By Kris Washington
Next week, we will be asked to vote on question #4 – the Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative. As fate would have it, a business trip takes me to Denver this week where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014, and I can get a glimpse of what might be in store for us if Massachusetts passes the amendment. I am writing from my hotel room after taking a field trip to a nearby dispensary to see what one is like first-hand. It wasn’t hard to find one. Here in Denver, they outnumber McDonalds and Starbucks.
The marketing firm I started some fourteen years ago is privileged to have among its clients some of the nations most experienced addiction treatment programs. The first part of my day was spent meeting with a client named Ben Cort, Director of Business Development at CeDAR (part of University of Colorado Hospital System), and one of the nation’s foremost speakers and educators on marijuana misuse and addiction. Ben and his addiction treatment colleagues at CeDAR are on the front lines of Colorado’s legal marijuana experiment and have a unique perspective on the potentially negative affects of legalizing marijuana.
After hearing from Ben fresh reports of people suffering month-long periods of psychosis brought on by constant marijuana consumption, increased drugged driving incidents, and young people getting high in classrooms through edibles or vaping, I decided to see what a legal recreational dispensary is like. So I walked the short distance to downtown’s bustling 16th Street shopping district and home to Euflora, one of the area’s many, many recreational dispensaries.
The large LED-illuminated sign above the sliding doors makes Euflora hard to miss. Once inside and down a flight of stairs, your identification is scanned to verify its authenticity. You must be 21 to enter. The roughly 6,000 sq. foot retail space is immaculately clean, sparsely populated with display cases, and decidedly modern in its design. You can definitely smell the product (even before entering). The staff were quiet, polite, and perfectly willing to let you simply browse the offerings. In my opinion, the entire operation seemed well-executed and, frankly, almost elegant. I am told that not all dispensaries are quite this upscale.
On several low tables that would be right at home in an Apple Store, sit glass jars containing flower bud samples. Each jar is accompanied by a tablet device displaying information about each strain. You are able to pick up the jars and lift their lids to sample their fragrances. Next to each container is a card displaying its THC percentage. The lowest I saw was 18 percent. The highest was 26 percent. By comparison, the average potency of THC in marijuana available about ten years ago was 3 – 5 percent.
Tall glass cases contained a variety of edible THC products. Artisanal chocolate bars and truffles were on display. A profusion of multi-colored candies including gummies, mints, and gums were also available. There was a cold case containing THC-infused sodas of all flavors.
Centrally-located was a case containing the distillates. This collection of white-labeled bottles and envelopes contained a plentiful array of amber-colored “dabs” the consistency of wax or plastic. Each small package contained concentrated distilled THC oil with THC levels in the high 70 percent range. These are either smoked in specialized high-temperature vaping devices or through bongs. Only a pin-head-sized dollop is used because its potency is so high.
The store’s patrons, as far as I observed in my short time there, ranged in age. Many appeared to be in their twenties. Some people were older. Some people clearly seemed to be high already.
While I have read and heard much about legalized marijuana, this trip to a recreational marijuana store made one thing very clear – that recreational marijuana does not mean the sale of an innocuous, naturally-occurring plant. Legalized marijuana manifests as the sale of highly engineered, craftily packaged THC products. In my estimation, far more edibles and distillates were for sale than bud. Of the flower/bud that was for sale, the highly engineered strains are exponentially more potent than weed of years gone by.
Recreational marijuana stores do not promote medicinal uses. They also don’t focus on the high-CBD (cannabidiol) strains that are believed by some to offer medical benefits. Instead, these products are packed with as much THC as possible. Its many forms make these THC products easy to consume discretely. Edibles and even some vaped products have no odor but contain more than ten times the dosage of THC than in naturally-occurring plants.
Legalization is not really about removing a prohibition on the plants that the country’s founders grew (primarily for rope-making) and that have been consumed by humans for thousands of years. Nothing like the engineered plants and sophisticated products for sale here existed even a few years ago. Legalization is about the highly profitable business of industrializing and selling high-THC products. If Massachusetts votes yes on 4, we should expect to see recreational pot shops like this opening nearby by 2018.
The images below were included in Kris Washington’s Letter to the Editor – Click each one to view it at full size