Whole Plant Politics 2017 and Beyond

Dr. Ethan Russo, who is a true inspiration for Whole Plant Politics, keynoting CASP's Original Terpestival (TM) in Hopland, Califonria, July 23 2016.
Dr. Ethan Russo, who is a true inspiration for Whole Plant Politics, keynoting CASP’s Original Terpestival (TM) in Hopland, Califonria, July 23 2016. Photo by Hillary Bernhardt.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

I have written a great deal this year about the difference between medical cannabis politics and legal cannabis politics, which are the two most powerful expressions of post-prohibition politics available in the U.S. today. I say this because it is these two forms that have successfully rolled back prohibition laws and practice, so far in the form of voter initiatives between 1998 and 2016. Let’s get concise about their definitions, which are drawn from the legitimating discourses that have accompanied their formal electoral victories. I’m also going to do something controversial and say that these are primarily logics of production and distribution, rather than consumption. I will address this omission as I go along.

Legal cannabis politics are defined by one, and only one discourse of legitimacy, even if it’s two words: Tax and Regulate. The reason there are two words is because they literally cannot exist without each other, Oregon’s brief experiment notwithstanding: cannabis must be regulated by the State for the State to lay claim to revenues associated with its markets. And the cost of implementing regulation isn’t coming from extra cash the public sector has lying around: it has to be taxed in order to be regulated. And it’s the fact that cannabis is taxed and regulated that legitimates the freedom to consume, not the other way around.

Medical cannabis politics are defined by two multiple and sometimes contradictory discourses of legitimacy.

  1. This is because the word “medical” has multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings in our society. The dominant discourse of legitimacy around “medical” in this country is “professional”: medicine is practiced by experts authorized by their objective distance from, not relationship with, patients as the subjects of their care. Professional medicine is sometimes contradictory and multiple because many medical professionals are militant, preferring pharmaceutical-industrial standardized health care in which patients are objects of care rather than subjects with expertise on what is happening to their own bodies. And many medical professionals are heterodox, constantly observing available evidence to support or reject other approaches to care and the patient’s own subjective care of the self. Let’s call this form of medical politics “industrial” or “pharmaceutical” medicine. For militant pharmaceutical politics, what seems to work for patients is irrelevant, because they have not been to medical school and are not licensed by formal authorities. The doctor knows best. This works pretty well in a country where medical care is practiced by strangers on strangers — how can doctors know of this object of care is lying or being duped? There is no relationship of trust to work from.
  2. Since the 1960s, the practice of medicine by “objective” experts has been challenged formally by a movement within the US for the freedom to practice what are formally called “alternative and complementary” approaches to health. These include traditional and non-Western approaches to healthcare, and usually involve herbal (simply processed whole plant, retaining complex molecules) rather than pharmaceutical (technologically molecularized and standardized) medicine. Let’s call this form of medical politics “herbal” or “traditional” medicine. Herbal medicine is by definition a fuzzy category, encompassing Chinese, indigenous, woman-centered (think midwifery), and a host of other practices that have nothing to do with each other but share one bit of common ground: the freedom of the patient, the subject of care, to choose what seems to work for them. This works pretty well in social context where the caretaker and the cared-for know and trust each other — a pre-industrial context that isn’t at all extinct but pretty common if not majoritarian in this particular country. Lots of people do have primary care physicians, or the same doctor all their lives, but it’s relatively unusual in a privatized health care system rather than a public health care system. Lots of people who can’t afford healthcare go years without seeing a doctor, and follow jobs and career opportunities to distant places.

So we have two categories of cannabis politics, within which one of these categories is internally inconsistent and potentially at odds. It should be easy to note here that they don’t have to be at odds, but they are structurally produced at odds in the rest of society so why wouldn’t they be for cannabis as well.

These two categories of politics also don’t have to be at odds. There is nothing in the legal cannabis political paradigm that demands one form of medical politics over the other; or that cannot accommodate cannabis as medicine. So why are we at a point where the promotion of legal cannabis seems to be accompanied by a demand for one kind of medical politics, industrial-pharmaceutical, over the other? And why are we at a point where medical cannabis politics are afraid of and resist legal cannabis politics?

The answer lies in the difference between discursive political logics — the reasons stated for moving beyond prohibition politics — and the material support available to these logics.

  1. Legal cannabis politics have been, until Ohio’s failed 2015 attempt, funded primarily by “grass-tops” organizations interested primarily in cannabis politics as a form of civil rights politics. This is materially expressed as a matter of criminal justice reform. The Drug Policy Alliance concerns itself with “open society” civil rights, where the ACLU concerns itself especially with mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. Neither organization cares the slightest what the politics of legal cannabis are, whether they are in conflict with medical or economic politics. Both are focused on rights, not justice, and it’s not the rights of cannabis users that of concern. And we wouldn’t have post-prohibition laws without them. Cannabis user organizations, primarily NORML, failed spectacularly to legalize cannabis in the 1970s, when they had the chance. They didn’t just fail, they failed hard — our national cannabis politics turned authoritarian in a way that would have blown every anti-war hippie’s mind. For a decade, no one thought the right to consume cannabis had any relevance as a political discourse in this country until grassroots mobilizations like the Cannabis Action Network, funded by illegal pot dealers like Steve Deangelo, emerged at the end of the 1980s. And while these were emergent, they may or may not have been destined for irrelevance.
  2. Contemporary Medical cannabis politics emerged out of the HIV/AIDS crisis at the end of the 1980s and 1990s. The Bay Area, as an enclave of cannabis consumer politics, was also the center of HIV/AIDS politics in the context of a national failure to care for a certain kind of sick person — people with different sexual orientations. That’s the alchemy embodied in the life and work of Dennis Peron, who started California’s Prop 215 effort that was carried to completion by Drug Policy Alliance. The national failure to care for people of different sexual orientation was, let’s be clear, totally homophobic and in that sense pre-Enlightenment in character. But it was Federal policy to deny that medical cannabis could help dying people in any way shape or form, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary presented by patient-focused doctors like Tod Mikuryia, who was himself a defector from the Federal industrial-pharmaceutical paradigm. This shameful, genocidal Federal policy was the context for medical cannabis politics and how they changed the politics of every cannabis producer, distributor, and consumer especially on the West Coast, since 1996.

Medical cannabis politics were forged in the fires of a national healthcare emergency, the clear failure of militant pharmaceutical-industrial medicine to care for patients and in fact the transparently unjust politics of anti-care that resulted. The difference between medical ideology and patient care efficacy was never so clear to State publics in American history, and voters responded by passing extremely broad decriminalization statutes in the late 1990s. The politics of medical cannabis achieved something that the politics of rights had failed (maybe even destroyed), which was the legitimacy of post-prohibition cannabis politics.

What followed, for the next 10 years, was a period in which legal protection may not have been guaranteed, but it opened the possibility for people — not just patients, but providers — to legally protect themselves. And in the United States, that mean lawyers had a whole new field of work, too, challenging the legality of prohibition-policing. And patients, as consumers, became able to self-provision on the one hand and become more directly connected to cannabis producers on the other.

This is because, economically, the legal shield created by broad medical decriminalization acted as an international Industrial Policy. Cannabis producers here began to truly compete with historically international imports, which by the mid-1990s were primarily from Mexico and produced after the fashion of large-scale industrial agriculture. Domestic sinsemilla prices fell dramatically between 1996 and 2010, from $6000/lb wholesale to $1200/lb. In 2010, a California drug task force use a UN methodology to estimate that 60-80% of U.S. cannabis consumption was being supplied by California growers. They intended this message to support more eradication and interdiction within California, but in so doing they highlighted an unintended consequence with enormous socially beneficial implications: the economic weakening of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Of course, the subsequent focus of Mexican DTOs on the coca-cocaine commodity chain would contribute to massive political and economic destabilization we still see today in Mexico after the Calderon Administration took power in 2006.

This is an ongoing dynamic. We are still capturing share from international organized crime, especially since the price crash of 2010 made our high quality cannabis prices competitive with those of Mexican brickweed.

So the political economy of medical cannabis production remains relevant, even while it has become politically controversial with respect to the political economy of legal cannabis.

The aim of this essay is to identify conflicting post-prohibition cannabis politics, on the one hand, and seek a synthesis in which those conflicts are resolved, because they are not necessary. If they aren’t necessary, they are political — subject to alternative approaches but limited by available material support for such approaches.

Material support for post-prohibition politics have been transformed by the creation of legal cannabis markets through the funding of organizations that do not give a damn about legal cannabis markets, other than that they be taxed and regulated. How they are taxed, and how they are regulated, is where the different political approaches materialize.

With legalization comes a whole new set of actors that choose how to influence how cannabis is taxed and regulated. This set of actors is just like the set of actors that influence how everything else in society is organized: with money paid to lobby legislators in the interest of profit. The failed 2010 Ohio initiative was their first material effort, but the successful 2016 California initiative is their first material victory, a model for future successful post-prohibition change.

The private sector, most prominently Facebook moguls Sean Parker and Peter Thiel, rather than grasstops NGOs played the pivotal funding and messaging role for Prop 64. Up until the spring of last year or so, this was not the case. Prop 64 was a DPA initiative, until Sean Parker’s support of the DPA initiative was inverted into DPA support for Sean Parker’s initiative. It seems that at some point, DPA’s Prop 64 funding (at the time, quoted to me at $5 million) seemed to be mostly coming from Parker anyway, so Parker and the DPA decided to invert control. It’s not clear how much this changed the initiative itself, but for growers the main regulatory difference between MCRSA (an overhaul of 1998’s broad statute passed in 2015 by the legislature) is the permittable size of regulated grow operations. These are now 5 acres, as opposed to say Washington’s largest permittable legal grow at 30,000 square feet.

It should be stressed that this is substantially different from the failed Ohio initiative, which sought a 10-person monopoly for cannabis production. And it’s also substantially different from agricultural regulations, which don’t to my knowledge put any limit on how big one’s farm can be.

The main critique of this private-sector-led regulatory approach is that it creates an economic injustice problem. This is a controversial perspective, and strongly divided advocate support for Prop 64 in California. Many cannabis consumers really don’t care how their cannabis is grown or by whom, as long as they don’t risk prison to possess or consume it. And consumers outnumber cannabis producers and distributors who this affects, by tens of millions.

