This Dispatch comes in the form of the guest column I was asked to write for the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD)’s summer newsletter. This venerable and august group comprises the folks from twenty-three countries who brought me across the Pond last year to deliver a United Nations address we had collaboratively crafted.
Funny story: I found out I was delivering the address some minutes before it was to begin, after ENCOD’s founder Joep Oomen had his credentials stripped outside the Vienna session in a street theater misunderstanding.
In bestowing on me the assignment to update EU citizens about developments in U.S. cannabis policy, I see that the indefatigable Joep has also provided me a solid way to update folks in the States and elsewhere at this important phase of the total drug policy shift we’re seeing worldwide.
By Doug Fine
I’d like to start by recognizing that ENCOD is an organization devoted to legalizing all “drugs.” Because my research has been in the field of cannabis/hemp (often literally), I stick to it in this newsletter.
It’s another sign of victory in the long war to which this twenty-two-year-old organization is dedicated that we’re able to discuss recently inconceivable topics. I know some of you in ENCOD’s two dozen member nations have a few catch-up steps to take. But I live in your future so I know you will. Yep, I’m aware of that one Stone Age politician holding things up.
I’m pleased to report we’re at the stage of arguing about the mode of cannabis cultivation that is best for humanity as increasing percentages of us come to live under Drug Peace. In the U.S. more than half the population enjoys at least legal medicinal cannabis today, and radically new policy is evolving rapidly nearly everywhere: I’ve had strategy calls with folks in Missouri and Ohio this week.
Only for a short while longer will I be able to describe my reporting as coming “from the the front lines.” Since Joep requested an update on U.S. cannabis/hemp policy, I thought I’d start close to home.
This past year in my state of New Mexico, three connected events took place:
1) Our politically divided state legislature united to legalize hemp (already legal for research on the federal level). This hemp cultivation wording allowed our farmers, many trapped in a water-and-pesticide-heavy monoculture cycle, to join the first wave in hemp’s massive comeback. My state had gotten it together on a bill on which I had worked! God bless democracy.
One problem arose, though. We awoke one morning last April to find the bill vetoed by our Governor.
So now, embarrassingly, I live in a state at risk of lagging behind in the North American race to embrace hemp’s potential. That potential — including hemp’s drought-readiness and high market price — is why both major political parties and the state farmer’s union endorsed our hemp bill. It had almost no opposition.
After years of covering the game, I don’t usually get so worked up about politics, but this unconscionable veto affected my family, directly: with federal and state legalization dialed in, we would have cut thousands of carbon miles out of our human (and goat) diet this year. Hemp seed oil, most readers of this newsletter will know, is a nutritive superfood. It’s also expensive to import when your family eats about half the world supply. Oh well, we’ll try again next year.
By the time of the New Mexico veto, twenty-four U.S. states (now twenty-six) had legislated hemp cultivation, allowing their farmers and entrepreneurs to hop on the double-digit hemp economic growth train.
2) The people of New Mexico’s two biggest counties voted overwhelmingly to legalize all varieties of cannabis, in a non-binding election. Though we are a medical cannabis state, we don’t have statewide ballot initiatives in the Land of Enchantment, unlike the lucky residents of first wave legalization states such as Colorado and Oregon. So we have to endure, for a short while longer, a state administration that is on the wrong side of history. Our non-liberal neighbor Arizona, by contrast, is a shoo-in for full legalization in 2016. Why wouldn’t it be? Arizonans have an endocannabinoid system, too.
And 3) Our Monsoon rains came on-time last month. Some of you on the Atlantic Coast – in Galway, Bordeaux or Lisbon – might have heard the collective sigh of relief all of southern New Mexico heaved as moisture returned to our cells and hummingbirds to the datura blossoms. Monsoon season, the ecstatic and particularly blessed time of year here in the high desert (July and August), is when we’re supposed to get ninety percent of our precipitation.
It’s getting to be a rare occurrence for the Monsoon to start on time, or at all. Except for those years when it Biblically floods. In my line of work, sustainability journalism, the planetary situation is entwined with the return of cannabis. Which is to say, I’ve been researching whether and how widespread hemp cultivation can help mitigate climate change.
It had better. I don’t know if the atmospheric reality in Europe is as terrifyingly in-your-face as ours. Is that Gulf Stream still keeping you temperate while Greenland’s ice holds?
