Chem Tales: Some Growers Are Still Unsure About Prop. 64
By Alex Halperin // October 26, 2016
One striking aspect of Proposition 64 — also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (or AUMA) — which polls predict will legalize pot in Californianext month is that its support comes from the mainstream center-left while failing in many cases to capture the excitement of the most committed legalization activists.
In pro-cannabis circles, it’s often said that Proposition 19, the unsuccessful 2010 initiative to legalize recreational pot, failed because it didn’t have support from Northern California’s growers. But other factors, like choosing a midterm year — when voters tend to be more conservative — contributed as well. And the fact that the activist class saw it as too friendly to big business probably didn’t help, either.
This year is different. Legalizing is no longer a novel concept. It has been done in multiple states with generally well-received results. There doesn’t seem to be any stopping it, though many of the most committed activists have chosen to withhold their support. Activists for all causes can allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but criticisms of AUMA from those most devoted to cannabis have real bite.
In my last column, I looked at some of the ads that cannabis legalization opponents are using to sway voters before Election Day, in what could be the last real chance to hold up legalization. Prohibitionist ads tend to exaggerate the downsides seen in states that have legalized marijuana and emphasize the degree to which legalization will expose kids to the drug — or at least marketing for it. Some of the spots show photos of dirty stoner types.
This week, I looked at the pro-legalization ads, and it’s worth saying what they don’t do. They don’t show anyone using marijuana.
Instead, they fall into two broad categories. In the first, parents, retired cops, and other authority figures — almost all of them White — emphasize how strictly marijuana will be regulated under the proposed rule.
For almost a century, a pot prohibitionist could say anything. The 1936 movie Reefer Madness was so exaggerated in its propagandizing against marijuana that the film’s title itself became a synonym for over-the-top alarmism.
Decades later, a new phase of prohibition began. As Nancy Reagan would later recall, she was touring an Oakland elementary school in 1982 when a girl asked what to do if a friend offers her drugs.
“Just say no,” Nancy Reagan answered. The phrase, which evidence suggests was devised in a New York advertising agency, set the tone for global drug policy for more than a decade and has since contributed to the quadrupling of the country’s prison population, now 2 million.
Once a season, Mason Jar’s Kendal Norris hosts elaborate parties for adults to enjoy marijuana amid other mature pleasures, like good food and conversation. On Sunday, I accepted an invitation to Mason Jar’s latest outing.
A weed-friendly party bus picked guests up in Denver and delivered us into a bucolic autumn scene: Dark wood tables handsomely set amid the resplendent foliage. A bluegrass band unpacked their instruments by a burbling brook. Behind them, a sheer vertical cliff loomed, glowing pink as the sun set.
Stepping off the bus, a man said that he’d dreamed of something like this. I knew what he meant. It felt like entering a snow globe or a J.Crew catalog.
Chem Tales: What Will the Bayer-Monsanto Merger Mean for Cannabis?
By Alex Halperin // September 28, 2016
In mid-September, the giant German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer agreed to buy the U.S. agriculture company Monsanto for $66 billion in what will be one of the largest corporate mergers in history. If the acquisition clears regulatory hurdles in about 30 countries, the new entity will be a globe-spanning colossus with immense resources and deep expertise in drugs, pesticides, and agriculture — including genetically modified crops.
According to press releases, the new company will reward shareholders while also improving farming tools and techniques so that the planet can produce enough food for 10 billion people by 2050. (The world population is currently 7 billion.) What goes unsaid in the corporate handouts as well as in most news reports is that the new megacompany will also be positioned to dominate legal cannabis all over the world.
Earlier this month, the East Bay-based Center for Investigative Reporting published a harrowing investigation on sex trafficking and abuse in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, the country’s premier marijuana growing region.
Every fall, migrant workers, known as “trimmigrants,” flock to Humboldt and neighboring counties for the promise of good wages and a good time trimming the excess foliage from the harvested flower. The work is monotonous, and days are long, but weed, alcohol, and other drugs pass the time.
