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.

 

What and whither post-prohibition cannabis politics after 2016?

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

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Endgame is Local

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

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Imagining Cannabis Communities

BenedictAnderson

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cannabis, Capitalism, Creative Destruction

polanyi
Economic Historian Karl Polanyi

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Southern Humboldt’s Kerry Reynolds Recent Interview with Dr. Corva (With Transcript)

 

by Dominic Corva, Executive Director

TRANSCRIPT BELOW

“Dr. Dominic Corva of the Seattle-based think tank Cannabis and Social Policy recently visited Southern Humboldt and talked with CCN’s Kerry Reynolds about lessons for California in legalization trends in Washington and Oregon.”

This is Cannabis Consciousness News produced at Redwood Community Radio in Redway, California.  I am Kerry Reynolds reporting for CCN.

 

Kerry: This is Kerry Reynolds with CCN.  I’m here with Dr.  Dominic Corva of the Cannabis and Social Policy Center, based in Seattle, Washington, correct?

 

Dominic: That’s correct.

 

Kerry: In terms of enforcement in cracking down on the black market, trying to pursued people into the above-the-ground market, are there any things you are seeing in Washington, in terms of cracking down more on the black market?

 

Dominic: So, you know, the black market needs to be defined, right?  We all assume we know sort of what the black market is but it’s also a term that gets used pejoratively to identify like mad people, as opposed to — the black market, you know, technically is, you know, the informal market essentially like un-taxed, un-regulated market.  So, the main thing you know in Washington that I suppose could be learned is that you really need to make sure that you’ve got plenty of retail outlets.  That is — you can have all of the best intentions and all the best designs for permitting growers but if their product doesn’t have a place to go, if there is a bottleneck because there is not enough retail stores then, you know, like you are looking at diversion from a, you know, regulated system.

 

Kerry: Yeah, then it’s going to be filled out at someone’s apartment.

 

Dominic: Yeah, so that’s — the distribution question needs to be worked out and whether that means necessarily like, you know, opening up retail permitting or coming up with farmer-to-consumer distribution, there are lot of different ways to I think create pathways to market from the field and California should consider all of them _____1:50 basically because it grows way more than California consumes and in that way it’s like Oregon, but on a much bigger scale, although I’m not sure how much bigger scale these days Oregon is.  There is a whole bunch of Californians in Oregon that are applying the lessons that they have learned.

 

Kerry: So, things are blowing up basically?

 

Dominic: Things are blowing up in Oregon.  You know, Oregon’s got the cheapest cannabis in the country now according to the latest map that came out of Cannabis Prices, and, you know, historically that’s the indicator of like, you know, where most of it’s coming from.  Of course, Oregon being right next to Northern California, it’s really — they should break it by county because it won’t be the whole state that will be cheaper.  It will be like, you know, that zone from the Bay area up to — that’s really, you know, a cannabis growing region that’s continuous.

 

In terms of certifying, you know, gardens as, you know, they have got their water permit and so forth, you know, the question is that, okay, let’s do that so that you know, we can get the environmental stewardship going, but on the other hand if you try to apply like a seed-to-sale tracking system in this area, you are throwing it all out the window because there is just too much products and it needs to go somewhere and they can’t all go into California, they just can’t; it’s not mathematically possible.  I think it should be interesting to see how that aspect of formalization happens in this area where, you know, attempts to shove people into a box that really like, you know, makes their lives too difficult and makes them not want to participate, gets kind of back to its first problem, which is like nobody wants participating from here because it doesn’t work with them.

 

So, there is going to be particularities to the area that’s going to be a little tough to work out in a nuance fashion at the state level, so I’m really hoping that — and it definitely seems to be the case the local government is much more interested in being involved in that.  Humboldt, you know, obviously had its head in the sand for a very long time just like everybody else.  I think that’s really, you know, one of the interesting things about Kevin using that all.  Kevin is like, that’s not head in the sand, that’s head out of the sand and actually looking around 360.  So, that’s promising to me.  It’s promising to me.  I think it’s easier to make sensible policy with people that like you’ve met face to face, you looked in the eye and you’ve talked to them and they talked to you.

