POST CATEGORY: Opinion

What's Next? Progressing Legal Cannabis Programs

April 01, 2017 | NORTHWEST LEAF

By Matthew Meyers, a Hood River-based Cannabis journalist, activist & enthusiast.

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matt-meyers-quote1.jpgWith the exception of counties that opted out, adults can now easily find legal Cannabis in Oregon. We, and several other states, are blazing a trail for what legal Cannabis will look like in the future, when a majority of states legalize. It’s important to consider the direction we all want this new legal program to progress toward, especially while we’re still in these initial stages of developing these programs. 

As a bud tender, I hear people discuss the differences between the legal OLCC and the free market Cannabis we all grew up with. 

It’s unreasonable to assume you can walk down the street and choose from 20 batch tested strains, extracts and edibles, all at the same price your buddy used to charge you. 

This main competitive advantages of the free market are price and bulk discounts. In the free market, there’s no sales limit, and larger quantities get incentivized because they’re more efficient and less risky than seeing your dealer every day. However, with the amount of dispensaries to choose from statewide, this is different in the legal market.  

LOOKING FORWARD

There is pressure from consumers and patients to make the adult-use market more price competitive. I think a big part of this is due to our current economic situation, where wages have stagnated but the cost of living is rapidly increasing.  It’s more complicated than you’d think, there are serious overhead costs involved with selling, producing or distributing legal Cannabis. When you factor in taxes, compliancy costs, insurance, etc. the same flower would have to sell for a higher price in an OLCC-licensed shop.  

The point is the legal market needs to focus on its competitive advantages over the free market. There’s so much focus on price that I think we forget no free market dealer should be able to directly compete with the dispensary experience for quality, selection and customer service. 

Instead of focusing on how we can reduce the price of legal Cannabis, we should push our leadership to focus on economic polices that will empower the majority, and not just give tax cuts to wealthy people. By the way, those tax cuts mean the lower income brackets pay for wealthier people’s taxes, but I digress. 

Some will find a way to vertically integrate, so they can compete with the prices of the free market, but once again I question the quality versus something for the same price on the free market. 

Both markets will continue to exist and evolve. When you walk into a dispensary, please don’t say ‘well my buddy can get it cheaper,’ hoping to get a discount. Just go and get it from your buddy. 

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So, how should we regulate the adult-use market moving forward to ensure it’s sustainably competitive? There are two main avenues for regulators of Cannabis: regulate to maximize tax revenues, or maximize public safety. There’s no right or wrong answer, as these state-run programs are all still new. The truth is regulators will balance some form of both, but which should be prioritized?

It seems immediately clear we should maximize quality over size. With the controls already in place, it’s easier to monitor quality, and although it’s imperfect, it remains necessary. If there was a shift toward size maximization, these protections could change or disappear. In the age of neo-capitalism, consumer protections are more relevant than ever. 

Otherwise the only thing protecting consumers from potentially harmful products is the great imaginary ‘invisible hand’ that our political leadership puts so much faith in… 

It’s an incredibly difficult job to effectively regulate, since the public can be misinformed or ignorant of the risks. So please, if you have a suggestion for how the market regulations can be improved, make sure to communicate that to the appropriate leaders in a respectable way.

We’ve seen a movement to repeal the quality protections for consumers and we haven’t even made it through a full year of OLCC controlled Cannabis.  Check out Simone’s article on pesticide testing on page 62 to learn more. The point of moving to legal Cannabis is it’s regulated and controlled for public safety, like other consumables. Under neo-capitalism we’ve seen a huge movement for de-regulation of all markets made popular by Milton Friedman, whose core belief is that ‘greed is good’ so we shouldn’t try to prevent greed, we should embrace it.  

MOVING AHEAD

Our new federal administration is seeking to put the final nail in the regulator’s coffin and remove many regulatory bodies entirely. As consumers, we’ll have to continue to communicate our desire for effective regulations to our leaders. 

The regulations for Cannabis are new and imperfect, and some people are being treated unfairly. I think an important step for the OLCC and other regulators is to hire people who are knowledgeable about Cannabis and the free market to help give a more accurate perspective. Until then, make sure that you voice any concerns in a logical, kind, yet firm manner.

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