New research by a team of University of Maryland biologists shows the timber rattlesnake indirectly benefits humans by keeping Lyme disease in check.
It was easy to tell when it was time to start preparing for the annual Apple Butter making ritual. The leaves would start to show a hint of color as the nights got cooler. Soon the first hard freeze would bring out Autumn in all it’s colorful beauty. Labor Day weekend was a distant memory as the calendar stated it was time to prepare for Halloween. The second week of October was usually unseasonably warm during the day with cold nights which was perfect weather to put the finishing touches on the apple orchards and their bounty.
I grew up in a family that believed in things like planting a big garden every year so there would be plenty of food to be preserved by either freezing or canning. There was also hunting to be done during this time of year for rabbits, squirrels, wild turkey, and deer. The meat from all of these that wasn’t eaten fresh was put up in the freezer to be enjoyed throughout the winter and spring.
The garden also yielded hundreds of pounds of potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables that would be placed in a wooden bin in the back of the basement where they would be safe from freezing during the cold winter months.
There was always one section of the bin left empty until apple butter time to be used for twenty five to thirty bushels of apples that would only be there for a short time.
The “ritual” of making homemade apple butter was a week-long process and the plans for that week had to be made well in advance with every detail covered. First on the list would be a trip to the local orchard when the apples were just ripe enough to begin falling off the trees. The preferred species of apple was a dark red, sweet variety known as Wine Saps. There would also be a few bushels of another kind too but it depended on what was available year to year.
Next a list of possible help and volunteers was produced with the promise that those who chose to help with the orchard run, the peeling and snitting of the apples, or the all day stirring that would take place on Saturday would receive free apple butter when the final product was in jars and ready to box up.
There was sugar to buy and firewood to gather along with a long list of little things needing done that would make the yearly endeavor a success so quite a few able bodies were needed at different times from start to finish.
Early on a Saturday morning all of us kids would be awakened to the sound of our grandfather saying it was time to pick the apples. After a quick breakfast in the wee hours of the morning we would all pile in Pops jeep and along with a couple other vehicles we would make the hour and a half drive to the orchard.
One of my favorite memories from this was arriving at the orchard very early in the morning and the heavy dew on the grass around the trees would soak your shoes through after only a short walk. The fog would be rising with the coming rays of the morning sun and all of the different insects would begin their morning song.
After checking in at the gate we would be told what part of the orchard to go to in order to find the variety of apples we were after. I will always remember the old man who owned the orchard because of his huge smile and the fact that he sounded like Elmer Fudd when he gave us the directions. My father and I would share a private joke about it for years to come with all due respect to him.
He would say “OK you go down this road to the first WEFT and then you go past the shed and make a WIGHT, then count the rows of TWEES until you pass the third row. Make a WEFT and the TWEES you are looking for are WIGHT thereâ€¦”. He would grin at us kids knowing our giggles were innocent and without malice.
After a short bumpy ride into the middle of all the trees we would all pile out and start looking for ladders. The rule was you could take anything on the ground and only the apples on the trees the ladders would reach. A big no-no was shaking the trees to get more apples from the top but the management seemed to look the other way so we could get the best for our venture.
Grabbing a towel to wipe the dew off the apples along with a stack of peck baskets numbering 5 or 6 we would head off under the rows of perfectly pruned trees looking for the one with the brightest red apples. Another sign of a tree full of good apples was the number of them laying on the ground. If there wasn’t any at all it meant that tree needed a few more days to ripen but if you happened upon one that had a few apples here and there on the ground then it was time to fill your baskets.
When the sun was high above our head and the temperature had climbed into the 70’s and everyone had removed the heavy jackets needed earlier in the AM the picking was better than half way finished. There was always a couple of pick up trucks in the crowd and they would have the beds lined with heavy cardboard so that as the baskets were filled they could be dumped loosely into the pick up beds. In the end we would leave for home with 25 or 30 bushels of apples and a lot of tired bodies.
Getting home well after dark the last job of the day would be to unload the apples on a prepared place on the basement floor. This location was picked due to the cool concrete and fairly dark. At this point the apples would be sorted, placed in burlap bags, and placed in the potato bin at the back of the basement. They were ready for the job at hand which was peeling and cutting the apples into much smaller pieces. Here they would sit in the cool dark basement until the following Thursday.