The change has already come to New Mexico. We’re getting used to millennial floods something like every other year, and a fire in 2013 caused a refugee bear to kill most of my family’s dairy providers and meditation partners: our goats.
The photo you see atop this newsletter shows the season’s daily Cumulonimbus formations building over the world’s largest open pit copper mine, which is half an hour from my solar-powered ranch. I like the clouds. Do we need the copper?
We need some of it, no doubt, for now. I’m sure there are yards (excuse me, metres) of copper in my putative Tesla. This is the one I’m trying to convince E. Musk to make: it comes standard with hemp paneling and solar-charged hemp fiber battery.
Since we’re in climate mitigation overtime, for me the most exciting part of my work describes the genuine, real world market performance that hemp and other natural fibers are incontrovertibly showing. Watch for (or, better yet, be part of) hemp apps ranging from energy storage to replacements for petrochemical plastics, epoxies and others among the most explicitly toxic components of our industrial output. You know, the stuff that’s brought us to the brink.
Not in my food, please. Many of you know that my goats bestow much of my protein. The yogurt I’ve been meaning to clean from my keyboard, for instance, originated fifty feet away, in the very animals at the moment yelling for their sunset milking outside my office window. Because of this reality, my lifestyle is part of my journalistic research. One literally feeds the other.
As such, let me remind us all: cannabis is a plant. Call me crazy, but I don’t welcome spray-on poison into my body with my broccoli, and I certainly don’t want to with any herb that’s in my diet. Furthermore, just as important as soil and water input, is energy input. There is this fantastic energy source, one that plants really like, called the sun. I’m a lobbyist for it.
We who are engaging cannabis’ re-emergence represent the front end of a new economy, and, because the people, planet-wide, increasingly support us in that effort, we can craft, broadcast and implement the ethical rules for the Drug Peace Era. (Here is where I wanted to talk about coming changes in international drug policy, but I promised Joep that I’d keep the newsletter under two thousand words. So my two Euros on the coming United Nations Special Session addressing the three international narcotic drugs conventions — #UNGASS16 — will come another time.)
If you take only one kernel from this newsletter, I hope it’s this: I believe that every business decision (in any field), from power source at headquarters to the fuel powering the delivery vehicles, must consider environmental impact a core principle. The first question I’ll ask when you come with a business idea is, “What does your long-term climatic planning look like?” See, half my forest is burned. It looks like meadows of tar-covered toothpicks.
We all know that for cannabis to realize its humanity-helping potential, it must be cultivated sustainably. From there, insistence that the emerging cannabis industry should foster organic-style, small-batch locavore farming is a no-brainer.
The industry I support farms outdoors when possible (sun’s free), supplemented by light deprivation in real, local soil greenhousing when necessary. Low energy, full spectrum LED lighting technology — for supplementing natural light in wet or winter conditions — has been advancing by leaps and bounds. It’s not impossible in your climate: friends in Colorado wheel their entire garden outside for a few hours of divine solar wavelengths even in the depths of Rocky Mountain winter. As well, I’d love it if we’d all take some time to learn about the benefits of a robust native soil microbiology.
Long-term Drug Peace victory, I believe, requires an open mind and awareness that the cannabis world is evolving quickly. We can steer it any way we like. The really good news is I believe next generation business models that strive for a win-win among farmer/producer, Earth, customer, entrepreneur/investor/co-op member and everyone involved along the chain are actually going to prevail in the real world. And not just in the marketplace, but by providing healthier diets, clean energy, restored soil, and higher quality water. Maybe even a stabilized climate.
That is, if we can educate our own community about the importance of cannabis’ regenerative return. In preaching the sustainable cannabis message, I understand that prohibition necessitates hidden gardens. I hereby express my profound gratitude to the brave cultivators who provided this important herb at great risk during the dark days of prohibition.
Those days, thank heaven, are numbered. Which is why I propose that we prepare for the coming victory. What’s the source of my confidence? Polls. We now have fully legal cannabis in four U.S. States (and counting), plus the District of Columbia (DC), which supported cannabis with sixty-five percent of the vote (great work by Adam Eidenger and the Measure 71 team). We’re at fifty-eight percent of Americans supporting full cannabis legalization. That number increases with every national poll, even among older voters and self-described conservatives. They have endocannabinoid systems, too.
