Cannabis has been mired in a miasma of stigma for the past 100 years. In the US, the stigma was created by the government and then embraced and perpetuated by the media beginning in the 1920s. In the 1930s, people who consumed our favorite plant were depicted as depraved, wild and barely in control. Or Jazz musicians. In the 1960s and 1970s, consumers of weed were depicted as unwashed hippies who had dirty feet, dirty minds, long unwashed hair and were depraved. Or Jazz musicians. In the 1980s or 1990s, cannabis consumers were still considered dirty hippies (the depiction stuck!) or depraved black and Hispanic gang-bangers who wanted to rape your (white) daughters. Or Jazz musicians.
The Rise of Media Sanity
By the 1990s, the media began to wise up to the Federal government propaganda along with the different State governments’ propaganda about drugs in general and in particular, cannabis. Media outlets were previously happy to parrot the government’s insistence that marijuana was a ‘gateway’ drug even with a boarload of evidence to the contrary. By the mid-1990s. the media and society as a whole began to realize there were real and demonstrated medical benefits that cannabis had. Legal medical marijuana sales began in California and slowly spread to other states, not by legislation, but by popular vote to amend state constitutions. Medical cannabis is now available in all but 9 states and adult use sales to anyone over the age of 21 is legal in 14 states. With new legalization laws passed in two more states; New Mexico and New York, more than half the population of the U.S. has or will have legal access to cannabis, either by medical programs or adult use.
As medical marijuana access grew, there needed to be places to purchase the plant, in whatever form it came in. The places to purchase cannabis were called dispensaries, pot shops, weed stores; but were in reality, whatever they’re called, are retail operations. There are only 8 states where cannabis is still totally illegal. Cannabis is still illegal at the Federal level. This article is not about the stupidity of the Federal government, but rather how state regulators keep the stigma that has been attached to the plant.
How Regulators Mandate the Retail Environment
Every single state with a cannabis program has some sort of a regulatory organization. The analog is alcohol where every state has an ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) or a LCB (Liquor Control Board) or some other acronym. These regulatory agencies are charged with controlling cannabis in much the same way as the ABCs of America control alcohol. Except they don’t. They’re treating cannabis as a quasi legal drug; “It’s legal, but we don’t want it.” Or something like that. The fact is, cannabis is quasi-legal. There’s the Federal thing again. The regulators in the various states, whether medical only or adult use added in, all talk to each other. I know this because all the shops in all the states I’ve visited have all the same procedures for entry and purchase. Two states would be a coincidence. Three states? Four states? To be sure, there are some variations, but the similarities hugely outweigh the differences.
Some state laws that the voters passed read “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” or close to that. Are the regulators following the popular mandate? No, they are not. Could they? Of course. But their hands are tied. Since cannabis is not legal Federally, they have to skirt many Federal statutes pertaining to cannabis. And there are plenty. While it would be nice to place all the blame on those regulators and wrap things up all in a neat little bow, the Federal laws hamstring them as much as their own possible biases.
Buying – A Bottle of Wine vs. an 1/8th Ounce of Cannabis
In a world without stigma and Federal legalization, buying an eighth of an ounce of cannabis wouldn’t or shouldn’t be any different than buying a bottle of wine. But it is. State liquor regulations vs. state cannabis regulations are convoluted. That’s just the way it is…for now. Alcohol is legal at the Federal level and the states regulate it while cannabis is still illegal at the Federal level. So what do these ‘differences’ look like? Here is the two procedures for purchasing a bottle of wine or an eighth of cannabis:
Buying a Bottle of Wine
Walk into a wine store.
Peruse the bottles and select the one you want, either on your own or in consultation with a (hopefully) knowledgeable wine person.
Take your purchase to register.
Pay for it…maybe you’ll get carded, maybe not. If you’re over 40, chances are you won’t be asked to prove your age or identity.
Oh, and there is no limit on how much wine you can buy. If you want to buy every bottle in a store, there are generally no laws to stop you.
Four steps to purchase. Easy peasy. Now try to purchase an eighth of an ounce of cannabis. Here’s how that works.
Buying an Eighth of an Ounce of Cannabis
Walk into a cannabis store.
Before you can even enter the store, you’re immediately stopped at a counter where your bona fides are scrutinized by showing your drivers license and/or medical marijuana card. All this evidence is copied, sometimes sent to the state and if you pass, you’re eligible to purchase cannabis.
After your identity is vetted, you may have to wait for a budtender to be available. Once a budtender is available, you’re allowed to walk into the store.
The budtender will (hopefully) walk you through all the different strains. Each store is different, but the same. All stores seem to have Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of cannabis for purchase. In some stores, the precious metal levels correspond to the percentage of THC in the strain. In other stores, the levels are indicative of quality. We don’t price and sell wine by alcoholic strength, but frequently weed is priced by the percentage of THC.
