By Andrea Dobbs
There is something that has been simmering in my gut for a while now.
While U.S. hedge fund managers and investors are rallying their troops, and while lobbyists and politicians amp up to face the beast, somewhere amidst all of the fanfare and hoopla around the legalization of ‘recreational cannabis” is a reality that the current “grey market” experiences on a daily basis—and in all likelihood, it will not transition forward into the legal realm.
In some ways, this is a good thing.
For the sake of posterity, I want to put down on paper some thoughts that are based on my experiences working at the Village.
As it stands, people who choose to work in a dispensary have a personal relationship with Cannabis.
Personal, in that they identify as a consumer who simply enjoys the lift that cannabis can provide. They may be a “chronic” but out of touch with why cannabis plays such a big role in their life, or they have a very clear idea around how cannabis impacts their wellbeing.
Either way, this relationship with cannabis has prompted them to risk being stigmatized and potentially criminalized in order to be close to the plant. In most cases, they become politicized because somewhere along the way, the social injustice of it all becomes increasingly evident.
Generally, there are three user subgroups that exist in the dispensary space.
First, the cannabis consumer: These folks identify with one of the many cannabis subcultures that exist, from the Cheech and Chong wannabees and the irie Bob Marley fans, to the Ganja Yoga wellness gurus and the modern Tokyo Smoke aficionados. There are too many stereotypes to list but you get the picture.
The canna-curious are, as you might guess, genuinely curious about cannabis and are interested in both the potential health benefits, as well as the recreational nature of the plant. For the most part, they are naive to the history cannabis has suffered, but they are totally open to its healing potential.
The canna-cautious, on the other hand, have found themselves in a dire position and they feel cannabis is potentially their only option. They are completely unsure of how to move forward with cannabis, and they are often afraid to talk to not only their doctors about it, but also their partners, children and parents. There is often a feeling of desperation at play. For the latter, cannabis access can be a daunting experience.
Today’s dispensary exchange is unique.
Each of these subgroups needs a specific type of experience in order ensure that their needs are met. A dispensary worker needs to be agile and must read and engage on multiple levels.
If a cannabis consumer comes in, we need to discuss terpene profiles, bud structure, potency, growing style and potential outcomes.
A canna-curious person will be all about exploring, sampling topicals, smelling products, and reading while the dispensary worker needs to authentically and accurately respond to this curiosity.
In comparison, the canna-cautious exchange is a sobering and poignant exchange of information. The canna-cautious person has seen the inside of every conventional medical procedure imaginable and we are their last hope.
They are tired, afraid, vulnerable, nutrient-depleted and often they are programmed to look for the quick fix, or “the magic pill”, if you will. These folks share their deepest fears, their most painful realities, and their biggest hopes with us.
Their loved ones often rely on us when they need an ear. They carefully unpack their sadness, fatigue and isolation of being full time caregivers.
We as the bearers of knowledge share our insights and suggestions. We do our best to encourage them to approach their situation empowered with information and armed with hope.
The canna-cautious are often aware that they are breaking the law and this heightens the experience. The relationships become deeply familiar in a very short time.
These canna-cautious people sometimes die and as dispensary workers, we grieve them.
We awe at their bravery for risking being criminalized, we respect their courage for trusting their gut, we rejoice in the benefits they share with us and we miss them when they are gone.
In the last six months, seven people have died and two of those were in the last 10 days. We supported them until the end.
There are two more who we are worried about because we haven’t seen them in a while.
This level of concern, this level of connectivity, and this level of emotional investment will not likely transition forward into next year’s ‘recreational’ market place.
I hope very much that doctors and naturopaths will make space for the canna-cautious. I hope they dig deep and hit the ground running. I hope that people who need to explore cannabis for survival have responsive and engaged health care providers to embrace them.
I hope that those individuals who are gearing up to take advantage of this burgeoning marketplace, ripe for innovation and growth, will remember how we got here. I am hopeful.
Should I find myself on the other side of legalization with the Village intact, I will welcome them with open arms.