January 1st 2018 saw cannabis legalised in California for recreational use (medical use was legalised back in 1996). Adults voted to be treated as such, and now they can legally be in possession of amounts up to 1oz (28 grams) for personal use, or up to 6 plants per person.
This is very big news and very much to be welcomed. California has the largest economy in America (it is apparently comparable to that of France, so properly noteworthy), it has the largest population, and – perhaps most significantly – is regarded as a “barometer” for the rest of the US, as well as a “cultural facilitator” for much of the rest of the world: think of the influence of Hollywood or of Silicon Valley on pretty much everything, as two examples of this.
This means, of course, that there will no longer be any need for recreational users to go through the charade of feigning an illness and having to pay money to medical practitioners in return for a “letter of recommendation” allowing them to legally use a medical marijuana dispensary. In fact, it has been predicted that the legalisation of recreational cannabis may well either kill the medical industry completely or see it become a very small part of the very much larger recreational market.
But (and there is a “but”), what about the worst case scenario? There is the very real possibility of the big boys moving in, particularly now that the legalisation groundwork has been done by others, and basically pushing all the independents and everyone else out. It is happening in the other legal states, and indeed, there are already a number of Hollywood movers and shakers rumoured to be ready to put their names to the usual range of paraphernalia and other weed-related tat in order to make a quick buck. Other “names” are investing in land with a view to opening cannabis farms.
There exists the further possibility that an unwanted result of legalisation will be that the big corporations will flood the market with cheap and generic cannabis, ultimately driving the independent or artisan producers out of business.
And then, instead of weed becoming something that financially benefits the majority as opposed to the few (though to be honest, this was never realistically going to happen in America), things return to the business as usual “trickle down” wealth model and a lot of would be “cannapreneurs” will be left scratching their heads and wondering what the hell happened.
What may well have happened is that cannabis has become just another commodity: the same thing in lots of different packaging to give the illusion of “consumer choice” and that would be beyond unfortunate.
There is a best case scenario, though. Optimists have drawn a parallel with the craft breweries that have proliferated both in America and here in the UK, and point out that these small scale operations are holding their own against corporate produced booze.
In Britain over the past five years, the number of breweries has risen by 64% since 2012, meaning there are now more than 2000 breweries in the country, a number unseen since the 1930’s. On paper at least, this is to be applauded. But, the cynic would point out that many of these “independent” breweries have actually been bought out on the quiet by the majors, effectively making them subsidiaries. In an increasing number of cases, all that remains is the name, and the product sees a slow decline in the quality that made it popular in the first place. As with craft beer, so with craft cannabis?
The UK government can drag its feet as much as it wants over cannabis legalisation, but it is going to happen. We need to watch how events unfold in America and try to learn from their (inevitable) mistakes.