Friday, March 6, 2015

Remo Day

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The Plight of the Medical Cannabis Entrepreneur 

The day began with Conroy and Justice Phelan going over some “housekeeping.” Kirk Tousaw handed papers to Conroy, Justice Phelan made off-hand comments. The court laughed; the crowd waited. The crowd had been thin for Allard, averaging no more than five on some afternoons. But today was Remo Day. The crowd swelled to thirty-five at its peak while Remo Colasanti sat like a child at the grown-ups table. He was the main witness the morning of day four in Allard et al. v. Her Majesty. 
Conroy asked Remo about his personal and business history. Stuff like R&D for Advanced Nutrients, long-time cannabis cultivator and promoter. “You're an online video personality,” said Conroy. “Yes,” Remo replied. He said it's a good way to spread the word about growing medical cannabis safely. So it was mutually agreed: Remo has a personal and entrepreneurial interest in this case. Although full disclosure: entrepreneurial is my word. Remo had been an MMAR grower since 2001, when the program first started. His 98-plant license was valid under the Allard injunction. Conroy and Remo made it evident that “Remo the Urban Grower” – Remo's online personality – was different from the witness sitting in court.
The conservative tendencies of federal courtroom behaviour are in stark contrast to Remo's cheerful demeanour. He looked strange without his sunglasses. He read right off his affidavit; Conroy hesitated but didn't stop him. Nobody objected. Bloom-box 101. A, then b, then c. Right off the affidavit. It's “Reading Time with Remo”. Bloom-box fits in your apartment. It's like a fridge or a stove except it grows cannabis and masks the smell. It's a tiny greenhouse.
There was one of these things in the courtroom. It was all white. By 9:45 in the morning, Remo was showing the courtroom how a bloom-box works.
Remo was smart and charming. He was evidently efficient with his hands; he knew his lighting, water, and nutrients. His garden consisted of an entire room. He told the court how he had an air handler installed that takes water from the A/C unit and through a UVC light, filters the water so it can be used on the plants. Ergo, no city water; independent of the municipal water supply. Remo embodied the Canadian do-it-yourself persona often caricatured by television personalities like Red Green. But there were no makeshift duct tape cannabis traps here. This was real entrepreneurial ingenuity.
Remo voluntarily paid to be inspected by all the necessary experts. Electricians loved his set up. Remo was knowledgeable in all the major risks: fire, mold, theft, and odour. At one point it felt like Conroy and Remo were just shooting the shit about growing marijuana. There was something serious about Remo's build-up and build-out scheme that was missed. The same thing lacking in the MMPR. Conroy didn't ask for it, nor am I aware if Remo realized its importance.

 He built out his garden over time. Each additional unit of capital good was valued for how it fit into the overall production of cannabis. His continual assembly of a medical cannabis garden added value and aided the production of cannabis per gram. Remo acknowledged positioning of lights and plants to be more important than the actual number of plants themselves. Remo and those he shares with based on their subjective preferences as medical cannabis patients value the end product.

The importance of Remo's set-up vis-à-vis the LPs is the level of capital he had when he started. Remo began small and then advanced into what he has today. It happened over time, through hard work and investment. LP applicants have to raise capital in order to bid the government for approval. Once approved, more capital is put into a building that is regulated like a germ-free, sterile medical facility. The MMPR removes barriers to cannabis insomuch that those who can afford it and/or have the right political connections become LPs while the little guy starting with a single plant is deemed a criminal. The importance of Remo's set-up is that through time, an entrepreneur can start with little and create something innovative. The capital and regulatory requirements of the MMPR and LP system erase this capability. Strict adherence to bureaucratic guidelines limits entrepreneurial freedom. The problem with the MMPR is the problem with Canada. The crony-capitalism implicit in the political system necessarily crowds out entrepreneurial activity.
It was hard to gauge if Justice Phelan was thinking the same thing. Remo sounded smart and equipped, but he also gave the Crown all their reason to why he should be an LP. Frustrating, since I don't imagine Justice Phelan will listen to sound reasoning on economics, regulatory capture and the plight of the entrepreneur in 21st century Canada. None of this was happening out loud. Conroy confirmed that Remo was no public threat. The Crown remained silent and Justice Phelan listened intently. Conroy's conclusion: medical cannabis can be grown indoors safely and effectively. No further questions.

