People have a lot to complain about when it comes to Washington’s marijuana laws. It’s caused a ton of problems in the first few months of legal recreational sales in WA – causing super expensive retail costs, shortages forcing shops to close, unexpected tax increases costing business tens of thousands of dollars, and less than stellar pot hitting the shelves. Growers received their licenses late, available strains have been limited, and edibles and concentrates were late hitting stores. Overall, the feeling about how things have rolled out in Washington thus far have been that it could have gone much better.
The laws in Washington are strict. If I understand it correctly, the chain of custody goes something like this: marijuana goes from growers to testers, to processors, and then to shops (this may not be entirely accurate, as I’ve had problems finding details online – please leave a comment if this is incorrect). Even the routes between these places are strictly governed and mapped. Shop owners aren’t actually allowed to grow, process, or package the marijuana they sell, it comes pre-packaged from the processors, with the mandatory lab testing results printed on the labels.
Now the vast majority of Washington’s marijuana laws seem to add a bunch of unnecessary bureaucracy to the process. However, when it comes to mandatory lab testing, I couldn’t be more on board.
When it comes to retail marijuana sales, there are two types of customers. You’ve got folks looking for the medicinal benefits of cannabis, which is well documented to help with a huge variety of ailments. With the process of getting medicinal marijuana fairly complex, the opening of recreational marijuana stores makes things quite a bit easier for people looking for relief. The other type of customer is looking for the recreational side of cannabis, and is less concerned with the medicinal benefits.
The wonderful thing about mandatory lab testing is that it actually benefits both of these types of customer. Medical customers can find strains with the ideal amount of THC or CBD to best treat what ails them. Customers looking to just get high can look for higher THC levels. Newcomers to marijuana can look for lower levels of THC until they build a tolerance. Best of all, they’re being forced to do the most important thing anyone buying weed needs to do… learn about what they’re consuming.
Allow me to make this personal for a moment. I’m a medical cardholder in the state of California, and prior to that I was a cardholder in Oregon. In Oregon, dispensaries weren’t legalized until 2013, after I had left. I was dependent upon my cousin, a card holder and caregiver, for my medicine. I had no clue as to the THC content of the medicine I was giving, and was pretty much only able to get what he decided to grow.
Once I arrived in California and procured my card here, I started taking advantage of medical dispensaries and trying to learn about the available medicine, and about THC and CBD. As a novice smoker, I wanted to try to avoid medicine too high in THC to avoid possible anxiety attacks, which I had experienced in the past in Oregon.
Thankfully in California, I was able to talk to budtenders and doctors who were able to steer me towards strains that were able to help with my issues without getting me too stoned or triggering my anxiety. Finally, I was able to find CBD rich strains like Cannatonic, a 1:1 THC/CBD ratio flower, and even ACDC which is 20:1 CBD to THC. However, high CBD medicine is hard to come by, because dispensaries generally want to carry the highest THC content around. After struggling to find a dependable supply of high CBD, I finally wound up visiting Synergy Wellness, a collective that specializes in CBD medicine, and wound up growing my own. That’s another story in itself, I’ll just sum it up by saying I really hate caterpillars.
This brings me to my original premise… that despite all of the downfalls with Washington’s pot laws, there’s one thing that I think is really smart – the mandatory testing of their recreational cannabis.
Let’s be real, as a newcomer to cannabis, learning about marijuana can be very intimidating. You suddenly find yourself surrounded by dozens of strains, Sativas, Indicas, Hybrids, concentrates, tinctures, hash, oils, edibles, and more. The budtenders can be helpful, but there’s a limit to their knowledge, especially if their product hasn’t been tested. Where do you start? Well, knowing what you’re putting in your body is a good way to start.
In my experience in California, only a small percentage of the medicine I’ve seen in dispensaries are actually tested. In fact, I’ve had different experiences with what is supposed to be the exact same medicine. I’ve purchased ACDC (a strain which often tests at less than 2% THC) from one dispensary, and it had absolutely no psychotropic effects. I purchased the same strain from another dispensary, and it definitely made me stoned. Since testing is pretty rare in many states, there’s still a definite sense of mystery to what you’re putting in your body. This may not be much of an issue for the regular pot smoker, but for a novice it’s a pretty big deal. When your medicine has been tested, you have a much better idea about how it is going to effect you. If you’re a newbie, you may lean towards a lower THC content. If you’re a long term smoker, you may want something higher.
Recently in Colorado, pot shops have been offering “Rookie Cookies” to amateur stoners for this exact reason. People new to marijuana (even well educated New York Times reporters like Maureen Dowd) were coming into pot shops and ordering edibles, having no idea what dosing is right for them. Almost everyone who has tried an edible has had an experience where they got way too high for way too long because they didn’t know the correct dosage. This can lead to massive panic attacks, which are tremendously unpleasant. It’s also lead to overzealous calls to ban edibles entirely. This wouldn’t be necessary if more states mandated testing of their medicine so people knew exactly what they were getting themselves into.
Cheeba Chews is an excellent example of this – they provide dosing sizing and information right on their packaging, so you have a very good idea of how many milligrams you are ingesting per serving. Having a visual guideline showing you exactly what 10mg is on a Cheeba Chew is much easier than trying to figure out how much of a cookie to eat, or how much soda to drink. This leads to a more predictable experience and less likelihood of being taken by surprise. In California, I’ve received a few free edibles as a gift for joining a collective, but I’ve always put them aside because frankly I’m too intimidated to try them.
I don’t believe in over-regulating pot, but I do believe in accountability and serving your customers as well as possible. For this reason, I believe the mandatory testing of cannabis is a brilliant idea, and personally I wish more states required it. Sure, it might slow things down a bit, but the potential benefits for customers might just be worth it.
I’m curious how you readers feel about this issue. Do you find the mandatory testing beneficial? Do you care? Is there a down-side to mandatory testing? Does it have a bearing on your buying decisions? Did it help you make the jump into cannabis easier? Let us know in the comments!