The fact that cannabis legalization seems now to mean agricultural economic centralization doesn’t bother most Americans, much less most cannabis consumers. This is a political problem, for supporters of economic justice at large — not just supporters of decentralized cannabis production.

We can think of this as parallel to the industrial/traditional medicine conflict. Heterodox industrial medical professionals and herbal medical practitioners have made tremendous progress towards institutionalizing the legitimacy of herbal/nonWestern/traditional medicine since the 1960s (it’s not a coincidence, eh hippies).

Now, the minority politics of economic justice for cannabis producers has to find and work with the minority politics of economic justice in the U.S. and, I might add, the rest of the world. Your arguments are theirs. They don’t seem to have made much headway in the U.S., given the dominance of Consumer politics through the most marketized society the world has ever known. It doesn’t matter how our food is producer, where, or by whom: what matters to the U.S. Consumer is the lowest price and the greatest ease of access for everything.

The most successful economic justice movement of our time, and that’s not saying much but it does say a lot about the politics of possibility, is the Conscious Consumer movement. Conscious consumption politics reject the militant absolutism of low prices, and express their preference for commodities that may be more expensive, but are successfully branded as “Free Trade,” “Organic,” “small-scale,” “local,” and so forth. This is not a politics that is outside the system: it’s quite capitalist and depends on conscious brands to be able to succeed in highly competitive marketplaces. It’s “postcapitalist” in the sense that while exchange value (price) still dominates the logic of transaction, it’s not the only value that matters for the transaction.

That means that there is an alternative to conflicting economic politics of post-prohibition. It won’t happen naturally, and it won’t be terribly successful without coordinated organization that learns from the Fair Trade movement et al.

But let’s put a name to it, provisionally, as a heterodox political discourse. We need something that captures the common ground of lots of different logics at work here. Let’s call it Whole Economy politics, for now, because I need that to make this final point.

Cannabis markets are relevant to cannabis medical politics because there would be no medicine, in either the traditional or pharmaceutical fashion, without the black, gray, and white markets that give patients (as well as “adult users”) access to outcomes that challenge the basic premise of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, without medical value.

Many medical cannabis patients respond well to non-standardized cannabis consumption. Many medical cannabis patients respond well to more standardized, refined cannabis products. The politics of medical cannabis that seems not only most appropriate but reflective of existing medical politics tolerate a heterodox and alternative approach to medicine, focused on patient experience and reports as well as double-blind clinical trials. There’s room for both, politically, and technically to rid our society of the harm of prohibition — all of it — it makes no sense to prohibit herbal and patient-focused approaches to cannabis medicine. It’s not only unnecessary, it is contrary to ending the drug war. Let’s call this heterodox approach “Whole Medicine” medical politics. It really means not excluding alternative and complementary approaches to modern medicine, when it comes to cannabis. So, everything.

In a parallel fashion, absent logical irregularities most evident in the Washington model’s ban on home grows and strict possession limits, there’s room for decentralized market production. We still have our Tier 1, 3000 square foot legal cannabis producer license here in Washington, and somehow many of these remain in business. The prospect of commodity-style industrial production (which is WAY bigger than even our largest, formally prohibited but materially tolerated multiple license operations) is a Bummer for decentralized production. But craft cannabis producers can carve out and grow market space, generally by organizing cooperatively and mastering “Whole Economy” branding.

The parallel logics converge on the concept and the practice of the “Whole, ” or holistic social organization. The logics are inclusive, cooperative, creative, and open space for experiments in creating a better approach to medicine, the economy, and society at large.

When it comes to cannabis, Whole Economy politics and Whole Medicine politics are really about cannabis as a plant with which our species has had a largely peaceful and mutually beneficial coexistence, with some exceptions, until the 20th century rolled around. Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire (1995) really made this point well, and not just with respect to cannabis.

So I suggest that there is a concept that can be named, that includes all peaceful approaches to creating a post-prohibition society: Whole Plant Politics. The challenge is to define peaceful approaches that move us towards the moment when cannabis is just a plant, and doesn’t require politics at all to grow. This is our task for 2017 and beyond.

 

Post-prohibition politics 2017

Policy Ecology Relationships, visualized
Policy Ecology Relationships Visualized

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

I’ve been using a “policy ecology” metaphor to describe the complex development of national (and global, implicitly) cannabis policy landscapes, and this post’s attention to Federal evolution provides an opportunity to strengthen and clarify that interpretive frame. Please forgive the informality of the whiteboard photo, but today’s post focuses on the “Federal” node and its implications for especially the “Federal-State” relationship. It’s also a helpful reminder that this ecology is a living one, not a fixed or static one, and its dynamics are always evolving even when not in an election year.

Presidential Elections set the stage for actual change, of course, and don’t in and of themselves mean anything. They set the stage because each new administration picks new people for institutional positions, and these people always start from where the institutional position was, not where the new people are. The new people then exert their agenda on the institutions, and, it should be noted, vice versa. The institutional positions through which the president has the power to evolve Federal drug policy is not the DEA chief, but the Attorney General, who heads the Department of Justice. In the Obama Administration, that position was held by Eric Holder and then James Cole.

It should be noted that the President himself (still no women, of course) theoretically can exert more radical change through Executive Order, but those carry much broader political risk and reward calculations. We’ll get to that later in the essay.

It should also be noted that legislative elections also set the stage for actual change, but in the aggregate rather than at the individual level. Individual Congresspeople lead, but their political agendas have to accommodate horse-trading around ALL the other national political issues, of which cannabis policy reform remains pretty minor. We can elaborate but it would take us a bit too afar from the focus of this essay and perhaps will be revisited in a later post.

So, what does a Trump administration mean for cannabis policy landscapes in 2017, and at least the next three years?

Directly, it means that Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will succeed James Cole as the Attorney General [EDIT: it’s Loretta Lynch, but she continued to implement rather than revise the AG Memo]. Because Donald Trump is not a “normal” Republican President-elect, this AG pick is more than the difference between a Republican AG and a Democrat AG (under a prospective Clinton administration)). Let’s explore the ways.

Trump’s politics, for the election, were “outsider” politics: populist and demagogic, rather than continuous with standard Republican politics. That means he said a lot of things that appealed to the people who elected him, rather than the Republican establishment which he excoriated as part of the swamp he would drain.

Trump’s politics for running the country now that he has been elected, may diverge considerably from the anti-establishmentarian rhetoric established on the campaign trail. This applies to all aspects of national policy development, for which cannabis policy is, again, relatively insignificant. It seems likely he will move forward with some of his anti-establishment populist agenda, while walking back an unknown but perhaps majority share of the rest of it for political and practical reasons.

So we have to pay attention to Trump’s election politics on the one hand, and his probably divergent administrative policy moves, especially his AG selection, to try to figure out whether the cannabis policy landscape will change and how.

His election politics with respect to the DOJ’s area of influence were fairly textbook, for 1968. He used the exact domestic political frame as Richard Nixon, calling for “law and order” and promising to reduce crime by getting tough on criminals. The appeal to American voters to support “law and order” politics in 1968 meant especially that voters were favorably inclined to crack down on anti-poverty, civil rights, and antiwar mobilizations, the convergence of which was noted by Dr. Martin Luther King a year before his 1968 assassination. Scholars usually interpret “law and order” politics, in practice, by its results: the decimation of dissent in this country and the birth of the greatest carceral state the world has ever known, by far.

Nixon didn’t start the fires of coded racial warfare, but his successful adoption of  post-Jim Crow coded racial politics (and a related ecology of imperialist and anticommunist authoritarianisms) nationalized and normalized it. Who doesn’t want “law and order,” after all? It’s not Jim Crow, and it doesn’t explicitly target labor and people of color. Compound this with the fact that many Black communities and their significantly religious political leadership mostly supported the idea of reducing crime and drugs. New York  Representative Charles Rangel earned his political capital that way, and would partner with other white Democratic politicians like Joe Biden to pull the Democratic Party into a full-fledged bipartisan global War on Drugs in the 1980s.

Nixon’s “law and order” political agenda was, in practice, a mixed bag rather than a consistently applied doctrine. His administration funded addiction rehabilitation strategies that helped most of the mostly heroin-addicted Vietnam veterans go clean upon their return home, for example. And the fledgling DEA, born on his watch from the ashes of Harry Anslinger’s 1930s-style outfit, the Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs, had nowhere near the institutional power and generalized legitimacy it would achieve under Reagan. As a Keynesian anticommunist Republican, Nixon also drew down the Cold War while paving the way for the neoliberal (read: anti-Keynesian) economic policy dominance we still live under. The “law and order” politician was also the most publicly criminal President we’ve ever had. The ironies abound, but the reality constructed out of these contradictions changed American politics like the 1960s changed American culture.

It’s taken a very, very long time for the politics of mass incarceration and militant drug warfare to begin to dislodge from the national political consensus consolidated during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations. Quite frankly, it would seem we simply stopped being able to afford such costly and transparently counterproductive approaches. We are publicly broke while privately rich, as a country. So how would a throwback “law and order” politician (a) reconstitute the legitimacy of “law and order” and (b) pay for it? The first has to happen through the Attorney General, and faces potential backlash. And the second has to happen through Congressional approval of budgets. What Jeff Sessions thinks about people who consume cannabis is probably irrelevant.

It’s unclear whether or how either will happen, but the prospect has post-prohibition cannabis stakeholders much more nervous than they were under the Cole memo, Obama’s cannabis policy change vehicle, and certainly more nervous than what was anticipated under a Clinton II administration.

Much consternation has developed over Sessions’ personal cannabis politics, but let’s remember that the other options were probably Rudy Giuliani, the “law and order” former mayor of New York; and Chris Christie, who is also ardently anti-cannabis. Sessions will make his mark with a revision or replacement of the Cole memo (which formally made the rules for the Obama administration’ “laboratories of democracy” State approach under which cannabis policy has been nationally liberalized), but probably not explicitly as an anti-cannabis Memo. What Sessions and Trump share with establishment Republican discourse are the politics of State autonomy to deviate from Federal policy. Those politics lost the Civil War but won Jim Crow. And yes, they were largely code for racial politics that had to be overthrown with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

But in 2016, State rights can mean a lot of other things besides or in addition to the power of States to roll back civil liberties established at the Federal level: Roe v Wade and gay marriage come to mind. The de-institutionalization of the drug war’s desirability, legitimacy, and economic feasibility has happened through Republicans like cannabis banking reform leader Dana Rohrbacher as well as Democrats. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the drug war was and remains bipartisan political capital. Also, it was Republican intellectuals like Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr. who publicly fought against the drug war when no one else would touch it for fear of losing political legitimacy. Those two are also libertarian political figures, and libertarian politics have largely been subsumed into the Republican party.