Last month, more than one hundred Republican and one hundred Democratic U.S. congressmen and women voted to prohibit federal interference in state hemp laws. It’s our most bipartisan issue. And it’s a major one, with the New York Times editorial board opining just last week that federal movement on legalization is not moving rapidly enough.
Even conservative states like Texas and Virginia could join the crowded field of states that legalize in 2016. The only question is “when will the Big Change come on the federal level?” If the U.S. Congress removes cannabis from our Controlled Substances Act (CSA) entirely when it reconvenes this month, much of the nation will shrug.
Few in the drug policy field believe our current President will veto any progressive plan. He might even issue a helpful executive order. But millions of us are watching potential successors for their cannabis views and priority levels, in case it’s not all solved, federally, by 2016. I think cannabis will be removed from the CSA within three years – by 2018, allowing states to regulate it as they wish, similar to beer.
Here I direct appreciation to voters in the states that legalized before it was common. Of these fantastically impactful citizen-driven state legalizations, the ones that allow home cultivation are the best: Oregon is a great model written by my friend Anthony Johnson and the terrific Measure 91 crew.
Thrillingly, each wave of legalizations allows better citizen initiatives (and state legislative efforts) to follow, as more and more Americans see the success (in tax coffers and public safety increases) of the early legalization efforts in the real world. Now we have momentum.
Beyond the actual legalization wording, here’s what I look for in an initiative or bill: to my mind, cannabis prohibition is over when anyone can cultivate in a home garden. Any talk of patenting an herb is absurd.
We also need to completely transform red-districting of cannabis into awareness that legal cannabis increases community safety, economy and quality of life. I just thought of a slogan: “Yes, please, in my backyard.” Or, to paraphrase a dispensary owner I covered in Too High to Fail, please remove the real dangers (the bar and pharmacy) in my neighborhood and replace them with a cannabis lounge.
On the commercial side, small batch cultivation must be codified, with tax breaks for sustainable cultivation. This “craft brew” sector, which in the cannabis world is comprised of folks Michael Pollan calls “the best farmers of my generation,” was worth eight billion dollars per year to independent beer brewers in 2010.
Put all that in an initiative, perhaps topping Oregon’s acceptably friendly half-pound possession and four-plant home garden limits, and then, I think, we have at least allowed ourselves to reap the benefits of the Drug Peace with a fair trade and organic mindset.
Mapping to European models, this ethic applies whether you call yourself a social club, an entrepreneurial venture, or a collective (or even a non-profit or an educational institution). I don’t care so much about categories as practices.
Already, the federal bureaucracy is no longer the problem in the States. I’ll give you a personal example: not only did a Kentucky project I was working with receive a federal permit to cultivate hemp this past spring (with invaluable support from the state Agriculture department). When the permit needed to be amended, the good folks at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration did so within seventy-two hours. It used to take seventy-seven years.
Even Katie Couric, perhaps our most mainstream newscaster, has been explaining to every American housewife why the return of ganja (her word choice) is to the good.
With or without official help, the hemp industry is growing twenty-four percent per year, and seeds are in the soil from sea to shining sea in the American heartland. California’s medicinal cannabis industry pays one hundred million dollars in sales taxes annually. Therein the cynical will find their favorite explanation for the war’s end. Fine with me.
It’s not all milk and honey. We’ve seen politics interfering in Oregon, an important but controversial legalization effort in Ohio, penny stock speculators playing their cards, and difficulty importing hemp seeds.
But I leave you with this, my European friends: if your über-celebrity newscaster can issue a truthful cannabis report to your nation’s most conservative viewers, you are in good shape. If not, let’s redouble our efforts, and let me know how I can help.
During 2013’s five-nation Too High to Fail European tour, even tour organizers (and true Drug Peace heroes) Michel Degens and Derrick Bergman had doubts about the “we’ve already won” certainty I brought across the Pond like some kind of exotic spice. Just two years later, I hope, we all know the end is in sight. Just in time.
As I heed the braying call to the goat milking (see below for the newest Funky Butte Ranch kids, Feist and Mork) a prayer is on my lips that the Monsoon rains will continue for another year.
Also on my mind is the question around which I hope we’ll frame at least some of this year’s discussion: how can we best set the opposition’s terms of surrender so history will remember us as kind, effective, and regenerative?