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COVID-19 + Cannabis

Is it ethical not to investigate the use of phytocannabinoids?

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I have been very curious to see what experts had to say about cannabis use in the COVID-19 epidemic, and thus have been researching extensively. I have found only broad generalizations, along with the popular refrain “cannabidiol does not cure coronavirus”. I find it to be a very over-simplified statement (who is talking about treatment of the virus itself, anyway?) and so I decided to do my own research.

According to all the studies to date (Nichols & Kaplan, 2020), there is no doubt that CBD is immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory. By “immunomodulatory” we mean basically immunosuppressive, since it generally suppresses the proliferation and activation of mitogen stimulated T-cells, as well as the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (Chen et al., 2012); the point that should be made here is that the immuosuppressive action of CBD is in no way related to the immunosuppressive action in drugs such as methotrexate or cyclophosphamide. These drugs alter immunity as suppressors only, while CBD (and THC for that matter) modulates its response either by suppressing or by enhancing it, depending on the level of existing T-cell activation (Chen et al., 2012). These findings apply to HIV infections and it remains to be proven if they apply to other corona viruses as well; nevertheless, some data are available: In SARS-CoV infections (very similar to current SARS-CoV-2), a severe decrease in circulating T-cells was observed in the acute phase (Channappanavar et al, 2014). It is therefore possible and worth investigating whether the same applies to COVID-19, which would mean that the two basic phytocannabinoids, namely CBD and THC, would be indicated for the treatment of the acute phase. We have no definite proof at this point.

There is no doubt that CBD is immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory.

In the COVID-19 epidemic, people are dying mainly of an inflammatory cytokine storm, leading to non-reversible ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). Several drugs, new and old are tested in the pursuit of a means to contain the storm reaction of the immune system in a balanced way. Since bibliographical evidence suggests that CBD has multiple modes of anti-inflammatory action, very comparable to colchicine (Drugs.com) save the serious adverse side effects (Leung et al, 2015), it is only reasonable to have it tested in the present contingency. There is also some preclinical evidence that THC is useful in preventing the equivalent of ARDS in mice (Rao et al, 2015). I propose that it should be included in the therapeutic protocols on equal terms as colchicine and chloroquine.

Overall, phytocannabinoids manifest their effect by directly suppressing effector T-cells, and by inhibiting kinase cascades and transcription factors leading to production of pro-inflammatory molecules. One such example is the inhibition of phosphorylated p38, which leads to a decrease in the functionality of the inflammatory transcription factors AP-1 and NF-κB, thereby reducing inflammation. Another interesting aspect is the emergence of pro-inflammatory micro-RNAs (miRNAs) at the onset of ARDS (Umbrello et al, 2016), associated to Toll-like Receptor (TLR) and NF-κB signaling (Juknat et al, 2019). miRNA-induced inflammation is not amenable to corticosteroid treatment, but is responsive to CBD and THC (Umbrello et al, 2017). This is another line of research, very much worth pursuing.

In particular, the aforementioned actions of phytocannabinoids are manifested by the inhibition of the production and/or activity of important inflammatory cytokines such as, IFN-γ, IL-6, IL-1β, IL-2, IL-17A, TNF-α (mediated through enhancement of endogenous adenosine signaling (A2A receptors) (Nichols & Kaplan, 2020, Carrier et al, 2006), and chemokines such as CCL-2, which attracts monocytes, T-cells and dendritic cells to areas of inflammation. CBD, with its inhibitory effect on cryopyrin (NALP3), inhibits macrophage inflammasome activation, and thus the caspase-1 cascade is not activated or, were it activated, it would be controlled (Han & Mallampalli, 2015, Libro et al., 2016). Two pro-inflammatory interleukins, IL-1β and IL-6, are emerging as the decisive factors that dictate whether a COVID-19 case will evolve into ARDS (through the combination of macrophage activation syndrome and immune dysregulation [Hellenic Institute for the Study of Sepsis, 2020]) or will self-cure. IL-1β is responsible for 25% of cases, while IL-6 for 75% (Professor E. Giamarellos, personal communication). Interestingly, they are both mitigated by CBD (Nichols & Kaplan, 2020). There is less evidence for THC (Kozela et al, 2010, Keen et al, 2014). In view of this knowledge, not testing CBD as a preventive of ARDS in the context of COVID-19 might even be considered unethical.

In addition, cannabidiol directly induces inflammatory immunocyte suppression by up-regulating the IκB kinase complex, which inhibits the activity of the NF-κB transcription factor (Nichols & Kaplan, 2020). CBD also plays a regulatory role in inflammation by triggering the production of Treg and MDSC (Myeloid Derived Suppressor Cells) (Dhital et al, 2017), as is the case in simple respiratory viral diseases, especially during the early phase.