I doubt Donald Trump has a consistent political ideology: he’s a populist demagogue who can and does say whatever comes to mind first, and then figures out his actual policy approach later. When it comes to cannabis policy, I’m guessing that he’ll stick to the Republican establishment’s States rights discourse, and that will be the basis of the post-Cole memo to come through Sessions’ office.

Which isn’t all that different from the actual Cole memo. What are “laboratories of democracy” but the expression of State rights politics, applied liberally to the promotion of democracy as a socially beneficial national policy? The fact that States can choose democratic authoritarianism as well as democratic liberalism is irrelevant to the broader political meaning and potential outcomes.

Which is where I see the Sessions Memo potentially diverging from the Cole Memo. States, perhaps Sessions’ home state of Alabama, will be as free to conduct their own crackdowns on Federally banned cannabis markets as they are to tax and regulate them. Trump’s DOJ will be there to help them, just like Obama’s DOJ was when they asked for it. That’s the nature of the DOJ, as an institution: they work with State stakeholders to enforce Federal criminal law, but they generally can’t force it. They work through their State-institutional officers, the U.S. Attorneys, to do so.

So if you want to figure out what’s going to happen in your state, look for your U.S. Attorneys on the one hand and your State willingness to fund crackdowns on the other. The Sessions Memo, all other things held constant, will reinforce the quilt-like nature of the Federal crime policy blanket, where the Cole memo enforced the blanket nature of the Federal crime policy quilt.

The question of how it will be paid for, should it happen, is of great relevance. Unlike election words, which are really marketing gimmicks, the policies that result from political agendas follow funding. And our public sector coffers have shriveled up in the age of neoliberalism, which is really the age of monetary policy (Federal Reserve rate control) dominance over fiscal policy (government spending).

If there will be money for crackdowns, it is unlikely to flow exclusively through Federal agencies. Instead, look for “public-private” partnerships common to neoliberal governance. Look no further than how Trump plans to pay for the populist mega-infrastructure project to understand. Private corporations will bid on whatever “law and order” politics puts up for sale, and they will be provided with tax breaks and low-interest loans to carry out those agendas. Sales of military equipment to police departments will continue to flourish. This has already happened in California, where Blackwater-style contractors have been contracted to surveil and eradicate cannabis crops regardless of local jurisdictional notice or interest. I suggest that it will continue to happen in California, although the focus will shift/has shifted to the much more politically legitimate purpose of environmental protection.

Of course, all of this assumes that something unexpected happens to change the national cannabis policy calculus, such as Congressional action around the Controlled Substances Act upon which prohibition policy stands. Or something much more unexpected, a wildcard akin to Trump’s presidential victory.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, President Obama offered an intriguing peek into the logic of his mostly disappointing (to post-prohibition cannabis advocates) approach to cannabis policy change. As President, Obama enabled the Cole Memo but that’s about it, formally. His public politics have been ideologically consistent, however. He prefers post-prohibition approaches, but has insisted that institutional change at the federal level come from Congress rather than Executive Order. Whether one agrees with that approach or not, his compelling justification is that change that comes from Congress is likely to be on much more stable ground than change that comes through the Executive branch. It’s hard not to disagree, given Trump’s promise to cancel Obama’s executive orders and policies like the Affordable Care Act.

How does Congress change its mind? Congress changes its mind when, by sheer financial seduction or broad-based citizen action, individual legislators decide that the political calculus is in their favor and will help them get elected or re-elected. Obama has been telling post-prohibition cannabis organizers to figure it out.

The wildcard, however, is that perhaps Obama himself, as the most powerful of private citizens, will take a leadership role in fulfilling his own insistence that change happen through Congress. “I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go,” he tells Rolling Stone.

This may be grasping at straws. But it’s pretty clear that Obama is the first person that who has been, at some point in his life, a stoner, to be elected President of the United States. This by the way is an argument that comes from my friend Vivian McPeak, organizer of Seattle Hempfest. The man was part of a clique called the Choom Gang while in high school. If he did decide to make post-prohibition a part of his post-presidential agenda, as a private citizen, it seems not completely farfetched that he would join up with the ACLU in their turn away from funding state initiatives to a national anti-mass incarceration policy approach.

 

 

What and whither post-prohibition cannabis politics after 2016?

obama
The outgoing president as a young man. Photo credit unknown.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

The national landscape for post-prohibition cannabis laws changed substantially in November as eight states delivered change: four out of five legalization and four out of four medical voter initiatives. California, Maine, Nevada, and Massachusetts passed taxe-and-regulate recreational laws; and Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and Montana passed medical cannabis initiatives. Only Arizona failed at the ballot box this year, and to understand why one would have to dig into my home state’s strange brew of right-libertarian-Mormon politics. Briefly, however, it’s important to remember that Arizona voters passed the most radical drug reform initiative in the US back in 1998, as it included other schedule I substances besides cannabis, but implementation was blocked by various state elements. It also has an extremely liberal authorization policy — I know Humboldt growers that use an online Arizona doctor who apparently has prescription authority in both States.

This analysis, however, is about how to make sense of cannabis politics in a national context after the Big Whale, California, has embarked upon its own tax-and-regulate journey. This comes tightly on the heels of a substantive update to its 1998 medical law, 2015’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). MCRSA actually is a year into developing and implementing regulatory rules that will “absorb” Prop 215’s tax and regulate provisions, so California already has a running start on the materialization of its legal landscape.

There are at least three aspects to cannabis politics I want to address. I want to use this space to open up questions and define terms, each of which can be developed further. I will introduce three here, and elaborate on one. This is because I started this essay intending to address all three, but the first one filled out into a post of its own.

First, now that the simplifying and “black and white” political discourse of election season is behind us, what are post-prohibition cannabis politics, beyond getting either tax-and-regulate or medical initiatives passed? The election season brought into sharp relief major differences amongst proponents of cannabis legalization.

Second, how do the surprising national election results, which bring a different political party with a very, very different administrative cadre to power affect how legalization landscapes play out at the State level? Whither the Cole memo, is the fundamental question.

And third, where do we go from here with respect to “medical” and “legal” discourses for post-prohibition politics? Can they be complementary, or will the polarizing election trend in which proponents of one have to discredit the other continue to divide whatever it is we call cannabis culture?

The first one: What are post-prohibition cannabis politics?

Post-prohibition cannabis politics refer to any approach for replacing the Federal/Global ban on cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance. These include at least: rescheduling, descheduling, taxing, regulating, prescribing, recommending, authorizing, growing, distributing, banking, profiting from, losing money on, researching, and consuming cannabis sativa (hemp varieties included). This array of formalized stakeholders do not share a common interest, other than operating in a legal and policy environment associated with State-experimental “laboratories of democracy.”

The ecology of prohibition politics is much simpler and cohesive than the array of post-prohibition possibilities, but for the latter the main obstacles remain the Controlled Substances Act of 1971 and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotics and Controlled Substances, which was updated in 1973 to complement the US turn to medical prohibition rather than the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, struck down in 1969 by the Supreme Court in Leary v. United States.

Post-prohibition stakeholder interests diverge considerably. The benefits of State-legal cannabis experiments are popularly promoted as social, on the one hand; and financial, on the other.

“Grass-tops” funding for State initiatives from organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU, and the Marijuana Policy Project have shared an explicitly social political logic beyond “cannabis shouldn’t be prohibited”: criminal justice reform, usually with primarily racial justice benefits associated with mass incarceration.

Financial benefits to State experiments have two, maybe three, distinct and not always complementary logics. First, direct revenues go to both the public sector, through taxes, and to the private sector, through “profits.” The third is consumers. Indirect revenues accrue primarily to real estate, finance, and ancillary services.

In 2016, across the country, public sector coffers are empty. This is why arguments for “sin tax” rates resonate with policy makers. In Washington State, this discourse has primarily driven legislative changes from targeted social policy budgets (schools, research, and so forth) to the general fund, because Washington has been sued by the Federal government for not fulfilling its basic public education mandate.

In 2016, across the country, private sector profits accrue to “industry” at large but within “industry,” revenues are captured by retailers and distributors rather than producers of commodities. The US farm sector is an anomaly, given its vast subsidies that primarily benefit industrial domestic agriculture, at the expense of small farmers home and abroad. Even then, the basic story of our postwar economy is one in which huge retailers dominate commodity producers, seeking the lowest wholesale cost in order compete by providing the lowest possible prices to consumers. For the rest of the economy, this has happened by outsourcing production to places where labor is cheapest. This is called the “race to the bottom” by critics, and it certainly applies to cannabis as well, given the prohibition risk differential between cost of production and wholesale prices.

In 2016, across the country, consumers have consistently rewarded retailers who master the race to the bottom. However, the conscious consumer movement has gained substantial market share over the last decade or so: this refers to consumers who are willing to pay more for items that can be branded as, for example, “fair trade” or “equal exchange.” This is most obvious for coffee. Consumers have also rewarded “craft” or “boutique” commodities. This is most obvious in the Pacific Northwest with respect to craft beer and microbreweries.

The reason I say “maybe” to consumers as a class that directly benefits financially from legal cannabis lies between the “race to the bottom” and the conscious consumer movement. Anyone with experience in cannabis retail, of any sort, has to recognize that cannabis consumers include low-price seekers, on the one hand; and cannabis culture-oriented consumption.

This may be uncomfortable news to many in the cannabis culture, but the evidence doesn’t lie. Most of the market seems to be totally normal, American-as-apple-pie-at-WalMart, low price seekers. Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee broke the news way back in 2010’s Prop 19 initiative campaign. Lee, the primary funder of that initiative, told me the month before its fate was decided that the market looked a lot like the beer market, in which Coors and Bud take in the vast majority of the revenues. That hypothesis has been confirmed in Washington State, where controversial retailer Uncle Ike’s proudly embraces and extolls the virtues of a race to the bottom, high-volume, low-price approach that helps them lead the market. One could even hypothesize that this is what kept the Mexican exporters dominant until about 10-15 years ago, despite the subpar, mass-produced brickweed it made widely available. Consumers may want high quality cannabis, but they certainly want cheap cannabis.

