When we’re talking about law enforcement and their use of discretion around cannabis, I think it’s really important to remember that states with legalized cannabis set up very strict regulatory frameworks for dispensaries to legally sell cannabis.
This is a very expensive endeavor. A dispensary might sell an ounce of cannabis for more than $300 while the black-market price of cannabis is still lower in most states. You have to consider the fact that people who cannot afford cannabis at dispensaries are more likely to be involved in the black market. As it does in many cases, the justice system skews toward people who have money and are more economically established.
This is an important distinction because once you charge someone with buying or selling marijuana – once you charge someone with criminal intent in a cannabis case – federal mandatory minimum sentences can go into place. It can be a huge legal battle for people, they can lose their job, they can have their children taken out of their homes. It’s important for law enforcement to understand that the black market cannabis industry is often producing cannabis that is identical to dispensaries.
Yes, dispensaries are required to test their cannabis. So are legal cultivators. But some legal cultivators in California that produce excess cannabis have somehow diverted that excess into the black market. That doesn’t make this cannabis somehow more dangerous. I think it’s important for law enforcement to weigh the differences between drugs like alcohol and opioids and other medications that are extremely harmful over cannabis, even if it’s black market cannabis. The related harms are much more diminished for cannabis.
As laws evolve, it’s difficult for people to understand or access dispensaries when they’ve purchased it from friends and families in their neighborhood for generations. As a social justice cause, it’s important to remind law enforcement that there are stratas where the legal system and legal framework for cannabis does not help everyone.
Another aspect is that if you’re a lawyer, doctor, psychotherapist, government employee, or someone of a higher socioeconomic status, you may not want to be seen in a local dispensary. You may not want to publicly reveal that you consume cannabis because we still have perceptions around it. It can be seen as less of a risk to illegally purchase cannabis than to purchase it legally from a dispensary. There are people who just don’t have the comfort level to go into dispensaries.
Law enforcement do its job
Law enforcement must do its job, but law enforcement also has discretion and must recognize that just because we may have legal dispensaries a person who grows cannabis in their home or has purchased cannabis from their neighbor for the last 20 years is not diverting it to children or harming themselves. This is not producing a scenario that is somehow more dangerous than the scenario of purchasing it from the dispensary. The only thing that’s lacking is the state getting its tax revenue.
In my opinion, people who sell cannabis they’ve produced in their home should pay sales tax and test their cannabis. These should be part of the regulations so that law enforcement isn’t caught in a gray area. Instead, police can see that someone is growing cannabis and clarify if the owner has a permit for commercial or personal use. We have laws in place for things like this.
I believe that eventually we’ll get to a place where cannabis can be regulated while also acknowledging that it’s very easy to grow a huge amount of cannabis in our homes. If we prevent people from being allowed to legally get rid of that cannabis then it will get diverted in other forms – toward places and youth where we don’t want it.
It’s important that we work with law enforcement, but it’s also important that law enforcement engages evolving cannabis use and engages the harm that harsher pain medication like opioids may cause. Even though it’s important to make sure that people are following laws, there are unintended consequences of arresting people and cutting off customers from the supply of cannabis.