Could cannabis revitalize the economy?

In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, and U.S. taxpayers have been funding the campaign for more than 40 years. According to the Associated Press, spending for the Drug War in 2010 was $15.5 billion at the federal level.

Today the U.S. is the most highly incarcerated society in the world with 2.3 million Americans behind bars. About one-quarter of them are there for drug-related offenses.

On Election Day, six states had marijuana-related referendums on their ballots. Complete legalization passed in Colorado and Washington.

With a national debt around $16 trillion dollars, taxing legalized marijuana has been proposed as a means to generate revenue.

Some people believe the War on Drugs has been ineffective at reducing the supply or demand for drugs, and that decriminalizing marijuana would eliminate a source of revenue for drug cartels in Mexico.

Award winning journalist and author Doug Fine had the same opinion in his latest book, “Too High to Fail.” Fine makes an argument for the removal of cannabis from the banned federal substances list. Fine traveled to Mendocino County, Calif., to monitor, what he calls, “lucrative civil disobedience.”

In 2011, the county approved an ordinance that allowed farmers to grow and sell marijuana.

Each farmer paid $8,500 to grow 99 plants, one plant below the federal limit for conspiracy, and the county made $602,000 and saved the jobs of seven deputies.

Q&A with “Too High to Fail” author Doug Fine

RP: So you support the idea of medical marijuana only or recreational use as well?

I don’t use the term recreational, I prefer adult social use. I do believe the best solution for public safety in the U.S. is removing cannabis from the Federal Controlled Substances Act entirely, and letting states regulate it for adult use like alcohol.

RP: Can the rest of the country benefit from this or was Mendocino County an isolated incident?

Mendocino County provides a great model for nationwide cannabis growing both industrial and psychoactive. The ordinance was written by farmers so there were great sustainability and zoning guidelines built in. Although the federal government shut it down at the end of the 2011 season.

Fine

RP: Just to be clear, what do you think the biggest positives for growing marijuana legally would be?

The war on drugs is America’s longest war, the modern version is about 40 years, that’s 10 times longer than World War II. It has cost taxpayers a trillion dollars with little effect on supply or demand. There has even been approval to use drones in 2013 against the American people. Legalization could mean prison cost reduction, billions in tax revenue from farmers and a cessation of the massacres in Mexico.

RP: You say this kind of practice could mark the end of the drug war in America, really?

The biggest step in drug policy in the last 80 years was on Election Day, when Colorado and Washington voters ended the drug war.

Before Obama was elected he said he would remove cannabis from the controlled substances act entirely, and let the states decide for themselves.

The Mendocino experiment was huge because it showed that when you declare drug peace things get better not worse.

RP: You prefer to call it cannabis not marijuana, why? 

To a degree, it’s a rebranding, but it encompasses both the psychoactive and the industrial side, as a nation we grow both. During my research I followed mostly psychoactive growers and after legalization they would be like microbrewers.

There was $100 million in sales tax paid to California in 2010 by cannabis farmers. The industrial side might be even bigger.

[Cannabis can be an] alternative fuel to petroleum by growing vast amounts and fermenting it into ethanol at a much higher efficiency than the corn and soy used today. Cannabis is all the same plant just a million different uses.

RP: If it did make it to the mainstream do you think we would face problems similar to alcohol?

I gave a talk at a high school and asked how many people think it’s easier to get alcohol than cannabis today, no hands went up. I asked if it’s easier to get cannabis than alcohol, and every hand went up.

When criminals run an industry they don’t ask for IDs, it would at least have the protection that alcohol does. Other nations that have legalized have not seen increased use rates, like the Netherlands and Portugal. Overuse of anything is dangerous.

Now it’s not great to go pumping smoke into your body every day, but a healthy responsible user, who works all week and uses once or twice a week, might be better off than someone who consumes alcohol.

RP: Colorado and Washington fully legalized marijuana what does this mean for the country? Is this progression for our society?

God bless America, it’s really a beautiful thing. I was raised to believe that if you were in the same room as a joint your head would explode, and after you got out of rehab you might one day be qualified to be a garbage collector, forget about that Ivy League School.

800,000 people were arrested last year for possessing a small amount of cannabis, that’s an absurd expense for the public to be paying for otherwise law-abiding citizens. What it’s saying is good things are happening.

Anything that you overuse can be dangerous, I’m not saying a huge increase in American cannabis use is a terrific thing, but it’s not the worst thing in the world.

RP: Marijuana is our No. 1 cash crop, more than corn and soy combined. What’s your take on this?

In 2010, various law enforcement authorities seized 600,000 plants in Mendocino County.

At one pound per plant and $1,000 per pound, those are both low numbers, that’s worth $6 billion whole-sale value, farmers only had one percent of that in this one small county. Prices would drop after legalization, but then it becomes a regulated industry like everything else.

RP: There are certain things we, as a society, don’t like to talk about. Why do you think people are uncomfortable to talk about certain issues?

That middle section that doesn’t feel pressured or engaged is who I write for in my books. [My audience is] the-middle-of-the-road, law abiding citizen who doesn’t see anything beyond alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs. I wrote it as a father and a journalist.

Why people don’t want to talk about it, I think it’s a comfort zone issue. Now Colorado and Washington have legalized it. That means a majority of voters, who are a more conservative subset, have passed huge cannabis legislation and have voted to end the drug war. It’s amazing how quickly these things can change.

 

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