Recently, law enforcement in Lincoln, Nebraska, arrested Richard Wilkinson, 38, of Damascus, Oregon. Cops believed his U-Haul van and another vehicle were following too closely. When they approached the van, cops could smell marijuana.
After a search, the police recovered 110 pounds of cannabis flower, 25 pounds of cannabis extracts (“shatter“), 3,500 cannabis seeds and uncounted vials of hash oil.
Wilkinson is a licensed cannabis processor in the Oregon recreational marijuana program. His company, Rich Extracts, is governed by strict regulations promulgated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Those regs include detailed security requirements that include massive video surveillance and a “seed-to-sale” tracking system.
So, how did 110 pounds of weed and 25 pounds of shatter escape this detailed electronic tracking?
The answer was provided by the cops in Lincoln.
“On the East Coast, shatter sells for $100 a gram,” said the Lancaster County Sheriff, Terry Wagner.
Math and metric conversion tell us that’s $1,133,980 worth of shatter alone, if sold by the gram. The flower, if sold by the ounce, would bring in at least another half million.
With that level of a profit motive, there is no tracking system that can overcome the law of supply and demand.
East Coast tokers want what West Coast growers have.
This notion that we can institute a “seed-to-sale” tracking system to keep track of living, breathing cannabis plants down to the gram is absurd.
We used to labor under a draconian “seed-to-sale” tracking system called “prohibition.” In that system, absolutely every seed and absolutely every sale tracked by cops was punishable by criminal penalties far exceeding what licensed entities now face under “legalization.”
So, if prohibition and the threat of serious prison time never stopped West Coast weed from traveling east, what made anybody think a bunch of barcoded zip-ties and data entry was going to?
The reason it has been attempted, of course, is because states that are legalizing want to assure their neighbors that they will clamp down on out-of-state diversion. The Cole Memo told them to do so.
Every prohibition state bordering a legal state can tell you that’s bullshit.
I know the prohibitionists are giddy about this latest arrest. I know many of you are reading this piece thinking, “Damn, Belville, whose side are you on?”
But I must be intellectually honest about this. Marijuana policy is like gun policy or pollution policy; it cannot be contained within the borders of a state. Chicago can pass the toughest gun laws it likes; nearby Gary, Indiana, where gun laws are lax, make Chicago’s laws moot. The whole world can decide to get tough on climate change; the United States leaving the Paris accords means the planet still gets hotter.
All these security and tracking regulations do is increase the cost to the producer, processor, retailer, and eventually, the consumer. Keeping the cost of marijuana artificially high is a subsidy to the underground retailers who don’t have those costs, feeding the prohibitionist talking point that “the black market is thriving in legal states.”
But the greatest affront to marijuana consumers due to this quixotic quest to digitally track weed comes on the medical side of the ledger.
As the eight states with recreational legalization endeavor to reconcile their medical programs with the new reality, growers and processors on that side are being regulated and surveilled like never before.
These aren’t greedy people who got into growing marijuana for the green rush. (Well, some were, but they’ve mostly gone to the rec side by now.) These are compassionate caregivers upon whom many of the sickest, most disabled people depend on for medicine that affords them a better quality of life.
The drumbeat we hear from the states, however, is that medical marijuana is rife with abuse, that it’s a cover for black market dealing, that it’s an unfair market competitor to licensed recreational entities, and so on.
In response, states have severely curtailed plant counts, possession limits, access points and numbers of patients one can care for.
After all, they reason, if we’re going to be tracking recreational weed down to the gram, we’ve got to apply similar standards to the medical side, lest the cheaters and schemers simply use medical marijuana as a way to skirt recreational regulations.
So, now, I see a growing number of patients here in Oregon who are losing their medical grower, because these growers figure, well, if I have to jump through all the hoops the rec side has to, I might as well make the money the rec side makes.
This is after the state raised the medical marijuana card fee to $200 annually and added another $100 fee a patient must pay to register a third-party grower. I know some patients who have already paid $400 this year in grower registration fees alone, after having gone through four growers.
When systems intended to track cannabis down to the gram fail to track 110 pounds of cannabis, it is clear that “seed-to-sale” tracking is a feel-good fiction. It only succeeds in raising cannabis prices, subsidizing in-state illicit markets, depleting patients’ resources and providing prohibitionists with easy “legalization doesn’t work” talking points.
No matter what amendments, laws and regulations we pass concerning marijuana, we can never repeal the law of supply and demand. The only real solution to any problem anyone has with cannabis is the nationwide rescheduling of cannabis and all 50 states providing some means of reasonable access. And even then, discrepancies between state regulations will still lead to interstate diversion (see: the illicit cigarette trade in New York.)