Hand Cranked Peelers and Snits
That Thursday started early for my grandparents. My grandmother was up at the crack of dawn to start a day of many chores in preparation for the group of people who would be showing up for breakfast. These people were usually neighbors and relatives who lived close by. There was always lots of volunteers to choose from due to the fact that anyone other than immediate family who helped with the process in one way or another would receive free quarts of the finished product.
Gramma would pull out numerous paring knives to sharpen as Pop fried bacon and eggs for the “early crew”. Once the breakfast dishes had been done the women prepared the kitchen for the days activities by clearing the table, sliding all the chairs into the living room and the pulling the table apart so two large side boards could be added. This would make it possible for up to twelve people to sit and work on the apples at the same time. The other part of the process could be found in the basement.
Together with us and a few others we would assemble a long wooden plank table to sawhorses in the basement that would hold the peelers. These little mechanical wonders peeled an apple with 4 or 5 turns of a small crank. The apple would be impaled on a small pitchfork looking set of spikes. A long lever with a razor-sharp blade on it would circle the apple as you turned the cranks. Some models even cored the apple for you. Thanks to others who had peelers of their own we would line up four or five in a row.
The bags of apples were brought in two at a time in order to keep all the peelers running. There would be peeler break downs and replacements put to use and everyone did what ever it took to accomplish the task at hand which was to turn 30 bushel of apples into small bits of apple known as snits.
Just as quick as the apples were peeled and placed in large tin pans they were taken off to other parts of the basement or upstairs to a large number of people standing by with small metal pans and very sharp paring knives. The “snitting” would begin. Now for anyone who doesn’t know the term snitting or snits when it comes to apples allow me to explain
When someone received peeled apples they would take them one at a time, cut them in quarters. remove the core, trim off any left over peel and bruises, then cut the quartered wedge in two again to make eights. Once they were this size they were considered snits. The reason for snitting was so when the small pieces of apple were introduced to the kettle they would cook up much faster than large chunks of apple.
In an assembly line fashion the apples went from being snitted to being washed in cool water, to being bagged up in large plastic trash bags and placed back on the cool basement floor. The entire process would take about 18 hours to make enough snits to make a large kettle of apple butter.
Twelve Hours Worth of Firewood
While most of those involved were busy preparing the snits my grandfather and I along with a few other men would head off to the woods to cut firewood for a fire that would be required to burn very hot for a period of 10 to 12 hours. Along with the amount needed being large it also had to be a certain kind of wood. Pop would only allow us to cut, split and gather dead hardwood. Species like hickory and maple were preferred but anything that wasn’t fir was acceptable.
The mountain closest to town, known as Backbone Mountain, was a really good place to go for free firewood because years before a man who lived just outside of town, along the railroad, had taken a small bulldozer and over the course of one summer cut small single lane dirt roads all over the mountain. The reason for this was to create fire breaks due to a bad wildfire years before that had threatened the town.
Some of these small dirt roads are still in use today as access roads into the state forest. Others have been gated off or grown over years ago but the best part about all of them is the amount of dead hardwood to be found still standing close to the road.
We would make many trips over the course of two days and in the end the woodpile had grown by about 2 cord of dry dead hardwood ready to make a very hot fire. About the same time the last stick of wood was stacked close to the location the kettle would be placed on Saturday, the last bag of snits would be added to the large pile of black bags in the basement.
By the time everything was in place to cook a large kettle full of apples it was Friday evening and everyone involved was two things. Very tired and very hungry. It was tradition for all involved to break bread together with a meal fit for two kings including flap jacks smothered in butter and syrup, bacon, sausage, and the evening was topped off with warm toast, buttered, and lathered with a large gob of last years apple butter. It was considered good luck for the next day
Shiny Pennies and Large Copper Kettles
Finally the big day was at hand. Saturday would start very early once again for quite a few people but the first to rise at our house was the grandparents. I would hear the bathroom door squeak shut and turn to look at my bedside clock knowing it would let me know it was 4:30 am. It wasn’t long until the familiar smells of coffee and bacon frying meant Pop was in the kitchen and it was time to get up even though the sun wouldn’t be making an appearance for at least two more hours.
