I have a few concerns.
I’m concerned that I may be fronting the largest drug operation since Scarface and meth labs ruled the night.
I’m concerned about kids and marijuana and making more of it available to their developing young flea-brains (which, if they’re like mine, will remain half-baked until their late 20s).
I’m concerned about involving the government in oversight and taxation, as we know full well they fuck up everything they get their grubby hands on (and are already squabbling over and redirecting the massive tax revenue being collected).
I’m concerned about the “dabbing” culture that takes highly concentrated cannabis and fires it up with a blowtorch, making users look like crack addicts and putting a frightful face on the future of legalization.
I’m concerned Maureen Dowd will try to get stoned again.
I’m concerned about people who are getting too high too often—“All Day, Everyday”—and are no better than the drunks, tobacco smokers, and opiate addicts we say we’re “safer than.”
I’m concerned that, despite childproof packaging and clear “Adults Only” warning labels, cannabis products that look like gummy bears, chocolate bars, lollipops, and peanut-butter cups may fall into the hands of youngsters.
I’m concerned that corporate fat cats will see the billions being made in legal states, then craft and finance self-serving initiatives that make them rich while cutting out the original growers who for decades fought prohibition from their black-market basements.
I’m concerned that marijuana’s dirty secret will get out—that growing weed indoors sucks up water and power like golf courses on steroids—and make progressive voters wary of voting for legalization. I’m also concerned that, without the proper regulation, even legal cannabis will be laden with pesticides, mold, and other untested and unlisted chemicals.
I’m concerned that, until we rename cannabis strains such as AlienKush OG, Girl Scout Cookies, GreenCrack, and BubbleBerry, we won’t be taken seriously.
I’m concerned that the stoner clichés of the past are being used against individuals who are fabulous souls, but do not wish to be involved in capitalistic and ganjapreneurial efforts.
I’m concerned that current growers in California’s Emerald Triangle have it so good they won’t support the legalization efforts in their state, and may even actively oppose initiatives with their own money. (It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of California’s marijuana is exported—providing little incentive for farmers there to follow a seed-to-sale tracking system.)
I’m concerned that a profit-driven Big Pot industry will increase potency, decrease regulation, encourage overuse, and abandon limits on age and availability of what surely is a mind-bending drug meant for fully functioning adults.
I’m concerned that those now organizing “Boycott 502 Store” campaigns are missing an important point: that legalization, taxation, and regulation are moving the movement forward, and don’t (necessarily) need to jeopardize the rights of and safe access for patients.
I’m concerned that we’re moving more toward Walter White’s vision than Bob Marley’s.
I’m concerned that marijuana will not only be federally legalized, but controlled and dominated by mega-corporations who begin to squeeze out indie farmers, add pesticides and food coloring, and eventually decide that GMO cloning is the easiest option—and we’ll wind up right back where we started: with “prescription” drugs so far from the plant you need a lawyer to read the label.
I’m concerned that with so much emphasis on the amazing medicinal attributes of cannabis, the population without ailments will shy away from the very real benefits of simply getting high.
I’m concerned that the marijuana movement and cannabis culture may not stay true to the ideals that launched the journey, including civil rights and personal liberties. It was never about a Green Rush. It wasn’t about “waking and baking” or dabbing till we got couchlocked. It was about allowing people to farm. It was about being able to use a natural herb to mellow out, and, as it turns out, for medicinal purposes. Ultimately, it’s about making sure no one goes to prison for possessing a plant that grows out of God’s green Earth. That vision of personal freedom—that movement—I can get behind. Those ideals don’t concern me at all.
About the AuthorMichael is a journalist and filmmaker. His award-winning documentary, Sleeping with Siri is playing film festivals across the country. Stusser runs TechTimeout campaigns in high schools across the country, asking teenagers to give up their digital devices (for a little while) in order to find balance, and perhaps even make eye-contact with their parents.
You Might also like
By Michael A. Stusser — 4 years ago
Spring has sprung, and it’s finally time to strap on the running shoes and get stoned out of your mind!
There’s no doubt that marijuana is good for all kinds of things: stimulating the appetite, creative brainstorming, giggle-fests . . . but exercise? Yes, apparently. According to an article in last month’s Runner’s World, athletes who use cannabis benefit from stress relief and reduced inflammation.
Now I’m no marathoner, but I do understand the pain and nausea that kind of grind might cause; hell, I “hit the wall” on walks from Starbucks to the car. And long-distance runners are now claiming that the pain relief associated with marijuana is also a huge benefit for their grueling efforts, helping athletes achieve an idealized state earlier in their run.
“When you have runner’s high, you have feelings very similar to those you would feel if you were smoking marijuana,” stated neuroscientist Arne Dietrich in Runner’s World. The prefrontal cortex of the brain regulates both feelings, Dietrich notes, including “sedation, analgesia, mild happiness, the loss of the sensation of time, and a loss of worries.” What? Where was I?
It makes sense that the CBDs that help to block the input of pain for medicinal purposes and act as anti-inflammatories can also help athletes struggling with joint pain in various sports. And we’re not just talking about snowboarders or Ultimate Frisbee Golf jocks either. A Wall Street Journal story recently interviewed ultra-marathon runners, who run up to 200 miles over 20-hour periods, and many noted that cannabis aids with the stomach cramps and intense muscle pain they endure along the way. “The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke, and stay calm,” said veteran runner Jenn Shelton. “Pot does all three of those things.” I have a better suggestion for these masochistic ultra-marathoners: moderation!
