The Chemovar and the Cultivar

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director and Terpestival Producer

Our popular education panels and keynote talk by Dr. Ethan Russo at the Third Annual Original Terpestival represented an advanced seminar in whole plant education. I am incredibly grateful to and proud of our audience, who came to listen, learn and participate as well as any university seminar I have taught. I want to reflect on the complex whole after the fashion of a reaction paper, which in the formal educational setting is a method for making a short conversation about a substantive and often intense volume of readings or material on a particular topic that is rich with avenues for further exploration and engagement. It’s a way to dip one’s toe in one part of the pool, not to summarize the whole but to represent a recurring theme that has sparked the curiosity of the student.

As the organizer of the popular education content (the seminar leader, if you will), I was especially interested in listening to what people “got,” given the complex information presented, that they can apply to their industry and cultural practices around the whole plant. I have the advantage of having been present and paying attention not only to all of the speaker content for the day, but also our event’s “prologue” — Kevin Jodrey’s Thursday evening talk at the Vashon Grange organized by Shango Los and VIMEA. Seen this way, Kevin and Ethan provided “bookend” lectures for shorter and more collective conversations in the panels. It’s pretty clear that there are two ways of thinking about the plant around which industry evolution will happen: the cultivar and the chemovar.

Before explaining, I want to amplify the response of panelist Rick Pfrommer to a terrific question from the audience, on how to map new terms and better information into a consumer landscape that is already confused by older, less accurate information. In particular, I’m going to allow myself to use the term “strain” in this reaction piece, even though so much of our information throws the viability of the term into question. In his years as the lead wholesale buyer for Harborside Wellness Center in San Francisco, Rick is especially tuned in to the need to be understood, and he emphasized the importance of retaining familiar words in conversation with patients and other kinds of consumers.

The cultivar is the plant, the reality behind the branding that up till now has been problematically assumed to equal “strain.” It’s more than the phenotype, or physical expression of a plant’s genes from seed or clone to processed product. Kevin’s themes were about propagating and growing for terpenes, but perhaps the most eye-opening element for even the most advanced folks who heard him was the assertion that the the cannabinoid and terpene content of a plant is shaped especially by the environment in which it’s grown. This has tremendous implications not only for research on genetics and “strains,” but on the production, branding and marketing of terpene configurations. Your nutrient line matters. Your lighting matters. Your physical geography, if your plants are grown in the sun, matters considerably. A Banana OG “strain” grown in one environment can differ considerably if grown in another. It can even differ considerably if it’s fed a different nutrient line.

The cultivar is the domain of the grower. What we know about it today is what growers communicate about it. In the informal market historical context, that knowledge was highly classified and shared in secret, for obvious reasons. It was limited by the imperative to NOT record, because doing so could catch you a much bigger case, as Kevin found out in the early 2000s. As a result, it’s mostly a matter of oral history, found and lost in the memories of the growers over decades, with few exceptions. Kevin’s decades of expertise are unique in his drive to network together knowledge about cultivation of the plant especially through “strain” hunting, propagation, and crucially, functioning as a nursery from which the identification of cultivars could be matched to market opportunities across the globe.

The chemovar is the molecular composition of given cultivar. It’s the terpene profile plus the cannabinoid profile plus every element of the whole plant that is not inert, like lipids and waxes that give form but do not interact with human physiology when ingested. It’s what Dr. Russo talks about when he talks about the whole plant and how research on it evolves. The research scientist looks into the plant, literally, to engage with the consistency and variability of how people are affected by it. He needs a laboratory and lab equipment — in fact, the chemotype is the snapshot of the chemovar that analytics laboratories produce, with raw material created by the producer and processor. The chemovar is an ensemble of numbers about which considerable possibilities for branding emerge, especially in the Washington legal context where the consumer is not permitted to experience the product’s smell or effect before buying it.

The chemovar is the domain of the scientist. What we know about it today comes from an extremely small number of licensed researchers on the one hand and the databases of cannabis analytics labs, which are absolutely exploding under conditions of legalization but remain really small in comparison of what’s to come. Pioneering researchers like Dr. Russo were able to produce this knowledge under very specific and limited historical conditions. In Ethan’s case, it was his position as lead research scientist for GW Pharmaceuticals, which was one of the first outfits of its kind that were not limited to Federally approved institutions like the University of Mississippi’s NIDA farm. GW itself was created out of a particularly strange arrangement between UK entrepreneurs, outlaw genetics, and philanthropic seed money from the late Peter Lewis, arranged by his nephew Don E. Wirtschafter, the moderator of our panels last Saturday.

The basic concepts are not new, and this was not planned, but the cultivar and the chemovar frame a conversation about the cannabis plant that will shape the branding evolution of the craft cannabis economy represented at the Third Annual Terpestival.

The question itself is important not just for scientific knowledge and better education, but to reconcile the marketing of cannabis with its botanical reality. The marketing of cannabis to this point has predominantly mobilized the discourse of “strains,” usually typologized as indica, sativa, and hybrid. You can see this most prominently in the ubiquitous Leafly posters hung up in most dispensaries and retail outlets in existence.

These two plant identities reflect advancement in the understanding of cannabis as a plant and as a delivery mechanism for entourage effects loosely grouped under the notion of “high” — more properly understood as a highly variable consumer experience than includes therapeutic effects rather than simply recreational drug consumption.

The frames here — from the scientist and from the grower — aren’t contradictory, but they can be confusing for an industry that is already reeling from the reconstruction of knowledge about the plant under conditions of lab testing, a vast and growing array of nutrient lines, and methods for producing cannabis. Under conditions of legalization, knowledge about the cultivar can at last be recorded and advanced considerably with knowledge about the chemovar, outside the barrier to entry posed by global cannabis prohibition. That information is going to be incredibly useful for consumers of all stripes — patients who need to know which chemotype is likely to come from which cultivar so they can get consistent and effective medicine; and adult-use consumers who need to know which chemotype is likely to come from which cultivar so they can choose what kind of experience works for them; and so on.

But it will take an industry that is paying attention to these advancements to deliver the plant itself to the people. The Third Annual Terpestival made a space for that to happen, one which I hope will grow leaps and bounds in the coming years. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who made it possible — the popular educators, the budtenders, the sponsors, the Terpene Tournament entrants, the volunteers, the paid staff, my incredible friends and Board members, and the City that worked with us to make it possible.

 

Terpestival Winners with Confident Cannabis and Medicine Creek Analytics

by Tony Lewis, President and Co-founder, Confident Cannabis

Confident Cannabis are excited to partner with the Cannabis and Social Policy Center, Cannabis Alliance and Medicine Creek testing lab to present the winners of Terpestival 2017! With our Terpestival website you can see the winners and understand terpene data by comparing the competitors to different strains and classifications in the Confident Cannabis Universe. The Terpestival Site linked is HERE.

The Terpestival website opens with a gallery of all the competitors. From this page you can click to see more detail for each entrant including a full cannabinoid and terpene profile from testing laboratory Medicine Creek.

How to Use the Terpestival Website

On the Flower Winners page you can select any competition category using the first dropdown menu. This shows green dots for all the competition entrants. The winner in that category is highlighted in gold, for the Myrcene category the winner was North Coast Grower’s Fruity Pebbles with 1.49% Myrcene of dry weight, congratulations! You can also select a comparison universe to learn more about how common myrcene is in different classifications and strains. In the Comparison Universe dropdown you can select different universes, different classifications or different strains. You can look at the terpene profile for strains like Blue Dream, OG Kush, Sour Diesel and others. The universe shows on the chart as a green boxplot which represents the full range of terpene levels for whatever you have selected.

