+

Matt Walstatter fell into the cannabis business like many people do; he got sick. Really sick.

In 2003, a bad case of flu and pneumonia turned into painful gastrointestinal symptoms that wouldn't go away. For 10 years he vomited every day. He lost 50 pounds in the first six months.

After trying everything and seeing multiple doctors, acupuncturists, and naturopaths, cannabis was the only thing that provided relief. He applied for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to grow cannabis for himself and soon started growing for others. For nearly three years, he's run Pure Green dispensary in Portland, Oregon.


A "budtender" helps a customer at Pure Green dispensary (left). Walstatter (right). Photos via Matt Walstatter, used with permission.

As much as he enjoys his new career, it's not without challenges.

"I liken operating a cannabis business to running with ankle weights," Walstatter says, "because everything is a little harder."

Medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Oregon but not at the federal level, putting businesses like Walstatter's at odds with the government and the financial industry.

Cannabis-related businesses operate in a challenging limbo, able to grow, produce, and sell products but bound by piecemeal rules and regulations. Since marijuana is still an illegal Schedule I substance at the federal level (grouped together with the likes of heroin, LSD, and ecstasy), providing banking services for these entrepreneurs violates multiple federal statutes and laws including the Controlled Substance Act, the Bank Secrecy Act, and even the Patriot Act.

A vendor weighs buds for card-carrying medical marijuana patients at Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

This means cannabis businesses often have to operate without routine banking services like checking accounts, payroll assistance, or credit cards and instead work entirely in cash.

"The biggest hassle is paying bills. Instead of just writing a check and being done with it, you have to walk and drive somewhere," Walstatter says. "Money moves from place to place, but most of the time it happens electronically. But when you don’t have a bank account, if you want money to get from point A to point B, you’ve gotta bring it there yourself.”

But it's more than an issue of inconvenience, it's a matter of feeling safe.

"You’re always at risk," says Sally Alworth, co-owner of Luminous Botanicals, a Portland-based company that makes natural medicinal cannabis serums. "Anybody who looks around and sees where you’re located and that you’re a cannabis business knows that you likely have a stockpile of cash on site, and even if it’s in a safe, it just feels like you’re a target. There’s a big bull's-eye on you."

And while dispensary robberies are rare, they do occur. In Portland last August, a dispensary owner was robbed, bound, and held at gunpoint in his own store. It's enough to keep proprietors on edge.

Jars of medical marijuana at Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Though zoning varies from state to state and region to region, cannabis businesses and dispensaries are located in every corner of Portland, with 100 licensed medical dispensaries in the county alone. No one is immune to the potential criminality.

"It feels like it creates a real risk to us and our business and our assets but also to the neighborhoods our businesses are operating in," Alworth says. "Once you have thieves in the neighborhood, you just don’t know what else they’re gonna do."

Traditional banking is happening in the industry, if you know where to look.

Walstatter says it’s happening very quietly.

Two years ago, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) part of the Department of the Treasury, gave banks permission to work with cannabis businesses and professionals as long as certain guidelines and provisions were met. Most national banks (think Chase or Wells Fargo) are chartered, regulated, and insured at the federal level. But smaller, local banks and credit unions are chartered at the state level and answer to state and federal regulators.

Different strains of marijuana for sale on a digital board at a dispensary in Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images.

Since the legality of cannabis is still a state-to-state issue, some community banks are willing to take the risk, follow FinCEN guidance, and offer accounts to marijuana-related businesses or, as they're called in the financial industry, MRBs.

Walstatter works with a community bank to manage his funds but declined to share which one. "They actually make most clients sign an NDA for some reason," he says, likely out of fear of drawing unwanted attention from regulators.

But not every financial institution is so secretive about its forays into the industry.

"We saw it as a really good opportunity and the way to advance the medical research behind cannabis. We do think it has some medicinal benefits, but unfortunately the testing has been limited due to its federal illegalities," says Carmella Murphy Houston, vice president of business services for Washington-based Salal Credit Union.

Salal works with more than 300 MRBs in Washington and Oregon, most of them larger producers, processors, and retail businesses.

Per FinCEN guidelines, financial institutions that elect to work with MRBs have to vet and monitor the businesses closely to ensure none of the money is going toward criminal enterprises.

"We have monthly, quarterly, and annual ongoing monitoring that we do on the businesses as well," Houston says. The hefty monthly fees for the MRB accounts help offset the cost of this additional due diligence.

While some banks are willing to take the chance, it's simply not enough to manage the needs of a nearly $7 billion industry.

Less than 3% of the country's 11,954 federally regulated banks and credit unions service the cannabis industry, a total of 301 in 2016.

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

Seven additional states legalized medical or recreational marijuana during the last election, bringing the total up to 28. This is quickly becoming an issue of national concern, and it's finally getting some attention in Washington, D.C.

The first week of January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts led a cadre of senators to push FinCEN to issue additional guidance to banks wishing to work with MRBs.

"You make sure that people are really paying their taxes. You know that the money is not being diverted to some kind of criminal enterprise," Warren said recently, The Associated Press reported. "And it’s just a plain old safety issue. You don’t want people walking in with guns and masks and saying, 'Give me all your cash.'"

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) speaks in Las Vegas. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Those in the cannabis business say these changes can't come soon enough.

For retailers and producers like Walstatter and Alworth, the uncertainty and challenges of the business are worth it to provide a product they believe in. A fix would mean big changes for their businesses and might allow them to focus on other challenging regulations like the tax code, which doesn't allow cannabis businesses to deduct typical business expenses like marketing or administrative costs.