So a class of cannabis consumers who constitute a majority of the market –let’s call them “commodity consumers” may benefit, but only if legal prices fall below gray- and black-market prices. That’s not a given, certainly not initially. This is for at least two reasons: State taxes, and diverse, non-flower product availability.

State taxes that are set too high create a heavy inertia to legal cannabis prices. It’s not that a 37% tax, a la Washington, can’t be accompanied by a $3 gram. But wholesale prices have to really plummet before that tax is adding only $1.11 to the gram instead of, say, $3.70 to a $10 gram. And the lower the price goes, at some as yet undetermined elasticity factor, the less State revenue becomes. And State legislators want to maximize their revenue.

Second, we use flower and flower prices as a proxy for what is by now a much more diverse cannabis product market, especially on the West Coast. Approximately 40% of medical cannabis revenue derived from concentrates and edibles. And concentrates and edibles have much more complex and expensive basic testing requirements — so much so in Oregon that small processors who can’t do larger lots or win the volume revenue race are in danger of outright extinction. On the plus side, legal cannabis processors in a mature system benefit from MUCH lower raw material costs than informal markets.

Finally, what’s good for low-price industrial consumers is not necessarily what’s good for consumption, in general. Cheap, mass produced food is not actually healthy relative to organic, small-scale production. If, as seems to be the case, legality is consolidating industrial approaches to production and consumption, then consumers are not better off just because they have cheaper weed. As always, though, the access question should be considered. Post-prohibition Cannabis won’t just be cheaper: it will be more accessible (Washington’s unnecessary medium-term retail bottleneck notwithstanding) , and that may be a social benefit.

I’m not sure, or rather, I’m sure it’s a mixed bag. Many, many people will now get the chance to develop a peaceful and healthy relationship with the plant that did not before. However, many, many people will now get the chance to develop a negative relationship with the plant because they pull a Maureen Dowd and freak out on edibles. I’m not one of those people that thinks cannabis works well with or for everyone. I’ve seen many otherwise positively disposed people get very anxious with even the slightest puff.

So, what are the post-prohibition politics of the plant?

They are the competitive and complementary negotiations of all the above reasons for and results of legalizing cannabis. Most concretely, of course, they are the power effects of the different stakeholder groups angling to maximize the financial benefits of a successful criminal justice reform movement. Cannabis culture, for which the exchange value of the plant is just one piece of the value puzzle, seems so far to have minimal input or effect on the formal politics of cannabis legalization. But the cultural politics are there, and they include what remain values heretical to modernity: herbal medicine, syncretic spirituality, whole earth consumption.

This is the depressing dynamic that makes me reluctant to engage in a public conversation that can only be about things that do not matter (much) to me: private sector ideologies of industrial production and consumption. This includes industrial-pharmaceutical approaches to cannabis as medicine. But even if it is ideologically depressing to me, it is of immense social value to understand how formal sector politics and markets encounter and transform a plant that isn’t just banned anymore.

I will turn to assess the other two significant contemporary questions for 2017 before leaving for the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa next week. By way of transition, let me say that the complex ecology of politics and markets addressed here as “post-prohibition” isn’t terribly complex when it encounters the ongoing continuation of Federal prohibition, so how Federal prohibition changes is pretty important for everyone. And the new administration is likely to be at least a little bit discontinuous with the previous one.

So that’s next, the Federal prohibition landscape. After that, I will address how the relationship between medical and legal cannabis politics is changing, and plead for a “whole plant” politics in which they are not at odds.

 

The Endgame is Local

California Board of Equalization (BOE) crew, featuring Fiona Ma, at the end of the Light Dep tunnel on a Spring 2015 BOE tour.
California Board of Equalization (BOE) crew, featuring Fiona Ma, at the end of the Light Dep tunnel on a Spring 2015 BOE tour.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

The mission of our nonprofit research organization is to “learn lessons from legalizing landscapes.” Endorsing or not endorsing legalization initiatives is not part of what we do, but given what I am about to say, it seems important to highlight my personal opinion — not the endorsement of this 501(c)(3) organization — that I am positively disposed towards the passage of all 9 legalization initiatives, plus all the medical ones, on ballots this election season.

That said, state-level legalization is one significant part of ending the war on drug plants as we know it. As lifelong cannabis grower, activist, and organizer John Sajo of Douglas County, Oregon keeps telling people, the endgame is local. Right now the Umpqua Cannabis Association is fighting a ban on legal cannabis cultivation in Oregon, a situation that illustrates the limits of state-level legalization and highlights how the endgame of ending cannabis prohibition is local. Let’s review why that is the case before critically examining intra-cannabis discourses for and against legalization.

It’s pretty simple. As long as Federal prohibition stands, and maybe even after, localities will be allowed to opt out of state-legal rules and regulations that permit cannabis cultivation, processing and sharing (not so much with consumption except with respect to where one can consume, interestingly).

This is fundamentally because local jurisdictions have the right to zone, period. They also have the trump card of suing States in Federal courts for their right to ban, outright, but even if they don’t do that, they can zone cannabis businesses out of the landscape.

Legal cannabis business owners will have to change or consolidate local political buy-in to realize the possibility (not the promise!) of actually operating a taxed and regulated business. There are at least two aspects to the endgames of local politics.

The first aspect to local politics is that formal zoning decisions are made by City and County councils. And those councils are responsive to the political constituencies that elect them; and stakeholder institutions with which they are already enmeshed. Law enforcement is probably the most significant stakeholder institution that has to buy in to the rules, zoning and otherwise, that affect the possibility of local cannabis legalization, because local law enforcement enforces local rules (as well as State and Federal ones, though discretion is fundamental to practices of enforcement and discretion is shaped by local enforcement culture as well as local political pressure to enforce or not enforce. Humboldt County, California is a great example of this. Law enforcement could pick and choose, on any day of the week, where and who to police, without ever running out of people to police. And that’s exactly what happens.

The second aspect to local politics is cultural. Local Councils are elected, and they respond to the organized expression of voters who elect them. They don’t respond, by the way, to unorganized expressions of voter interest. There are ways to be heard and engaged with; and there are ways to be heard and then marginalized as the result of how voters express themselves and to whom they seem to belong (desirables and undesirables, basically). Local voters organize around a variety of cultural values.

The variety of cultural values include basic opposition to cannabis because of stigma: “cannabis is bad.” It’s a form of bio-racism, really, and I mean that both literally and symbolically as many voters hate the perceived race of those who are associated with it, culturally.

But it’s not just the irrational bio-racist that stimulates the continuation of local prohibition. It’s the rational bio-racist voter, the one who voted for legalization, just not in their back yard. It’s the one whose local agricultural industry is impacted by rising real estate prices and competition for inputs, or even local industrial economic power. It’s the one who thinks that having cannabis businesses nearby drives down their home values. It’s the one who keeps reading about edible overdoses. And yes, it’s the one who is sickened by industrial greed, which has always been with us because greed has always been with us, but who is finally able to see it nakedly flying the flag of legal cannabis. It’s the voter that does not understand the relationship between cannabis prohibition and the institutionalization of racialized mass incarceration in this country. And it’s the voter who thinks that they are protecting the children — at least, their children, because they don’t understand how cannabis prohibition is incredibly bad for children and families who are already politically and economically invisible in this country: the poor, and people of color.

So, what are cannabis stakeholders getting angry at each other about? Not much of the above, and very little about what’s still to be done after legalization. Here are some observations about that:

  1. Voter initiatives are unlikely to fail or succeed based on how cannabis people, pro or con, decide to vote. That applies to growers especially, who represent such a miniscule percentage of the voting population as to be pointless. Yes, Humboldt County will vote no. Humboldt County also voted something like 80% for Bernie Sanders in the primary.
  2. Cannabis consumers are estimated to represent about 10% of the population. Latino voters represent 12% of the population, much greater in California — especially in Southern California, where they are predominantly against cannabis, period. This is cultural-religious, and goes wayyyyy back, since Mexico actually prohibited cannabis before the US did, and Latin American countries — despite what you might think — have prohibited cannabis and other drug plants for their own analogous reasons (hint: they have racial and class politics, too).
  3. The vast majority of the yes/no votes for legalization will come from normal political demographics: Baby Boomers (who gave us the drug war!), religious groups, women, people of color. These are the people to focus one’s energy on, not other cannabis people who disagree with each other.
  4. The Prop 64 organizers are definitely focusing on swaying non-cannabis voters; as well as doing a little hysterical stigmatization of totally insignificant cannabis voter blocs, like growers and medical cannabis retailers. These are two very different groups usually at industrial odds, with retailers having captured significant margins for the last 10 years as the wholesale price per lb dropped significantly while the retail price per gram barely budged.
  5. Eyes on the prize, yes or no on Prop 64-ers. Mudslinging contests make the endgame of local political work — which has years if not decades in front of it — much, much harder. Here’s a couple of ways:
  6. Yes on 64 people, when you stigmatize and paint everyone who opposes you with the same broad brush, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. Greedy industry, onerous tax burdens, pesticide problems, corruption, problematic real estate, local bans and moratoria await you on the other side of State-legalization. In fact, most of the really greedy people from pre-legalization have enough capital to get into State-legal schemes. The people who won’t be able to be a part of it are the ones who have not been greedy. In fact, get working on barriers to entry to build bridges for historically marginalized groups because legality isn’t going to change that and probably will make it worse.
  7. No on 64 people, when you stigmatize and paint everyone who opposes you with the same broad brush, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. This is the wildly successful outcome of your effort to Overgrow the State. You are the ones who domesticated cannabis agriculture — you are the ones who defeated external producers often associated with violent organized crime. You are the ones who kept the plant alive and available enough to make what’s happening now possible. You are the ones who risked life and limb every step of the way to do so. You may not have planned to end the war on drug plants (many of you actually did plan for that) and take away a key tool for unjust, racial, and genocidal State incarceration and punishment, but you made it possible.  This is your opportunity not only to own what you’ve done politically, but to finally bring Economic Justice to the Public Conversation in an age where all such organizing seems to fail for lack of funds.