By changing the chart scale you can also see the data on the chart as a % of dry weight or as a % of total terpenes so that you can see how much myrcene there is in the flower compared to other terpenes in the same flower product. To see even more about the mix of terpenes you can go to “Explore Flower Samples”. On this page you will see a radar chart showing all the terpenes for a competitor and compare them to the same universe. Below you can see North Coast Growers Gorilla Glue which won four awards, congratulations! This competitor has very high caryophyllene and humulene which tend to occur together in cannabis flower. In the chart below we can compare this to Trainwreck which is a very different strain. Trainwreck usually has more Terpinolene and more Myrcene but lower Caryophyllene and Humulene. You can explore yourself to see more!

About Confident Cannabis

Confident Cannabis is the leading software platform for cannabis testing labs and their clients to track and share their products’ quality. When your lab uses Confident Cannabis, so can you! You can then get access to many of these tools and more including embeddable product gallery, labels, shareable test results and fraud-prevention tools. Check confidentcannabis.com to find labs in your region.

 

Introducing the Terpestival Popular Education Panels

by Dominic Corva,  Event Producer and Social Science Research Director

This year’s posts about The Original Terpestival (TM) follow the rhythm of the event’s production. First, we told you about the event. Second, we made our call for entries, explaining the political economy of the entry process — how the entry economy has a politics to it, specifically a politics of wellness. Along the way we described the value we are creating for entrants, who are provided with a vehicle for branding and marketing I 502 cannabis beyond THC and low price. We have also referred to the value created by our keynote and popular education panels, which serve to educate budtenders, consumers, retailers, policymakers and the public (in roughly that order of priority) on the science and economy of the whole plant. We also target producers and processors of course, but that demographic is significantly already educated and acting on whole plant knowledge.

Today begins a short series on the theory and practice of our keynote and education panels. I thought to write just one, but really there’s quite a bit to talk about and I want to keep these missives digestible.

I first wrote about the education work that can be done in cannabis events in August, 2014, for The Ganjier. This was barely a year after founding CASP, and inspired by the network of highly conscious cannabis events I had been pulled into over the previous few years doing research on policing and cannabis agriculture. I had been speaking at Seattle Hempfest since teaching a course on Cannabis and Society for the University of Washington’s Law, Societies and Justice Center in 2009, but once my cannabis research began in earnest I found myself participating in some key Southern Humboldt/Emerald Triangle events that combined popular education with industry evolution. These included the the last Emerald Cup before it moved to Santa Rosa and got huge, produced by Tim Blake; The Golden Tarp Awards produced by Kevin Jodrey; and also Kevin’s Spring Planting event.

What struck me was how these events successfully created spaces of intense interest from industry, to listen and learn, even with all the fun and games going on. The intent of the producers to create knowledge that was Useful coincided with the industry’s organic compulsion to seek out Necessary Knowledge, because things were changing fast. Humboldt’s watersheds were drying up, prices were crashing, and new industry players were colonizing a real estate landscape that was developed earlier by much more ecologically conscious “back to the land” and eco-anarchist groups. The Redwood Curtain was being ripped away in a process of creative destruction that could not be ignored. And it was all being catalyzed by a tectonic shift in public policy, away from punishment and eradication and towards especially environmental regulation and later, tax revenue collection.

What I learned from my journey was that if cannabis culture was to survive the policy shift to “tax and regulate,” it would require a lot of work by cannabis culture to make itself Useful and Necessary for the legal industry future. It had to create ways for new players, market participants, and consumers to do cannabis capitalism differently than commodity capitalism, which would otherwise simply destroy and replace the anti-authoritarian, ecologically conscious social movement that made it possible.

But the Washington context was, and remains, quite different from the California context, which focused on best growing and extraction processes, environmental issues, and regulatory genesis. Before I 502, our sun grown cannabis agriculture was dwarfed by its urban counterpart along the I 5 corridor. Our regulatory genesis was driven first by the politics of rights, and then later by the alcohol regulators tasked with literally replacing our decentralized, largely indoor economy, on the one hand; and imports from British Colombia (which largely ended in 2006), Oregon, and California on the other. Most significantly, our state made the choice to regulate cannabis like alcohol, rather than like cannabis.

The “like alcohol” crowd created new barriers to entry and participation that meant the new industry couldn’t take up the Whole Plant and conscious consumer politics associated with traditional cannabis culture in Washington. They took the cannabis out of the jars and sealed them into little packages with THC content on the labels, the only information besides how pretty the package was for consumers to go on; and disenfranchised medical products by alienating medical consumers through a mandatory registry and by closing down the broadly accessible system that had developed under medical cannabis. I don’t mean to reproduce moral outrage for something that has happened and isn’t going to be restored. The facts presented here explain how our industry got evolutionarily “stuck” and how our keynote and popular education efforts create Useful and Necessary Knowledge for stymied industry growth through evolution.

This meant that producers and processors didn’t have much to differentiate their product on the marketplace, on the one hand, especially through smells, samples, and sharing; and that efforts to produce medical products, including but not limited to CBD-rich products, could not be profitable enough to pursue. The game was THC monoculture, low prices, pretty packaging, and high volume.

The problem with THC monoculture isn’t simply a moral one. It severely limits the ability of producers and processors to compete in the marketplace, since they are all chasing the same market variables. And it severely limits the ability of retailers to reach a significant existing market, medical consumers; as well as to create a strong new consumer base more interested in the “wellness” aspects of cannabis consumption than how high they can get (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). These include but are not limited to: retirees, veterans, athletes, children with epilepsy, and people who want to explore ways of dealing with pain beyond pharmaceutical medicine with often horrific side effects including addiction. The future of the legal cannabis market is much broader and highly differentiated than the I 502 present.

But it won’t be if our most knowledgable and innovative producers and processors go out of business because they can’t win the race to the bottom. Thanks in large part to the pioneering lifework our keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo, they don’t have to. Producers and processors can compete in a diverse marketplace especially by highlighting the incredibly diverse ways that terpenes and terpene profiles deliver cannabinoids to many, many different endocannabinoid systems — many of which are not made well by THC. While the Terpene Tournament (TM) showcases industry evolution, our keynote and panel speakers provide the scientific, technical, and expert information necessary to stimulate market growth and consumer preference for diversity.

There are three panels, two of which are annual in the sense that they address ongoing topics associated with a popular education focus: branding cannabis with the politics of wellness, by populating and popularizing the value of terpenes in the production of the “entourage effect” coined by our keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo. This stands in contrast to a monocultural focus on the cash value of lab-reported THC, which we see as the cultural foundation of the current regulated market.

Let’s take a look at the panels and then follow up in the coming days with a post that more thoroughly introduces our speakers and their specific topics.

Our Industry Evolution panel addresses constituent parts of industry so that they may prosper by valuing wellness. The purpose of this panel is to catalyze the evolution of Washington’s legal cannabis industry by featuring the Subject Matter Experts with deep historical and ongoing perspectives not readily available in Washington State. Our speakers are Kevin Jodrey of Wonderland Nursery and the Ganjier; Rick Pfrommer of Pfrommer Consulting, former lead buyer for Harborside Health Center; Aaron Stancyk of our lab sponsor Medicine Creek Analytics; and our Terpene Tournament (TM) Judges’ Coordinator, Alison Draisin of Ettalew’s Medibles.

Our Current Topics” panel will change each year. This year’s addresses an emergent industry phenomenon, the market for Cannabis-derived and other TerpenesThe purpose of this panel is to educate industry and the public on different perspectives and techniques emerging as industry “takes on” terpenes to create and market products. Our speakers are Ben Cassiday of True Terpenes, Kate Quackenbush of I 502 processor Fractal, , Pam Haley of Aromatherapy Consulting and I 502 producer/processor Pam’s Plants; and Jeremy Plumb of Farma, The Cultivation Classic, and the Open Cannabis Project.

