Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Modern-Day Reefer Madness: MJ "Dangerous Gateway Drug," Will Get You Deported, Homeland Security Says

John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security and part of President Donald Trump's dusty old fossil cabinet, has a message for all Americans straight outta 1956 ...  or 1972 ... or 1984:

"Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs."

Kelly, who also submitted the poster at right as evidence for his claims, added that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States."

Kelly's words speak to yet another bizarre and terrifying spectacle unfolding in Donald Trump's America: Latinos who have done nothing else wrong besides smoke pot - even medicinally, even in one of the many states where medical or recreational pot is legal - kiss your family, job and adopted home country goodbye. President Trump thanks you for all the taxes you paid while you were here, so he can go have fun at Mar-a-Lago.

What about all the white people living in states with legal MJ who break federal law every time they light up? If Kelly was serious about applying "federal law," he and Jeff Sessions would be invading Colorado, California, and the dozens of other states with legal pot users. Luckily for those states, he's only serious about enforcing "federal law" on the most vulnerable of people, because Trump's administration is the equivalent of a schoolyard bully - wanting to appear tough by pushing around those it can for whatever reason it can, while cowardly ignoring those who are able to stand up for themselves.

Okay, Kelly's had his say. Now let ME be clear about marijuana: it is not a gateway drug. The media knows it. Scientists know it. Almost everyone who has read any credible book or article about weed knows it. Simply repeating an untrue statement for decades does not make it any more true.

Of course, this is the Trump Administration w're talking about, with Jeff Sessions, a latter-day George Wallace who still believes that locking people up for 180 years will fix a non-existent crime problem, at the helm of the Justice Department. 

So I don't exactly expect anyone in the admin to be truthful about anything. But I feel it is my duty as a historian to remind people that Reefer Madness is alive and well in the present, even as there doesn't appear to be a reversal of widespread marijuana legalization anytime soon. 

Marijuana is not a "gateway drug" or a "narcotic." Even the descriptor "potentially dangerous" exaggerates the worst effects of marijuana use. No one has died from its consumption. Caffeine withdrawals are more intense. Based on the dozens of interviews I've conducted and on the dozens of books I've read about pot over the last three years, I'd even say that there is a blurred line between "medicinal" and "recreational" use; whether they realize it or not, many so-called "recreational users" smoke pot to cope with everyday ailments such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, and moodiness. These are not necessarily diagnosable conditions, yet marijuana helps treat them.

The new baseline for how everyone should talk about weed is something like this: "Marijuana is a medicine procured from one of the world's oldest and most widespread crops. Like all medicines, it has benefits, side-effects, and detrimental effects that vary from user to user and need to be understood in an empirical context based on experience and scientific evidence." 

As far as I'm concerned, in the age of the anti-information and anti-human Trump Administration, ALL marijuana use is medicinal.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pre-Order the Hempiricist's Book and Get 30% Off!

Marijuana legalization is unfolding across the American West, but cultivation of the cannabis plant is anything but green. Unregulated outdoor grows are polluting ecosystems, high-powered indoor grows are churning out an excessive carbon footprint, and the controversial crop is becoming an agricultural boon just as the region faces an unprecedented water crisis.  

Understanding how we got here and how the legal cannabis industry might become more environmentally sustainable is the focus of my new book, Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West, coming this October by way of Oregon State University Press!

Pre-order the book here, and use promo code F17 to get 30% off your copy!

More from the pre-publication flyer: 

"Grass Roots looks at the history of marijuana growing in the American West, from Mexican American growers on sugar beet farms to today’s sophisticated greenhouse gardens. Over the past eighty years, federal marijuana prohibition has had a multitude of consequences, but one of the most important is also one of the most overlooked—environmental degradation. Grass Roots argues that the most environmentally negligent farming practices, such as indoor growing, were borne out of prohibition, and now those same practices are continuing under legalization. 

Grass Roots uses cannabis’s history as a crop to inform its regulation in the present, highlighting current efforts to make the marijuana industry more sustainable. There are many social and political histories of cannabis, but in considering cannabis as a plant rather than as a drug, Grass Roots offers the only agriculturally focused history of cannabis to-date." 