I remember getting up to the smell of breakfast and after a quick trip to the bathroom I would hurry back to my bedroom to get dressed. From an early age I was always known to lay out what I wanted to wear the next day on important dates like Christmas, birthdays, first day of deer season, and most importantly apple butter time.
As I said before since it was mid October the nights were getting down below freezing on average so putting on long underwear to start the day was mandatory. Down the stairs and out to the kitchen for a quick but hearty breakfast and then down through the basement with the men folk to get everything ready to cook 30 bushels of apples for 8 to 10 hours.
It was the beginning of a very long day.
It was time for everything to be set up included getting the kettle and stand set firmly which was very important. It would be a disaster for things to get uneven with the stand in the evening when the kettle would be near full with 35 to 40 gallons of boiling hot apple butter.
The large, heavy, metal stand built from scratch by a friend of my grandfather. He was known as the best welder in the county and the stand married up with the large, copper kettle like it was made for it, which it was. A level spot in the garden would be the spot for the days activity so the stand would be set and leveled on hard earth with no shimming of any kind. At the same time a tripod made from three rough cut logs would be erected over the area where the stand was placed. Since it was still dark the tripod would come in handy until the sun made an appearance to hold an extension cord with a drop light on the end of it. This would be our only light until the fire was blazing brightly, and then it would be laid aside until dark thirty cam creeping around later in the day to serve the same purpose.
Gramma would show up for the first time with a gallon of vinegar, a box of table salt, a large jar full of pennies numbering 333, and a large scrub brush. The pennies were all different shades of copper and other colors due to dirt and oxidation but that would soon change. They were also random pennies with many different dates.
After the pennies were deposited in the bottom of the kettle the vinegar and salt would follow along with some pre heated boiling water. Aided by a pair of heavy rubber gloves Gramma would go head first into the steaming pot and scrub the entire inside surface of the kettle clean of the oxidation and dirt that had accumulated over the year spent in the attic.
When she was satisfied with her efforts the garden hose would be turned on and everything would be thoroughly rinsed clean, the pennies collected, and the kettle turned on its side to drain. At this point you would need sunglasses on to look inside the kettle or at the pile of pennies. Everything looked like brand new copper including the oldest of all the pennies. It was an amazing transformation to see.
The next thing was to get the fire started that would be kept going at a roaring pace all day and into the evening. There would be a stack of finely split kindling along with Pops traditional red flare, better known as a Fuzee, to get the fire burning quick and hot. Ten minutes later we would start adding the bigger pieces of wood and at that point things got a little hectic.
Before the fire could get the bottom of the kettle warm Gramma would be there with a couple of gallons of homemade grape juice and the first large pan of apple snits. That would be the first of many trips made with this pan and a couple of others like it until all the apples were added to the mix. That would happen sometime in the late afternoon or early evening after the apples were cooked down to sauce and allowed to simmer hard for hours.
Something else that started to happen that would continue non stop for the duration was the addition of the large, long-handled, L shaped, stirring paddle that looked like something out of the middle ages.
It would be placed in the kettle very soon after adding the first ingredients and the first of many people would step up and begin to stir in a pre determined pattern. Starting on the side closest to the person stirring the motion would be to push the large paddle up thru the middle and the over to one side or the other to pull it back, then back up through the middle and back down the other side.
This pattern would be repeated thousands of time throughout the day and into the evening until the apple butter was cooked down to a thick, dark brown, sauce. There would be many variations of the pattern but the middle and both sides would be stirred well every time.
The most important thing to remember for those taking a turn stirring was to be sure and keep the bottom of the paddle on the bottom of the kettle. All of this worked together with the pennies to keep the apple butter from sticking and scorching. A nice steady stir with the same pattern every time was preferred by the Bossâ€¦ Gramma.
Sugar and Spice and Snits
After about twelve hours of stirring and keeping a steady hot fire going under the kettle the last of the apple snits would be added. Keep in mind, at this point, 30 bushels of apples had been reduced to the consistency of a very thick apple sauce. The kettle would be within six inches of the sauce overflowing into the fire and everything was in place for the next step.
Adding the sugar and spices that would turn the entire kettle of applesauce into a dark brown, very thick, sauce that could stand up in a whip on your toast like the top of an ice cream cone was the next step. My Gramma took on the job of mixing a secret list of spices together that included cinnamon, nutmeg, and a few others that she kept to herself. This mixture would be added after many five-pound bags of sugar had been added first.