And of course, our Terpenes and Wellness panel addresses the science and practice of cannabis-facilitated wellness. The purpose of this panel is to hear from medical experts how terpenes are used in the clinical setting.  Retention of the terpene fraction may influence the overall effect of the product used. Examples from patient will be presented. The speakers on this panel are: Dr. Michelle Sexton, co-founder and Medical Science Research Director for the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy; Seattle pediatric physician Dr. Hatha Gbedawo, and keynote speaker Dr. Ethan Russo.

The information provided by our subject matter experts create strong roots for another foundation to be possible: wellness. We understand wellness in terms of an ecology in balance, a condition of physical well-being that is reproduced by the health of the social system in which our bodies are embedded. Stay tuned for a more in-depth introduction to our speakers in the coming days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Alliance of Cannabis for Wellness

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

The cannabis peace movement faces many challenges, but perhaps the most significant one is the limited appeal of cannabis politics to the vast majority of a population that could literally take the plant, or leave it. The Cannabis Alliance, and the organizational work from which it was born, has always been a broad-based, bottom-up effort to broaden the appeal of cannabis issues and markets to society. It’s not just another trade group, it’s a coalition of different individual issues and interests that understands we are stronger together, working for collective empowerment from the bottom-up. We’ve had two major political frames to work with: cannabis provides medical benefits, and cannabis provides economic benefits. Up to this point, medical benefits have been mostly understood in terms of helping the sick; and adult use in terms of helping the economy (including freedom to consume).

These powerful political frames have moved us considerably towards a goal of helping society make peace with the plant, which is the central mission of my nonprofit research organization, the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy (CASP).

Today I want to introduce a political frame that encompasses physical sickness, financial security, and so much more, to help society understand that our struggles connect with broader public interests in a positive way. I want to talk about the cannabis and the politics of wellness, a frame of reference that includes everyone, not just cannabis patients and entrepreneurs. If there is a common ground for an society in which the struggle to exist has led to generalized competition over whose suffering must be addressed, I believe that it must be the concept and practice of wellness.

Medical and adult-use cannabis have been deliberately pitted against each other in a way that overwhelmingly stifles the growth potential of our newly regulated cannabis industry. It does this by unnecessarily posing a tension between protecting public health from a controlled substance, and creating a new industry that can provide jobs and opportunities in a landscape increasingly bereft of both.

Wellness is about diet, exercise, mindfulness, and the regulation of stress. The promotion of cannabis for wellness transcends that tension by posing cannabis use and markets in a positive, inclusive way. Everyone wants to be well, and most people understand that the cultivation of wellness requires developing healthy habits that keep us from being sick and unemployed. An industry that learns about and draws attention to the ways that cannabis can help us be well is one that appeals to a broader public, and a more diverse and conscious consumer base.

My organization’s annual fundraising event, The Original Terpestival, is designed to promote efforts to brand cannabis with the politics of wellness. The consumption and marketing of cannabis as a delivery vehicle for THC is one of the obstacles to broader considerations of the whole plant and its many ways of helping people be well. The event encourages other ways of relating to the plant by focusing on the “delivery” mechanism for cannabinoids, terpenes. Terpenes are essential oils found in all plants, not just cannabis, that can contribute significantly to feelings of wellness beyond the relief of pain associated with cannabinoids.

We know this because our annual keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo, president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, has pioneered the application of aromatherapy research to cannabinoid research. This opens up a world of possibilities for associating cannabis with wellness, but that message needs a delivery vehicle itself — or a fleet of delivery vehicles. That’s where industry comes in. The newly legal cannabis industry faces many challenges associated with what I call THC monoculture, in which a single molecule category dominates both market promotion and public health-related regulations.

The promotion of Terpene education transcends these limitations by promoting the diversity of the plant and its applications — the opposite of monoculture. And an industry that understands that diversity is an industry with a broad, growing consumer base oriented towards broad-based wellness, a political frame that expands knowledge about the therapeutic potential of cannabis while growing a robust and conscientious consumer base. Our popular education panels and keynote promote wellness in the cannabis industry by giving the cannabis industry information that promotes its economic health.

Our delivery vehicle for this information is out Terpene Tournament, a boutique cannabis competition that literally gives the industry new ways to differentiate, create, and market products for a more conscious public.

We are proud to partner with the Cannabis Alliance in this effort because this has always been common ground for our organizations. It is an organic extension of social relationships I have been developing since founding the organization in 2013. Lara Kaminsky, the Alliance’s executive director, is not only a CASP Board member but our event planner. We’ve worked together to promote the emergence of healthy cannabis policy and markets practically since the moment I returned to Seattle, along with many Alliance members that constitute the CASP information and organizational network. Together we form an entourage effect greater than any particular interest or issue facing the cannabis peace movement today.

Together, even when we are sick, tired, poor, and stressed out, we are WELL. This realization helps me get up every day, grateful for my social ecology, and determined to carry our message forward.

Taming THC Inflation: Is There a Silver Bullet?

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Washington State’s approach to cannabis legalization provides many lessons for other states coming on line in the future. One of the really state-specific lessons we have learned over the last four years is that we have created a situation in which measured THC levels on packaged flowers are much higher than those observed during the period of unregulated medical cannabis markets. There are actually two significant problems with this. Please note that this analysis refers specifically to flowers — processed cannabis products can and usually are homogenized in the process, so test results are less of a concern.

  1. High THC levels, which approach and sometimes exceed what is botanically possible, are inaccurate and misleading.
  2. Labs that consistently deliver higher THC results than other labs “corner the market” since higher results make products more likely to sell, under Washington’s particular approach to legal cannabis packaging.

Both of these problems create suboptimal public policy results, with respect to scientific accuracy, on the one hand, and unfair market advantage for untrustworthy labs on the other. Let’s take them one at a time, before examining a simple, completely technical approach that could virtually eliminate these problems.

Suspiciously high THC results can be the consequence of intentional and unintentional behavior or decisions by producers, processors, labs, and rule makers. There’s no reason to point fingers when there are so many factors contributing to this outcome. Instead, let me list a few.

  1. Consumers that are not allowed to sample or smell the product they purchase, due to packaging and retail display rules, are deciding what to buy on very little information. Adult-use consumers clearly show a preference for high THC numbers, which are required numbers found on each package. And like consumers of other products, they are swayed by clever and attractive packaging, which has no inherent correlation to the quality of the product inside. Most packaging provides a fairly limited window to observe the “bag appeal” of the product inside. In fact, “bag appeal” in these conditions refers significantly to the appeal of the bag, not what’s in it, because that all they can see. This is an unintentional outcome of strict packaging and display rules, and there is no reason to suspect foul play. It’s structural, not the outcome of bad intent.
  2. Labs, by rule, have one broad direction with respect to how they go about testing product. They are instructed by rule to follow the guidelines laid out about cannabis in the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. These guidelines were not designed to standardize lab methods in any particular direction. So, Washington’s labs have each independently arrived at how they follow those guidelines. This is also a structural problem, and to their credit many of Washington’s labs have begun collaborating to develop “best practices” to help standardize methodologies.
  3. Lab reference standards — the individual cannabinoid samples they use to compare industry products in order to arrive at numbers — can vary for a number of reasons. Most labs source these from Restek, but there are other suppliers out there. This can introduce variability for obvious reasons. Some non-obvious reasons for reference standard variability include how those are stored, and how long they are used before they are replaced. The temperature and pressure at which reference standards are stored contribute greatly to the their stability. And of course labs may vary in how long they go before replacing “used up” or unreliable standards, for intentional and unintentional reasons. This introduces a lot of potential variability in test results across labs. It is a structural problem faced in any laboratory industry that tests products using chemical reference standards. It could be improved, but not likely eliminated. Here is where the lesson that scientific methods are not perfect, but they can be more transparent.
  4. Cannabis plants are highly variable from top cola to bottom buds. This is a problem of sampling a product that is not uniform. It can be a little helpful to require independent, third party samplers. But even when that happens, the plant is highly variable. It’s a plant, not an industrial product. This is a structural problem, but more of a structural problem for science in general rather than our particular approach to cannabis regulation.

