We’re barely two weeks into the new year but already there have been developments in the wide world of weed. Several of Colorado’s laws regarding cannabis changed as of January 1st. But it’s not just our state’s legislation that’s changing: cannabis seems to be slowly altering even our larger social structures, broadening our scientific understanding of medicine, and challenging traditional logistics.
Let’s start off here at home in Colorado. Several pieces of legislation have come into effect as of the first of the year. In many ways Colorado was ahead of its time when it comes to cannabis sale and consumption, but in other matters we’ve fallen behind other recreational states. Illinois already allows social consumption and testing/tasting rooms. California and others allow deliveries and restaurants. We still don’t have much of a marijuana prior conviction overturn mechanism, meaning people are still sitting in jail for exactly what we budtenders do on a daily basis under protection of the law. But Colorado is finally making progress this year. Westword’s Thomas Mitchell penned an article last week about the major legislative changes that will affect marijuana in the coming year. A law passed last May came to fruition as of the first. “The Colorado Legislature passed a law allowing restaurants, hotels, music venues and other businesses to apply for social pot-use permits and dispensaries to apply for tasting-room licenses similar to that of a brewery — if their respective town or county decides to allow them, as local governments must still opt in to the program.” While smoking lounges have largely disappeared in the United States in my lifetime–I can still remember the days when airports, hotels, and restaurants had sections for cigarette smokers–we may see a resurgence here shortly of cannabis-friendly smoking lounges. I for one, as someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, think it would be fantastic to go out on the town with friends who want to hit the bars and be able to stop in a coffee shop for a shot of espresso and a blunt before moving on to whatever adventure next awaits. And I’m not alone. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that 34% of millennial’s prefer cannabis over beer. Hookah lounges are already popular venues, especially near college campuses, and it would be the easiest transition over to a cannabis and shisha lounge. That’d really bring me back to my college days, packing up a fat hookah bowl of weed and shisha and watching nature docs. I can only imagine dab bars will crop up all over the place with nice rigs and preheated e-nails, and potentially even concentrates for sale. What a treat that would be! Sadly, businesses can’t hold both a liquor license and a social consumption permit, but it’s a step in the right direction. On the daily how many tourists do we see in dispensaries looking for a smokeless alternative because their hotel won’t allow them to chief in a designated smoking area or on their porch? What vacationer doesn’t want to smoke a joint after a long day skiing or hiking to wash away those aches and pains? We’re the first recreational state, it’s about time we get to enjoy the fruits (or should I say flowers?) of our labor like responsible adults.
Legislation allowing for marijuana deliveries is also now on the books, even though it is rather more limited than we might hope. According to Mitchell, the law “will only affect a handful of towns and counties that choose to participate in a one-year pilot program for medical marijuana deliveries only. If there’s no dumpster fire during year one, then both medical and recreational delivery should become an option for municipalities across the state a year later, in 2021.” The bill itself states that permits will be issued on a year-by-year basis, each delivery will have a $1 surcharge that goes to the municipality that the store is located in for law enforcement costs, only one delivery per day per residence excluding college campuses, and it protects those making the deliveries from criminal prosecution for making said deliveries. And counties will still be able to opt out, so deliveries may still be unavailable in certain counties even after 2021, but at least it is a legislative move in the right direction.
As of 2020 all state-certified marijuana testing labs will start testing for heavy metals. I for one am glad this is being implemented, especially because you hear the horror stories about shipments of CBD from China tainted with heavy metals hitting the market and potentially causing harm to folks. Heavy metal poisoning is no joke. Cadmium for example is carcinogenic and ingestion can cause irreversible damage to the liver and kidneys, which can shrink up to 30% of their original size. It also makes your bones lose mineral density and turn soft enough to fracture from merely placing body weight upon them. Levels of chlorine build up in your blood. Acute exposure leads to pulmonary edema. All around nasty stuff, and those are just the highlights. The new legislation means that all certified labs will now be testing for heavy metal residuals from fertilizers/growing nutrients including cadmium, arsenic, and nickel. These metals can be especially harmful when com-busted or vaporized because metals like cadmium are more efficiently absorbed in the lungs than the stomach and liver. This is especially troubling because cigarettes are a significant source of cadmium exposure. Personally, I’m glad that regulators have seen fit to test for these hazardous and toxic metals to make sure that we the consumer aren’t exposed to some truly unpleasant materials. Marijuana is medicine and shouldn’t be allowed to cause harm to those who use it. Even if this wasn’t on your radar before, all of our lungs will feel the benefits of this bill.
