I have long supported cannabis legalization for adult, recreational use, but admittedly did not read the fine print before voting to approve. And in all honesty, even after having read a summary of the legal regulations, I remain oblivious to the practical impact of compliance on me as a consumer. The main reason for this, I would argue, is that all dispensaries incorporate the new regulations differently. There remains a pronounced lack of uniformity amongst dispensaries here in Southern California.
My medical dispensary began implementing changes January 1, 2017, by collecting all taxes required by the new legislation. It was a rude awakening, but one I was willing to live with in support of access to cannabis for all. I had benefitted immensely from the potent edibles my dispensary sold, which allowed me to overcome a very chronic insomnia condition. The purple gummies that worked for me were more affordable without the added taxes, but the value they provided in treating my condition justified the expense, which still was not unreasonable.
One of the main reasons I support legalization for recreational use is that cannabis provides a great deal of the kind of relief otherwise obtained through opiates and benzodiazepines. Far too many people seek relief through licit or illicit pharmaceuticals, often leading to dependency, addiction, and in far too many cases, death. I often wonder if my young, troubled brother would’ve kept his life together if he’d had access to legal, medical marijuana, rather than having been prescribed benzos like Kolonopin that ultimately led to street heroin and overdose in his early 20s. The opiate epidemic kills more people than imaginable. Every day, more than 115 people in America die from opiate overdose, while over 40,000 people perish each year in America by overdosing on opiates. In contrast, zero people die in America each year from marijuana overdoses.
Then one day I was told that my dispensary was out of my beloved purple gummies and would not be getting any more. I was in shock. I asked for details about the changes in availability of edibles and was saddened more than anything to learn that low maximum potency was the new rule and that many manufacturers were temporarily out of production while coming into compliance. To make matters worse, there was a notable increase in prices of edibles my dispensary did carry. Yeah, the new edibles were tested and thus guaranteed to deliver the potency advertised, and would be safe to ingest, but I’d never had any problems with my purple gummies and wanted to continue using them. At a loss, I settled for aromatic indica flower and returned home, relieved that I still had a few packs of gummies stashed away. Legalization was here to stay, and I was good with it. I just needed to figure a few things out.
In the years prior to recreational legalization I had made cannabis cookies at home, their potency similar to the sleep gummies. The cookies worked well for a while, but I eventually grew tired of all the prep. I didn’t need the sugar and fat, either. Now, faced with no gummies, I was forced to consider a return to the chocolate chip cookies for sleep. Averse to the cookie reboot, I remembered a recipe for “honey slides” that Neil Young talked about on stage in 1974 (there’s a great bootleg). Neil and Crazy Horse made great use of these honey slides in recording their superb On The Beach album.
I had some shake and trim stored away so I searched for the audio of Neil’s recipe and tried it out that night. The honey slide was even more potent than the sleep gummies had been, so I knew I would be ok if I made some honey slides and kept them in jelly jars for nighttime use. Next time at the dispensary I bought very affordable indica shake, which worked perfectly in the slide preparation. All was well. I was set to sleep that night and every night. Legalization was good for everyone.
And then June 1, 2017 came and I was not prepared for that day either. That was the day my dispensary stopped selling shake because none of their distributors or growers were testing, packaging and labeling it for sale. No gummies, no shake, and untenable taxes. I had enthusiastically and exclusively patronized my dispensary for a few years and was totally out of touch with the larger cannabis industry and realized I needed to become more informed and more experienced. I bought books and magazines, started looking at blogs and websites like NORML’s as well as forums like Grasscity, Leafly, Reddit, and finally WeedMaps. When I started checking out the dispensary menus on WeedMaps, I was stunned to see so many products still for sale at other dispensaries that were clearly noncompliant. I also noticed that prices at many local dispensaries were lower, across the board.
As it turned out, California was not experiencing an orderly and uniform transition to cannabis compliance. It was admittedly a small sample, but none of the the first handful of local dispensaries I checked out were in compliance, nor were they charging tax. This jibed with the report from the State of California showing that marijuana tax revenues were far lower than anticipated and due to the proliferation of non-compliant, black market dispensaries, brand and product knock-offs, and as we would later find out, China-funded grows.
I support legalization for moral reasons and for those reasons alone avoid non-compliant commerce as much as possible. Legalization is only going to work if it is shown to be socially responsible. Now that so many unlicensed shops and businesses have had ample time to conform, city government is taking action, closing down black market shops, and I am beginning to see a slight calm returning to the industry. But sadly, prices remain high. Discounts have helped quite a bit, but I’d rather that prices come down to enable cannabis consumers to integrate cannabis into all aspects of their lives, making use of the many innovations and improvements in cannabis and cannabis products. Until then, I’ll keep searching for someplace like my old dispensary, but I have a feeling that I may not find one. Time will tell, but I have a feeling that when I come up empty and admit defeat, my old dispensary will still be there to welcome me back with open arms.