There are other factors that influence the variability of THC lab results, but the lesson is: THC results can be precise, but how accurate they are always an open question. Precise THC numbers are always a guide, not a guarantee. It is absolutely crucial that consumers and policymakers understand this limit. Now, the problem of market capture via THC inflation.

  1. How do producers and processors choose which lab to use? There are many business decisions to make when choosing labs. These include convenience, professionalism, and consistency — but as Dr. Jim MacRae’s work has shown with a high degree of methodological confidence, it’s pretty clear that producers and processors are choosing labs based how high their THC results can be. One caveat: producers and processors are clearly behaving badly when they agree to pay labs more for higher numbers.
  2. Producers and processors are making market decisions when they do this. As mentioned above, THC levels correspond with product velocity and therefore more sales. They may be perfectly aware that this is unfortunate, but they also know that the precision of lab results does not necessarily reflect accuracy in any case. So, given the choice of more sales rather than less, they choose more. I call this a structural problem, although there is certainly an ethically questionable element. Some producer/processors want to evolve consumers away from the importance of precise THC numbers, and choose the more challenging road because they have a long-term vision of the industry in which they operate.
  3. Labs are making market decisions when they choose to follow methods that result in higher THC numbers, AND labs are making unethical decisions when they receive payment for higher numbers, for example, or intentionally introduce methodological variations that favor higher results. We have also encountered the “drylabbing” phenomenon in Washington State, whereby labs literally just make up numbers to report. That’s way beyond the pale, and one lab has already been shut down for this. Other labs that may have done this in the past have cleaned up their act.

 

So, how do we tame THC inflation? Obviously, improved governance has some effect — and that governance includes the public reporting work that Dr. MacRae has done, which has clearly had a strong effect on lab motivation to not look bad. Every lab test result in this state is public information, and any public servant with database skills can request WSLCB data and run the numbers themselves.

However, there is a “silver bullet” technical fix that could absolutely clean up most of the mess. Here it is.

Normalize lab results by lab, and require only the percentile of each result to be listed on the package rather than a precise percentage.

Each lab has its own data population and range of results. For all of the reasons listed above, the numbers they produced are not comparable across labs; nor are they comparable across time (hello, life cycle of reference standards).

For a lab that consistently ranges up to 32% but no higher, for example, a sample that tests at 32% would be reported at the 100th percentile. The number on the package would be 100.

For a lab that consistently ranges up to 25%, a sample that tests at 25% would also be reported at the 100th percentile. The number on the package would also be 100.

Doing this changes the comparisons away from apples to oranges (how we are doing it now), and towards apples to apples.

Simply doing this would eliminate shopping for the highest THC prices immediately. Producers and processors could then make decisions on what lab they used based on best business practices and convenience, rather than unscrupulous behavior.

It would take a simple line of code in the tracking software, and a small shift in packaging information. It would also of course need to by dynamically updated, perhaps by using only the last 100 results. New laboratories would use the industry average for 100 results, and then once they had significant data from their own results switch over.

Listing a normalized percentile instead of a precise quantity would also help shift consumer and policymaker understanding of what lab results mean and how they are used. They should be use primarily to indicate that something is strong, qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, because again, cannabis flowers are variable and precise numbers do not mean accurate numbers.

That’s it. It’s an immodest proposal — an actual silver bullet based on understanding how statistical variability influences market outcomes, and therefore provides “loopholes” that reward unethical behavior.

I want to thank Dr. Jim MacRae especially for making this issue one that the industry and policymakers can’t ignore any more. He’s got his own style for doing so, but you can’t argue with his methods which are absolutely testable by any citizen-scientist that cares to. Fortunately, his work has been amplified by two cannabis journalists whose approach makes it a bit harder for people to ignore, Bob Young of the Seattle Times and Tobias Coughlin-Bogue of Leafly.

Enter the Terpene Tournament

by Dr. Dominic Corva, Terpestival Producer and Social Science Research Director

Example Certificate of Analysis from Medicine Creek Analytics, including full range of terpenes that will be analyzed by the lab (and thus included in “Total Terpenes” award).

Eventbrite tickets to the event here.

 

This year’s Terpene Tournament (TM) has been carefully designed to maximize entries and minimize costs to entrants. Let’s review the logic of our unique, entrant-friendly competition!

Many categories instead of few

The emergence and prevalence of terpene testing for Washington’s legal cannabis market allows us to diversify our award categories without diluting the value of each award. The whole cannabis plant is incredibly diverse, thanks to several decades of highly decentralized experimentation within North American cannabis markets; with a relatively common gene pool that was distributed historically through Amsterdam-based seed banks and breeders. That sentence itself would be the subject of a whole other essay (or series of books, really), and the geography of cannabis hybridization has certainly decentralized in the last ten years. The point I want to drive home is that while breeders focused especially on potency, they were also  focused on finding different, overpowering smells and tastes.

What consumers demanded was not only high THC, but “loud” cannabis. At our first Terpestival, Wonderland Nursery’s Kevin Jodrey remarked that he now understood his own market-making journey as primarily a practice of “hunting for terps.” There are more complex layers to what this means besides looking for loud and unique terpene expressions for national and global markets, but perhaps most importantly this insight complicates the dominant narrative of black market cannabis as one strictly focused on maximizing THC. THC-maximization, prior to the widespread availability of actual testing results, really refers to potency maximization.

And potency maximization isn’t just about THC quantities and/or minimizing CBD presence, which also complicates the question of what potency is or does. Terpenes are the delivery vehicles for cannabinoids: potency expression and type vary greatly by the ensemble/entourage of terpenes that “carry” cannabinoids to receptors. So, on the one hand, potency maximization (how much cannabis hits you) depends on terpene quantity and quality. And potency type also varies by terpene quality, of which “uplifting” and “couchlock” are two common examples.

This observation unsettles a basic foundation upon which cannabis markets — or marketing, really — have been founded for quite some time. Cannabis doesn’t come in two types, “indica” and “sativa,” commonly associated with “couchlock” and “uplifting” in every legal retail store and medical dispensary up and down the West Coast for the last decade. Briefly: the uplifting tone of “sativa”-branded cannabis primarily comes from the dominance of pinene; and the “couchlock” tone of “indica”-branded cannabis comes from the dominance of myrcene. And there’s way more to it than those two terpenes and those two effect qualities. We know about this in no small part through the work of Dr. Ethan Russo, our keynote speaker, and his extension of aromatherapy research principles to cannabis.

Which is why we don’t just have two categories, myrcene and pinene. Our categories reflect the available resources and capabilities of our lab partner, Medicine Creek Analytics. Different labs have different capabilities with respect to detecting and measuring terpenes, which undoubtedly will be a factor in how the legal market accommodates and standardizes terpene diversity in the years to come. We have chosen 8 terpenes that are fairly common across lab testing capabilities as our foundational award categories: alpha-Pinene, Myrcene, Limonene, Linalool, Beta-caryophyllene, Terpinolene, Ocimene, and Humulene.

There are five more categories: Total Terpenes, THC and total terpenes, CBD and total terpenes, Most Broadly Therapeutic (closest to 1 THC: 1 CBD plus total terpenes), and Judges’ Choice. In the next section, I describe how all these categories follow an objective and transparent methodology involving quantitative and qualitative stages.

The Path to Winning a Category

The path to winning a category starts with Medicine Creek Analytics‘ quantitative results. The top three “quant” scorers in each category are grouped as a competition field, after which they are evaluated by our Subject Matter Experts qualitatively to establish a winner. The judging process, coordinated by seasoned global cannabis competition expert Alison Draisin, does not try to judge entries based on what terpene is their category.

