Louisiana is a solid red state, perhaps the reddest of political reds, yet yesterday, a Senate committee approved medical marijuana legislation that failed last year.
Which means Louisiana red might turn a bit more--orange, shall we say--should the leafy legislation continue on its journey through the state capitol this spring.
So, what might be some of the implications of such a dramatic move should the conservative state smell the sweet aromas coming from the hall of the prevailing legislative winds?
Below is an article that California attorney and author Mike Malek wrote specifically for Bayoubuzz that presents an short overview of the pot industry, as it stands today, with its limitations of supplies and demands:
April 20th is designated, unofficially, as the day when all “stoners” consume Marijuana and its numerical equivalent, “420,” has become a shorthand description for the Cannabis culture, generally. The origins of the designation came from San Rafael high school students who, regularly, tried to find a mythical stand of Marijuana in the forest. They gathered beneath a statue of Louis Pasteur on the high school campus, at 4:20 P.M., and started their quest from there.
Though abutting the Pacific Ocean, a massive source of water, California is parched and has already enacted, by executive order, what some think, farmers included, overly harsh measures to alleviate the effects of the state’s longest drought since record keeping began. The politics of California water, omnipresent since much of the state is desert, was the backdrop for the 1970’s film “Chinatown,” starring Jack Nicholson. The disputes about water have never abated. In the first round of water usage cuts, golf courses and cemeteries received special opprobrium from Sacramento. Score one for cremation and tennis.
While most mandated reductions, at the moment, affect non-agricultural water users there will be a lessened supply of water for California’s farmers and growers who are being asked, among other things, to rethink their crop selections. Almonds, for example, require at least 1.2 gallons, per nut. Much of that crop goes right into the export market meaning the U.S., essentially, is subsidizing China’s appetite for almonds. Higher water costs in CA mean higher produce bills in New York, and so on.
Marijuana is another crop that is exported from California in large quantities, even if within our own domestic borders. It is estimated California growers produce between 72%-84% of the total marijuana consumed in the United States. Though it is impossible to determine the exact number of plants under cultivation in California, or elsewhere, the Central Valley California High Impact Drug Trafficking Area, (HIDTA,) applied United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, (UNODC,) formulas to determine that in 2010, California’s marijuana production exceeded Mexico’s by a vast amount.
HIDTA estimated that more land was dedicated to marijuana production in California than the area, 121 square miles, occupied by the City of Sacramento, the
State Capitol. The difficulty of deriving accurate numbers regarding volume of production and economic impact of the Marijuana business is the subject of an article by Beau Kilmer, PhD Senior Policy Researcher and Co-Director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center for Yale University. Heavily annotated, the article, titled
Debunking the Mythical Numbers about Marijuana Production in Mexico and the United States like most everything else trying to quantify these sensitive, and closely guarded secrets, demonstrates just how difficult it is to come by accurate numbers. Involvement of tax authorities would remove such obstacles under color of law.
Notwithstanding the viewpoint published by Yale, numerous sources, closer to the ground, indicate that the value of the CA Marijuana crop is enormous, as it is in other states where it exceeds, sometimes, even corn and soy production. Marijuana takes the overall top spot among all cash crops in the United States. Between 2003-2005 it was estimated that Marijuana earned its ranking with a total of $35 billion, ahead of corn at $23 billion and soybeans at $17 billion.
The foregoing numbers, however, must be increased significantly due to an enlarged demand fueled, in part, by legalization of Marijuana in Washington, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and approval for medical uses in many other states. There has been such demand for weed grown in the Emerald Triangle, composed of Mendocino, Humboldt , and Trinity Counties, that the former recession of a few years ago, that saw wholesale Marijuana prices drop from $5,000 per pound to $3,000.00, is a faint memory. As more plants are grown to meet demand, there will be further pressures on the water supply and nature.
In the current market the Triangle sells out and buyers compete for the best buds, much of which leaves the state. The competition for product drives up prices. If marijuana futures were publicly traded it’d be a portfolio item that would be a blue chip security on par with Apple.