This next one is something I’m glad they finally rolled back the regulations on. We will finally be able to sell hemp in dispensaries again. When I first started out in the industry two and a half years ago, we were able to sell hemp and CBD-only products in dispensaries, which included pet products that contained no THC at all. No more than 6 months after that, we had to pull all our CBD-only products from the shelves because the MED wanted to tax hemp at the same rate as THC. That’s like applying alcohol taxes to non-alcoholic beverages–it’s utter nonsense. So when the MED saw the stringent opposition, they ruled that hemp- and CBD-only products couldn’t be sold in dispensaries, because why should anyone have access to lab-tested health products if the government can’t tax it at an exorbitant rate? And previously all CBD products in dispensaries had to be derived from cannabis, rather than hemp. A fine distinction, I know, but the government defines the two differently, mainly based on THC content. And then in late 2018 the Farm Bill passed making CBD products federally legal. So this means that the gas station next door and every health food store in the country can now sell hemp and CBD products, but still dispensaries–the only places where the staff is educated by the state and the products regulated–couldn’t sell hemp-derived CBD. But as of July 1st this year, dispensaries will once again be able to sell hemp-derived CBD, just so long as the products are subjected to the same testing requirements as cannabis for potency and contaminants. I’m looking forward to being able to snag my dog’s CBD dog bones at the dispensary and get my sober brother CBD-only products to help with pain relief from Jiu Jitsu and anxiety. Health supplements should be sold side by side with herbal medicine like marijuana, especially when the two are intimately intermingled, and as of this summer we will be free to do so again.
Additionally, there have been some updates to Medical Marijuana rules and regulations to broaden the disorders which can be treated with marijuana. The Westword article sums things up succinctly. “Emboldened by the election of Governor Jared Polis, medical marijuana advocates pushed the 2019 legislature to add autism spectrum disorder and any condition for which opioids are prescribed to the state’s list of medical marijuana conditions, and to also pass a law permitting more health-care professionals—dentists, psychiatrists, registered nurse practitioners and so on—to be able to recommend medical marijuana, and to recommend it for terms shorter than the previous one-year minimum.” This means more people struggling with certain neurological disorders and narcotic addiction/abuse problems can have easier access to medicine that can help treat their condition safely.
And last but not least for the new Colorado regulations, the state has finally banned vape additives, also known as cutting agents. These cutting agents are largely responsible for the epidemic of vaping-related pulmonary disease that recently burst into the national spotlight. It’s fairly surprising that it took the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) this long to ban certain additives. The list of banned additives are vitamin E acetate, polyethylene glycol (PEG), and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil). The reason it is surprising the ban took this long is that the scientific community has known for years that PEG and MCT turn into formaldehyde when heated to the temps necessary to vaporize cannabis oil. You might remember all those headlines a few years back about what they had dubbed “popcorn lung,” which can be caused by the additives listed above (and one additive that didn’t make the list: propylene glycol, aka PG). I was personally very surprised that PG wasn’t banned, because it is a known culprit in pulmonary diseases related to vaping, and yet the MED didn’t see fit to ban it. So while some of the harmful additives behind the vape-lung crisis have been banned, one of them remains completely legal. Keep your eyes peeled for any vape product that contains PG. As far as I’m aware O-pen is one of the few Colorado based manufacturers who still uses PG in some misguided attempt to boost profits by cutting cannabis oil with PG and sending the savings and lung disease along to the customer. In general, this regulation is a step in the right direction but I feel the MED didn’t take it far enough.