The subjective, qualitative aspect of the process takes over once the objective, quantitative aspect establishes the field. This is because cannabis quality is inherently subjective, given not only material variation in the cannabis itself but variation in each consumer’s individual biology and psychology. This fact challenges efforts to standardize how cannabis is marketed and branded, considerably. We aim to help the industry evolve not only by establishing quantitative methods for branding purposes, but for understanding variance and diversity of cannabis consumer markets — all of which can be captured by focusing on subjective consumer experience, as well as objective terpene presence.

So: each entry gets a terp test from our sponsoring lab, the Puyallup Tribe’s Medicine Creek Analytics. The top three alpha-Pinene scorers, for example, then go to our judges, who have been carefully curated by our judge coordinator, Alison Draisin, for their palate expertise. This doesn’t mean they will all taste and smell the same thing. It means they are qualified by experience and vetted by Alison, who is a veteran of numerous cannabis competitions around the world and locally due to her historical participation and flourishing medical cannabis business, Ettalew’s Medibles.

Each entry may qualify for multiple categories. A top-three Myrcene scorer, for example, is highly likely to be a top-three Total Terpene scorer, given the predominance of Myrcene in contemporary cannabis cultivars. Having lots of categories opens up space for entrants with unique or less-common terpenes to win, too. And we have created categories that combine Total Terpenes with cannabinoid ratios, because although cannabinoids are de-emphasized in our Tournament they are still part of the Whole Plant and important to recognize.

The last category, Judges’ Choice, isn’t just a consolation category for entrants that don’t make a quantitative cut. The fact is, quantitative testing can’t 100% confirm or correlate with terpene volume or quality. There are a lot of reasons for this, but perhaps most obviously, trace terpenes — those minute amounts that labs don’t test for because they are so small — can make an enormous difference. And sometimes cannabis that doesn’t test well, for whatever reason, can smell and taste incredible. That’s a limit to establishing an objective methodology to evaluate a subjective experience. The numbers never tell the whole story, because they represent an incredibly complex plant interacting with incredibly complex human biologies and psychologies. That’s the story of the Judges’ Choice, and perhaps the story of learning how to reach markets with quantitatively modest cannabis.

User-friendly Tournament Entries

The I-502 legal cannabis system allows us to do something most competitions can’t, fairly easily: reduce and minimize the actual cost of entering the competition. Many don’t realize that the cost of entering a cannabis competition includes not only the entry fee, but the opportunity cost of handing over a quantity of product sufficient to be judged, usually a few hundred dollars’ worth of product that could otherwise be sold. That opportunity cost is minimized in our competition because we only require QA samples to be submitted before the three-product field is established — at which point entries have a 1 in 3 chance of winning, rather than a 1 in 100 chance of winning.

Once the Tournament fields are established, entrants will submit one ounce of flower or 14 grams of extract manifested legally through the 502 system for qualitative judging. Those entries must correspond with the lot or batch number associated with the State’s seed-to-sale system, or they will be disqualified. Once they have qualified for 12 of our categories, entrants will receive instructions on how to proceed. The thirteenth category is optional and open to all entrants who have not qualified based on test results. This allows entrants to decide for themselves whether to part with the market value of their entries.

The Terpene Tournament (TM)

That’s it! We hope this description of our Tournament provides transparency and education for interested parties. Over the next month or so, we will be accepting flower and solventless extract submissions, the total of which are capped at 100. To enter, simply provide a QA sample with to Medicine Creek Analytics in Puyallup; a Terpestival Entry Form and your $250 per entry in either cash or check made out to CASP, which can be delivered in person or sent to

CASP

6701 Greenwood Ave N

Seattle, WA 98103

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me, Dominic Corva, at my email address dominic@caspcenter.org. Thank you, and good luck!

 

 

The Third Annual Terpestival

by Dr. Dominic Corva, Terpestival Producer and Social Science Research Director

The Cannabis and Social Policy Center is proud to announce the third return of our annual popular education event, the Terpestival (TM). It will take place July 15, 2017, at Sodo Dockside, in partnership with the Cannabis Alliance and Medicine Creek Analytics. Let’s review its key elements!

  1. The Terpestival is a Whole Plant, Whole Society popular education event with particular relevance to industry, consumers, policymakers, and the general public that benefits from conscious approaches to cannabis production, processing, retail, consumption. We use one constituent element of cannabis, terpenes, to promote a wider understanding of what cannabis is and how it can be part of wellness promotion in society.
  2. The cannabis plant is incredibly diverse, not just because there’s more to it than cannabinoids, of which THC and CBD are the most well-known, but because there’s so much more to the plant within these two major constituent elements. The “whole plant” entourage effect of cannabis varies across terpene categories and clusters, each with unique potentials for therapeutic effect. Even the trace terpenes can cause a significant difference in smell, taste, and effect. Think about the difference between “lime” and “lemon.” Both derive citrus flavor and smell from limonene, but what makes lime so distinctive is its combination with minor terpenes that may not even show up on a lab test.
  3. Educating the public about the whole plant through the lens of “terpenes” not only promotes wellness in the public interest, but substantially opens up the field of possibilities for industry branding and marketing. The public and the private interest intersect strongly for our event, and we aim to capture industry as a vehicle for promoting wellness as a result. It’s not just good to know “what else” about cannabis than cannabinoids. It’s good business sense. We see the nascent legal industry struggling to differentiate their products for a number of reasons, but in particular because there’s only so far a THC or CBD score can go to appeal to consumers. This is especially the case in Washington’s legal market, where consumers can’t smell or experience what they are buying until after they are out the door.
  4. Thus, our terpene “tournament.” Historically, cannabis competitions don’t have a lot of categories to work with beyond product type and cannabinoid ratio. Many of the more forward-looking competitions provide categories that reflect how cannabis is grown — in the sun or indoor, for example. This is a welcome step away from a monocultural market that reflects decades of black market commodity chains, to which the new legal markets still cater! The legal cannabis consumer is by definition potentially very different from the traditional cannabis consumer, and the industry is blocking itself by not promoting diverse cannabis experiences to a more diverse and broad potential consumer market.
  5. We prefer the term “tournament” to “competition” because we aim to lift up and empower diversity in cannabis values rather than singular value. It’s not just a matter of giving everyone an award — though the more of these, the better. Rather, there are so many different ways cannabis can be valuable to the people that sell it and the people that buy it. The more different ways cannabis can reflect diverse botanical value, the more likely it is that its economic benefits can be widely realized by cottage industry and small businesses. Category champions in the tournament will be empowered to brand distinct values for market success.
  6. The tournament’s value depends on the strength of our popular education programming. We are incredibly grateful to plant a flag on our annual keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo, one of the world’s most accomplished cannabis scientists and all-around plant person. His talk alone is worth the price of admission and adds profound legitimacy and credibility to the terpene tournament associated with his talks.
  7. But we don’t stop there. Dr. Michelle Sexton, our organization’s Medical Research Director and clinical researcher, is a world-class whole plant specialist. The event is in many ways a showcase for her incredibly valuable contributions as a cannabis scientist and public intellectual for the whole plant.
  8. Drs. Russo and Sexton are the foundation upon which our subject matter expert panels stand. This year, we have three panels designed to evolve the I 502 cannabis industry towards the promotion of wellness in society. Dr. Sexton herself curates the “Terpenes and Wellness” panel, which includes Dr. Russo, Dr. Hatha Gbedawo, and Virginia Hoyer. We will describe the panels in more detail in a forthcoming post, but the other two address “Industry Evolution” as it relates to terpenes; and a contemporary issues panel with an annually rotating theme. This year that theme is “Cannabis-derived and Other Terpenes.”

