What I’ve Learned About Cannabis Since January 2018




The odd thing about working in communications consulting is that you have to be the absolute expert on whatever industry your clients operate in. In my career so far, I’ve obtained an incomprehensible amount of knowledge about the hospitality, tech, pharma and agri-business sectors, that seems a little futile and useless when the client moves on or when I move on. But then I get new clients and suddenly I have a whole new world to immerse myself in.

Currently, I’m doing a large amount of PR work within the US cannabis industry. This is a compilation of interesting points I’ve learned about within the last few months that will probably, someday, be utterly useless to me except for informing my own consumption habits. Some industries I only learn about for the sake of the client, other industries I get personally invested in because they truly make me a believer – and the case of the cannabis industry has definitely been the latter.

It’s not all the same

Even beyond experiencing some ‘good’ and ‘bad’ flower, cannabis comes in a wide variety of molecules which all differ greatly. The main distinction is between THC and CBD. THC is, essentially, what gets you high and produces the psychoactive effect. CBD is the non-intoxicating cannabinoid that effects the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, which are responsible for things like tissue repair and relaxation.

Different combinations of the various molecules and different ratios of THC:CBD will produce different effects. If you go to a dispensary in a US legal market, you’ll be taken around the shop by an employee who will be able to talk you through products, exactly what kind of feeling they’ll give you and why.

Regulation of CBD and THC is completely polarized. CBD is federally legal (likely because it doesn’t have a psychoactive effect) – it can be shipped around nationwide, carried on flights and bought in even the most conservative states. THC, however, is the one that is federally illegal. It can be legalized by individual states but not shipped across state lines. Even where it is legal, it’s not black and white. Some states legalize only for medical use, but not recreational use, which means you’ll need a medical card to access THC. Some of the legalization regulations, for example lists of qualifying conditions, are ridiculous, so people just access weed on the black market regardless. In New York, medical marijuana is legal for an extremely limited number of conditions and from only a few certified dispensaries in the state. What’s more, you can’t get the flower in these dispensaries – only trash like vape pens that cost about $180 and can be bought on the black market for about $40. You see the problem? The limiting conditions for THC in NY haven’t stopped New Yorkers from getting what they want – recent studies suggest that NYC consumes 12 times more weed than Denver (the legal cannabis capital!).

Big Pharma – Big Problems

Legalization is being hindered by the current administration. Proof that marijuana could revolutionize the treatment of nervous system disorders, anxiety and things like chronic pain – even solve the opioid crisis – only makes big pharma more determined to protect their businesses of drug production and provision. If THC were federally legal, think of all of the money they’d lose because people wouldn’t rely on pharmaceutical drugs. So what everyone says is happening is that big pharma is using its position as a big lobbiest with US politicians to keep weed illegal. Jeff Sessions, with his pockets supposedly lined with big pharma money, then announces to the American people that ‘good people don’t smoke marijuana’ (or whatever it was that he said). That’s where the stigma comes from.

In the meantime, big pharma isn’t stupid – it’s in the background researching how to use its fortune to make the best marijuana medical products so that when THC is legalized it can dominate that market too. Currently, these huge companies can’t even get into the game in the individual legal markets because marijuana companies can’t have federal operations. Most of them operate by licensing product design to new manufacturers in each market. Not ideal for big pharma, who operate by manufacturing drugs in large single locations and shipping them nationwide.
If legalization does take place on a federal level, a big concern will be scheduling of the drug. If it has to be put through the FDA, for example, big pharma will probably swoop in and dominate the market, putting smaller players out of business.

Medical Provision and the Issue of Prescription

What are big pharma so busy researching, you ask? Well, probably how to make marijuana an actual prescriptible drug. The reason that doctors don’t/can’t prescribe it now is that they don’t know exactly what will happen to their patients. They also can’t prescribe a dose of marijuana – ‘one joint’ can’t be a medical dosage. It impacts everyone so individually and things like what you’ve eaten that day, breathhold and tolerance have a large impact. People in the industry tend to get preoccupied with legalization and forget that major innovation is needed.

Other issues with medical provision is that marginalized groups are being left behind even in legal markets. For example, even in fully legal markets, someone medicating with cannabis can lose the lease on their home if their landlord says so. They can be disqualified from professional sports and kicked out of corporate America and have their children taken from their care. Even in legal markets its illegal to consume in social housing.

Money Money Money

Similar to the way that big pharma is being excluded from the cannabis game because they operate federally, national banks can’t take cannabis clients. For complex financial regulatory reasons that I won’t pretend to understand, cannabis companies can’t get banks to take their money. So essentially what this means is that, for example in California, there’s a newly legal cannabis market worth about $4billion that operates entirely in cash. I’d imagine those businesses have some high security expenses to guard their duffle bags of money.

The Products to Discover

Prior to working in the cannabis industry professionally, I really did think it was all flower and joints and blunts. And then there was this one time in Amsterdam where I tried a space cake. And I guess I knew about brownies from watching That 70s Show.

But I had no idea about the world and variety of products that existed. The humble joint is still appreciated, but less so. Legal markets have led to insane levels of creativity – we now have cannabis creams that can be applied to the skin for pain relief, nasal sprays that shoot weed into the brain, oral tinctures – which are alcohol-based cannabis extracts that are placed under the tongue. There are cannabis beauty products and bath bombs. Further than that, the edibles market has evolved to infused coffee and beer, candy with no residual taste, entire home-cooked meals infused with cannabis and beyond.

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I hope I get to keep using this knowledge and adding to it for as long as possible – it’s been an adventure.