[Canniseur: About Washington, California, Nevada, & Colorado States only. Lots of diverse factors and trends drive cannabis markets. If you’re into understanding cannabis market forces, this is a fascinating read.]
As US states have legalized cannabis over the past decade, they’ve created a patchwork of small economies. These economies are governed by divergent state laws and separated by firewalls; not a single gram can legally cross state lines. Unsurprisingly, then, markets have evolved considerable differences even as they’ve developed side by side.
A new report by cannabis data firm Headset explores the differences in price that have arisen across these state markets. Looking at Colorado, Washington, Nevada, and California, the report traces price trends across various product categories.
Where’s the Cheapest Cannabis?
Click to enlarge. (Headset)
Of the four states Headset looked at, Washington had the lowest average price per cannabis product. The aptly named Evergreen State also offered the cheapest average gram in terms of concentrates, pre-rolls, and vape pens. Colorado came in slightly lower on average price per gram of flower, but only by a hair.
According to the Headset data, a gram of cannabis flower runs an average of $4.90 in Washington. That wasn’t always the case. “The first day of legal cannabis sales in Washington state saw grams of cannabis being sold for as much as $30, which is unheard of now,” the report notes.
What’s behind the precipitous drop in price? After all, Washington’s 37% cannabis excise tax is one of the highest in the nation.
“Washington has thousands of distinct cannabis brands, and a ‘tiered house’ market system that gives retailers a lot of power to push back on price,” the report says. “Colorado’s system allows for vertical integration, so even though it has seen prices come down over the years, the brand landscape is less hotly contested.”
And the Most Expensive?
Click to enlarge. (Headset)
If Washington offers the lowest average cannabis price of the four states Headset analyzed, Nevada boasts the highest—by far. The state had the highest average price per gram across flower, concentrates, pre-rolls, and vape pens.
Tourism might account for some of Nevada’s premium pricing. Vape pens, which are particularly popular among out-of-towners and casual consumers, were considerably more expensive in Nevada than in any other state. The average price per gram for vape carts in Nevada was $96—nearly triple Washington’s average of $36.
California reigns supreme when it comes to average product price, although part of that has to do with what products retailers choose to carry. The average item price is $30.90, according to the Headset report, which is more than double Washington’s average of $15.33. Some of the difference is the result of increased compliance costs that came with California’s recent transition to a regulated market. “In California, which just came online in 2018,” the report says, average item price “has actually gone up by $5, but that can’t last forever.”
Click to enlarge. (Headset)
Price trends in non-inhalable products—including infused beverages, edibles, capsules, tinctures, and topicals—were a bit less clear. Headset evaluated price per milligram of THC in these products and found that “price trends don’t mirror the state trends shown in inhalables.” Variance in prices from state to state was also more limited.
Nevada, for example, is still on the expensive side in terms of beverages, edibles, capsules, and topicals—but it had the lowest average price when it came to tinctures. And despite California’s high average item price, the Golden State has the lowest-priced edibles of any state Headset looked at.
[Canniseur: Texas has the harshest cannabis laws in the country. Not only are the laws harsh, but if you’re driving into the state from the west, chances are good that you’ll get stopped for a shakedown. In Texas, you can get pulled over for ‘suspicion’ of speeding, which means that if an officer doesn’t like the way you look, you can get pulled over.]
Texas has some of the most restrictive cannabis laws in the country, but skunky smells are still quite common around the annual SXSW festival. Before you decide whether to partake—or if you’re planning to toss a vape pen into your carry-on—it’s important to know the risks.
If you choose to consume, do so wisely. Here’s a brief rundown of Texas cannabis laws to help you make an informed decision:
Even having a small amount of cannabis in Texas is a crime. Possession of under two ounces is punishable by 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000. Two to four ounces can carry a sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. (Depending on where you are, it doesn’t have to—some jurisdictions have policies in place to allow first-time offenders to avoid jail time. More on that below.)
If you’re bringing more than four ounces to SXSW, you’re playing with fire. Possession of more than that amount is where mandatory minimum penalties kick in. I’ll assume you’re not foolish enough to bring more than four ounces—the festival is only like 10 days long, people—but if you’re thinking about it, consult this chart (and maybe a lawyer).
Careful—that vape pen might seem innocuous, but it could land you in jail for even longer than a joint. Possession of any amount of hash or cannabis concentrate is considered a felony in Texas. A gram or less could land you up to a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison. Yikes.
