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Inside America’s Failing Pot Experiment

© Stock Pot Images / Dale A. Clark

The headlines tell us that marijuana is now legal in one form or another in all but three states. Pot possession has been decriminalized in a dozen states and effectively so in nearly every major city. The convictions of tens of thousands are being expunged. 

Marijuana – yesterday’s menace – is now cannabis, touted as medicine for all sorts of maladies from a sore shoulder to cancer.  CBD oil refined from the plant is apparently just so darn good for us it’s showing up in everything from energy drinks to gummy bears. 

By some estimates, the industry has generated the equivalent of more than 100,000 full-time jobs, attracted untold billions in investment capital, and the business is poised to explode – as soon as weed becomes federally legal in the U.S.

Sounds great … until you take a second, closer look. With real federal reform unlikely anytime before next year’s presidential election, the 50 states, thousands of counties, and tens of thousands of small towns and cities are making the rules up as they go. As a result, last year’s bright shining future for cannabis is starting to look like this year’s clown act, only not that funny.

  • A Jamaican-American musician, Patrick Beadle, is currently sitting in a Mississippi state prison sweating out a three-year sentence for possession of marijuana that he legally purchased in Oregon and took with him when he drove cross country for a gig in Florida. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, he was racially profiled for a traffic stop and his car searched. He originally faced a 40-year sentence.
  • Another black man, this one from North Carolina, was recently stopped for speeding on Interstate 95 through Baltimore. The city’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, has refused to prosecute any possession cases, but the city’s police have been defying her. An illegal search of the speeding driver’s car turned up 18 pounds of pot. After a month in jail he was sent home with nothing more than the ticket.
  • The Transportation Safety Administration recently posted on Instagram that “TSA officers DO NOT search for marijuana or other illegal drugs,” but have the discretion if they find pot to notify local police. Los Angeles International Airport’s policy, posted on its website, states that local law enforcement will not arrest passengers with an ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated marijuana for personal consumption, the legal limit in California.
  • As reported recently in The Marijuana Times, a cannabis testing lab in Ukiah, California discovered in April that cannabis oil in a huge shipment of black market vape cartridges was contaminated by astronomically high levels of a fungicide which, when heated, breaks down into a deadly form of cyanide. Repeated attempts by the Mendocino County sheriff to alert state officials about this potential health crisis were met with silence.
  • California’s system for granting permits to legally grow, process, track, and test cannabis is such a bureaucratic chokepoint that there isn’t enough product to meet demand, so the black market is booming and so is the potential spread of contaminated products.
  • Taxes, fees, and multiple layers of regulation make it impossible for legal dispensaries to compete with illegal marijuana. Hundreds of rogue, pop-up pot shops in Los Angeles alone can openly sell black market cannabis products because the city police force lacks the spare manpower necessary to shut them all down. You can even find those illegal pop-ups listed on a website: Weedmaps.com
  • U.S. companies in the legal cannabis business still cannot put their cash in federally regulated banks because weed remains federally illegal. One rural Pennsylvania bank was so paranoid that it closed the accounts of the National Hemp Association, which neither sells nor even touches cannabis products, just because of the group’s name. Legit companies also cannot deduct business expenses related to cannabis activities on federal returns.
  • Instead of reducing the amount of illegally grown and distributed marijuana, legalization and decriminalization has encouraged outlaw growers to increase production to meet increased demand across the country. The price of a pound of premium California outlaw weed plunged last year to about $500 at the field. This spring it bounced back to about $1,200. Farm supply merchants in traditional outlaw grow zones reported surging sales this spring of equipment, fertilizer, and other essentials to newbies hoping to cash in on the green rush.
  • Proponents of legal recreational use predicted billions in new state tax revenue as users migrated from the black market. But legal sales in California fell by about 20 percent between 2017 and 2018. State tax receipts for 2018 were about half the projected $643 million. Factoring in the bureaucratic, enforcement, and other regulatory costs, some experts believe it may be costing taxpayers in some jurisdictions multiple dollars to collect one dollar in cannabis taxes.
  • Billions of investment dollars – no one really knows how much – have poured into every nook and cranny, from land on which to grow the pot, to equipment makers, to testing labs, to vape pen makers. A big chunk has been invested through reverse mergers into shell companies listed on the second tier stock exchange in Canada, where marijuana is federally legal and regulated. To a former stock market columnist, much of this investment activity – accompanied by a great deal of hype – has a familiar fishy smell. The charts of cannabis stock indices – already down a third from the peak in January 2018 – are looking wobbly, with lower highs and lower lows: a descending staircase.

