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Regulating Concentrates Is Next Big Hurdle for Legal Marijuana

By: Nick Zaiac - @NickZaiac - Apr 12, 2016, 5:48 pm
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Concentrate items such as cakes won’t make your kitchen smell like a growhouse (Youtube)

Times are changing in the world of American marijuana policy. The DEA recently announced it would consider rescheduling the drug over the summer. Later in the year, citizens in California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts will vote on legalization measures.

Reasonable people expect at least three of the five to pass. Millions of new Americans, including the first residents east of the Mississippi river, will live in legalized states. These states will be tasked with creating new regulatory regimes that address topics ranging from scientific testing to advertising.

The regulation of marijuana concentrates such as candies, cookies, e-cigarette cartridges, oils and other products are filled with pitfalls. The Denver Post’s The Cannabist reports industry members foresee a market where concentrate products will outsell traditional flower-based products. This comes a year after researchers at the RAND Corporation made similar predictions.

All of this makes sense because of developments that have nothing to do with drug policy. Home ownership rates have dropped for all but those over 70 or under 20 since 2000. Multifamily building is up over that period. With less homeowners, we find even more people living in places where the rules of behavior within their home are dictated by someone else. Landlords regularly ban smoking of anything, be it tobacco, cannabis or even incense and candles in multifamily rented apartments. Smoking is the primary means of consumption of flower products, while concentrates are, by their very nature, smoke-free products.

The RAND report also notes that, unlike flower products, extracts can be produced from the parts of the cannabis plant other than the flower. This makes production of concentrates necessarily cheaper than production of flower products of the same quality, allowing these products to be sold like high-quantity/ low-cost commodities rather than specialized, low-quantity/high-cost products today.

Indeed, legalization has brought out the maturation of the marijuana market. Concentrates generally have less negative stigma associated with them and bring with them fewer negative side effects. In Denver, Seattle and other legalized cities, we see consumption shifting from those who braved the black market for their preferred drug to those who would never seek out the neighborhood pot dealer, but would gladly drop by a dispensary on their way home from work.

Moreover, the commercial market allows economies of scale for specialized products. The neighborhood dealer wasn’t selling cartridges for e-cigarettes, for instance, and producing high-quality cannabis-infused baked goods is a challenge even for talented home cooks. Even then, the quality is unpredictable and regulation of how much one consumes is all but impossible.

Commercially available concentrate products allow cannabis consumption to shift from enthusiasts to casual users. It grows ever-more important to get concentrates regulation right. Colorado’s rules, despite being less than ideal, serve as a model.

E-cigarette liquid is treated like any other cannabis product, taxed under the sales tax-style excise levied in the state. Edible products are regulated to a uniform, 10 mg dose such that a piece of candy or baked good is inter-changable.

All products are labeled with warnings about pacing one’s dosage, and are sold in child-proof packaging. The regulations do have a cost in terms of product variety, but standardization of dosage makes consuming concentrate products in Colorado simpler and easier for casual consumers who don’t have much experience with the drug.

The rise of cannabis concentrates signifies a maturation of America’s cannabis market. The median consumer today in legalized states looks less like Bob Marley and more like my parents. The easier it is to buy the products, the less risk involved and the fewer negative spillover effects of using the drug, the more likely it is that normal people will become consumers.

Concentrates help keep spillover effects down. THC-coated candies sitting in the kitchen won’t make it smell like a growhouse. Despite objections by enthusiasts, cannabis consumption is shifting from being an ordeal involving sketchy figures to an errand between the post office and grocery store.

I’ll take the mundane, concentrate-heavy cannabis market over a market dominated by flower products consumed by the people who would still be smoking if cannabis remained illegal.

Nick Zaiac Nick Zaiac

Nick Zaiac is a public-policy researcher in Washington, DC. He also serves as a policy analyst at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. His column, The DC Leviathan focuses on the often-ignored bureaucratic agencies, from the Department of the Interior to the General Services Administration. He has been published in the Baltimore Sun, City AM, CapX, and other outlets. Follow @NickZaiac.