Inspections and Regulations
“You were over-producing?” the Crown asked Remo.
No. He never had any more plants than he was legally allowed. He was always under plants, but each plant produced more than the Health Canada formula said it should. Remo stresses that he was not trying to break the law. Nobody is trying to break the law. Remo's occasional use of “we” implied he was speaking for the entire medical cannabis culture. The Crown had him clarify that he was speaking for himself only.
Growing can be a full-time job. Remo described the first half of everyday: caring for his plants. And he stressed that it was seven days a week. If one took a few days off and one's plants died, one wouldn't be getting a harvest. One would be back to square zero.
Remo was acknowledged as a cultivation expert but he had no degree in botany. Nor did he have anything that would make him an expert in mold. But he had years of experience to go on. Remo explained how he kept tabs on humidity, which the Crown found “complex.” But Remo didn't think so. “It's just dehumidifiers,” he said. Remo lives in Maple Ridge; a rainforest where it is very easy for mold to form. But since Remo values his own private property, incentives have kept it mold-free. As he explained this, Remo knocked the LPs – twice – on their mold problem.
The BCIT forensic crime lab tested Remo's cannabis for heavy metals and potency. It was done for free in the interests of research. Remo knew of four other labs in the lower mainland that would something similar. They charge $75-100 for a sample test. Although most patients can't afford it, Remo acknowledged that testing was not a bad idea. But he stressed there was no monolithic test. On one plant you might need three different readings (top, middle and bottom buds).
Remo got his inspections done because he was not a certified electrician. He called experts for installation of certain things. The Crown had him admit that his knowledge on fire was “common sense.” Remo was keeping up his guard but the Crown slowly weaseled their way into getting answers. Remo told the court “having an inspector would be a really good thing.” (As if the problems of the MMAR could have been fixed by hiring more bureaucrats.)

The Crown couldn't get anything on Remo about mold. His indoor grow room was armed and barricaded against the outside elements of the BC rainforest. His fire safety and electrician approval was top-notch. His property was fully fenced with security cameras that kept the recordings for an entire year. There was a monitored alarm system and even a panic button. Nobody was getting on Remo's property without Remo knowing about it. And even if so – Remo pointed out of the obvious difficulty of stealing a product not ready for consumption. The thief then becomes the entrepreneur who must harvest the plant, dry the bud and find a buyer. It is much easier to steal a television and sell it on the black market.
Both the Crown and Remo agreed: people who grow cannabis should take these types of precautions. Health Canada even suggests you take some these reasonable steps. Everyone has an incentive not to burn their garden, deal with mold or become susceptible to crime, whether organized or not. Everyone has an incentive not to mess up, but the MMAR doesn't have the appropriate checks and balances. Remo was the exception; not the rule. The MMPR addresses quality control in a more rigorous way; Remo should be an LP. That was the line of reasoning Remo was being led to.
The Health Canada formula made no sense. Before the MMPR there was the MMAR. If you and your doctor agreed that cannabis was the most effective medicine for you, then you'd spend a large portion of your time going through Health Canada's bureaucratic red tape. Neil Allard mentioned having taken a night course dedicated to medical marijuana paperwork. There were three options: grow it yourself, find someone to grow it for you, or use Prairie Plant System - a government-owned and operated medical cannabis facility. Remo held a Personal Production License. So option A: he grew for himself.
Health Canada provided him with a formula: a thirty-gram yield from each plant. It tied daily dosage and growing schedule together. This didn't work for Remo; “it made no sense to me.” Health Canada's formula and guidelines were arbitrary. They assumed small plants when patients like Remo preferred longer cycles and bigger plants. And not all plants were created equal. Some didn't produce as much as others.
So the Crown had Remo admit that he routinely ventured off Health Canada's formula of three months to grow 30 grams per plant. Remo heard that number and agreed completely. Nobody was following that formula and if they were, “they must be really bad growers.” The courtroom laughed. This had happened a few times now. Justice Phelan raised his voice: “This isn't a comedy show.”
Remo had a slight habit of speaking out of turn. Justice Phelan told him to keep quiet several times. At one point even Conroy told Remo not to talk.

