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.

 

Legality, Medicality, and Good/Bad Actors

CASP T Shirt

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

The previous conceptual post really helped me find a way to engage with complex intersections without flying too far off the ground. Today’s post is an effort to deal with the “moral panic” phenomenon around medical cannabis in Washington, and elsewhere. I start with the assumption that policy that is created in response to moral panic is not good social policy, because (a) prohibition morality stems from fear not science and (b) in order to leave prohibition behind — the urge to punish our way to public health — we have to leave prohibition culture behind. And prohibition morality is perhaps the foundation of prohibition culture. It’s the equation of law with justice absent any critical reflection or nuance. If one is doing something legal, then one is doing something good. That attitude got us to mass incarceration and the politics of fear. Here’s a series of connected engagements with intersection of legality, medicality, and the moral distinction between Good and Bad Actors.

  1. Legality is a technical term, not a moral or ethical one. This is helpful to keep in mind as the State of Washington continues to deploy it as a moral or ethical one — State-legal cannabis is constructed as “good” versus “bad” medical and black cannabis. The logical problem: State-legal cannabis is Federally prohibited but tolerated under interpretations of the Cole Memo. Even those who argue that legality connotes moral superiority — those that disagree with the first sentence — have to face a simple logical argument: any moral or ethical quality associated with State legality is cancelled out by its simultaneous association with Federal illegality.
  2. The basic premise of ending the war on drugs rests on the assumption that laws can be unjust, and therefore morally wrong. The argument about whether legalization can be unjust (not that it is, or is not) is therefore supportable. The argument that legalization can also, at the same time, be just is also supportable. Efforts to critique legalization are not necessarily against legalization.
  3. So, technically: regulation and tax collection are the two main State practices of legalization. The active participation of the State in these two ways constitute what we mean by legalization. There are many dimensions to this participation: altering the legal code is both an end to the first step and the beginning of a network of practices associated with implementing legalization. The implementation of legalization — system creation, output and maintenance — is and always will be an ongoing process.
  4. Technically, this time with respect to medical cannabis: since “medicine” is not a state monopoly, medical cannabis means many, many things. For our purposes here let’s distinguish between medical state laws and “legal medical” state laws, since the former came first. Medical state laws are “decriminalization” laws for which the state plays no active implementation part. “Legal medical” laws require the active participation of the state via regulation and/or special taxation (independent of sales taxes, for example). The core of Washington’s current medical cannabis controversies stems from the State’s unwillingness to transition from medical to legal medical in 2011.
  5. Technically, this can be avoided in every state that adopts “legal medical” either as its first step or as a reform (see California); and then using the existing medical legality to develop (not replace wholesale immediately) the pre-existing legal system. Oregon’s decision to allow and tax over-21 nonmedical purchases at its medical retail points is one example of this. Technically, if the starting conditions for legal medical were unjust, this transition will not necessarily be a socially optimal one.
  6. Oregon is complying with the same Cole memo as Washington, so model variation can’t be explained by that. There was no technical reason why Washington’s medical cannabis system couldn’t have been more slowly transitioned, as the I 502 system continues to come on line. This is not the same as an argument that medical should have remained unregulated. “Regulation” as a practice as opposed to a concept deserves far more critical attention than I can give here.
  7. The illegality of medical cannabis under (some) State laws is now being used to stigmatize and exclude cannabis people by implementing high barriers to entry, while attempting to bring the plant as a commodity into a regulatory framework. That stigma is not necessarily new, and not confined solely to medical cannabis. In fact, the stigmatization of medical cannabis seems to be the re-enclosure of black market cannabis stigma to include informal medical cannabis markets. Prohibition culture never stopped fearing a stoned planet, and that fear is now being encouraged and amplified by legal cannabis militants. Pointing this out does not mean I conclude that “all cannabis markets are good.”
  8. I will say that the closer the consumer is to the grower, in any cannabis market, the easier it is to sort the good from the bad. The distance between consumer and farmer is a function of two things: prohibition, and the fact that most of the rest of the formal economy has been increasing that distance since the Industrial Revolution.
  9. Legal cannabis markets and actors are not inherently “good actors,” nor are they inherently “bad actors.” The legal economy is filled with bad and good actors — many of them both at the same time. The Gilded Age philanthropists whose names are plastered all over our urban landscapes were a symptom of massive inequality, against which the Labor Movement formed. Our second Gilded Age is no different.
  10. Medical cannabis markets and actors are not inherently “good actors,” nor are they inherently “bad actors.” Our medical system in the U.S. is totally commercial, a far cry from the single payer systems of most of our peers. Our herbal product markets are virtually unregulated. Our televisions give us medical advice. Our diet fads rage from year to year. And we are on more pharmaceutical drugs per capita than any other society on Earth. If there is anything nonprofit or community-oriented in a medical marijuana system, then our medical marijuana systems are far more socially conscious than virtually every sector of the formal economy that might be related.

There’s a lot of conditionality and open-ended starting points for engaging with prohibition culture, which is coming now not just from prohibitionists but legalization stakeholders. It should be clear that this critique does not apply to legalization stakeholders en masse. I have no idea how prevalent prohibition culture is amongst legalization stakeholders, but enough of them so that we are getting a socially violent transition via policy. It also should be clear that medical cannabis markets and actors are not necessarily less greedy than the level accepted for non-cannabis markets and actors. Neither of those facts should get in the way of basing policy on facts instead of fear in Washington State.