About the Author
Nick Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in American history from Colorado State University. A former freelance journalist in his home state of Illinois, Nick now lives in Longmont, Colorado, and works as associate editor of the online Colorado Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Report Finds Dozens of Women Abused at No. Cal. Marijuana Farms

Today I stumbled across this awful, yet not-so-surprising investigative report that details how dozens of women, and likely more, are sexually abused on pot farms in the Emerald Triangle:
“Women believe they are getting hired for trimming work, and then they’re drugged and raped,” said Maryann Hayes Mariani, a coordinator for the North Coast Rape Crisis Team. “Everybody looks at (the region) like it’s the Land of Oz. I’m just so tired of pretending like it’s not happening here.”
Like most other industries, institutions, and organizations in the twenty-first century, the marijuana industry is plagued by sexism and sexual exploitation. Despite the growing number of women  working in legal weed, the majority of growers, drug policy reformers, and business owners are men, setting up an unequal power balance in which women can be harassed and abused without punishment for the harassers and abusers.

Even the act of pot farming itself relies on female exploitation: only female cannabis plants produce marijuana, and once they are pollinated, the flowers cease producing psychoactive resin. Thus, the goal of marijuana cultivation is essentially to isolate and sexually starve the female plants, so they keep coating their flowers with resin until they expire.

There is a sad irony in the fact that female bud trimmers are taken advantage of sexually in the same space where female cannabis plants are sexually starved - both women and female plants are manipulated to please male growers.

Abuse Under the Trees

Of course, since plants aren't people, only the women are victims. And per the Reveal investigation, just as the remote wilderness of northern California makes it very difficult for authorities to find illegal pot grows, it also makes it difficult for those same authorities to confirm women's stories of sexual exploitation. For that reason, many women decline to report their horrible experiences to the police. Disturbingly, still others never show up again:
"The number of trimmigrants who go missing alone is overwhelming for law enforcement, fueling an epidemic of the lost. In 2015, Humboldt County reported 352 missing people, more per capita than any other county in the state."
The secretive environment in which all northern California pot growers operate has also given rise to an underground sex trade, in which young women post advertisements online claiming to be "trimmers," then sell themselves to lonely male growers in the hills. Pimps also run rings on the north coast, bringing a parallel tier of female exploitation to the area. Prostitution can bring these women as much as $500 an hour - far more than they would make simply trimming.

So to recap: we have dozens of women who are sexually abused and exploited in their positions as seasonal weed trimmers; men who are on dangerous power trips as the heads of the region's most lucrative industry; a lack of willingness and ability on behalf of law enforcement to find and punish abusers; and an online escort business that feeds into male growers' fantasies of having powerless, sexually available women around them for the right price - whether they're paying them for "work" or explicitly for sex.

Will Legalization Help?

The theme running through all of these events is the remote and quasi-lawless environment of northern California - a continuity that has existed since the beginning of white American settlement in the area, through alcohol prohibition and the twentieth-century logging industry, all the way to the present marijuana scene. Indeed, the area's remoteness and secretive culture are the main reasons why the Reveal piece is not optimistic that California's recent vote to legalize pot will help the situation.

But I'm not so sure that legalization can't at least provide opportunities to stop these abuses. For one thing, legalization is bound to make the culture surrounding marijuana cultivation far less secretive, even in remote places. For another, an ideal legalization rollout would include resource packages and a firm directive to local law enforcement to deal with sexual predation, prostitution, and other black-market problems in the marijuana industry. The state could fund this by earmarking a certain amount of legal marijuana sales taxes for law enforcement and drug treatment programs, like Colorado does.

Of course, since rape victims are also routinely mistreated and disrespected by law enforcement, there is no guarantee that any of this offers a permanent solution. After reading about the awful experiences of these women in northern California, however, I guess I'd just prefer to hope.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sessions confirmed as AG - Should Legal Weed be Worried?

It is official: Jeff Sessions, the man with a proven record of opposition to black people voting, is the new US Attorney General.