 

Kerry: It was startling as someone who covers the industry here to see Representative Huffman, meeting with people that were out-cannabis farmers just recently and I believe Senator McGuire as well.

 

Dominic: Yeah, that’s right.

 

Kerry: So, to have Luke Bruner, representative of California Cannabis Voice Humboldt, sitting at the same panel table with the Lieutenant Governor was really showing how much the cannabis producing community has gained respect in order — and legitimacy in a way before the full legality has come onboard.

 

Dominic: Absolutely.  You know, I think that the politicians are responding to the organizing.  They understand it’s — Hezekiah, obviously, was also at that table.  Hezekiah Allen.

 

Kerry: Yes, in their early meeting.  I really think — and in a public meeting I was like, yeah.

 

Dominic: Went to public meeting, that’s right.

 

Kerry: But Hezekiah Allen of Emerald Growers Association, also representing cannabis farmer.

 

Dominic: They are at the table and like that’s the first step.  It is like sitting down at the same table.

 

Kerry: And even John Corbett, the Chair of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board sat at that meeting.  When we go to do our water inspections, we don’t check for 215s and we don’t care if it’s medical cannabis or just cannabis.  So, there is sort of our recognition of reality on…

 

Dominic: There is progress — there is real progress being made; just so much progress being made on dealing with what is actually there instead of what you wish was there or not there.  You asked me about, you know, lessons from Washington and Oregon.  Did you want to, you know, talk about the elephant in the room which is the tendency that Oregon has at least now kind of confirmed for legal cannabis to be an occasion to radically change, you know, essentially medical cannabis?

 

Kerry: Are the dispensaries of California going to go the same way as the dispensaries in Washington and by the way, what’s happening with the dispensaries in Washington?

 

Dominic: Yeah.  So, basically what’s happening with dispensaries in Washington is there is Senate bill they just passed 505(2), that was essentially sort of a comprehensive medical marijuana, you know, regulation act and if you will recall back in 2011 we had one of those.  And it established a system for, you know, regulating commercial, you know, medical dispensaries and our governor section vetoed every part of it that had to do with regulation.

 

Kerry: The Washington Governor.

 

Dominic: Washington Governor basically because any part that would have involved a government official like, you know, being a part of that regulatory process — what she said then was, subject to them to Federal prosecution and so section vetoed out, you know, every part of it that would have been regulation.  And so all the folks who were geared up to, you know, satisfy the regulatory conditions in that bill which came from legislature and not initiative, they know what to do and so they got the legal advice that pretty much became standard practice which was, to operate as collective gardens and there was collective garden language and of course, collective gardens in that bill did not have to be regulated.  They were non-commercial provisions.  They were appendages to the actual regulatory structure which involved commercial regulation.

 

So, what we have is essentially excess point system that was — that sprang up not overnight at all, but certainly under the new conditions basically, if you’re a collective garden them you weren’t regulated, so it’s really easy to open up.  All you got to do is find a spot in the strip mall.  That’s the — that was the legal interpretation that they were operating under for four years and until the cannabis decision from last year, which was the first like — sort of challenged, that actually was ironically brought by medical cannabis activists to essentially get a legal opinion that, in fact, excess points were legal in the State of Washington and of course, they got the opposite result.  And since then basically like all anyone has had to do was apply that decision wherever they were and if they want to, you know, basically declare medical marijuana illegal, and that’s essentially what happened.

