Don’t complain, get active: cannabis legalization is only the start

cannabis legalization for activists: Crowd shot of Ann Arbor Hash Bash where person is holding cannabis leaf shaped sign with 'LEGALIZE' written on it.

In the last year, the cannabis space has been abuzz with news of rescheduling. First was the long-awaited report from the Health and Human Services Department, effectively lobbing the decision to the DEA. There are many takes on what rescheduling will really bring. Those who have been fighting for decades have some trepidation, and I may be in the group hoping to see cannabis legalization for activists, not pharma.

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My first job in the cannabis space was in 2011 at Medithrive in San Francisco’s Mission district. Fresh out of college from studying philosophy, it felt like a dream. The people working there seemed so hip, and the location was prime. Plus, I got to work on the other side of the counter after being a patient for four years.

I was hired in August. By October, former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag had begun shuttering medical cannabis dispensaries, citing community harm. Medithrive was one of those dispos sent into the unknown.

Neighboring businesses, including a daycare, spoke out on our behalf, stating the presence of the shop made the somewhat dicey neighborhood safer. Still, the shop couldn’t open again for years. This experience activated something in me. From then on, I was at every cannabis protest and talking to anyone who would listen about legalization.

That little Cara might celebrate the impending rescheduling moment, but elder Cara has seen too much.

A stoner activated

At that time, medical shops were being forced to close, causing kind elders who relied on the products to suffer. We wanted safe access, but I wasn’t considering what would come with it. Now, living in a state where decade-old shops and farms are still struggling to survive, I question everything.

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Overtaxation, uninformed regulations, confusing or inaccessible licensing processes, and even extortion have plagued most states enacting legalization laws. In turn, quality has diminished since those golden days in San Francisco smoking premium medical marijuana, and due to the cost of business increase, prices have gone up. Additionally, businesspeople who weren’t down with the culture until word of the green rush hit the wire have joined the space.

All of these are a turnoff to longtime consumers who originally considered any legalization to be positive. When I moved to Washington State in 2017, it was interesting to see that most people I aligned with preferred to buy their bud, vapes, and even edibles from legacy dealers—even my fellow budtenders.

I understand the fury that comes with the realization that those elders who needed the plant most of all are now often priced out of quality. The dismay with lower quality products that end up dry from meeting processing regulations is also real. Refusing to purchase from that market is somewhat of a radical act of defiance, but perhaps a boycott isn’t the most effective move.

Can we have the weed industry we desire?

While it isn’t what I wanted it to look like, this is legal weed right now. The foundation, however faulty, is formed. Now we’ve got to figure out how to work with it. In Washington, there are constant consumer complaints but very little activism.

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For example, every year, a bill that would allow craft operations to sell directly to consumers, farmer’s market style, is introduced and left to die without discussion. Though this would open up canna-tourism possibilities and help small farmers, few consumers know the bill has ever existed. I say this not to complain but as a warning of what not to do once the plant is rescheduled. Don’t give up on your vision for cannabis access.

Legalization regulations and laws may not reflect a vision I had for the space, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned entirely. The nature of policy is that it can be built upon, and the activists that fought for weed should be a part of that process. This rings especially true as the federal government talks rescheduling.

Rescheduling opens doors for corporations, like pharmaceutical companies, to create cannabis formulations and get them FDA-approved for the mass market. Looking at already-snowballed situations like the U.S. opioid crisis, many longtime cannabis activists are holding their breath, wondering what entry from big players would mean for the plant.

How to be a cannabis consumer for a brighter future

Buying from shops rather than legacy and only purchasing from brands and stores that align with my values is one way that I feel I’m making my voice heard. We can vote with our dollars. I also send emails or call my local and state representatives when a cannabis bill is in play. These tactics may be useful in the big federal picture as well.

My fear is that organic plant products would be banned in place of pharmaceutical nasal sprays, pills, and lotions. On the other hand, my dream is that eventually, the pharma weed and holistic products separate, much like pharmacies and apothecaries are separated. Heck, imagine cannabis next to the chamomile jar at the herb shop. What a dream.

As the DEA calculates its next move and cannabis possibly sheds another shackle of prohibition in the near future, I urge everyone to stay involved in the policymaking to whatever extent is possible. Stay informed on what is in motion, and be loud when necessary. Let’s learn from the various legalization missteps that have happened at the state level. Perhaps a strong foundation will come from a community that is activated from the start.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.