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Group planning Pueblo National Marijuana Museum pauses $200k Kickstarter campaign

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Photo courtesy of the National Marijuana Museum

An ambitious plan to raise enough money to fund the nation’s first marijuana museum in Pueblo is momentarily on pause.

The group, led by Pueblo realtor Branson Haney, launched a Kickstarter campaign after announcing the museum plans after the November 2016 election. But less than $300 has been donated to the $200,000 goal, so the group decided to put the fundraising component on hold.

“We have temporarily paused the Kickstarter campaign to revamp our marketing and funding goals,” Haney told PULP. “The project is still in full swing with an effort to target some larger local donors and supporters. We will relaunch the Kickstarter campaign again soon – most likely within the next six weeks.”

The Kickstarter funding period, which started on April 20, was to end mid-July.

Haney told PULP in November, when the project launched, he believes Pueblo is an ideal place for the museum because of the thriving industry, not to mention having the biggest outdoor grow in the nation and the Institute of Cannabis Research at CSU-Pueblo.

“We want Pueblo to be the epicenter of marijuana education,” Haney previously said. “People fear what they don’t know.”

Many in the industry believed a lack of education to be a driving force in a contentious election cycle in which two separate ballot measures threatened to end the legal cannabis industry in Pueblo altogether. After both measures decisively failed the museum was announced as a sort of victory.

Without sinking the ballot measures, the museum wouldn’t have made sense in Pueblo, said Jim Parco, who owns a recreational marijuana shop with his wife in Pueblo County and is a co-founding board member of the museum, told PULP following the November museum announcement.

For now, the National Marijuana Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2018, is still early in its planning and development stages.

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Buying weed: an investment in Pueblo’s future?

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A high school senior suffering from an anxiety disorder wasn’t sure if he could attend Colorado State University-Pueblo because the daily drive to and from campus would cause him undue stress. But in the end the student was given the money he needed to help defray the cost of living on campus, and he is able to make it to classes with a lot less aggravation.

What made this possible?

The Pueblo County Scholarship program is expected to receive $700,000 from the cultivation of marijuana this year. The scholarship was approved by county voters in 2015 and the ballot measure states that primarily Pueblo County graduating high school seniors who plan to attend colleges only located inside the county’s boundaries (in essence CSU-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College) are eligible for the scholarship. County Commissioner Sal Pace, who told a story of the student suffering from anxiety who got the scholarship, is the point man for the county regarding the Pueblo scholarship program. Pace adds that the scholarship is not limited to graduating high school seniors. Those Pueblo residents attending college in the county can also apply. When he is asked why the scholarship only applies to colleges within Pueblo County, he says, “We weren’t sure how much money would be available for the first full-year of funding and how far it would go, but we knew the program would grow over time. This year we will have enough funding to give some additional scholarships based on merit and need. I have a vision of eventually guaranteeing a college scholarship to every local kid.”

Pace says he spoke to several students and parents and received nothing but positive responses to the pot-funded scholarship, which started as a non-marijuana-funded pilot program in 2016.

The majority of the money for the scholarships comes directly from cannabis cultivators who now pay an excise tax each month at a rate of 3 percent of the crops’ unprocessed retail value when the crop is sold or transferred to a retail outlet, even if the retail outlet owns its own marijuana grow house. That tax rate is supposed to increase to 4 percent next year and be capped at 5 percent in 2020. Yet Pace is trying to convince his fellow county commissioners to cap the tax rate at 3 percent this year. Pace says he wants to keep the excise tax rate at its current level “so we don’t drive the small businesses out of business.”

Incidentally, the marijuana money for the scholarship represents roughly half of the total tax dollars collected from pot growers. The rest of the unprocessed cannabis excise tax revenue goes to fund other community enhancement and infrastructure projects.

And Pace doesn’t seem to have any reservations about where the lion’s share of the Pueblo County Scholarship funds come from. “Voters voted for it,” he says, adding, “How do you defend taxes on cars?”

Pace defends the use of the cannabis tax for the scholarship by weighing it against the greater good it would bring the community as a whole. “Our ultimate goal is that the next generation in Pueblo can have a bright future, opportunity for success, and to live their dreams,” he says. “The more educated we are, the more [job] opportunities will come our way.”

Students who benefitted
Twenty-year-old Janet Chavez, a CSU-Pueblo sophomore and Pueblo County Scholarship recipient, also has no qualms about the fact the majority of her scholarship’s funding comes from pot growers. “It [the sale of marijuana] allows me to benefit the community,” says the liberal studies major with a minor in elementary education. “I am able to go to college and to give back to the community in a positive way.”

Also having a clear conscience about cannabis dollars funding his scholarship is Xavier Madrid, who is 20 years old and a CSU-Pueblo junior studying sociology and criminology. “Marijuana has always been seen in a negative light,” he says. “I am just so glad that something so controversial can be utilized in such a positive way seeing that it is investing in the future leaders of America.”

