Three worrying cannabis trends to watch in 2020

Posted on December 26th, 2019 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

leafPolitical space for cannabis is generally on the upswing, but there are some intersecting trends that advocates will need to keep a sharp eye on in the coming year. Corporate cannabis will increase pressure on independent producers, while prohibitionists will try to leverage the vape health scare for anti-cannabis propaganda. And the cannabis industry's own terminology may be actually adding to the confusion.

Amid an overall trend of progress for cannabis freedom, there are a few worrying tendencies that industry and activists alike will need to be vigilant about in 2020.

These concern both the actual shape of the legal industry as it unfolds, and the dangers of a prohibitionist backlash against it. Finally, some self-criticism may be called for in terms of how the industry's own favored terminology is contributing to the intellectual and political confusion.

Growing hegemony of corporate cannabis
The news that CBD products will be arriving at Walgreens and CVS drugstores can be seen as further progress for the normalization of cannabis. But cannabis can also be subject to the same abuses as any other commodity in the legal economy—and increasing elite corporate control of the plant is obvious.

Despite legal restrictions due to high-THC cannabis remaining illegal under US federal law, strains are being patented. Strains that were long a part of the genetic commons are at risk of being privatized. And independent growers using heirloom seed are at risk of being marginalized in the pricey niche market of "craft cannabis."

This trend is especially obvious in Canada, where licensed producers are pushing out independent growers and home-growers. Dispensaries which had been operating under a legal "gray zone" in Toronto and Vancouver are being raided and shut down—supplanted by a smaller number of dispensaries licensed under the regulatory regime put in place with legalization last October. It's true that many "gray-zone" dispensaries have been re-opening—but authorities in Toronto recently took an unsubtle step to prevent this: building big cement-brick barriers between the raided storefronts and the sidewalks. This is certainly not what we expected "legalization" to look like.

Under the Canadian regs, "craft cannabis" producers do have a place—but they must sell to one of the big licensed producers which are to serve as intermediaries to the retail outlets. This means they are effectively prohibited from acting as independent operators. 

Amid all this, two provinces have actually sought to outlaw home cultivation, essentially forcing consumers to buy corporate cannabis: Quebec and Manitoba. In Quebec, the ban was thankfully overturned by the provincial courts in September. But the one in Manitoba still stands. And in what seems almost like a revenge move, shortly after the overturn of the homegrown ban the Quebec government moved to raise the legal age of cannabis consumption from 18 to 21. The new law is to take effect Jan. 1. 

Prohibitionist exploitation of vape crisis
The vaping-related health crisis, which has now claimed some 50 lives across the United States, is obviously a very real and urgent concern. And it is just as obviously providing a ripe atmosphere for exploitation by anti-prohibitionists who want to put the genie of legal cannabis back in the proverbial bottle—logic and rationality be damned.

A recent case in point is a Philadelphia Inquirer article of Dec. 27, under the lurid headline, "For young users, marijuana can be a dangerous game." It states: "In this year's mysterious rash of vaping-related lung injuries...many involved vaping THC products. While the CDC has identified vitamin E acetate as 'a chemical of concern' in these cases, it’s just one of many substances present in vaping oils and liquids. The CDC has said the mystery of these illnesses is far from solved and has recommended that people not use any THC-containing e-cigarette products."

Yet "marijuana" is not an "e-cigarette product," and it does not contain vitamin E acetate or any of the other unnamed "substances" found in vaping oils and liquids. Contrary to what is implied by the headline, herbaceous cannabis flower ("marijuana") is the safest way to consume cannabis—and especially when it comes from a regulated dispensary and has been tested for pesticide, mold and other contaminants. Indeed, people are turning to illegal vape pens in states where cannabis prohibition still reigns precisely because herbaceous flower is less available.

New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo contributed to the confusion in an embarrassing September interview with CNBC, in which he was doggedly questioned on whether the wave of vaping-related illness had made him reconsider pursuing cannabis legalization. "No," he replied—but quickly added that his administration is "not in favor of smoking marijuana," and that there are "ways to get THC without smoking marijuana." 

Yet "smoking marijuana" (or vaping marijuana) is the safer alternative to vaping extracts—and especially to vaping from an illict-market vape-pen.

Semantic confusion
And this brings us to how the terminology increasingly favored by the cannabis industry and advocacy community is also contributing the confused intellectual climate. Under the new dogma, use of the word "marijuana" is increasingly verboten. The word "cannabis" meanwhile is becoming a catch-all for any products derived from cannabis—including the extracts and oils in vape-pens. As a means of eroding the stigma, this is obviously counter-productive—because it blurs the distinction between a cured flower and a refined extract. It makes rhetorical booby-traps like the one Cuomo blundered into all the more effective.

If the word "marijuana" is to be erased from our vocabulary, then there must be another one to denote dried and cured cannabis flower, typically that containing enough THC for a psychoactive effect. Using the word "cannabis" in a sweeping and imprecise way thickens the cloud of obfuscation around the whole question, and ultimately abets the forces of cultural backlash. Rejecting the word "marijuana" is in some ways a capitulation to the stigma—and a capitulation to racism, as that word is associated with the stigma precisely because it emphasizes the plant's Mexican roots in North America. Anti-Mexican xenophobia was deftly exploited in the prohibitionist propaganda campaign of the "Reefer Madness" era in the 1930s. And given the current climate in this country, accepting the stigmatization of something (whether a word or a plant) because of its Mexican origins holds obvious political dangers.

In 2020, it might be time to say it loud—I smoke marijuana and I'm proud!

Cross-post to Cannabis Now 


Image: Jurist



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