I’ve been in Olympia this week working on the Washington State regulation project. (Also hoping to meet with Athena and Aphrodite, but can’t get through to their schedulers. I ran into Apollo, but he just said I should have my demigods call his demigods so we could do ambrosia.)
The Liquor Board staff arranged some visits to producers and retailers in the quasi-semi-legal “medical” market. Very impressive folks, with some serious craft knowledge, in some cases with major data to back it up. The pharmacology still hasn’t caught up with the chemistry; some packages come labeled with THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN (to four implausible significant digits) but there seems to be no agreement on what combinations of chemicals have what effects and how that varies by user. The terpenoids and flavonoids that carry the flavor and aroma either are or aren’t important modulators of psychoactivity; if they are, no one knows precisely how. But consumers now insist on testing and labeling (more for flowers and concentrates than for edibles).
Which leads to the sad story. It appears that one local grower developed a strain sold under the “Purple Urkle” label. It was widely held, by producers and consumers alike, to be truly righteous weed, and it flew off the shelves.
Then the fashion for chemical testing came in. Purple Urkle tested at a mere 7% THC – perhaps twice the THC content of what was called “marijuana” when I was in college, but well below the 12-18% that current products claim (more accurately in some cases than in others). Result: even the consumers who had already experienced and enjoyed Purple Urkle, and had been asking for it by name, wouldn’t touch it. They were so used to the idea that quality is defined by THC content that they didn’t want to smoke what they now “knew” to be weak weed. So the brand more or less died.
In principle, a legal cannabis market could improve consumer satisfaction and safety by delivering products of known chemical composition. But if the heavy users who dominate the market in terms of volume have a prejudice in favor of maximum THC content, the practical outcome could fall well short of the promise.
It would be useful if regulators had a solid scientific basis on which they could tell consumers about the likely impacts on them of using various quantities of various products through various routes of administration. But that scientific basis does not now exist, and it’s not especially “interesting” science in terms of fundability or publication prospects; it’s more like the work that gets done at Pillsbury than it is like the work that gets done at NIH. And of course you couldn’t even think about doing it in this country; even if some IRB would approve it, the monopoly producer of research cannabis at the University of Mississippi couldn’t deliver nearly the quality or variety of material available in any California or Washington State dispensary. [Apparently the First Circuit Court of Appeals can’t be made to understand that “marijuana” is not a homogeneous commodity.]
So if the work is going to be done, it’s going to have to be done in Israel or the UK or the Netherlands or maybe Canada, and it’s going to have to be financed by cannabis advocates rather than health-research agencies. Still seems to me like a high-return investment.