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The Pot Plank and Presidential Politics

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The Marijuana Policy Project came out with its report card for 22 presidential candidates and hopefuls this week and the headline is that no one is sticking their neck out very far when it comes to the legalization of marijuana or the loosening of federal pot laws. Admittedly, this is not the biggest issue on anyone’s presidential platform but as more states jump on the bandwagon, voters will be demanding a pot plank as the 2016 race gets underway.

Republican Rand Paul stands out in the crowd for supporting the rights of states to establish marijuana policy and also for being a voice for decriminalization, legalized medical marijuana and access to banks for marijuana businesses. The MPP voter guide sends him to the head of the presidential class with an A-. On the other hand, the MPP gives Republicans Chris Christie and Rick Santorum an F for saying they will enforce federal laws to crack down on states that have charted their own course in legalizing pot.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb are taking a wait and see approach to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado and other states. They get B grades from the MPP. Republican Rick Perry also gets a B for supporting state rights to establish their own policies and working to reduce pot penalties in his home state of Texas.

Republicans Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina get C+ grades for accepting the right of states to create their own policies despite opposing the legalization of the drug for any kind of use. New York Republican George Pataki, who also opposes legalizing marijuana for all purposes, still gets a C for saying he’ll keep the federal government from interfering with states that vote to legalize pot, as long as it stays away from kids and doesn’t upset neighboring states. Republicans Donald Trump and Lindsay Graham get C’s for supporting only medical marijuana. Republican Bobby Jindal gets a C- for only supporting limited medical marijuana and would be candidate John Kasich gets a C- for not even supporting that.

Continuing the “gateway drug” narrative has earned Democrats Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden a C- and D respectively. Republicans Scott Walker and Ben Carson also get D grades for not giving up on the theory. Florida Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Arkansas Republican Mike Huckabee, who oppose the legalization of marijuana for any purpose, get D’s as well.

According to Marijuana Policy Poject Communications Director Mason Tvert “voters should know which candidates support rolling back prohibition and which ones are fighting to maintain it. People are becoming increasingly wary of the federal government’s role in our nation’s marijuana policy.” Indeed, the disconnect between state and federal laws has been one of the biggest challenges dogging the young industry. “If states are to be our nation’s laboratories of democracy, our next president needs to respect their right to experiment,” Tvert said. “They should be committed to basing marijuana laws on science and evidence instead of ideology and politics.”


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The Pot Baron of Reality Television

The newest in the crop of marijuana shows launches on Sunday, April 19 when CNN introduces “High Profits” just in time for 4/20. The eight episode series features Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire, owners of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, as they work to become marijuana moguls and eventually franchise their stores. It follows on the heels of MSNBC’s well received docu-reality series “Pot Barons of Colorado.” After wrapping up that marijuana infused marathon, executive producer Gary Cohen says he’s hooked.

“Pot Barons was a crazy sprint” says Cohen, who is the Emmy award winning founder of Triple Threat Television based in Stamford, Connecticut. “Those six months were as demanding as any I could remember.” Cohen deployed an eight-person team who worked around the clock out of a house in Denver. The program focused on the most successful ganjapreneurs in Colorado including the founders of Medicine Man, Euflora and Dixie Elixirs. Now he is developing and pitching new programs. “I expect to do lots of pot shows,” says Cohen.

Cohen got his start in television producing sports and documentaries. Triple Threat TV produced nine films for ESPN’s highly acclaimed 30 For 30 series. His team also produced ten episodes of MTV’s True Life and eight episodes for Biography. His foray into marijuana shows is a natural evolution for the producer of non-fiction programming who is a self-described marijuana lover and advocate. “I’m comfortable saying I am a marijuana person. Thanks to efforts of a lot of people who have been working at it for a long time I lived to see a day I never thought I would live to see. Prohibition is over.”

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Cohen is exploring how to do the marijuana version of various television genres such as talk shows, documentaries, cooking shows and music shows. One of those is a talk show with the Denver Post’s Cannabist pot critic Jake Browne who gets high and hangs out with celebrity guests. Cohen is shopping a pilot where Jake parties with former Denver Bronco Nate Jackson who wrote a book about getting high in the NFL. Cohen thinks a program like this will attract celebrities. “Marijuana is part of a brand. They’re eager to be identified with it in the right way.”

