro-tip: stick to the 7.5 gram possession limit or you’ll end up spending five years in an Estonian jail. Do you want that? Didn’t think so.

19. Nepal

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Pot is nothing new to Nepal. They’ve used the plant for centuries, mostly in religious rituals that involve either drinking an infused beverage, smoking the buds, or harvesting and smoking the resin (hash).

20. Netherlands

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Fully legal in designated smoking areas (those coffee shops you always hear about), weed is almost legal across the board, but selling and transporting the stuff will cause problems.

21. Pakistan

Pakistan is tricky, because the “legality” relies on the laziness of the local police force—while it’s illegal to posses pot, it’s widely tolerated.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

However, cultivating *weed* has been decriminalized, which explains the large tracts of cannabis growing freely throughout the country.

22. Peru

You can grow it. You can drive around with it. You can smoke it. Hell, you can do whatever you want with it. Except sell it. Definitely don’t do that.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

23. Russia

Of course you can smoke pot in Russia.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Just make sure you don’t have more than six grams, or you’ll totally go to Siberia.

24. Ukraine

It’s fully illegal to sell pot—don’t do that in the Ukraine. However, possessing up to five grams or ten plants is A-OK.

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Weed Smoking! Top 26 countries where weed is legal (Pictured)

Given the state-by-state policy in the United States, there are states that are both way ahead of the international movement towards legalization and way behind. So if your travel budget won’t quite stretch to Europe or South America, consider a domestic flight to Washington, Colorado, Oregon, or Alaska.

In Nigeria, weed must never be found in your possession, neither should you be caught smoking it. This for many is not progressive at all and they would rather have the government a second look at the law that prohibits the people from coming close to weed.

2 Comments please mail to support Ava Barrys situation please mail to support Ava Barrys situation

I’ve been advised that too many messages have been received to the office by ministerial officials I have been reprimanded by them over this. I want to thank you all sincerely for being the cause of this reprimand and I hope that you will continue to assist us in Ava’s necessity to access medicinal cannabis.

i was afraid to tell you all about this for fear it would not be good for Ava but I don’t think it’s fair to give out to her mother. I also would be letting my father down to not be brave so I’m letting ye know.

I will accept any reprimand I will accept any critique and take it in to the best of my ability. If I am wrong I will apologise but I will not discontinue in the right my daughter has for access to medication to ease her suffering. Therefore as the cause of this reprimand I thank you from the very bottom of my heart and although I was sorry to hear the lovely ladies in Simon Harris office may have had extra work I remain unrepentant and would ask for your continued support.

also I did say to the gentleman in question im looking forward very much to the day when I can post my deepest thanks to Simon Harris his colleagues and his staff. He knows I have great time for him so he will know that is quite true.

until then please contact ref Ava Barry and please ask them for their continued support to get Ava’s medical situation finalised at long last lots and lots of love to ye all xxx v

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‘One seizure lifted her that high off the bed — it could have killed her’

By Noel Baker
Senior Reporter

Noel Baker speaks to Vera Twomey, who caught the imagination of the nation when she set out to walk from Cork to the Dáil to win the right to use cannabis oil, which has had a dramatic effect on her daughter’s health

Vera Twomey at home in Aghabullogue with her children Sophia, Elvera Mae, Ava, and Michael. Pictures: Denis Minihane

In the days before Christmas, Santa paid a visit to Coachford in mid-Cork. A few miles away at her house in Aghabullogue, Vera Twomey knew he was coming and was getting ready to race down to the village’s community centre for the visit of the man in the red suit, who was popping into the local playgroup.

With the ho ho hos clearly audible out on the street, I wondered whether Vera had brought her own letter to Santa with her.

She has had a wishlist for some time — one centred around her eldest child, Ava.

It’s a long and winding story, shot through with moments of real danger, when Ava’s life was in the balance. It is that all-pervading fear that still lingers in the background, no matter how much her condition has improved since she began taking the Everyday Plus Hemp Oil made by Charlotte’s Web and bought in a store in Dublin’s Capel St.

Sitting in her kitchen in Aghabullogue, Vera fires through the medical history at a mile a minute, conscious of the need to make it down to Coachford in time for Santa’s visit. The story begins the day Ava received her vaccinations at four months of age in the winter of 2009.

“She got her first 45-minute seizure that night at 8pm,” Vera says. “We took her into CUH by ambulance and she continued to seize all the way.”

Initially, doctors believed it might have been a one-off, but the seizures reappeared and blood samples were sent away to Glasgow for testing. When the results came back the news was devastating.

“The doctor took us into a room and told us that she has Dravet Syndrome; that it affects one in every 65,000 children; that she is never going to walk; she is never going to talk, and she is most likely going to be in residential care for the rest of her life and we have to accept that,” said Vera.

“I said ‘no’. All I remember is saying ‘no’. Apparently, I was swearing a lot, and I don’t usually swear. It went on from there.”

Vera and her husband, Paul, a mechanic, are obviously loving and devoted parents. They now have four children; and over the calendar in the kitchen is a ‘Santa, please stop here!’ sign, with four stockings underneath bearing the names of the children. It’s a typical family scene, but Ava’s life has been a drama, a feelgood story, a heartbreaker — and a tale of the unexpected.