If you’ve got more than that vape cart, the penalties just keep climbing. Possessing between one and four grams of concentrate carries a sentence of up to four years in prison, while the penalty for between four and 400 grams ranges up to 20 years. (More than 400 grams of concentrate could put you behind bars for life.)
Sharing Is Daring
Puff, puff is one crime in Texas—pass is another. Giving away up to seven grams of cannabis, even for free, is a misdemeanor crime, carrying up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. If you sell up to that amount, penalties double. Sell more than seven grams, and you’re looking at a felony, with penalties ranging up to 99 years behind bars.
And please, please don’t provide cannabis to a minor. Not only is it a bad look, it’s also a felony that carries a mandatory minimum two years in jail (potentially up to 20) as well as a $10,000 fine.
Head shops in Austin carry high-quality cannabis accessories, from dab rigs and e-nails to pipes, bongs, and bubblers. But obviously those aren’t for use with cannabis. That would be a crime!
The good news: Possession of cannabis paraphernalia in Texas is a low-level misdemeanor. Unless you sell it or give it to a minor (don’t do that), it won’t even risk you jail time—though you can face up to a $500 fine.
Enforcement (and Austin)
The scary-sounding penalties described above are worst-case scenarios. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry. In Travis County, where Austin is, prosecutors file thousands of cannabis cases every year. But as anyone from Austin will tell you, plenty of people still consume, and many even do so openly.
One reason for that, arguably, is because some Texas counties, including Travis County, have established programs that allow individuals convicted of low-level cannabis crimes to avoid jail time.
A policy that took effect last year in Travis County provides first-time offenders a way to sidestep criminal penalties. Individuals caught with two ounces of cannabis or less have the option to pay $45 for a four-hour cannabis class. Complete that course within 60 days, and you can forget about jail time. The program also prevents that misdemeanor drug charge from appearing on a person’s criminal record, which can hurt chances of landing a job, securing housing, or pursuing higher education.
If you plan to consume, do it smartly. Avoid busy locations, steer clear of where children are, and try not to draw too much attention to yourself.
Times, They Are A-Changin’
Good news: It’s possible this article will be obsolete by next year’s SXSW. While full adult-use legalization is likely a few years off, a bill currently being considered by Texas lawmakers would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis and replace them with a $250 fine. Only people who are fined more than three times would face misdemeanor criminal charges.
A full list of cannabis crimes and their penalties is available throughTexas NORML
[Editor’s Note: Somehow going to Whole Foods to get an eighth doesn’t seem right. And if that happens, you’ll probably be able to get your eighth from Amazon! Free drone delivery for Prime members.]
Last week, almost out of nowhere, the CEO of Whole Foods Market indicated he’s keeping a close eye on cannabis regulation—and suggested cannabis products could one day show up on the grocery chain’s shelves.
“If cannabis is ever passed in Texas,” he said at a Texas Tribune–hosted event, “chances are good that grocery stores will be selling that, too.”
Mackey wasn’t talking about just hemp-derived CBD, either. When the moderator followed up by asking whether Mackey thought Whole Foods would stock edible insects or pot brownies first, Mackey answered: “Let’s see what happens with the market and the government regulations over time.”
The 65-year-old Whole Foods co-founder is hardly bashful about supporting legalization. He’s on the record supporting it at least as far back as 2013. But if you’re a Whole Foods shopper and can’t wait to tuck some THC-infused coconut oil into your reusable canvas tote bag, don’t get your hopes up just yet.
Could Whole Foods one day stock cannabis products? Sure. But a lot would have to happen between now and then to allow it.
First, let’s look at Texas, the state where Whole Foods is headquartered and which Mackey himself referenced in last week’s discussion. Right now, the only cannabis products legal in that state are low-THC, high-CBD concentrates for use by registered medical patients with intractable epilepsy. Everything else—including hemp-derived CBD, despite its widespread availability—is technically forbidden.
Yes, that could change. In fact, chances are good that it will. But even in the best of scenarios, most observers in Texas agree that adult-use legalization is at least two years away, likely more. The state Legislature meets only every other year, and full legalization isn’t on the docket for this session. The state also lacks the voter initiative process that’s been behind nearly all other states’ successful legalization efforts.
