Other Voices: Legalizing cannabis in California
America currently finds itself in an economic situation rivaling the Great Depression. Fortunately, there is an opportunity for the people of California to create a viable industry via the legalization of cannabis.
This could generate countless jobs at a time when they are desperately needed. We stand now at a critical juncture, one where we could act to protect one of the last “mom and pop” businesses left in America or stand by as massive corporations steal yet another industry.
A.B. 390, introduced by Tom Ammiano to the California legislature, along with other initiatives are some of the only sound politics our state has seen in years.
While these bills have many issues, with swift action in local communities, we can work to ensure that the holes left by these new laws do not endanger the local businesses and families which they directly affect. Great challenges lie ahead, both in legislative fields related to cannabis and in the transition of the gray medical market to a traditional business model.
The growth of cannabis and hemp was legal in America until the early 1900s, when states began to move to prohibit its cultivation and finally on a federal level via the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
This situation persisted until the ratification of Proposition 215 in 1996, since then a grassroots business has sprung up all over California allowing – for the first time since the 1900s – Americans to raise cannabis without fear of persecution.
In 1637 in Hartford, Connecticut, and in the Massachusetts courts in 1639, an order was placed stating that “all families must plant one teaspoon of hemp seed. That we might in time have supply of linen cloth among ourselves.”
Motivated by economic desperation the colonists resolved to best utilize the natural resources they had at hand. We, too, must seek to do the same in this time of need. It is my hope that if granted this opportunity, we meet these challenges in a way that protects the interests of California families and businesses.
Two of the issues that need to be addressed are worker protection and employer integrity. I know many people who have worked on farms over the years. While there are a sizable number of respectable growers that provide adequate conditions and compensation to their laborers, there are others who take advantage of the fact that in an illegal industry, workers have no rights.
These exploitative individuals, often members of criminal cartels, take little responsibility for the quality of their crop or for the environmental consequences which result from their practices. This creates substandard medication in a marketplace that is supposed to foster health, as well as bolster the economy. It has become clear to me that these practices must be stopped and that crop quality and worker treatment be made a priority, if this industry is to be taken seriously.
This will not happen if regulators come out to a farm that is haphazardly run by criminal profiteers. The best course of action is to allow regulation of the industry, so that irresponsible growers are eventually buried under red tape and fines, allowing law abiding citizens to continue their work not threatened by violent outlaws. In order to move forward, a clear standard of business ethics must be implemented and fair labor practices enforced.
The area for which I have the greatest concern is the intrusion of corporate entities into the cannabis industry. We must act quickly to raise awareness and keep out massive agribusiness giants and tobacco concerns in order to preserve currently operating family farms.
Since 1907, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and several other Midwestern states have adopted strict anti-corporate farming laws.
With few exceptions, these laws have done wonders for preserving family business, ensuring that the ownership of average acreage stays within family hands.
In fact, they have provisions for small corporations created under strict guidelines, such as that one of the members of the corporation lives and works on the premises and that all members live in the county in which the corporation was created.
These farm bills are already written and have withstood repeated legal attacks as recently as 2009, including challenges of constitutionality and those concerning commerce laws, while cities like Arcata have banned the construction of additional corporate stores within their city limits.
If given the opportunity, giant multi-national corporations like Monsanto, Reynolds American and Altria will immediately set up shop and begin pushing out the local growers. This will totally undermine the point of Ammiano’s and related bills – namely, the creation of jobs and wealth for California citizens.
I would suggest the adoption of plain language city and county ordinances that prohibit any corporation (except those created under strict guidelines) from purchasing land or participating in the farming of cannabis in the respective areas. I think these initiatives would be met with great enthusiasm by the people of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, especially as their livelihood has long been based on the local production and distribution of cannabis .
If we do this right, we can create thousands of legitimate jobs for our struggling friends and families in local communities, while also creating billions in tax revenue for California. The homegrower will no longer experience fear, persecution and the possibility of jail time.
Farmers in the Central Valley squeezed by drought and the need to produce crops with high production costs will have an alternative in the production of hemp or cannabis. Farm laborers will be able to demand fair treatment.
We must follow the examples of the hemp-growing Virginia colonists and raise awareness about the possibility of change in our communities.
Either we establish an organized plan to manage the autonomous California cannabis industry, or we allow our one homegrown business to be buried by successive corporate takeovers of large swaths of land and warehouse space.
It’s up to us. It is my hope we can collectively rise to the occasion and protect the industry we have all worked so hard to create.
Jonathan Martin lives in San Francisco.
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