Leaving Compassion Behind

By Guest Writer: Brittney Dawn Jackson

When I first entered the industry in 2015, I was ecstatic. The future whispered sweet forever’s and my passion for this transcendent plant flourished in my heart and my soul alike. Coming into work on the daily and hearing patients utter that this was their first day being cancer free was really the most beautiful gift I could have given myself. Cannabis also helped play a large role (I think) in my grandmother’s remission of leukemia. My aim in life is to help people – Help them get off harmful and addictive pharmaceuticals, help them with their infirmities, their depression, their anxieties, their eating disorders. 

Because of my huge desire to assist people and provide all my cannabis knowledge to them, I left my clerical job which honored my degree and took a $10 an hour pay cut to get my foot in the door to mentor people. Back in 2015 the industry was medicinal only. I took pride in purchasing the best quality of medicine to stock the shelves of the dispensary I was working at. I scheduled budtender training sessions with my vendors so that all the knowledge of each product would be relayed to the budtenders who are on the front lines peddling the masses. Throughout my years in the industry, I met wonderful, beautiful souls – people who will be my friends/family for life. I will never regret making the jump into the cannabis industry. 

However, once 2021 came around and adult use hit the industry I saw a radical change. Brands and dispensaries were either selling out or leaving the state completely. Around this same time, the testing bill came into effect in Arizona (Bill 1494) – Making the cannabis pipeline backup horribly and purchasing for the store went from being able to pick certain strains we wanted to carry to receiving a weekly list of strains that ‘I can have’. There wasn’t much of an option in choosing what we wanted to sell at the shop anymore. It was all getting funneled to larger corporations such as Harvest, Nirvana, and CuraLeaf. Working at a ‘mom and pop shop’ at the time, we got the leftovers. This left an extremely bad taste in my mouth. Testing pushed back so many products that our shelves were mostly bare for over a month while testing was supposedly being more dialed in. 

After a few months one would think that things would settle down, it only got more chaotic. Patients were upset at the fact that recreational customers were usually serviced faster, getting in and out more quickly with their products. Medical patients were put on the back burner because recreation made so much profit for the dispensaries that businesses no longer cared about the quality of their medicine or the people that got them where they are today – the medical patients. Edible vendors started to cut back on their higher milligram edibles and focus more on the 100mg cap for recreational patients. Of course, the budtenders got the brunt of the disgruntled medical patients. 

As adult use continued, everyone in the industry saw the huge boom in sales, we all just assumed some of that profit would trickle down. Being in management, I was given the task to set annual reviews with my staff – I would have to gracefully tell my team that even though they are doing a wonderful job, taking on more work, and excelling in generally every aspect of their career, I could only give them “possibly” a quarter – If they were lucky. Where has the trickle gone?! Recreational customers rarely tip, and budtenders are making less than an employee at Chick – Fil – A, they are staying purely 100% out of love for this industry and this plant. It was incredibly disheartening to not only see this but to have to enforce this shoddy wage stagnation. I’ve seen people cry, I’ve seen people beg and continue to work themselves until burnout still receiving a lower pay simply because the company said predominantly, “If you want more money, go elsewhere – you are replaceable.”

The issue that really nailed the coffin shut on my career in the cannabis industry was the fact that even though testing was required for the sale of cannabis products, vendors were either using old testing or sending testing that was falsified or incomplete (non-full panel) just to get their products into the hands of patients and customers. The state was not regulating their new law properly and ‘medicine’ was being sold without proper testing. Arizona had intended to follow the footsteps of Oregon, who has strict regulations on the testing of cannabis – Banning pesticides and toxic substances and residuals including heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury. There are seven required tests mandatory in the testing of any cannabis product which it must pass in the state of Arizona before it can even be stocked on dispensary shelves. 

Back when the testing bill was put into effect there were ZERO labs that offered all seven required tests. Vendors had to go through multiple labs for certain tests and pay up to 700% more than they were in the beginning. Arizona did not prepare itself properly and the patients, dispensary employees, and medical patients became increasingly frustrated. Testing obviously bumped up the pricing on all products for medical and recreational users as well. I believe currently there are still only TWO laboratories which are fully certified. The lead times were becoming aberrant – waiting up to over a month to get results back to sell their product. Edibles and even cannabis itself have a certain expiration date. We were getting product grown/made months prior that had just been sitting on their shelves waiting for testing paperwork back from the labs.

The direction that the Arizona cannabis industry has gone is frightening. More and more people coming into the dispensary are only wanting to know the ‘highest testing strain’. They don’t want to educate themselves on the effect of the terpenes involved, or what ailments each strain could cure. Their exact phrase is always, “What’s going to f*ck me up the most”. A medical facility turned into a befouled retail store almost overnight.

I take extreme pride in my work and who and what I brought into my dispensary – I could no longer be dignified in something that was so garbled and unfair to the medical patients that I was devoted to for years. I can only hope that Arizona gets it together and this snowball effect does not continue – It could seriously harm cannabis users if they’re smoking or consuming a product unaware of the fact that it could contain harmful substances. This plant has been used for thousands of years as a medicine – We have distastefully corporatized, monopolized, and made cannabis into nothing more than a numbing agent and a way to capitalize on the wellbeing of the peaky people of Arizona. Healthcare, in this country at least, is a business.

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