Students receiving the up-to-four-year scholarship, the money from which goes directly to the postsecondary learning institution, are required to perform 40 hours of community service annually throughout their college career. “It’s a great opportunity to serve the community as you’re going through your college experience,” Chavez says.

And Madrid agrees.

“[Community service] has been something I take tremendous pride in,” he says. “For the past couple of years, I have been able to be an assistant baseball coach during the summer, where I taught kids the fundamentals of the game as well as tutor current high school students … . It has not only given me the opportunity to be a role model for those I’ve helped, but also [allows me to] give back to the community that has been my home and was able to invest in me when I needed it the most.”

Chavez, who says she chose to attend college “to receive a higher education and be successful,” would have had to work a full-time job to help pay for tuition and books without the scholarship. Now, she says, she only works part time, which gives her more study time.

Madrid is attending college “not only for [him]self but for [his] family.” He represents the first generation of his family to attend college. Madrid says, “I knew I needed a degree to be appealing to the job market and school has always been something I have excelled in and something I take tremendous pride in. So I knew that college was the right path for me.”

Without the scholarship, Madrid says he “would constantly have to worry about having enough money to cover the tuition.” He says he is one of two children in a family who “never had the financial capability to pay for college [for one child] let alone two tuition bills.” Madrid adds that the scholarship “has helped alleviate the financial burden that comes along with college and given [him] the capability to give back to those who invested in [his] college education.”

Both students said they were able to get through the scholarship application process with ease. “It was a very straight-forward application,” Chavez says. “I went to the website, and it was very simple. Things flowed easily.”

Madrid also says he made it through the scholarship application process with little to no hassle. “It was one of the easiest scholarship applications I have done,” he says. “I simply went to phef.net, printed off the application, received my letters of recommendation, and, boom, I was done.”

But Madrid, who was part of the 2016 pilot program for the scholarship, says it could have been better publicized then. “I learned from my Colorado GEAR UP adviser at the last second seeing that this whole scholarship was relatively new,” he says, adding that he thinks “the whole idea of marijuana funding college education” resulted in high school seniors shying away from the scholarship and kept them from encouraging other seniors to apply for it.

Pilot program grows

The Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, or PHEF, is the group the commissioners contracted to manage the Pueblo County Scholarship fund. PHEF receives 10 percent of the total scholarship fund’s annual take for its troubles. Beverly Duran, PHEF’s executive director, says the 2016 pilot program, which consisted of 25 scholarship recipients, has been successful. Of the 25, 23 recipients are still attending college on the scholarship. The other two each have graduated college with associate degrees. Last year, however, was the first time cannabis excise tax dollars were used to fund the scholarship, as stated in the 2015 ballot measure creating the scholarship.

And last year, Duran says 210 students received scholarships. She adds that she tries to keep each scholarship’s value at $2,000 a year per recipient because it can help cover the cost of living on campus (especially for students who don’t have cars), has allowed students to work part-time instead of full-time, or can determine whether a student goes to college at all. (Yet make no mistake, a $2,000 annual scholarship amounts to little more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to overall college expenses. For example, CSU-Pueblo reveals that the cost of living on campus alone is $5,830 per academic year and the money covers roughly three credit hours at the university.)

Last year’s scholarships totaled $420,000, a far cry from the pilot program’s $50,000. And, if all goes as planned, this year’s scholarship allotment of $750,000, (the bulk of which – as stated before – comes from the sale or transfer of unprocessed marijuana), just might fund scholarships for up to 375 students.

As far as publicizing the scholarship, a lot has changed since the pilot program. Commissioner Pace says high school guidance counselors are well-informed of the scholarship’s existence. And Duran says her organization is getting the word out about the scholarships through advertising, articles in print (like this one), and stories airing on area television stations’ news broadcasts. She says even large banners telling of the scholarship’s availability are strung up in high school hallways. Yet alas, Duran laments, despite all the effort, some students and parents still say they weren’t aware of the scholarship.

A COSI alliance

The Pueblo County Scholarship receives state funding from the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, or COSI, in addition to the cannabis excise tax revenue. Although it is said COSI offers “matching funds” to those raised through the marijuana tax, the funds don’t match at all.

So far, PHEF has received two COSI awards – one for $226,597 in 2016 and another for $210,685 last year – each are spread over four years in varying amounts, according to COSI’s director Shelley Banker. She adds that those funds are encumbered. “We do not anticipate funding decisions from the Legislature to have an impact on those current commitments,” Banker says. “Similarly, PHEF and Pueblo County have another opportunity to apply [this year] for $214,291 from our program.” PHEF’s Duran says she plans to start the paperwork on the county’s request for the 2018 COSI allotment, which will be awarded in the summer, soon.