"We’re transitioning from the black and grey markets, so there’s just obstacles and bumps that most businesses don’t encounter," Walstatter says. "Sure, you have to pay taxes like everybody else, but you don’t get to deduct anything. You wanna pay bills, you probably don’t have a bank account. We’re in the hyper-regulated environment, and about two or three times a year, the rules just change in a way that often turns our business model upside down."

Rules may change. Policies may shift. And with the new administration, the way legal marijuana (medical or otherwise) exists in this country may change dramatically. But Walstatter's been through worse. And he's not giving up now.

"We’ve made it this far," he says. "And we’re not turning back."

A man shops at Farma, a marijuana dispensary, in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

Pop Culture

TikTok star's surprising method for finding good Chinese food is blowing people's minds

Yelp can be a helpful tool for scoping out food joints, but maybe not in the way you think.

Photo by Debbie Tea on Unsplash

Different cultures view service differently.

Content creator Freddy Wong has a brilliantly easy way to find authentic Chinese food.

As he reveals in a mega viral video that’s racked up 9.4 million views on TikTok and 7.7 million views on Twitter, the trick (assuming you live in a major metropolitan area) is to “go on Yelp and look for restaurants with 3.5 stars, and exactly 3.5 stars." Not 3. Not 4. 3.5.

He then backs up his argument with some pretty undeniable photo evidence.

First, he pulls up an image of a Yelp page from P.F. Chang’s. With only 2.5 stars, one can tell the food is “obviously bad.” Alternatively, Din Tai Fung—a globally recognized Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant—has four stars.

Sounds good right? Wrong. In this case, “too many stars” means that “too many white people like it,” indicating that the restaurant is being judged on service rather than food quality. According to Wong, if “the service is too good, the food is not as good as it could be.”

He then pulls up the Yelp page for a couple of local Chinese restaurants, both of which have 3.5 stars. The waiters at these establishments might “not pay attention to you,” he admits, adding that they might even be “rude.” But, Wong attests, “it’s going to taste better.”

@rocketjump

Why I only go to Chinese restaurants with 3.5 star ratings

♬ original sound - RocketJump

"The dumplings here are better [than Din Tai Fung's]. I've been here," he says of the 3.5 star Shanghai Dumpling House. Considering his Twitter profile boasts a “James Beard Award winning KBBQ Gourmand'' title, it seems like he knows what he’s talking about.

So, why is this 3.5 rule the “sweet spot”? As Wong explains, it all comes down to different “cultural expectations.”

“In Asia, they’re not as proactive. They’re not going to come up to you, they’re not going to just proactively give you refills, you need to flag down the waiter,” he says, noting the different interpretations of service.

"People on Yelp are insufferable,” he continues, arguing that “they're dinging all these restaurants because the service is bad,” but the food is so good that it balances out the bad service. Hence, a 3.5-star rating. His reasoning is arguably sound—people do often give absurdly scathing reviews that in no way accurately reflect a restaurant’s food quality.

“A good Yelp review doesn’t mean it’s a good restaurant — it simply means the restaurant is good at doing things that won’t hurt their online rating,” Wong said in an interview with Today, adding that “highly rated Yelp restaurants are often those with counter service and limited menus, minimizing potential negative interaction with staff.”

He also added the caveat, “I don’t have anything against those places, but I think people who only eat at the ‘highest rated’ restaurants on online review sites are only eating at the most boring restaurants.”

A ton of people in the comments seem to back Wong’s theory.

best chinese food

100% accurate, some say

TikTok

Plus, the theory seems to not be limited to just Chinese restaurants, further implying that maybe there’s more of a cultural misunderstanding, rather than any real lack of quality.

thai food near me

No drink refills but the food is fire.

TikTok

yelp reviews, yelp

2.8 is the new 5

TikTok

One of the gifts that our modern world provides is the opportunity to truly experience and appreciate other cultures. Since food is easily one of the most accessible (and enjoyable) ways to do that, perhaps we should prioritize seeking authenticity, rather than rely on a flawed and superficial rating system.

As Wong told Today, “I hope it encourages people to go out and eat more food from not only Chinese restaurants, but restaurants representing the whole world of cultural cuisines.”

Education

How a 3,800-year-old stone tablet helped create modern legal systems

'Innocent until proven guilty' isn't that new of a concept.

Kind of looks like the Matrix code...

The modern justice system is certainly not without its flaws, however most can agree that the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is one that (when not abused) stands as the foundation of what fair due process looks like. This principle, it turns out, isn’t so modern at all. It can actually be traced all the way back to nearly 3,800 years ago.

historyLady Justice, the image of impartial fairness. Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

English barrister Sir William Garrow is known for coining the "innocent until proven guilty" phrase between the 18th and 19th century, after insisting that evidence be provided by accusers and thoroughly tested in court. But this notion, as radical as it seemed at the time, can, in fact, be credited to an ancient Babylonian king who ruled Mesopotamia.

During his reign from 1792 to 1750 B.C., Hammurabi left behind a legacy of accomplishments as a ruler and a diplomat. His most influential contribution was a series of 282 laws and regulations that were painstakingly compiled after he sent legal experts throughout his kingdom to gather existing laws, then adapted or eliminated them in order to create a universal system.

Those laws were inscribed on a large, seven-foot stone monument, and they were known as the Code of Hammurabi.

Keep ReadingShow less
via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


Dr. Daniel Mansfield and his team at the University of New South Wales in Australia have just made an incredible discovery. While studying a 3,700-year-old tablet from the ancient civilization of Babylon, they found evidence that the Babylonians were doing something astounding: trigonometry!

Most historians have credited the Greeks with creating the study of triangles' sides and angles, but this tablet presents indisputable evidence that the Babylonians were using the technique 1,500 years before the Greeks ever were.


Keep ReadingShow less