Once you decide on the strain of weed, you want. The budtender either pulls out the package or weighs up your flower.
The budtender totals up your purchase and you pay them…in cash. Cannabis stores can’t take credit cards…yet. Has to do with Federal banking laws.
The cannabis products are then put into a bag and the bag is stapled shut.
With cannabis, you’re limited as to how much you can buy at any one time. In some states it’s an ounce. In others, 2 ounces. And the list goes on.
This procedure occurs in a majority, if not all of the cannabis legal states. Does it sound more onerous than purchasing a bottle of wine? Absolutely. In all the cannabis legal states, it’s more difficult to buy weed than it is to buy wine. This is a major contributor to the ongoing stigma of cannabis.
How Does Normalization Happen?
Cannabis normalization needs to come from the various regulatory agencies in the states. Once they realize cannabis can be treated like any other controlled, and legal, substance, like wine, then cannabis will begin to become normalized. How does this happen? Regulators need to take the rules by the reins and rewrite those rules. The rules need to reflect exactly what they’re like for alcohol. Since cannabis is an even more natural product then wine, which is processed (fermentation), continued testing for pesticides and fungicides is still going to be needed because there will always be unscrupulous operators in the market. But the modification of the regulations needs to start someplace.
This genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going to go back. Normalization simply means cannabis will be a part of our society. Not good. Not bad. Just a normative part of our society like alcohol or aspirin. Just there. Regulated, but there. Since we’re not going to get rid of alcoholic beverage regulation, we’re not going to get rid of cannabis regulation. But it should be regulated like alcohol. If I want to walk into a cannabis store and buy the entire inventory, I should be able to do just that. Or anything else that is an analog to the way I purchase alcohol.
This is not as weird as it sounds. NJWeedman (real name Ed Forchion) is a cannabis activist in New Jersey. He wants to overturn the ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in New Jersey. He wants this bad enough that he has sued New Jersey to overturn the initiative. It’s not for the reasons you think.
NJWeedman wants the state to open its dispensary licensing process and have regulations that the small ‘retailer’ of weed can both afford and understand. His desire is to have people of color who were the victims of cannabis persecution be able to open their own small stores. He believes the regulations will prevent this and calls it the “Walmartization of Weed” and he wants the little guy who was selling (illegally) over the years to have the opportunity to be included. He’s not wrong, at least in this writer’s eyes.
Regulations Benefit the Big Box Stores
It’s not just New Jersey. Too many of the states where cannabis has been legalized. have made regulations that make it easier for the “big guys” to come in (the “Walmartization”) and take over the industry. They can hire teams of lawyers to follow the regulations and just ignore the little guys who are just trying to make a living. The problem with this is the systemic racism it engenders.
NJWeedman also owns a 420 friendly restaurant that has a diner feel to it and I want to eat there!!! Also, here’s an article in Cannabis Culture about NJWeedman and what he’s doing to try to stop the state of New Jersey from cutting out the little guys who just want to start a little pot shop. LIke a little liquor store or wine shop.
We need this to happen nationally. I prefer to call it the “Galloization” of the weed market, but it’s the same. Big brands and big stores can destroy the little guy. What they need to know is they can both thrive together in a well run and regulated marketplace. For the state of New Jersey’s part, they’re claiming to be open to smaller operators. But…if they make the regulations too onerous and the licensing fees too high, they’re going to be in hot water with those who are supporting the illicit trade in cannabis.
Home growing is a contested issue for legalization in New Mexico. It shouldn’t be an issue at all.
Meanwhile, many New Mexicans in the northeastern part of the state are going to Colorado for their cannabis purchases. Soon in the western part of the state, Arizona will be their destination to get their cannabis products.
Who Doesn’t Want Cannabis Legalization In New Mexico?
The democrats, who control the legislature apparently don’t even want to discuss legalization in New Mexico. Why? Most, if not all the other legal states allow individuals to grow 6 or so plants for their own consumption. Most people won’t bother to grow their own mostly because it’s cheaper to buy cannabis in open and legal markets.
So what’s the big deal? Money. Plain and simple; Money. Legislators apparently feel the state will lose money if they allow home grow. It’s short-sighted, but they are politicians. They didn’t get elected for their brains in all probability.
Here’s an opinion piece by a New Mexican who believes in growing his own, which we also believe he should be able to do. Politicians are frequently short-sighted. They look only to the next election and really don’t think about how their efforts affect people.
Yet another story about how the minority refuses to accept the will of the majority. Minority rule is not what the U.S. is about. This is supposed to be a rule of the majority. However, the abolitionists just won’t give up. Can we call them sore losers? Autocrats? People who love a dictatorship? Who knows, but it’s clear they want their side to win, no matter what.