When I say many I mean many. If my memory serves me right there was 60 or 70 pounds of sugar bought every year and all but one or two bags would be used. Sounds like a lot of sugar but keep in mind it was being used to sweeten 35 to 40 gallons of apple butter.
The last bag was always saved to put Grammas spices in so they would be added last.
Once all of that was done the only thing left was two things. A steady hot fire which would keep the mixture at a slow boil and a steady set of hands on the stirrer. At this point the kettle would be very close to running over and fingers were always crossed waiting for the sauce to cook down into a butter before it happened.
Another problem arose about this time. Lots of steam, from cooking down the apples, swirling around on top of the kettle making hard to see just how full it was.
Oh yea Remember that tripod that got tossed aside early in the morning ? Yea that one.It would be set back up a little off-center of the kettle and high enough to dangle the light directly above the steaming mass and smoke from the fire. The end of the day was in sight at this point but there would be much intense work jammed into a short period of time coming up before it would be over.
My favorite memory from this time in the process was the smell of the apple butter as it slowly cooked and boiled just enough to make these huge apple butter bubbles on top. When they would pop and you standing down wind of the kettle you get a hint of the smells to come along with plenty of wood smoke from the fire.
This was also the time Gramma would begin the first of many trips to the kettle with a small dipper and a white saucer. These were the tools of the expert taste tester and this was the time of day the people stirring found out how long their day was going to be.
The more sugar and spice that would be added at this point meant another half hour of cook time added also. If a small amount of apples was needed due to over sweetening or imbalance of spices that could add hours to the finish time.
Once Gramma announced all was well with the taste the final test of hers to pass was the thickness test. This is the one that could take half an hour or half the night to get right. This consisted of the same trips to the kettle with the same tools but this time instead of tasting she would take a full dipper and put it on the plate. If it fell out like a scoop of ice cream with a curl on top it was finished. If it didn’t make the curl it meant it wasn’t thick enough and would have to be cooked longer.
Dipping, Stirring, and Licking Pennies
Sometime between ten and midnight the order would be given to back off with the fire. At that point Pop would grab a garden rake and begin to pull burning pieces of wood out from under the stand.
A piece here, a log there pulled out and dowsed with the hose. Eventually all that remained was a bed of coals which would be left to keep the bottom of the kettle warm while the dipping process started.
This part of the operation had to happen quickly so the apple butter would not have a chance to start cooling off too soon. For that reason a line of people would be assembled with large wash pans that would hold quite a few gallons of the good stuff.
There would be one person dipping from the kettle and a steady flow of five or six pans all at once. The hot pans were carried to the same area in the basement with the long bench which had been elevated to resemble a long table. It had been filled with quart mason jars, washed clean and dried, ready for another years worth of apple butter.
The women would be lined up in a line along both sides of the table waiting for the pans. Once they were placed on one end of the table the first two would dip jars full and slide them to the next woman who would tap the jar lightly on the table and place the seal ring and screw ring on the jar. Sliding along the next woman would wipe the jar and hand tighten the ring at the same time.
Once this was done the full jars were placed in a warm room and allowed to seal by making a popping sound. This meant the apple butter cooled enough for the rubber seal to do its job. Once in a while a jar wouldn’t seal like the rest and it would have to be undone, a little warm apple butter added and then resealed. Nine out of ten done this way would seal the second time around.
Outside the kettle would be getting closer to being empty and that meant one thing. Warm, clean, pennies with lots of warm, fresh apple butter dripping from them. They would be placed on a plate and given to the kids and anyone else who wanted some. There was always warm toast floating around at this point also.
Once the kettle was empty there would be a few more chores to be done before we could call it a night. First the hose would be turned on and the leftovers on the rim of the kettle would be scrubbed. A putty knife would be employed to get the stuff off that had been baking on the hot rim all day. It would be a gummy gooey mess which resembled the stuff gummy bears are made out of.
After everything was knocked loose and scrubbed really well the stand and kettle would be rolled on their side and the fire dowsed well.
The final job was at hand at that point as the last quart jar was sealed. The kettle would need to be dried completely and carried, along with the stand back to the far corner of the attic to wait until next year.
