Declining salmonid populations, dry and damaged creek beds, organized crime, segmented ecosystems, polluted public lands, mass pesticide/rodenticide poising, millions of Americans in prison with families torn apart, increased tax revenues to schools, children recovering from debilitating diseases, less opioid related deaths; all of these can be attributed to one thing and that is cannabis. For decades California’s north coast has been the epicenter of a bustling underground yet commercial scale cannabis cultivation community. While this community has always been deemed illegal and illicit in someway or another, it has helped pave the way for a wave of reform that has seen the legalization of recreational cannabis in a handful of states with California poised to join the ranks as of January 1st. This massive shift of California’s largest cash crop from an unregulated black market to an above ground regulated commodity is going to have dramatic effects on many communities across the state, some for the better and some for the worst. With a 3 billion dollar a year business poised to make it's net worth publicly available to corporations and the like(Smith), it may be prudent to see who really stands to benefit from this process and if it is really in the best interest of the American people. Environmental cleanup, lowered crime rates and added state funding are great on any scale, but is it worth the cost of being in bed with faceless multinational corporations to the detriment of the workers who’ve grew the industry to where it is today. Will the thousands of hard working farmers lose out to large scale agribusiness who can bury them finically and legally. Many thousands of Americans in pain and using strong pharmaceuticals may now have safe access to a natural form of relief, but will it come at the cost of being beholden to major Pharma for any insured medical access. This reform is going to lead to far reaching change which is going to have an large impact on a lot of Californians beyond the pocket books of large southern California business and norther Californian farmers. Entire communities stand to lose all sources of economic value and face a reality of the ghost towns of the early west, while millions of others are guaranteed safe access and a select few grow rich. The legalization of cannabis stands to change the landscape of California politically, economically and environmentally as well.
The history of cannabis is a long and storied one, with it being one of the earliest known crops to be cultivated by man, having not only profound medicinal and psychoactive benefits but many industrious uses as well. The exact geographical location of its first known appearances are difficult to pin down due to its sun loving nature and tendency to retreat from the waxing and waning of the pleistocene glaciers of that time. Although it did move around a lot it is generally agreed that the steppes of central Asia, especially Mongolia and southern Siberia were the first and main locations of its domestication. Some do argue it was possible that the regions of Afghanistan, the Hindu Kush mountains or southern Asia were all viable locations for this domestication as well. The first signs of this cultivation have been found to be around 12000 BC, with carbon dating showing the first signs of the psychoactive values of cannabis being used solely for medicinal purposes. Around 2000 BC it began to spread to the outer exteriors of Asia, then exploding into the west around 1000 AD with the advent of the silk road and the discovery of the new world. It quickly became widely used throughout many tiers of culture and society and has kept that place throughout nearly a millennia,
-“From prehistoric Xinjiang to the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, from hashish smokers in medieval Cairo to casual pot users on American university campuses, psychoactive cannabis has a long and fascinating historical geography. Cannabis has long been entwined with the world economy and local social and cultural practices in a variety of ways; (Warf).
This widespread industrial and pharmacological use continued throughout the world until the first ever attempt at prohibition in the US with the 1914 El Paso ordinance that made possession illegal, this was followed by the far more reaching Marijuana stamp tax act of 1937 which implicitly made illegal all uses of both pharmacological and industrial cannabis. Things continued like this for many years, seeing hundreds of thousands of people, a disproportionate number of them being young colored men, being imprisoned for infractions as small as simple possession. Then in 1996 California passed proposition 215, also known as the compassionate use act of 1996, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes with the recommendation of a doctor. Soon other states began to follow suit, then in 2014 Colorado become the first state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. All in total there are now 29 states that have approved the use of medicinal cannabis and as of this year there will be 8 different states that have legalized cannabis in one form or another from either simple possession to full on retail sales. While all of these measures have been agreed upon by a majority of legal voting citizens and put into action lawfully these laws were, and still are, fundamentally at odds with the mindset and laws of the federal government. As it stands today cannabis and any derived substance containing THC, with only one exception, is considered a schedule one substance under DEA guidelines, meaning that they have no known government approved medicinal or any other usage. The one known exception to the rule is an synthetic form of THC made by Abbot Laboratories sold under the moniker of marinol used for the aide it appetite and nausea in aids patients.
