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Cannabis By The Numbers – A Top Ten List

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Rob Williams 19 May 2018

In 2014, curious about the cannabis debate here in the Green Mountains of Vermont, I began to do some research. I had the good fortune of joining the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative (VTCC), a small ad hoc working group of Vermont entrepreneurs and policy wonks interested in researching, drafting and sharing a vision with a central focus – What cannabis can do for Vermont” (More about our 2015 VTCC report in my next column).

I also began weaving the emerging debate about cannabis legalization into my policy and public communications courses at the University of Vermont. Together, my students and I read the Rand Commission study on options for cannabis legalization commissioned by then-governor Peter Shumlin, as well as the VTCC final report, and explored how other states, provinces and countries were wrestling with the dilemmas around cannabis legalization.

“It is time to liberate this remarkable plant – cannabis – from the federal prohibition prison it has been in for almost a century, and fully research and utilize the productive powers of cannabis to catalyze Vermont’s agripreneurial economy, increase out economic independence, boost our tourism base, and provide increased quality if life options for a wide variety of cannabis users,” I stated in our 2015 VTCC report.

“From underground to higher ground – grow locally and organically whenever and wherever possible, research, test, label, tax, and responsibly market cannabis – and be as transparent as we can be in northing this emerging industry.”

As part of my work, I draft a Top Ten list, what I jokingly called “cannabis by the numbers” – data points that I hoped would help provide context for the debate.  To this day, I find them useful in framing the cannabis conversation.

Here are my cannabis Top Ten numbers:

1st – 5,000 + years: The number of years civilizations around the world have cultivated and celebrated the cannabis plant, from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to the 18th century founders of the US republic. Martha and George Washington grew hemp in the “back 40” at Mount Vernon.

2nd – 1930: The year the first U.S. “drug czar” Harry Anslinger begin his propaganda war against cannabis (with a racist rebranding of the plant he called “marijuana”) to rationalize revenue for his newly-created Federal Bureau of Narcotics. By 1937, the U.S. government moved to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that they classified cannabis in “the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence,” in the same category. NOTE: Because of this federal policy of “cannabis prohibition” since the 1930s, U.S. scientists have never been allowed to legally research the complex chemical and medicinal properties of cannabis.

3rd – 400: The number of chemicals cannabis contains, more than 60 of which are endocannabinoids, which mirror our own human body’s “endocannabinoid” system. Because of federal “cannabis prohibition” policies, we have very little idea of the complex chemical makeup or the potential health benefits of this ancient plant, and how it can be harnessed for health and wellness in 21st century Vermont (and the U.S.).

4th – 100: As in MILLION, the number of Americans over the age of 12 who have tried cannabis – more than 1/3 the entire population.

5th – 16: The age that seems to serve as a dividing line for cannabis use abusing the developing brain. Age 28 seems to be the age at which cannabis-related cognitive problems related to loss of memory and basic learning skills seems to resolve. (I say “seems” because we need more research!)

6th – 30: The percentage of Vermonters ages 18-25 who reported using cannabis within the past month.

7th – 64,000: Vermonter using cannabis currently; roughly 10% of the Vermont population.

8th – 4,000: Low ball estimate of the number of Vermonters growing cannabis (illegally until July 1, 2018) right here and now in the Green Mountains.

9th – 40: Forty times as many cannabis consumers live within 200 miles of Vermont – Montreal, Boston, New York, and Beyond – as live within Vermont itself.

10th – 75: As in MILLION, the high end of annual estimated revenue that could be generated by cannabis sales in Vermont – assuming Vermont could eliminate or incorporate the illicit cannabis market and no other states followed suit and legalized.

11th – 0: The number of Vermonters who have died from direct cannabis use. Contrast this with the thousands of Vermonters who die annually here in the Green Mountains of tobacco, alcohol, opiates, and hard drug related deaths.

For the CannaCurious, I hope these Top Ten data points are helpful.

And I’ll wrap up with a few words from our “what cannabis can do for Vermont” 2015 vision.

“It is time to liberate this remarkable plant – cannabis – from the federal prohibition prison it has been in for almost a century, and fully research and utilize the productive powers of cannabis to catalyze Vermont’s agripreneurial economy, increase out economic independence, boost our tourism base, and provide increased quality if life options for a wide variety of cannabis users,” I stated in our 2015 VTCC report. “From underground to higher ground – grow locally and organically whenever and wherever possible, research, test, label, tax, and responsibly market cannabis – and be as transparent as we can be in northing this emerging industry.”

Three years later? We Vermonters are the first state to legislate the legalization of  personal grow and use – July 1, 2018. Onward! Let’s elevate the state of hemp and cannabis in Vermont in the months ahead, with these ten data points as a guide.

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