A visit to one of California’s cannabis dispensaries offers insight into the practical side of marijuana legalization including several cautionary tales for policymakers considering legislation for West Virginia.
From the moment you step in the door, it becomes readily apparent that you are not in your father’s headshop or stoner friend’s garage but instead in a sophisticated business establishment teeming with electronic and armed security.
After a stilted but mandatory identification check you are then ushered through a controlled portal to a showroom where you are greeted with smiles, not from the proverbial girl with kaleidoscope eyes but from a savvy businesswoman with a librarian-type demeanor for sharp detail.
The well-practiced, targeted marketing technique begins with a form of orientation centered on determining your knowledge and experience with three primary products — cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and hybrids of both.
This approach serves to personalize the sales pitch as they introduce a wide range of smoking and edible products that then progresses to a shrewd upselling close designed to empty your pockets of all your cash.
For residents in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized (or, more accurately, decriminalized depending on quantity) the presence of cannabis dispensaries is shrugged off as the lesser of the two evils of tobacco and alcohol sales.
But for out-of-state tourists bent on scoring their first legal stash, several common-sense admonitions apply especially for those intent on traveling back home with a little tucked away for further reference.
First and foremost is that the same legal marijuana you just purchased at the corner dispensary is still very much illegal at the federal level and you are reminded of the fact with signage in several prominent locations before entering TSA screening areas in major airports.
And while one may be lulled into thinking that the laid-back California TSA agent you are small talking with could not care less what you are holding, their companion Fido could be looking for a snack. So, best to legally consume before departure, provided you’ll not be operating machinery or otherwise required to think once you arrive.
In the 18 states and District of Columbia where legal marijuana has been codified, substantial upside has been realized beginning with the purging of criminal records, especially for those of over-represented and historically targeted minorities, and with quality control where unregulated pesticides can be a health threat and environmental hazard.
But the commercialization and consumption of marijuana has also brought about unforeseen pitfalls, as legalization has witnessed an explosion of black-market operations that undermine the economic foundation of legitimate growers who abide by the law.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “as much as 80% of the marijuana sold in California comes from the black market” which means that Prop. 64 not only did not eliminate rogue operations as promised, but also hamstrung state and local law enforcement charged with rounding up illegal operations.
Paradoxically, it has further resulted in burgeoning ecological destruction in desert counties where large-scale illegal farms grow year-round and fuel cartel intimidation of locals, sometimes ending in violence associated with turf protection.
It has also translated into a dramatic reduction of promised tax revenue, too, something proponents and opponents alike had totally underestimated and not foreseen.
Accordingly, West Virginia lawmakers can learn from the experiences and unintended consequences of other states’ entry into the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry and hopefully avoid the difficulties of implementation while still reaping the many advantages of decriminalization.
And as to the tourist enterprising enough to give it a try when traveling to a legal state, don’t make the mistake that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd famously made when sampling the edibles, as that stuff is powerful.
Howard Swint is a Charleston commercial property broker who can be reached at hfswint