Legalization means regulation, and this is a good thing for consumers. Any product that hits store shelfs for human consumption now has to meet certain standards. These standards that have been set by regulatory committees for the sole purpose of keeping consumers safe from the unscrupulous actions of greedy capitalists, which there are plenty of in the cannabis industry. Living a good portion of my life this area I can tell you I have heard and witnessed some serious horror stories that would make any user think twice about who they get their cannabis from, so some regulation is a welcomed thing. Even beyond the untold atrocious backdoor unbranded backwater remedies that some immoral growers have taken to, there are countless branded products that are sold out of legal storefronts that are just as bad. Many industrial grows have taken to using heavy duty pesticides to ensure the safety of their crops, with one of the most egregious being the branded pesticide Eagle 20. Eagle 20 is made mostly of a substance called myclobutanil, which when is heated as with a flame for ingestion through smoking is converted into cyanide which is then inhaled as a gas with the resulting smoke. In a 2016 study it was determined that 86% of tested cannabis in California tested positive for pesticide residue, and of that 65% of the samples contained myclobutanil residues(Subritzky). This outrageous public health concern that is taking a naturally safe substance and turning it into quite the dangerous hazard has been able to continue uncheck because of the unregulated nature of both the grey medical and black market industry.
This in here is where the dilemma lies, the dichotomy of needing regulatory commissions to guide and ensure the process is done correct, but any such federally connected or funded body of researchers are barred from any involvement due to the federal statues of cannabis. This dichotomy can be most seen in the fact that there are multiple federally accredited or funded agriculture universities or laboratories that are used solely for bettering and testing the techniques we use to grow our nations food and other cash crops. What this means for this new emerging market is that its legitimate growth will be throttled by long ribbons of red federal tape and inability to access federal funds and resources. This leaves laboratories that are needed to provide the crucial testing to make sure safety demands are meet are unable to get the certifications that they need to meet any FDA/DEA standards needed; any state funded commission can get no advice from a federally funded source that may have a load of information on what pesticides may be safe for use in such a crop. This leaves state law makers with only two real choices to go to for inputs on what decisions to make, either the illegal growers who have perfected their techniques over the decades or to major agribusiness. As is not surprising with the federal government it isn't always the people with the best interests of others in mind that help shape policy, in tends to be the those with the most money to buy votes that get that privilege. With large scale agribusiness having untold stores of wealth and looking to get into the fray you can defiantly expect to see these companies come out and manipulate the system to place themselves at a better position to profit than any other. As CEO of Scotts Miracle Grow Jim Hagedorn has said “….invest like half a billion dollars…..we are continuing to work with both individual states and the EPA for special—for the first time ever—registrations that allow pesticidal products to be used on—and we’ll be the only one offering pesticidal products that can be used on cannabis. So I think that’s an opportunity for us…” (Subritzky). While there certainly needs to be in place a set of standards that protects consumers, should they be set by those who stand to profit from those regulations. Historically speaking allowing industry giants the ability to regulate themselves and the market place has resulted in regulation that put profit before people.
The second problem that this rolls into is the notion of where these legitimate profits will flow to. Over decades of hard work that was done under the threat of loss of personal freedom underground growers have not only sharpened their skills in the trade of growing cannabis, but have also fought from the shadows to change the stigmatization and legal status of the plant that had been instilled through years of prohibition. Without these generations of growers putting in decades of work we wouldn't have either the bustling cannabis industry that is now flowering into its own, nor the political landscape in which such reform would be possible for such an industry to step into. Should large scale agribusiness companies now be able to step in, take over and profit form all those years of grass roots information trading and hard work. While although the black market effect has been profitable for growers, not many if any can stand up to the wealth and power of multinational agribusinesses corporations. When it is time to sit down and write the laws of how and what is allowable, who will be able to pay more to have a spot at the table effectively making their voice louder, industry or grass roots. As it stands right now there is no cap on the size of crop that a company can apply to grow. When cultivation permits for the state start to be processed, what will ma and pa Junes small 5,000 sq. ft. permit be against the 10, 50, 300, 1000 acre grows of cheaply produced big business bud? In a area where the main and essentially last economic vein is that of cannabis, what will happen will the plug is pulled on this areas last lifeline. If major corporations are able to get their foot in the door and drive down the cost of production by upping the scale and therefore driving price down, what will happen to the well crafted cottage industry that currently exists and produced the current state of affairs. What will happen to the small wayward towns and generations of workers who only know cannabis when there is no longer a market to keep either one working. If cannabis was to up and leave Humboldt county overnight, this would be a drastically different place. With mill after mill closing down, the Korbel mill which had been in continuous operation for over a century closed in 