It is impossible to describe in a single article just how big a mess, how tangled a ball of string, is America’s experiment with legalizing marijuana. That’s because there are few standards; central authorities are scattered, disorganized, and understaffed; there is no comprehensive mechanism or agency responsible for protecting public health; and what’s legal or not depends on where you happen to be at the moment. Philadelphia police will ignore you if you smoke pot in public, but a few miles away in the suburbs you’ll be whisked away in handcuffs, on your way to a holding cell and a bail hearing.

The mainstream media has yet to catch up with what’s happening on the ground. As of a month or so ago, the Los Angeles Times – the largest newspaper in the first state to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, and the state which produces most of the marijuana consumed in this country – still had not designated a reporter to cover the cannabis beat. As a result of this news desert, stories about potentially poisonous vape pens that beg for widespread attention are relegated to niche websites like The Marijuana Times. The consuming public – mostly users of outlaw cannabis – has no idea what could be in their weed and vape cartridges.

There are about three dozen small, specialty web sites and magazines, most of them aimed at the consumer market. Some feature reviews of popular strains, offer advice on how to pass a drug test, or feature stories with quirky angles, like a report that bisexual women smoke more cannabis than lesbians, or, “California Rules Inmates Allowed To Possess Cannabis in Prison“.

Some devote coverage to the twists and turns of developments in state legislatures, Congress, and the federal government – news that is speculative and of interest to a limited audience of industry insiders and lobbyists. And there are a few sites and magazines that cover the nuts and bolts of the industry but are supported by advertisers who are unlikely to embrace the sort of independent, investigative journalism that could shine a light on the regulatory chaos.

Cannabis expert and chemical researcher Dr. Jeffrey Raber, CEO of TheWercShop, which provides technical and other services to the industry, has been warning about cannabis contamination for years. In a recent interview about the problem with vape cartridges, Raber told veteran cannabis writer Mitchell Colbert, “We are all in a running experiment, and we are the subject.”


  1. “Inside America’s Failing Pot Experiment” is a bad title. More accurately the title should be “Cannabis; growing pains from being nationally prohibited to federally legal.” With the internet we all expect instant gratification but in real life, and especially in the government, it doesn’t work that way. I’m actually surprised how fast legalization is happening so far.

    Cannabis is winning over the people that were once strongly against it after being demonized since the 1930s through government propaganda. I see older conservative people such as my parents accepting it and trying certain edible products for sleep and other issues that come in your 70s.

    Winning over hearts and minds is going to be the easy part in my opinion. Keeping greedy politicians (Democrats & Republicans) from screwing up the market with over taxation and over regulation is another matter. The ONLY reason politicians are behind it, for the most part, is they see a lot of potential money that they can blow to buy more votes for themselves.

    For me legalization means growing my own and sharing with family and friends, and luckily California has home grow as part of the state’s legalization.

    Now time to go listen to Joe Klare’s daily Marijuana Times podcast!

    • Points taken. However, I would argue that cyanide producing fungicides in vape oil is something other than “growing pains.” I personally interviewed state officials in California and was shocked at how clueless public officials are about what strikes me as a potentially serious national health issue.

      • Agreed! There needs to be strict testing for the consumer. I’m a home grower so I’m not that in touch with the retail side. For me everything is fine legally growing in my tent or yard, but I appreciate journalist like you that research the real issues for the retail side.