I’ve tried to avoid calling anyone in particular out, and to avoid promoting anyone’s point of view in particular other than John Sajo, whose life and work embody the best politics of the plant to which I aspire, and I hope inspire others to listen with extreme non-prejudice. This is the moral ground on which I stand, but it’s also the strategically political ground on which I hope others can too. There’s a whole lot of behavior going on in the public discourse around cannabis legalization this electoral season, but implying that anyone who disagrees with you is evil or representative of broad positions only stigmatizes the people of the plant and postpones the endgame of the war on drug plants, which goes way beyond cannabis and towards a more ecologically healthy society.

 

 

 

Imagining Cannabis Communities

BenedictAnderson

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Today’s post examines the meaning of “community” as it intersects with both “culture” and “cannabis.” Let’s start with anthropologist Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” (the title of his 1983 publication). Anderson’s big contribution to social theory reconstructs the meaning of community as a signifier of common identity, especially as it applies to the emergence of national identities. Really he was taking part in a social theory turn that was about how social identities are constructed and performed, rather than biological or natural. A good example of this is the concept of “race,” which before the 20th century was a term applied to ethnic and national identities rather than common skin tones: the Irish race this, the Italian race that, and so forth. It was all about the process of defining Selves and Others, and usually had a territorial as well as biological connotation. A community is a group of people who are imagined to be like each other, and nations are “imagined communities” in the sense that all their differences get subsumed under a few common identity markers, one of which is having a place of origin or belonging in common.

But having a place of origin or belonging in common, and having that marker of identity mobilized, can often mean that a great deal of internal difference is being erased, often violently. Okies from Muskogee can only be Okies from Muskogee if they don’t smoke marijuana or take LSD, according to Merle Haggard, but Dr. Sunil Aggarwal has often contested that assertion. If it’s true, then he doesn’t get to belong to the place he grew up. Hence nationalism — and all other imagined community identities — are political: who gets the final word depends on power in social relations, not who’s technically right. The power to define community is the power to include or exclude.

So what’s the cannabis community, exactly. I experience a lot of positive and a lot of negative meanings associated with that post-ethnic identity marker, which can be and sometimes is framed in terms of nationalism. Some mourn the loss of community as cannabis becomes commercialized and inserted into the formal capitalist economy. Some celebrate the opening of cannabis community membership into the ecology of legally sanctioned communities subsumed under national, State, and local identities. What’s the Washington cannabis community like, and so forth.

The challenge for this post isn’t to define what “the cannabis community” is or might be, though I have a few strong feelings about it. The challenge for this post is to identify community formation as an ongoing and vital part of social survival. Communities are always being lost, broken, made, healed: they are created by performing common ground, and they have to be constantly re-created and renewed to gain political and economic purchase on the ecology of community formations in society that aren’t punished for existing.

I must admit I’m pretty ambivalent about “cannabis community” as a singular concept, sweeping up difference under the rug of community. I find that when it’s singularly deployed it tends to be either deployed as a brand, on the one hand, for getting people to buy things; and as a stigmatized group that isn’t allowed to participate in “modern” legal cannabis markets, events, or even spaces outside one’s own home on another end. I find it more useful as a term of aspiration or auto-critique, usually associated with efforts to be together on something or an acknowledgement that the failure to renew community and mobilize it in a productive fashion has created missed opportunities for the cannabis peace movement from which we should learn.

That’s not terribly specific, I know, but this is not a space for dictating how folks who’ve found cannabis therapeutic in their lives should shape their identities. I’m specifically anti-identity in many ways: I’m less interested in what we have in common than how we can peacefully coexist despite our differences, because we are interdependent at the very least in the spaces we share.  But the practice of calling a community together can help considerably in the search for peaceful coexistence.

The way we are organizing for peaceful coexistence involves the production of popular education events. Our Terpestival is a whole plant conference: the focus on Terpenes helps decenter approaches to centralize the meaning of cannabis, and therefore what cannabis communities can be. That problem of centralized meaning is not just a negative power function — “dangerous drug”, signifier of “Bad Actor,” and so forth — but a positive power function with negative effects. The focus on low cost THC production for prohibition markets has dramatically limited non-cannabis communities’ willingness to step away from stigma and let the plant be a plant.

That model, interestingly, is now being perpetuated in Washington’s legal system for public and private reasons. The State wants revenue, and it gets the most revenue when retailers copy the prohibition market’s tendencies toward highest THC and lowest prices. At the same time its onerous regulations make THC information on the label the most reliable information available to consumers (and budtenders) who aren’t allowed to smell the flowers or sample the product. Combine that with the McDonald’s fast-food high volume business model and it’s no wonder cannabis is becoming just another commodity here. And communities based on commodities have a name: industry. Not much room for cultural difference and community formation there, except as ways to brand, market and sell things.

Which is, I suppose, the proverbial American way. It’s the familiar same-old centralized national identity subsuming all of the differences that constitute our social ecologies under the generic flag of consumer identity. It works, for a lot of people in the cannabis industry — especially the new ones, intent on producing a tornado of creative destruction out of which they build their empires of exclusive wealth and individual glory. I’m just not into it.

But it’s not enough to be “just not into it.” If I want cannabis community — and I desire a cannabis community of decentralized differences that peacefully coexist — I have to create spaces where other people can understand what I desire and desire it with me. Also at the same time I have to navigate the social ecology of acceptable and tolerated communities who feel threatened by my cannabis-positive values. I have to understand what they are afraid of, and not get frustrated that their fears are irrelevant even if they aren’t based on evidence. And I have to find and work strategically with people who share my values and are able to act on them.

This last point is crucial. The re-criminalization of medical cannabis in Washington State has meant that for the last year at least, people who share my values — chiefly, that cannabis is a plant with many, many beneficial uses and the problems attributed to it are caused mostly by its prohibition and stigmatization — have been losing their jobs, losing their margins, and transitioning to a new system in which margins are vanishingly small and controlled by people who put profits over social peace. Washington’s model of legalization has certainly made cannabis communities everywhere more afraid of legalization, and that can’t be a good thing.

It’s not a good thing for a lot of reasons, but I’ll point out an especially Big One. Cannabis legalization is first and foremost about getting people out of jail and ending the drug war — both of which affect communities of color disproportionately. It’s not really about cannabis, it’s about the practice of prohibition — which was never about cannabis, but about social control. We need legalization to happen to end the drug war. It’s that simple. But we need models of legalization that care for the hundreds of thousands of people that see themselves part of a community that is under attack. There’s no reason why ending the drug war can’t also promote livelihood continuities and broader spaces of social peace. No reason at all.

But there are no cannabis peace stakeholders at the table, because cannabis communities have always been marginal to society. They aren’t at the table even to write initiatives anymore — that process is clearly being privatized. That marginality is cultural, not just “forced” upon cannabists: cannabis consumption, production and distribution under conditions of prohibition have been carried out largely by people who are culturally disobedient — the counterculture.

This is a fundamental tension that prevents cannabis communities from having a voice in how things are changing. What’s to come is going to depend on how people imagine their communities, and whether those people find a way to act together and actually perform those communities.

 

Cannabis, Capitalism, Creative Destruction

polanyi
Economic Historian Karl Polanyi

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

In “The Great Transformation” (1944) economic historian Karl Polanyi considered the rise of the international capitalist order out of the historical conditions set in motion by the collapse of the West’s fuedal-theocratic order. Polanyi’s story elaborated a key analytical concept for our times: “creative destruction,” the process whereby growth and global “order” were created by destroying the lives and livelihoods that depended on that order — that political and economic liberalism did not come from nowhere, but built with and upon the remains of social orders everywhere. This was not strictly a moral critique, but an analytical one: that it happened matters far more than what one thinks of the result. It can however guide us in our search for peaceful cannabis policy.

Without getting too “ivory tower,” I want to use this post to consider the concept of creative destruction as it applies to current cannabis markets and social orders. The movement to end prohibition has little to do with the movement of previously informal markets, people, and knowledge into the “normal” routines and practices of capitalism, but it is clear that cannabis market legalization (different from cannabis legalization) involves a radical restructuring of human lives and livelihoods. For every job created in legal cannabis, an “informal sector” livelihood has been destroyed, even if that job is occupied by someone previously operating in the informal market. For every giant, investor-owned warehouse that becomes regulated (in theory, anyway) and taxed, dozens of small producers have been put out of business. This is certainly the case in Washington, but does not have to be the case elsewhere.

The closer a State gets towards bringing informal markets into the system, the less social impact this destruction has on the existing order. As we put thousands of independent owner-operators out of business, it’s important to remember that these folks were previously able to pay their rent, bills, and groceries, and now they can’t. This creates a social problem that the State of Washington is clearly nowhere near being concerned about, but affects our neighborhoods, our churches, our schools, and our stability.

This isn’t just the case for home growers. It’s especially the case for minority-dominant neighborhoods, where white-owned and operated businesses are putting people of color out of work — people who never had a chance, at all, to be part of the new legal markets given the incredibly high barriers to entry and short, closed windows to even apply.

One thing about medical cannabis markets — as ubiquitous and apparently offensive to policymakers as they were — is that even the “bad actor” access points that barely catered at all to patients did everyone a major social service. They got a lot of cannabis off the streets and into an orderly space. The lack of formal regulation made barriers to entry extremely low, and plenty of folks who can barely function in the normal social order were able to get and keep jobs that made them happy. Some of that was the ability to consume cannabis while they worked! That’s also been destroyed by I 502 and its legislative changes, so much so that I 502 businesses have trouble educating their employees and providing samples.

But the destruction of medical cannabis businesses is most certainly creating non-I 502 jobs, too. Black market job creation is happening, possibly as fast as I 502 job creation, and those aren’t the jobs anyone wanted to create, on the one hand, or go back to, on the other. Given the State’s interest in destroying the black market, I’m pretty sure this isn’t an outcome that the State wants either. At the same time, white-owned retailers who are tone-deaf to the experience of gentrification are stoking the fires of neighborhood resentment.

Let’s consider those I 502 jobs as a mixed bag, though, not just the colonial expropriation of skills, time, investment, and lives by Big Money investors and real estate sharks. Informal markets are notoriously volatile, and being an entrepreneur reliant upon handshakes instead of contracts can be incredibly risky and stressful. Those handshakes, when they do work out, are incredible: they replace credit and threats of lawsuits with trust and human, face-to-face, construction of interdependence. And let’s be clear, there would be no informal cannabis markets now — no formal ones either — if those networks of trust and outlaw community didn’t pay off more often than not.

