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.
It has become common knowledge in the world of cannabis research that the indica and sativa naming convention is a semantic distinction without a scientific difference. In 2015, University of British Columbia botanist Jonathan Page studied the DNA of 81 cannabis “strains” that were self-identified by the growers or distributors as either indicas or sativas. They found that they were almost genetically identical, and many were mislabeled. This is a long way to say that the ‘distinction’ of sativa vs. indica is bullshit.
Sativa vs. indica has become a marketing tool rather than a a scientific separation of ‘strains’. There is no sativa. There is no indica. And it’s a shame. We seem to have lost the origins of our favorite plant. But we still have cannabis and the multitude of effects that are possible. The real question is how are we differentiating the two? The real answer is marketing. Breeders tell us that the parentage of this strain or that strain is 80% indica or whatever. And absolutely none of it makes any sense scientifically. But it does make good sense from a marketing standpoint because it tells consumers about what they might expect although it’s not all clear. Sativa is supposed to work on the thought process and indica is supposed to make your body feel more, uh, “stoned.” Whatever that means.
While I was writing this, I decided I needed to look at an overview of was going on with different types of cannabis in the market. Since the dispensaries were all advertising sativa, indica and hybrid strains, I wanted to see what’s selling and where it was selling. I did not check for percentage of THC in the mix, I looked at random dispensaries in Michigan, Colorado, California and Washington and in each state I picked one market. The sample size is small, but I believe it gives a pretty good indication of what people are asking growers to produce. The results were fascinating, but not unexpected; 50% of the flower was listed as “Hybrid”. 33% was called Indica and only 17% was called “Sativa” by the various dispensaries. The sample size was small, only about 400 strains from 35 or so dispensaries, but significant as I looked at many more in other states and the percentages were always about the same.
“Hybrid” strains in the majority was not unexpected. The cannabis genome has now been thoroughly trashed by breeders, so everything is a ‘hybrid’. The real question to me is; Why are people looking to indica for their cannabis and not to sativa? Since the names are irrelevant, I’m going to stick to what I think and not any statistical evidence. That would take interviews and during the time of COVID, that’s just not going to happen.
Different States, Different Products
While I was in California, one thing I noticed was that the questions all revolved around if I wanted edibles or pre-rolled product. When I said flower, the reactions in the three dispensaries I visited (fully masked with an N-95 mask and in and out quickly) when I asked for flower was all the same…”Are you crazy?” And yes, I like to roll my own or use one of my glass pipes. I’m distrustful of pre-rolled cannabis as it’s mostly shake and always has the question of whether or not it was just dregs. And many dispensaries only had about 10 or fewer different strains. My impression was that flower is not in favor in California, at least where I was in Southern California.
In Colorado, the reactions were different and there was a lot more variety in the flower to be had. This wasn’t surprising. Maybe California is ahead of the curve or maybe they’re just lazy. I won’t have the opportunity to find out soon as I’ll not be traveling back to California until we’re all vaccinated. Colorado just felt more open to flower users as well as experimenters with cannabis. In Michigan, there’s a lot more flower available and the budtenders I talked to never asked if I was more interested in flower or pre-rolls. I’ve had pre-rolled cannabis joints.
How Does it End?
Reality check. If we keep hybridizing our favorite plant; crossing “sativas” with “indicas,” how does this end. WAIT!!! There is no sativa. There is no indica. What does this mean for us? Does it matter? I’ve never been a budtender, so I can’t write about this with any authority. I have spent a lot of time in dispensaries though and listened to a lot of customers.
If my listening to conversations is at all accurate, it would seem that most people are looking for the highest percentage of THC they can get in a flower. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. That’s like looking for a wine with the highest alcohol percent you can get. I can relate from personal experience, a chardonnay over about 14% and a cabernet sauvignon over 15% or so isn’t very good wine. Shouldn’t cannabis be about taste; Terpenes and the quality of the cure (smoothness)? Cannabis should be, above all, an experience, and we are at risk of losing that experience if the only thing we look at is the percentage of THC.
Are we at risk to lose the beauty of what the ‘fragrant reed’ should be about? We might be. Breeders need to be more aware about what they’re doing to the cannabis genome. Genetic manipulation is one thing. Over-hybridization is another.
The U.S. House of Representatives just (on December 4th) passed legislation to decriminalize cannabis. Yes. They. Did.