Everyone involved would say their good byes and gather up their share of the good stuff and head out into the dark night.
I went to visit with my father yesterday because it has been a very trying time lately and when I spend time with him everything seems OK for just a little while. I have a few people in my life who “Raise Me Up” but Dad has been doing it the longest. Even from the grave his spiritual presence is important to my everyday life.
Dad has always been there for me no matter what. One time when I was in my twenties, young and dumb, my father showed me how strong a fathers love is for his son when he decided to meet with me in secret to let me know the FBI was closing in and I was about to be arrested for a huge mistake I had made. He broke federal law to protect me, his son.
Dad and I shared many good times together due to the fact that he was also my Scout Master in Boy Scouts. The most memorable was the cross country trip we took together with another Boy Scout troop to a high adventure camp in New Mexico. We endured the hardest backpacking itinerary they had to offer which was a grueling 78 mile hike with full pack over a period of 14 days
There were many planned activities and things to do at every camp site including gold panning, burro packing, mountaineering, search and rescue training, and much more.
The entire trip and experience inspired my father to write a poem that explained everything about our time together and I read it occasionally just for a pick me up.
Dad was not only my father but he was my best friend and mentor too. He was strict but fair. He was a quiet man but he was known to “carry a big stick” when needed. Over and above everything else he was and still is my HERO.
The temperature is rising a little more every day as we get ready to welcome the month of May. Here in winter quarters in western Maryland the process takes a week or two longer than the rest of the state due to the change in elevation but the local forecast is calling for 70’s and occasional rain for the next week.
I have had quite a few people inquire about the plans for Oro Expeditions for the 2017 season so I figured it was time to share that which Paula Cas and I have been talking about all winter but first I want to take a few minutes to explain the recent past and the lack of an Expedition last year.
It was a cold day in October of 2015 that we returned to Maryland after spending two months in central Nevada where we had been invited to work a private hard rock claim. We had only been back for a few weeks when I did some serious damage to my back and neck. It was the beginning of a very painful time but also a most revealing time because after many troubles in the past with my back this was the time when I decided to find out just how bad it was.
Three MRI’s and three x-rays later, it was clear how much damage a lifetime of driving truck along with two major traumatic events had done to my back and neck. To top it off I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, stenosis, and a total of five bad disk in my back and neck. Thanks to all of that I have been placed into a “pain management” program which means I will be on some pretty heavy duty pain medication for the rest of my life.
Some would say “Oh no what a bummer.” but not me. The fact is I have a limited number of productive mining seasons left so I will be making the most of every one of them and that begins today. This is where the plans for 2017 will pick up where 2015 left off.
It was August of 2015 in northern California where I met a man named Dave. He had an offer for me that on one hand was almost too good to be true but on the other hand seemed very doable to me at the time.
After a chance meeting at our camp on the Klamath River, the offer was made for us to purchase a package deal that included a hover craft and 4 very exclusive gold claims on a large well known river in Alaska. Dave made it clear to us that he wanted Oro Expeditions to have this deal because he had done his research on me and the company and admired the way I had started the whole thing. Along with how quickly became a fairly successful gold miner.
I have spent a lot of time since August of 2015 putting together a lucrative investment package known as “Oro Expedition Alaska Extreme”. During the winter and early spring of 2016 I had high hopes of that season being the one that would see the Expedition in “The Land of The Midnight Sun” suction dredging a large river with millions of dollars in gold in it but the medical problems would not permit it.
When I realized it was time to get to the bottom things with my back and neck, I also realized the 2016 season would be a bust due to the recuperating process taking an unknown amount of time.
So now we jump ahead to the present, and things are really looking up for a slightly limited season this year that will include a return to many of the western locations we visited in 2015 along with the possibilities of taking the Expedition north of the Canadian border. That is the outline for the year and now for some of the details we have figured out to get things rolling in that direction.
Along with some destinations I visited in 2013 on the first Expedition like north Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and Alabama we are planning to make a trip to the northeast and the shiny yellow metal of New Hampshire and western Maine. This trip will probably take place later in the year before the cold weather moves in.
A trip to the eleven western states will include visits to many of the locations we were at in 2015. Places like southwest Oregon, Happy Camp California, central Nevada and multiple locations in Arizona are all included on the list.