In a different voice, on the pending closure of Medical Cannabis in Washington

Dr. Corva at Seattle Hempfest 2014.
Dr. Corva at Seattle Hempfest 2014.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

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The opinions expressed in this editorial analysis belong to Dr. Corva, and do not necessarily reflect organizational consensus.

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As the July 1, 2016 deadline for Medical Cannabis markets in Washington State draws near, I would like to offer a few observations about how and why this phenomenon is nearly impossible to address, politically. There can be no focused essay, as a result, so I’ll offer a few openings on the closure of an 18 year trajectory in which patients in Washington State gained more access, until now.

First, a disclaimer. Our organization’s mission is to facilitate a peaceful human-cannabis relationship, which we cannot do by denigrating, stigmatizing, or dismissing any individual that grows, distributes, consumes, authorizes, tests, legislates, or regulates the plant. Nonetheless we have to deal with the fact that many if not most of the above people do this, to others, and that the coming re-creation of the Recreational Cannabis system into Boss of Medical Cannabis Access is the direct result of this happening. It was not necessary, but it’s what happened. My position is that this is the opposite of peaceful policy, and congruent with the extension of Prohibition culture into Regulation policy. And that we need to continue to work peacefully to get those “two steps back.” It all starts with accurate, reliable, and unpoliticized information.

  1. The WSLCB cannot fulfill their obligation under 5052 to ensure that patient access in Washington state is not disrupted on July 1. It has already been disrupted. I have personally had to scramble to make sure an older friend could replace the product she could no longer get, and have directed many, many inquiries towards the few Access Points that remain open.
  2. There is also the matter of physical geography, product diversity, product availability, and affordability. The I 502 system won’t even get close to the kind of geographic access, access to diverse and specialized products, access to the amount and diversity of CBD rich products available in the access point system, and of course nowhere near the amount of access points previously available including delivery. And while cheap flower prices have arrived in much of the I 502 system, concentrate and edible prices remain far above those of their flower counterparts — and these are often widely preferred ways to consume for patients, for many reasons.
  3. Responsibility for reduced patient access in Washington State should be apportioned widely — the legislature, the LCB, the big money lobbyist, the monopoly-hungry trade association, the previous governor, the Majority Whip, the I 502 architect, the death-threatening activists, the patient advocates, the disorganized and fractured industry groups, the prohibition culture addicted to punishment, the law enforcement lobby, the UFCW, and more. We do not call for punishment, but responsible assessment of reality and its alignment with policy. And nothing responsible can be done unless people take responsibility for what has been done.
  4. Responsibility is something to which every one of these stakeholders seems to be allergic. Nothing that ever goes wrong is their fault, and everything that goes right has a raft of people ready to take credit. “Legalization” is an inflection point, historically and geographically; which means it’s both a continuation of what came before and the beginning of a new process that remains connected to all of the other processes that made it possible. No single organization or individual should be proclaiming victory, and there is way too much more work to be done. Legalization is not an endpoint.
  5. People often ask me about the black market. Even Clark County called me to ask about the black market. I told Clark County that their black market was now called “Oregon.”
  6. “Cartels” haven’t had much of a market share in the Pacific Northwest, maybe ever. This State is the birthplace of indoor cannabis. The original owner of Fremont’s Indoor Sun Shoppe wrote the first indoor grow guide ever published. It was 1972, and his shop was located on University Avenue across from the campus. Also I don’t think we call Southeast Asian-Canadian organized crime from BC “cartels,” but their dominance went into terminal decline at the turn of the century.
  7. The Washington black market, “domestically,” can be found on every college campus in the state and all of its music festivals. Access points hit lots of “middlemen” hard, but perhaps the dorm room dealer most of all. Things are looking up for dorm room dealers, street dealers, and small personal network dealers. That might be a good thing, since it’s a windfall for economically marginalized populations.
  8. NSDUH statistics show that people under 21 (read: college students especially) constitute the biggest cannabis-consuming demographic there is. As long as cannabis is legal only for “over 21” adults — as opposed to people who can vote, get a credit card, and join the army as “over 18” adults — the State will hit a wall in its efforts to eliminate the black market, no matter how low prices go. The U.S.-American higher education system will welcome cannabis culture and markets until the last dorm room gets turned into a prison cell.
  9. The black market that the State doesn’t address by shutting down “gray market” access points is called the export market. It’s been going on for decades, and closing medical does nothing at all to those exports.
  10. There’s a new black market, and it’s called diversion from the I 502 market. No one wants to talk about it, but somehow I still can’t avoid running into it. An interesting irony: I can hear folks talk all day long about state, interstate, and global black market developments but the minute anyone accidentally or on purpose mentions seeing I 502 diversion they shut up completely. It’s more dangerous to talk about than normal felonious activity. Disclaimer: the previous sentences in “point number 10” are hypothetical, I’ve never heard of nor seen diversion from the I 502 market. I don’t know what I was talking about.
  11. SB 5052’s new “four person cooperative garden” provision is a mystery. It has to be located in people’s domiciles, which would indicate that whatever happens there is protected by privacy laws, so … are there supposed to be cameras? where are registered patients supposed to get their plants? Is it a 15 day window 365 days a year? Has anyone signed up for this, a little over a month before “collective gardens” become illegal? In fact, how many patients have signed up for the registry so they can save 10% sales tax on their “medically endorsed” purchases? I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back from my public information request.
  12. Will there be a Kleiman-recommended huge crackdown, by Federal and/or other law enforcement agencies, immediately after July 1? Mark Kleiman has in many places recommended a big crackdown to “break the back” of the black market as soon as a regulated system is in place.
  13. I suspect there won’t be the budget nor the political will to make examples of home growers, but I do expect unregulated warehouse grows to be targeted and Federal investigations that have been pending for a few years to conclude.
  14. A legislative home grow option, especially if pitched as a “home brew” provision, would deal with many of not most of the problems caused by the hostile takeover of medical cannabis markets by the State. It will happen eventually — every other state has one, and California’s direction will steer the national policy ship once either AUMA passes or, if it doesn’t, once its legislature takes on the task of legalizing and regulating. But here in Washington, I keep hearing “some time in the next couple of years” from lobbyists and legislators.
  15. The I 502 system is never going to be a failure — it’s a conspiracy to sell weed without fear of enforcement, how could it be, but it is going to be full of individual failures, especially from small businesses. I’m aggressively uninterested in “$X billion sold” headlines and extremely concerned that X out of that X billion will go to a very few people rather than support small farmers, who will cash out and sell to investment groups as the rules and rule implementations evolve away from what used to be an advertised State concern — the protection and promotion of small businesses.