 

So, with 505(2), it creates a medical aspect to the legal cannabis markets.  I don’t want to go too deep into those.  I think we have talked about that a lot before, but what’s happened to the existing dispensaries is that City of Seattle is now kind of leading the way in terms of a specific framework for it, because technically everybody’s got till July of 2016 to be open.  City of Seattle issued essentially a three-tiered process for dealing with all of the dispensaries within its jurisdiction.  So, the first tier is essentially, if you opened up your dispensary after January 1st, 2013, you are out.  So, you are regarded as a, you know, as an opportunist.  You are just showing your lack of good faith because you opened up after legal cannabis passed.  So, that’s a condition.

 

The second condition and that’s one — this one was unanticipated I think and a little bit surprising to folks, is that the laws for legal cannabis which are only for people 21 and over, just got applied to dispensaries.  So, dispensaries basically were now being investigated every time they sold to a patient that was under the age of 21; that’s ongoing.  And so as a result the dispensaries and dispensary system — any patient that they had that was under 21 which, let’s say, was a fair amount actually — a lot of their clients are…

 

Kerry: Children with epilepsy, for example.

 

Dominic: Yes.  But children with epilepsy were not coming and buying, you know, _____9:50 on a regular basis necessarily at the dispensaries.  But there is a current way in which actually people under the age of 21 can go to a dispensary and wouldn’t get the dispensary in trouble and that’s if they got essentially like a caregiver letter.  Now, under the new system basically which, you know, again it will take a while to kind of implement it, instead of collective gardens there are four-person cooperatives that you can register with the State, and I think it’s three plants per person so, like you know four times three is twelve.

 

So, the new legality is, you know, one that is radically different from what was going on already, which makes it a pragmatic policy because what it’s doing is actually not really like working with what’s there and trying to shift it, it’s denying what’s there and burying your head in the sand and just saying, just go back to the black market basically.  So, that’s the interesting dynamic that’s going on right now and Washington’s dispensaries even if they are not shutdown because they are all getting letters in there — if they don’t shut down then they get like a huge fine and the other conditions are they have to be, you know, paid up on their taxes.

 

Kerry: How many dispensaries are we talking about here in Washington who are now illegal and being told to shut down because of this…

 

Dominic: Well, they are being told not necessarily to shut down unless they have — they meet their prior conditions already like you say — again, if they have not been paying their taxes, there is your letter you should shut down.  You have been paying their taxes, you were open before January.2013, we are going to leave you alone and also you now get to apply to be part of the rec system.  And let me say that the mathematics of this are not as severe as you would expect.  The City of Seattle counted something like a 106 dispensaries within its city limits and identified that about half of them actually have been open before January 1st, 2013.  So, like for their first cut half of them were still surviving as eligible to continue as part of the system.  Now, of course, then they are going to have to meet, you know, the zoning requirements and all the other things.

 

So, like how many of those people actually end up in the rec system, not sure, but again this is the good actor, bad actor, you know, a discourse.  It’s like let’s identify the good actors and then _____11:55.  Everyone else is a bad actor and has to go away except for that’s not how it’s ever worked within the context because really more people will just go away, they find other ways to do business.  So, what’s happening essentially is our, you know, not terribly regulated medical system in Washington is being actively downsized and dramatically changed.

 

Kerry: And at the same time production is increasing.

 

Dominic: Yeah, so the production side of things — of course, the rec side of things especially that’s an issue because Washington has never been obviously a big producing State.  It’s been, you know, an indoor producing State and importer of you know Oregon, BC and California cannabis.  But with the 502 system of course like that’s a native production, you know, system and that system we are getting up to about 800 pounds a month indoor basically.  It seems to be moving through the inventory.  Our outdoor season last year on a very abbreviated one again, you know, 14,000 pounds and created within the i-502 market, you know, a gloat and a problem with prices and so forth because we had 80 retail stores open in December.  We have like a 150 open now.  We are on schedule to have about 250 open in December of this year.