One more extremely socially optimal outcome is associated with I 502’s “creative destruction” should be highlighted, and it’s a doozy as far as I’m concerned. In Washington, we are replacing a mostly indoor, import cannabis market with what will eventually be a mostly outdoor, environmentally friendly and local one. Eastern Washington is experiencing the beginnings of a sustainable agricultural industry that fits very well into its agriculture-dependent social orders. Virtual ghost towns are being revived: the city of North Bonneville has pioneered a public-private cannabis partnership that means a future instead of extinction. The latest numbers I’ve received from trusted sources indicate that we have a ways to go, but considering that Washington State had so little sun-grown, ecologically sustainable cannabis before I 502 was passed, we’ve come a long way.

The broader implication of these kinds of creative destruction is clear. If States simply make bridges for the previous order to come in and own their own experience, skills, and livelihoods –rather than crush them through unnecessary legislative fiat — the social peace can be optimized. We live in an incredibly and increasingly unequal society, and prohibition was a tool for making that happen. Post-prohibition markets must not reinforce that process. It’s not good for anyone. Let the livelihoods transform themselves, instead of being thrown away like the disposable citizens they seem to be.

 

The Second Annual Original Terpestival

Kevin Jodrey rocking his CASP T shirt and Reverend Jeff Cannabis on last year’s panel. Photo by Steve Hyde.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

The second iteration of our Original Terpestival TM will take place in Hopland, California, on July 23, at the Real Goods Solar Living Center. We decided to locate in CA this year, with an option still open for holding another one in Washington, because our dear friend Martin Lee with Project CBD asked us to do a co-fundraiser in his backyard, so to speak, as he operates out of Healdsburg just south of Hopland; and because Washington formally outlawed cannabis events last year in a sneaky, last minute addition to the “Patient Protection Act.” But we are really excited to partner with Project CBD and mobilize our extensive California networks in support of our popular education event.

The event combines world-class scientific knowledge about whole-plant cannabis with Dr. Michelle Sexton’s uniquely designed competition. The “Terpene Tournament” uses terpene profile results from SC Labs, our major event sponsor, to place entries into individual categories based on terpene clusters like “high myrcene.” And then our panel of professional judges, assembled by Cannabis Action Network leader and Harborside ex-buyer Rick Pfrommer, decides the winners for each individual category. We will also compile and analyze the results of the competition and publish them like we did last year.

The competition creates an industry “pull” effect, by giving them better and more information upon which to develop, brand, and market products. I have to say that last year’s event, if it wasn’t the sole catalyst, succeeded wildly in this respect. Last year, this time, there were very few products out there with terpene profiles and associated marketing and branding. This year, at the time of this writing, terpenes have clearly joined THC and CBD at the top of ways to differentiate industry products.

The scientists and information providers who are part of our popular education panels constitute and industry “push” effect by providing real information upon which to base marketing — it’s a “push” because let’s face it, receiving useful information is not usually why industry sponsors or enters the competition. Once they have been “pulled” by the familiar marketing benefits of the competition, they are there to hear Dr. Ethan Russo, perhaps the pre-eminent terpene researcher on the planet, deliver a keynote after our amazing panelists address topics such as “Terpenes and Wellness.”

It’s a win-win for industry, because public interest and private interest are aligned perfectly: the public needs to know what they are consuming and what consumption means for health, and industry badly needs ways to diversify its products to compete in an increasingly saturated marketplace. THC and low prices should not be the only business model out there — that’s the prohibition business model, and to get beyond prohibition culture we need to get beyond THC and into the whole plant.

We are incredibly grateful to our network allies without whom this event could not happen. Wonderland Nursery in Redway, Southern Humboldt, is one of our closest allies. Kevin Jodrey came to our event last year on his own dime to support us, and this year is playing a key role providing advice, collecting entries and mobilizing networks. Healing Harvest Farms at Area 101 in northern Mendocino is also providing human resources and entry collection. True Humboldt in Eureka, Magnolia Wellness in Oakland and Emerald Pharms in Hopland itself are also serving as entry points, providing advice, and mobilizing their networks. And of course SC Labs in Santa Cruz is not only donating the testing but serving as an entry collection point.

At this time we are struggling a bit with sponsors and hustling last minute entries. In Washington State, Thincpure has delivered already on their Sesquiterpene sponsorship. We received a terrible blow with the Federal raids on the CBD Guild last week. Although charges were dropped and Dennis Hunter was released, the raid came on payday and over $600,000 was seized, so we have lost some major sponsors and are working very hard to overcome that.

So this post is both an announcement and invitation to the event, and a call for interest in sponsorship, entries, and vending. Please contact me at my gmail address, corvad@gmail.com , or any of your local entry collection points described above. Our event last year proved tremendously influential and rewarding for industry, and we plead this year not only for solidarity but for industry to recognize that participation is good for their bottom line, good for the public, and co-fundraiser for two very strapped nonprofits.

All relevant information can be found in the following documents. Entrees require 1 oz flower and 4 g concentrate, solventless or Co2 only.

Handbill entry form

TerpestivalDrop-offInstructions2016

CompetitionTerpestival2016

Terpestival2016SponsorshipSheet

Cannabis, Culture, Medicine

Photo by Steve Hyde
Photo by Steve Hyde

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

It’s Friday, so I’m going to approach this meta-social issue a little differently. Not with an organized essay, in other words, because the intersection of those three words — cannabis, culture, and medicine — is hyperdimensional and divergent. There are many wildly different ways to map their intersections, maybe because the words themselves are overflowing with meanings and interpretations. Let’s locate a few combinations and go from there.

  1. Cannabis is a plant, first, and therefore its cultivation by humans is agriculture. An argument can be made that it’s manufacturing, but if so that’s the direct result of how cannabis came to be policed in the U.S., or prohibition. The artificial production of a controlled environment for growing under lights is directly connected to the artificial production of a controlled society under the police function. Every effort to tightly control cannabis production that doesn’t treat cannabis like any other plant by prohibiting its growth to selected social actors so they can make a profit is unnatural, on the one hand, and the continuation of prohibition’s basic logic, which for now we’ll call “prohibition culture.” Which has never been about prohibiting a plant, but punishing and making examples of certain segments of the population (see Michelle Alexander’s ubiquitous “The New Jim Crow” for a basic explanation).
  2. Culture is a system of shared meaning based upon the reproduction (and evolution) of Value in society. Oof. This one’s going to be tough. Cultures are dynamic, open, evolving, alive, contradictory, messy, disciplined, and most of all political. What counts as Valuable in society depends upon who is speaking to whom, where and when. Cultural violence happens when one system of shared meanings not only declares itself the Right One but disciplines and punishes people who deviate from the reproduction of those meanings. Cultural violence is the byproduct of Monoculture, a simplified set of standardizing values that are supposed to mean the same thing, over and over, everywhere and any time. Prohibition monoculture attempted to kill the diversity of value and values associated with a plant, and replace it with one Meaning, “threat to society.” Thus meaning was codified differently over time, but the 1971 Controlled Substances Act is the one that declared the plant a Threat to Public Health by classifying it as one of the most dangerous substances known to humanity. The modern War on Drugs is a perversion of Public Health, in that it has promoted violence as a way of promoting health.
  3. Medicine is the food we consume to make us well. “Wellness” is a pretty broad, polydiverse signifier, and therefore so is medicine. What makes one person well can very well kill the next person, depending on each person’s physical and environmental makeup. This is true for food in general: peanut butter is deadly to many, many people. We don’t prohibit peanut butter, we educate consumers not to kill themselves by ingesting delicious peanut products. Our culture therefore allows for widely divergent understandings of the peanut as both dangerous and delicious.
  4. Foods are composed of lots of different molecules, some of which have multiple medicinal benefits depending on how they are arranged and broken down in the body. When isolated and concentrated, many molecules become powerful agents of biophysical change. In Western/pharmaceutical/industrial medicine, those molecules are evaluated as “dangerous” or “medical” depending on who’s approved their use or not. Unless they are on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, through which they are declared simply dangerous. And even then, Schedule I drugs are legally accessible to pharmaceutical elites who ask the appropriate State representatives the appropriate way.  Foods that are molecularly simplified, standardized, and sold as State-sanctioned promoters of health are called “pharmaceutical drugs.” They are the monoculture of Modern Medicine.
  5. Modernity is a mixed bag, and the fact that this statement might be controversial tells us something about the monoculture of Modernity. The monoculture of Modernity is that on balance, things are getting better, usually in contrast with a prior period of history that is now over. This year compared to last year, this decade before the last, this century before the one before. Modernity is a moving target to which we have arrived, again. Bruno Latour wrote a book that elaborates on this. But Francis Fukuyama wrote a book against this. I’m with Bruno: declaring that we have evolved into the best society we can make is the hubris par excellence of every historical moment there has ever been. The world is round, and every revolution introduces variation that can only sometimes be described as progress.
  6. In the last forty years or so, we have returned to the notion that single molecule medicine, the medical monoculture of modernity, is maybe not all there is and on top of that often extremely flawed, as evidenced by the history of FDA recalls and the evidence of physical disfigurement and death associated with recalled or abandoned miracle drugs.
  7. In the U.S., “alternative and complementary” medicine has returned traditional medicine, herbal products, and a host of other ways to get and be well to the repertoire of Modernity. These heretics used to be burned at the stake, along with the women that knew about them. The cannabis plant has been a vital component of that repertoire for millenia, and the return of cannabis-based approaches to wellness is part of that process. Thanks, hippies.
  8. The monocultures of Modernity have been under serious re-evaluation, and the point above is just one example. Tolerance of diversity, defined as “not killing people, physically or symbolically, structurally or directly, for being different or having different values” is a relatively recent development in the United States. But see point number 5! Tolerations of difference aren’t exactly a recent development in human history, and still aren’t all that prevalent in this society.
  9. Tolerations of difference usually turn on questions of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, language and sexuality in this country. The public debate about diversity is pretty much never about neurological diversity or consciousness, except through the Monocultural lens of  pharmaceutical medicine. Thinking differently is evidence of disease. Thinking that cannabis is a plant that people have played with in search of wellness throughout history is evidence that one is a heretic, a heretic of modernity. Acting on that thought can get you burned at the stake, a phenomenon that started in this culture hundreds of years go.
  10. Being a heretic of modernity means one won’t be taken seriously by Modern, normal people like many politicians, lobbyists, doctors, university administrators, law enforcement officers and so forth. For these folks prohibition may have been a failure, but it was the product of a few bad actors or good actors making bad decisions rather than the structural violence of prohibition culture. Let’s stop incarcerating people who consume acceptable amounts of the plant, but let’s still stigmatize and punish the heck out of people who grow it or distribute it without authorization from the State. Because Public Health! Which Modernity has such a great track record on promoting through punishment, assumably.

