Recreational or medicinal, habitual or occasional, our love of cannabis is old news. If we can freely give our lives at 18, kill our livers at 21, and fry our lungs with tobacco as long as we can obtain it, imbibing in a different, and frankly natural, intoxicant is no big deal to anyone with even a passing familiarity.
This is why it’s so absurd that we can even sit down and compare the purchasing situation between legal and illegal markets in one country. It’s because Puritanism still controls a vast portion of American culture, and the enforcement of that Puritanism on people of color disproportionately lines the pockets of the top dogs, so it remains a state issue. It’s why GQ can cover a band of gorgeous models slinging cannabis around town but the NYPD can still arrest people for possession in majority black precincts, despite 27 grams or less being decriminalized in New York State.
All this context aside, it’s downright shameful to compare the legal markets of a place like Washington and Oregon, or California’s flexible grey-area availability with the absurdly authoritarian places like New York City and New Jersey, but I’m going to illustrate the key differences that were apparent after having my first legal experience.
This seems obvious, but the real picture is one of nuance. There’s no question that you can acquire quality cannabis in New York and other iron-fist-medical states, the black market is flourishing. Sure when a dealer comes by they can tell you what strain and origin to the best of their knowledge, but are they about to tell you the (likely) illegal farm that grew it or any other identifying details? Absolutely not.
When you purchase in Washington for example, you are told the date of harvest as well as the company and farm that has grown your product, which is also analyzed for cannabinoid content and labeled with the pesticides used. You ain’t getting that from your burner phone person who was 90 minutes late.
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Quality also extends past the labeling and to the actual cannabis itself. The best buds are reserved for collectives, dispensaries, and the legal market where these buds are in demand. Something as valuable as cannabis carries a dramatically higher retail price on the East Coast, while as noted above, exact quality cannot be known buy the buyer.
You don’t need to know in vast detail precisely how much more affordable cannabis is in legal states, especially now as the programs finally grow into their own. At every grade of quality, you get more for your money. From the finest Triton to the ‘farm cut’ deals for the old school smokers, you get more leaf for your lira. Portland in particular had especially cutting deals on totally legit strains that were fresh as can be.
Here’s one thing what will bring an enthusiast to their knees in reverence upon going into the big stores. It’s almost impossible to keep track of all of the strains, which is why many menus are available online and in books to speed the actual buying process. Hybrids, sativas, indicas, CBD heavy, double sour variants, there’s just about anything your heart desires, and that’s just flower and concentrates.
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When it comes to edibles, topicals, and intimate items, you’re able to purchase the health aids that New Yorkers only dream about, or make themselves. Everything from an Ethos balm to a Fairwinds capsule can help you manage pain, illness, or just have an enhanced evening.
Legal peeps are spoiled. Aside from ‘knowing someone’ who can help you procure quality cannabis in NYC, you’re also usually on their schedule. Delivery means you have to wait often 90 minutes at the minimum, and then let a strange person into your home. The price is higher, the wait is longer, and you’re at their mercy, since you can’t exactly call the Better Business Bureau if something goes awry. Line that up to legal states where you can usually purchase cannabis within 30 miles of your home and during most of the waking hours every day. Makes the other states look like a rotary phone next to an iPhone.
This is a major factor that not many people consider when they frame the paradigm of their consumption. Currently, the American cannabis market puts people of color at a dramatic disadvantage. Tons of black and brown people remain in prison or otherwise burdened by felony cannabis charges, while new investors are creating fully integrated operations with either little personal experience or a history pushing without consequence. Many legal states are repealing or adjusting laws that bar felony holders from working in cannabis, which is a small step, but in illegal states, some of the people of color who use or distribute cannabis do so with great personal risk compared to white dealers and customers. The privilege of legal commerce that includes those with cannabis felonies could be one chip off of this continuing national tragedy.
Now that you know you can grab fancy packaged premium buds in Washington, or get a killer deal on some Obama Kush in Portland, but have to rely on the methods not much changed since the 1970s elsewhere, the stark differences should be even more jarring. It makes a cannabis lover want to up and move to a legal state, as it makes me want to from time to time when I’m reminded of how silly everything is here.
Photos: Danielle Guercio