Cohen admits not every network is open to the idea of pot shows because there could be ad sales issues.   Even so, there are more channels willing to listen to a marijuana pitch now than there were a year ago and the reaction is “oooh that’s sexy, maybe we’ll get some viewers we don’t normally get.” While he was in Washington D.C. at the non-fiction television summit, Realscreen, he went up to a women’s network and asked if they were interested in talking and they said “yes, definitely. Let’s set up a call for next week.”

“There are an awful lot of people who get high. My interest is in leading the charge. I don’t want to follow the crowd. I want to do more. I feel like there are huge opportunities and we are getting out in front of some of them.” Cohen is looking at cable television and over the top networks and channels that are delivering programs through phone apps and streaming video on demand. “At the same time there is a marijuana revolution there is a television implosion,” he says. “There are more and more media outlets and millennials are not paying for cable.   You and I grew up in a world of half hour and hour television slots. Uh uh. Game over. Four minutes or eleven minutes or 71 minutes, it’s whatever it is. People will find it if they want it and it speaks to them. The doors have blown off old media and everything is different going forward.”

Cohen looks forward to returning to Colorado and cultivating his relationships with the Pot Barons. He describes his time in Denver as a “dreamy busman’s holiday.” In the meantime, he is casting for talent for new shows and producing a public service announcement for medical marijuana with a cast of 25 people with different conditions. He is also considering doing a documentary following the upcoming vote to legalize marijuana in California. “This is exciting work for me. The kind of people who are drawn to the industry are positive, energetic, they’re hard working like nobody’s business, they’re free thinking, they’re open minded, they’re creative. Six months ago I couldn’t have done it and now I can and now I really want to.”


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The Other Marijuana Boom

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When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado in January of 2014 it promised to be a boom for those who were ready with their brick and mortar stores and new licenses. Growing as rapidly as weed are ancillary businesses that cater to these new marijuana pioneers. You only need to walk inside the massive grow operation at establishments like Medicine Man to realize that marijuana demands sophisticated lighting and cooling systems as well as excellent soil and fertilizers to keep the plants happily budding. To protect the plants, growers and retailers need elaborate security systems. Once harvested, marijuana needs to be sold in specialized packaging. Ancillary products are flourishing as the marijuana economy takes off.

It was only a matter of time then before ancillary services like law firms and advertising agencies started popping up to meet the needs of ganjapreneurs. Vicente Sederberg bills itself as The Marijuana Law Firm. On its homepage it describes its role in this brave new world:

Our clients are trailblazers, building a new and vibrant industry from scratch. Each and every one of them has made a conscious decision to assume a certain level of risk in order to change the course of history. As trailblazers ourselves, we take pride in being with them every step along the way, helping them navigate and overcome unique legal and regulatory challenges.

Brian Vicente was the co-director of the Amendment 64 ballot measure that led to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado. He is considered a leader in marijuana policy reform and even assisted Uruguay when it became the first country in the world to fully regulate its adult marijuana market. Another attorney is Sean McCallister with McCallister Law Office.  He also helped draft Amendment 64 and works with dispensaries and marijuana companies to stay on top of laws in the highly regulated industry. He is also developing strategies to take his clients national as marijuana becomes legal across the country.

To help marijuana businesses with the complexity of marketing and advertising Cannabrand has stepped up. Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco both brought ad agency pedigrees to their full service marketing company. They launched their business at the same time recreational marijuana was legalized in January of 2014, and specialize in knowing all the facts, laws and regulations associated with the marketing of cannabis. Olivia, who had a red card for medical marijuana following a ski injury, and Jennifer decided to dive in and start a cannabis specific agency to help give marijuana a better reputation. They hit the ground running, work 80 hours a week and now serve 15 plus clients. They are adding a senior account manager and a third partner who will be their director of analytics.

“Our mission is to educate the public and have positive connotations of cannabis for the consumer and really take away labels,” says Olivia. “If you like to consume cannabis you shouldn’t have to feel pigeonholed or stigmatized for that.” To do this, Cannabrand helps clients with their websites, image, storefronts, packaging and designs. The company has clients in Florida, Washington, D.C., Oregon, California and Montana but mostly in Colorado. “It’s very exciting bringing marijuana to the public on a national scale,” says Olivia.

