Quasi-commercial cannabis gone gonzo in the Show Me State

We saw thousands of bags of grass, salt shaker-esque bottles of tincture, dab stations, high tech bongs, spores for psilocybin “research” and a whole galaxy of multicolored edibles marketed as uppers, downers, laughers and screamers.

We had a few bottles of water and access to cash-only cans of Busch Light. The closest ATM was at a gas station several blocks away. That wasn’t much of an issue as most of the quasi-legal drug dealers took Venmo (and more than a few gladly swiped our credit cards).

The convening place for last weekend’s Fall St. Louis Canna Expo was a Knights of Columbus Fraternal service order building in the small town of House Springs, Missouri about 15 miles outside of St. Louis. There, in plain sight and for a $10 admission ticket, consumers from at least as far as Chicago were greeted to a bud buffet of low-priced flower, gummies, concentrates and more.

None of the dozens of vendors we spoke with, mind you, were actually licensed by the state of Missouri to sell weed. Most said they were Missouri medical caregivers who were legally registered (for less than $100 annually) to grow dozens of cannabis plants per year for their designated patients.

While selling cannabis in Missouri is strictly prohibited unless you are one of the 200 or so dispensaries licensed by the state, the Grateful Dead parking lot-like scene in the modest event space of a 501c3 Catholic men’s organization (which is the parent entity of a Fortune 1000 insurance company) did not attract the attention of any law enforcement in the three or so hours we were there.

Many of the vendors we spoke with said they were surprised with the out-in-the-open scale of last weekend’s Expo, and predicted that law enforcement would crack down on future gatherings. Most aspired to eventually join Missouri’s regulated program, but in the meantime were happy to clear thousands of dollars for a weekend’s worth of work talking with customers happy to purchase $30 tax-free eighths of kind bud (testing and product efficacy be damned!)

Meanwhile, licensed and regulated cannabis operators in Missouri sold more than $250 million in cannabis from February through April after the state expanded from medical-only to adult-use sales. In a tough year for U.S.-based cannabis operators across the board, the success of Missouri’s limited-licensed market is a relative bright spot.

Operators in the state we queried were not as concerned about losing market share to unlicensed vendors as they were about the potential for untested and unsafe products causing harm for consumers out in the wild. Still, every penny counts, particularly when a portion of those pennies can be saved thanks to 280e state tax relief won last year by Missouri’s MoCannTrade association among others.

Similar “farmers market”-like events in Michigan, where caregivers for better and worse are part of that state’s commercial culture, continue to crop up. In that state, where medical marijuana was first legalized in 2008, there are also licensed public consumption events and festivals where cannabis is bought and sold in more of an above board licensed and regulated method.

In between those states, with the exception of a 27-mile patch of Indiana where possession of any amount of cannabis can land you in jail for six months, is Illinois. In that heavily regulated state, caregivers are prohibited from growing or selling medical marijuana. The licensed industry, which includes some of the largest legal cannabis growers, manufacturers and retailers on the planet, regularly sponsors and participates in public consumption events where consumers are free to imbibe but not encouraged to take home any doobie doggie bags.

Zooming out from these three (of about 40) entirely different legal cannabis markets in the United States, a few things appear to be increasingly self-evident.

  • Red states and blue states alike are green states. Cannabis brings in tax revenue, is not a priority for law enforcement, and is increasingly seen as mainstream by populations where recreational use is legal.
  • As cannabis consumption becomes more free and legal, licensed operators will face increased competition from quasi-legal caregivers and proprietors of THC-adjacent dispensaries that sell variations of the plant like Delta 8 that get you high but are not subject to the same regulation and testing protocols.
  • The rationale for not federally decriminalizing the plant and regulating commerce is ludicrous. In terms of a political issue, there will be more to lose in 2024 standing in the way of pot reform than advocating for it. Public opinion in support of discriminalization is escalating at a non-linear rate similar to same-sex marriage support a decade ago.

In 2023 we are living through an interregnum where cannabis culture is generally accepted across the country while cannabis commerce is stunted by a lack of coordination between government, the private sector, research institutions and social / consumer advocates. The genie is out of the bong. Cannabis consumption is spreading like a weed. Now is not the time for the powers that be to run around like a bunch of keystoned cops.

This may sound weird to you, but to quote pioneering gonzo journalist and drug enthusiast Hunter S. Thompson, when it comes to reefer regulation and the challenges and opportunities that exist in this ascending industry, “it never got weird enough for me.”

NGW believes that self-care is a priority to well-being. The name of the company itself represents this notion!

Self- care is a trending buzz word but do we really know what it means? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. It is important to have a way to deal with the stressors we may encounter on a daily basis.

For example, cannabis can be used to help alleviate stress and other mental health challenges. Specific plant terpenes that are found in cannabis and other naturally occurring plants have been known to potentially combat stress, anxiety, and depression. What is a terpene? A terpene is a highly aromatic compound found in plants and animals. In essence it is the plant’s smell or essential oil it produces. Cannabis strains and other plants, used to help with stress related ailments, will usually include the terpenes- linalool, caryophyllene, limonene, myrcene, and alpha-pinene.

Enjoying nature is another way to participate in self-care. Being outside in green spaces decreases stress and helps with grounding. Locations with water are calming. So, go for that hike in the woods or sit by the lake and spark up a Mindful Moment. Use the quiet to decompress and reset. We all need to take time out for ourselves. Self-care is important and not selfish. You matter!

Remember, multiple options can be used to help deal with stress but always do it in moderation. The information above is educational only. Always consult your doctor before starting medications and/or new exercise practices.

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.