PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED IN CANNACONSUMER MAGAZINE
The Governor of Vermont vetoed legislation to legalize cannabis in the state. He stated that he was not philosophically opposed to the idea of legalization however, he wanted to see increased penalties for selling to minors, driving while under the influence of cannabis and an increased commitment to develop taxes and regulations. These themes, along with product safety, are part and parcel to discussions in all states that have legalized cannabis, whether medical or adult use. These issues will continue until the public is comfortable with how the cannabis products are handled, consumers are protected and the public safety is reasonably assured.
I want to state clearly that cannabis is not benign. Consumers can have unwelcome reactions to its use. Drivers can have their ability to operate a vehicle, or engage in other dangerous activities, impaired. Use by children is concerning to many policy makers and citizens. Taxing and regulating an illicit market will not be easy or happen quickly. However, these challenges are being overcome in several states and more will follow.
Consumer safety is being addressed in many ways. Creating a safe supply chain begins with regulations that control the growing, processing ,transportation, manufacturing, testing, storing, packaging and retail sales. Along the supply chain there are many places and ways to raise money for state and local governments to oversee and enforce the regulations. There are also taxes being imposed that are raising millions, and eventually billions, of dollars in revenue to benefit states and local jurisdictions in many ways. Ensuring that cannabis and its products are safe, requires testing for contaminants including mold, mildew, toxins, heavy metals, solvents and pesticides. Failures of these tests will remove dangerous products from the supply chain and give some level of assurance to consumers.Testing for cannabinoids and terpenes will help educate consumers about their reactions to these different constituents of cannabis.
Much is being made about overdoses from cannabis, especially edibles. Retail dispensers, knowing the cannabinoid and terpene profiles, will be in a position to teach cannabis naive consumers on how to consume without going overboard. For experienced consumers, knowledge will provide better understanding of what they are using and what to expect. With time, the public will get more comfortable knowing that it is impossible to take a lethal dose of cannabis. It can be concerning when more is consumed than desired, including children eating edibles, but with time the effects will pass. Poison control calls and trips to the emergence room will decrease as public knowledge increases on the overall safety of cannabis.
Consuming and driving is an area creating public safety concerns. No one wants impaired drivers on the roads, but determining impairment is not like dealing with alcohol. Cannabis is used through the lungs, under the tongue, through the gut, through the skin and by way of suppository. It can take from a few seconds to hours to enter the system and its effects can diminish to non impaired levels within a matter of minutes to hours. Unlike alcohol, it enters the fat system in the body and can slowly be metabolized over weeks. Law enforcement is looking for a portable testing device that can determine levels of active and inactive cannabinoids and laws are being passed to establish “per se” impairment levels of THC and its metabolites. However, science does not currently support per se impairment levels. THC, its active metabolite 11-OH-THC and the inactive metabolite THC-COOH can be present at significant levels hours or days after use, but actual impairment can diminish within minutes. Nevada has set a per se limit of 2 ng/ml in the blood, while Colorado is more common at 5 ng/ml. However, a recent Colorado trial resulted in an acquittal at 19 ng/ml. California has managed to keep any per se levels off the books, but millions are being directed to the CHP and major universities to carefully study how officers can determine in the field whether there is probable cause to believe impairment is present.
Many jurisdictions allow cannabis to be transported in a vehicle, but consuming in a vehicle is problematic. Even if not impaired, the smell of burned cannabis will bring much unwanted law enforcement attention. Don’t smoke in a vehicle and certainly not while driving. Passengers smoking can also be a problem. Best advice is to treat cannabis like an open container and store it securely where a driver can’t get ahold of it. Don’t break more than one law at a time is what I drilled into my kids heads.
Although the illicit market does not check ID’s, the regulated industry will. Selling to underaged people will carry serious criminal consequences. With a physician involved, minors are allowed to use cannabis for medical conditions. Recreational use is another thing altogether and policy makers and citizens do not want minors buying or using cannabis. Expect adult use states to have stiff penalties when it comes to minors. California lowered almost all cannabis criminal sanctions to legal, infractions or misdemeanors. Selling to minors remains a felony and the state will be looking for this. Don’t expect this to change soon so get used to it and don’t do it.
I expect more states to put cannabis legalization on the ballot and more legislatures will be establishing regulated, legal cannabis markets. Legal states are gearing up to fight federal intervention should AG sessions move against legal cannabis at the state level. Legal cannabis is not going away and the states will be struggling for answers to the questions raised by Vermont’s governor, plus more. Cannabis consumption will be safer, but the regulations and taxes will be daunting. Keep kids out of the cannabis market. Although not benign, cannabis is relatively safe, non toxic and not poisonous. Do not drive after consuming until you are sure of the effects and expect more per se laws. As Tiger Woods found out mixing drugs can be a problem, so be very careful with using other drugs or alcohol. My family is out there on the roads and I want everyone home safe. Be a safe consumer and a good citizen.