By Ricardo Baca
Honeysuckle is proud to present this running column by Ricardo Baca, founder and CEO of the leading communications firm Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency. A pillar of the cannabis community and a history-making journalist, Ricardo has been named one of Fortune's "7 Most Powerful People in America's Marijuana Industry" and an AdCann Marketer of the Year. His trailblazing work has appeared in the world's top publications, and he is a sought-after speaker on global platforms including The Colbert Report, NPR's All Things Considered, TEDx, and SXSW. With over 20 years in journalism and drug policy advocacy, he has pioneered many tenets of modern cannabis media that he and the Grasslands team are constantly evolving toward the future. Most recently, he was appointed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis to the state's first Natural Medicine Advocacy Board.
In his latest entry of the series, Ricardo explores why regulated cannabis products are safer than those in the illicit market - and the healthy choices consumers can make to protect themselves, other humans, and the environment at large.
Is Regulated Cannabis Better Than Bodega Weed?
Your body is a temple and you know it. That’s why you regularly hit the gym, buy organic produce and dairy, and seek out free-range, grass-fed meat (if you eat meat at all).
So why are you buying your weed at the corner bodega (or via your old delivery guy) when there are finally healthier and safer options—a.k.a. state-regulated dispensaries—all over New York, and across most states in the U.S.?
In a world where health-conscious choices have become a way of life, why should your cannabis consumption be any different? The truth is, you’re probably doing more harm than good to yourself, the environment and society as a whole if you’re getting your cannabis from anywhere outside the regulated market. And here’s why.
What’s Really in That Joint You’re Lighting Up?
Cannabis is an extremely valuable crop, so when a grower faces threats like mites or mold in their garden, their first thought is often, "How can I save the crop?" Unfortunately, some of the most effective and affordable pesticides that kill mites and mold are considered toxic for human ingestion, especially when you’re lighting some of these active chemicals on fire and inhaling them directly into your bloodstream.
And countless illicit growers have relied on these pesticides for years.
It’s not like you can rinse weed with water to remove residual pesticides after harvest—as you can with fruits and veggies. So when you consume cannabis that’s been grown with toxic pesticides, those residual toxins will make their way into your body.
Remember Silent Spring, the 60s-era environmental warning? Just like the examples laid out in Rachel Carson’s best-selling book about the long-term effects of early exposure to harmful chemicals, people who consume pesticide-laden cannabis might not even know they’ve been ingesting harmful toxins until their health is already irreparably damaged.
This is one area where regulated cannabis markets shine. They prioritize public health by enforcing strict health mandates, such as banning the use of toxic pesticides during cultivation and requiring third-party laboratory testing to ensure the safety of cannabis products before they hit dispensary shelves.
Regulated products undergo rigorous testing to prevent consumers from being exposed to harmful substances like lead, arsenic or cadmium. Without these standards, contaminants like E. coli, salmonella and lead are far more commonplace in bodega weed. This is especially crucial for individuals with preexisting medical conditions and compromised immune systems.
Beyond the health concerns of non-regulated cannabis is the issue of quality, as I discovered while covering the early years of Colorado cannabis. Potency standards in regulated cannabis markets help guarantee a consistent and predictable experience for consumers—so you can be confident that you’re getting what you anticipate and pay for.
Cannabis Joins the Clean, Green, Health-Conscious Mainstream
Cannabis is well on its way to becoming a mainstream consumer packaged good, a commodity crop and a part of everyday life. It only makes sense that consumers’ weed preferences would start lining up with what we’ve seen in the broader consumer goods landscape, such as rising consumer demand for organic, “clean” products.
Take, for example, the increasing trend among consumers—particularly the Gen Z demographic—of turning away from alcohol consumption. That may be in part due to a lack of discretionary income for booze. But part of it seems to stem from this generation being more acutely aware of the negative health effects of alcohol consumption than previous generations have been, and they are opting for less harmful options such as cannabis.
Consumers want to know what they’re really putting into their bodies when they consume cannabis—or anything else, for that matter. But the only way they can be sure that the joints they’re lighting up aren't tainted with things like toxic chemicals from pesticides is by growing their own or buying from the regulated market. Cannabis grown, processed and sold on the illicit market is generally a big question mark. And while that question mark may be less expensive than cannabis sold at licensed dispensaries, the real costs of unregulated cannabis can be very high indeed.
Regulated Cannabis is Good for Society, Too
Cannabis purchased at licensed retailers is undoubtedly safer for personal consumption than illicit weed is. But the transition away from underground dealings towards legal and regulated sales is also good for society at large.
Unregulated cannabis grows are notoriously harmful to their surrounding environments. Not only does some illicit cultivation lead to deforestation and rampant water diversion, the use of harsh pesticides and fertilizers can seriously damage wildlife and waterways. The consequences of such cultivation practices are wide ranging and extremely difficult and expensive to fix. This is why virtually every state that has implemented legal cannabis sales has structured their regulatory framework to minimize environmental harms by mandating cultivation practices that protect surrounding environments as much as possible.
The rise of regulated cannabis markets has also led to important criminal justice and economic reforms focused on ending and remediating some of the harms associated with cannabis prohibition. For instance, many states that have legalized cannabis sales have also created pathways for people to have certain marijuana offenses expunged from their records. Many states with legal cannabis markets have also structured their regulations to prioritize equity and inclusion of populations that have been negatively impacted by the misguided War on Drugs. And while these efforts in many early-moving legal states have fallen short of where they need to be—and there is still much more work to be done on this front—it is an important step in the right direction.
When you're buying cheap, crusty bodega weed, you’re not helping to advance the social equity or environmental protection aims of legal cannabis markets. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The regulated market isn’t without its problems—but aside from growing your own plants and making your own infused products with your homegrow, state-licensed dispensaries are the best place to procure clean weed for your body, your mind, your temple and your community.
Ricardo Baca is Founder and CEO of cannabis PR agency Grasslands, The Denver Post’s former Marijuana Editor and a current member of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ appointed Natural Medicine Advisory Board. For more about Grasslands, visit mygrasslands.com. To learn more about Ricardo, follow @bruvs on Instagram.
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Featured image: Ricardo Baca (left), founder and CEO of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, in his natural habitat of collaboration (C) Grasslands