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MJBizCon: Still No THC, Still Alcohol Sales

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The biggest cannabis business convention happened in November, and it gave us some great insights into the current trends in the world of weed. It also emphasized where there is still some funky discombobulation in cannabis laws. Once again at 2022’s MJBizcon, there was still no THC on the floor, while alcohol was still openly sold.

Why it matters – reason #1 – it’s literally a convention for weed

There are three main reasons why it matters that MJBizCon didn’t allow THC, but did allow alcohol. The first is basic logic. What’s the point of going to a convention, where you can’t sample real products? And therefore, what’s the point of being an exhibitor, if you can’t really get consumers, or potential business partners, to really know what you’re making. This doesn’t apply to every company, or every part of the industry, but it applies to many.

This is a business convention that revolves around making consumer products in some form, and as a business that revolves around THC, not having that main ingredient, means making it difficult for a lot of companies.


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Can you imagine going to a wine festival, or a whiskey festival, or a cheese festival, and being told that you couldn’t try any of the respective products. Imagine a wine festival with fake wine, or a cheese festival where you could eat the product, but without that specific ingredient. Whether you’re a consumer, or looking to make business connections, not getting a good idea of a product, stymies the entire process.

Functionally, as a convention about weed, in a state where weed is legal for recreational use, it becomes absurd that actual weed products, couldn’t be sampled or sold. As in, the entire purpose for many people to be there, was hindered by not getting a good idea of what the specific offering was. And that also meant ruling out a lot of companies from even showing, as not being able to preview their actual products, would make attending such a convention unnecessary.

Plenty of what was there didn’t technically need weed. Apparatus for mass growing or packaging, branding companies, insurance… But even those selling rolling papers or vapes had no way for their specific products to be tested, and therefore separated in any way from everything on either side. Realistically, when having a convention for something, its best to have that something there. In places without legalization measures its more understandable when this doesn’t happen, but in Las Vegas…?

Cannabis convention with no THC
Cannabis convention with no THC

Why it matters – reason #2 – it means weed is treated as more dangerous than alcohol

Maybe the bigger reason it matters that MJBizCon said no to THC, and yes to alcohol, is simply in the comparison it makes to a much more dangerous drug; which was openly sold and used, when weed products couldn’t be. Yup, I’m talking about alcohol. According to the CDC, in the US alone, alcohol kills about 140,000 people a year, while also being said to take as many as 26 years off a person’s life. While most of these deaths are not direct, they still make alcohol the #2 death-toll drug behind smoking.

Considering there is no death toll associated with cannabis, its odd that cannabis regulation often makes it harder to get to, than it is to get to the much more deadly alcohol. While real cannabis (and anything related to THC) was not allowed on the floor of MJBizCon, alcohol was openly sold and drank, sometimes right next to stalls where cannabis products were swapped out for fake plant material.

And while so much of the business industry focused on packaging (specifically child-proof packaging), a can or bottle of beer is still just as easy to open as a can of soda, and high proof alcohol requires nothing more than twisting a cap.

If you didn’t know better, and you saw this scene, you’d probably think cannabis actually is dangerous. And certainly way more dangerous than alcohol. In a scenario like this, without knowing more, it would appear that cannabis proposes incredible danger, while alcohol does not. Let’s remember, no one lives at that convention center, and everyone had to drive in if they didn’t get a ride, meaning plenty of people having drinks and driving back out. Seems like the convention organizers, and the state in general, were fine with that, but not with a person smoking a joint.

No THC, yes alcohol
No THC, yes alcohol

Why it matters – reason #3 – it means inconsistency and misunderstanding in cannabis regulation

Let’s be honest, I complained about this last year. This problem has existed for as long as the legal weed industry has been around. And pretty much every place with a legalization, follows these same crazy guidelines, wherein cannabis use must follow weirdly strict regulation, whereas alcohol, doesn’t. From where its sold, to who can use it, to where its legal to use. All these favor alcohol consumption over cannabis consumption, yet alcohol has only medical detractions, while cannabis is also used as a medicine.

That’s right, it’s not just that its consistently shown to be way less dangerous than alcohol for recreational use (like, not even in the same category), but it also helms a massive and growing world of medical use. People depend on it to live. We have study after study talking of the benefits for both medical issues, and general health, and yet its still easier to buy and use alcohol.

How long does it take for logic to set in? Why haven’t these laws been updated at all in a place like Nevada that has recreational use? And for that matter, how is it still federally illegal, while alcohol is one of the most ubiquitous drugs around? How can we ever expect this industry to function better, when we can’t even get regulators to regulate the industry honestly? It’s been years since many states passed measures, yet this inconsistency in regulation, never seems to go away. And when the biggest business convention, MJBizCon, says no to THC, while allowing alcohol, we know there really is a problem.

Why it REALLY matters at MJBizCon

This harks back to the first reason, but its an incredibly important point to make. MJBizCon is for the promotion of the weed industry, and all the businesses therein. It’s not a school, or a playground, or a bingo game. It’s a convention set up by industry insiders to help empower those in the industry by setting up a way for them to make new connections, and learn more about the industry.

In that sense, MJBizCon comes to represent the industry. And it’s not put on by parent groups, or teachers, or politicians. It’s put on by a weed-centered publication, and weed-centered businesses. Which makes me wonder how these proponents of weed, are okay with having this scenario. Why didn’t it come up as a major point of conversation?

Why didn’t we all sign a petition to get things to change? Why are we so complacent with having logic ignored in the face of nonsensical federal law? Am I the only person it occurs to that this inconsistency, when not focused on and fixed, just leads to more future inconsistencies?