 

So, not even the full component of 335 that like the state has authorized there to be for a number of reasons, bans, inventory and so forth.  But what that says to me is that you got twice as many retail stores.  Let’s be generous and call that three times as many retail stores.  You are going to have at least 10 times the production.  So, what does that say for, you know, the outlets and the prospects of, you know, diversion or of folks who may even be actual growers who are growing buds but are not able to sell their stuff because there is not enough retail outlets essentially for it.  It’s a chokepoint.

 

So, this is all happening of course in the context of downsizing the medical dispensaries and so fewer medical dispensaries, not enough retail dispensaries, lots of production on legal side, plenty of production around in Washington State, I mean that’s legal side.  All that is recipe for, you know, what the state says it doesn’t want which is diversion in the black market.

 

Kerry: And it’s what the Department of Justice says, it doesn’t want through the Cole Memo.

 

Dominic: But that’s the funny thing about the Cole Memo.  The Cole Memo is actually relatively broad or vague and when it comes to talking about diversion and the conditions under which the legal experiment can go forward which is — which folks interpreted additionally, diversion meant out of the legal market into any other part, whether that meant out of the state, in the state.  If it was produced in the legal market, it needed to be sold in the legal market.

 

So, diversion was interpreted as being just about legal cannabis.  Since then diversion has been now applied to include essentially medical cannabis and so, medical cannabis is considered to be, you know, black market or diverted.  You know, if you don’t have a system regulation, it’s all diversion.  Diversion is the condition of not regulation according to the sort of latest popular sort of interpretation, which is why, you know, part of the justification for shutting down medical system is because Cole Memo.  And the Cole Memo, again, originally like did not at all apply to medical.  Why would you ask the states to be home to a standard that the Federal Government has never been able to actually keep itself, which is shutting down the black market.

 

If we interpret the Cole Memo to include that kind of demand, what we are doing is essentially saying the Cole Memo, you know, is absurd on its face and, you know, like how we are supposed to take it seriously at all.  If it sets an impossible condition and you are interpreting that impossible condition as something you have to meet even though you can’t, it would be totally impossible and you don’t have the funding to do it, it’s taking steps backward Kerry.  So, for me that’s a concern in Washington State.

 

It’s not like I’m here to defend, you know, unregulated or deregulated cannabis; I’m for regulated cannabis.  I’m for evidence-based regulation though.  You know, evidence that this works and that by the way is also part of the Cole Memo.  It has to actually work.  That’s a condition.

 

Kerry: Robust regulation.

 

Dominic: Robust regulation, which is interpreted as regulation that actually like does what it’s supposed to do and that’s not a reinterpretation of the Cole Memo.  That’s an original interpretation of the Cole Memo and it still applies and I believe that, you know, our legislature has fallen down you know, on their faces when they are ignoring — they are ignoring that part of the Cole Memo.  Cole Memo says it’s got work.  They are doing stuff that’s the opposite essentially and I feel like…

 

Kerry: Probably not their intention to do it.

 

Dominic: Yeah, probably not.

 

Kerry: So, we have got a long — we have got a lot of issues in Washington and I think you have given us a real good overview of that.  I know you have also been doing more analysis of the Oregon recreational market.  What’s the status today in Oregon, please?

 

Dominic: Well, what’s happening in Oregon is that’s — although Oregon had a regulatory system, you know, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, they were cruising along after initiative passed, there was a joint taskforce, you know, bipartisan, you know, both members of the _____17:14, and what they were tasked to do is writing rules to create the legal market and it had nothing to do with medical, nothing.  Somewhere along the way that joint taskforce essentially stumbled over, I think increasingly like the fact that it wasn’t addressing medical and essentially dissolved and we are left now, instead of the joint taskforce that actually has been listening and trying to figure things out, we are now seeing in Oregon the position of an agenda that looks a lot like Washington’s.  It’s an agenda that claims that Oregon needs to be concerned about the Cole Memo’s diversion situation.  Again, the diversion thing is really — it’s getting hammered home as a common sense discourse and is being redefined in my opinion.

 

Kerry: By whom? Who is doing this?