As reporter Shoshana Walter describes it, the working conditions seem designed to maximize sexual exploitation. Much trimming occurs in remote wilderness, far from major roads and out of cellphone range. At some sites, women earn more for trimming topless. Trimmigrants are strangers in a secretive, outlaw community where they are at the mercy of their employers. Meanwhile, law enforcement is understaffed and often more interested in uncovering illegal grows than prosecuting locals accused of violence.
Chem Tales: Social Use of Pot Is Next Frontier in Legal Fight
By Alex Halperin // September 14, 2016
On Election Day, Denverites will vote on an initiative to allow cannabis consumption in bars, nightclubs, and other businesses that opt in. If it passes, establishments with permission from their neighborhood association and the city will be able to set aside a space where guests over 21 can indulge.
Officially, public consumption is not permitted in Colorado. Edibles are discreet enough that people can get high where they choose, but there’s no place for a few friends to share a smoke. Since locals can go home, this is mainly an inconvenience for tourists.
So far, no legal state except Alaska allows for social consumption, and Alaska’s program isn’t yet operational. If California’s recreational initiative passes, it will allow local governments to grant permits to businesses for consumption within certain parameters. Social consumption adds a new dimension to the legalization experiments.
In March, the Boston Globe published an opinion piece headlined, “Mass. should not legalize marijuana.” It was co-authored by Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, and by the state’s attorney general and the mayor of Boston, both Democrats.
To my mind, the piece paints an excessively grim picture of the health and safety situation in Colorado and perhaps of the impact of legalization on youth use.
The bigger problem with this line of argument is that the known downsides of legalization, no matter how forcefully described, don’t amount to what most Americans consider justification for prohibiting something. From what we’ve seen in states that have legalized marijuana, the negative impacts of legalization are nowhere near as severe as those of goods such as alcohol, tobacco, guns, or prescription opioids.
A few years into the state legalization experiment, we know one big thing: A legal marijuana industry can function more or less like any other kind of business.
What don’t we know? Pretty much everything else. We don’t know what legalization will mean for youth marijuana use, or which medical conditions marijuana can treat. With less than three full years of legalization in Colorado and Washington state, there’s still very little data.
There are, of course, statistics that can be wielded for partisan advantage. Take road safety, a favorite issue for legalization opponents. Project SAM, the most prominent U.S. anti-pot group, said in a February report that in Colorado, the number of driving fatalities in which the driver tested positive for THC climbed from 6.9 percent in 2006 to 19.3 percent in 2014, the first full year of legalization.
CHEM TALES: As Legalization Nears, Serious Coverage of Green Rush Lacking
By Alex Halperin // August 24, 2016
My first encounter with the cannabis industry was in November 2014 at a marijuana business conference in Las Vegas. At the time, the plant was not part of my life, but the story of a federally illegal drug at the center of the country’s fastest growing industry seemed like an incomparably rich subject. Soon, I was making plans to move to Denver to cover the business story of the decade.
Almost two years in, I still think legalization is both inherently fascinating and historically important. It’s been a source of puzzlement to me why there aren’t more reporters who agree. In its implications for American life, legalization is up there with marriage equality, Black Lives Matter and perhaps even climate change, but it hasn’t generated the same kind of national debate.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision last week not to reschedule marijuana highlights the absurdities of its pre-election limbo.
Marijuana will remain a Schedule I drug, meaning that the federal government doesn’t recognize any of its medical uses and considers it to have high potential for abuse. “This decision isn’t based on danger,” DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg told NPR. “This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine … and it’s not.”
In one sense, Rosenberg is correct. Cannabis, the plant itself, has not gone through the clinical trials necessary to be approved as a pharmaceutical. But chemicals found in marijuana, even Rosenberg has acknowledged, have medical potential.
Recently in Denver, Donald Trump told a television station that states should decide for themselves whether or not to legalize marijuana. Trump has expressed contradictory views in the past, but this is one of his more believable campaign promises.
If Trump believes in anything besides himself, it's in the virtue of making money. He allocated a prime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention to Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who — aside from celebrities — is the most prominent businessperson to get his hands green. Thiel's Founders Fund invested millions in Privateer Holdings, the parent company of weed site Leafly and cannabis brand Marley Natural. Like every speaker at either party's conventions, Thiel declined to mention the plant, but he has a stake in the industry's future.