One new location will be added to the list when we head to Arkansas for clear quartz and maybe even a side trip to the Crater of Diamonds State park. I hear the likelihood of scoring a sizable diamond has increased in the past few years so it has been added to the list as well.
That is an outline of how the 2017 season is shaping up, and if my back and neck cooperate, there is a good chance this is the year Oro Expeditions makes it to the Yukon and Alaska.
Regardless of whether or not we make it north, there will be a lot of mining and rock-hounding to be done here in the lower forty eight. So, stay tuned to our social media sites, especially to the official Oro Expeditions Website. Changes and updates will be ongoing so be sure to bookmark the site so you can check on our progress.
Was April 2013. That was the month and year I kicked off Oro Expeditions. It was also the year I ended a 30 year career driving a truck across this great country. It was kinda funny and ironic how that all ended and maybe I will tell more of that story someday but for now I am going to start this “nutshell” with a beginning instead of an ending.
The first Expedition kicked off without glamour. I gathered up all of my basic camping gear along with a weeks worth of food and plenty of clean clothes. The last thing to be loaded into the “Nugget Buggy” was everything I owned to prospect for gold. It was a short list. 2 5 gallon buckets, a short-handled round pointed shovel, a home-made 1/2 in. classifier, and my lucky gold pan given to me as a gift for joining a famous gold club. The last thing on the list was the directory of all the places in the US this club had the rights to prospect and mine for gold.
On the 14th of April, 2013, early in the afternoon, two things happened at the same time. I pulled out of the driveway in western Maryland to begin Oro Expedition 13, a dream of mine for sometime come true and at the same time on the same day a cute little puppy was born that would drop into my life 7 months later in central California during a Christmas blizzard.
I spent 13 months on the gold trail that first year with only one 4 day stay at the house for my wife’s birthday. I traveled to quite a few south-eastern states including North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee all of which were abundant with the shiny yellow stuff along with numerous different semi precious stones of all colors and shapes.
After many rain filled days spent working the small streams of the east my operation was able to move to the eleven western states in pursuit of much larger gold and much more plentiful gold.
Starting in Colorado and working my way across to Oregon I was able to prospect and find gold every time I crossed a state line. Landing in southwest Oregon and then working my way south as September turned into November, I followed the gold trail to central California high in the Sierra Nevada.
The end of one year and the beginning of a new one also felt like something new for Oro Expeditions was about to start as I made my way back to Maryland in late January of 2014.
I’m not sure where to start with the “now” part of this story so I will begin with what I know about my physical well-being and how it may or may not affect the 2017 gold and gemstone season and beyond.
I have had a history of back trouble since my early twenties when I was involved in a serious fall from a carnival ride I was working on. Then in 2001 I was struck by lightning and of course the back took the worst of it. Then back in 2006 I injured the lower back bad enough I couldn’t walk or sit up straight for almost a week. Once again somewhere around 2015 while helping a friend I blew multiple disks out and found out what lifetime chronic pain feels like.
I have been on a pain program for over a year and the meds I use to get pain relief work well. These are meds I will be on for the rest of my life unless something better is invented. The use of cannabis is a large part of my medical battle with pain along with other problems that use letters to describe them. THC heals them all.
My right shoulder was recently operated on to remove bone spurs and other fun stuff like shortening my collarbone and relocation of my bicep muscle. The good news is it is healing nicely and will be ready for the coming season.
Once again I regress. Back to the season at hand.
I look ahead to the 2017 gold and gemstone season and I see an Expedition that could be the biggest one yet and also one that could be worthy of a spot on one of the reality TV channels. The plan includes multiple locations in the lower 48 along with plans for at least 1 trip up north to the Yukon and interior Alaska. Thanks to the arthritis in my back it might be my last chance to see the Land of The Midnight Sun.
Something I want to focus on this year is a program that involves teaching people, especially children, how to prospect and pan for gold. We will be promoting this wherever we may go and will be posting locations and dates as early as possible. If you check the upcoming schedule we will be posting and we are in your area you will be able to come hang out with us in Gold Camp and learn the basics of finding the shiny yellow metal.