 

Dominic: Well — so, you know, it’s usually hard to tell but you know we do have a white paper that was produced by a Privateer Holdings Incorporated, same folks who own Leafly.  They are an investment group.  They are based out of Seattle.  They have run Tilray, a big cannabis warehouse in British Columbia and, you know, they are essentially venture capital firm that invests, you know, in and around the cannabis industry.  Now, what this really means right now is that, you know, they invest in real estate, they invest in things like Leafly, you know, really safe things or you know what…

 

Kerry: Things that are directly touching…

 

Dominic: Right.

 

Kerry: The plan, the dangerous plan.

 

Dominic: Yeah, except in Canada, right Tilray.

 

Kerry: Okay, and that’s a producer and seller.

 

Dominic: So, Tilray is a production facility, so — exactly.  So, like they want to get into that.  They think very highly of their ability to do so and they think essentially — obviously, what works for the Canadian system is, you know, the fact that it’s a centralized sort of warehouse production predominant system.  And that is not the system that works on the West Coast United States because to do that — even if they were able to capture the market that they think they can capture, we don’t need more people growing cannabis here on the West Coast.  We have got a lot of people who have been doing it for a while and doing it pretty well.  Freezing those people out of the legal regulated market basically by, you know, making it harder and harder for them to meet conditions to be in it, which is — the white paper is very much, you know, there’s a very explicit like a medical market needs to be reigned in and, you know, legal market needs to be _____19:40 them, right said.  Centralized warehouse production and so it’s a white paper, right.  So, that means it’s for policy makers and it’s like this is your issue in Oregon and this is — but it’s very…

 

Kerry: But it’s being written by someone it sounds like or an entity that has a very obvious agenda.

 

Dominic: It has a private interest.  Yeah, it’s a really-really naked agenda, you know, like it’s not even pretending.  They are basically saying — there is a certain kind of attitude there that’s — it’s a little incomprehensible to me.  But that’s public documents and it was meant to guide policy makers and very recently, you know, that’s the direction Oregon policy is going which is to remove protections from medical cannabis growers that currently exist for them, and that’s the key thing.

 

So, for Oregon — like California, Oregon is a big exporter.  You know, Oregon system — the concept of diversion like has to be treated very pragmatically because you cannot mathematically fit Oregon production into an Oregon consumption system.  It’s not possible.  What you do with everybody else there…

 

Kerry: Well, come on doctor, if everybody started smoking pot from morning to night maybe.

 

Dominic: I’m not sure actually.  Like — possibly, I don’t know, but certainly…

 

Kerry: Yeah.  Okay, so Oregon is also an exporter?

 

Dominic: Also, a huge export — so, the question is in terms of the social ecology is that, okay, they are producing a lot of cannabis and they have been doing under the legal protection of Medical Marijuana Act.  So, they get X amount of plants and they grow outdoor plants in Southern Oregon and they grow big ones, right.  So, the problem is that the protections are being talked about as that’s what they need to take away.  So, that would leave these folks without a pathway into the rec system, (a) because they can’t fit into it and (b) kind of leaves them back in the space of vulnerability that they haven’t, you know, had to — they have been able to be integrated members of society in many ways obviously because they have been left alone.

 

Kerry: So, the celebrated legalization of cannabis in Oregon is now making medical growers in Oregon more illegal.

 

Dominic: It is — vulnerable, that’s right, yeah.  That’s the trajectory right now.  It could change next week.

 

Kerry: So, who would they expect to grow the cannabis in Oregon?

 

Dominic: Privateer and — Privateer Holdings Incorporated perhaps.  Who do they expect to grow?  The people who get in on the system basically, who are able to get into the rec system.  Again, like those rules are still being sort of written, they are still being hammered out.

 

Kerry: So, there are no licenses now yet, it’s still in process; sounds like it’s getting pretty butchered from the original voter concept.

