By Mikal Jakubal
I spent the afternoon filming the marijuana policy forum at the annual Hemp Fest. This was one of the most consistently good events on the subject of legalization and regulation of the cannabis industry, both medical and recreational, that I’ve seen yet. For an overview of the event, see Kym Kemp’s blog post. I Tweeted highlights, which should give you an idea of who the speakers were and some of their interesting points. You can see my Tweets on the sidebar to the right of this page or go to Twitter and search for #Hempfest forum. KMUD local news will be doing a program on it Monday or Tuesday night and I’ll link to any other stories that others write about it. In the meantime, I would like to editorialize a bit on this process of ordinance writing for an industry trying to find its way forward into the uncertain world of legalization.
Virtually all discussions today had to do with the coming regulation of the cannabis industry statewide, whether that happens via another recreational-use ballot initiative in 2012 (a seeming certainty) or whether it begins with counties setting examples for the State legislature to follow or whether the State legislature itself initiates the process. Everyone who is paying attention understands that change is coming and that those who step up to the plate will be the ones who get to play ball. While writing regulations is something that legislators and their staff are paid to be good at, the cannabis industry demands an unconventional approach.
Best as I can tell, people who write regulations are used to a legislative-push format where rules of conduct are handed down from above and citizens are expected to comply—whether they like it or not. That approach simply won’t work here, partly because of the ingrained feistiness of the citizenry and partly because the existing black market is a familiar and profitable alternative that is not going away as long as there is Federal cannabis prohibition.
What is required is an industry-pull model, whereby lawmakers look at what already works and write laws that encourage it to continue—whether lawmakers like it or not. This is usually how it works when big corporations buy politicians to write laws around their particular industry. In this case, though, the pull is coming from an economically independent, grassroots band of scofflaws—the last people on earth most politicians would want to have to write laws for. It will take some education and political pressure, to say the least, before those at the top figure out that they don’t really have a choice.
I liken the process to “Texas sharpshooting,” where you fire repeatedly at the side of a barn and then draw a target around the biggest cluster of holes. The holes here are in the ground, fertilized with chicken manure, scattered around on the thousands of small pot farms throughout the hills of the Emerald Triangle. The best ordinance is the one that works for the most people and will therefore generate the most compliance. Locate the most holes and draw a target—or in this case, a commercial marijuana ordinance—around them and you’ve got a good start. In other words, legalize and legitimize what is already working for the greatest number of people and they will comply. Make it difficult to comply or attempt to force them into doing something that they don’t want to do or that doesn’t work for them—agriculturally, culturally, socially or economically—and they will ignore it.
This is all hard to do if you can’t find the side of a barn in the first place. The black market is notoriously difficult to pin down, with most assessments being wild speculation and the best being informed wild speculation. How many holes full of pot plants does the average farm grow? What exactly does work for people here? What is a family farm? How much weed are most people growing? How much do people pay trimmers and how many do they hire? How much is required to make a living? To this end, Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel will be circulating an anonymous survey that aims to collect data on the black market economy. The results should be fascinating. I’ll post a link to it once they get it out.