Thanks for reading! Again, the opinions expressed in this editorial analysis belong to Dr. Corva, and do not necessarily reflect organizational consensus.

 

Merit and the Second Wave Application Process

By February 2015, about 120 of lottery-allotted 334 retail stores had opened across the State.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

This blog post skips the politics of 5052’s legislative process and focuses instead on how 5052’s mandated “merit process” for approving new I 502 retailers, ostensibly as a window for existing Medical Access points, was defined and implemented, between July 2015 and February 2016. It’s a post about an unfinished process, given that three of our interview subjects aim to be part of that transition but their individual processes are not completed. Dockside has two locations open from the first application window and three from the second wave in process; and Herban Legends transitioned to a new I 502 location almost as soon as the second wave application process achieved lift-off in January.

One of our other three applicants remains unapproved to transition and has a lawsuit pending against the WSLCB over whether there was in fact a merit process; another has fought to remain open in their current location until a Jul 1 switch over, and the fifth interview subject has closed her Access Point down while working to open in another location by July 1. All three in this group received letters from the WSLCB in January 2016 stating that they would remain open at their peril, since they were too far down the Priority I merit list to expect to be approved for Seattle. A flurry of media coverage ensued, as well as a different lawsuit, and about a week later two of these three applicants were informed that they were approved for Seattle, after all.

Which is to say that our Transitioner sample had a very diverse experience with the second retail application round. One of them made the top of the Priority I application list for Seattle; one of them and each of his two other business partners cleared the approval bar right away (two in Seattle and one elsewhere); and the other three have had to fight for Transition approval for different reasons with one of those still fighting.

Now that you know the current status of the results, let’s review the context for these highly variable outcomes.

SB 5052 directed the WSLCB to create a second retail application window based one merit criteria, which the WSLCB would also develop. This process began early summer 2016, not long after the bill was signed by the governor. Interestingly, the merit language appears to have been developed in the legislative process by UFCW, who intended merit criteria to include stringent labor standards. Those merit standards were recently folded into the renewal process, after closed-meeting pressure from the UFCW. It would have been bureaucratically difficult, if not impossible, to triangulate labor standards when the LCB’s main legislative obligation was to re-create Medical Cannabis access for the State by July 1, 2016.

So the initial challenge faced by the LCB was to define merit criteria that was focused on defining what criteria could plausibly be used to identify Medical “good actors” who deserved a chance to get into the I 502 system — especially since the previous window’s lottery process made such qualifications irrelevant.

However, the lottery results were still active — all of the lottery applications from the previous window had numbers, and had been promised that if their numbers came up, their applications would be processed. A second window had to fold the first window in to avoid lawsuits from hundreds of still-pending applicants further down on the lottery draw.

As a result, the LCB settled on two merit criteria that would define three Priority Tiers. The first criteria was, did you apply in the lottery round? And the second was, had you been paying taxes since before January 1, 2013 — roughly, the timeframe in which I 502 had become a reality. Priority I was the list for applications that met both criteria; Priority II was for applications that met the second criteria without the first; and Priority III was for applications that met neither criteria.

Effectively, the primary merit consideration became, did the application include someone who had applied in the lottery round. The secondary merit consideration had to do with whether someone on the application had belonged to an Access Point collective garden, evidenced by tax receipts. The prioritization of lottery applicants meant that every existing I 502 retail store had in hand the primary merit consideration. And that every access point that hadn’t applied did not. Those with the easiest route to Priority I status were access points open and paying taxes before 2013 AND a lottery application in hand. Four of our five Transitioners met those criteria.

A marketplace developed for applicants that had one of the stated merit criteria and not the other. This became especially clear when most of the new retail allocation went to existing I 502 recreational stores, all of whom partnered with a criteria-eligible access point business partner or collective garden employee to meet both merit criteria. Applications were cobbled together to meet both criteria, usually in exchange for business partnership or payout, to such an extent that by mid-November more than 800 retail applications had been received by the WSLCB. That number increased considerably through the March 31, 2016 closure of the second retail window. In the book, we will look more in depth at merit criteria and the way it affected who was able to transition and who was not.