 

Dominic: Absolutely…

 

Kerry: Spirit of the law.

 

Dominic: I’m sure that that is the case and so for me it’s very interesting to watch this sort of medical cannabis versus legal cannabis like antagonism develop because it’s framed in a one way and it can’t be framed another.  It’s framed as, you know, these people are not worthy citizens because they are all gaming the system anyway.  Medical marijuana is a fraud, is the discourse, right and that’s why essentially these things are happening in Washington and Oregon because policy makers have been convinced by someone or someone’s such as Privateer Holdings that medical marijuana is a fraud.

 

Now, what I understand obviously, you know, all cannabis, especially medical like _____22:56, but on the other hand I understand that _____23:00 doesn’t really fly necessarily to the American public.  What I would say, you know, to the American public is that actually, you know, medical marijuana laws are not just about the right to health and therefore about whoever is being fraudulent about claiming that right to do things to make money for example.

 

It’s also about legal protection from an insane drug war and especially for growers that is the case.  Why is it that like — it’s not okay for folks to grow, you know, herbs in their backyard, why is it that we have to track this like it’s nuclear waste instead of an herb.  Why is it criminal to grow a plant and to me like — medical marijuana instead of fraudulent I would say that it has been a shield and I think it’s been human right shield for, you know, a more ecologically, you know, in-tune population essentially to carryout direct civil disobedience against an unfair, unjust, racist and genocidal law.  The threat to our society has come from the drug war not from, you know, people growing plants.

 

Kerry: And in the meantime, these people that they are —

 

Dominic: They need those protections, they need to keep them.

 

Kerry: They have also been providing the medicine that has been saving children with epilepsy from 200 seizures a day, etc., so that sort of recognition we saw in Garberville because of the organizing in education that’s been done by the grower population here in Northern California.  That’s not coalescing as well in Oregon yet, and would have to pretty quickly to reverse this trend would you say?

 

Dominic: Well, you know, to be honest Oregon is incredibly organized and, you know, they have had _____24:35 in the room like I spoke to the Oregon Sun Growers Guild, you know, last year when they were like, you know, what do we have to expect coming up, you know, I was talking about well, this is the rule making process and Jonathan Mann was in the room _____24:45 and he was like, and this is how it’s going to work in Oregon, you know.  He gave the very specific thing.  So, they have been there.  They have been in the room.  They are talking to each other in a way that never was the case in Washington and still this is happening and that’s what scary about it, is that, this is not, you know, defenses population that’s been mobilized against; these were activated citizens who were already calling their, you know, representatives and being very engaged in the process and they are still getting shoved out.

 

So, it’s difficult to say, you know, like — obviously, I don’t have the answer for you know, how it’s going to be reversed.  I’m hoping that by presenting, you know, evidence in the base policy recommendations that I’m hoping that that can help; it didn’t help in Washington, so I don’t know.  But, you know, either way the upstart of this is the whole thing is going to move forward one way or the other and it’s either going to be moving forward with, you know, more social antagonism because of the policy that’s been created is going to be less.  Either way we are going to have legal cannabis and we are going to have medical cannabis and one shape or form we will have a black market, but the fact is that people are making decisions that are changing the landscape in a way that is potentially, you know, productive of more conflict in society rather than less and that’s my main concern.

Kerry: Thank you for all the work you are doing with Cannabis and Social Policy in Stanford.

 

Dominic: Thanking you for getting the word out.

 

Kerry: Cannabisandsocialpolicy.org, correct.  Any closing remarks?

 

Dominic: Yeah, I do actually want to, I want to give a plug for the women’s groups that are starting to proliferate here in Humboldt, CCVH Women’s Group and the Women Grow.  There are meetings that happen in Northern Humboldt, meetings happen in Southern Humboldt.  This is — honestly, if there is anything I can tell you about Washington that’s really positive is the women’s groups have been, you know, incredible.

 

Kerry: In Washington?