2015(it is actually to reopen on the 18th of this month, but the fact that things got to where they have still remains), there is no longer the robust logging industry as there was in the hot and heavy timber days of the 60’s and 70’s. There was an almost complete closure of the commercial crab 2016-17 fishing season along the northern Californian and southern Oregon coasts and another lengthy postponement of this years commercial fishing. This coupled with historically low prices at the fisheries leaves the fishing economy a shell of its former self. There is very little to no manufacturing jobs, and tourism and college students can only do so much to support an entire north coast community from Humboldt to Trinity and Mendocino county A quick look at the mining towns of the midwest might give a glimpse into what the future holds for these communities financially dependent on cannabis cultivation that may potentially move to the central valley farmlands. What is now Fremont, Wyoming started off its life as a small post WW1 homestead by the name of “Home on the Range” of only three families. Later it whittled down to just one family who opened a gas station in the 50’s to act as a waypoint to the west for the emerging motorist population. Around the same time the American government was growing worried about their supply of uranium for their various nuclear projects, prompting them to increase the amount of subsidies and incentives for domestic uranium miners. Home on the Range just so happened to be in the heart or rich uranium country and Western Nuclear Power was born, generating immense profits the likes the area had never seen before. This transformed the tiny homestead of just a handful of people into a bustling trailer town of a 150 workers with two general stores and a cafe. This growth continued until the early 70’s until imported international uranium was able to drastically drive down the price of uranium spelling disaster for the Mining companies and their employees, nearly completely killing the newly named of town of Jefferson city. Luckily though in 76’ uranium prices jumped and the town flourished like never before, boosting its numbers to over 4000, needing two middle schools, its own high school, two cafes and a deli. Things were good until the late 80’s when prices plummeted again never to rise. This left the town with no other economic recourse and soon it collapsed, leaving shells of buildings still standing about there today(Amundsoin). Is this what we can expect of the already declining Rio Dell’s, Miranda’s and Myer Flats? Would this Migration of work and money away from here be the worst thing for this area though?
For years now the horror stories from California department of Fish and Wildlife have been growing more and more; illegal stream and creek bed diversions, illegal dumping , widespread unkempt pesticide/rodenticide use and numerous other offenses to the wildernesses. All of this either happening on public lands with trespass grows or on properties which are slowly encroaching onto farm and timber lands causing a large shift in land use changes. For the last two years the Yurok tribe has had no local fish for their annual community fish cook out due to low flows and disease that is caused by low flows, demolishing the local salmon populations. For the past five or six years the Eel river has ran to complete dryness. pine marten and pacific fisher populations are at an alarming low(Bauss); environmental degradation of these ancient forests is rampart due to the unscrupulous actions of trespass and mega grows who easily disregard the environment in exchange for profit. Regulation will definitely do its fair share in curbing such practices by making them illegal and by providing new found funding to help enforce those rules and curtail illegal cultivation. But if this area’s farm are going to need to expand to compete with big business, that might not come close enough to nullifying the damages associated with commercial cannabis cultivation. Water consumption and sedimentation of steams are some of the largest problems that threaten this ecosystem and the communities tied to it, and keeping an expanding cultivation industry wouldn’t do much to abate these problems. As companies expand it calls for the need of large scale equipment being brought to far off places deep in the mountains crossing many streams and depositing sediment into them, and this is even before any of the heavy grading and timber clearing takes place. Then the need for increased size in order to be able to compete means more water consumption for a already water resource heavy crop. So this possibly sees us with the dilemma of either losing our communities last major economic influence or possibly incur the same or greater environmental damages to accommodate for the expanding competitive market.
All of these major changes in this industry are a good thing overall though. Increased tax revenue is always a welcomed sight in times of strong state deficits; and being that colorado was able to pull in over 130 million dollars in taxes in 2015 just from direct retail taxes alone(Blumenthal), California stands to get a nice shot in the arm. The roughly 6,000 people who are currently serving time being bars for cannabis related offenses and stand to revive reduced sentences and wiped criminal records, and their families, will most definitely welcome these changes. The untold number of people who will find solace in the natural medicinal benefits, who were too afraid or uniformed due to try cannabis due to its status to try, leading to a quantifiable reduce in opioid overdose related deaths(Livingston). Just the fact that a natural substance that has been proven to not only be less lethal than the number one consumed intoxicant, alcohol, but also having proven medicinal properties as well is enough for these changes to take place. There are very few people who would argue these benefits of this change, but we need to keep track of who and what will be affected. Will the consolidation of decades of hard work and thereby the wealth of a small community into the hands of a few corporations be what this industry needs? Is the cannabis farmers fate to become like that of the corn or livestock farmers of today, saddled by subsidies and throttled by monopolistic practices from Cargill and monsanto?