We are incredibly excited for this year’s event, and look forward to posts about our tournament methodology and categories; judging process; detailed panel descriptions with our already-booked world class Subject Matter Experts; and more.

 

Spicer’s Press Statements on Legal Cannabis: Don’t Panic

 

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Yesterday’s White House press conference comments about the Trump Administration’s approach to legal cannabis sent the cannabis press into a frenzy of fear, anger, and a little hysteria. A superficial reading of Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments signaled the first clearly negative tone about Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement against State-legal cannabis/marijuana experiments, but let’s take a closer look at what he actually said and add some context to defuse some of the hysteria about a “crackdown” while pointing towards what it actually might mean.

The first thing to notice is that Spicer said nothing about enforcement against State legal cannabis based on Federal conflict. Rather, Spicer echoed Jeff Sessions’ earlier comments about whether the 2014 Cole memo itself was being enforced, and consistently referenced existing policy structures at the federal level. Further, the question he was responding to was from an Arkansas reporter concerned about Arkansas’ recent medical cannabis legislation. It’s clear this response was meant to reassure Arkansas, which is why Spicer really didn’t say much new about recreational cannabis.

He begins by making a distinction between medical and recreational cannabis, highlighting a general Administrative perspective that not only favors medical cannabis in principle, but respects the existing Congressional appropriations rider that forbids DOJ enforcement against medical cannabis businesses that are compliant with State law. The link I provide here not only describes the legislative directive, but reports on the Court victory that gives it more legs than just a directive. This means the DOJ has already lost an effort in the judicial branch to overturn it. The DOJ doesn’t like losing money and court battles, so we can read this as doubly-armored protection for existing Federal medical cannabis policy.

Arkansas, Spicer is saying, is safe to proceed with constructing a medical cannabis regime. A second reporter jumps on the distinction he made, which was meant to highlight how Arkansas medical cannabis isn’t in danger, between recreational and medical cannabis. And he punts it to the DOJ.

At 2:35: “that’s a question for the Department of Justice, I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it.”

The question is, what does he mean by “it”? In all likelihood, he means what Jeff Sessions clearly meant in his confirmation hearings when he discussed the Cole memo.

This is what he said: “”I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases,” Sessions said Tuesday about the [Cole] guidelines. ‘But fundamentally, the criticism I think that was legitimate is that they may not have been followed. And using good judgment about how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine.””

The Cole memo guides DOJ enforcement policy, not against legal cannabis, but against legal cannabis diversion to other states, to minors, to double-dipping (using legal cannabis businesses as a cover for State-illegal market operations), drugged driving, and so forth. This means that the Feds reserve the right to enforce against legal cannabis businesses where State enforcement is deemed insufficient.

This is extremely different from “cracking down on legal cannabis.” My reading concludes that the Feds reserve the right here to supplement State enforcement of their own legal cannabis businesses that are not in fact compliant with State law.

The caveat here is that this is probably a much, much larger portion of the legal cannabis market than States would admit. Oregon cannabis organizer John Sajo has distinguished between “tightly regulated” and “tightly controlled” cannabis markets. The former is basically political theater, in which seed-to-sale tracking systems are effective because they exist, rather than because they work very well. Why they wouldn’t work very well isn’t hard to see from inside a legal cannabis business, but no one — especially not State regulatory agencies — has any stake in advertising the fact that there are simply not enough human resources to comb through thousands of hours of surveillance data before they can be destroyed in a 30-day window, for example.

“Tightly regulated” should be seen for the political theater that it is, reassuring key worriers (the Feds, State governors, legislators, the anti-cannabis culture that remains dominant even in legal cannabis states) that there’s nothing to see here because we are compliant with the Cole Memo. “Tightly controlled” is a prohibition fantasy, as it always has been especially with respect to a plant.

The take here is that Spicer, via Sessions, has indicated that the DOJ will do some enforcement of the Cole memo, against market participants not State systems, not that the DOJ will “crack down on” legal cannabis regimes wherever they might be. I would hazard to guess that Cole memo enforcement is probably more likely in Colorado, rather than Washington and certainly nowhere there isn’t even a legal system in place yet. It takes at least 2 years from initiative passage to market and oversight functionality, so Oregon is kind of the next closest in terms of viable enforcement logic, and they have recently passed the stage where Spicer’s comments would be particularly relevant (ie, when unregulated adult purchases were permitted at licensed medical stores).

Nothing in the press conference indicated that the Feds were coming after public officials or attempting to stop legal cannabis implementation in say California. This didn’t stop California and Washington from “signaling” right back, just in case. It should be noted that both of these States have been making political hay out of refusing to cooperate with Federal immigration enforcement under the Trump administration, too.

The Trump administration, if it is consistent with anything, is consistently nationalist. Which means most of its political enforcement theater will be directed at issues that can be attributed to things that come from somewhere else, such as the greatly exaggerated supply of cannabis from transnational criminal organizations aka “Mexican cartels.”

Then there’s the matter of resources for a “crackdown,” which would be politically difficult. Trump’s DOJ is extremely busy doing other things that will undoubtedly take a toll on their prosecution budget as well as test the limits of the public’s tolerance of Executive freestyling. It’s an open question whether his base would support much DOJ activity that would run counter to state’s rights issues that don’t directly implicate cross-border trade and migration.

Cannabis politics are pretty diverse and often right-wing — there’s nothing inherently progressive about schemes to tax and regulate something that is consumed like a commodity by so many. After four years of ethnographic immersion, it seems to me that Whole Plant, Whole Society politics remain limited to legacy farmers, cannabis culturalists, and medical patients — none of whom are served very well by cannabis legalization.

From this perspective, the hysteria over Spicer’s comments yesterday is particularly flavored by commodity cannabis interests, on the one hand, and anti-Trump State politics on the other. Those who’ve been involved with cannabis policy longer than say two years aren’t particularly fazed by what the Feds do or what the States say, primarily because we recognize how this is not so much something new as an organic evolution of Prohibition culture and democratic authoritarianism at large.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oregon’s Cannabis Regulatory Landscape

 

by John Sajo, Oregon cannabis agriculturalist and decades-long organizer

I hope the democratic leaders of the Oregon Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation wake up and take a new approach. They have been thinking that merging medical and recreational marijuana will create a “simpler” system because we won’t have two state agencies doing the same thing. The problem with that is federal marijuana prohibition, which distinguishes medical marijuana from recreational marijuana.

Having the OLCC take over medical marijuana is a terrible idea. Frankly the whole idea of seed to sale tracking and regulating marijuana like plutonium is suspect. It is based on the very questionable idea that the way avoid a federal crackdown on Oregon’s legal marijuana system is to comply with the Cole memo – the Obama administration document that outlines federal tolerance. First, who really thinks the Trump administration wants to follow Obama administration guidance? Second, the entire seed to sale tracking is a fraud as far as preventing diversion to the black market.

We still don’t really know what the feds will do about states with legal marijuana but the centralized over regulated system Oregon has created is extremely fragile when it comes to resisting the feds. Here are some suggestions for how to defend the will of Oregon voters to legalize against possible federal action:

1) Keep medical separate. This makes sense regardless because patients’ needs are getting lost in the rush for profits and taxes in the rec market. Medical marijuana is legal federally. Congress continues to pass bills that forbid the Justice Department from spending any money going after state legal medical marijuana.

2) Don’t create a centralized system. It is much easier to crack down on. Having the marijuana supply come from a few hundred OLCC farms instead of tens of thousands of medical marijuana gardens is much more vulnerable to fed raids. There is no reason for Oregon to provide a list of all marijuana producers to the feds.

3) Base our system of taxing and regulating marijuana on allowing the free citizens of Oregon to do what they want with marijuana. Stop regulating where no problems exist! Allow any Oregonian to sell marijuana either to stores or to other citizens however they choose. Adults growing four plants will often have excess over their needs and if we don’t allow it to be sold legally, it will by definition be sold illegally. Marijuana sold in stores can still be tested but tracking individual marijuana plants by law is a boondoggle that only makes farmers more vulnerable to feds.