 

Dominic: Yeah, they have been, you know, powerful and humane and forces of good and I see that happening here too and I’m really starting…

 

Kerry: Yeah, Normal Women’s Alliance also.  So, we have three different, four different women groups that are really gaining momentum here in the region which is also very promising.

 

Dominic: I’m really excited about that.  I think they will make the difference honestly.

 

Kerry: Yeah, bringing women to the table always helps the discussion.

 

Dominic: Yeah, absolutely.

 

Kerry: All right.  Well, thanks Dr.  Dominic Corva.

 

Dominic: Thanks Kerry.

 

Kerry: Okay.

 

That’s all for today’s show.  Thanks for listening and join me again next week 5:30 p.m. for another special edition of Cannabis Consciousness News.  You can also find links to this and past programs on the Facebook page Cannabis Consciousness.  Reporting from the heart of the emerald triangle, this is Kerry Reynolds.

Oregon Senator Jeff Kruse on how Rec affects Medical “Pot”

by Dominic Corva, Executive Director

As Oregon moves towards the Washington model for legalizing cannabis, it’s important to document how, why, and who. This letter came to us on a listserv email, as a response to Oregon cannabis organizers questioning why State Legal Cannabis now seems to preclude preservation of the existing Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). This post reproduces Senator Kruse’s letter as it came to us in an email: it may have been abbreviated or altered in transit. If so we are happy to make corrections.

There are many political and economic rationales at work to turn cannabis legalization into a reason to radically restructure medical cannabis regulation, but this letter highlights, in no particular order (1) perceived political pressure from the Federal Government; (2) perceived lack of regulation despite Oregon’s existing medical regulatory framework (as opposed to Washington, which didn’t have one on account of then-Governor Gregoire’s 2011 section veto); (3) deference to minority voter will; (4) backlash against “vulgar and threatening” approaches by some cannabis activist communications; (5) and belief that it is possible to end black market sales in Oregon through legislation this session.

Only one of these rationales is totally detached from reality — the last one. It’s unclear to me how legislators don’t grasp the regulatory reality of 40 years of prohibition — an effort to legislate and enforce the black market out of existence. It doesn’t work, and that’s why voters are passing legalization initiatives. Or rather, it does work: it works to create cannabis informal markets that respond to price differentials across space. In Oregon, this has meant the development of a major export market. This did not happen overnight, and it was not the result of medical marijuana regulation. Ending medical cannabis regulation does not and can not mean ending black market sales in Oregon.

Other than that, all of the other rationales have some purchase in reality even if they support the counterproductive aim of excluding people from society rather than bringing them in from the shadows. They establish lines in the sand over which the future of Oregon, and United Statesian, cannabis legalization are being contested. From our perspective, here are a few counterpunches:

(1) Federal government cannabis policy has always been fear-based, not evidence-based. Legalization cannot achieve its social purpose — ending the drug war — through fearful deference to Federal legal categories and threats.

(2) OMMP is as much about legal protection from an insane drug war as it is about protecting the right to health. Colorado’s regulations are no more strict than OMMP, and the Federal government has shown no signs of interference.

(3) Protecting the rights of minorities is a great democratic goal — but in this case, the voting minority is morally wrong: continuing the failed drug war on a county- and city-level patchwork geography is bad for society and will doom efforts to create a statewide cannabis peace experiment.

(4) How we communicate is just as, if not more, important than what we communicate. Rude and threatening communication from 2014’s session ensured that key lawmakers in the 2015 session allowed only I 502 business interests to influence their thoughts and decisions about medical cannabis in SB 5052. We at the Center believe that nonviolent engagement is the best strategy for winning hearts and minds in the drug peace movement.

That said, I present to you Oregon Senator Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. The message has been copied and pasted from email without alteration.

