As pot becomes legal, don’t burn the family farmers.

As pot becomes legal, don’t burn the family farmers.

Governors in Colorado and Washington have signed their voter-approved marijuana legalization initiatives into law.

Vicious “gangster” guarding marijuana plant

As one smoker interviewed last week in Seattle put it (from the CNN piece linked above):

“It’s amazing. I’m not a criminal anymore. I can’t go to jail for small amounts of marijuana. I’m free to be free.”

I’m not a criminal anymore. If you’re in a state where smokers still get busted, imagine being able to say that out loud and how it must feel. It’s something that so many people in California said in 1996 when Proposition 215 passed, legalizing marijuana for medicinal use with a doctor’s recommendation. I’m not a criminal anymore.

But, even in California, 16 years later, growers are still in a legal limbo if they want to grow for other patients or dispensaries. While it’s quite legally safe to cultivate marijuana for other legal patients in California, transportation or transfer of your products (aka “sales”) may or may not be illegal, depending on which city or county you are in. Many California medical growers still cannot fully say I’m not a criminal anymore.

Meanwhile, in Colorado and Washington, while it is legal to possess and smoke a small amount of weed, it’s still not legal to grow it for sale or sell it. Those states will be writing their commercial regulations in the coming year. The big fear among growers in California, now and two years ago when the Proposition 19 legalization measure was defeated in the statewide election, was that the commercial aspect would be written in a way that excluded small farmers. Giving all the licenses to corporate monopolies would lock out Humboldt farmers from this market, perpetuating their status as “criminals”.

Many people I spoke with in 2010 worried that legislators had no idea what marijuana farming was about or understood the culture of family farmers who depend on this industry. That’s a byproduct of the secrecy required by marijuana prohibition. The only knowledge that most people have of the grower community comes from the sensational images of gangsters with ski masks, protecting their gardens with guns, or from the recent controversies about cartel grows and rat poison in the National Forests. If that’s what Washington and Colorado lawmakers envision when they write their states’ new laws, don’t expect them to be too accommodating to “mom and pop” organic growers or to promote an accessible, participatory, democratic marijuana industry.

One of my goals with this film is to show the world that marijuana farming is…farming. It’s a plant, a crop and a product similar to any other herb. It’s not dangerous, poses no risk to children and is a way for people in rural areas to make an honest living “in their yard”, as Kim says in the trailer. What I had in mind when I started this project was influencing the public and lawmakers in California, but now it might be more immediately useful in Washington and Colorado.

I’m currently doing a short Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to pay for the editing. That’s the first step to finishing the film and making it available. To do that, I need to build awareness of this film far and wide. If you know activists and organizations in those states who would find the finished film to be a useful lobbying tool, put them in touch with me. Soon.

Humboldt County (and the entire Emerald Triangle) has had a robust marijuana economy for forty years. We’ve got it down. The growers in my film can provide a much better example of what a pot-farmer culture can look like than the ski-mask images the public fears or the corporate pharmaceutical model that growers and smokers fear.