The ascension of a classic, George Wallace-type Southern racist to the nation's highest law enforcement position does not bode well for American civil rights in general, but his harsh positions on race, drugs, and crime make him a natural opponent of legal marijuana industries operating in several states. Since Sessions has not yet made it clear whether marijuana will be a priority for his Justice Department, that is all that we can be sure of at the moment.

Yet, as "Radical Russ" over at the blog Weed News pointed out back in January, there are still plenty of good reasons for the legal weed industry to be scared of a Sessions-led JD. The quintessential prohibitionist, Sessions has said that "good people don't smoke marijuana," and he was once overheard saying (he says he was joking) that he thought some members of the KKK were okay, until he found out they smoked pot.

But, as Russ points out, the most concrete reason for worry in the weed industry might not be Sessions but the President:
"... let’s pretend Trumplethinskin really believes in the sovereignty of the states in matters of marijuana policy. Which states will he lean toward, the legal marijuana states which, all but Alaska, voted for Hillary – and their states’ rights to sell marijuana in stores? Or the prohibition states that make up his base and their states’ right to not have legal marijuana flowing across their borders?"
This kind of childish political retribution seems to be well within the realm of Donald Trump's cavalcade of impulses. He has a penchant for staging dramatic acts of retaliation against those he feels has wronged him and he could easily have the Sessions JD drop the hammer on Left Coast marijuana as punishment for all the liberals who sneered and doubted him in the campaign.

Any action against legal marijuana would be a travesty. Far from simply a movement to let people smoke pot in peace, ending the War on Drugs is a Civil Rights campaign. For more than a hundred years, drugs have been an excuse for law enforcement to disproportionately stigmatize, stereotype, harass, beat, arrest, imprison, disenfranchise, shoot, and kill black, brown, and LGBT Americans.

It would also be a travesty because legalization is working. In Colorado, for instance, not only do thousands of people not get harassed and arrested over pot, but the state is collecting much-needed tax revenue, a portion of which goes to school construction; the state enforces rigorous rules on product labeling, grow site security, pesticide use, and other aspects of the industry; there is no indication of a weed-related public health crisis; and teenagers are not using marijuana at a higher rate than before legalization.

Of course, the rollout hasn't been perfect. Among other issues, minorities are still being unfairly targeted for illegal use. But this all a far cry from the days of prohibition, when simply possessing enough of the herb could land you in prison. In short, it is virtually impossible to argue that legalization has been the abject failure that so many prohibitionists assured us it would be.

While the GOP as a whole is likely to back any kind of crackdown on legalization, there is at least one Republican in Congress who will not. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, California, has just introduced a bill that would exempt consumers and businesses from federal drug laws if they are acting in accordance with state laws. Of course, the bill has no chance of passing, but I see it as an honorable effort.

Stay tuned - I may not be sure what will happen, but I am sure that this is only the tip of the Sessions blog post iceberg.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

CA Winemakers Fear Competition From Legal Pot

The wine industry in California is worried that legal marijuana is stealing its labor and its kicks, according to a report on Fortune's website.

Writer John Kell explains how the wine industry is actually "crushing it" thanks to "the coveted millenial generation," but it is worried about higher wages in the marijuana industry pulling away migrant workers and that more adults might choose to get buzzed on weed over wine. And apparently, Kell notes that this concern is backed up by some real data:

"Cowen & Co. analyst Vivien Azer issued a widely cited report late last year that said there were signs cannabis sales were hurting demand for beer across several states where marijuana was legal. Domestic big beer brands like Bud Light and Coors Light appeared to face the greatest competitive threat to cannabis, while imported beers looked the most immune."

Personally, if that data is accurate, I don't see a problem there. First, both of those giant beer companies make awful beer that no self-respecting person should buy anyway. Second, alcohol is by far a more harmful and addictive substance than pot, and it will be hard to argue that society is any worse off if more people are smoking weed instead of drinking. That said, I don't think the major beer industries need to worry about their profits - worrying that people aren't going to buy Coors Light is like worrying they won't buy Coca Cola. Even if fewer people buy, corporate beer profits are going to remain enormous.