All the above actions of CBD are related to the suppression of innate (primary) immunoreactivity. Innate immunoreactivity is extremely useful at the beginning of viral infections, but harmful when it eventually gets out of control in the course of the disease: In high risk groups, it can lead to ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). This is what patients have been dying from in the ICUs of the world.

Apart from this, CBD exerts an immunoapoptotic activity (ie withdraws inflammatory immune cells by the programmed cell death mechanism that is called “apoptosis”), as well as an apoptotic activity on infected cells; both actions appear to be important in controlling the degree of inflammation and the progression of infection (Nichols & Kaplan, 2020).

In addition to treating uncontrolled inflammation in the context of viral disease in general, cannabinoids cause significant changes in epigenetic mechanisms (D’Addario et al, 2013), including methylation, histone modification, and non-coding RNA. The epigenetic regulation of viral infections through cannabinoids has received considerable attention in the literature, but this line of knowledge is not fully understood yet. With the increased methylation of host DNA under the influence of cannabis and methylating agents, the expression of many genes may be inhibited, and in particular of the genes related to cell-virus interaction, i.e., genes governing the entry of the virus into the cell, its structural integration, its output and subsequent inflammation (Tahamtan et al, 2016).

Based on the above theoretical / bibliographical data, CBD should be well suited for the exacerbation stage of COVID-19 infection, for exactly the same reasons as colchicine, which has already begun to be administered experimentally. The only difference is that CBD is free from important adverse effects. By the same token, its use as a prophylactic should be discouraged; the same applies to the initial phase of the infection: Full capacity of innate immunity is what is required initially. Concerning patients that already use CBD for other conditions; given the fact that immunosuppression is dose dependent, they should probably keep using it during the epidemic, but in small doses, arbitrarily estimated at less than 15mg/day in divided doses. If larger doses are needed, and in order to err on the safe side, then CBD combined with strict social distancing should suffice. Smoking and vaping should be discouraged altogether (Williams, 2020).

CBD should be well suited for the exacerbation stage of COVID-19 infection.

A final word of caution: Neither CBD nor any other cannabinoid and anti-inflammatory terpene have been systematically tested in the clinical setting of the present epidemic, and therefore cannot be formally recommended by clinicians. Cannabinoids can contribute to infectivity and/or pathogenicity in certain viral infections; in others, they can diminish make viruses less infective and/or less pathogenic. In both cases, multiple biochemical routes affect host immunity, cell signaling and effector mechanisms involved in the viral cell cycle. In this respect, the role of vitamin D is extremely important in the enhancement of public health, but beyond the scope of the present discussion. In any case, caution is in order and medical supervision as well (Reiss, 2010).


NOTES:

Note 1: CBG, other cannabinoids and terpenes have not been taken into account in this small review because a) they would greatly confuse understanding of an already complicated matter b) There is little research available in the literature of cannabis to date.

Note 2: In the literature, CBD and THC are considered as isolated substances, thus without the notorious “entourage effect” of preparations from whole plants (Russo, 2018). The main exception is a few studies with AIDS/HIV patients, who were also smoked cannabis users. There is a possibility that the use of whole spectrum oils would have a different effect on the immune response to viruses.

Note 3:
Other supportive measures (like vitamins D and C, glutathione, acetaminophene etc) that could enhance innate immunity are available, but have not been addressed here.


SELECTED REFERENCES:

Carrier, E. J., Auchampach, J. A., & Hillard, C. J. (2006). Inhibition of an equilibrative nucleoside transporter by cannabidiol: A mechanism of cannabinoid immunosuppression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(20), 7895–7900.

Channappanavar, R., Zhao, J., & Perlman, S. (2014). T cell-mediated immune response to respiratory coronaviruses. Immunol Res, 59(1–3), 118–128.

Chen, W., Kaplan, B. L. F., Pike, S. T., Topper, L. A., Lichorobiec, N. R., Simmons, S. O., Ramabhadran, R., et al. (2012a). Magnitude of stimulation dictates the cannabinoid-mediated differential T cell response to HIVgp120. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 92(5), 1093–1102.

Chen, W., Kaplan, B. L. F., Pike, S. T., Topper, L. A., Lichorobiec, N. R., Simmons, S. O., Ramabhadran, R., et al. (2012b). Magnitude of stimulation dictates the cannabinoid-mediated differential T cell response to HIVgp120. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 92(5), 1093–1102.

D’Addario, C., Di Francesco, A., Pucci, M., Finazzi Agrò, A., & Maccarrone, M. (2013). Epigenetic mechanisms and endocannabinoid signalling. FEBS J, 280(9), 1905–1917.

Dhital, S., Stokes, J. V., Park, N., Seo, K. S., & Kaplan, B. L. F. (2017). Cannabidiol (CBD) induces functional Tregs in response to low-level T cell activation. Cellular Immunology, 312, 25–34.

Han, S., & Mallampalli, R. K. (2015). The Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: From Mechanism to Translation. J.I., 194(3), 855–860.