Parallel to the development of the merit criteria, the WSLCB found its retail window process challenged unexpectedly by another powerful State political force, the Association of Washington Cities. The new window was originally conceived as uncapped and indefinitely open: applications would be accepted, assigned a Priority Tier, and then approved on a rolling basis, at LCB discretion. Jurisdictions revolted en masse, individually and through the AWC, citing concerns about clustering and not willing to leave it to the LCB how many could open in each jurisdiction. Even Seattle pressured the LCB for a capped process that would specify how many per jurisdiction would be available, and to close the window sooner rather than later. Some of this pressure was amplified by a new I 502 trade association representing existing I 502 retail stores that clearly didn’t wan’t more competition. But jurisdictions backed up their concerns with a promise to limit new retail stores by zoning them out of possible locations and establishing minimum distance to existing retail stores.

As a result, the LCB initiated a process for determining how many new retail stores could open, and in mid December announced specific allotments per jurisdiction as well as an end-date to the window process. That’s a story for another post, but the takeaway point to this narrative is that the second window application process was shaped considerably by political pressure on the LCB after 5052 was passed. The messiness and discontinuity of that process can’t be laid at the feet of 5052 itself, nor the bureaucracy charged with its implementation. The difficulties with defining merit and the ease with which existing I 502 retailers gamed the system to grab new stores at the expense of possible Medical Transitioners is not strictly the fault of the legislature, nor of the LCB, but broader political and economic developments concerning I 502 in the rest of the State. In the book, we address the complexity of these power relationships as they were experienced by our interview subjects.

 

Caution: Approaching Legislative Vehicles

State Medical Cannabis tax revenues July 2013- November 2014. Source: Washington Department of Revenue
State Medical Cannabis tax revenues July 2013- November 2014. Source: Washington Department of Revenue

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

NOTE: this excerpt is from a work in progress, as indicated by the first paragraph. We will adjust our analysis going forward, without a doubt.

This post addresses a section of the retail chapter that is a recently discovered blind spot, and for which we have just begun to re-envision, through focused archival research and a few phone calls out. Until recently, Dr. Corva has understood SB 5052, the Rivers vehicle that ended “parallel” cannabis systems as of July 1, 2016, as coming a bit out of the blue due to Senate capture by Republicans in November 2015. In fact neither parts of that narrative are true, although they aren’t completely false either. This post provides a starting point for revising that history, that will be developed completely in the book.

First, let’s start with why it matters. The approximately biannual (because in Washington, bills have a two year life-cycle) tradition of Senator Kohl-Welles’ amendments to RCW 69.51.A since the 00s produced amendments in 2007 and 2010, but generally those amendments were aimed at increasing and/or improving patient access. For example, the 2010 amendment that liberalized authority to write authorizations may have had a great deal to do with the explosion of retail access points, in two ways. First, authorized patients were necessary for medical access points to function in compliance with State law, and now there could be a lot more of them. And second, for collective gardeners (some of whom were vertically integrated into retail spots), there was a surge of demand through less underground “off the street” outlets. Patients could be authorized to grow their own, but that didn’t mean they had the skill, time, or inclination to do so.

Senator Kohl-Welles’ 2011 bill, SB 5073, was a comprehensive reform of the Medical Cannabis legislation in that it sought to improve through regulating the increased and improved patient access to which her previous efforts contributed. There were a LOT of other factors, and it’s impossible to say what percentage each contributed, but here are a few: the election of “choom gang” veteran Obama to the presidency; the financial crisis that had most of our country trying to figure out how to pay mortgages and bills; the Ogden Memo and its successor Federal memos of which the Cole Memo is only the most recent and clearly spelled out; the bankruptcy of State and local budgets including for law enforcement against a plant; the widespread availability of information on how to grow cannabis on the internet; the completion of years-long prosecutions in favor of Medical Marijuana defendants that set a more liberalized precedent; and so forth. If not perfect, it was a hell of a storm for evolving social and policy conditions. And our subjects, along with many others, certainly found those conditions amenable to choosing Medical Cannabis livelihoods.

Certainly, the choices made by more and more people to practice civil disobedience against a racist, unjust and genocidal Federal prohibition meant more and more storefronts becoming visible in the landscape. They not only served a burgeoning number of authorized patients: they channelled cannabis markets off the streets and into a space of visibility that itself may have served to discipline violence associated with street corner dealing and turf warfare. They served to employ an army of unemployable people in the middle of the greatest financial crisis of our lifetime. In the book, we go into more detail about the social benefits of visible access points and the commercialization of domestic sinsemilla. But the point of this paragraph is to highlight the social conditions that, indisputably, made cannabis markets much more visible to policymakers and the public.

But prohibition culture did not recede as rapidly as the post-prohibition economy. Some lawmakers chose the old fashioned response to “seeing cannabis like a prohibition State” (see anthropologist James Scott on “seeing like a State“). Cannabis could be tolerated as long as it remained in the social closet, but the emergence of retail access points in the urban landscape began to promote a politics of “moral panic” that joined with other political currents (I 502 being one of them) to demand something be done. Senator Kohl-Welles SB 5073 caught the State legislature at a moment when the politics of regulation were just beginning to sort themselves out, when those politics could only be framed in terms of reforming the current system rather than attempting to re-create it via not just “recreational” law (I 502, one year later) but the subsumption of Medical into a Recreational legal framework (5052, four years later).

