Let me get this out of the way right off. I do not smoke marijuana. I never have in the past and I have no plans to in the future. However, I do support ending the current criminalization of all forms of cannabis—medicinal, recreational, industrial or otherwise—and moving to a constructive regime of regulation.
My support is derived from the fact that I was witness to the ability of cannabis to ease the suffering of a cancer patient. My mother suffered from terminal lung cancer that spread tumors throughout her body in the final months of her life. Morphine and other painkillers made her sick, more so than she already was given her health. A decent amount of smoked cannabis, provided in secret by a compassionate nurse as Iowa has no provision for medicinal cannabis, gave her relief. It was one of the things that allowed my family to enjoy time with the person we knew as my mother before she passed.
I also support ending the current drug war because it is the silliest policy position that our country has taken since allowing slavery to be codified. The drug war only benefits the prison industrial complex, politicians who grandstand as being tough on crime, and police departments that are starting to look increasingly like paramilitary units in some third-world dictatorship.
Given the recent legislative changes in Colorado and Washington, I wanted to dive into the topic. I turned to a writer whose irreverent tone and keen observational eye I enjoyed in prior books and journalism. You may know Doug Fine from his earlier work Farewell My Subaru, which is another book you should pick up whether you like goats or not. Fine brings the same qualities to bear in Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Revolution.
This genre of writing—I mean to say, writing on cannabis or marijuana—too often falls into two tropes: stoners or criminals. Sometimes, it combines the two. It’s easy to break out some references to the classic Reefer Madness, find a few Cheech & Chong comparisons, and belt out some Bob Marley. However, as Fine teases out in his book the truth is somewhat more complicated and it is definitely not well demarcated.
There are criminals and stoners associated with cannabis. That is not in question. Increasingly, however, there are people carving out a new mode of operation that is above board, regulated, and most importantly integral to the communities in which they exist. Fine chooses to explore this new way in Mendocino County, California. This region of California, along with Humboldt and Trinity Counties to the north, has been at the forefront of marijuana issues for decades. With the passage of California Proposition 215 in 1996, which paved the way for medicinal marijuana, the industry exploded. Although estimates are impossible to verify due to the underground nature of most of the marijuana economy in northern California even the most conservative figures place the value of cannabis north of $1 billion. That’s right, billion with a B.
With that as a backdrop, Fine centers his book around the efforts of a new grower to Mendocino County—Tomas Balogh—and the birth of the Kama Collective . This is not a grower carving out a plot of land in a national forest. In Mendocino County the growers register with the county sheriff under the auspices of the 9.31 Zip-Tie Program. Under the program growers are entitled to have 99 plants, chosen to avoid breaching the number of plants the federal government considers intent to distribute, and are inspected for compliance. In turn, the growers pay $8,500 per year in fees. If you want to know how ingrained and accepted cannabis cultivation is in Mendocino County consider this: when rippers, people looking to steal cannabis crops in the middle of the night, are seen on property it is common for the property owners to call the police.
The system, as described by Fine, works because everything is monitored and regulated. If everything sounds rosy, remember this sad fact: the federal government still maintains that cannabis is a very dangerous drug and continues to maintain its classification as a schedule 1 narcotic. This means that, unlike morphine or other pharmaceuticals that are abused on a wide basis, cannabis has no medicinal value. Tell that to the people who swear by its efficacy. Tell that to Charlotte Figi. If a mainstream dude like Dr. Sanjay Gupta can have an open and honest discussion about the merits of cannabis, why can’t the entire U.S.? Oh right, there is a lot of money involved in fighting the “drug war.” Just say no, man.
If my thoughts about this book are all over the place it’s because my head is all over the place on this issue and I intend to spend a lot of time in the future investigating the potential of the “green revolution.” In the meantime, just grab Too High to Fail for a perfect introduction into the potential future state of cannabis in our society.