Hellenic Institute for the Study of Sepsis. (2020, April 9). Personalised Immunotherapy For SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Associated With Organ Dysfunction — Full Text View — ClinicalTrials.gov. https://clinicaltrials.gov. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20200414135606/

Juknat, A., Gao, F., Coppola, G., Vogel, Z., & Kozela, E. (2019). miRNA expression profiles and molecular networks in resting and LPS-activated BV-2 microglia — Effect of cannabinoids. PLoS ONE, 14(2), e0212039.

Keen, L., Pereira, D., & Latimer, W. (2014). Self-reported lifetime marijuana use and interleukin-6 levels in middle-aged African Americans. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 140, 156–160.

Kozela, E., Pietr, M., Juknat, A., Rimmerman, N., Levy, R., & Vogel, Z. (2010). Cannabinoids Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol Differentially Inhibit the Lipopolysaccharide-activated NF-κB and Interferon-β/STAT Proinflammatory Pathways in BV-2 Microglial Cells. J. Biol. Chem., 285(3), 1616–1626.

Leung, Y. Y., Yao Hui, L. L., & Kraus, V. B. (2015). Colchicine — Update on mechanisms of action and therapeutic uses. Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism, 45(3), 341–350.

Libro, R., Scionti, D., Diomede, F., Marchisio, M., Grassi, G., Pollastro, F., Piattelli, A., et al. (2016). Cannabidiol Modulates the Immunophenotype and Inhibits the Activation of the Inflammasome in Human Gingival Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Front. Physiol., 7.

Nichols, J. M., & Kaplan, B. L. F. (2020). Immune Responses Regulated by Cannabidiol. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 5(1), 12–31.

Rao, R., Nagarkatti, P. S., & Nagarkatti, M. (2015). Δ9Tetrahydrocannabinol attenuates Staphylococcal enterotoxin B-induced inflammatory lung injury and prevents mortality in mice by modulation of miR-17–92 cluster and induction of T-regulatory cells. Br J Pharmacol, 172(7), 1792–1806.

Reiss, C. S. (2010). Cannabinoids and Viral Infections. Pharmaceuticals, 3(6), 1873–1886.

Russo, E. B. (2018). The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain. Front. Plant Sci. , 9.

Tahamtan, A., Tavakoli-Yaraki, M., Rygiel, T. P., Mokhtari-Azad, T., & Salimi, V. (2016). Effects of cannabinoids and their receptors on viral infections. J. Med. Virol., 88(1), 1–12.

Umbrello, M., Formenti, P., Bolgiaghi, L., & Chiumello, D. (2016). Current Concepts of ARDS: A Narrative Review. IJMS, 18(1), 64.

Williams, V. (2020, March 24). What Smokers Should Know About COVID-19. Https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/ . Mayo Clinic News Network. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from

Colchicine Uses, Side Effects & Warnings — Drugs.com. Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/mtm/colchicine.html, Apr 14, 2020

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Cannabis Justice is Racial Justice

Last Prisoner Project

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“Ever since Harry Anslinger implemented [cannabis prohibition] in the United States, it’s main purpose has been a method of racial control by white people over communities of color and that continues to this day. We will not have racial justice in this country without cannabis justice and vice versa,” says Steve DeAngelo, the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry.

GRAM spoke with Steve, the founder of Last Prisoner Project. He shared with us the mission and programs that drives Last Prisoner Project, as well as the stories of two specific men they are working to help.


This Nov. 2, 2017 photo released by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Michael Thompson, who is incarcerated at the Muskegon, Mich., Correctional Facility. (Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections via Associated Press)

“Michael Thompson is in the 26th year of a 40-60 sentence for selling three lbs. of cannabis to an informant in 1994. After he was arrested, the cops went to Michael’s residence which he shared with his mother and his wife. And they went into a locked gun cabinet, they opened the cabinet and found some antique rifles that had belonged to Michael’s father. On those grounds, they said it was a gun crime, and because Michael had a couple of other minor offenses that had happened during this very intense street enforcement on the ground in the 1990’s in Flint, MI. Now he’s 68 years old; he has pre-existing medical conditions that make him more vulnerable to COVID, and COVID is present in the prison he’s incarcerated in. So we are desperately concerned that Michael is going to get COVID and potentially die, and his already outrageous sentence turns into a death sentence. There are two petitions on Governor Whitmer’s desk for his release right now. One is a compassionate release for COVID; one is a clemency request; those requests for release have been endorsed by the Flint Prosecutor’s Office which is the office that originally prosecuted Michael (that’s something that never ever happens), but Governor Whitmer continues to sit on Michael’s petition; each day exposing him to a possible death sentence,” Steve continues. “There’s dozens and dozens of other cannabis prisoners who are facing similarly long sentences on equally bogus charges.”

The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.