I hope to continue this sort of exploration in future posts. It may or may not be included in some form in the forthcoming book, but if nothing else contributes quite a bit to the transparency of the assumptions held by its author(s).

ROLLING LEGAL: How a Brazilian is Blazing Trails in Uruguay’s Hemp Industry

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All photos by Fabio Bastos

An interview with Brazilian ganjapreneur Fabio Bastos, CEO of Sediña

by Ras Stephen Charles Flohr

10/6/15

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side. At least that’s been the case for Fabio Bastos, 35, a prominent Brazilian journalist who decided to pack his bags and transplant himself in neighboring Uruguay in pursuit of entrepreneurial conquest in the country’s fledgling hemp/cannabis industry. In collaboration with the Brazilian cannabis portal Smoke Buddies, I had the privilege to catch up with Fabio and pick his brain regarding his journey into greener yet unchartered pastures. At first, Fabio was leary about talking with me and responded to my initial journalistic requests with a dismissive if not brash demeanor. “We at Sediña aren’t interested in such partnerships, he replied”. Yet once I reassured him that my intentions were purely literary and not commercial, he quickly warmed into the gracious, forthcoming and charismatic personality that suited his glimmering reputation as Uruguay’s alien hemp pioneer. “You’ll have to excuse me for being so closed and short with you”, he explained. “It’s just that I get so many requests on a daily basis from people wanting personal information just so that they can set up shop and be my competition”. I assured him that I understood. It’s no doubt that everyone and their grandmother is clamoring for a piece of market share in the fertile yet still uncertain landscape of Uruguayan legalization.

 

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Fabio established his corporation Sediña (translated as rolling paper in Portuguese/Spanish) with the launching of a rolling paper which is advertised as the “Paper of Legalization” and is currently being sold throughout Uruguay and Brazil. Fabio recruits local representatives who are interested in furthering his mission of inspiring the legalization debate in his native country, which he sees languishing in the ice-ages of prohibition, and to give inroads to Sediña’s products in the Brazilian market. He made it clear to us that our work as journalists is in direct alignment with his aspirations of expanding the debate to a broader segment of society so that a more common-sense based, socio-political approach towards cannabis, could flourish. May this interview serve as a rallying point for discourse in unpacking the regional intricacies and entrepreneurial challenges posed by nascent markets in the spectre of global legalization.

How did this idea come about of you becoming a legal and registered grower of cannabis? Was it something that you envisioned implementing in Brazil following a future legalization measure or did this only occur after legalization took place in Uruguay?
Fabio: The path was natural for me because I am a natural born entrepreneur. When I was 18 years old I was already working as an executive producer and director for television programming. When I created the first season of CurtoCircuito ten years ago, I was already in my fifth television contract and it was just me going at it alone, going there, buying the space and showing what I wanted to the public audience that followed my work without any censorship. Little by little I started dealing with herb-related issues in a time when nobody even thought of dealing with such a controversial issue publically. Well, things started closing up, program managers didn’t want to have anything to do with me, I wound up without any work. It was around this time when the issue started gaining steam in Uruguay, people were taking the streets and it seemed like it was really going to happen in that country. Given the way things were turning out for me as I mentioned, the first thing that came to my head was: I have to be a part of this! So I started to study about growing, reading everything about marijuana, watching all the videos I could, I studied the market, legalization, etc.
I went to Uruguay and I was able to follow the entire legalization process firsthand. I made trips back and forth and ended up meeting many Uruguayans who had the same business goals. I started seeing the growth of the market like growshops for example, you know, watching everything unfold right before my very eyes. Without space and, above all, without motivation to continue in the media sector in Rio de Janeiro, I prepared myself to go live and work with cannabis in Uruguay. That’s how it was and before I knew it , I was already super involved.

What was the first step you took after your decision?
Fabio: Once I went to Uruguay, setting myself up as a legal resident and starting the process of getting all the paperwork together in order to start commercial activity was an adventure. Bureaucracy, that seemed small at first, little by little became more and more tedious, although tolerable (after all, I am Brazilian!), until there came the day of registering the business with the DGI (legal organ authorizing business activity in the country). I went with Gerardo, my accountant, and when we explained our business intentions to the very nice clerk who was helping us, she let out a big laugh, excused herself, and then called some of her colleagues to come help her with the process; the system wasn’t even ready to deal with this new segment of the market that the country just established. After a lot of being laughed at and doubts, Sediña became the first industrial hemp business in South America.
In Uruguay, have you experienced prejudice because you are a foreigner investing in a neighboring country after the change in law?
Fabio: Uruguay has a very large elderly population and the majority are against legalization. The youth are super liberal, free from prejudice and thirsty for life. It’s a very interesting combination that teaches us the lesson of how different ideas and points of view can exist side by side. Montevideo is loaded with foreigners and the people there are more used to it. They are receptive, excellent hosts, and they respect cultural differences while demanding respect for their own traditions. Uruguay is a beautiful country, very advanced in infrastructure and very advantageous in terms of opening a new business. Prejudice in Uruguay, with regards to the current generation, doesn’t exist.
What are some of ‘Sediña Marihuana y Derivados’ products that have or will be presented to the market?
Fabio: Sediña entered the market in 2015, and then gradually came along its’ product line. We started with the rolling paper which is now available and soon we will launch CanabidiOIL (CBD oil with 22% concentration), a line of genetics in partnership with BCN Seeds in Spain, specially developed by Karulo Abelan, founder of the magazine Cañamo (Hemp) and the owner of Barcelona’s first growshop. We will also sell the excess production of hemp to industries.

 

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You are currently in China. Can you tell us why?
Fabio: In China, they produce 50%, that’s half of hemp production globally. That’s why I came here. My main objective here is hemp. Since China is a major producer of so many things like electronics, we are also producing here things like vaporizers and other electronics that we work with. So I opened an operation here so that we can work from both sides of the globe, in Uruguay and China, and facilitate our operations. So here’s what I’m going to do, I am going to plant the hemp in Uruguay, then I am going to send it here to China and have it processed, and from there on we will produce our products. From hemp we can do everything, we can make biofuel, clothes, plastics, all in all a great deal of products, and this is my purpose: hemp and hemp derivatives. Sediña doesn’t work with nor has the interest in working directly with smokable marijuana. Since there exists the cannabis market we use this as a marketing strategy, so we made the rolling papers, lighters, vaporizers and these types of accessories, but this is more of a marketing tactic. Our business is hemp. We have our hemp plantation and the idea is to generate products from it.
Can you speak a little about the role that you and Sediña are playing in Brazil and how you are trying to stimulate the debate here regarding legalization?
Fabio: Yes, I am working hard in the area of activism with regards to legalization in Brazil, however, more from the standpoint of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, not recreational. I don’t deal with recreational marijuana. I smoke, I enjoy it, we got our own thing going of course, but we don’t work with a recreational focus. Therefore our activism in Brazil is aimed at separating these two things, to make the people understand that industrial hemp is different from marijuana, that one doesn’t have anything to do with the other, and that hemp needs to be legalized in Brazil in order to generate wealth, to drive the economy, to substitute products, less dependence on petroleum, etc. I believe that soon all Brazilians will be able to grow in their homes and have unrestricted access without being subject to heavy firearms nor will they be considered criminals for seeking out a cure for their illnesses. I defend this right of the people and I work so that people who may not have the time, knowledge or willingness to grow their own, can buy these products from specialized businesses.
What is your opinion regarding the Uruguayan model in terms of its’ cultivation and distribution scheme compared to other models that we see, for example, in the United States? Which would you like to see implemented in Brazil?
Fabio: As far as the Uruguay model is concerned, I think it’s right on the money. It’s not completely liberated, it’s something that is very controlled, yet it is a type of control that leads things in the direction of professional development. On one side it is going to generate resources, it’s going to generate jobs in the field and for the industry. In the end, it’s really going to move the economy of the country. Regarding the distribution of marijuana through pharmacies here in Uruguay, I think it’s pretty cool even though it’s not happening yet. It might happen, it might not. The only detail is that I don’t really see a market for it. Why? Because the market is already being supplied by homegrowing and by cannabis clubs. So I don’t see the possibility of a large clientele of Uruguayans for the pharmacies; I think its small. So I don’t see the opportunity for the people and businesses that are investing millions of dollars to enter into this market to see a return on their investment in the short term. And so I don’t see commercial viability for these businesses that are going to sell marijuana in the pharmacies. But this is only a personal opinion and we’re only going to see what will happen after it’s been put into practice. And so I really hope that Brazil adopts the Uruguayan model and not the American model. I think the American model is too liberal and in Brazil, for our culture, I don’t think it would work. The American model is very open, it has less restrictions, it is more accessible. The Uruguayan model is more closed, it has more governmental control. I think for the Brazilian culture, a more controlled model would work better. The American model in Brazil would turn out to be a mess.

What are some of the difficulties and challenges that you have faced in moving forth with Sedina?
Fabio: The main difficulty that we face is overcoming the negative stigma associated with marijuana, even here in Uruguay. And this is my greatest challenge, making the people separate hemp from marijuana and eliminate the inappropriate drug stigma. Sediña is a hemp business and the idea is to produce hemp products using its fiber and such, and so it’s difficult and we are always struggling with this. In Brazil it’s the same thing, the stigma barrier. But Brazil is very, very, very much behind Uruguay at this moment. The business and market of marijuana in itself is something very simple. There is no mystery to it. The mystery is in the taboo that is created in people’s heads. And so our main marketing objective is to demystify the various uses of cannabis, from recreational to medicinal to industrial. Yet for the most part, people here are very open and want to see it work. We’re still in the very beginning of things and so things need to happen step by step. But everybody who I am in contact with and show our projects to are very excited and want to know how they can help. You need to have the soul and predisposition for this type of thing which is something ancient yet new at the same time.

