Marijuana legalization is having an incredible impact on illegal marijuana use


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With legal allowances for both medical and recreational use on the rise all over the US, the favored illegal drug of Americans has never looked more professional.

That’s because the business of legal marijuana has never been better. We’re talking about a $7 billion market, according to ArcView Market Research (a firm that tracks the legal cannabis trade).

The world of dimebags is long gone, replaced with complex breakdowns of Indica vs Sativa percentages on packaging, flavor profiles, and high-end edibles. The market for legal weed in the US outpaces Girl Scout Cookies. And Girl Scout Cookies are delicious. Have you ever had a Samoa? Good grief!

Now more than ever, buying cannabis in the US is more akin to buying craft beer or charcuterie.

oregon marijuana dispensaryThis sticker on this jar of “Obama Kush” indicates it’s an indica, with 14.4% THC. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

This is to be expected in places like Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is outright legal. But the image above, from an Oregon medical dispensary, points to another effect of the ongoing march toward national legalization: marijuana is growing up.

It looks less like a drug transaction and more like a product purchase. It looks normal.

The ripple effect of this maturation — the move away from baggies on street corners to artfully labeled products on store shelves — is creeping into places where legality is dubious at best.

new york city cabFlickr / Nicolás Boullosa

In America’s largest city, for instance, marijuana remains illegal.

It is decriminalized, deprioritized, but illegal nonetheless. There are no recreational marijuana dispensaries, though there are medical marijuana dispensaries; they only deal in capsules, tinctures, and other orally-ingested forms of cannabis. More importantly, it’s very difficult to become a medical marijuana user in New York State. Even when you become one, there are just 17 dispensaries statewide.

And yet, New York City’s recreational marijuana dealers are getting more and more professional in their wares. Some offer edible candy, or tinctures of CBD (a non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana used medically), or high-potency THC wax.

Many are already brands unto themselves, professional packaging and all. We spoke with dealers from several services that all function as retail outlets without physical locations (delivery only); all asked not to be named.

NYC marijuanaOne of several types of marijuana offered by a New York City area service. Ben Gilbert / Business Insider

The description on the case above is an abridged version of the Mango Kush informationoffered by popular cannabis site Leafly (think: Yelp for weed). It also notes the breakdown of THC — the main ingredient in marijuana that produces a high — and CBD, which offers pain relief.

There’s even a little branding on the side with a cute character:

NYC marijuanaBen Gilbert / Business Insider

These are just two of several cannabis varieties being offered by one NYC-area service that’s been operating for over 10 years. The service has always offered premium marijuana — the kind that costs a lot of money and comes with a name attached, like Sour Diesel. The business expanded out into other forms of marijuana products in the past few years.

The benefit for NYC’s cannabis consumers is clear: more transparency into what they’re buying and consuming, to say nothing of consumer choice.

People we spoke with from the service say it’s a measure of consumer demand as much as it is a measure of availability.

colorado dispensaryColorado and Washington are creating new precedents in legal marijuana sales. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Customers visit places where marijuana is either partially or entirely legal, like California or Oregon, and have their eyes opened to stuff like this amazing $50 vape pen. So they ask their dealer: Why can’t I have a vape pen?

And dealers in NYC are increasingly stepping up to that demand, which leads to the bizarre juxtaposition of illegality alongside professional branding we have here.

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