Even the World Anti-Doping Agency and U.S. Track & Field are coming around on dope. Last year the WADA raised the acceptable amount of THC a runner can have in his or her system, flagging only runners who use pot on the day of competition. Using marijuana during training sessions or as a sleep aid the night before a race is all good. There’s a reason the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt, is from Jamaica, mon!
Running high as a kite is not for everyone. Chronic smoking has been related to pulmonary irritation and symptoms of chronic bronchitis (including hocking loogies). “There are cardiovascular effects, like increasing heart rate,” says Gregory Gerdeman (The Pot Book) in the Runner’s World piece. “These may be minimal in young athletes or those with tolerance, but should be considered seriously by anyone at risk for coronary heart disease. Plus, there have been some studies that suggest it influences blood flow to the brain, which can influence the risk of stroke.”
Still, cannabis smoking doesn’t have nearly the negative effect on the lungs that tobacco does. The National Institutes of Health did a study in 2013 that I wish I’d been chosen for. They exposed a group of adults to up to seven “joint years”—one joint per day for seven years—and found that even those extremes didn’t diminish lung function. In fact, marijuana users in the study performed a little better than nonsmokers on a lung-function test, because ganja smokers were basically “training” over time by taking deep breaths and holding smoke in.
Outside did its own piece on stoned running (“Know Before You Go!”), and, while not condoning the practice, gave helpful tips, including not getting lost, bringing munchies along the way, and “dosing” in a safe environment: “You don’t want to be 10 miles into the mountains and suddenly feel like you need to take a nap because THC makes you sleepy, then find yourself dozing off in the middle of the woods with no food or shelter.” Their advice on dosing was a little . . . high: “While lower doses often lead to a relaxed physical state and sense of well-being, or a ‘body high,’ high doses can bring on an acid-trip type of experience with hallucinations and possible paranoia. Once the drug kicks in, the high can last from four to 10 hours, or possibly longer.” Not sure where they’re getting their ganja, but I want some. Wow!
My own advice is to use marijuana as a sort of reward after you exercise. The perfect indulgent treat? The CannaBar! It’s a protein candy bar made using almonds, honey, and hemp-based cannabidiols—with less fatty ingredients that the Clif bars you’re shakily shoving in mid-marathon. Sadly, the CannaBar is made with a cannabis sativa without much THC, so it doesn’t get you high; you’ll want to do that in the traditional way—and by that I mean taking off your Brooks, collapsing on the couch, and sucking down bong hits.
This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly.
By Michael A. Stusser — 4 years ago
From legal growing fields through the black market and into the heart of the medical movement, our writer takes an up-close look at the recreational marijuana revolution.
Michael Stusser’s column appears weekly on HigherGroundtv.com as well as the Seattle Weekly and other newspapers around the country.
Something about following a black pick-up truck in the dead of winter to a giant marijuana field in the middle of nowhere still feels wrong. It’s not so much the snow on the Okanogan ground, or that there’s no cell service in case these drug dealers want to body-bag my ass. Actually, it’s the safety of the escapade that blows my flippin’ mind. This gang of ganja farmers is operating in the great wide open, growing a shit-ton of legal weed—even hyping it on social media—and doing so without having to keep one eye peeled for DEA choppers, drug-sniffing dogs, or local coppers. Is this the end of paranoia? Maybe. Maybe not.
New marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado might have some lucky citizens wallowing in a safe stoney cocoon, but nearly 700,000 people a year are still arrested in the United States for marijuana-related offenses. In many states, you could serve 25-to-life for buying the amount of weed I just snagged at a recreational shop for $45. This issue is not settled. Not by a longshot. And as Tim McCormack, owner of Antoine Creek Farms, tells me as he steps out of his snow-covered ride, the long shadow of marijuana’s illegality had them scared shitless at the beginning of their public pot experiment.
“Oh, believe me, it was plenty weird for us when we had to transfer 1,600 marijuana plants in a U-Haul truck at 4 in the morning from an ‘undisclosed location,’ ” he says as the sun sets behind the mountains that butt up against his grow fields.
McCormack, CEO of one of the state’s largest marijuana producers, is referring to a conundrum known as the “first seed problem” or the “magic-bean scenario.” Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, even fully licensed growers find themselves in a catch-22. See, before you get a license, it’s illegal to grow marijuana or even possess seeds. That means that the first growers under the Washington law have been expected to conjure an immaculate conception, producing plants from thin air. Once those growers are given licenses, state officials just look the other way while the farmer magically comes up with starter plants; don’t ask, don’t tell. But don’t tell that to the countysheriff.
“I had a long discussion with my partner, Brian [Siegel, CFO] about who would drive the truck with our plants, and what we’d say if we got pulled over,” McCormack recalls. The reason Tim didn’t drive? “Well, I told Brian that the whole management team shouldn’t get busted in the U-Haul. And I’m also a lawyer, so I could bail him out.”