4) Require any individual selling marijuana to report the total sales to the Oregon Department of Revenue and pay the 17% tax.

5) Allow adults to use marijuana socially in public places where everyone voluntarily chooses to be in the presence of marijuana smoke or other usage. Taxing this lightly will dramatically increase the amount of revenue the state collects.

These suggestions will create a multifaceted system. OLCC stores will do fine, as long as feds leave them alone. Medical dispensaries will be more protected because of the Congressional sidebars on federal medical marijuana enforcement. Individuals selling marijuana outside of regulated stores are the most immune from federal action. The feds will never have the resources to stop this activity which will occur regardless and has been unstoppable by prohibition for a century.

A system of marijuana regulation based on personal freedom will be the most successful. Entrepreneurs can focus on their dreams, not on ever changing regulations. Much more revenue will be generated. People will be willing to pay more tax if they are not oppressed by mind numbing regulations. And the whole system will be more protected against anything the feds can do.

Freedom still can work!

Whole Plant Politics 2017 and Beyond

Dr. Ethan Russo, who is a true inspiration for Whole Plant Politics, keynoting CASP's Original Terpestival (TM) in Hopland, Califonria, July 23 2016.
Dr. Ethan Russo, who is a true inspiration for Whole Plant Politics, keynoting CASP’s Original Terpestival (TM) in Hopland, Califonria, July 23 2016. Photo by Hillary Bernhardt.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

I have written a great deal this year about the difference between medical cannabis politics and legal cannabis politics, which are the two most powerful expressions of post-prohibition politics available in the U.S. today. I say this because it is these two forms that have successfully rolled back prohibition laws and practice, so far in the form of voter initiatives between 1998 and 2016. Let’s get concise about their definitions, which are drawn from the legitimating discourses that have accompanied their formal electoral victories. I’m also going to do something controversial and say that these are primarily logics of production and distribution, rather than consumption. I will address this omission as I go along.

Legal cannabis politics are defined by one, and only one discourse of legitimacy, even if it’s two words: Tax and Regulate. The reason there are two words is because they literally cannot exist without each other, Oregon’s brief experiment notwithstanding: cannabis must be regulated by the State for the State to lay claim to revenues associated with its markets. And the cost of implementing regulation isn’t coming from extra cash the public sector has lying around: it has to be taxed in order to be regulated. And it’s the fact that cannabis is taxed and regulated that legitimates the freedom to consume, not the other way around.

Medical cannabis politics are defined by two multiple and sometimes contradictory discourses of legitimacy.

  1. This is because the word “medical” has multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings in our society. The dominant discourse of legitimacy around “medical” in this country is “professional”: medicine is practiced by experts authorized by their objective distance from, not relationship with, patients as the subjects of their care. Professional medicine is sometimes contradictory and multiple because many medical professionals are militant, preferring pharmaceutical-industrial standardized health care in which patients are objects of care rather than subjects with expertise on what is happening to their own bodies. And many medical professionals are heterodox, constantly observing available evidence to support or reject other approaches to care and the patient’s own subjective care of the self. Let’s call this form of medical politics “industrial” or “pharmaceutical” medicine. For militant pharmaceutical politics, what seems to work for patients is irrelevant, because they have not been to medical school and are not licensed by formal authorities. The doctor knows best. This works pretty well in a country where medical care is practiced by strangers on strangers — how can doctors know of this object of care is lying or being duped? There is no relationship of trust to work from.
  2. Since the 1960s, the practice of medicine by “objective” experts has been challenged formally by a movement within the US for the freedom to practice what are formally called “alternative and complementary” approaches to health. These include traditional and non-Western approaches to healthcare, and usually involve herbal (simply processed whole plant, retaining complex molecules) rather than pharmaceutical (technologically molecularized and standardized) medicine. Let’s call this form of medical politics “herbal” or “traditional” medicine. Herbal medicine is by definition a fuzzy category, encompassing Chinese, indigenous, woman-centered (think midwifery), and a host of other practices that have nothing to do with each other but share one bit of common ground: the freedom of the patient, the subject of care, to choose what seems to work for them. This works pretty well in social context where the caretaker and the cared-for know and trust each other — a pre-industrial context that isn’t at all extinct but pretty common if not majoritarian in this particular country. Lots of people do have primary care physicians, or the same doctor all their lives, but it’s relatively unusual in a privatized health care system rather than a public health care system. Lots of people who can’t afford healthcare go years without seeing a doctor, and follow jobs and career opportunities to distant places.

So we have two categories of cannabis politics, within which one of these categories is internally inconsistent and potentially at odds. It should be easy to note here that they don’t have to be at odds, but they are structurally produced at odds in the rest of society so why wouldn’t they be for cannabis as well.

These two categories of politics also don’t have to be at odds. There is nothing in the legal cannabis political paradigm that demands one form of medical politics over the other; or that cannot accommodate cannabis as medicine. So why are we at a point where the promotion of legal cannabis seems to be accompanied by a demand for one kind of medical politics, industrial-pharmaceutical, over the other? And why are we at a point where medical cannabis politics are afraid of and resist legal cannabis politics?

The answer lies in the difference between discursive political logics — the reasons stated for moving beyond prohibition politics — and the material support available to these logics.

  1. Legal cannabis politics have been, until Ohio’s failed 2015 attempt, funded primarily by “grass-tops” organizations interested primarily in cannabis politics as a form of civil rights politics. This is materially expressed as a matter of criminal justice reform. The Drug Policy Alliance concerns itself with “open society” civil rights, where the ACLU concerns itself especially with mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. Neither organization cares the slightest what the politics of legal cannabis are, whether they are in conflict with medical or economic politics. Both are focused on rights, not justice, and it’s not the rights of cannabis users that of concern. And we wouldn’t have post-prohibition laws without them. Cannabis user organizations, primarily NORML, failed spectacularly to legalize cannabis in the 1970s, when they had the chance. They didn’t just fail, they failed hard — our national cannabis politics turned authoritarian in a way that would have blown every anti-war hippie’s mind. For a decade, no one thought the right to consume cannabis had any relevance as a political discourse in this country until grassroots mobilizations like the Cannabis Action Network, funded by illegal pot dealers like Steve Deangelo, emerged at the end of the 1980s. And while these were emergent, they may or may not have been destined for irrelevance.
  2. Contemporary Medical cannabis politics emerged out of the HIV/AIDS crisis at the end of the 1980s and 1990s. The Bay Area, as an enclave of cannabis consumer politics, was also the center of HIV/AIDS politics in the context of a national failure to care for a certain kind of sick person — people with different sexual orientations. That’s the alchemy embodied in the life and work of Dennis Peron, who started California’s Prop 215 effort that was carried to completion by Drug Policy Alliance. The national failure to care for people of different sexual orientation was, let’s be clear, totally homophobic and in that sense pre-Enlightenment in character. But it was Federal policy to deny that medical cannabis could help dying people in any way shape or form, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary presented by patient-focused doctors like Tod Mikuryia, who was himself a defector from the Federal industrial-pharmaceutical paradigm. This shameful, genocidal Federal policy was the context for medical cannabis politics and how they changed the politics of every cannabis producer, distributor, and consumer especially on the West Coast, since 1996.

Medical cannabis politics were forged in the fires of a national healthcare emergency, the clear failure of militant pharmaceutical-industrial medicine to care for patients and in fact the transparently unjust politics of anti-care that resulted. The difference between medical ideology and patient care efficacy was never so clear to State publics in American history, and voters responded by passing extremely broad decriminalization statutes in the late 1990s. The politics of medical cannabis achieved something that the politics of rights had failed (maybe even destroyed), which was the legitimacy of post-prohibition cannabis politics.