Statewide, COSI offers $7.5 million annually to communities “based on an assessment of total dollars in our COSI fund, projected future spending, and community participation,” Banker says. She adds that “COSI is seeking an additional $4 million in state funding this legislative session so that we can increase the number of program and scholarship grants and serve even more students through our grants in future years.” The COSI request is part of the Long Bill, or the state’s budget bill. General Assembly discussions on the Long Bill begin to pick up around the middle of this month.

However, any additional statewide COSI allotment, should the General Assembly approve it as part of the Long Bill, would not be available until 2019. “The $4 million appropriation would contribute significantly to the sustainability of our program long term,” Banker says, “and would help maintain current levels of … scholarship aid, like that accessed in Pueblo.”

Banker espouses the value COSI brings to the Pueblo community. “It’s partnerships like that with Pueblo County and Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation that contribute to the success of COSI statewide, and allow us together to help more Colorado students pursue and complete postsecondary education,” she says. “The particular source [a marijuana tax] of the match committed by the Pueblo County commissioners is one example of how communities are creatively utilizing our matching grant opportunity to leverage state funding and make dollars go further.”

A cannabis conundrum

It may be a challenge for some to philosophically justify tacitly advocating the recreational use of cannabis, but through a vote of the people of Pueblo County, recreational marijuana now fits into the same category as recreational alcohol and tobacco. Yet tax money from each of those substances has been going toward improving communities for decades in terms of sales taxes and other means. And that’s what the Pueblo County Scholarship program does in its own small way – improve the community. COSI’s Banker has this to say about Pueblo cannabis-funded scholarship: “Not only has the community embraced this opportunity, but they are also showing success with the money. Our latest outcome report notes that Pueblo County students receiving COSI funds through the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation had a 95 percent retention rate.”

She adds, “National best practices and our own research at the Colorado Department of Higher Education indicate that student support services [like Pueblo’s use of COSI funds combined with the wholesale marijuana excise tax] are key to a student’s ability to persist and make it to the finish line.”

And that “finish line” is one shared by a community eager to both groom more well-educated citizens and attract industries offering better-paying jobs.

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In the cup of a revolution: The birth of CBD Coffee Shops

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Founding a company can be a daunting task for anyone. Starting from scratch isn’t easy, but it helps a ton if what you’re doing is important to you. David Dzurik is lucky in that way, as he found a passion that can drive him for the rest of his life. Originally inspired by beating cancer and using cannabis to help do so, Dzurik has created an extremely original brand in Deez CBD Coffee. The company combines high-quality coffee ingredients with 50% water-soluble CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that has shown tremendous promise in the healing of many ailments.

David Dzurik

As of now, you can purchase Deez CBD coffee on multiple online outlets including cbdwarewhouse.com – as well as other retail stores all over the nation.

Dzurik originally started the company using a medicated CBD tea archetype, however realizing the coffee market had so much potential, quickly jumped into production about a year ago. Within the year, the community has been very receptive of the products quality and has given a ton of praise. In a great business move, Deez Coffee partnered with the two-time award winning CBD chemists at Sacred Body CBD, giving him a constant supply of high-quality CBD.

While the movement of the company is already transitioning fast, there’s another aspect that Dzurik is even more excited to see. Deez Coffee is the inspiration for the first ever CBD infused coffee shop, which is already planning on opening in New York and quickly making its waves to the Colorado market. An idea that has already taken off in places like New Zealand and Australia.

While the company is already growing well and seems to be on the right track, Dzurik doesn’t want to stop there. He has plans for bringing back Deez Tea at some point and is very interested in expanding his product line even further.  While the healing effects of non-psychoactive CBD will always be the focus for Dzurik, he also recognizes the huge potential market for recreational THC products as well. While there’s not a legal way to regulate THC products yet, Dzurik doesn’t count out the idea for future ventures.

Working with Deez CBD Coffee over the past year, Dzurik has seen an outpouring of community support and praise. Some social cannabis clubs have been quick to carry Deez products and have even gone on to throw co-sponsored charity events in support of veterans.

Working to help the people who need help and can benefit from CBD Coffee is one of Dzurik’s biggest passions and he isn’t in the industry for the money. Being a cancer survivor himself, it’s no wonder why he believes so strongly in the powerful benefits of CBD and cannabis.

Dzurik is on the forefront of what seems to be a revolution that is slowly making its way to Colorado. The idea of CBD coffee shops hasn’t been touched in the Colorado market yet, and Deez Tea is looking to help break in on the ground floor. With a ton of passion for helping people and an high-quality product, it makes sense people are connecting with Dzurik’s mission.