Fifteen days after McCormack and Siegel’s June run, an inspector from the state came by to make sure the non-flowering plants they’d miraculously created were the right size. Then each was bar-coded and entered into the state’s BioTrack software system, officially becoming part of the state’s newest industry.
The black market, it turns out, still has value in Washington’s new green market. It is, quite literally, the seed of the recreational revolution.
While wheat is the most planted, and sugar cane has the highest annual yield, cannabis is the planet’s biggest cash crop, worth over $300 billion. And weed is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S., with growers reaping about $36 billion a year. What used to be an underground economy is now above-board in some places, and threatening to take flight.
This past November, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. all passed ballot measures to legalize recreational use for adults, joining Washington and Colorado. For the first time, a majority of the U.S. population thinks marijuana should be legal; the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year was about it (“vape”); Tommy Chong made the semifinals of Dancing With the Stars because of the cultural recognition he built with it; grandmas smoking it are a viral sensation; and Hillary Clinton saw a vision of it in her latte.
Ganja-smoking is smack-dab in the middle of my wheelhouse; I have a long history with the stuff. While I don’t support the idea of waking and baking, blazing at 4:20, or firing up “Everyday, All Day,” it has served to energize and inspire me for decades. That said, I don’t think that marijuana is the Solution, that it’s necessarily “Better Than Alcohol,” or that “if we all had a bong, we’d get along.” It’s also not a Devil Weed or a gateway drug, but it is still clearly not a good idea for developing brains.
And then there is the biggest dichotomy of all: marijuana is legal here, but listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic at the federal level. It is this double life that makes the plant a fascinating conundrum. So I set out to get clues to marijuana’s future. Passing fad, or the End of Prohibition? Should we Just Say No, or is the revolution real?
Joe Bighouse, the Master Grower at Antoine Creek Farms, is old-school. And by that I mean he’s paranoid. Asked about his pre-legal experience, he recoils before relaxing, a little. “Well, I guess they can’t go back and get me now,” he mutters.
“Look, it’s not exactly something I could ever put on my resume, but I had lots of indoor experience. A big operation. Outdoors, though? This is all new to me,” he says, walking around his giant legal operation where workers dry, trim, and package the marijuana. He’s right about the “big” part. This inaugural grow consists of 1,147 plants and 21,000 square feet of plant canopy.
And this is just one operation. The Washington State Liquor Control Board (whose name clearly now needs to be hyphenated) has approved more than 300 growers to supply the Evergreen State’s demands, with another 2,000 applicants still pending. And because no one (at least in government) had a clue about how large the plants might get (the seeds being magic and all), rather than limit the number of plants, the LCB imposed a cap on cultivation—at 2 million square feet of plant canopy. Antoine Creek currently accounts for just one percent of that potential canopy.
Whereas indoor operations—the go-to in illegal days—require energy-sucking lights and ventilation, outdoor plants can grow through the roof. But marijuana doesn’t always grow like a weed. “There are a lot more variables growing outdoors, that’s for sure,” Bighouse explains. “Rabbits, mold. mildew, wind, deer, frost, grasshoppers. Hell, plants can even get sunburned.” Bighouse stops as he sees me taking copious notes. “The thing that—I guess—we don’t have to worry about is being busted. I tell ya, though, a lot of time I’m out there checking plants, and just waiting for the helicopters . . . ”
The first harvest at Antoine Creek got hit hard by a freeze, but will still generate a thousand pounds of marijuana and be separated into more than 600,000 packages for sale in stores—some of it flower (or bud), some finely ground leaf, and some of it the sticky kief powder many of us like to sprinkle on a bowl for an added kick. By law, independent labs will test the product for contaminants including salmonella and E. coli, determine the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive component in marijuana) and CBD (cannabidiol, one of at least 60 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis), and make sure that all chemical contents are correctly displayed on package labels. That ain’t cheap.
“If we want legal weed, it’s got to be regulated, or the whole thing will get shut down,” McCormack notes. “On our end, it’s a big investment—for us, over a million dollars. There are a lot of steps to follow with testing and labeling. But this is the way we’ll be taken seriously as an industry, as businesses. Consumers will know exactly what they’re getting, the government will be involved in the process, and we’re happy to comply. We call it the Fellowship of the Green.”
For the much larger red-state “fellowship” out here in Chelan County, the politics cut both ways. In the 2012 election, the voters rejected same sex-marriage (57 percent), voted for Mitt Romney (57 percent), and supported the initiative to legalize weed (52 percent). Nationally, there’s still a “Be Smart, Don’t Start” mentality from Republicans, as only 30 percent of them support recreational marijuana. Those pushing the numbers into the overall majority (52 percent) include millennials, nonwhites, and independents. “Most everybody’s been really great and supportive here,” McCormack notes. “Though the local propane company wouldn’t sell to us. Apparently we don’t ‘align with their corporate morals.’ ”
McCormack’s law degree makes him well aware of the delicate legal tightrope his company is walking, and how quickly that rope can go slack. “Look, we’re managing against risk. The next presidential election could be detrimental to our bottom line, so we’ll try and make money while we can—and enjoy being a part of this incredible time in our history.”