Brazil: To Be or CBD? Not the Question.

Executive Director’s Note: CASP is proud to share authentic journalism from our friend Ras Stephen Charles Flohr, reporting from where he lives in Sao Paulo, Brasil, on the way new CBD-specific politics intersect with inequality. It is part of an ongoing interest CASP has in educating the public about the realities of Cannabidial as it relates on the one hand to the whole plant, and therefore herbal medicine; and as it relates to the politics and economics of global cannabis prohibition — Dominic Corva, September 2015

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Photo by Stephen Charles Flohr

By Stephen Charles Flohr

July 5, 2015 – Sao Paulo, Brasil

Football, Carnival, beach life and lots of beautiful women. Sounds like fun, right? Yet in the country where cachaca (national spirit)  is the bloodstream fueling all of its major cultural and economic norms of engagement, burning a spliff is a surprisingly tense and taboo affair.  One would think that with all of the natural beauty abounding that Brazil would have a more sensitive, relaxed and tolerant attitude regarding the herb.  But this is not the case.  Ganja is viewed and treated as a social ill which perpetuates the nation’s greatest plague, drug trafficking, and is inextricably linked to the violence which devastates primarily the poor, yet undoubtedly shapes and haunts the lives of every citizen. These are the front lines of the “drug war” and they’re ugly.  And so the weed is ugly, most often in the form of a pressed and condensed brick, desiccated and sometimes moldy, more often than not from Paraguay. The aftertaste has a distinctively chemical hue.  And if you want some, you must head to the spot in a local favela (ghetto/slum) and deal with armed youth whose livelihood is the drug game, and be prepared to deal with the militarized and notoriously heavy-handed police force who are always in hot pursuit of potential slingers.  Even speaking about cannabis is a risky enterprise.  Brazil has a history of arresting entertainers on the charge of “drug apologetics”, a crime punishable by 1-3 years in prison if convicted. The most recent incident took place during a show in June where “Cert”, vocalist for the band ConeCrew, known for their progressive cannabical posture, was arrested by police on stage as he performed.  And if you are thinking about wearing a cap or shirt brandishing the leaf, be forewarned.  Police routinely arrest youth for displaying images of marijuana (maconha) under the same auspices of drug apologetics.

However, with the undeniable global, medicinal and economic potential of the herb, especially in light of recent medicinal and legislative milestones forged in the U.S.A., it is proving too difficult and costly for Brazil to remain so tragically aloof from science and common sense.  Users of marijuana and patients in particular are demanding a change in federal policy which currently criminalizes even the most minor possession and often results in the prosecution of mere users/growers as if they were traffickers. But the tide is turning, and with neighboring Uruguay on “all systems blow”, the stage is being set for a radical cultural shift that could be at least part of the solution to  Brazil’s pandemic violence and abject poverty, not to mention a bolstering influence on  its’ precarious health care plight.  

CBD Legislation and Access

Earlier in 2015, the Brazilian federal regulatory organ responsible for the importation/exportation of internationally sanctioned drugs, ANVISA, reclassified the isolated cannabinoid CBD, a  medicinal derivative found in the cannabis plant, and liberated its importation in strictly specified cases of chronic epilepsy.  The decision came after a long push from several families who pursued successful treatment of their children’s deadly epileptic conditions using CBD oil. A documentary entitled “Illegal” by journalist Tarso Araújo, takes a deep look into the challenges these families confronted  and brought national attention to the issue and the possibility of “medicinal cannabis”.  But cannabis still remains illegal under federal law and it is still therefore illegal to grow it and thereby impossible to produce a legal CBD extraction domestically.  And so critics are lauding this supposed “advancement” in cannabis policy as bittersweet.  They argue that the CBD Import-Only legislation, while an absolute victory for families and children in immediate need of medicine, is also a major victory for foreign markets, mainly in the USA, who are all too eager at sinking their claws into the emerging market that it proliferates.  

And so who is really getting access to treatment with CBD?  As the ANVISA ruling currently stipulates, only patients with life-threatening epileptic conditions are permitted access to CBD and that only under stringent medical and bureaucratic exigencies.  And the cost?  A monthly supply for a patient at a dosage of one gram of CBD oil per day is a whopping $4,800 reais (about $1,600 USD).  To give you an idea of just how expensive that is, know that the minimum wage in Brazil is $788 reais (about $260 USD).  For this reason, it is obvious that the remedy is not accessible to a large percentage of eligible patients. Add the fact that the efficacy of CBD-only treatments is questionable when factoring in the unique specificities of different illnesses and when compared to whole plant applications, and the margin of those benefiting from this legislation becomes even slimmer. But that hasn’t stopped  HempMeds , subsidiary of Medical Marijuana Inc,  from cashing in on the situation and  using their success in Brazil as a platform to build support and infrastructure in American states where medicinal marijuana is in its fledgling state.  When it comes to hemp-based products in Brazil, HempMeds is basically the only show in town.  Its quasi-monopolic vicegrip on the CBD niche market coupled with its’s dubious corporate history has raised eyebrows and tempers amongst patients and activists alike.  Basing her argument on the findings of Israeli researcher Ruth Galilly which present compelling evidence for the superior efficiacy of whole-plant remedies, Susan Witte of the Multidisciplinary Association for the Study of Medicinal Marijuana laments, “It doesn’t make sense, therefore, to grant cannabidiol monopoly status to corporations that intend on selling these remedies at the highest possible profit, if that means offering a product which is less effective than the compound’s original source in nature”.  On the other end of the spectrum, Dr. José Alexandre Crippa, a stuanch advocate of CBD-only intervention therapies, currently holds several patents for a synthetic isolated form of CBD and plans on working in tandem with the pharmaceutical industry in making it available to the public as a domestically viable and more affordable option. As if CBD-only reform didn’t already completely miss the mark, I can’t help but cringe at the spectre of a  national “synthetic CBD-only” debate.

Fighting Back

In Brazil, there exists a politically strong and religiously motivated bloc of elites who assume a “ProLife = AntiCannabis” agenda and view the stoner (maconheiro) as one of the greatest threats to not only the peace and stability of society as a whole but also to the integrity of the family.  They most often have no qualms with current alcohol legislation yet wage their intolerant crusades against a plant based on their adherence to a myth of religious and racial superiority.  And so the masses aren’t holding their breath waiting for a political miracle to take place, especially those patients who are already finding it difficult to breathe. They’ve decided, instead, to take matters into their own hands.  Affirming their human rights and deciding that  medical necessity trumps the obligation to abide by unjust laws, patients of all types and their caretakers have taken to growing their own cannabis and preparing their own medicinal extractions.  

Joao is a 47 year old engineer from Sao Paulo. He suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes and is both patient activist and participant in the city’s  annual “Marijuana March. “We’re tired of supporting drug terrorism and risking ourselves for shit product time and time again”, he says.  “We’re not all epileptic and rich.  We have MS, Diabetes, Parkinson’s, Cancer, AIDS and God knows what else. We all have a right to treatment too.  Cannabis grows freely and if you take care of it, it can take care of you. Simple.”  This sentiment has proved to be the fertile soil from which a number of underground patient-caretaker initiatives have spread across several of Brazil’s major cities, especially Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.  Joao comments about how a friend of his who has MS benefits from the network of stealth CBD providers. “It just shows up in his mailbox. He has no idea who makes it but he is grateful that they do. And he doesn’t pay a thing.”

“There is absolutely no commercial gain in this type of practice, its an issue of solidarity, its about helping people” affirms a young member of one of these clandestine groups in a report by the Brazilian news source Globo.  “Which is a greater crime, trafficking for love or letting someone die from 20-30 convulsions a day?”, he adds. The report brings to light several cases of financially strapped families in Rio who are desperate to provide CBD-oil to their gravely ill children and therefore seek out artisanal extractions performed in the homes of a brave bunch of outlaw pharmacists.  

Criminal Attorney Paulo Freitas confirms the severity of the legal risks involved:

“Anyone who plants ‘ganja’ is subject to the criminal laws of drug trafficking; it is an activity considered equal to that of trafficking. Yet beyond that you also run the risk of committing a more serious offense, namely that of fabricating and providing, even if the intent and practice of distribution is free of charge, a medicinal product without registration at ANVISA, punishable by a 10 year minimum sentence in prison which is double the minimum for trafficking.”

But love must sometimes flout the law. “Illegal, in my opinion, is the way that things are, to deny me the right to give a better condition of life for my daughter. This is what I think is illegal”, confirms Fabio, father of Clarian, who was born with Dravet Syndrome.  Fabio sought out homemade CBD- extraction for his daughter as the only feasible option as he and his family faced an $8,000 reais  (nearly $3000 USD) monthly expense in the procurement of enough medicine through existing legal channels.

Pushing the Envelope

It is evident from the developments in Brazil that people are willing to seek and provide wellness and healing at great personal risk.   Ignoring the fact that CBD has its origin in the cannabis plant and declaring the former as legal and the latter as not points to a deeper, hypocritical confusion.  Its like saying the red coloring of a strawberry is good but the berry itself is bad.  Astute activists remain adamant in their pursuit of whole plant liberation. Whole plant remedies with various CBD:THC proportions hold promising potential for a gamut of maladies.  But for any meaningful research to be conducted, domestic cultivation of the plant is a necessity.

It is frustrating that this so-called ‘baby step’ was wrought in almost complete dismissal of logic and panders supremely to a foreign profiteer.  This is a service and medical necessity which Brazil could easily carry out on its own on a much larger and efficient scale without having to resort to importation. The law also confirms the fact that Science, or at least the fraction of it which the government deems fit for public awareness, is an exclusive privilege afforded to the economic elite. But Brazil doesn’t seem to have a problem with conspicuous capitalism and I can think of few places which exhibit such a glaring disparity between the haves and the have-nots. And so even if you do happen to help people see cannabis as a medicine and not a plague, you will then have the challenge of its commercialization.  “Ok, so cannabis is good now how do we make the most money off of it.”  Health is a commodity and until ‘the haves’ devise a scheme to control its sale and maintain an underclass consumer base, the senate isn’t going to budge on real cannabis talk. And yet the grassroots continue to bloom in the shadows of obscurity, healing the sick and waking the sleepers, risking it all because, well, we are all worth it!