As an intractable condition, Dravet Syndrome instantly puts to bed any notion of a ‘cure’. Ava found herself on larger and larger amounts of different medication as she got older. But all the time she began to confound the initial gloomy forecast for her life.

Vera recalls how “she started to babble a little and had a few words”, even as the side effects of medication became more pronounced. By the time she was two-and-a-half she could walk. Then came five “fairly big seizures” that resulted in a stay in hospital and another new drug — one that works for many children but which prompted a reaction in Ava. She went into a coma for a week.

“That was the first time she nearly died,” Vera recalls. “When she came out of it, she had lost the ability to walk. She couldn’t support her head, all her clothes were hanging off her. It took her another 12 months to get her to build up her weight and get her back to where she had been. I thought the next medicine would be the one to ease things, but the seizures started happening again.”

By this stage, Vera and Paul had reached out to others overseas who had children with Dravet Syndrome, hoping for some practical assistance. It was through these groups that word emerged of families in Oregon and Alaska in the US getting cannabis oil for their children.

“I started looking for evidence for it, at first more to see that it was ridiculous rather than that it would work,” Vera admits.

Yet the more she researched it and spoke online with other families, the more it seemed to offer some kind of respite and hope. One young girl in America had seen a reduction in the number of seizures from a mind-boggling 300 a day to three a month after taking the substance, often referred to as CBD. Yet Vera still didn’t think it was an option for them. But, by October 2015 doctors informed the family that there were no new medications available for Ava. And Vera swung into action.

It might seem odd, in hindsight, but the online petition began way before Ava had ever taken CBD. There was no indication that it would work for her — it was simply a step the family believed they had to take.

“In November 2015 Ava had 18 seizures in eight hours and had a heart attack,” Vera says. “I realised she was not going to survive.”

Vera Twomey with her daughter Ava, who suffered 18 seizures and a heart attack in just eight hours in November 2015.

She is referring to Ava’s longer-term prospects if action wasn’t taken, but at the time it was an elemental crisis. She is trembling at the memory, her voice fraying at the edges — it is every frantic parent, at a moment of profound worry, when your children are at risk and you feel helpless beyond words.

“I am not a public person at all,” she continues, “I never told our business to anybody, really, or how bad Ava was. She looks so well.”

Yet the fear that she could be taken away by a bad seizure persisted to such an extent that she felt they had little option but to drum up public attention and support for access to CBD and THC for Ava. Vera says she recoils at the description of it as “a campaign”, adding: “I was just trying to help Ava for her sake.”

She didn’t want to purchase CBD online, stating that she wanted the security of dealing directly with the people selling the product to her. When it became available in Dublin, she went there at the end of last September and by chance met the Stanley Brothers, who manufacture the product for Charlotte’s Web, who were visiting from the US.

Vera discussed dosage with them and with others in an ever-growing circle of people which also included a neurologist. As little as possible was left to chance. The innocuous bottle, which is legal, states that the oil is mint chocolate flavour.

“We had the bottle in our hand and, you know something, we were still afraid — we were wondering were we doing the right thing,” she says. It brought into focus the way in which a family can be placed at this crossroads and can feel like they are taking a leap into the unknown, no matter how much research and preparation has been conducted. “I want a prescription,” Vera says firmly.

At the end of September, Ava had 23 seizures in 36 hours. Then she began receiving the small dose of the oil in the morning, and again at night. The results were almost instantaneous. Ava had seven seizures in October, nine in November, and three in December.

“The side effects have been increased appetite, better sleep, less pain standing,” Vera says. “She is smiling more, she is brighter, the teachers have said she is engaging more with her peers. It’s a revelation. We are meeting a new side to Ava.”

They are continuing to monitor Ava and are hyper-alert for any negative developments, but as yet there simply haven’t been any. Yet despite the dramatic reduction in the number of seizures, the family still do not have the prescription for use that they would like, and they also want to combine the CBD with THC, which they think might further enhance its effectiveness.

In November Ava had a “massive, massive seizure”, so alarming it prompted Vera into fresh action. She announced that unless something was done for her child, she would simply walk to Dublin to raise it directly with Health Minister, Simon Harris.

“That particular [seizure] rose her that high off the bed,” Vera says. “I think that one could have taken her life, only she had strength enough to fight it off from having the break in October.”

When she told Paul about her plan to walk to Dublin, he thought she had lost her mind and asked her to sit down and have a cup of tea. But the progress Ava had shown since starting to take CBD was tempered by the ever-present danger of ‘the big one’, and intensified the search for anything to keep it at bay. And so Vera went walking.

She got to Donoughmore and found that people were joining in.

“The people started coming from Tower and Rathduff,” she says. “A man named Tim O’Sullivan walked 21 miles with me to Mallow. People came and walked some of the way with us. A man from Bweeng invited me in for soup. People were coming out with water and sandwiches. People drove up from Wexford, they came from Mallow.”

Vera becomes is increasingly emotional as she runs through these memories forged on the roads of mid-Cork.