However, and this is a big HOWEVER, the Senate is highly unlikely to pass the same legislation. Republican representatives and senators from many states are still against removing cannabis from Schedule 1 and it’s now just plain resistance and not based on what their voters want.
In the house voted mostly, but not entirely, along party lines. The bill, called The MORE act, passed with a vote of 228-164. This balance probably approximately represents the balance of what people in the U.S. favor right now.
It Shouldn’t be a Democrat vs. Republican Thing
Many republicans have continued gaslighting cannabis. This needs to end. In our opinion, it shouldn’t end with the election of democrats, but rather the election of people who will represent all Americans. It’s become clearly obvious that a majority of Americans have finally seen through all the lies the government has been feeding all of us for the last 85 or so years.
We we already know the Senate won’t pass (the Senate probably won’t even bring it to the floor for a vote), maybe they’ll surprise us. The Senate is showing it’s lack of interest in the people of the United States, which begs the question; Why is cannabis so politicized? One answer may be in the desire of Mitch McConnell to assert his and the Senate’s power. This is not a rational move, given that a large majority of the American population believes that cannabis should be decriminalized. Another, and more sinister answer, may be in the desire of the republican party to rule as a minority party. This flies directly in the face of the Founding Fathers desire to create a majority rule democracy.
At the least, this is a start on a path to finally decriminalize and finally begin de-stigmatize cannabis. Here are some of the first headlines:
What if COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the endocannabinoid system? That’s could easily be a reason why we don’t understand the disease. We don’t understand the endocannabinoid system, so anything is possible. I don’t know if this has been postulated, but it’s an interesting thesis.
Coronavirus is on all our minds, seemingly all the time. There’s a small, but growing body of knowledge when it comes to cannabis and COVID-19. Here are several stories that show a connection between cannabis and COVID-19. Does it help eliminate the virus? Probably not. Doe is help ameliorate the symptoms? Probably. Does it keep that cytokine storm that destroys lungs at bay? Perhaps.
There are so many unanswered questions about COVID-19. There are so many unanswered questions about cannabis and how it works in our bodies. Could there be a correlation? Could cannabis actually help?
There’s a growing body of evidence that shows that there is indeed a relationship between COVID-19 and cannabis. Science doesn’t understand either all the mechanisms of COVID-19 or the endocannabinoid system and there’s not a lot of current research. But there is some. The research that is out there is beginning to show there is a correlation.
Below are several articles culled from the web about the possible relationships between COVID-19 and cannabis. Nobody doing this research seems to want to make a direct correlation between cannabis and the pandemic. Is this a result of lingering stigma around cannabis? Make up your own mind about the quality of research conducted in each of these articles. We found 557 hits in a Google search (and many of them are duplicates.)
(11-23-2020) Here’s another story about COVID-19 and how it attacks the nervous system. If it attacks the nervous system, it’s attacking the endocannabinoid system as well)
Research shows a positive response to the overproduction of cytokines in serious lung infections with CBD, terpenes and THC
The one negative about cannabis and COVID-19 is a study that might show a correlation between cannabis use and COVID-19 susceptibility. This study has had a lot of criticism and has not been peer reviewed and we must always remember that correlation does not explain or demonstrate causation.
A lot of evidence is demonstrating that cannabis eases the worst symptoms of COVID-19. While the old saw that “more research needs to be done” might apply, there is no reason to not use cannabis during the pandemic.
This has certainly been an interesting week on many levels. No matter which side of the political fence you sit on it’s been a wild ride. The big winner this week though (besides the BIG race), at least in our opinion is cannabis. There were hundreds of statewide initiatives on the ballots across the country this week. They all won. Every. Single. One. Maybe that last sentence should have an exclamation point after it. But there is something far greater going on here. 5 states had medical and/or adult use cannabis initiatives. They all won. All of them.
The Stigma is Going Away?
Cannabis or marijuana (your choice of word) has had a stigma that the racist U.S. government started in the early 1900s. The lies about cannabis back then resulted in the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act in 1937. That act essentially outlawed marijuana. It culminated in the War on Drugs in the 70s and 80s that made cannabis a drug with no redeeming qualities at all. Cannabis was stigmatized all that time for non-scientific and racist reasons. It has became a horrible mess.
