A friend who follows drug policy is puzzled by this line in a Reuters story about the semi-final rulemaking for Washington’s regulated cannabis market.
Responding to concerns of fueling a black market, the board also clarified that highly potent marijuana extracts,which have gained in popularity in recent years, may be legally sold so long as they are adulterated with at least trace amounts of an inert substance, such as vegetable oil.
Yes, it’s rather hard to figure out what that means, but the reporter – working within space constraints – can certainly be pardoned for not explicating fully. Here’s the story as I understand it:
The Liquor Board faced a legal question and a policy question.
The legal question is whether the initiative-passed statute the Board is supposed to implement, which permits the sale of “useable marijuana” (defined as flowers) and of “marijuana-infused products,” does or does not allows the sale of concentrates such as hashish or “hash oil.” The lawyers for the Board decided that it didn’t. But – as I among others pointed out – that created a definitional puzzle. Clearly, a drop of butane hash oil in a gallon of olive oil would constitute a “marijuana-infused product.” But how about a drop of olive oil in a gallon of BHO? At what magical point does diluted BHO become infused olive oil?
The policy question, at first blush, was whether concentrates are more dangerous than the herbal form. My guess is that the answer will turn out to be “It depends,” – e.g., on the difference between controlled-dose vaporization and dabbing – but we don’t actually know much about either the relevant pharmacology or the relevant consumer behavior. We do know that the number of trips to the emergency room involving cannabis is up about 50% over the past decade, and now runs just under half a million visits a year, so the question of how to prevent cannabis-induced panic attacks does need some attention, and there’s reason to think that preparations and modes of administration that get more THC to the brain more quickly are associated with more risk.
But here again there was a complexity. The Board could ban the sale of concentrates in the stores it regulates, but not in the unregulated quasi-medical market or the purely illicit market. So a ban on concentrates might have slowed the migration of consumers into the taxed and regulated market without much reducing the actual use of concentrates. (That’s the part of the story the reporter was trying to tell.)
Still more complexity: The law allows the sale and possession of up to an ounce at at time of “useable marijuana,” but up to 72 ounces of “marijuana-infused products in liquid form.” That makes sense for, e.g., cannabis-laced root beer, which is mostly water. But 72 ounces of pure BHO could be $100,000 worth, in an easy-to-smuggle package. So if concentrates are indeed going to be sold, the quantity limit ought to be a fraction, rather than a multiple, of the quantity limit for herbal cannabis.
In the end, the Board decided to use the legal ambiguity to punt the policy question. The “one-drop” rule will apply, allowing concentrates to be sold as long as they have some admixture, no matter the how trivial, of something else. In January, the legislature will be asked to amend the law to explicitly allow what can’t be prevented, while imposing a reasonable quantity limit of perhaps five grams.
If I sometimes seem just a tad impatient with those who are “for” or “against” something they call “marijuana legalization” based on abstract general principles, the concentrates story shows why. This sh*t is complicated, people!