The election is over. Five (5!) more states legalized cannabis for medical and/or adult use; Montana, Arizona and New Jersey all voted for adult use cannabis. Mississippi voted in medical cannabis and South Dakota voted both medical and adult use on election day. South Dakota is a first. Legalization won in every statewide ballot. But there is still plenty of opposition to the legalization of cannabis. Cannabis opposition is working very hard to stop legalization efforts in some states and is filing suits to invalidate many of the initiatives that passed. Montana legalized adult-use (recreational) cannabis and there is a group that’s suing the state to repeal what the voters decided was the right thing to do.
South Dakota legalized both medical and adult-use cannabis and that was a first to legalize both at the same time. But the fight is still not over.
Cannabis and Alcohol Naysayers
There are still plenty of naysayers about cannabis. They spout a whole lot of rhetoric about the evils of the wicked weed. There are also many people who would like to see alcohol prohibition again. That number is astonishing at 20% or so. Yes, 20% of the population in the U.S. still believe alcohol should be illegal and consumption criminalized. It’s like they haven’t read history. It’s like they cannot think critically. Oh wait. They can’t. But this isn’t about alcohol. This is about legal cannabis and the people who are against legalization. They haven’t been reading either.
The anti-cannabis misinformation is always the same. Even when the research says legal cannabis does not increase accidents. Even when research shows us that teen use goes down, the misinformation that cannabis opposition trot out is the same old same old trope about legal cannabis increasing youth consumption. Why? Why do these anti-cannabis people have to trot out lies, innuendos and complete falsehoods that have been long discredited and believe they’re right. It’s a good question, but a difficult answer.
There are many things we should understand about this seeming contradiction, however I believe it boils down to control. They want to control you. They want to control me. And when they have control, they can rule and make others tow their line.
And here’s a funnier story: The governor (she doesn’t deserve a capital “G”) of South Dakota now states her belief that marijuana shouldn’t be made legal. Apparently she doesn’t believe in the people who voted for legalization. This was before the election where they population overwhelmingly voted to make cannabis legal. She apparently doesn’t believe in the will of the people and is fighting the law. And she ‘claims’ to be in favor of people deciding for themselves…at least when it comes to COVID. But not cannabis??? Give me a break. Perhaps the good people of South Dakota will give her the boot she deserves the next time she runs for election. And I have to wonder who paid for the ad. — South Dakota Governor Urges ‘No’ Vote On Marijuana Legalization Initiative In New Ad
Why Don’t These People Believe in the Will of the People?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. They are nay-sayers…just like horses and about as smart. Why, when it comes to what the people want, do they continue to oppose legislation and the bald faced facts. Some people just want to control. They would never say that, but it’s true. They want to control you. They want to control me. They just want the power of control. And making things legal that we’ve been gaslit about for a century, gives them control. They want your mind. They want your body as well. They will tell you they love you, but they don’t.
Fascinating story, even if a bit tongue-in-cheek. The Governor of Colorado asked the Governor of Texas to not legalize cannabis. Why? Because of the amount of revenue that the State of Colorado is getting from out-of-state visitors to the dispensaries. It’s too funny. Now if all the governors of all the states would say this, cannabis would become legal everywhere pretty quickly.
In this age, there’s absolutely no reason to not make adult use of cannabis legal. It’s way past time and we’ve been gaslit about this for over 100 years now.
Read the whole story here. It’s funny and it’s … there might not be a word for it in the English language!
I’ve been writing about the people who actually the write the regulations for legal cannabis markets over the U.S. and how their regulations can be onerous, vague, and not well thought out. And yet, here’s a ‘regulator’ who seems pretty intelligent and thoughtful about what the regulated market should be. Of course, she left the regulatory business and went into cannabis consulting where there’s a lot more cash to be made, especially by someone who can say they’ve been part of the regulatory framework in that state.
It seems to me that we need more regulators who understand regulatory environments and regulations that are designed to help growers, retail operations, and consumers and not just create regulations in favor of the state. The state is in the business of regulating and taxing…the taxing is most important…and they should make it easy or at least have a clear path to creating those tax dollars.
Here’s yet another article where a very Republican legislature in Michigan along with a Democratic governor have put their heads together with the Democratic minority in the legislature and crafted a bill that expunges marijuana only convictions in the state. This is happening in many other states as well. It’s about time that non-violent convictions for selling or even possessing small amounts of cannabis need to be expunged. It doesn’t need to be repeated that people of color have been the ones unfairly targeted by these laws and their convictions are nothing more than racial profiling.
More states need to do more about this. Indeed, even the Michigan law won’t automatically expunge convictions until 2023 at the earliest. But it’s a start. How about all the other cannabis adult-use legal states? They all need to step up to the plate and make this a real thing.