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Sal Pace: He led on cannabis, now he’s leaving office

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Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace isn’t running for re-election. That leaves a huge question mark over the next name that will lead Pueblo County on a number of issues, but particularly the marijuana issue.

Pace has been at the front of the conversation of what a legal marijuana market should look like, how it should operate and how it can be better in Pueblo and across the state.

The former State House minority leader and current county commissioner has had his name tied to the subject of marijuana since the beginning — he was elected to the legislature in 2008 and appointed to county commissioner in 2013. In 2016, Pace held tight to his support of the marijuana industry, opting to celebrate the downfall of potential industry-killer Props. 200 and 300 in Pueblo instead of watching results roll in with fellow Democrats.

The death of Pace’s father last year and the sudden death of his sister has caused the lawmaker to take a hard look at his life, notably the time spent — and not spent — with his family. He wants more of it, and so that involves less lawmaking.

“Sadly for me, it took losing my own father and sister to fully comprehend the importance of being present for my kids and wife,” Pace wrote in an editorial announcing his decision to not seek re-election. “I know that no lost experience can ever be replaced.”

In a sit-down interview with PULP, Pace talks the politics and policy of the industry and where local leaders should pay close attention to as more states legalize.

So, you’re not running for reelection. Was that a tough decision?

Nope. I think it’s important to reevaluate your values. It’s a constant struggle determining perception versus being here in the now. Ego is really based on past experiences and future expectations.

You’ve been seen as a leader for the marijuana industry in Pueblo. Do you think that will be your legacy?

That’ll be for the political pundits to decide.

How did this become your issue, anyway?

Because too many politicians are cowards. It’s a no-brainer. Especially when you look at the overwhelming support from the public. I don’t think it’s very risky at all. I feel very confident that 20 years now from now people will laugh that there was ever marijuana prohibition.

Do you think taking on marijuana policy like you did was a good political move?

I don’t know if it served me well politically. I’ve enjoyed being on the front-end of policy debates. I enjoy the opportunity to shape policy. If the goal is to be popular and reelected easily, which is the normal definition in modern-day politics, then no, this hasn’t been good for politics.

The emails and scowls and the threats I get daily response from prohibitionists? No. Other issues didn’t bring out the visceral response from the public.

It’s no secret that there has been a vocal group against the industry in Pueblo — they still say pot has made Pueblo worse off. Is there something the pro-marijuana camp can learn from them?

I’m probably talking to regulators and policy makers in other states 2-3 times per week. And I’ve met with dozens of states and regulators and legislators from several different countries. I tell people to not expect the opposition to disappear because there’s overwhelming support. Frankly, had I known (the opposition) wouldn’t respect the will of the voters, there were policies I would have done differently to alleviate some of their responses.

I think we’ll have some form of national legalization and decriminalization in the next three years. And I don’t know how the local prohibitionists will react, but it will take a lot of the wind out of their sails.

The marijuana scholarships got a lot of attention — even nation wide — do you think they’ll have a lasting effect on Pueblo’s economy?

There are people that weren’t going to go to college or were going to go somewhere else. There were kids that were going to take a year off, but didn’t so they could qualify for the scholarship program. I think it’s a bit of a chicken and egg argument, but I don’t think anything can go wrong with a more educated populace.

Do you have advice for other Pueblo leaders on how to navigate the future of legalized cannabis?

I think, considering the vocal minority still exists, the city did the right thing on a limited number of store fronts. I think it’s important to look at the tax rate. That doesn’t play a big role on the retail side, but as we want to keep the thousands of jobs in cultivation and manufacturing, it’s important we don’t tax them out of existence.

I’m probably going to propose tapping the excise tax. I think there are two areas where policy makers should keep a keen eye on. One is continuing to foster cultivation — that’s where we have a distinct advantage. In the county, I think that means working with some of the largest dispensary chains in the state.

We can create another couple of thousands jobs by doing that.

In the city, they should really take a look at their 8 percent excise tax. They might not realize it, but they’re driving away a lot of business.

The other piece that’s really important is cannabis research at CSU-Pueblo. When you’re generating intellectual property or new ways of production — that wealth from IP will be worth more than just cultivating or dispensing.

Do you think this Institute of Cannabis Research will put CSU-Pueblo on the map?

Oh, absolutely, if they embrace it. They’ll have to deal with the same political issues that I did.

What’s your vision for Pueblo and marijuana in 10 years?

I think the big variable is whether there will be shipment of cannabis across state lines in 10 years. And you know, I’m really nervous about the overproduction of wholesale cannabis. Obviously Pueblo has played a role in that. We could see point of sales decrease in Colorado.

I’m really concerned about people surviving and the commoditization of product. It’s a lot more affordable to buy it wholesale than grow it in Denver. In 10 years from now, I think we’ll have legal shipment across state lines. It will allow Pueblo to be a cultivation hub for the nation.

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