What followed, for the next 10 years, was a period in which legal protection may not have been guaranteed, but it opened the possibility for people — not just patients, but providers — to legally protect themselves. And in the United States, that mean lawyers had a whole new field of work, too, challenging the legality of prohibition-policing. And patients, as consumers, became able to self-provision on the one hand and become more directly connected to cannabis producers on the other.

This is because, economically, the legal shield created by broad medical decriminalization acted as an international Industrial Policy. Cannabis producers here began to truly compete with historically international imports, which by the mid-1990s were primarily from Mexico and produced after the fashion of large-scale industrial agriculture. Domestic sinsemilla prices fell dramatically between 1996 and 2010, from $6000/lb wholesale to $1200/lb. In 2010, a California drug task force use a UN methodology to estimate that 60-80% of U.S. cannabis consumption was being supplied by California growers. They intended this message to support more eradication and interdiction within California, but in so doing they highlighted an unintended consequence with enormous socially beneficial implications: the economic weakening of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Of course, the subsequent focus of Mexican DTOs on the coca-cocaine commodity chain would contribute to massive political and economic destabilization we still see today in Mexico after the Calderon Administration took power in 2006.

This is an ongoing dynamic. We are still capturing share from international organized crime, especially since the price crash of 2010 made our high quality cannabis prices competitive with those of Mexican brickweed.

So the political economy of medical cannabis production remains relevant, even while it has become politically controversial with respect to the political economy of legal cannabis.

The aim of this essay is to identify conflicting post-prohibition cannabis politics, on the one hand, and seek a synthesis in which those conflicts are resolved, because they are not necessary. If they aren’t necessary, they are political — subject to alternative approaches but limited by available material support for such approaches.

Material support for post-prohibition politics have been transformed by the creation of legal cannabis markets through the funding of organizations that do not give a damn about legal cannabis markets, other than that they be taxed and regulated. How they are taxed, and how they are regulated, is where the different political approaches materialize.

With legalization comes a whole new set of actors that choose how to influence how cannabis is taxed and regulated. This set of actors is just like the set of actors that influence how everything else in society is organized: with money paid to lobby legislators in the interest of profit. The failed 2010 Ohio initiative was their first material effort, but the successful 2016 California initiative is their first material victory, a model for future successful post-prohibition change.

The private sector, most prominently Facebook moguls Sean Parker and Peter Thiel, rather than grasstops NGOs played the pivotal funding and messaging role for Prop 64. Up until the spring of last year or so, this was not the case. Prop 64 was a DPA initiative, until Sean Parker’s support of the DPA initiative was inverted into DPA support for Sean Parker’s initiative. It seems that at some point, DPA’s Prop 64 funding (at the time, quoted to me at $5 million) seemed to be mostly coming from Parker anyway, so Parker and the DPA decided to invert control. It’s not clear how much this changed the initiative itself, but for growers the main regulatory difference between MCRSA (an overhaul of 1998’s broad statute passed in 2015 by the legislature) is the permittable size of regulated grow operations. These are now 5 acres, as opposed to say Washington’s largest permittable legal grow at 30,000 square feet.

It should be stressed that this is substantially different from the failed Ohio initiative, which sought a 10-person monopoly for cannabis production. And it’s also substantially different from agricultural regulations, which don’t to my knowledge put any limit on how big one’s farm can be.

The main critique of this private-sector-led regulatory approach is that it creates an economic injustice problem. This is a controversial perspective, and strongly divided advocate support for Prop 64 in California. Many cannabis consumers really don’t care how their cannabis is grown or by whom, as long as they don’t risk prison to possess or consume it. And consumers outnumber cannabis producers and distributors who this affects, by tens of millions.

The fact that cannabis legalization seems now to mean agricultural economic centralization doesn’t bother most Americans, much less most cannabis consumers. This is a political problem, for supporters of economic justice at large — not just supporters of decentralized cannabis production.

We can think of this as parallel to the industrial/traditional medicine conflict. Heterodox industrial medical professionals and herbal medical practitioners have made tremendous progress towards institutionalizing the legitimacy of herbal/nonWestern/traditional medicine since the 1960s (it’s not a coincidence, eh hippies).

Now, the minority politics of economic justice for cannabis producers has to find and work with the minority politics of economic justice in the U.S. and, I might add, the rest of the world. Your arguments are theirs. They don’t seem to have made much headway in the U.S., given the dominance of Consumer politics through the most marketized society the world has ever known. It doesn’t matter how our food is producer, where, or by whom: what matters to the U.S. Consumer is the lowest price and the greatest ease of access for everything.

The most successful economic justice movement of our time, and that’s not saying much but it does say a lot about the politics of possibility, is the Conscious Consumer movement. Conscious consumption politics reject the militant absolutism of low prices, and express their preference for commodities that may be more expensive, but are successfully branded as “Free Trade,” “Organic,” “small-scale,” “local,” and so forth. This is not a politics that is outside the system: it’s quite capitalist and depends on conscious brands to be able to succeed in highly competitive marketplaces. It’s “postcapitalist” in the sense that while exchange value (price) still dominates the logic of transaction, it’s not the only value that matters for the transaction.

That means that there is an alternative to conflicting economic politics of post-prohibition. It won’t happen naturally, and it won’t be terribly successful without coordinated organization that learns from the Fair Trade movement et al.

But let’s put a name to it, provisionally, as a heterodox political discourse. We need something that captures the common ground of lots of different logics at work here. Let’s call it Whole Economy politics, for now, because I need that to make this final point.

Cannabis markets are relevant to cannabis medical politics because there would be no medicine, in either the traditional or pharmaceutical fashion, without the black, gray, and white markets that give patients (as well as “adult users”) access to outcomes that challenge the basic premise of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, without medical value.

Many medical cannabis patients respond well to non-standardized cannabis consumption. Many medical cannabis patients respond well to more standardized, refined cannabis products. The politics of medical cannabis that seems not only most appropriate but reflective of existing medical politics tolerate a heterodox and alternative approach to medicine, focused on patient experience and reports as well as double-blind clinical trials. There’s room for both, politically, and technically to rid our society of the harm of prohibition — all of it — it makes no sense to prohibit herbal and patient-focused approaches to cannabis medicine. It’s not only unnecessary, it is contrary to ending the drug war. Let’s call this heterodox approach “Whole Medicine” medical politics. It really means not excluding alternative and complementary approaches to modern medicine, when it comes to cannabis. So, everything.

In a parallel fashion, absent logical irregularities most evident in the Washington model’s ban on home grows and strict possession limits, there’s room for decentralized market production. We still have our Tier 1, 3000 square foot legal cannabis producer license here in Washington, and somehow many of these remain in business. The prospect of commodity-style industrial production (which is WAY bigger than even our largest, formally prohibited but materially tolerated multiple license operations) is a Bummer for decentralized production. But craft cannabis producers can carve out and grow market space, generally by organizing cooperatively and mastering “Whole Economy” branding.

The parallel logics converge on the concept and the practice of the “Whole, ” or holistic social organization. The logics are inclusive, cooperative, creative, and open space for experiments in creating a better approach to medicine, the economy, and society at large.

When it comes to cannabis, Whole Economy politics and Whole Medicine politics are really about cannabis as a plant with which our species has had a largely peaceful and mutually beneficial coexistence, with some exceptions, until the 20th century rolled around. Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire (1995) really made this point well, and not just with respect to cannabis.

So I suggest that there is a concept that can be named, that includes all peaceful approaches to creating a post-prohibition society: Whole Plant Politics. The challenge is to define peaceful approaches that move us towards the moment when cannabis is just a plant, and doesn’t require politics at all to grow. This is our task for 2017 and beyond.