One dispensary that will not be selling Antoine Creek’s strains of legal cannabis is Lance, a drug dealer operating “outside the lines,” shall we say. Peddling “traditional supply,” as it’s known, Lance sells weed out of a backpack, pays no taxes, and avoids the costs of lab testing, security, health care, payroll, and packaging (except for the Ziplocs). He also didn’t need to pass a criminal background check, as is required for dispensary owners.
“I think it’s cool they legalized it,” Lance says while we sit in our usual spot in the PCC parking lot. “The chance of going to jail here is pretty much gone now, which, ya know, is a big deal. I’m happy about that. But in terms of sales, I’m down probably 30 or 40 percent.” Surprisingly, the exodus of customers isn’t for fear of being busted. “People just want variety. I have this lady baking some great cookies, but otherwise, for edibles and oils and all that crap, you need to go to a dispensary.”
Edibles—pot brownies, chocolate bars, suckers, and such—currently make up almost 50 percent of the legal-marijuana market. And that’s just the tip of the green-berg when it comes to ways to get high. The days of big ol’ bong hits, dime bags, and ditch weed are waning, being replaced by vaporizers, THC caramels, elixirs, dab kits, and a variety of concentrates, including shatter, budder, and hash oils the likes of which Cheech never saw coming.
Lance is hesitant to give me too much information about his own “farming methods,” but he will tell me he’s a middleman for two individual indoor growers in the Olympia area with several hundred plants each.
Today Lance is offering a choice of either Lemon Haze or Ghost, his most popular strain as it’s consistently “qual”—by which he means it gets you super-baked.
“My guy’s been growing for, like, 30 years, and has it down to a science,” he says. According to Lance, his supplier actually is a scientist at the University of Washington. “Smell this,” he implores, opening a giant Tupperware of Lemon Haze. I’m no cannabis connoisseur—to me, weed is weed—but I take a whiff and am impressed by the citrus tones, hints of cigar box and pungent skunk afterbite. I buy a big ol’ baggie.
I couldn’t tell you if the sinsemilla at legal dispensaries such as Cannabis City or Uncle Ike’s is better or worse than street kush; I’m sure eventually the retailers will have the best Alaskan Thundergoo and Cannabis Cup Winners ever grown. What I can tell you is that the dispensary experience, for me, is infinitely more pleasant than sitting with Lance in my car exchanging cash and awkward conversation in the dark. No offense to Lance, he’s actually a fine,interesting fellow.
If you haven’t visited a licensed dispensary in one of the legal territories, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. These aren’t your gritty Haight-Ashbury head shops with beaded curtains, psychedelic velvet wall hangings of Jimi Hendrix, and dusty shelves full of peace pipes, Hacky Sacks, and grinders galore. Rather, most recreational dispensaries (“rec shops”) have that “new-car smell”—they’re not only brightly lit, but sit in renovated buildings with high-end security and the look and feel of Apple (and not one you can make a pipe out of). They do this not only to avoid trouble with the neighbors and the federal government, but to attract a newer (more affluent) clientele. When unseasoned customers first visit, rather than feel they’ve made a drug deal, they’ll have an experience they’re familiar with, so long as they have patronized Restoration Hardware or SuperSupplements.
But no matter how hard they try, these shops can’t shake the longstanding stigma of Reefer Madness; the sinister smoke screen of the War on Drugs will require more than a few years of semilegal existence to fade. Marijuana is still a controversial subject, and rec shops are being opposed in Washington and Colorado, with city councils, church groups, and neighborhood-watch programs attempting to bar them. (Thus far more than 100 cities and counties have put a halt to marijuana businesses in Washington. Last summer the Fife City Council decided to ban pot shops, and a Pierce County Superior Court judge went along with the ordinance in August; similar rulings followed in Clark, Wenatchee, and Kennewick counties.)
Many retailers have been given licenses, but can’t find a place to set up shop, as they aren’t allowed within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, libraries, game arcades, public-transit centers, or parks. Other ordinances hindering success include limitations on signage and advertising and a ban on window displays; the sale of marketing materials is also strictly forbidden. Sure, it’s cool to sell Aunt Bessie from Omaha a big ol’ bag of Pineapple Kush that will knock her on her ass, but for Chrissakes don’t let her buy a XXXL Clear Choice Cannabis T-shirt! The best solution to the opposition in legal territory is the Oregon model: Cities can opt out of having retail stores, but they won’t receive any of the taxes collected on pot. Boo-yah!
Though Washington was slow out of the gate, the 100 rec shops that have gotten rolling are reeling it in—and then giving large chunks back in taxes. Total sales for July–December 2014 were $65 million, giving the state government more than $16 million in excise taxes to play with. Once the WSLCB gets into the groove and starts approving more applications for stores (334 will ultimately open) and new products (edibles, marijuana-infused coffees, oils, even a Weed of the Month Club!), boatloads more money will line the state coffers, enabling political pinheads who propped up prohibition to bail themselves out of debt. But while I-502 directs taxes toward infrastructure, health care, education, and substance-abuse prevention, the exact allotment percentages were left hazy, so members of the legislature have been clamoring like stoners at a dessert buffet for the sweet spoils.
