Ben Cort says he became compelled to write a detailed account of the issues around the commercialization of marijuana because of the expressions of “shock and awe” he would see in stakeholders whenever he presented what he considered basic information about the drug. He hopes that the newly released Weed, Inc. will help treatment field professionals, policy-makers and others catch up to the rapidly developing science on today's marijuana and its risks.
“So many in the field are operating under a construct that is antiquated,” says Cort, who actively opposed Colorado's Amendment 64 legalization measure in 2012 and has since witnessed the state become what he calls in the book a “sacrificial lamb” dealing with the effects of a “failed experiment.”
“It is just a different substance [today],” Cort tells Addiction Professional.
He sympathizes with substance use treatment professionals in long-term recovery who have not been exposed to the marijuana-using culture since their own using days and thus are not familiar with the highly potent products now being consumed. “They're working with someone sitting across the table who has used a substance they think they know,” Cort says.
Weed, Inc. (Health Communications, Inc.) chronicles how Cort, a person in recovery who maintains a hands-off stance on casual adult marijuana use (as long as it doesn't involve driving under the influence or use in the presence of children), experienced a change in perspective on legalization after reading the more than 3,600-word Colorado ballot measure during the campaign five years ago. The ballot language's protections for a newly created industry stunned him.
“Even to a layman like me, the loopholes were big enough to drive trucks through, and after my first read-through I knew I was looking at the christening of a commercial industry,” Cort writes. “This wasn't about freedom. It was, and is, about big business.”
The book details the proliferation of products with extremely high THC content in Colorado (Cort urges use of “THC” over “marijuana” and “commercialization” over “legalization” in framing the issues). These range from omnipresent edibles of all imaginable types to concentrates that combust at extremely high heat and typically contain at least 80% THC. Cort writes of the latter, “I believe they should be banned totally until we have more evidence on what they are doing to users in the short and long term.”
That comment speaks to a theme woven throughout the text: that the industry that has developed in Colorado and other states that have authorized commercial sales remains a step ahead of the community's understanding of the science of today's marijuana.
However, Cort also points out that the scientific information is out there, including recent research that sheds light on the potentially damaging effect of high levels of THC on brain regions linked to serious mental illness. “We have more than enough information,” he says. “We knew the bad things about cigarette consumption before the Surgeon General's report.”
Weed, Inc. offers several strategies that Cort believes would help combat the excesses of commercialization. Atop his list is a THC content limit for commercially marketed products. A failed effort at this in Colorado had selected 16% as the maximum level because that amount has been formally studied in research.
“While 16 percent THC potency is pretty scary considering mental health, addiction, and brain development issues, at least we have some research on it,” Cort writes. “Since commercially produced weed is typically far above 16 percent, our society is effectively telling people that it's okay and The Industry is directly telling them it's okay. This should stop.”
Cort, a board member for Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), continues with advocacy activity that points to the importance of ongoing involvement with this issue. While he says the bulk of commercial marijuana laws across the country have few differences because the major pro-legalization groups are involved with drafting them, he suggests that New York ended up writing more balanced medical marijuana law because leaders there sought practical implementation strategies from other stakeholders, including himself.