But OK, zoom out from Texas. There are, after all, 10 legal states plus Washington, DC, that allow adult-use cannabis. But even there, markets are so tightly regulated that a splashy entry by Whole Foods seems like a stretch for now. Three of those states—Maine, Vermont, and Michigan—as well as DC don’t yet permit legal sales. And in the others, state regulators have strict limits on everything from advertising to ID checks to in-store security. Are kids allowed in Whole Foods? That could be a problem.
It’s also worth noting that a majority of US states still ban liquor sales in grocery stores. And while cannabis is generally considered far less dangerous than alcohol, it remains far less socially acceptable in most circles.
Change Is Coming
Despite the obstacles, Mackey’s projections may be prescient. While no legal state currently allows grocery stores to sell cannabis, some are considering comparable arrangements. In New York, for example, where the Legislature could legalize as soon as this year, bodega owners are actively working to capture a piece of cannabis sales in an arrangement that could eventually put pre-rolls on corner-store shelves.
And the cannabis industry’s greatest albatross, federal prohibition, may finally be coming to an end. There are multiple bills in Congress this session that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, at least in states that have legalized the drug. Such a move would likely open the industry door to new actors—including, potentially, high-end grocery stores.
Is cannabis actually coming to Whole Foods? Maybe. But likely not before the next superfood has come and gone.
[Editor’s Note: This WHO recommendation is another step in the right direction towards rescheduling cannabis in the U.S. Perhaps 2019 will be the year. Read the whole recommendation letter here.]
International drug treaties have long stood in the way of cannabis reform on the national level. But in newly issued recommendations, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s time to change course on how the United Nations categorizes cannabis.
It’s the latest sign that the world is warming to the health benefits of a plant that for decades has been dismissed as a dangerous drug. Reform advocates around the globe were quick to cheer the news.
“This is the best outcome that WHO could possibly have come up with,” said Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli, the head of research at For Alternative Approaches to Addiction Think & Do Tank (FAAAT), a Paris-based drug policy nonprofit. In a statement, Riboulet Zemouli called the recommendation “a beginning of a new evidence and health-oriented cycle for international Cannabis policy.”
The WHO recommendations call for cannabis and its chemical components to be rescheduled under international drug agreements. They advise that whole-plant cannabis as well as cannabis resin be deleted from the most restrictive category (Schedule IV) in a 1961 international drug convention.
(Unlike the US Controlled Substances Act, which labels the most-restricted drugs “Schedule I,” the UN treaty defines Schedule IV as its most-restricted category and Schedule I the least-restricted.)
The recommendations came in a Jan. 24 letter from WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres. The letter has not officially been made public, but drug reform advocates circulated it Friday. The complete letter is embedded below.
If the recommendations are adopted, cannabis and its resin would instead be designated as least-harmful, Schedule I substances under the UN treaty. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its isomers would also be moved to Schedule I of the treaty.
Extracts and tinctures of cannabis would be removed from Schedule I of the 1961 treaty. Pharmaceutical preparations that contain THC would be placed in Schedule III.
The recommendations also echo prior WHO conclusions that pure cannabidiol (CBD) shouldn’t be scheduled at all under international drug conventions, recommending the addition of a provision that would read: “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0,2 percent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabidiol are not under international control.”
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has issued similar advice, suggesting last year in an internal letter that CBD “could be removed from control” under the Controlled Substances Act. Drug Enforcement Administration officials, however, reportedly advised that the 1961 UN convention would stand in the way of federal CBD de-scheduling.
Adoption of the WHO recommendations could open the doors to further US reforms around CBD. While products containing the cannabinoid are widely available online and at stores throughout the country, their legality is still uncertain.
As for how the recommendations would affect the treatment of THC, well… that’s less clear. Longtime cannabis legalization advocate Tom Angell writes at Forbes that the upshot would be more political than practical:
The practical effects of the changes would be somewhat limited, in that they wouldn’t allow countries to legalize marijuana and still be in strict compliance with international treaties, but their political implications are hard to overstate.
Taken together, recommendations, if adopted, would represent a formal recognition that the world’s governing bodies have effectively been wrong about marijuana’s harms and therapeutic benefits for decades. WHO’s new position comes at a time when a growing number of countries are moving to reform their cannabis policies. As such, a shift at the UN could embolden additional nations to scale back or repeal their prohibition laws—even though legalization for non-medical or non-scientific reasons would still technically violate the global conventions.