What seems clear is that SB 5073 represented a reformist turn for Senator Kohl-Welles, for which the legislature was ready (but not the Governor); that the Medical Cannabis community had started to go its own way via Representative Appleton in a “improve patient access” vehicle that went nowhere but siphoned energy from the previously unified Kohl-Welles Medical Cannabis front; and that power in the State legislature shifted away from Democrats (and therefore towards Republican lobbyist-recently-turned Senator Ann Rivers. Legislative focus shifted definitively away from “increasing patient access” towards “regulating patient access,” ostensibly in order to “improve patient access” via quality control.

At this point it is obligatory to state that the objective of improving patient access via quality control was always necessary and could have been a focus of legislative energy starting in 1998. It’s not the basic meaning of the discourse that became a point of major social conflict, it’s how the discourse was mobilized in a way that could not improve patient access because it was busy tearing up the access system that had evolved organically over 15 years, through Senator Ann Rivers.

In 2013, Rivers successfully killed Kohl-Welles’ efforts to resurrect SB 5073 and introduced her own vehicle, SB 5887, that definitively shifted how Medical Cannabis would be handled in the legislature right through to 5052’s radical re-writing of what it meant, legally, in Washington State. SB 5887 was introduced late in the 2013 session and re-introduced for the biennial 2014 session, when most of the legislative work that ultimately proved futile was done. It died when revenue sharing disagreements in the context of the ongoing State budget crisis proved irreconcilable. The end of the two-year legislative cycle meant that legislative reform efforts would begin again in 2015 with a clean slate.

Senator Rivers’ majority party advantage established through the “Majority Caucus Coalition” formed with two renegade Democrats 2012 was cemented by the November 2014 elections, when Republicans gained an outright majority. Any cannabis legislative vehicle would have to go through her, and thus the 2015 session began with a radical one: SB 5052. It was economically radical because it sought to re-create cannabis markets in Washington State, rather than align the old with the new via regulation; it was politically radical because it accepted no input or amendment from the political representatives and stakeholders that had been increasing and improving patient access since 1998; and it was culturally radical in that it relied on a campaign of “moral panic” to characterize the Medical Cannabis policy experiment in Washington State a total failure because Medical Cannabis people were “Bad Actors” creating a “Wild West,” “unruly,” and “out of control” environment. Collective gardens were unredeemably greedy, patients were 90% fakers and gamers of the system, and so forth. The only verifiable fact associated with this discourse was that yes, the State could finally begin to see Cannabis culture out of the closet and, over more than 20 years, totally invested in Medical Cannabis in all its definitions, and these just weren’t the people it wanted to regulate. Well, maybe some of them — but just a few.

 

Continuity, Discontinuity, and Contingency between Legal and Medical

Active_Pending_Medical Seattle Map 07162014
July 2014 map by Steve Hyde, of then-pending Legal retailers and advertised Seattle Medical access points

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Legal Cannabis Phase I, for our interview subjects, overlapped with another State legal regime, Initiative 75, which was codified as RCW 69.51.A in 1998. Washington State medical cannabis laws were first passed by citizen initiative in 1998 and amended legislatively multiple times until 2011. The 2011 amendment, SB 5073, was a legislative bill requiring the State to regulate and tax commercial medical cannabis. It was the culmination of over a decade of then-Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles collaboration with Washington State medical cannabis patients and stakeholders. Those efforts continued for four years, until SB 5052 swallowed them up by folding medical cannabis regulation into the I 502 framework in 2015. First, let’s clarify this timeline, and then let’s discuss how this is relevant to our study of Legal Cannabis Phase I.

The timeline goes something like this.

  1. Medical Phase I: 1998- April, 2011. Key legal framework: affirmative defense for possession; evolving criteria for authorizations; and evolving plant counts.
  1. Medical Phase II: April 29, 2011 — July 1, 2016. Key legal framework change: commercialization tolerated in policy, especially in Seattle and King County, via a noncommercial clause, “collective gardens.”
  1. Legal Phase I: I 502 (December 2012/13 — April 28, 2015/July 1, 2016). Key legal framework: an explicitly non-medical system regulated by the WSLCB.
  1. Legal Phase II: July 1, 2016- .  Key legal framework: a single integrated medical and non-medical system regulated by the WSLCB, plus other reforms to the 502 law. 

      5. Overlap: April 28, 2015-July 1, 2016. Medical Phase II and Legal Phase I co-exist.

This timeline could easily be broken up further. For instance, the 2008 liberalization of authorization authority had a significant impact on the availability of authorized consumers for access points. And the 2011 legislative vehicle was the first of Senator Kohl-Welles’ reform efforts that sought to regulate patient access, rather than improve patient access. Between 2008 and 2011, something or some things happened to centralize legal reform efforts away from “more cannabis and more patients” to “discipline unruly State cannabis markets.” This is the subject of another book or chapter, however.

Instead, we want to understand the dynamics of Medical policy and markets as continuous and parallel to the dynamics of Legal policy and markets. And to do that, we have to unpack the evolution of both processes in relation to and separate from each other. We want to use Medical Phase I to break up and analyze Legal Phase I as the upstart — or start-up — framework with messy and unanticipated dynamics, not a homogenous legal time in which one thing logically followed another until it was time for Legal Phase II in Washington State.