It’s reasonable to argue that the legal taxes are too high, helping to keep the street trade alive. (In a triple-decker tax sandwich, pot is taxed 25 percent at multiple levels: from farmer to processor, from processor to retailer, and then from retailer to consumers, who also get hit with a 10 percent sales tax. And don’t count out the Feds—who expect another 25 percent of their drug money.) At around $10 a gram, Lance’s ganja is half the price of similar strains in recreational dispensaries. The disadvantage? Well, the black market is illegal in all 50 states, and while you may get only a $27 ticket in liberal locales like Seattle, Boulder, and Berkeley, other backwaters will lock up your ass lickety-split.
The law also results in Lance taking greater, scarier risks. For several years he’s driven a carload of bud to Texas, making around $30,000 profit for the journey. This year, to compensate for his loss to retailers, he’s taking an extra trip with his lemony-dank. If caught, he could serve massive jail time.
Lance isn’t the only one working outside the bounds of 502. While the initiative set up a framework for recreational marijuana, it didn’t address the longstanding use of medical cannabis, which has been part of our Evergreen culture since the passage of Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana initiative in 1998. Citizens passed I-692 by almost 60 percent, making our fair state one of the first of 23 (plus the District of Columbia) that have legalized medical marijuana.
As the state legislature tweaks the new law, people like Deidre Finley, owner and operator of the MMJ Universe, hang in the balance. Her business could soon be vaporized, so to speak, and potentially leave folks like those who I’m eavesdropping on at the Cannabis Farmer’s Market in rural Black Diamond without the collective’s knowledge and expertise . . . or cheap weed.
“It won’t get you stoned, Nana,” a pink-haired 20-something reassures her blue-haired grandma.
“That’s true, ma’am,” explains a vendor. “This cannabinoid oil has very low THC—the part of weed that gets you high—and is very high in CBDs.” That’s the compound in cannabis that’s no fun (and by that I mean it won’t get you stoned to the bejesus), but has been effective in treating symptoms in patients.
“Medical marijuana—and cannabis extracts—help with so many medical ailments: chronic pain. Seizures. Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, and the list goes on,” explains Finley. She’s held this farmers market on her property on weekends for several years; it’s one of nine such in Washington. “Instead of a gateway drug, they should call it an exit drug,” she says. “People come here from all over the country to have access to cannabis products that often replace pharmaceutic drugs, wean them off methadone, and of course replace alcohol.”
Finley isn’t blowing smoke: The Journal of the American Medical Association just released a report showing a 25 percent reduction in fatal painkiller-related overdoses in “420-friendly states.” “The vendors here,” it states, “are making custom formulations for patients—topicals for rheumatoid arthritis, special CBD oils for migraines that are 20 times more powerful than ibuprofen, transdermal patches for people going through chemo.”
One after another, Finley pulls me over to meet patients who use cannabis to treat their ailments: a middle-aged carpenter with MS who smokes to relax his muscle spasticity; a woman suffering from Chiari malformation who “fired her doctor”; an old man whose family was wiped out by “downwinders syndrome” (exposure to radioactive contamination) and claims he beat cancer with pot; and 65-year-old Dee Dee Baker, who was on 12 painkillers after spinal surgery.
“My doctor said I also needed knee and hip surgery for constant pain I was having,” she says. “Before I did that, I wanted to look into cannabis.” Baker had worked at Swedish Hospital for 40 years, and did her research. “I begin using low THC tinctures, and within two and a half weeks I was running up stairs again. And in two years I’d lost 102 pounds.” The MMJ circus tent was like an evangelical show, except instead of preaching about Jesus, they were being healed by the power of pot. Praise Sativus!
“502 is for getting people high,” notes Finley. “They set a minimum level of 3 percent THC. They don’t allow CBD products. Some of my patients aren’t looking to get high. And no [recreational]growers want to grow low-THC strains, as it’s not appealing or profitable. We have boutique, patient-loving growers here [at her farmers market]who are the only ones who will grow it. We need the medical system.”
No doubt not all the people milling about the farmers market are using marijuana as medicine . . . unless you count getting super-baked as stress relief. But nationally, marijuana is medicine for about two million Americans who use the herb to alleviate the affects of everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer. Whereas the country is split on recreational weed (roughly 52 percent support legalizing it for adults), an overwhelming majority—78 percent—support it for medical purposes if a doctor recommends it.
The current parallel system of recreational sales and medical use is, simply, a clusterfuck. Whereas there are only a smattering of state-licensed rec shops in the Seattle area (capped at 21), over 300 medical dispensaries have opened their doors here—many in the past few months. And among those are an unruly group of so-called medical dispensaries and delivery services that don’t check IDs and don’t follow rules related to collective gardens. The city isn’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for this new business.
“They’re creating a public-safety nightmare, frankly, and they’re undercutting the 502 stores because they’re unregulated and untaxed,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes recently. “If you’re a commercial [medical-marijuana] operation lacking a 502 license, it’s a felony operation. Period.”
Finley agrees that it isn’t perfect, but the medical system is necessary. “A lot of bad actors are taking advantage, and they need to stop calling themselves ‘medical,’ ” she says. “I’d be willing to require testing of cannabis, regulate dosages, and pay B&O taxes [which she already is doing]. But a large percentage of very sick people are also very poor people. So to charge 87 percent taxes to those who can least afford it doesn’t make sense. You don’t see big pharma paying taxes—and you don’t pay taxes on your ibuprofen. Look around; you see PTSD veterans and people with long-term illnesses. This is medicine.”