For now, the recommendations are precisely that—advice, which has yet to be adopted. The proposals will now go to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, where member nations will vote on whether or not to accept them. It remains unclear how the US will vote.
[Editor’s Note: Finally the truth about the efficacy of Berenson’s research and conclusions is coming out. Yes, there needs to be more research. No, reefer madness is not the truth.]
Maybe you’ve seen the former New York Times reporter who’s been hawking a new book that argues cannabis causes dangerous increases in violent crime, psychosis, and other behavioral and mental health problems.
Many of the scientists whose work is cited in the book, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, have questioned author Alex Berenson’s methodology and conclusions. Other researchers have called his claims “unsubstantiated,” “cherrypicked,” and “phony.” Our own reviewer, David Bienenstock, described the book as “fear and falsehoods in the guise of objective reporting.”
That hasn’t stopped Berenson, who has a flair for self-promotion, from making the media rounds. And many major news outlets have been all too eager to take the bait.
In recent weeks, Berenson’s alarm bell has earned him op-ed placements in both the Times and the Wall Street Journal. He’s appeared Tucker Carlson Tonight and Fox and Friends. Within a week of its publication, he boasted on Twitter, the book was already headed for a third printing.
But despite the scrum of media attention, some outlets are increasingly skeptical. NPR, Berenson tweeted last week, “canceled an interview bc of unspecified concerns on my ‘methodology and conclusions.’” And now the liberal news magazine Mother Jones is walking back its own report based on Berenson’s spurious reasoning.
‘A Whale of a Correction’
Mother Jones went big as Tell Your Children was set to hit the stands. Days in advance, the magazine published a nearly 2,500-word writeup under the headline, “This Reporter Took a Deep Look Into the Science of Smoking Pot. What He Found Is Scary.”
Scary, yes—but maybe not entirely accurate. As a new correction by editors acknowledges, Mother Jones “overstated” the conclusions that can fairly be drawn from the data Berenson cites:
Correction: An earlier version of this article overstated the connection that NASEM researchers found between marijuana, bipolar disorder, and the risk of suicide, depression, and social anxiety disorders. It also overstated the connection between the increasing number of pot users and the number of people over 30 coming into the ER with psychosis; the researchers in that case “did not directly examine whether marijuana had led to any psychotic diagnoses.” A handful of other facts and statements in the piece have been updated for accuracy.
Christopher Ingram, a Washington Post data journalist who covers drug policy, called the update “a whale of a correction to that uncritical look at Alex Berenson’s reefer madness book from earlier this month.” It’s the kind of correction that seems to acknowledge, Yes, we were maybe a little too eager to buy what Berenson was selling.
After decades of prohibition and limits on clinical research into cannabis and its effects, a better understanding of the drug’s potential risks and benefits is long overdue. Most legalization advocates don’t dispute that. And while Berenson’s dire warnings correctly identify areas that need more research—the complexity of the connection between cannabis and schizophrenia, for example, is only beginning to reveal itself—they also wildly exaggerate the drug’s dangers.
Rather than seek to answer questions with intellectual honesty, Berenson appears content to fall back on age-old fear-mongering.
Are there risks to cannabis use? For certain populations, such as children, the answer is clearly yes. But there are also plenty of unknowns that require further research, such as: Does cannabis cause schizophrenia, as Berenson claims—or are people predisposed to develop schizophrenia simply more likely to seek out cannabis? A peer-reviewed study published in Nature Neuroscience last year, for example, found that “individuals at risk for developing schizophrenia” experience symptoms “that make them more likely to start using cannabis to cope or self-medicate.”
These are big and important questions. But rather than seek to answer them with intellectual honesty, Berenson appears content to fall back on age-old fear-mongering—the kind championed by the 1936 film Reefer Madness (originally called Tell Your Children) and specious claims by Henry Anslinger, who led the charge against cannabis in the US during the 1930s.
Anslinger is remembered today as a propagandist who played on people’s fears in order to criminalize cannabis. Most consumers were “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers,” he once said, warning that “makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
He also called cannabis “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
“You smoke a joint,” he said, “and you’re likely to kill your brother.”
As for Berenson? He writes that Anslinger “may have been a racist jerk, but 85-years ago he was right about marijuana.”