“Another girl drove as far as New Tipperary Hill with a flask of tea. I thought I was on my own but I didn’t realise there were so many people out there supporting us.”

She left at 9.50am that day and got to Mallow by 6.10pm. Mr Harris rang her at half past six. Vera agreed to postpone the walk. It wasn’t the first time they spoke and it may not be the last. As of last week, his department had contacted Vera and Paul about their request for an exemption that would allow them access THC under conditions and via an application by a doctor.

The Department of Health says: “Cannabis-based products are strictly controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 to 2016 and the Regulations made thereunder. However, it is open for an Irish registered doctor to apply to the Minister for a licence for a cannabis-based product for an individual named patient, under their care. The appropriateness of any particular treatment is a matter between the patient and their doctor and the Minister has no role in this process. This information has been provided to numerous individuals who have applied directly to this Department for information and has been stated publicly by Minister Harris on a number of occasions.

“To date, one such application from a doctor has been received. The Department is not at liberty to comment on any individual applications.”

Vera and Paul have yet to make an application, and all the while a bill on access to medicinal cannabis has been going through the Oireachtas. Vera stresses she is not part of some lobby group for legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis — she is a mother striving to do the best for her daughter.

What has happened so far has been “tantalising”, opening up the prospect of future progress in what she freely admits is “an uncertain world”. Their efforts will continue, including a meeting scheduled for January 10 at the Castle Hotel in Macroom that will be attended by Gino Kenny TD, among others.

Santa has been and gone from Coachford and everywhere else, but according to Vera: “This is the best Christmas that we could ever have imagined. Every other Christmas we have been in hospital because of the seizures.”

The sun was shining and there was a rainbow over Dripsey. The new year, Vera believes, could bring more good news: “We are allowing ourselves to hope a little bit.”


‘I have epilepsy, I am not a pot-head’

Student Sean Fenton, who has epilepsy, believes that using a cannabinoid herbal supplement has transformed his life and opened up a pathway to third-level education and more.

Here is what he wrote in response to Bobby Smyth’s article on the benefits of cannabis which featured in the Irish Examiner last month.

Bobby Smyth’s article in the ‘Irish Examiner’ last month.

I am a 19-year-old boy, who, thanks to medical cannabis (cannabinoid), has been granted an opportunity at repeating my Leaving Cert and getting on with my life after six very hard years. In a system where the Leaving Cert is everything, facing it with very active epilepsy is a daunting and slightly depressing task. Everything and everyone seem to be against you, including the medicine, the seizures and the poor quality of our medical system.

Recently, the advances in knowledge surrounding cannabinoid as a supplement have literally saved not only my education, but my sanity and really my life on several levels.

Dr Smyth only mentions cannabinoid as benefiting those with multiple sclerosis or Dravet’s Syndrome, but my epilepsy has been improved through cannabinoid to levels that I cannot fully articulate. It upsets me to read this argument, as it could be tearing up very hard-gained improvements to the lives of people living with neurological conditions which are otherwise medically intractable. It is as if there is some form of resistance out there around accepting the obvious and enormous benefits of medicinal marijuana.

Let me divulge a little personal experience of my own: At the age of 12 I was placed on a huge sequence of anti-epileptic drugs — about 10 in four years. At 19, my personal current epilepsy prescription holds many well-known names. These range from the obvious yet complex anti-epileptics, to the much harsher benzodiazepines and amphetamines. In my view, these are addictive drugs. Previous prescription drugs caused horrendous side-effects that impacted on every area of my life and development. My brain refuses to function without this daily prescription ‘hit’. If I am three hours late for my epileptic medication, my body will spasm uncontrollably, denying me oxygen and control, in what most people will be aware is called a grand mal seizure.

Non-psychoactive cannabinoid drops, available as food supplements, have improved everything. My seizures, and thankfully my dependence on these horrible ‘drugs’, has decreased. When I’m late for cannabinoid, be it days or a week, I feel no uncontrollable shaking, just a sort of gradual increase in seizures.

What I am not is a ‘pot-head’ — and even my teachers have questioned me on the origin of the huge improvement in my school work and concentration. I shouldn’t have to feel nervous about answering this question. A few drops and a gel tablet of what is not a drug, just a herbal extract, is what I need.

I feel the views expressed around this issue are outdated and sensationalist, and it could seriously affect and impact the lives of people struggling to live with chronic conditions.

Issues surrounding recreational drug use and medicinal use need to be disentangled — and kept that way. Although I’m a teenager, it’s the medicinal marijuana that matters to me, that has, in fact, proven quite lifesaving for me. Some of my bigger seizures are life-threatening.

The other prescribed anti-epileptic drugs caused me to suffer with long periods of deep depression and even worse side effects than that. Cannabinoid has felt benign and gentle on my system, I am so happy that it is not actually another hard pharmaceutical drug.



Cancer Patient Given 18 Months to Live is Cured by Cannabis Oil

October 21, 2016 David Hibbitt had been told he only had 18 months to live but now he’s looking forward to life with his new bride after being given the all clear. The 33-year-old, from Stoke-on-Tr…

Source: Cancer Patient Given 18 Months to Live is Cured by Cannabis Oil