The dependency of crops on cheap and accessible, if not free, water is an impediment to increased California agricultural production of all types. Regardless of where a plant sprouts it needs water. Deep in the forests of Northern California natural streams supply much of the water required for the massive stands of Marijuana plants that prefer the forest climes and its growers the privacy. This is not purchased water, but water diverted directly from the springs and, also, wells, some illegally drilled on public property. The rub comes in when there is more pressure by agricultural interests downstream that depend, also, on wild waters to sustain their own crops. When toxic substances get into the water table, or the streams, from toxic Marijuana stands every downstream water user adulterates additional crops.
Pesticides and unauthorized fertilizers are a persistent and ready problem. With a water shortage, the pressure to maximize future Marijuana yields, though the use of ever more powerful pesticides, growth enhancers, illegal fertilizers, and GMO seeds, is set to increase. The Sheriff of Humboldt County has expressed concern about the widespread use of agriculturally unapproved pesticides to kill insects, blight, plant diseases and rodents that could harm Marijuana plants. These agents, unfortunately, also, kill vital species such as bees and Monarch butterflies upon which the forest’s ecosystem depends.
Many of the poisons used in Marijuana agriculture are outlawed in this country, as are some of the fertilizers made here, but exported and, then, reimported in the black market. To a farmer this is a financial necessity because a single Dutch seed can cost from three to a hundred dollars, or more, depending on strain, potency, characteristics, and growth potential. The availability of good seeds is vital, as is their sustainability, and that can be expensive, especially in those instances when the law cuts down a harvest before a grower can.
In farm takedowns in the forests around Humboldt, the Sheriff found huge numbers of boxes of D-con, bags of unregulated fertilizer, growth stimulants, and other substances that would not, normally, be allowed on products grown for public consumption in this country. These substances, however, do find their way into the Marijuana stream of commerce and, therefore, into states across the nation.
If someone buys weed from an unscrupulous, or clueless seller, no mater how attractive their storefront, or the clerks inside, customers, unwittingly, could be smoking d-CON, DDT, GMO plant food, and God knows what else. In this respect, at least, Marijuana may be infinitely more harmful than Tobacco unless and until it is inspected for adulterants.
Some sellers promote their product as “Organic.” Regrettably, there are as many definitions of Organic, a label most often applied to pricier pot products, as there are stars in the sky. This is a regulatory failure, not just for Marijuana, but other foodstuffs and consumables. The uncertain labeling, and loose regulation, of many consumables is not just a state problem, however, and it arises, also, at the federal level where remedial action can be positively sluggish.
Marijuana production, as befits its status as big business, is science driven. Yields per plant, potency, type, taste, size and adaptability to growing mediums all affect profitability for growers. In some operations, botanists, many university graduates, lend particular expertise to growers. The numbers of strains available and the ability of growers to create new strains and hybrids are significant. To promote sales, most flowers, as smoke-able buds are called, bear colorful, if not ominous names. There is Tangerine Dream, Strawberry Cough, Train Wreck, Skywalker, and hundreds of others. Take your pick, or make up your own name, it may even be right. Truth in advertising has yet to become a requirement in this most rapid of growth industries.
The Marijuana legalization movement shows little chance of slowing its momentum and it’s fair to expect legalization of the drug everywhere, in time. When this happens there will be a host of regulatory issues, including determination of product safety and testing. It’s criminal to sell worm-infested beef, poisonous corn, or lead laden chickens that lay DDT eggs.
Question one, therefore, is public safety. It makes sense, since this is a newly legalized commodity, essentially different from anything else in the stream of commerce, that a single agency, initially, should have jurisdiction over the purity and growing standards relating to Marijuana. The issue is more than academic since Marijuana grows as well, or better, hydroponically, in greenhouses as it does in the great outdoors. Grow barns, in which fertilizers and pesticides, also, are used can be located anywhere, from Nome, Alaska to the farthest tip of the Florida Keys using High Pressure Sodium (HPS), Metal Halide (MH), and Mercury Vapor High Intensity Discharge Lamps.