The wine industry's concerns about labor seepage to weed farms may be legitimate, especially now that California is going to attempt full-on legalization. But the idea that winemakers will sell less product solely because of weed is, I think, a bit paranoid. It comes down to consumer choice, and the people who buy wine generally like it way too much to quit it, even if they like their weed, too. 

The race to get American brains buzzing isn't a zero-sum game. Americans have been smoking herb and drinking booze - sometimes at the same time, sometimes not - for decades. In fact, because both products tend to attract the "connoisseur," I could see wine-weed pairings happening, especially in California. Look, there's even this guide that tells you how to pair the two substances! Overall, the competition between makers of wine and weed should be more friendly than fierce.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Forbes: "Five Ways that Trump May or May Not Affect Legal Cannabis, Maybe"

The news media is normally speculative, but lately it seems like the whirlwind of what-ifs and might-bes associated with the newly inaugurated Trump administration has every reporter's head spinning. This confusion is, of course, a by-product of covering Trump himself, as he routinely backtracks and makes contradictory statements. But there's also the fact that all this juicy speculation makes for some extra-tempting click bait.

Consider this round-up of headlines from various websites, procured through a simple Google search:

"What if Trump is worse than Obama?"

"Many What-Ifs in Donald Trump’s Plan for Migrants"

And, as usual, CNN had the weirdest/most subtly violent headline, running with this on January 19:

"Assassination of Trump Would Keep Obama’s Administration in Power"

I'll leave the rest of the internet to contend with CNN's poor choice of headline and "story," but the point I'm making is that this kind of useless speculo-journalism seems to have increased as one of the most controversial presidents in history begins his first term, and no issue, not even cannabis, has escaped.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jeff Sessions: The Man Who Liked the KKK, Until He Found Out Some of Them Smoked Pot

Jeff Sessions, next Attorney General of the Confederacy United States
President-elect Donald Trump has picked Jeff Sessions, an old racist US senator from Alabama, to be the nation's next Attorney General. Sessions defended Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the US and has been a hardliner on illegal immigration for his entire career. His actions in the legislature  suggest that he's one of many influential Republicans who believes there's a certain "good" kind of American (straight and white), and that the rest deserve as hard a time as possible because, well, that's the Southern spirit for ya.

Sessions also has the legal cannabis industry nervous, as he has generally been on the opposite side of any drug policy-reform movements. Their concerns are legitimate; after all, this is a guy who was reportedly overhead saying that he used to think some members of the KKK were OK - that is, "until he found out that some of them were 'pot smokers.'"

Could Sessions oversee the rollback of pot legalization across the country? Marijuana advocates have been here before. In the 1970s, as state after state relaxed penalties for pot possession, many in the movement developed an air of certainty about the weed's legal status. Counterculture publications such as Denver's Straight Creek Journal wrote about the subject with levity, believing that since more people - especially white people - were "getting it," the end of the Drug War was nigh.

That turned out not to be the case, as the country's political atmosphere lurched to the right during the 1980s, and the War on Drugs was turned up to an unprecedented scale. Police forces brutalized inner-city black communities using the excuse of cracking down on crack; state and federal agents fought a guerilla war against pot growers in northern California; and Wall Street cocaine users were jailed in record numbers - JUST KIDDING; they were mostly left to do their thing. Is today's legal cannabis movement, all swollen with confidence after winning over a slew of new states in the election, doomed to the accursed tides of history?

Of course, in the 1970s there wasn't an already functioning, multi-billion-dollar weed industry. Trump loves money, and he's reportedly ok with state-level legal weed; could he keep Sessions from rolling everything back? Or will Trump see more money in private prisons - an idea that Sessions also supports - filled with black and brown pot violators?

One thing's for sure: legal or illegal, people aren't going to stop growing and smoking pot. The movement will continue, even if the pendulum swings back toward prohibition. The problem is that, like it has in the past, prohibition under men like Trump and Sessions will have a disproportionate and devastating impact on the poor and communities of color. That, and not the billions of dollars in legal weed on the line, would be the most awful thing about potential de-legalization.