Steve says, “Our position is that nobody anywhere in the world ever deserved to be arrested for cannabis charges and that nobody ever deserved to be in prison on cannabis charges. We don’t care what the amount was; we really don’t care what the “complicating factors” were. The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.” 

Corvain Cooper is serving a federal sentence of life without parole in Louisiana for a cannabis conviction because he had two minor charges on his record in the state of California that at one time qualified him for the three strikes law, but since he earned those convictions, the law has been revised, and the crimes that he was convicted for are no longer crimes that make you eligible for three strikes. “Yet, Corvain faces spending the rest of his life in prison when it’s really obvious that that is a grossly unjust thing,” says Steve.

Steve says, “Last Prisoner Project has a very single-minded mission, a very singular focus quite deliberately. There’s a lot of organizations who are working on cannabis reform in general, on legislation, who are working on equity and racial justice issues specifically. Our focus is even more narrow. We just want to make sure that every single cannabis prisoner on planet Earth comes home to their families and is given the resources they need to build the lives that were stolen from them. We are interested in further reform, we’re interested in legislative stuff, that’s not where we put our energy, we let other organizations focus there. We just want to get prisoners out.”

Within the first year of its inception, Last Prisoner Project figured out that there are about 40,000 people in prison for cannabis convictions in the United States. They still don’t know the world-wide total. “It’s many many times the 40,000,” says Steve. “Once we had our hands around the problem, the size of it, and where it was located, then we started thinking about the most effective ways that we could get the largest number of prisoners released in the shortest period of time with the funds that were available to us.”

Last Prisoner Project has a couple of programs that achieve that objective. Steve tells us, “One of them is our clemency program which works with governor’s offices in legal cannabis states to develop a set of standard parameters that would allow the governor, at the stroke of a pen, to release hundreds or even (depending on the state) thousands of cannabis prisoners.”

There are currently about 50 people in the United States serving sentences of life without parole for cannabis convictions. “For most of them, their cases are complicated and are challenging for governors to give clemency to. So we do know that–unfortunately, in some cases–we are going to have to raise the funds that are necessary to mount a new legal defense for people who have already (in some cases) been in prison for decades. It’s a very expensive proposition to do that; it’s a very time consuming proposition to do that; it’s an absolutely necessary thing to do.”

The second program within the Last Prisoner Project is the Prison to Prosperity Pipeline. “We want to make sure that when our constituents are released that they have a support network that is sufficient to make sure that their reentry is successful,” says Steve. That involves housing, training, and finding employment. Last Prisoner Project is already serving their constituents through this program and recently hired a full time staff member to administer the program.

82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.

“We have a few different ways that we work to fund those programs. Our ‘Roll it up for justice’ program asks cannabis retailers to ask cannabis consumers to make a donation at the end of their cannabis purchase, to at least round up to the next dollar from their cannabis purchase.” Steve states that the program spreads the burden out widely across the whole cannabis community and doesn’t call on anybody too much. “We encourage cannabis retailers to participate in the program, and we encourage cannabis consumers to patronize the dispensaries that do participate in that program. In a similar vein, we have our ‘Partners for Freedom’ program. This program allows cannabis companies other than retailers (growers, manufacturers, etc.) to make a commitment to be a sustaining partner for the Last Prisoner Project, and they earn the ability to put the Last Prisoner Project logo on all the packages of all of their products. The idea being that we want cannabis consumers to have ways that they can support the companies that are supporting the community.”

“We are in a unique time in this country right now. That’s put a fresh lens on law enforcement and what’s been going on with law enforcement over the course of the last two decades in the United States. And what many people don’t realize is that stop and frisk, cops on the ground in black and brown communities harassing people has been justified and driven by cannabis prohibition. 82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.”

Learn more about Steve DeAngelo and how he earned the moniker “The Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry” in an upcoming issue of GRAM. In the meantime follow @lastprisonerproject on social media and keep up with Steve on his new podcast: Radio Free Cannabis.

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Seizing The Opportunity to Educate the World

How an inner-city kid from Chicago used art + cannabis to take Denver by storm in celebration of black love, black art, + black lives.

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The Black Love Mural Festival may seem like a simple play on Black Lives Matter efforts, but it is much more than your typical mural walk. It is the evolution of years of effort on behalf of its curator, Robert Gray. Gray is more commonly known by his brand, Rob The Art Museum, a concept that came to him during some of his earliest visits to art museums in the midwest. Rob’s life journey has taken him across the country, all in the pursuit of living a life that allowed him to enjoy cannabis and give back to his local and global community. 

Who is Rob The Art Museum?

Robert Gray, founder and curator of Rob The Art Museum, is originally from Chicago, Illinois. When he was in his early teens, he moved to Milwaukee. “I’m from Chicago, but I claim that I’m from Milwaukee, because that’s where a lot of my friends were when I grew up as a teenager,” Rob explains. It’s also where Rob was first introduced to contemporary and fine art, thanks to a newly built art museum, the same one that was featured in the Transformers movie series. 