Another ancillary service is a startup website, Denverweed.com which aggregates all the marijuana companies in Denver into one complete online directory. “We wanted to create a one stop shop for people seeking out marijuana businesses in the Denver area,” says DenverWeed.com founder Jason Keeley. “We post descriptions and reviews of dispensaries, weed friendly lodging, grow stores, tour companies, lawyers, spas, classes and real estate. The marijuana industry is growing so rapidly that we saw a need for updated information to be handy and under one roof.”

According to the Marijuana Business Factbook, 90% of cannabis companies are expecting to grow this year. Experts say branding will be key for a competitive edge as companies expand nationally and even internationally. With people comparing the marijuana economy to a new Gold Rush or the Internet boom, being recognized first as experts with ancillary products and services is a key to success. Law firms, ad agencies and business websites are realizing the value in riding the coattails of the marijuana industry as it flourishes in Colorado and beyond.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Journalism.


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The Chinese Scam I Almost Fell For

It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to rip others off.  I recently was contacted by a Mr. Dehua from Henan Yu Xin International Co. Ltd. in Zhengzhou, China.  He emailed to say that his company was making a 20 episode series of 25 minute documentaries in HD for television broadcast.  The intention was to enlighten the Chinese audience about America’s history, economy, culture and tourism.  At first I was a bit skeptical.  How did he find me?  Was it because I did a documentary length piece on Chinese influence in the Caribbean for Dan Rather Reports?  Was it because I spent three months in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics?  Did I impress someone along the way who referred me?  I emailed him back.  He followed up with the project information.  It was in detail and he clearly understood the logistics of production.  He also informed me that they would pay $50,000 to $60,000 US per episode.  The project was a dream come true with a budget that would allow us to produce excellent television.  It kept me up at night thinking of ideas that I would bring to the Chinese and people I would collaborate with.  I worked out a production schedule and sent him off my ideas.  He said “I am so happy that we have a so good beginning.”  Today as I was looking for more information I came across this warning from a production company in Munich, Germany.

http://www.filmingholidays.com/2012/07/18/beware-b2b-scam-from-china/

Thanks to the internet and the experience of the production company in Munich I was saved from going any further down this scheming road.  I am now posting this as a cautionary tale to warn fellow producers and production companies.  The scam which first swept through Germany and Italy and other European countries has now reached American shores.  I guess if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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The New Normal: Moose in Newfoundland

When I’ve produced stories in the past I’ve always been on location with my crew.  But times in television, well sometimes, they are a changing.  This story about the serious problem being caused by an overpopulation of Moose in Newfoundland was a collaboration between cameraman Greg Locke of Straylight Media in Newfoundland and me in Colorado.  We met via Google. I set up the story and found the characters, he was the field producer, cameraman and sound man, and I wrote the story, did the rough cut and even recorded my first voice over ever.  It’s the new normal. I’m proud we managed to tell an important story about how moose in Newfoundland are so abundant that they are causing deadly collisions on the highways prompting a class action lawsuit against the provincial government.  I wish I had been able to go to Newfoundland to produce this story for HDNet’s World Report but I guess we showed it can be done.  A Canada/USA co-proproduction, with two people who never met and still managed to make a difference.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

 


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The Greening of Greensburg

Very early on the morning on May 5, 2007 I got a call from NBC News to hurry from Denver to Greensburg, Kansas.  There had been a huge tornado and the town was devastated.  Go! Go!  When I pulled into the town six hours later I was stunned to see wreckage so complete that even the bark had been pulled off the trees.  These skeleton sentinals stood over a community of people who were lost and dazed.  The EF-5 tornado had 205 mile per hour sustained winds.  Almost the entire town was in ruins.  It was apocalyptic.

The grain elevator was one of the few buildings left standing in Greensburg, Kansas after an EF-5 tornado destroyed the town on May 4, 2007.

It was hard to imagine coming back from that scene or even having the will to rebuild but Greensburg is a plucky town.  One of the residents, who is now the mayor, Bob Dixson, had a sign on his property within days.  It read “Future home of the Dixson family.  We are blessed.”   They were still optimistic.  I guess when you consider that 11 of their neighbors had died and many more were injured, they were among the lucky ones.  I took this photo when I was out there covering the disaster.  The powerful image made me feel hopeful.

The sign in the rubble of Bob Dixson's home in Greensburg, Kansas following the tornado. He and his wife were among the first who decided to rebuild.

