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.

 

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.

 

 

 

The Salience of Dangerous Classes: a Prelude

Seattle Hempfest 2016  Hemposium panel moderated by Dr. Corva.
Seattle Hempfest 2016 Hemposium panel moderated by Dr. Corva (front). From Left to right: Karl Keich, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Dr. Jim MacRae, Allison Bigelow, John Novak.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

This post is an exercise in returning to themes initiated for the summer, just in time for the fall. My writing process has always been difficult and spastic, coming in torrents of prose or long dry stretches where for any number of reasons I just can’t complete a focused few paragraphs. The reasons themselves don’t matter, but there are strategies to shift states of incompletion and it’s time to deploy them. So today we’ll start with a little of where we left off, a little of where we are, and maybe we’ll get to a little of where we are going.

Where we left off:

The book project has evolved from one that centered the experience of “medical transitioners” to one that should centers the persistence of prohibition culture in shaping policy and market outcomes related to Phase I of Legal Cannabis in Washington. The biggest reason for this is that so many of my medical transitioners did not, in fact, transition — certainly not by July 1, and for several not at all.

The assumption that the stories would logically inflect on July 1, 2016, turned out to be unstable and problematic. The main way this was problematic was that it focused too much on ownership as an indicator of transition, when so many people who lost their livelihoods as relatively autonomous and entrepreneurial actors — owners included — have adjusted by finding a place in the legal market as waged workers, managers, and sales people.

Or, many have started to find a place. There are quite a few false starts in those stories, as people who once cultivated very autonomous or independent livelihoods find it pretty difficult to function in rigid, relatively poorly paid positions in the formal economy. Some are thriving, of course, but it has been surprising to me how many experienced, knowledgable medical/informal market budtenders have struggled to land a basic budtending job in the legal system.

Or, maybe it’s not surprising. Maybe I’ve been using the wrong tools to understand the cultural dynamics of transformation. Maybe it’s not about, or only partially about knowledge and experience. If it’s not, then we might need to think outside the toolbox at hand. We might need to think structurally, rather than individually, about the cultural politics of transition and transformation.

To do that, we are going to need to think about the politics of social exclusion in a way that decenters cannabis itself. After all, if dynamics of inclusion in the new market were about “normalizing” cannabis, as I keep hearing from self-identified activists, then we should see some sort of demand for people who really know and have experience with cannabis in the new legal market. We should see policy that caters to them, in deference to the vast ignorance about the plant present in “normal” society.

The fact that we don’t — that we have seen the absolute opposite — highlights a fundamental contradiction that shapes weird policy and market dynamics in a field that’s supposed to be characterized by “normalization.” The State clearly wants to normalize cannabis commerce, because normalization means taxation and therefore revenue capture in a cash-starved public sector. I 502 market actors — increasingly defined by investor-owners — want to normalize cannabis commerce, because normalization means income or return on investment (ROI).

There are a few clearly defined limits on “normalization” shared by the State and investors: normalization means “responsible adult (21+) consumption.” Normalization means at least the appearance of regulation, although it’s pretty clear that the promise of regulation is a work in progress. The former is probably the single greatest inhibitor of the latter, as I have pointed out many times that the “black market” is significantly under-21 consumption and has been since the 1960s.

This contradiction between youth culture as the driving force of cannabis market creation and the impossibility of its normalization under a “like alcohol” approach to policy begins to point us in the direction of another toolbox, other tools for understanding dynamics of exclusion under evolving conditions of cultural prohibition. It decenters cannabis by shifting our analytic optic towards culture and society at large: what about the children becomes what about the cultural economy, in which intergenerational conflict plays such a significant role.

The question resolves into less blurry focus when that question shifts, for me, into the following: why must cannabis people be legally treated like children? Children aren’t allowed to make their own decisions, they aren’t responsible, they must learn discipline, they must be watched over and controlled because there’s something about them you just can’t trust, because they haven’t grown up yet, because they aren’t responsible.

The problem here is not the children, or in this case the culture that gets treated like children: it’s the social consensus about what’s responsible or not — what does normalized responsibility look like? Who bears the burden of that cultural adjustment? Is it as simple as translating alcohol responsibility and alcohol culture to cannabis responsibility and cannabis culture? Is it about “law and order,” when legal cannabis policy poses such an existential threat to the foundation of drug war policy — which is demonstrably racist, exclusionary, authoritarian, and genocidal?

What would it mean to turn policy discourses of responsibility and normalization on their cultural heads — to think about the children as having been right, all along?

We are a very long way from doing any such radical, revolutionary thing, of course. But it would mean re-centering the radical purpose of I 502 legalization, which was about ending the authoritarianism and harms of the drug war itself, rather than excluding the people whose “irresponsible” behavior provided the cannon fodder that brought us to the possibility of social peace. Of course, it’s not so simple — excluded people are welcome in the new legal landscape, as long as they can clean up their acts, behave responsibly, be a normal wage worker, and so forth. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that it’s not about the normalization of cannabis, not about the exclusion of cannabis experience from policy and market leadership. It’s about something much bigger and broader — the development and production of socioeconomic exclusion itself, in society at large.