All these initiatives that passed are showing us something; The stigma is starting to go away. It will take time, but I think the stigma is now on the down slope and picking up momentum as it moves along. What is still frightening is how politicians (on both sides) are so out of touch with their constituents. Very few politicians are willing to speak up about Schedule 1, even though over half the states have medical programs. The government has been perpetrating a lie for over a century. That lie is beginning to be understood. The real problem with that is that when a lie by the government is found out, what does the population feel about things where the government might be right.
As for the initiatives that failed, all were at the state or community level and those communities voters were frequently fed pap that had nothing to do with reality. In Michigan there were 10 community initiatives that were on various ballots. Of the ten, three passed. So the stigma still exists.
In Montana, there was as much misinformation as there was real information. One noted Montanan individual ranted that crime would go up, children would smoke and various other falsehoods that were patently untrue. Maybe some Americans are waking up to the idea that marijuana might be OK and the billions that now flow into the untaxed black market could be converted into some tax dollars that the states could currently use. It will take a while, but eventually cannabis will look the same as the alcoholic beverage industry with no stigma and solid tax dollars going to the various governments.
A Small Conclusion
We still look through the lens of cannabis prohibition and that’s going to be hard to swap that lens out for one that just sees marijuana as another drug with benefits and some downsides. The downsides are minimal and the benefits have the potential to have enormous benefit to our society.
“What is it that we vote for when we vote to legalize cannabis?”
The quote above introduces a short series made by Weedmaps. It goes on to demonstrate what the population of California actually bought when it approved adult-use cannabis back in 2016. It’s not pretty.
What did the authors expect? Something different than the and of alcohol prohibition where companies driven by profit were all about the alcohol industry? A marketplace that was devoid of hucksters and companies that put altruism before profits? It is a given that in a market-driven economy, there will be companies that put profit and greed over satisfying consumers. There is no surprise in that.
I’m just finishing a stay in Ann Arbor and stopped at two of my favorite cannabis vendors to see what the state of this State is. There are some really disturbing trends that I saw.
COVID Buying Procedures
Buying cannabis has changed during our COVID experience. I used to be able to go into a dispensary, look at the different cultivars, and even smell them. No longer. In one place, Om of Medicine, you can order online or go into their ‘lobby’ and place an order on a tablet. Then what I’ve selected magically appears from downstairs. The other dispensary is Exclusive Provisioners. Their COVID procedure has mandatory ordering online. Then you pick up your order in your car. For both dispensaries, delivery is available … for a fee. I get it. We all need to stay away from places where we might get exposed to the virus. That’s good. The bad part is what’s happened to quality. It has deteriorated significantly. What’s going on? I believe I do have a partial answer.
The Quality Factor
Both dispensaries and I admit this is only an “n” of 2 in a city that has 20 or so shops, have seriously gone down in quality. The quality of cannabis and the product they deliver are not up to the standards they had previously. Why? I believe there are several reasons for this.
First, both shops were independently owned and operated before COVID. Now they’re both part of larger chains. I get that. These are businesses. In business profits are important. Profits are what keep a business going. But…it can get carried too far, and apparently that is what’s happening in Ann Arbor. In Colorado, I can still walk into a dispensary and at least look at the bud and decide from there. But not in Ann Arbor. The quality in Colorado has, if nothing else, improved. Quality in Ann Arbor (and most of Michigan too, I’d guess) it seems to have deteriorated.
Om of Medicine
I got two varieties of cannabis from Om; Heavy Trichome and Hash Haze. Heavy Trichome was not. Heavy in trichomes that is. I tried it and it’s not even worth a review. It had no flavor to speak of and definitely not heavy in trichomes. Trichomes have much of the good in a cannabis flower. Terpenes, THCs, CBDs, and other compounds are found there. A bud heavy in trichomes should look like it’s frosted all over. Heavy Trichome had no heavy frost and in fact, had fewer trichomes then I’ve seen in a long time.
Hash Haze seems like it might have promise. Decent aroma, but I have yet to try it. My problem is that it’s prepackaged. I got two ‘jars’ of the product to make an eighth but was delivered in 2-1.75 gram jars. Who buys 1.75 grams of anything? If it’s good, I’ll write a review. If not, you’ll never hear about it again.
Exclusive Provisioners – Ann Arbor
Exclusive had been the source of many happy buds I’ve consumed in the past. While I get the COVID ordering system. what I don’t get is the conga line of cars backed up into the street driving in to pick up orders. OK, their order and pickup system isn’t the most sophisticated. I get that. Pickup is not their primary business. When I got to the store, there was a traffic jam that was backed up into the street. Not only is this not a way to show appreciation to customers, but it’s also dangerous. But to sell bud that looks like shake leaves me feeling ripped off. And I do!