Efforts are underway to merge the marijuana outlets. Senior weed statesperson Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles is attempting to combine the parallel medical and recreation dispensaries into one system, clean up the insane tax issues, and allow for personal growing for all citizens (six plants each). Major points of contention include what taxes medical customers might pay (if any), what rules and regulations producers and growers will need to follow, and whether experienced medical dispensaries will be given licenses. This last point is particularly sticky, since medical-marijuana dispensaries have been cultivating institutional knowledge and trust with their patients for decades now.
“I’m sorry, but a 24-year-old budtender in the city isn’t going to ask about your symptoms,” says a patient at Finley’s farmers market, “or know everything these long-time dispensary operators and vendors do.”
Al Olson sure doesn’t look like he has much in common with Finley and her market full of true believers. If you didn’t see his business card or byline, you’d never guess he was a big-time burner. With his silver hair and conservative reporter’s garb, he fits right into the newsroom, the type of place he’s called home since he was 16 years old. But instead of huddling in the NBC studio, where he was a founding editor at MSNBC and worked for NBC for nearly 20 years, today Olson is holding court at literally the highest place in town: the top of the Columbia Tower, where he runs marijuana.com.
“I got my medical marijuana card in 2010, and when the editors at MSNBC found out, they told me I couldn’t write about marijuana anymore. They said because of my belief that weed ‘had medicinal value’—I could no longer be objective. Well when I was the food and wine editor for the San Jose Mercury News in the ’90s, they had no problem with me drinking wine and covering that industry!”
MSNBC eventualy relented, letting Olson file a few marijuana stories as a business reporter in late 2013, and once they began to see the traffic they were getting, let him run wild. Still, Olson didn’t like the way they covered the issue. “Mainstream media is struggling with the way they tell the weed story. They’re lazy. There aren’t two sides—there are 200 sides: health, science, lifestyle, civil rights, politics, policy, medicine. And the best thing about it is that when there’s a 50/50 split—which is where we are right now—journalism is at it’s best.”
Now Editor-in-Chief of marijuana.com, Olson was hired by a group of young tech kids out of Irvine, who created an app called Weedmaps. Along with the locally based Leafly (owned by Privateer Holdings), Olson’s employers are battling to become the Yelp for marijuana. Weedmaps knew they’d need a seasoned veteran to take them from stoney humor to the mainstream. “I’m covering the issue as an industry story, really. I’m a business journalist, and this is going to be a huge market.”
According to ArcView research, an estimated $2.7 billion of legal weed was sold in the U.S. last year (a 74% increase from the $1.5 billion in 2013). Sixteen million Americans admitted having fired up in the last month. As the ranks increase, the industry is projected to grow to $10.8 billion by 2018, and $40 billion by 2020, making it bigger business than the NFL or the organic food industry. Weedmaps is making its own bank, hauling in $30 million a year from strain reviews and dispensary advertising.
“We’re not cheerleaders for the industry,” Olson maintains, putting on his reporter’s fedora. “People are curious! We want to appeal to parents who want more information, and we also want to go after the bad guys selling snake oil and pump and dump operations. Weed’s been around for millennia—it’s not going away. For me, marijuana is the story of a lifetime.”
Obviously my own assumptions about hippies, heads, and dead-end stoners had kicked in as I prepared for the final stop on my tour, deep inside the world of marijuana activism. After sending a third e-mail confirming a meeting with Vivian McPeak, the longtime executive director of Seattle’s Hempfest politely responded, “Yes, Michael, I have you on my calendar.” I needn’t have worried—not only is McPeak the CEO of the world’s biggest marijuana gathering, he’s sharp as a tack and more organized than Martha Stewart’s spice rack.
“We’re coming up on our 25th year of doing this, and have over 1,000 trained staff and volunteers who make Hempfest possible. Permits, safety patrols, insurance, first-aid responders, Porta-Potties—we’ve got our shit together—we’re organized.”
I wondered if the band of hungry entrepreneurs hoping to get in on the Green Rush worried him. “I think it’s actually advancing the cause. Jobs, commerce, revenue, taxes; it’s part of the process of ‘normalization.’ We’ve always said we want to include everybody. Capitalists, stoners, ganjapreneurs. Everybody. So now I just want these people who are seeing the ROI potential to think about where they’d be without the hippies and longhairs who came before them.”
As McPeak points out, legalization lines up beautifully with conservative values: states’ rights, individual freedom, sound fiscal policy, American-grown industry, and smaller government. Job creation’s also a biggie. According to CannaInsider, a job-finder and business newsletter for weed, marijuana will create 200,000 new jobs this year, from hands-on gigs like edibles artisans to kush tour guides, lab techs, and web developers.