The Urban Grower
When it was announced that Remo would be a witness, it was predicted that the Crown would try and discredit him through his online personality, the Urban Grower. This prediction panned out. Before getting into the bulk of his online show, the Crown asked him about one of the tag lines: “2 pounds per light.” Remo said he wanted to be as productive and effective as he could. Two pounds or more per light was a worthy goal to strive for. But some strains were more difficult. The actual amount of plants, what the Crown seemed to be interested in the most, was actually irrelevant according to Remo's methodology.
The Crown asked a hypothetical: can a patient with six plants in a bloom-box – like the one in the corner of the courtroom – get a 600-plant yield? “Depending on the strain and plant size,” said Remo, “Yes.” The Crown asked if they could refer to large cannabis plants – those as tall as 9-feet – as “monster plants.” Remo didn't oppose. But he clarified that one of his “monster plants” flowered for 12 weeks, hit the ceiling and didn't do much for him. The quality was terrible. He made extract with the good parts and threw the rest away. Nevertheless, a “monster plant” could be good for as much as three pounds or as little as a third of a pound. It varies.
The Crown asked: “It takes a long time to learn to grow marijuana, doesn't it?” Not with Remo. He told his story of trial and error and why his YouTube channel helps people. Prevents people like him from going through the same mistakes. It educates a new generation of cannabis cultivators. But the Crown's motive still seemed to be: cannabis cultivation for medical purposes was not something to be left to private individuals in their homes. Even though the bloom-box was meant for home use. But if one needed many plants, as the Crown suggested, would a bloom-box be useful? No, said Remo. You would need so many bloom-boxes, or one would have to be so big, that you might as well expand out and convert an entire room into a indoor cannabis garden. Exactly.
The Crown's questions started to get into Remo's business interests and suggested he had a financial motivation in keeping the old MMAR system in place. Remo revealed that he has tried, sometimes successfully, to sell to LPs.

But the Crown pointed to his videos, particularly one with Conroy in it, where the caption read “MMAR Coalition against Repeal and our constitutional challenge.” Was Remo a supporter of the Coalition? Had he supported and attended a majority of their events? Had Remo donated money to the Coalition?
 He knew that the MMAR Coalition was funding and raising money to finance this litigation, right? Objection. Conroy and Tousaw argued that this line of questioning was entirely irrelevant. The Crown said Remo's financial motivation in the case was a factor. Justice Phelan said the funding of this litigation was not an issue right now. Ask him something else.
The Crown returned to bloom-boxes. Remo had been to hundreds of cannabis gardens. Only two sites have had the bloom-box that was present in the courtroom. The average number of plants under the MMAR was 89. Seventeen grams per day was the average dosage. An average grower would therefore need 10 or so bloom-boxes if they wanted their total number of plants. Again here was the Crown playing their angle. It is uneconomical for a household to have 10 bloom-boxes, and as Remo said, at one point it just makes sense to build-out into an entire room. So this nifty little bloom-box invention was actually uneconomical for a patient that needed a 17-gram daily average and over eighty plants. It was not said, but it was implied: medical cannabis cultivation necessarily leads to an industrialized facility. It makes no sense to cultivate cannabis in a residential indoor garden when most if not all patients require an ever-increasing need of dosage and plants.
If Remo caught the Crown's whiff, he was quick to respond. Having to choose between the MMAR and MMPR was wrong, said Remo. Cannabis patients licensed under the MMAR should be able to grow their plants and if they so desired – due to a lost crop or an insufficient harvest – buy from an LP. But right now they can't do that without losing their protection under the injunction. There was some controversy over whether this was true. But this was over social media and outside the courtroom. At the stand Remo was growing visibility agitated. Cheerful but uncomfortable. He mentioned how he medicated in the morning but he wasn't medicated now but then he would be medicating at lunch. Justice Phelan didn't seem to approve of this chatter.
“What was the EXPO Weed Chile?” the Crown asked. Remo explained Cannabis Cups and how he goes to all kinds of events. They were festivals geared toward the cannabis culture. He then explained the differences between Canada and Chile's medical cannabis program and why he thought Chile's was superior. The lawyers let him speak, but all of it seemed entirely irrelevant. The Crown then asked, “What is a super-charged joint?” In one of Remo's Chile videos he promoted the super-charged joint. Remo explained: it's basically hash and a joint. The Crown had trouble understanding what “kief” was. Remo explained that since super-charged joints have more trichomes, they help alleviate his muscle spasms better. Remo has disc injuries in his c-3, l-4, l-5 and s-1 nerve roots. Remo said, cannabis helped him eat, sleep and feel comfortable. “Cannabis helps with a lot of ailments,” Remo told the court.
The Crown brought attention to the Treating Yourself Cup, where Remo won for best grower. They asked some questions regarding what it entailed. Remo laid it all out. He told the court what the Crown wanted everyone to hear: judges at the cannabis cup smoke his medical cannabis. Cannabis from his personal production license was shared with others. Remo said it's a community thing that's common, but no one was sure if Justice Phelan was convinced. Remo called it a grey market but this trial could turn it black.
The Crown wanted to play one of Remo's videos, “The World's Largest Joint.” Conroy objected. What relevance was this video? The Urban Grower was a social media personality and did not accurately reflect the Witness sitting in court. But the Crown asked: how was Remo being medical in this video? His YouTube channel was designed to educate and entertain, correct? What about this video was educational? Justice Phelan said the video was in the papers provided for the case, so all parties have agreed its relevancy. But Conroy didn't accept the relevancy of the video as it pertained to what the Crown was trying to get out of Remo at the instance. How did the video add to Justice Phelan's decision? How did it involve Remo as an expert witness? We had already established he was an advocate outside of court. What use did this video have? But the Crown argued that the video further showed how the witness was more than an advocate, he was an individual extremely invested as a cannabis enthusiast. Justice Phelan allowed the Crown to play it.
The courtroom watched “The World's Largest Joint” and throughout it I kept thinking that if I were a Crown attorney, I probably would have looked for a more incriminating video. In the video, Remo and a friend have a male plant. They decide to roll it into a newspaper, tape it together and smoke it. During the video Remo wanted to talk but Justice Phelan told him to keep quiet. Afterward, Remo got his chance. “We're not actually smoking that plant,” he said, “and for the record, it's not recommended to smoke newspaper, tape, and a full male plant.” Remo deflected all the Crown's questions. The cannabis in the video was his. It was no good for consumption. They decided to do something fun. “You just watched entertainment,” said Remo.
The Crown then moved on to Twitter, asking Remo about a photograph his wife took. The caption read: “my desk when I'm editing oh my.” It was a messy desk. And to clarify for the court, Remo was editing video. On the left side of the photo there was a large bag of dried cannabis. Remo estimated 200 grams. This got the Crown asking about how he stored cannabis. He used vaults, coolers, a bag as seen in the photograph of his desk. Did he label bags? Sometimes. Did he label THC levels? No. Just strains. The Crown then asked about his ashtray in the photo. Then it was back to the bag of cannabis. And so forth and so on.
Once the Twitter picture was scrutinized to every last detail, the Crown returned to questioning his nutrient company, what kind of things he sells online, who the target market is. Conroy objected. Asking for his business plan? Justice Phelan agreed. Remo was an expert witness. “He has a particular view of cannabis to raise as an issue” but his entrepreneurial practices have nothing to do with Allard. The Crown said, since he hadn't applied to be an LP, then the only access he had to cannabis was through the MMAR. Before Remo spoke, Justice Phelan stepped in. No relevancy.
The Crown then asked: would Remo take issue with unannounced inspections? Remo said there would be no issue. Conroy's turn.