***

*”Working Hard For You*

*MAY 22, 2015*

*POT…..AGAIN*

I have received a lot of phone calls and emails on the subject of
marijuana, which advocates say we should call cannabis, but for the sake of
brevity in this letter I will call it pot.  While a good number of these
have been thoughtful and courteous, a large number and been vulgar and even
threatening.  To those in the latter category, if you are trying to make a
valid point with a legislator, you are going about it the wrong way.  I
can’t speak for my colleagues, but personally I don’t respond to such
tactics and have little respect for those who use them.

Before I go any further it might be a good idea to once again tell you why
I am qualified to be working in this subject area.  First, I am a
recovering addict.  I have been drug and alcohol free for 29 years; but,
among the other things I did, I was a daily pot smoker for eighteen years.
Additionally I have been involved legislatively with the medical marijuana
program since the passage of the ballot measure in 1998.  I entered this
Session with a lot of thoughts, but two primary objectives.  The first was
to protect the integrity of the medical program and the second was to
attempt to end the black market sales in Oregon.  Senate Bill 964 (which
deals with the medical program) goes a long way to achieving those
objectives.

Many have asked why we are dealing with the medical program when Ballot
Measure 91 was about recreational use.  The short answer is because of the
direction we have received from federal government on the subject.  We need
to remember that pot is a schedule 1 narcotic at the federal level, and
they expect a much higher level of accountability than we currently have in
the system, which is actually no accountability at all.  For example, if we
assume two pounds of pot for each of the 71,000 patients that would give us
a total of 142,000 pounds accounted for in the system.  However, the
conservative estimates from OSU tell us there is well over a million pounds
being produced (and other estimates take us to a much larger number).
There is clearly no way we can claim we know where the pot being produced
is going, but one would have to assume it is going into the black market.
According to the Cole Memorandum from the US Department of Justice this is
a red flag which could jeopardize the recreational program.  SB 964
includes a tracking system which, with the support of the Governor’s
office, will satisfy the feds on the issue of accountability.

The issue that split the Joint Committee was the local option relative to
the location of dispensaries.  All of the Senate members of the committee
wanted a local option provision, but three of the five House members
didn’t.  Over that issue the committee split and a Senate-only committee
was created, which passed out SB 964.  For those keeping track of such
things, if the House had agreed it would have been SB 844.  Our version
allows a local jurisdiction (city or county) to decide if they want to
allow dispensaries, including the time, place and manner of the
operations.  It has two other provisions, one which would allow the people
to put a measure on the local ballot with only 4% of registered voters
being required and the second gave local governments 180 days to decide to
give adequate time for people to put something on the ballot.  It should
also be noted all existing dispensaries and those that have gone through
the permit process would still be in place.  We are hoping to get similar
provisions on tracking and local options in the recreational bill, which is
currently HB 3400 (which we just started working on).

An interesting side note on “the will of the people.”  Clearly the voters
passed medical marijuana in 1998 and we have been working to improve the
system since that time.  It is also true the people passed Measure 91 at
the last election, which compels us to implement the recreational program.
What I have always found to be interesting is what is defined as an
“overwhelming majority.”  In the case of Measure 91 the yes votes were 56%,
which for some reason qualifies under the overwhelming category.  What
tends to be forgotten is the fact 44 out of 100 people voted no, which I
think is actually significant.  What I mean by that is the fact that those
who voted no should not be totally ignored.  As a Senator I don’t represent
just those who voted for me, I represent all the people of my district.  I
personally don’t think 56% is overwhelming, especially when in some parts
of the state the vote went the other way.  This is the primary reason I am
supporting the local option, because I would prefer the state not dictate
to communities much in the same manner I don’t like the federal government
dictating to the states.  My favorite example is the education system.  The
more the federal and state governments have been dictating to school
districts, the worse the outcomes have become.

The legalization of marijuana is a major change in this state.  We are
committed to doing what we can to make sure we do it right.  I just think
it is important to not step on the rights of communities and the people in
those communities in the process.

Sincerely,

Senator Jeff Kruse”