“Milwaukee is really where I got into art. That’s where a lot of it started. I would try to get away from the city, running around, doing shit I wasn’t supposed to, and it was when they first built the art museum…it was this big beautiful white art museum that looked like a boat right off the lake. So when they built it, I was like ‘this looks cool, let me go try it.’”

Not only did he notice the beauty of the art he was enjoying, but he also found respite in the lack of familiar faces. “Milwaukee was a small city…Like if you go to Walmart, you’re going to see someone from middle school, high school; you’re going to run into someone. So this was like the one place I never ran into someone who was from where I was from. So it was like a different scene. it was very peaceful… But I always wanted to smoke blunts and be in an art museum at the same time. And I never thought it would be possible.” 

This idea would stick with him and eventually be the seed that grew into Rob The Art Museum. “It was always in the back of my head [and] that was kind of like where Rob The Art Museum started. I wanted people to have the same emotional reaction that I was having. I was having a spiritual reaction, a physical reaction, an emotional reaction when I was seeing these beautiful pieces of artwork, and it was like my first time really seeing any contemporary art…growing up in the city, we had art programs but it was like children’s art. Paint and paper. That was art, but I really never saw art like fine art growing up where I came from.”

The impression it left on him left him wanting to share those feelings with others. “So I was walking in an art museum and was like ‘Damn, I want to get this artwork out to my people who can’t afford–because it costs money to get into the art museum. If they can’t afford to get into the art museum, they definitely can’t afford anything on the walls. So how can I get this art out to the people? Rob The Art Museum. That’s kinda like where everything started. I was like ‘Oh, that’s funny. Like a double entendre with my name.’ But even then I did it like ‘I wish I could rob the art museum because I know that work is worth a lot. It doesn’t seem like they got top notch security either. I think a bank would be more difficult. Seemed like a good return on investment.’”

Chasing Promotions with No End In Sight

Rather than going through with this fantasy of robbing a museum, Rob ended up like many of us—in a job where he was simply chasing promotion after promotion. This led him from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Kansas City. As he neared the age of 30, Rob realized his love of cannabis and his distaste for the promotional path meant he needed to reevaluate his pursuits. 

“My passions were weed and art, and I was in Kansas City, and it’s an 8 hour trip [to Colorado], and I’m over here buying weed in gas stations from people who looked like they smoked weed,” Rob explains. “I didn’t have any friends out there. But I was like he looks like he smokes weed, so I’m going to ask him, ‘bro you know where the weed at?’…One day I just packed up my bags and went to Colorado and just tried to figure everything out. That was three years ago.”

The Mile High Move

When he arrived in Colorado, Rob quickly joined the legal cannabis industry, becoming a budtender, but not before a life-changing car accident would further call into question his decision to move to the mile high state. “When I first moved out here, I was staying on the couch at my brother’s house just trying to figure everything out and one day after I got done smoking like a blunt, I just went to go get food. So I jumped in the car with my friend, she was driving, and we’re going up the way and a drunk driver came out of nowhere and hit us in a head on collision. I was really shooken up…So I ended up going to the ER, and it was a traumatizing experience because I didn’t have like anyone really out here with me. Me and my brother were going through some trials and tribulations…I didn’t have any other family out here. I was in the ER emergency room thinking I was about to lose my vision. And also thinking about being paralyzed because I just got into an accident. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore…

“So, long story short…I have a disability now where like my vision isn’t there in my right eye. It’s crazy that I’m involved in art and my vision is fucked up. And I was going to City, O’ City, which is one of the partners of this festival and the accident happened like right up the street [from Civic Park/City, O’ City]… It’s funny how this has all come full circle, and that’s how I started my trip off in Denver. I was about to go home. I was like ‘Fuck this shit man. I just got in the worst car accident of my life. I don’t have a job. Like, I’m not going to be able to get a job now being injured. I don’t have insurance.’ I was just going to give it all up and go back home and figure shit out.”

After the accident, Rob began smoking cannabis with a specific medical intent. “I was on prescriptions because I was in a bad car accident, all opioids,” he recalls. “Back home, I was smoking weed because, not because it was the cool thing to do but because I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for a medicinal purpose at that point. Maybe PTSD, but I was smoking weed just like every high school kid did. And this was the first time that I needed it to like actually relieve this pain, this unbearable pain. So it is great to be in a legal state and have legal access to it.”

Cannabis as a Career

As a budtender, Rob quickly learned the legal cannabis industry had its issues with race. He says it was a great experience as far as learning, but the work culture was toxic, comparing it to working as a cashier at a bad McDonald’s. “I got called the N Word by someone my first time working there. So it was like fuck, this shit’s shitty. There’s racism everywhere. But I just rode it out. I addressed it with corporate, and they handled it how I expected so that was nice. But budtending wasn’t for me.” 

