The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) recently announced that, according to a new UW study of the medical marijuana market, Washington state will have no trouble meeting the demand for medical marijuana come July, when the medical marijuana market will be folded into the recreational one as a result of SB 5052, the Cannabis Patient Protection Act.
According to the report, the medical market requires between 1.7 and 2 million square feet of canopy, and the WSLCB says they've already licensed enough growers to produce 12.3 million square feet.
In other words, everything's, like, totally chill, bro. Except, as is becoming far too usual, it's actually not.
The WSLCB's line that we have enough pot is misleading. While we certainly have a lot of pot, that's not the real issue. The real question is, whom is all this pot for? What we're currently growing is more than enough to supply all the recreational potheads, all the medical cardholders who were faking it just to get cheap pot, and the black market buyers (if only they'd set foot in the stores!).
It is not, however, any guarantee that we have enough high-CBD product for the legitimate medical patients who actually depend on CBD—the non-psychoactive ingredient of medical marijuana—for maintaining their basic quality of life. Contrary to what some of our state legislators would have you believe, the vast majority of medical marijuana patients in Washington are not fakers. They're AIDS patients, cancer survivors, and PTSD sufferers.
Although the report did break down the amount of flower, edible, and concentrate products in the market, it did not distinguish between high-CBD versus high-THC products, which is a hugely important question. Unfortunately, we don't currently know how many patients are using high-CBD products, how much they're using, how much they're paying, and how they're getting it. But until we get such data, it would be extremely dangerous to conclude that we have "enough to satisfy recreational and medical markets." Instead, I would go with this more measured conclusion, offered by one of the report's authors, Daniel Shortt, a UW law student and writer for CannaLawBlog.com:
"I think that [high-CBD products are] something that’s important to consider when doing this calculus of figuring out the medical marijuana growing space, because I don’t think there’s quite the market incentive for those products in the same way there is to grow high-THC cannabis. [The report's] not the end all be all. It’s going to continue."
Hopefully, it continues soon. Patients are already reporting difficulty affording CBD products in the recreational market, and the state won't study the issue again until January 1, 2017. As I reported in a recent article on the virtues of CBD, there currently isn't much of it on the recreational market. This is a huge problem for patients who will be converting soon, and one we should be taking action on now. It's a shame we aren't, because we clearly have the capacity to meet this need. I mean, we've historically struggled with oversupply in the recreational market, so it's kind of nuts to think that we might be facing a situation where a real, medically critical demand isn't being met.
Theoretically, 502-licensed producers have been gearing up to meet new demand for high-CBD products from patients ever since SB 5052 passed, but the WSLCB has no data supporting that. And anecdotal evidence runs contrary.
One patient I spoke with reported that, in the recreational market, he pays around $200 a month for products that used to cost $50 in the medical market. When he's lucky, he's able to get high-CBD products off the books, "owing to the compassion of other patients."
One of the veterans I interviewed for a recent article on cannabis and PTSD said he couldn't get enough CBD on the recreational market, so he grows his own. He sent me a selfie from his grow room, and it contained far more plants than the new law would allow, even with a doctor's recommendation.
If, next January, we do discover a shortage of high-CBD products or prohibitively high prices—and I have a sneaking suspicion we will—it would take a minimum of six months to do anything about it, due to growing cycles. That's a long time for patients who really, truly need CBD to be paying exorbitant amounts, or, worse, going without. As I discovered when interviewing veterans who use high-CBD cannabis for PTSD, this is literally a life-or-death issue. If we consider our state compassionate, and I like to fool myself into thinking that we do, it's not something we can afford to wait and see on. We need data now.