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Alcohol Yes, THC No? MJBizCon Highlights Inconsistent Cannabis Regulation

inconsistent cannabis regulation
Written by Sarah Friedman

Yup, you read that correctly, at this year’s largest cannabis event, MJBizCon, the alcohol was flowing for guests and operators, but no THC was allowed on the floor. Why would this be the case? And at a weed convention specifically? Alcohol, but no THC at MJBizCon highlights the inconsistent nature of cannabis regulation, and how THC is still being treated as more dangerous than alcohol.

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What happened?

This year’s MJBizCon took place from October 20-22, 2021 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Nevada. The convention area was filled with all kinds of cannabis operators from product vendors, to extraction equipment producers, to insurance providers, and so on. Samples were being given out all around, some even containing CBD, but what should have been the main star of the show, especially in a legalized state, wasn’t there.

According to its rules, MJBizCon, the biggest cannabis convention in the US, did not allow vendors to give samples containing THC. While this might have been okay, and actually a decent measure to keep people from getting as stoned while conducting business (alright, let’s be honest, everyone was just smoking up right outside the doors anyway), it did come with an interesting and opposing factor.

Alcohol was being openly sold on the convention floor, while no THC was allowed. Perhaps if it hadn’t been a cannabis convention, this inconsistent cannabis regulation might have been overlooked, but that’s exactly where we were. A convention set-up and designed for cannabis-related products and businesses, and those businesses were not even allowed to give samples of any products containing THC, while alcohol was being sold right next to them.

Does it have to do with the fact that the THC would have been given out and not bought? Does it have to do with the fact that the alcohol wasn’t a sample, but paid for? Was there a thought that an under-ager might access THC if provisions weren’t in place for vendors to check IDs (even though it was an adults-only event)? What exactly was the reason that at MJBizCon, THC was treated like a scary uncle who shouldn’t be invited, and alcohol got a free pass in?

Why was there no THC?

To start with, why was there no THC? One would think that one of the main benefits to holding a convention such as this in a legalized state would be the ability for a full range of products to be on display, and given as samples. After all, when going to a wine tasting, it’s not standard policy to not serve alcohol (and certainly not to deny this while allowing people to toke on joints next to booths with fake wine). If this were happening in Indiana, no THC would make sense, but this is Vegas, the city where anything goes, and a city in Nevada, which legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2016, starting a market in 2017.

According to MJBizCon itself, the decision to not allow THC had to do with an agreement made between MJBizCon and the Convention Center where the event was hosted. The official language used states that “in accordance with the professional nature of the event, the use, distribution or sale of any products containing THC is strictly prohibited at the event, in the exhibit hall, conference sessions, or any other function space where the event is conducted. Any individual who possesses, transports or consumes any THC-based products is solely responsible for his/her compliance with local and state regulations.”

There’s something I find interesting about this statement. It cites the professional nature of the event as a reason not to have THC. This is funny because it’s a professional event concerning cannabis, which makes THC an actually necessary component. It also makes the designation, therefore, that while THC would be unprofessional, alcohol, is not. The more important factor, however, is that it mentioned compliance with state and local laws.

So, if someone was caught illegally dispensing THC at the convention, does that mean that they’d have to answer to Nevada state law about the use of cannabis? And does Nevada state law actually state that cannabis is more dangerous than alcohol?

Nevada cannabis law

As stated, Nevada passed its recreational cannabis bill on November 17th, 2017, which came through ballot measure Question 2 on the 2016 ballot. This opened an adult-use market for those 21 and above, and put in place a set of regulations for how cannabis can be used. These regulations include many things, from how a dispensary can sell its products, to taxation, to how cannabis can be used by the masses. And its here that a couple provisions come up, that back-up why MJBizCon really couldn’t legally allow THC.

cannabis Nevada

For one, according to Nevada cannabis law, it’s illegal to consume cannabis outside a private residence. Since the Convention Center is not a private residence, it technically does not fit the requirement of where a person can legally use cannabis. Though this last stipulation is true of Nevada in general, Las Vegas did, in fact, legalize the use of cannabis for public consumption in ‘social use’ venues, as a part of Assembly Bill No. 341. I can’t say whether the law technically has gone into effect yet, but it’s certainly due to.

However, even this wouldn’t make it automatically okay to smoke up in the Convention Center. In order for a location to be legal for public consumption, the establishment must apply for and receive an on-site consumption license. Even if the new law is in effect, it could not be expected that this was already done. Without such a license, smoking cannabis publicly in Nevada can incur a misdemeanor penalty of $600. In this way, the Convention Center indeed had no legal right to allow THC consumption on the property during the convention.

Yes alcohol, no THC, isn’t this inconsistent for cannabis regulation?

So, now the question becomes, how is it that Nevada legally defines it as okay to drink alcohol in public, but not okay to ingest cannabis in the same public places? Nevada has no issue allowing alcohol anywhere, and it can be found in any place a bar can be set up, or any place a shelf can be put in place to hold bottles. This inconsistent cannabis regulation standard implies that alcohol is somehow okay – or less dangerous, and that THC is not okay, and more dangerous.

To be clear. No matter how many government smear campaigns there are, this will never be the case. While cannabis has no actual death toll related to it (save for cases where other ingredients were added for whatever purpose which made users sick), alcohol has one of the biggest death tolls worldwide.

Not only have studies come out showing absolutely no safe level of alcohol (and this in contrast to cannabis which has a wide-ranging medical market), but alcohol was found to be the 7th leading risk factor world-wide in 2016 for the disability-adjusted life year (DALY), a metric which measures the overall burden of disease in reference to numbers of years lost because of sickness, disability, and death.

Further to this, in the age group 15-49, alcohol was the primary risk factor for 2016 for death and disability. And further to this, according to the NIH, about 95,000 deaths a year are attributable to alcohol-related causes in the US. In the year 2014 alone, drunk-driving related deaths reached 9,967 in the US, which accounted for an entire 31% of all deaths related to driving for the year. 3.3 million deaths were attributed to alcohol globally in 2012. As of 2019, it was established that approximately 14.1 million adults in the US have a drinking problem, and nearly half a million children aged 12-17 do as well.

cannabis vs alcohol

In terms of damage, since the most that can be said for cannabis is that it might impair driving, and since no death count is related to it, and since it is widely used as a medicine whereas alcohol has never been found to have medical value, the comparison between them is almost ridiculous. And this begs the question, why is cannabis being more harshly regulated than alcohol?

Cannabis Regulation – Conclusion

Unfortunately, I can’t offer any answer to these questions. MJBizCon was legally correct in not allowing THC during the event, but the regulation measure they were forced to abide by highlights the inconsistent nature of cannabis regulation, especially when compared to alcohol. Hopefully, this crazy discrepancy will be noticed by more people, and hopefully with time, more logical regulations can be set. For now, we’re in a world where you can go to a convention specifically for cannabis, and yet not be able to access it, while a much more damaging substance is on-sale in the very same place.

At the moment, we’ll just have to deal with these legal and logical inconsistencies, and be glad that at least the laws of prohibition are changing, even if it takes time to really get it right.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.