In fact, the reason they evolved separately had less to do with the passage of I 502 than the way the WSLCB chose to implement it. And the way they chose to implement it was to create a completely different system rather than to use State Medical markets as a foundation. This is probably the defining characteristic of the “Washington model,” since no other state has chosen to do it that way.

The WSLCB took about 10 months to go from figuring out what cannabis was at the most basic level to implementing a “starting from scratch” model. For the first six months or so, that process was dominated by public and private meetings across the state so the Board could learn from existing cannabis market stakeholders a few things about the commodity they were charged with regulating. Starting in about April 2013, that process overlapped with a more academic exercise, in which BOTEC was contracted to estimate the size of the cannabis market, its potential environmental impacts, and so forth.

By the fall of 2013, the WSLCB had decided on a course of action that may or may not have been understood by the bureaucracy itself as a model for starting from scratch. There would be a one month window for applications, some time to process producer and processor applications, and then a lottery for retail applications, then some time to process those, and then by June 2014 Legal Phase I would open for business. This is a well-known timeline, but we emphasize two things about it that are poorly understood.

First, the applicant pool was much larger and different from what the WSLCB expected. Instead of a few hundred experienced applicants, they received a few thousand applications, many of whom were “gaming the system” by forging real estate claims and creating rings of applicants from friends, family, or straight up business associates to maximize their odds in the retail lottery or gain control of more canopy than they could otherwise.

And second, applicants to the 502 system were applying to a system that was legally forbidden from making any medical or therapeutic claims about cannabis. Although some of our interview subjects anticipated that this would change, it was a great disincentive to existing Medical Cannabis stakeholders against joining the I 502 system. This applies especially to retail access points, whose products and customer base revolved centrally around making those claims. But it also applies to producers and processors, since medical markets themselves continued to evolve away from simply growing high THC sinsemilla flower, towards CBD-rich cultivars, extracts, and edibles of much greater potency and diversity than would appeal to “recreational” consumers in the new system.

The takeaway for this post is that while the WSLCB may or may not have intended to “start from scratch” with I 502 stakeholders that were overwhelmingly new to cannabis, that’s how it worked out. This is most clear for the retail side of things, in which the lottery system could have by chance favored existing Medical Cannabis access points, but the odds were pretty slim given the amount of applicants and the way they gamed the system.

This is how it shook out for our interviewees. One of them “won” a lottery position outright, but was derailed repeatedly over real estate and business partnership issues. One of them acquired a Shoreline lottery position very early, and once a few of the winning lottery positions failed to take advantage, had their Seattle number come up. They have a Sodo location now. Two others drew extremely low lottery numbers whose numbers never came up. And one did not apply at all, figuring that the two systems would remain separate given that the 502 system was not allowed to be medical in any way. We will address who these are, and how this process shook out, in the book.

Including excluded voices

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Screen shot of the twicebaked blog, taken Wednesday, May 18, 2016, by Dominic Corva

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

A suboptimal effect of writing a book about medical transitioners is that we exclude medical non-transitioners, reproducing a structural problem associated with the dawn of Phase II on July 1. This post is offered as some small amends: a link to CASP podcast interviewee Pam Dyer representing that voice in a recent post on her twicebakedinwashington blog.

Cannabis Mamas Will Be Criminals July 1

“I’m fresh from the monthly NORML Women of Washington meeting held on the second Saturday of each month at Uptown Espresso in Westlake, Seattle.

I felt some very real anxiety during the meeting when we were talking about what happens to cannabis patients in July. As far as we knew, there are only a few stores that will be set up to provide to cannabis patients when the new laws take effect.

This informed group of cannabis patients, caregivers, and mothers to patients was unable to give a good answer as to where they will be getting their cannabis medicines, come July 1. Correction, they knew where they would be able to get it still but they would become criminals if they did so.” Read the rest here. Her voice is clear, responsible and well-spoken.

Introducing the book in progress: Why Medical Transitioners?

Photo by Lisa Buchanon. Dr. Corva presenting at the Alliance May 12, 2016, at the Swedish Cultural Center, Seattle, WA.
Photo by Lisa Buchanon.
Dr. Corva presenting at the Alliance May 12, 2016, at the Swedish Cultural Center, Seattle, WA.

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Last Thursday, Dr. Corva gave CASP’s first public presentation of our book-in-progress, “Washington State Legalization Phase I: An Ethnographic Report from the Perspective of Medical Transitioners.” We will be rolling out pieces of it on this blog through August, and this post introduces the book by explaining up front why we focus on stories of Medical Transition.

The unique value of the book project is its focus on the experiences of Medical Cannabis Transitioners, people and businesses that established livelihood identities as Medical Cannabis stakeholders before deciding to become Legal Cannabis stakeholders. For most, this means becoming a business licensed under the I 502 system. We have conducted 18 in-depth interviews ranging from one to seven hours long, since February. These interviews were transcribed, coded, and we are now in the process of writing four chapters. I’ll talk about those in a moment.

The choice to focus on Medical Transitioners is a calculated one. Here is a short list of reasons, in no particular order, which when put together make a powerful argument for the relevance and salience of this approach.