  2. Cannabis was being grown by people when the Constitution was ratified by the states. The 9th Amendment established the right of the people to continue to grow and carefully use the versatile and valuable renewable natural resource that is cannabis. The 10th Amendment established the right of people to continue to grow cannabis according to state law. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment established privileges and immunities for citizens to continue to grow cannabis that cannot be abridged by the states. In the context of these amendments, nothing was established to allow corporations to grow cannabis, regardless of whether it is misconstrued to be marijuana or misidentified as hemp.

    Congress first prohibited marijuana by including its malformed definition in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Marijuana was misconstrued to mean cannabis, by the agency charged with enforcing the definition of marijuana, because enforcing the prohibition of cannabis was better for funding levels than enforcing the prohibition of cannabis smoke. The federal definition of marijuana has been revised twice since then, and each definition has been persistently malformed and consistently misconstrued. The malformed definition remains so difficult to understand because that aids in the difficulty to rebut the government’s propaganda that engenders the malicious misconceptions about marijuana, which abets the continued prohibition of cannabis.

    The definition is malformed because it adumbrates the actual meaning of marijuana with a riddle: What is all parts of the plant, and simultaneously does not include the mature stalks? A riddle cannot be a “necessary and proper” law. A definition that adumbrates its meaning is a fake definition.

    Interesting how the States gave up (sold out?) their rights to control cannabis, and the rights of their citizens to grow cannabis, by accepting the federal government’s malformed definition of marijuana in 1937. Where was the outcry from the governors? The definition of hemp in 2018 provided a little claw-back, but how could the federal government override the constitutional amendments in the first place?

    Not by law, but by fear and greed it seems. All it took was some claims about death, insanity, and addiction caused by marijuana, and a federal promise to generously pay for things, and the states began kowtowing.

    Much of the fear has been overcome, but not the greed. The trickle-down of money from the feds, to the states, to the people, must be counterbalanced by the trickle-up of money from the people, to the states, that cannabis has been shown to provide. Now is the time to end the “failed pot experiment”.

    Reconstructing the federal definition of marijuana will restore and protect the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens to grow cannabis under state law and not abridged by state law, as the amendments to the Constitution originally intended. The intransigence by the feds to reconstruct the definition must be overcome by the people’s demands to reconstruct the current malformed definition.

    Let’s contact our members of Congress about reconstructing the definition this way to make it uphold our Constitution:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is the intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    This malformed definition is what Congress will be reconstructing:

    (16)(A) Subject to subparagraph (B), the term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.
    (B) The term “marihuana” does not include (i) hemp, as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946; or (ii) the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.

    Reconstructing the malformed federal definition of marijuana will legislatively override the longstanding federal misconstruction that marijuana means cannabis. It will restrain States from maliciously misconstruing federal marijuana law. It will automatically restore banking privileges to businesses engaged in cannabis commerce. It will oblige corporations to outsource their supplies of cannabis from citizens competing in the supply-side of a diversified cannabis market, and it will preclude corporations from enticing children to “smoke marijuana”.

    In terms of our U.S. heritage, the reconstructed definition will help to prevent misconstruction or abuse of the Constitution’s powers, extend the ground of public confidence in the Government, and best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution, as well as establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, by adhering to the self-evident truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

  3. The poison vape carts and the fungicide that turns to cyanide when heated is also a fake story drummed up by Werc shop and the Chemists society to increase the influence of these crooks, which represent testing labs. Testing labs are useless and fail to protect the consumer in multiple ways. They attempt to scare the public into accepting over regulation and expensive tests in all products that are at best entertainment while they line their pockets, with new expensive tests and labs. Will they ever invent tests that analyze the quality of products? No. Corporate cannabis cannot compete on quality, so they wouldn’t pay for those tests. Has anyone died or even gotten sick from ‘poison vape carts’? Outside of some weakly Associated hypermesis syndrome, no. And even in the case of hypermesis, they cure was to stop with no long term symptoms. These thieves won’t tell you that their tests don’t help or save anyone. They will just threaten you and your safety until they make their money without protecting anyone.