While corporate worked to fix internal issues, Rob found an opportunity selling concentrates for another company, Craft Concentrates. He recalls the experience being novel, giving he was selling weed on the phone legally, but it was a cold-calling effort and was hard to get accounts that weren’t already carrying the product, something he likens to selling cars. During his time with Craft, he was also doing humanitarian work on the side like park cleanups and feeding the homeless in places like Denver’s RiNO art district, which gave him a positive way to give back and an alternative focus to cold calls.

“My mom always told me that it’s important that you give back. And I feel like inside, if you’re taking from a community, you should give back to that community.” One day, Craft was going to move offices and throw away all of the food in the refrigerator. Rob asked if he could have it. Knowing he was a vegan, they questioned what he would do with all of the meats and dairy products, and he told them he planned to cook it and make meals for the homeless with it. After that, they started to take note of his efforts, making him Head of the Communications department, with the entire focus of giving back to the community. 

While this new opportunity was progressive for the cannabis industry, differing views on what “giving back to the community” actually meant, would lead Rob to end that chapter and, as he describes it, “circle back to smoking blunts in the art museum.” His pop up art shows were beginning to take off. 

Pop Up Art Shows

The Rob the Art Museum pop up art show is a cannabis-friendly, art event with vegan-friendly foods highlighted, non mainstream, undiscovered and underrepresented artists. It started a wave that would eventually take the efforts nationwide. 

“Now that I had a decent job [with Craft] that could fund my crazy ideas that I had, I used that money to rent an AirBnB because I wanted to make a cannabis-friendly art museum, and I couldn’t do that with the Denver Art Museum. So I rented out an AirBnB. It was four stories, had six different bed rooms, and I curated each room to be like a different theme.” Rob recalls approaching as many artists as possible on their Instagrams, only hearing back from about one in ten. They had a bunch of vegan food, good legal cannabis to enjoy, and he invited as many people as possible to see all of the art that he’d hung throughout the house. “We lost money the first time, but it was fun. People came out, and it was fun. I was like ‘I’m going to keep doing it.’” 

His friends could not believe he was going to do it again, taking all the time and money to coordinate the event. But Rob valued being top of mind regularly with the audience. “Consistency is key; I knew we had to keep doing it so that people would take it seriously,” reiterating that it wasn’t a “one off” event due to its somewhat random and unprecedented nature. 

Eventually, Rob ended up throwing one of the larger afterparties at the Indo Expo 2019 in Denver, inviting cannabis influencers to an art, cannabis, and smoke-friendly affair with good vegan food and good vibes. The next month, he repeated the event for his birthday party, telling his friends to come out and smoke with him since the AirBnB owner was allowing him to use the property. By March, they were actually focusing on art curation as the focal point of the event and starting to make a few hundred bucks each time. 

4/20, Private Events, & High Times

With April came the annual celebration plans for 4/20, and Rob’s intention to use the AirBnB came to a halt when he received a letter ordering him to cease and desist because the owner had listed the location’s address publicly. The event had to be private to allow consumption according to Colorado law, and Rob was forced to make very public statements that the event was cancelled. For those in the know, the event still went on, but in a much more private manner.

After this issue due to a technicality, Rob was invited to throw pop up events under his moniker around the country at High Times events. He traveled to Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a variety of large metro areas, setting up his museum and spreading the brand nationally. Denver may have taken a backseat, but as he became more introduced to the art scene and the people within, a chance encounter at a Denver Dispensary would be the seed that became the Black Love Mural Festival months later.

Black Love Mural Festival (BLMF)

After efforts with High Times came to a close, the transition to Rob upping his art efforts in the festival scene was an almost seamless transition. He met Annie, the owner of IRL Art, and they exchanged contact information when he learned she worked with Meow Wolf. They did big festival installations at Far Out Factory, Sonic Bloom, Arise, Gem and Jam, and similar events. Rob eventually secured a spot working with her in October 2019, and became CMO of IRL Art in February. 

“Black Love Mural Festival started with being in festivals with [Annie],” Rob explains. “These are all her walls that we bought,” motioning to the black plywood board structures around civic park that were constructed in mere hours. Originally, the idea for the festival had stemmed from a park cleanup effort. One of Rob’s friends knew he was involved in park cleanups and asked for some help overseeing efforts to clean up after protests in Denver. During the cleanup, Rob invited a local artist to live paint a mural to help lighten the mood, and the idea to create walls that could be painted on while also protecting local landmarks came to fruition, initially dubbed “Protect The Park.”

“I didn’t know this was possible,” Rob explains of the mobile mural walls, “to take plywood and build into portable walls and have artists come out and do these big pieces, I didn’t know it was possible.” Originally, Rob had wanted to do a large scale art installation in small scale neighborhood parks to bring the beauty and influence of art into communities that wouldn’t otherwise see it. When the opportunity to take that approach and do it in the center of Denver happened, Rob couldn’t help but seize it.