  1. Our interest in cannabis legalization is continuous with our interest in the historical arc of cannabis policy reform. Law and Policy reforms have built on one another over time, and formal legalization is but the next step in a process whose social dynamics require past progress. No single entity or moment can claim singular responsibility for legalization: it’s the outcome of a social movement, not a campaign that breaks radically with the past. Transitioner stories make this abundantly clear.
  2. Our interest in successful transitioners excludes both non-transitioners and new market actors. These two groups deserve careful study and research, but given the infancy of our State Legal Cannabis policy experiment we find that official efforts (such as the annual WSIPP report) focus almost exclusively on I 502 as a New Market/Policy; and that State actors are indifferent-to-hostile to non-transitioner stakeholders. Transitioner stories help us identify what kinds of knowledge are or can be transitioned into the new system.
  3. Transition knowledge comes from a fundamentally different cultural reality than New Market and Policy knowledge. Transitioner culture is post-prohibition in that it proceeds from civil disobedience to Federal Prohibition, from medical and underground cannabis values in which the plant is not, fundamentally, a threat to society. New Market and Policy culture remains tied to the “social threat” meaning of cannabis in a lot of ways, but chiefly through compliance with the Federal Cole Memo.
  4. There is a fundamentally practical side to examining Transitioner knowledge, since these are the people have far more experience with the plant, its markets, its cultural identities, and even the practice of regulatory compliance with local and State officials than New Market actors. They are the ones who have worked with policymakers and the public to get open as licensed businesses in the absence of central licensing law and policy. They have developed relationships with their communities, police, fire inspectors, and City and County officials, in a way that New Market actors have not. They have developed an organic local legitimacy necessary for sustainable businesses, and translated that legitimacy to the state by becoming licensed I 502 businesses.
  5. The system needs them, therefore — needs that experience and knowledge that comes from creating social trust in the absence of State endorsement. It’s clear that State endorsement doesn’t lead to social trust, necessarily, as evidenced by the Bans and Moratoria that make our State Policy experiment a rather uneven one, geographically. The knowledge about he plant is vital, too, as evidenced by SB 5052’s intention to “protect” medical access through the I 502 system past July 1. The recreational system was literally not allowed to make any kind of claims about cannabis as medicine for Phase I, and desperately needs stakeholders with experience and knowledge of cannabis as medicine to comply with SB 5052’s mandate.
  6. Transitioners have a nuanced critique of our State Policy experiment that is necessary for a robust understanding of not just the outcomes of our State Policy experiment, but the process of designing it. Annual WSIPP reports will provide fantastic information on the results of the experiment, but they’ll never provide a productive and transparent critique of its design and administration. “Productive critique” here does not mean criticism, it means analysis of the power relationships that steer the ship, to mix metaphors, in the direction it says it wants to go: away from prohibition. Transitioners aren’t hamstrung by prohibition culture, so they don’t have to discipline what they say to reflect the Cole Memo’s prohibition values.
  7. Finally, CASP as an organization has spent most of its research efforts on Medical Cannabis organizers and organization. Thus, this ethnography is the outcome of three years in the field for Dr. Corva and Dr. Sexton, not just 18 processed ethnographic interviews. The legitimacy of the interviews as a basis for research reports rests on this fieldwork “embeddedness”: we knew what questions to ask because we were there and often part of it. There is a “participant-observation” aspect to this ethnography, which in the social sciences comes with its strengths and weaknesses. We will address those at length in the methodology section of the book.

This is the first in what should be a summer-long release of different parts of the book as we fill out the chapters from the interview evidence collected. We hope to have a full draft done by August 1, 2016. Our next post will focus on the structure and process of the book, which is more the production of a collaborative research network than any single author. For now, let’s acknowledge authoring collaborators — later we will acknowledge our interview subjects themselves. Our interns are Hillary Bernhardt and Paul Jamison; Dr. Michelle Sexton and Brad Douglass of the Wercshop are primary contributors to the Lab chapter so far, but Dr. Jim MacRae will be getting his crack at it once Brad sends us his comments; Dr. MacRae is also a substantive contributor to the Producer/Processor chapter. And of course Dr. Corva is cat-herder in chief of the project.

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

fabio

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.

 

sedina1

 

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.

 

sedina2

 

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.