We will be focusing on creating two permanent spaces which will allow us to work year round depending on the season. One will be located on our desert claims located in central Arizona. The other will be somewhere in the northwest with possibilities in Canada and Alaska. Returning back to a plan from 2013 and the first Expedition, I would like to have the whole north south program located in the lower 48 states with future Expeditions expanding northward and also world-wide to exotic locations like “down under”, and also South America. Big ideas or BIG plans to be turned into reality? You decide. For me and my lovely wife we believe it is all doable and more.
I started out calling this piece a “Nutshell” version but I always get a little carried away with excitement when it comes to warm weather and the pursuit of gold and other shiny things so bear with me … hehe
Maryland lawmakers are considering various solutions to address a lack of diversity in medical marijuana licenses, and dealing with two lawsuits.
A Las Vegas state senator says Nevada’s history of promoting vices and allowing indoor smoking make it prime to legalize public sites to consume marijuana.
By Natalie Schwartz, Capital News Service
Patient registry begins this month, but concerned residents are worried that bills may push back the rollout date even further
Source: The Cannabist
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — After Carey Tilghman’s 6-year-old daughter, Paisley, suffered from a stroke, doctors drafted a plan to use a round of Botox injections and muscle relaxers to treat her condition.
Searching for an alternative for her daughter, Tilghman found that a transdermal patch filled with cannabis, which has been linked to shielding the brain from stroke damage, could possibly be helpful to her daughter, but she hasn’t been able access the drug in Maryland’s stalled medical cannabis industry.
Maryland has had one of the slowest rollouts of medical marijuana in the country.
The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, which grants the licenses to growers, processors and dispensers, has been hampered by legal battles and pending legislation in the Maryland General Assembly since the state legalized medical cannabis in 2014.
This legislative session, state lawmakers are considering a spate of bills outlining different solutions intended to address a lack of diversity in licenses, and two lawsuits that have delayed the rollout of Maryland’s nascent medical cannabis industry.
The commission expects medical cannabis to be available to patients this summer, according to Vanessa Lyon, a spokeswoman for the group. Patient registry for the drug begins this month, but concerned residents are worried that bills may push back the rollout date even further.
“We can’t delay access,” Tilghman said. “(Paisley) deserves to have a transdermal patch and play like a kindergartener can play. They want her on muscle relaxers; they want her to have surgery. How do you be a kindergartner on muscle relaxers?”
“You can’t,” she added, choking up.
The commission was tasked with ensuring racial and geographical diversity in their selection process, and on Dec. 9 it announced pre-approvals for 102 businesses to sell medical cannabis, which broke down into 15 growers, 15 processors, and 72 dispensaries.
However, preference for minority business owners may violate the Constitution, said Cheryl A. Brown Whitfield, principal counsel of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The state would need to conduct a study to evaluate whether discrimination does exist in the medical cannabis industry before it could take race-conscious measures in awarding licenses, said Zenita Hurley, the attorney general’s director of legislative affairs and civil rights. This study could take up to two years.
The commission used Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute to rank the company applicants. RESI used a double-blind system that did not take into account the race of owners, which resulted in the commission failing to award licenses that ensure adequate minority representation, said Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore.
While the commission has listed the rankings of each company, it has not released the scores and the criteria for which they were ranked, said Darrell Carrington, policy director for the medical cannabis division of Greenwill Consulting, a government relations firm.
“We’re all flying blind right now because the commission refuses to release the scores,” Carrington said. “The rankings are meaningless if we don’t have the scores. How do we know how to move forward properly and know if we’re really making corrections to increase diversity and the like, if we don’t know the difference between (the companies) was 5, 10, or 30 (points).”
Maryland includes a black or African-American population of 30.5 percent, a white population of 59.6 percent, and 9.9 percent who identify as another minority, according to data collected by the U.S. Census as of 2015.
The majority of the companies selected for pre-approvals for growing and processing are led by white owners.
Of the 11 companies with pre-approved growing licenses that reported demographic data to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, about 85 percent of the owners are white, about 8 percent are black, and about 7 percent identify as another racial minority. The nine pre-approved processing companies that reported data showed similar numbers, with 73 percent white ownership, about 15 percent black ownership, and about 12 percent other minority ownership.
The companies selected have about 76 percent male ownership and 24 percent female ownership.
