November 02, 2011

Medical Marijuana in the Liquor Stores?

New Approach Washington has proposed an initiative in Washington State, I-502 which according to the document's opening mission is to "authorize the state liquor control board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age and older, and add a new threshold for driving under the influence of marijuana." Currently, the mission of the Washington State Liquor Board reads "Contribute to the safety and financial stability of our communities by ensuring the responsible sale, and preventing the misuse of, alcohol and tobacco." I do not know if they are achieving their goals as far as alcohol, but when I first heard about the idea of putting cannabis in liquor stores, I wondered logistically how this would play out. What would this mean for patients in WA State? 

I took a trip down to my local liquor store in search of a different perspective, one of someone greatly affected by this initiative, the liquor store employee. Two clerks were on duty, both between 35 and 45 years of age, one female and one male. I asked them what they thought about distributing cannabis with alcohol. Their quick smirks made it apparent conversations around the water bottle had already occurred back at the home office.  They were happy to talk about cannabis in the liquor stores citing job security as their number one reason for liking the idea. 

Immediately, I was told neither of them smoke marijuana themselves. As employees of WA State they are subject to random drug tests. Testing positive for Marijuana would get you fired.  
The man was confused by the purchasing process. He made the point liquor comes prepackaged. Would the cannabis be sold with packaging or would he be weighing it out on some sort of scale and then placing it into a little plastic bag? The woman assumed they would only be dispensing marijuana in the same way as tobacco, a neat box with 20 pre-rolled smokes in it. 

I thought of all of the incredible bud tenders currently working in Seattle meticulously educating the patients they serve, allowing each of  them to see the medicine, smell it, even check out tricrome development with high end magnifying equipment before making their donation. I did not ask the liquor store clerks if they knew what trichrome development meant. I assume they know nothing about the plant's analytical cannabinoid breakdown. 

There are similar bills were recently passed in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Both initiatives have a back up in place should no qualified manufacturers apply for licenses, cannabis would be then distributed in tobacco stores. The difference is tobacco stores are back up options whereas WA State's NAW initiative proposes liquor stores as appropriate venues governed by the State Department.

Assuming tobacco companies would want in on the recreational user side, I searched for indication they had already placed bids for distribution. I found many articles with key industry professionals on both sides of the issue speaking about the ability of tobacco companies to convert to marijuana cultivation having strong infrastructures and large growing spaces readily available. Contrary to the popular 'urban myth' that Phillip Morris has already patented a marijuana cigarette, I was unable to find any real proof when searching the US patent database. 

With all of this talk of tobacco companies, what's going on with the pharmaceutical angle? 

Recently, Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon summed it up nicely when referring to the pharmaceutical companies approach to cannabis medicines, “They know that marijuana is so versatile in treating everything from Crohn’s disease to nausea to premenstrual syndrome that once it can be produced in an economy of scale and free of prohibition tariffs it would sweep all these artificially expensive pharmaceutical products on the market aside."

Does this mean as soon as pharmaceutical companies find a middle ground in the cannabinoid conundrum, the market will be theirs for the taking simply based on the fact they have more money? Is this Mexican standoff between the Feds and those participating in our industry just a smoke screen, keeping everyone wrapped up in semantics so the pharma companies can corner our market? 
Meanwhile, the United States still owns the Patent to use cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidants. Where does it go from here? The irony of the entire situation robs me of the ability to speculate. I can't help but believe the answer lies in class action lawsuits against a government holding the patent to use cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidents while simultaneously waging a war against its own citizens for doing the same. 

I am not sure if the liquor stores are the best point of distribution for cannabis. Patients need more particular care when learning about cannabis as a medicine. In the end, people will always just grow their own, though not everyone is physically able to maintain even a small grow operation. These are things to be considered as we move closer to possibly voting on the NAW issue, but certainly not the main issue. This initiative has many flaws and leaves too many questions to analyze in one place. 

For more information: 

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