Conroy's Re-examination 
It was time to clarify some things Remo answered for the Crown. Conroy started with his garden and different stages of plant growth. Leading questions cause the Crown to object. This was a re-examination; Mr. Conroy should not be able to predict Remo's answers. Conroy clarified that he was seeking clarification on lighting and spacing in the grow room. He tried to clarify the 600-plant yield from 6 plants. He clarified what kind of critical variables needed to be addressed. Remo had 72 plants; 24 in flower, 24 clones and 24 in vegetative state. Most of the work came from the 24 flowering plants since they were nearer to completion. Conroy clarified the high humidity of Maple Ridge vis-à-vis the grow room. Remo has equipment to record the highs and lows. He has had zero problems with mold.
Since Remo happened to have known off hand how much a pound went for on the black market, Conroy asked him to clarify. What is the cause of the drop in black market prices? Remo assumed it'd be legalization in a certain number of American States. It had caused an oversupply in Canada, keeping the price low. Supply and demand. BC Bud used to show up in the States. But not so much anymore. The Crown didn't object. Why would they? Conroy and Remo were talking about Remo's knowledge of the black market. He's an MMAR grower who shares his weed. He has an online personality with the same name. Why would the Crown object to anything about Remo?
Conroy had Remo clarify his thoughts on Health Canada's MMAR growing formula. Remo thought plant spacing and lighting should be prominent, not the number of plants. The process where doctor and patient decide on dosage and then plug it into the Health Canada formula was also flawed. It suggested how many plants and how much to produce from each plant. “Doesn't make any sense,” to Remo. He praised the online community of growers and grower resources. It smooths out the trial and error process of cannabis cultivation. It makes sense of nonsensical Health Canada rules.
That's why, the Crown insidiously argued, the Harper Government had overhauled the rules and regulations and imposed the MMPR. It has removed barriers to access even if patients have to temporarily forgo higher doses. The attitude of Health Canada is clear: your medicine is not medicine, it is a drug. This view isn't so obvious in the courtroom. The Crown was respectful of doctor and patient relationships. But there was an implicit drug war mentality. It wasn't clear if Justice Phelan saw things the same way.
Remo's case if anything highlights the entrepreneurial spirit that was possible under the MMAR. Remo's grow room was just one of the many ways a medical cannabis garden could be set up. Under the MMPR, the entrepreneur is more subservient to the federal bureaucracy. Remo's garden was and still is an example of a freer and fairer cannabis market. Since Allard is in a courtroom, justice will presumably triumph over money and politics. The LPs may be here to stay, but the MMAR growers aren't going anywhere.

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