Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

All Aboard



Legal recreational marijuana is barreling down on the Golden State, with retail sales slated to begin in January. And — along with all the edibles, smokeables and topicals one can imagine — it looks like we might get a new transportation option to boot when the Puff Bus comes to town.

Yes, really. Loopr, a Denver-based pot party bus company announced plans on its website to open new "green lines" in California, Nevada and Massachusetts next year. On its existing line in Denver, the operator allows riders to smoke and dab their way through town as the bus stops at dispensaries, clubs, hotels and restaurants. The buses even come equipped with bongs, vaporizers and hookahs, so no need for riders to pack their own. (Let's all just take a moment to contemplate the sanitary implications of a community public transportation bong.) They do, however, have to bring their own weed or purchase it at one of the dispensary stops.

And there's a growing fear that those cannabis connoisseurs among us who are balling on a budget may skip those dispensary stops and hit up the black market instead. As the new regulated world sets up shop in California, industry insiders are warning it's likely that legal weed will be a lot more expensive than its illicit, back hills cousin.

A recent article in the New York Times indicated that only an estimated 11 percent of California cannabis farmers are in line to take their farms legit. (In Humboldt County, estimates hover closer to 20 percent.) That means a whole lot of product is heading across state lines or to neighborhood dealers throughout California.

But the question is increasingly becoming what will consumers do come January? Another NYT story quotes California Growers Association Chair Tawnier Logan as saying the black market price for an eighth of an ounce of pot is around $20, about $30 less than dispensaries are charging. That's a problem, especially when you consider that growers' costs are only increasing as they work to come into compliance and a whole new tax structure is poised to hit retail sales in January. Sure, some will buy legal just to buy legal or for the novelty of going into a marijuana storefront, but will that last if the price difference remains or even increases?

When pressed on this issue, all California regulators have really been able to offer is that some looming law enforcement crackdown will limit black market supply and drive its prices up. But where is that crackdown going to come from? The state isn't allocating resources for it. And locally, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office could do literally nothing else for the next year and still hardly dent the estimated 8,000 or so grow sites that aren't taking any steps toward compliance.

It appears the cost disparity is going to be around a while, so when you're on that Loopr next summer and someone packs you a bong rip, it's fair to question whether his or her weed is on the up and up.

And if you do find yourself Loopr-ing around on a budget next year, leery of those "overpriced" dispensary stops, you'll have one fewer option for getting your weed products, thanks to those zealous regulators in Sacramento.

According to a recent article in The Verge, the latest draft regulations from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control outlaw drone delivery services, quashing the long-held dream of stoners everywhere to get legal weed delivered by robot.

Instead, the buzz-kill bureau will require require that cannabis goods be transported inside commercial vehicles or trailers. In addition to drones, the bureau is putting the kibosh on human-powered delivery vehicles, dashing any hopes of a Kinetic Cannabis Delivery Co. in the near future.

But Humboldt's delightful eccentricities aside, let's be real: Automation is the wave of the future, proven to cut costs and increase efficiency. So, let the weed drones fly. And while we're at it, maybe we can trade that Loopr driver in for a budtending chauffeur robot. I'm sure it would know where to find the affordable, black market dank. It might even call one of its drone buddies to deliver it.

Thaddeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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