Oklahoma officials should note marijuana market shift

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THE failed effort by the Oklahoma Board of Health to ban smoking of medical marijuana met with outcry from some pro-marijuana groups that said smoking is the most medically beneficial way of using the plant in many circumstances.

But market changes in other states suggest Oklahoma officials need to consider carefully how to regulate all marijuana products, rather than zero in on the adverse effects of smoking, because consumer trends elsewhere suggest marijuana smoking is becoming less common than one might expect.

A recent state-commissioned report on marijuana market size and demand in Colorado showed consumers there increasingly choose to consume the plant in forms that don’t involve directly setting a bud on fire.

“Smoking marijuana flower is still the predominant consumption method in the regulated market, but there is a clear trend toward consumption of non-flower products, such as concentrates and edibles,” the report states.

The study showed that about one-third of marijuana grown in Colorado is used in products such as concentrates rather than direct sales of the flower.

“Demand for flower marijuana products as a portion of overall sales has declined each year since the market opened in 2014,” the Colorado report said.

From 2014 to 2017, the report showed, the proportion of flower sales fell from 74.5 percent to 61.2 percent in the medical market and from 66.1 percent to 54.1 percent in the adult use market. Meanwhile, the share of concentrate sales roughly doubled.

The Colorado report may even understate the market shift. Beau Whitney, a senior economist at national cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data, told The Associated Press that most growers are now cultivating crops for conversion into oil extracts that are used in everything from soaps to vape pens to edible gummies to salves.

Other states have experienced similar trends. USA Today recently reported, “Marijuana users across the country are setting down their bongs, putting away their joints and moving away from smoking pot.” In Oregon, flower sales dropped from 51 percent of the market to 44 percent in a single year.

One Oregon marijuana retailer told USA Today, “The actual old-school smoking of cannabis is pretty much out the door” and said only about half of sales at his store are now traditional smoked marijuana.

One side effect of state legalization is that the profit margin on the sale of marijuana plants is small and getting smaller. But Sean Williams, writing at The Motley Fool, notes alternative products “bear significantly higher margins and are much less susceptible to commoditization. This includes cannabis oils and extracts, edible products, and even cannabis-infused beverages.”

One reason this should concern Oklahoma officials is that marijuana concentrates can have much higher levels of THC than what may be obtained directly smoking the plant. Negative psychoactive side effects from concentrates are reportedly greater, including hallucinations, and production of some concentrates involves higher risk of accidents, including explosions.

Regulators are right to be concerned about the impact of marijuana smoke on nonusers. But there’s also much work to be done addressing the rapidly growing market of marijuana concentrates. Lawmakers and state regulators alike have much work ahead of them.

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