COTATI, Calif. (KTVU) - It's Christmas in June if you're a cannabis user.
Dispensaries are blowing out stock at bargain prices, but only through Saturday June 30. New state regulations on purity, potency, and packaging take effect July 1.
"We're definitely empty, this vault used to be completely packed with product," said Zach Monday, Inventory Manager at Mercy Wellness Center in Cotati.
The dispensary had an eight-year history as a medical provider before incorporating recreational sales in January 2018. Shelves that are normally bulging were sparse Friday afternoon and some items were marked for destruction.
"This is a huge bulk product we're going to have to throw away if we don't sell it all,” said Monday, opening a plastic bin containing packets of single gram flowers.
They were not tested to the higher state standards that are taking effect, so they can no longer be legally sold. Monday showed a similar product, which was up to code on testing, and can still be sold, but required new packaging to be state compliant.
"It's not that there's anything wrong with either one, they're probably the same product," said Mercy Wellness Marketing Manager Felicia Accomazzo. “But one wasn't tested to the new standards, and the other, it's just packaging and labeling."
Packaging must now be child-resistant and tamper-proof, plus toned-down so it won't appeal to kids.
"You can't see through the bag, there's no colorful writing, no color at all, just basic, " said Monday, showing a package of edible gummies.
Medical patients, in particular, may be distressed by new rules on dosage that limit THC potency to 10 mg per unit, or 100 mg per package.
"There are some patients who came in and got a 1,000 mg dose at one time to be comfortable," said Monday. “And now that's 10 bags of cookies at 22 bucks a bag, it starts to really hit the pocket, plus who can eat ten bags of cookies at once?"
High-dose replacement products in the form of tinctures and gel-caps are being developed for medical use.
"We're going to see shortages and we're going to see product lines disappear, " warned Mercy Wellness Executive Director Brandon Levine. “It is a big blow, huge."
Dispensaries statewide are losing money on cannabis they are selling at deep discounts, rather than discard it. They expect their volume and variety of product will shrink as some producers will not be able to pass state muster, especially since the labs certified to do the testing are already backlogged.
Growers, manufacturers and vendors have had six months to become certified.
"We needed a lot longer to adapt to this, I would have loved to have seen two years," said Levine. “Because it's tough to build something out of nothing, they could have given us a little more time to adjust."
Instead it's a fire sale, with price cuts of half or more.
"I've learned to bargain hunt, just like any store," said shopper Karilee Shames of Sebastopol, who spent $120, about $80 less than usual.
Almost seventy years old, Shames uses cannabis for joint and muscle pain, and doesn't begrudge strict regulatory oversight.
"I'm a nurse, and I think it's very empowering to the consumer that you know what you're getting and you know what your body needs," she said.
Long established dispensaries like Mercy Wellness got ready for the transition by phasing out some products and introducing new ones to replace them.
But what if supply-chain shortages drive up prices?
"They're kind of forcing people down the black market road," responded Accomazzo. “And if you buy someone's backyard marijuana, it has been untested, probably grown with pesticide, and has a bunch of other contaminants, and maybe mold and bacteria, even e-coli."
Many producers delayed complying with the new regulations, under the mistaken belief that state regulators would extend the deadline.
But that hope, it turned out, was a pipe dream.