Sometimes working in cannabis leaves me feeling like I’m through the looking glass.
It’s not just that my job is federally illegal, or that we now offer receipts for cannabis after generations of lurking in the shadows. Often the strangest part of my day is when something “normal” happens.
I was surprised and excited when I was finally able to do something as ordinary as opening a checking account, even if it would cost an arm and a leg. It took more than three years to find someone to process debit cards for us. (We’re still waiting on credit card processing.) I can’t advertise on television.
What do all of these have in common? They are all things 99.9 percent of American businesses take for granted. Not so for cannabis, where the normal can be extremely abnormal. I like to compare operating a cannabis business to running with ankle weights. You can still make it to the finish line, but everything is a little harder than it needs to be.
So when I see the cannabis industry, cannabis businesses or anyone associated with cannabis treated like their non-cannabis counterparts, I take notice. Each little instance represents another crack in the dam, another step toward the normalization of cannabis.
Last week, two such items caught my eye.
The first was a law passed in Washington state that authorized the creation of a voluntary, state-administered organic certification program for cannabis. I could easily spin off on a tangent here about the environmental benefits of organic farming, the health benefits of consuming organic products or the importance of governments encouraging and assisting organic agriculture, but I’ll save that for another day. I have a different point in mind.
A certain subset of cannabis consumers place a high value on purchasing organic cannabis products. They would like a way to know with some certainty that they are buying organic. Another subset of cannabis producers want to use organic farming methods. These farmers, and the stores that sell their products, would like a way to prove to consumers that their practices are organic and sustainable. If cannabis were any other crop, this would have happened long ago.
I applaud the state of Washington for leading on this important issue. Beyond that, I’m thrilled that we will soon have an organic certification for cannabis, something available for any other crop. Something normal.
The second item was a report issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in April. The report analyzed the health and safety risks of working on a cannabis farm.
Researchers visited a farm at harvest time and observed and interviewed the staff. They took swabs and collected samples and analyzed the data. Their findings, frankly, were pretty normal.
Workers’ chief complaint involved the repetitive motion injuries that can accompany trimming cannabis, something that will likely resonate with anyone with any trimming experience. Botrytis cinerea was the most common airborne fungal spore. Researchers found endotoxin concentrations to be well below safe limits. And, in a stunning turn, they detected THC in all surface wipe samples.
The folks from NIOSH also made some commonsense recommendations to help address these minor issues. They suggested rotating workers through different jobs that use different muscles in order to avoid repetitive motion injuries and using non-latex gloves when handling cannabis.
More important than any of these individual results is the fact that this study even took place. Here we have federal researchers treating a cannabis farm like…any other farm. They simply did their job, which in this case is to assess hazards and offer suggestions to mitigate potential harms.
Legalization is an important step for our nation, but we must follow it with normalization. We must assimilate cannabis culture until cannabis is no less acceptable than a cold beer after work or a couple of Advil for a sore back. We must treat cannabis businesses fairly, like we treat all other businesses. We should have fair taxation, access to banking and all of the other rights and services that other industries enjoy.
As long as the normal remains abnormal in cannabis, we still have work to do.