Why are people smoking gas station weed—and will it ever be legit?
Stories on the risks of cannabis consumption helped make the first cases for prohibition. The government doubled down when the Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance, putting weed in the same category as heroin and LSD.
Since the beginning, proponents of the plant argued that prohibition is actually more dangerous. It forces people to engage in illicit activity, purchasing products that could contain contaminants or other unsavory substances. Due to the piecemeal approach to marijuana reform in America, the problem has become even more significant.
The rise of gas station weed
The majority of states have legalized cannabis in some way. Those that have yet to act (and even some that have) are seeing a proliferation of synthesized cannabinoids, such as delta-8 and HHC, in convenience stores and head shops. Derived from hemp, these compounds offer federally legal highs—and zero consumer safety requirements.
According to a recent study, prohibition “unintentionally promotes” the use of delta-8 and other synthesized cannabinoids. If these products are the only “legal” way to consume cannabis, people will certainly go that route. However, no one knows what’s actually in these vapes and edibles—or the long-term effects. But since they’re sold in a wide range of stores, most consumers assume they’re legit.
In places like Wisconsin and Texas, smoke shops and truck stops are filled with vapes, gummies, and drinks containing delta-8, HHC, and THCA. Meanwhile, many states with legal cannabis are banning these unregulated compounds.
To demonstrate the risks, a team from Steep Hill Labs in Mississippi tested 13 cannabis products purchased from gas stations across Rankin County. At least one contained eight pesticides banned from use in regulated cannabis; the rest were 30 to 40 times more potent than advertised on the package.
That’s not to say all hemp-derived cannabinoid products are dangerous. There are plenty of good actors producing quality products that have been tested, offering consumers a way to get the benefits of cannabinoids in a legal manner. But even the mere existence of a hemp market has some up in arms.
Hemp vs. marijuana
A number of states have outlawed synthesized cannabinoids, partially due to the fact that these products pose a perceived threat to the legal cannabis market. The divide has driven a wedge between hemp and marijuana operators. Hemp brands argue their products are permitted under the 2018 Farm Bill, while regulated cannabis brands believe hemp-derived cannabinoids are unsafe and unfair, primarily since hemp brands are not held to the same regulatory standards, licensing, and tax rates.
It’s a complicated debate that may reach a boiling point when the Farm Bill comes up for renewal this year. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to cannabis remaining a Schedule I narcotic.
Perhaps if weed were legalized nationwide and both hemp and marijuana products were regulated, fears of tainted products would go up in smoke. Gas station weed would be like cigarettes and beer—and held to some type of standard. Until then, consumers should continue to educate themselves prior to purchase.