After a quick pitch to local officials and the Mayor of Denver, Rob and his business partner hammered out a proposal and secured funds for the initial effort. “I want to make sure that black people aren’t blamed for what’s happening,” explains Rob of the motivation behind the festival. “Because, no matter who does the vandalism, no matter who does the looting, it’s going to fall back on the Black Lives Matter movement because that’s what everything is focused around… I want to put a black face to the good that we are doing.”

They pitched the idea as a dual-purpose initiative: for the city, they would protect the monuments using temporary structures to help minimize damage and vandalism. For the community, they would use the walls of these structures as blank canvases to showcase the love and art of Denver’s black community. Once approved, the structures had to be built. Rain and cleanups cut into setup time, leaving them less than 48 hours to have everything set up. Then, they set about recruiting artists, offering subsidies for supplies and starting a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $10,000 to pay all 30+ artists who have since become involved. As of the end of June, they have exceeded this goal. 

Asked how it is going, Rob offers a simple “Awesome.” He comments on the fact that this is the first art event he has been to—and for many of the artists participating—that was all black artists, saying normally there is that one token black person, or maybe not even a single person of color, which prevents the artists from being themselves. He’s proud they have curated artists ranging in age from nine to sixty years old, and artists walked up off the street after seeing the news coverage, wanting to get involved in a positive art community that was bettering Denver. 

As with everything that has taken him this far, Rob is seizing the opportunity to educate his peers and his community at large about the beauty of black culture as well as the ways humans can be better about treating one another equally. 

Opportunities & Education

When asked how he has gotten to this point in his life, and what his advice is to others regarding treating one another better, his answers are the same: Education and Opportunities. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to learn, do so. Learn about other cultures. Learn about new thoughts. Learn about personal trials and tribulations. Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to advance yourself and society as a whole. If you have the opportunity to lift someone else up, do so. 

Specifically, Rob speaks to the burden placed on people of color by those who are well-intentioned but lazy in their efforts. Wanting to learn more about the ways your black friends or co-workers may have encountered microaggressions or outright racism is healthy and helps acknowledge and change patterns of behavior, but there is a plethora of information available for you to get background information. Walking up to a black person and asking them to simply describe their plight is both burdensome and shows a lack of effort, contrary to the intentions of the question. 

Similarly, if you look around and aren’t sure of how you can better the black community, or any community, consider the tools in front of you. Rob mentions the trade of a carpenter, and asks the head carpenter to look around at his team; do you see any black faces? No, maybe try to hire some? Not finding any qualified candidates of color? Maybe create the opportunity for an apprenticeship or an internship where a candidate who is otherwise high quality could learn the craft and help to make the industry more diverse. 

Rob’s main point is: there is always an opportunity to help your fellow human and to learn more about one another, and we should seize every chance we can to lift one another up, regardless of color, creed, gender, or other generalizing characteristic. 

Create opportunities
for others,
even if they don’t exist.

The Black Love Mural Festival’s permit was extended through the end of July to allow for a longer display of the art and recognition of the black community. Rob is entertaining future ideas to not only bring the festival back annually, but hopefully to expand to other cities, and to preserve many of the pieces that were created in art galleries and museums, including those dedicated to preserving black art and history. 

Until then:
Educate yourself. Don’t just expect to be educated.


SEE IT LIVE IN DENVER, CO UNTIL JULY 30


Make sure to check out and follow all The talented artists participating in this fantastic event.

@sky_welkin

@plantladyproduction

@stephen_the_painter

@themuseumforblackgirls

@fa_eazy

@flowergirlcreative

@vibrant.love.artistry

@lindeezimmer

@VincentGordon

@toluwaob/@draunimoli

@tukeone

@key_air

@foliarian

@adore_regine

@visualgoodies

@Mi_moegram

@goodlooksvol.1

@bannedesign

@JavonTheUnique

@bakemono0504

@we_must_grow

@hieroveiga

@izaexvim

@keishamarieco

@liobumba

@ds3productions_art

PJ and Crystal

@keishapaintnjoint

@selah.v.art

@curatedbycharlie

@iishieii

Xavier Roscoe

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Enhancing Integrity

Representative Leslie Herod

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No one knew that the tragic event that took place on May 25, 2020 would lead to a worldwide civil rights movement. Police brutality has sadly gone on in this country for centuries, specifically to minorities and people of color, and the death of George Floyd was the last straw for everyone. People were tired of being in their homes due to the coronavirus and then the news shifted and played a video over and over again showing a man, begging for his life. This was not the first time we have seen such a video in the United States, but finally, people are taking a stand. 