Moreover, after complaints surfaced that the commission didn’t fairly include representation in areas of southeastern Maryland, the commission revised their original unanimous decision on the 15 companies slated to receive growing licenses by bumping two higher-scoring applicants and replacing them with two lower-scoring applicants in the underrepresented areas.
GTI, one of the companies originally awarded a coveted pre-approval license, had already picked out a site in Washington County and began developing a plan to produce medical cannabis when they were replaced, said Delegate Brett Wilson, R-Washington. The company has since joined the other business bumped from the list, Maryland Cultivation and Processing LLC, in suing the commission.
The commission has been operating without oversight or transparency, Glenn said. “They can’t answer why they made the decisions they made.”
To address the lack of ownership diversity, the Legislative Black Caucus, which Glenn heads, has proposed two emergency bills that would overhaul the 15-member commission and reinstate it with members who reflect the racial and geographical diversity of the state.
Sarah Hoyt, director of government affairs for the commission, wrote in testimony that this emergency legislation would “substantially delay the availability of medical cannabis to qualifying patients” by as much as two years.
But Glenn said her legislation would not slow the arrival of the medical cannabis industry.
“The commission operated in an arbitrary, opaque and misleading fashion,” said Pete Kadens, CEO and director of GTI, adding that overhauling the “inefficient” commission would actually speed the rollout of the long-awaited industry.
Kadens said he supported the 15 companies who have been pre-approved to start operating immediately.
“Even though we were displaced for the purpose of geographic diversity, even though we scored higher on merit than five of the companies that now have pre-approvals for the state, even though we feel we were wronged, we do not want the patients of the state to be further distressed,” Kadens said.
One of Glenn’s bills would issue five to seven more licenses for both growers and processors. The bill would also give heavier consideration to businesses with majority black ownership.
The second bill would disband the current commission to create a nine-member Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Licensing Unit. This new group would award new grower licenses in future years and would have a fund to provide minority- and women-owned medical cannabis businesses with loans.
Wilson has proposed a separate bill that would increase the number of growers from 15 to 17 to reinstate the two geographically bumped companies’ on the list. This could fix what he called a “fairness issue,” adding that it will likely immediately stop any pending litigation, he said.
Wilson said he doesn’t oppose the other bills and that it’s possible a number of the five bills may merge into “one bill that accomplishes everything.”
“We’re not in conflict with other bills,” Wilson said. “We don’t stand against the other proposals in any way.”
Delegate David Vogt, R-Carroll and Frederick, has also proposed a bill that attempts to squash the pending lawsuits, while also increasing minority and women ownership. His solution would accept the commission’s next 10 ranked applicants, which have been selected as alternates should any of the 15 growing businesses that have been pre-approved fall through.
This bill wouldn’t impact how the commission measures any of the businesses that have been tentatively approved, but it would impact any new ones that haven’t been measured by requiring the commission to give extra weight to minority- and women-owned businesses.
Vogt’s bill also proposes to distribute grant money to the businesses’ local communities. The money would be used for infrastructure improvements, increased security and community development. He added that the amount, $250,000 for each area, is a “nominal amount” and that “ultimately, (the state is) going to get that impact money back — 10, 20 times over — with the tax revenue.”
Vogt, like Wilson, noted that he thinks it’s likely to create one bill that combined components from each to address the problems in the long-awaited industry.
However, Glenn said she only supports the bills she is sponsoring.
Brian Bickerton, chairman of Mazey Farms, an alternate growing company ranked twentieth by the commission, said while he supports Vogt’s bill, he’s in favor of any legislation that moves the industry forward. His company has been waiting to officially launch its business for over two years.
“(It’s) been a long and arduous process,” Bickerton said. “There’s been a lot of tears on our end, but we believe in what we do, we believe in this industry, and we believe in the much-needed medicine that needs to get to the patients.”
Mazey Farms is majority minority-owned, Bickerton said, adding that he thinks the best way to address the lawsuits and the diversity issues is to allow the commission’s next 10 alternative businesses to obtain licenses.
Carrington said it’s hard at this point to know which bill will be “the vehicle that will move (the industry) forward.”
However, taking the next 10 growing alternates, as Vogt’s bill proposes, would significantly address the diversity problem without a delay, Carrington said.
“I can’t stand another delay,” Tilghman said, her daughter, Paisley, leaning on her. “If another delay is put in place (Maryland will) lose a lifelong resident.”