And that’s where we are going with this, readers. We have to engage social theories of the underclass, the lumpen, the dangerous classes, the precariat. We have to think about this in the broader context of social change. Where the heck in the world are we, after all? What is the world coming to? How can we make a difference that matters to more than just cannabis owners and consumers? Because if we aren’t doing that, we aren’t doing cannabis and social policy, that’s for sure.

 

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.

 

A few words about our co-fundraising partner: Project CBD

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Martin Lee and Dominic Corva on a tour post 2015 Emerald Cup . Photo by Shango Los.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

I first met Martin Lee about 6 years ago, after disembarking from a Seattle Hempfest stage where I delivered my five-minute “now that legalization is on the table, it’s time to talk about how” address. He was on his way up to give his 5 minute talk between music acts, and he stopped me on the stairs to tell me he appreciated my words. I was already familiar with his book “Acid Dreams,” and I knew him not only as a countercultural author but an online journalist and whole plant information organizer through his partnerships with Fred Gardner in O’Shaughnessy’s and Project CBD. What they were doing was familiar to me as grassroots nonprofit “nongovernmental organization (NGO)” work, which I had encountered and been helped by considerably in my research on drug policy in Latin America. There’s no question that their example influenced my decision to leave institutional academia to create CASP: in some ways their “ongoing history of cannabis” work is what I turned to, with a particularly geographical approach given my background.

So when Martin invited me to come hang out at their booth that day I was all over it — there was so much to talk about, especially the cultural history of cannabis reform and the politics of organizing around it. When Debby Goldsberry showed up to hang out a few minutes before catching her flight back to the Bay Area, I got to meet a key historical figure around those topics. She was a key part of the late 80s/early 90s Cannabis Action Network (CAN), itself funded by Zippie pot dealer Steve Deangelo, and the Zippies were a faction of the Yippies, who bridged the counterculture movement and the anti-war movements of the 1960s. In short, Martin opened up a world of amazing people to me starting then, and he’s never really stopped. Debby and fellow CAN pioneer Rick Pfrommer are two key parts of our upcoming Terpestival in Hopland.

Which is more or less the focus of this post. The origins of the July 23 co-fundraiser can be located in Santa Rosa, California, at the 2015 Emerald Cup. Dr. Sexton and I rented a cottage a few blocks away from the event, where we hosted Rob Clarke as the first stage of taking him on a bit of a tour following Tim Blake’s amazing event. The first stage of that tour was taking a group of people in our van to various CBD Guild locations — pretty much all of the ones that got raided last week, with Martin as the tour guide. I had been on a more private tour, with cannabis breeder DJ Short, the previous year, before MRSA compliance kicked the locations into active production. The photo that is at the head of this post gives you some idea what we were looking at, but we also got to see Absolute Extracts and Care by Design, as well as Emerald Pharms (the retail wing of Martin’s network) about an hour north, in Hopland.

This time, Dr. Sexton was with me and at some point Martin raised the possibility of doing a co-fundraiser. After reviewing potential difficulties doing the event in Washington after July 1 of this year, we began our co-fundraiser partnership.

Most of the key partners for this event are friends and allies our organization have in common. Debby’s Oakland access point, Magnolia Wellness, is an entry dropoff point and she will also be participating in our panels. Rick Pfrommer, who I met separately in my Sohum journeys, has assembled an amazing and experienced professional team of judges to cement the legitimacy of our unique competition. Tim Blake, the founder of the Emerald Cup who I’ve also met on my Sohum journeys, made Area 101’s Healing Harvest Farms an entry point and his staff is doing a lot of social media promotion as well as hustling entrees. Kevin Jodrey, who was an integral part of our first Terpestival (and the final stop for the Rob Clarke tour), made Wonderland Nursery an entry point and guaranteed 10 entries which allowed us to move forward when we had no entries at the first deadline, June 8. Emerald Pharms is of course the “host” of the event, located at the Real Goods Solar Living Center which is owned by a good friend of Martin. They are an entry point, promoter, and general organizational asset especially for the day of the event. And Martin and Michelle’s friends at SC Labs picked up the testing tab which makes the event possible at all.

We’ve had lots of challenges, and are still in the process of overcoming some of them, but last week’s Federal raids of the CBD Guild created a big one. After the media publicity around the raid surged and the joint task force found zero butane solvent extraction going on (which was what a disgruntled former employee falsely alleged), charges were dropped, and Dennis Hunter was released on his own recognizance just days after facing a $5 million bail. But the raids came on payday, and over $600,000 in cash was seized. As a result, we lost thousands of dollars in anticipated sponsorship.

Our network allies are stepping up, and in true countercultural fashion are most effective and productive at the last minute anyway. Last year to be honest we were in much worse shape leading up to the event, which turned out to be a sold-out, smashing success. Martin and Michelle are at the annual ICRS conference, along with our keynote speaker and fellow Project CBD collaborator Dr. Ethan Russo. You can be sure that they will bring back the latest whole plant science from the premier cannabinoid research conference in the world, and we are looking forward to the best part of the event, being able to be together and preform a great ritual of community.

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!