So now that pot’s no longer a subculture, but heading mainstream, is there a need for Hempfest? “More than ever. There’s no ‘legal’ pot. You pass me a joint—it’s a felony! It’s great that Initiative 502 passed, but it’s not legal to smoke marijuana at the federal level. Even at the state level, 29 grams is a misdemeanor, 40 grams a felony. Growing plants—if you’re not a patient—gets you five years in the pen. Politics trumps the law. If they wanna bust you—guess what? They will. We’re looking for equality for all under the law. We want marijuana taken off the Federal Schedule for drugs. Alcohol—which kills more people than all the other drugs combined—isn’t even on the schedule! And after that . . . ”
I had riled the man up.
Well aware that the winds can change—sometimes overnight—McPeak wanted to leave me with one more critical note: “We’ve really got great momentum, now, but it’s ours to fuck up. A guy was just making BHO oil in his apartment the other day and blew up the ex-mayor of Bellevue. That’s no good. People can’t be leaving their edibles out for some toddler to eat, they can’t be driving around impaired—that’ll blow it . . . for all of us.”
In the next 10 years, dozens more states will vote on legalization, including California, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, and Arizona in 2016. If the patterns from Washington and Colorado continue—high tax revenues; lower incidents of drunk driving, property crime, and domestic violence; and lower teen drug use—it seems likely, if not a no-brainer, that the pendulum will swing. But in all battles worth fighting for, there will be debate and resistance. And so what can we on the bold frontier of green Washington impart to those who will follow? What can trailblazers share with neophytes?
Well, for one thing, marijuana is many things to many people, but what it is not is either side of the false polarity that’s been built around it. It’s not a panacea and it’s not a gateway to hell. It’s medicine for cancer patients. It’s an escape for soccer moms. It’s a material used in paint, fuel, and plastics. It’s a cash cow for private prisons. It’s a secret hobby of middle-aged accountants. Weed is not this or that; weed is this and that. (And that. And that.) Perhaps one day there won’t be a single, monolithic image of cannabis. Perhaps, as with alcohol, people won’t be judged and labeled according to whether or not they indulge, but rather by how they act when they do. It’s tough to predict what pot will become, because we’re not even honest about what it already is.
My best guess for the future? There’ll be a cannabis section in grocery stores, similar to where the liquor section is now. It will include some THC chocolate bars, a few CBD pills (that don’t give you the buzz, but help with migraines, joint pain, and insomnia), nice selections of artisanal bud, and packs of disposable vape pens. Stiletto stoners and Costco members will load their well-labeled, hopefully organically grown cannabis products into their shopping carts—next to the granola, Chianti, heirloom tomatoes, and never-ending toilet paper rolls—and life will go on.
But we’re still a ways away from that mellow new world.
This summer, wildfires came dangerously close to Tim McCormack’s Antoine Creek Farm, and he wanted to thank the fire and police departments for not letting his dream go up in flames. ?After the fire was contained, I invited them all to party at the farm,” McCormack explained. “The Sheriff looked at me and said, “We can’t come to a pot party, man.”
Still, the CEO wanted to do something for these brave men and women. He remembered the Okanogan sheriff telling him that since weed was now legal, the new drug-smelling dogs had to be retrained not to sniff out marijuana. As a thank-you, McCormack is sponsoring the new K-9 units. Peace out, dog.
By admin — 4 years ago
A look back at the next five years.
As I write this on April 20, 2020, I’m impressed by how far the legalization movement has come since Washington and Colorado first voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. I am still alarmed we’ve not yet overturned prohibition at the federal level, but let’s take a look at how far we’ve come.
Seventeen states have now legalized cannabis, including Minnesota, Florida, and, surprisingly, Arizona. The third time was a charm for California, which finally legalized weed after ballot initiatives were defeated in both 2010 and 2016. (In each of those elections, competing ballot measures confused and divided the already-stoned masses.)
Of the 17 states to fully legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis, only Hawaii and Massachusetts passed their laws through the legislative process. Aloha State Gov. David Ige said it best: “Sure, we could have had a ballot initiative, but we’re trying to save paper.” In 2018, Oregon became the first state to repeal legal cannabis, overturning the measure it passed in 2014. (Make up your mind, Dank Ducks.)
And who would have thought that Las Vegas would become the World’s Cannabis Capital over Denver, Seattle, or Berkeley? With dozens of 420-friendly resorts, StarBud cafes on every corner, and Amsterdam-themed casinos, Vegas, thankfully, is for adults again. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas . . . because no one can remember what the hell happened in Vegas.
Marijuana is now a $26-billion-a-year industry, successfully eclipsing organic food, cosmetics, and the NFL in sales. It has also garnered more than $9 billion a year in tax revenue, funding roads, infrastructure, drug education, and the nationwide Green Electric Train system. New Jersey has shown the most dramatic turnaround, from bankruptcy in 2017 to a huge surplus after turning its Jersey Shore boardwalk back into a smoky, lowbrow bacchanal. An often-overlooked benefit of the new economy is jobs, more than 250,000 of which have been created, including web developers, specialized security, “manicurists,” and cannabis chefs.
