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5 interesting things in the world of cannabis this week

It's a late August Hump Day. Take a breath, read some great stories.

Hi everyone,

I’m back in your inboxes after some much-needed time off.

To get the ball rolling, I wanted to highlight five stories that caught my eye while I was out — I think they’re well worth your time. I’m borrowing this idea from other writers I follow and admire.

I believe there’s lots of value in expert curation, given the rapid news-flow in the industry. I want you to spend less time sifting through your social feeds so you can focus on what’s important.

If you like this format, I’ll do one of these every week — just let me know.

And if you missed it, I spoke with fellow cannabis writer Andrew Ward for his Youtube channel about my career path in journalism and eventually reporting on cannabis.

I shared how I first got interested in the space, and why I think journalists who cover the industry should consume the product so they know what they’re talking about.

On another note, I have lots of reporting coming for you in September, so keep an eye out — and reach out if you have a tip!


green leaf plant on white textile

This story from The New York Times’ Ashley Southall highlights how perilous trying to operate a legitimate business in the quasi-legal cannabis industry can be.

There’s practically no federal protections for copyright or trademark infringement, because, well, cannabis is federally illegal.

As Southall writes:

“In the fall of 2021, an acquaintance of Alex Norman, the founder of a cannabis apparel and lifestyle brand called Budega NYC, reached out to congratulate him on making a deal to open several dispensaries in Southern California.

There was just one problem, Mr. Norman said: “It wasn’t me.”

New York Cannabis Insider editor Brad Racino has been one of the sharpest observers of the painful rollout of legalized cannabis in New York.

As he says:

“To be honest, I think the industry has already collapsed. That’s not to say it can’t somehow be built back up again, but the reality is that investors are fleeing New York State due to how poorly this rollout is going, farmers are growing desperate and considering leaving the industry, ancillary businesses – such as law firms, consultancy groups, real estate agencies, etc. – are struggling and taking on secondary clients, and medical cannabis companies are cutting staff and hours of operation.”

“Lab-shopping” is somewhat of an open secret in the loosely regulated world of cannabis products.

Legal cannabis brands are required to list the THC percentage — the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — on the package, similar to how beer brands list the alcohol percentage.

But for some brands, it’s become an arms race to pump out products with the highest possible amount of THC, in an effort to convince customers they’re getting the most bang for their buck.

Testing labs, which, like other aspects of the cannabis industry, aren’t federally regulated, are more than happy to comply. They’re private companies after all, and they want clients.

As Bloomberg’s Tiffany Kary reports, THC inflation is rampant in the industry. And it brings up a lot of questions about how safe the regulated cannabis supply chain really is.

This is admittedly a bit outside the purview of this newsletter, thinking about the lessons of cannabis legalization on broader drug policy reform. It’s a subject I’m personally fascinated by, and I think one that will become a robust public policy debate in the near future.

I’ve found Dr. Peter Grinspoon to be one of the smartest public experts on drug policy issues, and it’s always worth reading what he writes:

“When one buys any drug from a street dealer there are no controls, checks, regulations or recalls. For the buyer this was once a roll of the dice. Now, with the risk of fentanyl laced drugs, it is more a game of Russian roulette. It is my conviction that if opioids were decriminalized and accessible, very few would be dying from fentanyl.”

Grinspoon should know: He’s a Harvard doctor, and has also struggled with opioid addiction in the past.

He’s an expert on the use of medicinal cannabis for pain relief and other ailments, and he’s also written widely on the positives and negatives of cannabis legalization from a science-backed perspective.

This is a peer-reviewed paper, so apologies about the dry title.

Hysteria about cannabis use leading to psychosis and an uptick in crime has been the calling card of anti-legalization groups, including, perhaps most famously, Alex Berenson’s widely debunked book.

Despite that, the idea persists. It shows up in Congress and statehouses around the country, when cannabis-related legislation is up for debate. Nonprofit groups like Smarter Approaches to Marijuana, which lobbies against legalization, also point to psychosis as a key reason why cannabis should remain illegal.

But that argument, like similar arguments about whether cannabis use is bad for your heart, is far from settled science. You can find credible literature on both sides of the debate — much more research is needed, especially as cannabis legalization spreads around the globe.

According to a new study published in the journal Psychiatry Research, youth with an increased risk for developing psychosis who used cannabis actually used less medication for their symptoms over time, compared to their peers who didn’t use cannabis.

This study doesn’t settle the psychosis debate — but it reveals it’s far more nuanced than hysterical legalization opponents would have you believe.