An eighth of Professor Chaos was mostly shake.
My online order was for an eighth of Professor Chaos, mostly because I liked the name and I’d never had it before. Really. I couldn’t see the flower. I couldn’t smell it or see it until I got it. What I received was a vial that was mostly shake. Or almost so. Not only was the little plastic jar filled with mostly shake, but Professor Chaos wasn’t very good. Very frustrating experience. While I loved the name of the cultivar; “Professor Chaos” but I sure didn’t like the result. If a dispensary is going to offer flower, they should deliver flower, not shake. Sell shake as shake and sell flower as flower. This was reminiscenet of 30 or 40 years ago when cannabis was purchased by the ounce (for $40!) and you actually got about a quarter of an ounce after the seeds and stems were taken out.
I cannot call this was not a good experience. Why purchase cannabis that’s substandard, especially in 2020.
Next week, I’m on my way to Taos, NM via Colorado where I’ll check out Colorado’s dispensary activity. Let’s see if those dispensaries are still as good as they were in the past. Check back.
All the states where cannabis is legal report monthly sales. All the states, except one, have had rising sales all year, even during, or especially during, the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. The one state reporting downward sales at the same time; California. Why? California is the outlier in the states with legal adult-use markets and there appear to be a lot of reasons for this. First the other states.
In Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, and Massetussets are all reporting increased sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not California though. They’re reporting a downward trend in sales. Why? For starters, California has some of the highest prices for cannabis in the U.S. This is because the state has some of the highest taxes for cannabis. California counties and communities all have different regulations. Many counties and cities don’t even allow adult-use cannabis stores. Additionally, in about half of California, cannabis just isn’t allowed to be sold because of an opt-out provision in the state law.
Rising sales in some states might be just because of the newness of the adult-use program. Illinois, for instance, has only had legal cannabis sales since the start of 2020. In a situation like that, sales are bound to be rising. The other west coast states, meaning Oregon and Washington, sales have been rising especially during the pandemic. In Colorado, sales have been setting new records every month. In California, they’re going the opposite way. Why?
There seem to be several reasons for this. Much of the bureaucratic turf wars are just plain infighting. Coupled with blind regulatory opaqueness and what appears to be plain old ordinary regulatory incompetence is the fault. Too many regulators want to control the market in greater ways than the alcoholic beverage market is regulated. While it can’t just be pinned on the regulators, regulation and implementation is something that needs to be addressed and addressed quickly.
Oregon and Washington Issues
Oregon and Washington have had their own issues. Oregon let the market open up for everyone who wanted to be a grower or retailer. So there were too many retailers and too many growers. There was a huge oversupply of cannabis products because of this. But…in hindsight…always 20/20…it wasn’t that bad a move and now the cannabis is. The best growers and the best retailers prevailed.
Other California Problems
In California, there is a hodge-podge of cities and counties that allow cannabis cultivation and/or retail sales. It’s quite a mess and about 1/2 the population of California doesn’t have ready access to legal weed. Guess where they’re getting their weed? The black market, that’s where. Black market cannabis collects no taxes, is not regulated in any way. It is what it is and the people who buy from black market merchants really have no way to know what they’re getting. The whole situation in California is a hot mess. All the above points to why sales during this COVID-19 crisis are going down in the state.
If you do some simple math, California has about 39 1/2 million total people living in the state and (usually) many visitors. Of the total population, 23 million are over 21. If only 10% of that population consumed cannabis, that would be 2,300,000 people who consume cannabis. We know that the actual number is at least twice or possibly three times that. Let’s stay with twice. So if 5 million people consume cannabis and spend $10 a week for their product, it would annualize at just over $1 billion. That’s billion with a “B”. Compared to Colorado, with 1/5 the population of California has $1.6 Billion in sales last year. Sales in Colorado should pale in comparison to California and obviously they don’t.
What Can California Do?
Obviously. California really needs to get its act together. Regulatory environments need to be open, fair and honest. Tax structures should be modified to face the reality that other states have less expensive cannabis. California also needs to open it’s market to the people who have been exploited when cannabis was illegal; Minorities and economically disadvantaged peoples need to have opportunities to be included in the market. Then California will move to the forefront of legal cannabis. After all, there is no other state with Humboldt County.