Cannabis is a particularly diverse economy

by Dominic Corva

Briceland, Sohum, Casa de Jakubal

I had the pleasure of visiting Kevin Jodrey at his propagation business, Garberville Grass, which is technically in Redway.  Propagation means breeding and cloning strains that are sold to 215-carded growers in Southern Humboldt, so all the plants there were strictly in vegetative state, from tiny clones barely removed from clipping to worn-out mothers brought into the sun as sort of botanical hospice care.

Kevin’s business is the only approved one of its kind in Sohum, a condition for which his regional credibility with municipal authorities and grower customer base played some part.  It was fascinating to learn about various ways in which Garberville Grass produces a social surplus above and beyond economic surplus — profits, and distributes that surplus among the population.  For instance, he recently learned how to produce organic inoculant tea (see photo), which multiplies like yeast from some samples.  These are given away from house barrels to customers that bring containers.  He also explains how to use it — something to do with local bamboo material and rice, apologies for the imperfect recollection.

How does this relate to our title’s “diverse economy”?  A diverse economy is characterized by lots of different capitalist and non-capitalist relations of production (think formal and informal markets, and hence black, gray and white markets for the purpose of our consideration).  It produces community resilience because lots of different values flow in lots of different ways, so a crisis in one kind of exchange can be absorbed by the heterogeneity of social resources.  It’s an ecological conceptualization of socioeconomic value, so if you understand the argument for genetic diversity, you understand the argument for economic diversity.  Diverse economies can flourish when they are not totally dependent on larger-scale mono-economic forces (think Finance, for example).  Diverse economies are therefore democratic economies, which means we aren’t just talking about distributing inoculant tea.  We are also talking about decentralized informal economies that play a part in cushioning forces of creative destruction unleashed by mono-economic forces.  How many distressed mortgages were saved by turning a McMansion into a grow-op?  How many parents in the recent financial crash paid their bills by growing or distributing Cannabis?  Is that number significant?  We know it could be because we remember the role the Bolivian coca economy played in absorbing surplus labor and generating foreign exchange in the 1980s.

Ray Raphael, a lifelong scholar and teacher of U.S.-American history, noted in his 1985 book Cash Crop that eradication efforts like CAMP made Jeffersonian small-scale rural agriculture possible by preventing the consolidation of the cannabis industry.  His argument about cannabis agriculture as a cash crop in a decentralized, democratic economy also holds for non-rural contexts. Domestic cannabis is produced by small-scale growers everywhere, and there are more of these than ever before all throughout the U.S, even as larger-scale cannabis agriculture also proliferates.  This is a situation shaped in no small part by policies of prohibition and practices of policing, and as these weaken against waves of state-level medical and legal Cannabis initiatives the obverse can be expected.  Right now, the consolidation of the cannabis industry into the hands of the Few, the Corporate, the Financed is far from fait accompli, but the un-diversification of diverse economies in which the Cannabis economy plays a part is a distinct possibility.

This is one of the lessons that will be learned from Washington and Colorado, though undoubtedly it will play out differently in both states.  Will the cannabis industry centralize?  If so, what are the effects of that?  Unemployment?  Decreased economic opportunity?  Will it affect women or ethnic communities?

There is some reason to be optimistic about what will be learned from Washington.  For totally different reasons, policymakers and consultants have consistently expressed an interest in preventing such consolidation.  One common reason given is so that industry profits won’t eventually soften attitudes towards allowing marketing, especially to children.  Corporate greed will work against the interests of public health — the risk of addiction — and the safety of children.  I share their latter concern, and note ironically that such a stance implicitly critiques the existing power of unregulated Capitalism and finds it wanting.  On the other hand, I think it’s possible that the more the population consumes cannabis, the less addiction problems it will have, especially to prescription drugs.

So the question may be, what kind of economy do we have? but the answer is, especially for newly Legal Cannabis, what kind of economy do we want?  Both of these are excellent research questions.