The continuing drought in California, combined with the pressure of voracious demand, will force development of local, outdoor and indoor farming of weed throughout the country. The number of states in which Marijuana self-production is notable includes Vermont, Maine, Nevada, Alaska, and Delaware. Each of these states has citizen growers, as a percentage of their populations, of 1.4% - 4.1% who grow their own pot.
Citizens of some states, momentarily, grow less than citizens of others. Louisiana and Oklahoma are at the bottom of state growth statistics pertaining to home use with between 0.2% - 0.4% of the total population of each cultivating weed.
Home growing can lead to bigger enterprises if a green thumb was evidenced. Some backyard growers in California have graduated to the big time and are now rich, eschewing fame for practical reasons. Parenthetically, the dire predictions of foreign drug cartels seeking a foothold in California’s Marijuana business have yet to be widely substantiated by the authorities, though the influence of these organizations, though small, purportedly, is not entirely absent, either, according to some sources.
Livescience.com has an excellent article that describes who uses Marijuana, where, what’s legal, and the extent of regional growing, along with other facts essential to understanding America’s newest legal intoxicant to be produced and distributed to the general public. The philosophical battle, however, continues and may never abate.
To substantiate the, allegedly, harmful effects of the drug, two reports out of Colorado appear in the news most frequently. The first blames the death of a high- and-drunk fraternity member on Marijuana because, while under its effects, he fell-out-of-an-open-window at a raucous, jam-packed party. The second Colorado story, describes how a baby, purportedly, found some Marijuana infused candy, ate it, and died. Elsewhere, proponents of the drug feature smiling babies in ads with voice-overs telling everyone how Marijuana helped save the baby and make it get better. If one believes all the hype on this side of the equation there would be little need for doctors since Marijuana has been hailed as a cure all, from cancer to heart disease, which is not to diminish its recognized uses in the control of and prevention of seizures, pain relief, cramping and other maladies.
Involvement of many agencies, departments, rule makers and/or equivalent authorities will overlap, in some instances, and require clarification as relevant law making develops. It’s clear, however, that the approaching nation-wide general legalization of Marijuana will require attention in every American state house. There are many areas, pertaining to this substance, in which new laws will be required and, then, keenly chaptered to avoid, to the extent possible, confusion, ambiguity, and disparate treatment between commercial ventures.
It’d be easy to say it’s best to wait and defer these legislative issues until a later date when legalization is more widely effectuated. It may not take place, perhaps, until beyond many of our life spans. Ignoring the trends may prove to be a mistake, however, since health and safety issues already burden each state where residents grow or into which Marijuana is imported. When that product is for sale, given away, or self-used, and it is adulterated, there should be more strenuous disincentives for that activity than those attached to mere possession.
Poison is serious business and its importance is evident from major concerns’ mass recalls of fruits and vegetables and proteins, among other things, found to cause salmonella, and other harmful exposures. Marijuana, regardless of its source, a greenhouse in California, or an apartment closet in Maine, should have, if nothing else, an implied warranty of merchantability, i.e., that a user can smoke it without endangering his or her health beyond the obvious detriment of filling one’s lungs with smoke. There is an opportunity to regulate, thoughtfully, in advance of the oncoming green deluge which, if not anticipated, or studied, will negatively affect the public’s best interests.
Dr. Timothy Leary, former Harvard professor, self-proclaimed guru, and LSD cultural icon, advocated for, and used Marijuana, sometimes daily. He once said that only the far left and the far right knew what he was really trying to do in the 1960’s. It will be interesting to see if his predicate to political and societal chaos was correct or if he missed what some call the ostensible reality that Marijuana is a not a gateway to harder drugs but, rather, a socially acceptable, relatively benign substance that’s less destructive and harmful than alcohol, to roughly paraphrase President Obama.
Two Presidents of the United States, so far, have admitted to putting joints in their mouths and more Americans favor legalizing pot than do not. Use and experimentation with Marijuana is increasing exponentially and without the topsy- turvy relativist society Leary envisioned.
The real question that bedevils politicians and law enforcement, alike, is the one, succinctly, posed by California’s four-term Governor, Jerry Brown, who, famously, inquired, “How many stoned people can you have walking around at one time?” As the rush towards general legalization continues, we are about to find out. Will we be ready?