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Making Sure the End of Cannabis Prohibition Benefits the Small Farmer

Why are many black-market cannabis farmers dreading the legalization of their crop?

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Just in case you don’t think the tourism sector is aware of all this, here’s what Jennifer Rudolph, spokesperson for Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association that represents 21 Colorado resorts, told the Associated Press three days after that state legalized cannabis for adult social use, when asked if vaporizer-friendly suites were around the corner at Aspen and Vail: "There's a lot that remains to be seen," Rudolph said with a chuckle. “I guess you could say we're waiting for the smoke to clear."

Danger, though, lurks in other places besides Big Tobacco and Alcohol for the small post-drug war cannabis farmer.

I learned this when a marketing vice-president at a startup biotech firm asked me “whether cannabinoids like CBD can be synthesized in ingestible form.” (CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that in multiple mainstream studies – including one from Israel last week -- is showing promising medical benefits ranging from health maintenance to pain relief to tumor reduction.) I realized the answer to this fellow’s question, if one is coming from a for-profit pharmaceutical mindset, was a lucrative one. “Lives are at stake, go for it, dude!” I told the would-be legal drug provider. “Always remembering sustainable principles and the fact that the research into the interplay of 90 cannabinoids is very young.” As his face clouded and I could see him wondering how to figure that into an SEC, let alone an FDA filing, I added, “And of course no one should ever be kept from access to the whole plant if that’s their choice.”

In other words, instead of joints at the corner store, some folks who only know the pop-a-pill model of healthcare are susceptible to peddlers of concentrated non-organic versions of cannabis if their use is explicitly medical or for health maintenance. Ask a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner -- whose tradition has been using cannabis as just another herbal remedy for everything from easing labor pains to aiding sleep for 3,000 years -- whether the intense concentration of one element of the medicinal plant is likely to be effective and she’ll bust out laughing.

When I first met Mark at the Willits Food Bank, he scoffed at the idea of cannabis farmers organizing and branding themselves with an “Emerald Certified” label in preparation for the time when their flowers are as legal as celery. But when I ran into him a few months later, he asked me for the EGA’s Web site.

And this is the climate I find in Emerald Triangle communities these days: the veneer of resistance to hanging up the outlaw farmer hats is a thin one. You know when 100 third-generation outlaws sing “Happy Birthday” to a sergeant in the local Sheriff’s Department that they believe in the effort to legitimize their multi-billion-dollar industry. This is something I witnessed not too long ago in Willits. The law officer was the administrator for Mendocino County’s landmark (and wildly successful, unless you count the federal raids that shut it down, for now) program for permitting its sustainable farmers.

The first few years of federal drug peace will be the best of times and the worst of times for the independent cannabis farmer. Just as the end of alcohol Prohibition put bootleggers out of business, the question of who will snatch the cannabis market when the cartels are pulled out of the equation is ultimately up to America’s 100 million cannabis consumers. In places like the Emerald Triangle, local communities are asking you to buy locally produced, farmer-owned, sustainably grown, uniformly tested flowers for your next Super Bowl dip.

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