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Legal Weed vs Black Market & Everything In Between

When you hear the term "Legal Weed ", what comes to mind? Do you picture a boutique style store next to a bakery or a coffee shop? A place with tasteful furniture, good lighting, and an ATM? I personally had no idea what to expect when I first started visiting dispensaries, but after a bit of time exploring what the legal cannabis market is like I've become a lot happier with my shopping AND consuming experiences.

Although it varies from place to place, cannabis is still often looked at as a negative thing: a mind altering drug, something dangerous to consume, or a gateway to things much worse. Most of us know that that's not the case but unfortunately there are a lot of people who don't. Most of these people that still believe those things do because they don't have access to the proper education or opportunities to get educated on what cannabis actually is.

A lot of people have never even been introduced to the idea of using cannabis in a medicinal way because they only know what surrounds them. When I say surrounds them I mean things like this: is there access to weed in the area, or as a visitor would you have to know someone to get some cannabis- and meet them somewhere sketchy? A lot of states now have and are opening more dispensaries to give people access to cannabis.

The more pot shops that a state has, the more likely you are to experience cannabis normalization. This is because more people have more access to it compared to somewhere than does not- both legally and illegally. Think about your local area or places you've visited, it varies largely depending on where you go.

I have been consistently consuming cannabis in a medicinal manner (rather than recreationally) for almost four years now. I have lived in 3 different states, all with extremely different rules & regulations when it comes to weed.

I spent most of my life in New England, a place where cannabis is slowly but surely becoming more normalized. If you're 21, you can walk into one of the 113 (& counting) dispensaries in the state with just your ID and some cash to pick out what you'd like. If you look hard enough and you can find cannabis outside of a shop around there as well.

When it comes to places like Georgia and Alabama (more conservative states) I would not recommend looking very hard to find weed around there unless you're willing to risk getting in a decent amount of trouble for it.

And then there's Oregon- you can be driving down the highway and look out either window and there is a fairly good chance that you will see some form of cannabis growing. The state has over 600 dispensaries; Oregon is definitely one of the easiest places to find weed if you're looking. I can't tell you how many times I've been in line at the grocery store or post office and I hear someone talking about some type of cannabis related work. The amount of normalization in Oregon is awesome!

I was raised in Massachusetts, a place where cannabis is widely accepted but not nearly as normalized or accessible as anywhere on the West Coast. I also spent some time in the most southern states of the east coast and central America, where cannabis is NOT widely accepted. I'm sure most of you reading this are aware but for those of you who are not, weed is still very illegal and frowned upon in a lot of places.

I personally had no idea what to expect when I first started visiting dispensaries in Oregon, but after just a short time exploring what the legal cannabis market is like I've truly realized how lucky I am which has helped me become even happier and more passionate about my shopping and consuming experiences. Every dispensary is different but all the same in concept.

After living in Oregon for almost 2 years, the culture shock of how normal the use of cannabis is here is still that- a shock. I have noticed that a lot of people who are born and raised in a place with such easy access to cannabis/ where it doesn't have a negative stigma/ where they've never had to worry about when they're going to find it next or if they'll get in serious trouble for it, don't (usually) appreciate those things.

They have no idea that some of us have never had the chance to choose our strain before. Or even know what we're smoking for that matter..! My strain options were usually something like gorilla glue, purple hindu kush, or a cookies strain. And don't even get me started on the price. OR the amount of times the guy selling it made me uncomfortable and even went as far as to offer a discount in exchange for..... “favors”:…. Unfortunately I can’t remember a time when I picked up like that and had an enjoyable experience.

On the brighter side of things, not once have I ever been to a dispensary and felt uncomfortable or like someone was going to offer for me to do weird stuff in exchange for a discount. And if I ever did, I would probably write a review, stop shopping there, try another local dispensary, and maybe even order my cannabis online to be picked up or delivered to me for as minimal interaction with humans as possible. LOL. It be like that sometimes. In 2021 in Oregon it is almost too easy for you to get your weed even if you don't like talking to people or leaving your house! Meanwhile some people have to dread meeting someone to do anything of the sorts. It’s extremely unfortunate that this is the case but with all the change happening in government and legislation recently, things should start improving and more people be allowed access in the near future.

In addition to not having much variety, choice about price, and meeting a random person, I never had the options to get any edibles. I've seen that people are now making things like lollipops, cookies, and other homemade cannabis treats and selling them on the black/ gray market. I wish I had had this kind of variety back in the day! Fortunately dispensaries in most West Coast states have a wide variety of edibles ranging from basic things like cookies and gummies, all the way to more unique items like pop rocks and marshmallows.

There is such an extreme contrast in these experiences sometimes it feels like it's legitimately two different worlds; when in reality it's basically just a few miles putting distance between everything. Location is obviously a huge part of what determines things like laws and regulations in every capacity because the people that make up the community are the ones that vote on decisions and people with similar views and lifestyle beliefs often gather in similar places.

There are states that allow people to get their medical card through a doctor but don’t have one single place for the patients to buy it. For example, Georgia has 15,000 medical patients but literally not a single place to purchase it. Basically this means that they have the legal right to consume the cannabis they have in their house, but are technically not allowed to buy it anywhere. This is how it is in quite a few states and it’s very confusing for everyone.

There are also states that have a "legal cannabis market" but struggle to keep up with high demand so much so that they have an extremely limited selection, if any at all. There are so many people that want to get their hands on legal cannabis in their state that they’ll spend a lot of time, energy, and money jumping through tons of hoops to get a medical card through their doctor or some sort of state program just to be told there isn’t any cannabis in stock right now..

I can’t even imagine how I would feel having to experience this, but it happens to people all the time. A lot of places with newer medical programs often struggle to keep up with the demand as well as the constant rule changing because of everything being so new. The people in charge are still learning and it’s challenging for everyone.

Something really awesome that happened on November 12th, 2020 is that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (read more about the OLCC in my blog here) joined a program called CANRA that was developed by 19 states with hopes to share institutional knowledge and best regulatory practices. Their goal is to “to assist federal, state, and local jurisdictions that have approved or are weighing legalization of cannabis.”

This will give newly legalized states a huge advantage since they won’t have to go through as many things that those who have already legalized had to to figure out the logistics. (I hate this sentence, so run on but i dont know how to fix) They will be able to see what worked well in states that have already established their market and apply it to/model their own in hopes of running into fewer problems and minimal mistakes as they get started.

Something to keep in mind about the OLCC is that it’s made up of people who don’t really consume cannabis. The commission was made up before cannabis was legalized so it doesn’t really have a specific cannabis branch or advocate that focuses on it. The OLCC does send emails to those who are signed up on their list to notify people of when they are having meetings and allow them to submit comments, questions, and concerns which is good. (Here is the link to sign up for their email list you are interested)

Personally I think that there need to be a specific department in the commission that consumes cannabis regularly themselves, or at least works in the field / has been in the industry for at least a year. I don’t even think that that’s a long amount of time, but it is more than most of those who are on the commission.

We are lucky that there is any commission that makes laws about regulating cannabis at all, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. I am excited to see where the future of the legal cannabis industry will take all of the states in the country, even those that seem so far behind right now. It seems like there is nowhere for places to go but up and that is something to be excited about!

Want to learn more about the rules & regulations of the Oregon recreational and medical cannabis market? Check out my blog talking about it here.

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