The town decided to pull itself out of the rubble by capitalizing on the Green in Greensburg.  They would come back environmentally friendly and create a community that was truly sustainable.   Over the years I had pitched this story to various news outlets with little success but when Budget Travel magazine singled Greensburg out as one of the coolest small towns in America I had a newsworthy hook and HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports said let’s do the story.

Almost five years later I returned to Greensburg and what I saw was as stunning as that first post disaster morning.  The town is cleaned up and there are beautiful new buildings.  The school, the hospital, City Hall and the John Deere dealership are all built back to the highest environmental standard called LEED Platinum.  There is a pretty little Main Street with shops and even a business incubator sponsored by Sun Chips.  People are living in new eco-friendly homes and are saving up to 2/3 on their utility bills.  And there are wind turbines everywhere powering the community.  Imagine using the same wind that destroyed you to help resurrect yourself!

Bob Dixson's eco-friendly rebuilt home today.

Greensburg still has its work cut out for it.  The town has half as many people as it once did but they are determined to repopulate.  Like many of the small towns in rural America, Greensburg had been dying.  But even after the tornado the folks there said we are not dead yet.  So they set out to create a sustainable future, a vision for their tomorrow that would make Greensburg a place children would want to stay, that would be attractive to new families, invite companies to relocate, and create jobs and economic development.

What’s extraordinary here is that folks in Greensburg are very conservative.  These are not tree huggers but they realized that by going green they could build a community of the future.  Today they are an inspiration for other cities reeling from disasters like tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In a time when huge disasters seem to come at us with alarming frequency, Greensburg is showing us how to rebuild and recover.  And the message they send is that green goes with their rural values.  It is just common sense.

The foundation of a new Greensburg is in place.  It has been a gut wrenching process for people who lost everything to imagine something this big when it would have been so much easier to somewhere else.  As the town approaches the fifth anniversary of the tornado this May, they have an enormous amount to be proud about.  I personally would like to go back in five years and see how much farther they have come.  If you are traveling along Highway 54 pull off at Greensburg and see what’s been accomplished.  And if you can’t do that, watch tonight on HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports to see the hard work and ingenuity that brought Greensburg back.

Our Dan Rather Reports crew in Greensburg, Kansas during October 2011 covering the remarkable comeback of the town.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

For more of Vicky’s photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Going Back to Paniolo Country

My mother always had her head in her art. One of my earliest recollections growing up was her gluing tiny glass stones into mosaics of colorful peacocks. Then she shifted to ceramics and for years our cars could not park in the garage because of her kiln and workshop. When I sang in a choir called Na Kani Pela we needed to raise money so we could represent Hawaii for the Bicentennial. She conducted a group of moms who worked to make centerpieces of town criers from the 1700’s for our banquet. She was always up to her elbows in art projects. When my dad died she took up painting and during this time entered what I consider her most confident and creative period. I have paintings hanging in my home of a rabbi, of Japanese carp called koi, and of Parisian street scenes like you might see on Montmartre. She put her art away for a time when she remarried and spent years dancing the tango. I am a tanguera she once told me. For a time music took the place of paint and canvas. Now she is back at it with fancy figurines and fans and masks. Her art is full of fantasy and whimsy and old Hawaiiana. My favorite piece is an oil painting called Paniolo Country.

Paniolo Country by Art by Jael

I love cowboys and Hawaii and asked my mom how this painting came to be.  I am curious what catches her eye.

Years ago Dad and I flew to Molokai, Kalaupapa, which was the leper colony, with Bob Benson in his private little plane from Frito Lay. He asked us to join him for the day and he would get a special pass because they were getting ready to do away with the leper colony and turn it into a museum. As frightened as I was of flying, and especially in a small plane, we joined him with his wife Beth for that once in a lifetime opportunity. What I saw from the top of the cliffs was what the painting depicts. I remember thinking, wow, what a view! I thought this was the best view in the world and the poor people there cannot fully enjoy it. I did not paint this painting till after Dad died. It was when I saw one day in a magazine something similar and it reminded me of what I saw in Kalaupapa looking down. They used to throw the lepers down the cliffs into the ocean before Father Damien came. You could only reach the top at one time on horseback to bring supplies. There was no other way except a very narrow trail for horses and mules.

