PHOENIX – A claim by organizers of an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana for adults that it would limit the dosage of THC in edible products is false.
In its initial news release last week, Smart & Safe Arizona said if voters approve the measure in 2020 users would not be able to buy brownies, drinks and other products with more than 10 milligrams per serving of THC at state-regulated stores. That’s the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that creates the “high.”
In fact, the actual language of the initiative spells out that the 10 milligram figure actually is a floor, forbidding the state Department of Health Services from setting rules that limit the strength of edibles to less than that amount.
And the proposal, being financed by the marijuana industry, also bars state health officials from prohibiting less than 100 milligrams – 10 doses at the 10 milligram floor – from being sold in a package.
Attorney Roopali Desai, who is working with initiative organizers, acknowledged that the 10 milligram figure is the minimum. And she said it does leave state health officials free to set an even higher floor.
“If DHS decides in its discretion it wants to make things more potent, which I doubt they will do, they can always do that,” Desai explained. “But they can’t make it less potent.”That, however, still leaves the question of why backers of recreational marijuana would want to bar health officials from deciding that 10 milligrams is inappropriate.
“That level, I think, is too high,” said former state Health Director Will Humble. “Most of the literature I’ve seen recommends people starting at much lower doses than 10.”
Humble, now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, is not alone.
Oregon law spells out that the maximum dose that outlets are allowed to sell is 5 milligrams.
And in Alaska, which has a similar limit, the state Department of Public Health urges people to “be careful when eating and drinking marijuana,” suggesting they “start with a single dose of 5 milligrams of THC or even less.”
In fact several websites that either work with dispensaries or offer medical advice suggest that beginners start with doses as low as 2.5 milligrams.
“It’s a great ceiling,” Humble said of the 10 milligrams. “It’s a terrible floor.”
At least part of the issue is the difference between smoking marijuana and ingesting it.
The initiative, if approved, would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in its green, leafy form. Concentrates would be limited to just 5 grams, though that does not necessarily translate directly into the potency of the edibles.
Feeling the effects of eating or drinking a marijuana-infused product can take much longer, often an hour or more, versus just a few minutes for someone inhaling the smoke. That means someone does not know whether they have taken the “right” amount for the desired effect for some time, leading to the possibility of taking another dose while waiting for the first to kick in.
Desai said that nothing in the initiative prohibits marijuana outlets from marketing products with smaller doses for those who want to start out small to determine the effects. But she defended putting language in the proposal to forbid the state from forcing them to offer it.
“The industry standard is 10 milligrams per dose, 100 milligrams per package,” she said. “That’s true in Colorado, in Washington, in Nevada.”
Anyway, Desai said, she sees no problem with 10 milligram doses as long as consumers know what they are getting.
“They have the ability to see the labels and the information that they need to make choices for themselves about whether or not they need to take half a dose or a full dose,” she said. Desai said that can mean cutting a marijuana-infused brownie or candy bar in half.
The proposal requires that products be “scored” to allow them to be cut into standard serving sizes. But Desai acknowledged with 10 milligrams determined to be the standard size, that requirement does not exist for those who might want only 2.5 or 5 milligrams.
Humble, who as state health chief implemented Arizona’s medical marijuana law after a 2010 public vote, has another major problem with the initiative, what he calls “cartels.”
The initiative pretty much spells out that the licenses to sell recreational marijuana will go to the approximately 130 existing medical marijuana dispensaries.
“They get, in perpetuity, a corner on the market,” Humble said. “I just think its anti-competitive.”
He said he is not suggesting a system like Colorado with an unlimited number of retail stores.
“But I think that restricting it to the current number of medical marijuana dispensaries is really anti-competitive, unfair and just smacks of being a cartel.”
Desai said that word isn’t accurate.
She said a “cartel” suggests a small number of people controlling the market. But in Arizona, she said, the existing licenses are held by perhaps 80 different organizations, some large out-of-state corporations and others she described as “mom and pop” stores.
Desai said organizers saw no need to increase the current number of stores from the existing dispensary outlets. That is based on the 2010 law which allows one new outlet for every 10 pharmacies.
What the limit also does is provide a much larger base of customers to those who have existing licenses.
As of the most recent report there were more than 203,000 Arizonans who had specific medical conditions that entitled them to state-issued cards allowing them to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. By contrast the state Office of Economic Opportunity estimates there are 5 million Arizonans who are 21 and would be legally able to buy marijuana, either in leafy or edible form if the initiative is approved.
Desai, however, rejected making those kinds of numerical comparisons.
“I think it’s impossible to predict what the use is going to be in saying that every Arizonan is going to use marijuana once you legalize it,” she said.