The Green Rush has led to products and services no one could have imagined back in 2012, including the word’s first digital vape phone (iStoned), Tesla’s HempRoadster, CannaAspirin (a Privateer Holdings and Bayer joint venture), and Virgin’s Flying HotBox Airline. WeedTourism is also booming with Bud ’n’ Breakfasts, guided Ganja Artwalks, and Stoned Symphony Nights. Mergers and acquisitions have been fast and furious in Internet marijuana businesses (which, unlike the plant, can cross state lines): Leafly was purchased by Yelp, WeedHire by Monster, Weedmaps by Groupon, and Higher Ground by Time/Warner. Surprisingly, the top celebrity-endorsed weed strain was not Willie Nelson’s Reserve, Snoop Chronic, or (Bob) Marley’s Natural, but Kardashian Kush, which—according to all reviews—consistently knocks you on your gigantic ass.
Edibles currently make up 55 percent of the market, CBD oils and concentrates another 15 percent, and elixirs 23 percent, leaving flower (buds) to make up only 7 percent of marijuana sales.
In 1995 not a single state had passed a medical-marijuana law, and only 25 percent of those polled believed in legalizing the drug. By 2015, 23 states had legalized medical cannabis. As of today (4/20/20), 42 states have now passed medical-marijuana laws, leaving only eight without any form of medicinal-cannabis law on the books. (We love you, Oklahoma, but rally yer wagons: Even gay marriage is fully legal in your state now.)
Today over two and a half million Americans receive some sort of support from cannabis-related products. Shockingly, five states have even allowed health-care providers to cover and reimburse medical-marijuana patients under their policies, including the newly formed Green Group Health Cross.
Perhaps Obama’s defining moment was not his (overturned, then re-implemented) Affordable Care Act, but his last-minute 2016 Executive Order that took marijuana off the Schedule 1 list of the Controlled Substances Act and downgraded it to Schedule 2. Although Schedule 2 drugs are still deemed to have high potential for abuse, cannabis is now clearly recognized for its medical benefits, and available for prescriptions.
This controversial move by a “What the Hell Have I Got to Lose” president has allowed clinical research roadblocks to be removed, delivering conclusive proof that cannabinoids are effective on chronic seizures, shrinking brain tumors, slowing Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even helping with erectile dysfunction (who knew?). This last finding moved the last bastion of elderly white Congressmen holding up medical-marijuana legislation to act in several Southern states.
After being cultivated for more than 12,000 years, hemp was finally fully legalized in 2018 with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. Bred for its strong fiber, the sober sister to sativa has now replaced timber and concrete as the main building material in new home construction. With only trace amounts of THC, hemp is being used for clothing and rope, and hempseed oil now makes up over half the nation’s fuel supply. Hemp toilet paper, however, was a colossal flop, and we’ll leave it at that.
THE WAR ON DRUGS
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, Black Guy vs. DEA, stunned the nation by allowing states that have legalized marijuana to release and expunge records for individuals who had been convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes. This ruling opened the floodgates for hundreds of thousands of (mostly African-American) men who had been incarcerated for crimes which are now minor infractions or fully legal. The case has led to nationwide changes in drug policy, redirecting an estimated $50 billion a year that had been previously spent on the War on Drugs to address more serious crimes (not to mention giving each and every U.S. citizen free cable for life). Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts commented, “In this particular case, it pains me to be consistent with my own values of states rights, individual liberties, unobtrusive government, and the pursuit of happiness.”
IT’S NOT ALL GOOD
As with any major public-policy change, there have been missteps in the movement. After plowing his golf cart into a set of extras on SuperBad 4, actor Seth Rogen became the first celebrity convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana. Blowing into a drugalyzer, Rogen registered a record THC level of 50 nanograms per milliliter. (Anything over five nanograms is the legal limit in Colorado.) America’s “If some is good, more is better” philosophy is kicking many smokers in the head, with THC levels skyrocketing to record heights. And while cannabis has still not been responsible for a single death the world over, the trend of “dabbing” (combusting highly concentrated cannabis with blowtorches and dab-rigs) is not only making pot smokers look like crack addicts, but energizing the “This is Your Brain on Dabs” antidrug crowd.
An active opposition still funds anti-marijuana campaigns (including Recall Cannabis efforts in legal states), primarily funded by the Koch Brothers (RIP), who left behind a massive Memorial Justice (MJ) endowment.
Sadly, many of our war veterans still do not have access to medical marijuana, which even back in 2015 had been proven to treat PTSD, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, veterans fear being drug-tested, losing their jobs, or having their children and pensions taken away in the event that a less-favorable administration increases enforcement.
ACTIVIST NETWORKS AND THE MOVEMENT
Like MLK, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Harvey Milk before them, new activists are launching a marijuana movement involving personal rights, legal justice, and public involvement. These “Green Raiders” include Sen. Alison Holcomb (a key player with the ACLU and Initiative 502); now-Senator Barbara Lee (D-CA); New York Stock Exchange President Troy Dayton (previously of the ArcView Group); “Fuckit I Quit” Governor Charlo Greene (AK); U.S. Cannabis Ambassador Rick Steves; and newly appointed Hemp Czar Vivian McPeak (previously of Seattle Hempfest). This green group of pot evangelists is leading the way on organic standards for the industry, living wages ($25 an hour), thriving community unions, carbon-neutral chronic, and, most important, citizen empowerment on a host of vital issues.
Overall, legalization in 2020—as a (still) relatively new public experiment—is going swimmingly. With 20/20 vision, it’s clear the end of prohibition is in sight.
This article first appeared in the Seattle Weekly