Inconsistent cannabis regulation
Inconsistent cannabis regulation

It’s important for those within the industry, to stand up for it appropriately. That this issue has never been brought up at the convention, is sad to me. That there seems to still be a misunderstanding about these dangers in government regulation and statements, is sad to me. It means organizers are more interested in making a buck off alcohol sales, than working to make sure the public at their events is understanding of the regulation issue.

As long as nonsensical laws aren’t challenged, it means they’ll just continue on. Weed prices might have gone down in some places despite ridiculously high taxes, but that has more to do with overproduction driving down prices, than a realization that such heavy taxation, particularly sin taxes, make the industry less appealing than the black market. In the case of alcohol vs weed, we already have plenty showing us the danger of one, and the benefits of the other, yet the lack of consistent regulation, is constantly ignored, even though it too, hurts the industry.

Conclusion

MJBizCon was a great time, but it still represents through its barring of THC and allowance of alcohol sales, that the weed industry is very unevenly regulated, especially compared to the alcohol industry. Will this ever change in the future? We’ll have to wait and see.

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alcohol regulation

Is it time to regulate alcohol like marijuana?

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The Haymaker is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column about cannabis politics and culture.

Legalization campaigns often win with this simple idea: “Let’s regulate marijuana like alcohol.”

It’s a notion first popularized by legalization advocate Mason Tvert and the Marijuana Policy Project, who rode it to victory in Colorado in 2012. The idea makes perfect sense to voters. So why do so many politicians not get it?

haymaker-column-logo

Case in point: Massachusetts.

Five years ago, Bay State voters agreed to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Today cannabis is legal for adults but it is in no way regulated like alcohol.

Cannabis companies must sign Host Community Agreements (HCAs)—often on extortionate terms—just to open their doors. The plant is taxed at 10.75%, while the beer tax is less than 1%. A single edible serving is limited to 5mg, while boozers are welcome to fill their shopping carts with $19 bottles of 190-proof Everclear.

And now state legislators in Boston want further restrictions on weed.

Related

Massachusetts town charges local cannabis companies $866,000 for “policing”

40-proof whiskey, 3% beer

One active bill would limit flower and concentrates to no more than 10% THC (Flower typically contains 15% to 25% THC, concentrates 60% to 90%.) Another would expand the authority of the state Cannabis Control Commission to set (similarly low) potency limits. A third would increase the legal age for cannabis, but not alcohol, from 21 to 25.

“All these restrictions on weed worked out so well. Why don’t we apply them to alcohol?”

– Peter Bernard

A lot of people in Massachusetts are fed up with these sore-loser actions by diehard prohibitionists.

Peter Bernard is one of them. Bernard, a medical cannabis consumer and Taunton, MA, home grower, is the executive director of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council.

“This is bullshit that’s been going on for five years,” Bernard said of the prohibitionist proposals. “How would they like it if beer was limited to three percent [alcohol content], or if whiskey was only 40 proof.”

That gave him an idea. Under Massachusetts law, citizens have the right to file their own bills in the state legislature. So last month Bernard filed SD 2811, The CALM (Control Alcohol Like Marijuana) Act.

Flipping the script

Under his proposal, alcohol would be regulated like marijuana. That would mean:

  • Potency limits of 20% alcohol by volume (40 proof max)
  • Strict limits to on-premises consumption
  • Enforcement of codes relating to purity and potency, container size, and vendor security systems
  • Childproof packaging requirements (no screwtop bottles)
  • Credit and Interpol security checks for all licensees and employees
  • Elimination of branded paraphernalia, and extreme limits on advertising
  • Mandatory host-community agreements for all alcohol-related businesses.

“I filed this bill to make a point,” Bernard told me earlier this week. “Let’s compare apples to apples. Cannabis is not poison. Alcohol is. We see alcohol-related deaths on our state college campuses every year—somebody chugs a fifth of Jack Daniel’s and ends up in the emergency room.”

Let’s look at alcohol potency first

Bernard himself came to the cause through medical marijuana.

“Three-percent wine not strong enough to get drunk on? It’s okay. Just drink more.”

– Peter Bernard

About 10 years ago he suffered a broken spine and endured five years of morphine and Percocet prescriptions. Then he turned to cannabis. “After surgery, I needed pain relief but not Percocet-level relief,” he said. “There are people in my life that have gone the wrong way on that. I wanted off. [Medical marijuana] got me off and kept me off. I can actually walk, I don’t need a cane anymore, and I’m out of this [opiate-induced] fog. You know what—this stuff saved my life.”

Bernard left his former corporate career to represent the state’s cannabis farmers and manufacturers, and to advocate for sensible regulations.

He knows his bill won’t get passed. He just wants to make the obvious visible to his state’s legislators: Cannabis isn’t the substance that needs tighter regs.

Massachusetts is one of America’s worst states for drunk driving fatalities, Bernard pointed out. “Meanwhile, teen use [of marijuana] is down, stoned driving is actually down,” he said. “All these restrictions on weed worked out so well—why don’t we apply them to alcohol?”

Dec. 1 hearing on these bills

The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy is scheduled to hold a hearing on all active cannabis-related bills this coming Wednesday, Dec. 1, at 1 pm EST. Due to Covid restrictions it will be a virtual hearing, and video will be available here.

“I’ll be testifying [at that hearing] against all these bills that want to restrict potency,” Bernard told me. “I’ll hold up my own bill and tell them I want to give them a taste of their own medicine. Lower weed potency? Fine, your wine is now limited to 3% alcohol. Not strong enough to get drunk on? It’s okay. Just drink more.”

“The whole idea of legalization was to tax and regulate it like alcohol,” Bernard said. “Right now the job is only half done.”

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

View Bruce Barcott’s articles



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