Paniolo Country is just one of many paintings and unique pieces you might enjoy at Art by Jael.  Her inspiration comes from the scenery of Hawaii and the imagery of her own imagination. Perhaps you will find yourself a treasure.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see photography by Vicky Collins visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Where’s Doonesbury?

I must have been out of town when the Denver Post yanked “Doonesbury” along with “Peanuts” and some other comic strips.  I’ve been thinking I should write in or call or say something because I miss “Doonesbury” and I’m annoyed, but I haven’t and apparently neither have many others.  Westword wrote a blog about this.

http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2011/06/denver_post_yanks_doonesbury_peanuts.php

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development



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New BeadforLife Party Video

We have just completed BeadforLife’s new party video. If you are not familiar with BeadforLife and the wonderful work this NGO does for women in Uganda go to http://beadforlife.org. BeadforLife is an income generating project which creates a circle of connection and compassion between women around the globe and women in Uganda who are trying to lift their families out of extreme poverty. Women in the slums of Kampala roll beads out of recycled paper and women in North America and Europe sell them. The money is returned to Uganda to help women care for their families, provide food, shelter, health care and education. BeadforLife has also launched an initiative in war torn Northern Uganda where women gather shea nuts for shea butter which is used in cosmetics. BeadforLife also offers a curriculum for middle and high school students to raise awareness and get them engaged in the fight to end extreme poverty.


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How to Live Forever

Want to live to be a thousand years old? It’s not far fetched at all if you ask theoretician and geneticist Aubrey de Grey. He believes within the next 25 years there is a 50/50 chance we’ll have the technologies to extend human life indefinitely. I learned of Aubrey and his ideas in 2005 and immediately pitched the story to NBC’s Today Show. They were intrigued. With the help of correspondent Kerry Sanders and the London bureau, we went out and interviewed Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge. When we finished the story we sent it in to the show. It was promptly killed. Too out there for a mainstream audience. Plus it didn’t help that Aubrey looked like Methuselah.

Aubrey de Grey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, CA.

Fast forward to 2011 and there Aubrey was in the news again.  This time I pitched the story to HDNet’s World Report. The program is always looking for stories that deal with interesting issues and are not widely told. This time correspondent Willem Marx met up with Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge and also went punting with him on the Thames River. For my part, I finally got to meet Aubrey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, California. He is tall and wiry and moves like someone with no time to lose.  He lovingly strokes the beard which hangs almost to his waist. I asked him if his distinctive look helped or hurt him as he went out in the world trying to win over scientists and venture capitalists to support his work. He said it helped because people looked at him and saw a guy who is not materialistic in the least. It’s very clear to them that he is not doing this to get rich.

Through his SENS Foundation non-profit, Aubrey and the scientists who work with him are creating an intersection between research on the biology of aging and regenerative medicine. By doing experiments with the building blocks of cells they hope to someday develop treatments that repair the damage caused by aging, and restore people to a state where they are biologically younger than they were when they started. In other words, people could live out their entire lives as healthy as young adults. Five years ago, the scientific community considered his ideas kind of kooky but now the research is catching up with his theories and Aubrey is gaining credibility. “This is not science fiction anymore, this is science forseeable,” Aubrey proclaims.

Of course the implications are mind boggling but Aubrey brushes them off. “People always say hang on. If we stop the problem of aging we’re going to have a whole lot of other problems. We’re going to have overpopulation or dictators who live forever, or how will we have the pensions, or won’t it be boring. If I want to be flippant, I say those are problems I’d like to have, thank you very much. Ultimately I don’t see people who want to get cancer or Alzheimer’s disease or cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes or any of these things we are going to prevent by curing aging. I don’t meet people who want any of those things so I find it frustrating when people take the view we’re going to create the problems and refuse to adopt any sense of proportion about this and accept the problem we have today is a big one, a problem that kills 100,000 people every day, most of them after a long period of ill health and disease and debilitation and dependence and decrepitude. It’s pretty clear that the problem we would solve is quite a big one, and yes, the transition to a post aging world is going to be a big one, and the more forward planning we do to make it less turbulent the better, but the transition to the industrial revolution was pretty turbulent too, yet there aren’t many people who believe the industrial revolution was a mistake.”

If you want to learn more about Aubrey de Grey and his work and vision tune in to HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, May 17th at 9 p.m. ET/7 p.m. MT.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.