In Colorado, the death of George Floyd led to a protest with thousands of people, shouting “no justice, no peace, no justice, no peace!” These protests lasted for weeks after his passing. Hundreds continued to gather every single day in honor of all the recent black lives that passed. Tributes were made, art was created, tears were shed daily on the Capitol steps. Parts of the Capitol, Civic Center Park (in front of the Capitol,) as well as many other nearby places in Denver were damaged with graffiti and various forms of vandalism, including many broken windows and trash can fires. It was very clear that the people of Colorado were fed up. Over the next couple of weeks, every major city in the US and several places throughout the world followed suit and peacefully protested systemic racism.

But what did these protests do? In Colorado, the legislators saw what was happening to their cities and knew that the time for a change in policy was now. Representative Leslie Herod is responsible for District 8: Denver, Colorado. Her constituents were gathering daily on the Capitol steps, and they were joined by people from neighboring cities and states. They made their point very clear—something needed to be done to enhance the integrity of the police force. 

In Colorado, the legislators saw what was happening to their cities and knew that the time for a change in policy was now.

With the assistance of fellow Prime Sponsors, Representative Herod sat down and got to work on the piece of legislation that would become “SB 217, Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity.” Representative Herod tells us, “I am the vice chair of the judiciary committee, and I already worked a lot on policing and criminal justice issues and mass incarcerations. I was specifically looking at a bill to address the local cases we had here in Colorado with Elijah McLain and De’Von Bailey. I had a bill drafted but did not have support to get it introduced through the COVID season. So basically what we did was shelve it, but because of the cries of the protestors for justice and change, we were able to add a lot of really important components to the bill, introduce it, and then have it pass.”

While speaking with Representative Herod, I took note of how excited she sounded when talking about how many people reached out to their legislators. As someone who has spent time working towards advancing cannabis policy, I know how difficult it is to make a massive letter writing campaign be effective. I am proud of the people of Colorado for showing up in big numbers. Representative Herod explains, “The number of people who wrote, and called, and reached out to their legislators was something I had never seen before. The people who showed up to testify and even to protest outside, it was more than I had ever seen. It was definitely the reason I feel we were able to get this (SB217) passed with such bipartisan support. I do think that we may not have had that same type of support if we did not have so much support from the community.”

It is important to realize, “Protests do lead to policy change. It is the sustained process to make it work. What I will say is that I speak a lot with the families and victims here in Colorado, and they are frustrated that it took this before people would show up and support their kids that died. I had to feel ready and like we were in a good place for the introduction of this bill, the protests allowed me to push the bill the way it needed to be pushed. George Floyd was not the reason for this bill, however the protest helped immensely, but I have been ready because of the kids we have lost here in Colorado. They are not left out of this conversation,” says Representative Herod.

I think the most important thing anyone can realize right now is that “This is more than a moment, this is a movement.” Representative Herod speaks such powerful words. She leaves us with this advice, “If you are in elected office and/or if you are a person in a position of power, it is really incumbent upon you right now to begin to address systemic racism right now. If you don’t, people will show up and protest and demand change. As an elected official, I think it is important for people to really think about what is going on right now and think about ways to change.” 

To everyone wanting to understand systemic racism and how to advance this movement as a whole, “Keep speaking out, keep showing up. Don’t try to give us your emotional weight; try and take some of it off of us. Don’t give us your race burdens, instead take action. Protest, write to your elected officials, don’t expect us to explain race to you, just be there to support us, even something simple as buying someone lunch and expecting nothing in return.”

Police reform is needed now more than ever and Colorado is on the cutting edge of what that policy should look like. It is this author’s hope that more states adopt legislation like SB217 and make it their own.


SB20-217 Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity

“Concerning measures to enhance law enforcement integrity, and,
in connection therewith, making an appropriation.”

No more choke holds – choke holds and carotid control holds are now banned. Officers can only use force if absolutely necessary and deadly force can’t be used against someone for a minor or nonviolent offense. 

The need to intervene – Officers will be protected from retaliation if they intervene. An officer who fails to try to stop another from using excessive force could face a class 1 misdemeanor or greater charge. 

Body cameras – By July 1, 2023 all officers in the state of Colorado, with the exception of some administrative positions, undercover officers, and correctional officers under view of other cameras will be required to wear body cameras. Police who purposely tamper with or turn off their camera, can now face criminal charges for doing so.

Police prosecutions – state Attorney general has the authority to prosecute persistently bad departments and officers.

Data tracking – Agencies who don’t provide the required data and information could put their funding in jeopardy. State data will include: their use of force resulting in serious injury or death as well as stops, unannounced entries and use of firearms and demographic information.

Protecting protestors – Shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately into a crowd as well as targeting rubber bullet shots at someone’s head, torso or back is prohibited. As is the use of pepper spray or tear gas, before announcing it will be sprayed to the crowd and allowing time for them to disperse from the area.

Bad cops – If an officer has been found guilty of a crime of inappropriate use of force, failure to intervene to stop excessive force, or found civilly liable for excessive force, or failure to intervene, will lose their Peace Officer Standards and Training board certification permanently.

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