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July 8, 2014 at 6:25 AM

State marijuana stores will disappoint. But that’s a good thing.

UPDATED, 8:40 a.m.: Brian Smith of the Liquor Control Board said said an emergency rule adopted by the board on June 25 requires products be homogenized (assuring the psychoactive THC is equally distributed), scored for individual dosage (such as the squares on a chocolate bar) and be submitted to the board for pre-approval. That could theoretically happen within weeks, although a shortage of marijuana from licensed processors could further delay the appearance of edibles.

ORIGINAL POST: When Washington’s first legal marijuana stores open today, they’ll lack a product that will eventually dominate the market. It would be like opening a liquor store by selling only gin.

But in choosing to temporarily not have marijuana-infused food and drink products in stock, the state Liquor Control Board made a smart gamble. At the risk of alienating some customers,  the state avoids the potential health and public-relations debacle vividly described in New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s now-famous “panting and paranoid” bad trip from a marijuana-infused chocolate bar.

It is a good call. Edible marijuana goes far beyond the brownies of old, ranging from sodas to pasta sauce to cotton candy. Enticing for the adventurous consumer, but edibles are tricky for all but veteran marijuana users. Dosage is hard to control, and psychoactive THC isn’t always uniformly dispersed.

To belabor the liquor analogy, customers need to know if they’re downing a shot of whiskey, a pint or a fifth.

Marijuana-infused candy  (photo courtesy of DEA )

Marijuana-infused candy
(photo courtesy of DEA )

Unable to be sure – and equally concerned about packaging that would entice kids – the Liquor Control Board will allow only dried flower marijuana for now, as quickly updates rules for the edible products.

Colorado, which opened stores earlier by building on its already-licensed dispensary system, offers a cautionary tale. It didn’t take a rigorous approach to edibles, stories abound about children accidentally getting high, as well and cases of adults showing up in emergency rooms fearing they were having a heart attack on supercharged products.

The problem with consistency in edibles was documented in tests commissioned by The Cannabist, the Denver Post’s marijuana blog. The results showed a huge variation between the label dosage and the actual THC content (albeit mostly on the low side).

Going on the, er,  high side of the dosage is the real problem. Dowd wasn’t the only marijuana novice who became a bad tripper. Forbes columnist Jacob Sullum stumbled around his Colorado hotel after eating “one sour gummy candy too many.”

Philip Dawdy, a Seattle marijuana activist and long-time medical marijuana user, said he had a “really scary” experience with a supercharged brownie. He said he got double the expected dose, and ended up hallucinating and taking a four-hour stroll to walk off the effects. When he got back, he still had bed-spins. “I’m worried about younger users who don’t really know what they’re doing” with edibles, said Dawdy, who supports the Liquor Control Board’s moratorium.

Medical marijuana entrepreneur John Davis also agrees. The Liquor Control Board needs to have a “careful discussion” about packaging, particularly that which is attractive to kids. “Children are the big issue,” said Davis. “A cookie looks like a cookie to a five year-old,” even one that is packed with THC.

“How are they going to make it so there’s the least chance they’ll get their hands on it.”

Definitely not for kids. (photo courtesy of DEA)

Definitely not for kids. (photo courtesy of DEA)

The Liquor Control Board is taking a risk by temporary not stocking the enticing products. Board member Chris Marr, at a meeting last month, noted they’re available at unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. If the whole point of legalization was to quash the black market, is an edible ban the right approach?

That’s a reasonable point. But the biggest priority for Washington on Tuesday shouldn’t be helping businessmen – even ones licensed by the state – sell a bunch of marijuana. The state is laying a comprehensive, deliberate template for other states to follow. Do this right, and other states will see that marijuana legalization does not equate to THC-addled children showing up in the emergency room.

 

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