In other 2020 cannabis news, the Italians recently had a scientific breakthrough. According to a new IFLScience article, “a team of Italian scientists announced the discovery of two new cannabinoids found in marijuana.” These two new cannabinoids are Tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) and Cannabidiphorol (CBDP). They’re still brand-spanking new discoveries, so it’s still unclear what sorts of effects they may have. “Tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) has roughly the same structure as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main compound in marijuana responsible for its psychoactive properties – but is reportedly 30 times more potent than the well-known compound. In a pharmacological test, THCP ‘induced hypomotility, analgesia, catalepsy and decreased rectal temperature,’ suggesting it has a THC-like effect on the body. However, it is not yet clear whether THCP is psychoactive or if it produces the same ‘stoned’ effects as THC, although it appears to be more active than THC at lower doses administered to mice.” It will be interesting to see what kind of developments occur surrounding these new cannabinoids and whether they will have beneficial medical properties as most cannabinoids do and how these cannabinoids affect your high. Keep your eyes peeled for more information as we learn more about THCP and CBDP, and I’ll try to keep you posted on any new developments. It’s a brave new world out there.
In a broader social context, marijuana is changing the daily–or should I say nightly–lives of users. On December 28th, High Times published an article claiming that “A study whose findings were recently released by the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University found that in states where medical marijuana was legalized, the rate of sexual activity went up.” Now we have to be careful when examining the correlation and causation of this study, because it is easy to say that sexy-time boosted thanks to weed sales. Still it is fascinating to consider that cannabis may responsible for “an uptick in birth rates by a mean of two percent, and a drop in the use of contraceptives while having sex. Also…medical marijuana legalization may be associated with a year one uptick in a state’s gonorrhea rates.” So there’s some good and some bad in there. Finally a boost in Millennial’s’ rock bottom birth rates, but with a side helping of the clap. It’s also a fascinating study because it “was enough to counteract what has sometimes been identified as a negative correlation between cannabis usage and the ability for couples to get pregnant and have a healthy neonatal period.” So perhaps all that business about decreased sperm count and motility has been overblown by anti-marijuana activists. One of the study’s co-authors states that “With the liberalization of marijuana laws there has been an increase in cannabis-based products designed to improve sexual wellness, including products that help remove anxiety or pain associated with sex.” Perhaps some of these products help account for the baby boom and perhaps some of the relaxation and stress-relief associated with marijuana usage helped as well. I think this matter warrants further study before we can say definitively that weed helps you get freaky, but I think it’s important to note the ways in which marijuana legalization has affected our larger social structures such as the nuclear family and the production thereof. So if you’re trying for a bun in the oven, maybe snag a joint and some Foria lubricant and see if the sparks fly.
As some of the social context for marijuana usage evolves, so too must the logistics side of the cannabis industry. Already huge amounts of fuel, man-hours, and packaging are expended daily, leading to large amounts of waste industry wide. In Colorado, we’re creeping up on the 400 million mark for number of shipping manifests created since the passing of recreational marijuana. Delivery drivers go all over this state to deliver wholesale shipments of cannabis products. About once a week we get shipments in from all the way down in Pueblo 3+ hours drive away from Boulder, and that’s just one of tens of vendors we carry. And with personal consumer cannabis delivery right around the corner here for us and already in action in other states, it’s time to challenge the status quo. As of this year, a company in Washington is beginning to make cannabis deliveries by drone. GRN Holding Corporation recently bought out the drone company Squad Drones in order to start cannabis deliveries via drone. But why drones? The company was looking to cut down on logistics costs, so they started looking for more technologically advanced solutions and settled on unmanned aerial drones. Now rather than having dozens of delivery drivers, they have a smaller staff. According to GRN Holding CEO Justin Costello, “‘All the flights will be monitored by a command center in Seattle and operated by a licensed pilot,’ Costello continued. ‘We expect hiring about 20 employees in the various cities to hook the drones into charge ports, calibrate them, and ensure the safety totes and computer systems pass flight requirements.’” He anticipates significant shrinkage in logistics expenses over the coming months and even believes that many others within the industry will soon be following suit. Currently Colorado holds the national headlines for bizarre unidentified mass drone flights, but soon enough we may see more fleets once companies ditch traditional delivery methods in favor of drones here in Colorado once delivery kicks off in earnest next year.
In short, 2020 holds lots of changes in store for the cannabis industry and cannabis consumers. Our nascent industry continues to grow and change, keeping things exciting for those of us in the thick of it as we learn more about marijuana and how to legislate this new industry. I think it’s important to keep abreast of these changes and I’ll do my best to keep bringing you updates as the year progresses. In the meantime though, I wish you all the happiest and most productive of years!