State Building Code Leans Away from Smaller Rural Cannabis Farmers

by Dominic Corva, Executive Director
As a political geographer, I understand the core policy and market geography of I 502 cannabis to be shaped by the intersection of Public and Private Real Estate interests. Not WSLCB approval, not taxes, not medical access points, not legislative “fixes” for I 502. The main Public Real Estate interest at stake here is Land Use Governance, which is shaped by Zoning and Building Code rules and regulations.
The latest struggle for inclusionary I 502 policy in that regard is the Washington State’s Building Code Council’s efforts to impose F1 Industrial (ie, Urban Warehouse) building standards on I 502 production and processing that is now and will in the future primarily be Rural and Agricultural.
The first collective efforts to change this are emerging, not surprisingly, by I 502 producer and community organizer Crystal Oliver on the I 502 google group. She has posted her letter  to the Washington State Building Code Council on the group for others to adapt and send. Her fellow community organizer Jamie Curtismith has responded with complementary guidance in support of Crystal’s call.
I reproduce these letters below in support of “Agriculturalizing” Cannabis Policy in Washington State. It’s a great example of the need to consider Cannabis as Social Policy, in this case on behalf of the need for Agricultural rather than Industrial Land Governance.
by Crystal Oliver, Washington’s Finest Cannabis
Dear Washington State Building Code Council,
I am contacting you to voice my opposition of building code proposal IBC 15-035 and my disappointment that this proposal is being considered without a financial impact assessment being completed as it will adversely impact my small business.
My husband & I own and operate a legal WSLCB licensed marijuana farm in Spokane county. We presently grow our cannabis underneath the sun in the soil of our 10 acre farm.  We are coming up on our first year in business and are working busily in the field ourselves from sunrise to sunset hoping for a good harvest this fall so we can pay our mortgage, electricity, keep working for ourselves, provide a few jobs to others in Spokane county, and continue supporting our local community through our commitment to buying supplies and materials from other small local businesses. We had hoped to save up enough this year to install a few greenhouses next year purchased from a local supplier.
Proposal IBC 15-035 will have an extremely profound economic impact on my small business, other small businesses in the area, and quite possibly the future of this new industry and the potential tax revenues the State of Washington hopes to collect.
F1 building code requirements, require fire flow, fire flow generally requires the existence of a municipal water district.  My rural lot, surrounded by farms does not have access to a municipal water supply.
The green house operation that we are dreaming of is far simpler than the greenhouses of my fellow farmers down the road who raise leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and petunias who don’t abide by F1 building codes.  It is extremely unfair to apply more restrictive zoning to the production of marijuana than the production of other plants and vegetables.
This proposal also suggests that processing of marijuana sometimes involves the use of hazardous materials and lists this as reason to prevent farmers from operating on rural properties, however, Spokane County Building & Planning department, in cooperation with our County Commissioners came up with a solution to that.  They permit only limited processing outside Industrial areas.  There are no hazardous materials in use at my processing facility, I simply hand trim the cannabis flowers from my plants, separating the flower from leaf and stem and place them in bags and jars for sale at the retail store.  Spokane County allowed for limited processing to protect the small marijuana farmers in our county who are operating on rural properties.
This proposal, if adopted would prevent small, family farmers, in rural communities from being able to join, compete in, and thrive in this brand new and highly lucrative industry.
Over 20% of the marijuana producers and processors currently licensed by the WSLCB reside in Spokane County.  Many of us are on rural lots where we cannot meet F1 building standards.  A proposal that negatively impacts that large of a portion of this new industry will have a significant impact on sales and tax revenues collected by the state of Washington.
I urge you to decline this proposal as the economic impact that it will have on many small business owners in rural areas throughout the state is too significant to ignore.
Highest Regards,
Crystal Oliver
Managing Member
Washington’s Finest Cannabis

 

by Jamie Curtismith

F1 code compliance is yet another in a long line of strategies to get marijuana operations off rural lands. In Snohomish County, our building inspector (who also happens to be our Fire Marshall) had an ‘IBC interpretation’ that mandated operators to upgrade to these rigorous standards on non-public buildings, which industrializes otherwise straightforward agricultural-use buildings, making them truly manufacturing facilities (not agriculture) and therefore, not allowed in many rural zones. He claimed that his use of F1 had nothing to do with cannabis and more to do with building type, but his application of code became inconsistent and arbitrary as the industry came online and he began to realize the variety of barns, pole buildings, and rigid greenhouses being used.  Of course, the real problem is (other than the expense involved), is that several of the F1 requirements, as Crystal pointed out, are impossible to comply with (and therefore are a defacto ban) because many rural parcels lack the necessary services (power, water, emergency services…etc) to support “industrial use”. Some rural zones allow for manufacturing/industrial, for example, we have a rural light industrial (R1) zone where F1 Buildings would be acceptable, but it is only 0.00013% of the county (or 182 acres) and hasn’t had a parcel available for a few decades!

Caution: When arguing code compliance (IBC) try to avoid muddling the argument with zone compliance. From a building inspectors perspective, they don’t care (or have control over) where the industry is zoned. That is the responsibility of the Local Council. Inspectors only care about the types of buildings used for the purpose of the businesses operating in them. An inspectors job is pretty straight forward; inspect a building and apply IBC. One of the challenges that the marijuana industry has posed to building inspectors is our unrelenting creativity and resourcefulness. The facilities where some grow operations take place have been the most innovative utilizations that most inspectors have ever investigated (cargo containers, converted prefabs, MHUs, storage pods…etc) so there has been a tremendous amount of room for code interpretation around our usage. Not having been officially declared an agricultural crop (and awarded Right to Farm protections), we are viewed as manufacturing, so they are interpreting code accordingly (industrialization). That is why it is IMPERATIVE to get cannabis declared as an agricultural crop, which again, the state building council has nothing to do with, but it doesn’t hurt to keep arguing the ‘cannabis as an agricultural crop’ logic.

Also, many inspectors (and especially Fire Marshals) are still completely oblivious to our processing needs, and still have exploding butane canisters in their minds when they hear the words ‘cannabis extraction’. Most local municipalities have not figured out that processing-only licenses are not tiered, and not all will be extracting, but I don’t think that will stop reefer mad councils from implementing heavy handed measures on them.

Bottomline: This fight is happening on many fronts, among many regulatory authorities simultaneously, and we need all hands on deck to get Cannabis Sativa recognized as an agricultural commodity and get it regulated accordingly, so that ALL producer processors will be protected, not just small and rural growers.

 

Jamie Curtismith

206-491-3802

curti…@hotmail.com