Writing about weed is not difficult. It’s an exciting topic that appeals to a broad (and growing) audience of people. The slow end to prohibition has been a godsend to lazy writers, who have discovered that any piece on cannabis culture intersecting with mainstream society can generate thousands of page views regardless of the quality of the piece’s reporting or analysis. To those of us on the front lines of the drug war, cutesy articles on weed yoga or whatever are a bit of a double-edged sword. These pieces help normalize weed, which is an essential facet of political organizing, so it’s easy to forgive their frequent inaccuracies or hackish stereotyping of cannabis. But Buzzfeed’s horrendous article on concentrates is more than their usual mediocre click bait garbage. It’s journalistic malpractice.
Let’s begin with the author’s tenuous grasp on terminology. Words matter in the law, and despite several post-publication edits, the piece incorrectly categorizes all forms of concentrated cannabis as “BHO” or “wax”. This is a serious mistake for several reasons, particularly as doing so conflates the very real concerns of a specific chemical additive, in this case butane, with a class of products that increasingly are 100% free of that chemical. Products like the Y5 vape stick (and its innovative CO2 extraction technique) represent the next generation of concentrates, and to group them with individuals making BHO in their mom’s basement is an incredibly reckless journalistic mistake. Additionally, despite the author’s assertion, no one in the country has a doctor’s “prescription” for medical cannabis; they (at least in California) have “recommendations.” A doctor who attempts to prescribe weed can face trafficking charges and will almost immediately lose their medical license.
The recklessness isn’t just limited to terminology. The author’s hyper focus on the story of one (particularly idiotic) individual’s “discovery” and subsequent production of hash oil strongly suggests that this piece was not well researched or sourced. Implying that that Matt Rize and his experiences should serve as the de facto symbols of the concentrated cannabis movement exposes the author’s apparent inability to understand the basic mechanisms behind both cannabis regulation and rudimentary elements of this $3 billion industry.
This problem is most apparent when Buzzfeed discusses the issues of mold and pesticide use in concentrates. Truthfully, concentrated cannabis has created a huge demand for “shake,” or excess trimmings and other usually discarded parts of the plant. However to imply that all growers who supply this commodity are passing off moldy weed is downright defamatory. It is the equivalent of accusing wine growers of spiking their product with anti-freeze (or mold). Additionally, in California we have passed (and enforce) the strictest pesticide controls in the country, which is something that should have been clarified when the author quoted an Oregon official who implied that harmful pesticide use is rampant in cannabis grows.
Ironically, for an article that is supposedly concerned with the safety of concentrates, the information presented within it is misleading to the point of posing a significant legal risk to it’s audience. For example, the author on several occasions lazily asserts that possessing or selling concentrates is “legal” in the state of California. This is not true. California Health & Safety Code §11357(a) actually makes it a crime to possess any concentrate that contains butane, but defendants (including clients of mine) have successfully shredded the application of this law, rendering it largely toothless, provided that you have a good lawyer. This is because like many criminal statutes concerning cannabis, §11357(a) was so poorly written and conceived that it created a myriad of easily provable loopholes. That said, any form of concentrates is still incredibly illegal under federal law, and the author’s omission of an explicit warning about marijuana’s status as Schedule I drug is a serious mistake.
This mistake is most obvious in the author’s rather sweeping generalization that the cannabis market is “barely” regulated in California. This statement might surprise individuals like my acquaintance who faces 13 years for sharing a bud with a confidential police informant, or my clients in dispensaries who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars battling prohibitionist municipal authorities who use any legal or illegal method to limit the growth of this industry. In truth, and I say this as a socialist who champions progressively-minded control over any form of private capital, I can truthfully say that the cannabis industry is regulated far more harshly than producers of environmental toxins like lead and greenhouse gases.
This issue over what is “regulation” is incredibly consequential for an objective analysis of concentrates. Butane is fucking dangerous, and regular people without a lab and a degree in chemistry should therefore NOT be making this product. However when this article tells readers that authorities are “at a loss” at how to regulate this product, Buzzfeed based that assertion mainly on one source: a DEA agent – and then discounts any industry viewpoints as “self-interested” and “self-appointed.” In reality the best way to eliminate the safety issues associated with the production of this popular product is to bring it out of the shadows and encourage universal reliance on professionally maintained laboratories and large scale production facilities. By raiding places that are “doing it right” like the Werc shop in Pasadena, prohibitionists are only ensuring that more houses will blow up across the state as a result of amateur BHO production.
The point of this article wasn’t to inform (or even to properly warn) its audience about BHO or concentrates. This isn’t even a particularly timely article for a supposedly “new” trend, as a Google search reveals similarly idiotic, scare-quote filled pieces on wax and concentrates dating back to the Bush administration. If Buzzfeed was truly thought concentrated cannabis poses a health risk to its users that is equivalent to crack cocaine, and as dangerous to make as crystal meth, why then did they include explicit instructions on how to make and consume BHO in the form of easy to understand infographics?
When I challenged the editors of this piece to hold themselves and the author of this garbage piece of advocacy writing accountable for its myriad of basic mistakes and horrible oversights, they just changed the title (replacing “BHO” with “Wax”). Buzzfeed might not realize this, but writing about weed has changed now that there is a legal marketplace that grew by 75% last year.
If Buzzfeed wants to continue writing about cannabis in the form of easy puff pieces about weed cupcakes or whatever that’s one thing. However I would strongly suggest that if Ben Smith wants to continue covering this issue as a piece of substantial news, he might want to remember that the weed industry has lawyers now, and — unlike his reporters apparently — we know what the fuck we are talking about.
[Image via Shutterstock]