Doug Fine

Why Oregon Is About to Be the Poster Child for How to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana

At the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Portland last month, the atmosphere was that of a winning NASCAR pit crew during the victory lap. Bullish is too weak a word to characterize the 700 vape pen purveyors and cannabis attorneys in attendance (they’d come from as far as Alabama and India). The vibe was bullish but congenial. Inclusive, not cutthroat. On Day Two, an attendee was doing tai chi in the Portland Convention Center hallway in between speakers.

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Meet the Small Country Betting Big on the Future of Hemp

More even than the arrival of the local polka band dressed in medieval peasant garb, it was the emergence of the scythes—blades attached to eight-foot wooden poles in the Slovenian village of Trimlini, that told me I was in the middle of a tradition longstanding enough to predate recorded history: a Balkan hemp harvest celebration. 

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How Hemp Could Replace Petroleum as a Fuel

The following is an excerpt from Doug Fine's book, Hemp Bound (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014)

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Vets and Seniors Are Ending the Drug War

The following is an installment of Doug Fine's weekly column, Drug Peace Bumblebee.

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When It Comes to Ending the Senseless War on Drugs We're Almost There, But Not Quite

The following is an installment of Doug Fine's weekly column, Drug Peace Bumblebee.

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Conservative Mother of Epileptic Boy Says Her Son's Seizures Ended With Cannabis Therapy

The following is an installment of Doug Fine's  weekly column The Drug Peace Bumblebee:

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Beyond Amsterdam: Marijuana Policy Reform Takes Europe

Since Europe is experiencing the same remarkable sea change in drug policy that North America, South America and the rest of the world is, I was glad, as the Drug Peace Bumblebee, to be able to pollinate across the Pond – the trade winds were whispering that a new and successful cannabis club model is birthing in several EU countries. 

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Sheriff: I Just Want Cannabis Off the Front Page

Mendocino County, Calif. Sheriff Tom Allman calls the decision to permit his county’s cannabis farmers (even before federal law changes) part of his “law enforcement evolution.” A local boy, he knew how eighty percent of his Emerald Triangle economy was derived. As a newly elected Sheriff, he flew over his jurisdiction and thought, “So that’s how that conservative Republican pays two Stanford tuitions.” 
Allman had what he told me was a “startling revelation” following the passage of California’s 1996 ballot initiative Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act of 1996), which allowed for medicinal use of the cannabis plant in the Golden State. While to this day he maintains that he is simply “required to enforce the law” and is “neither pro- nor anticannabis,” what he noticed was that, contrary to what he’d been raised and trained to believe, “the sun still rose, and there was still an America” in the days and years after the 1996 election. 
And so fourteen years passed. Finally, with budget cutbacks threatening eighteen percent of his force in 2010, he decided to acknowledge “the T Rex in the room” and sign on to the “Zip-tie” cannabis permitting program which I covered in my book Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution. Locavore farmers could buy bright yellow bracelets (the Zip-ties) for their crop, avoid raids, and rejoin aboveground society. 
Six hundred thousand dollars was raised from one hundred brave farmers who just wanted to be taxpayers in 2011. The deputy jobs were saved, cartels were hurt and patients benefited from safe, organically grown domestic cannabis. But the program’s administrator, a former drug warrior, said the real reason the program is a nationwide model is “it brought an entire swath of the community back into the law-abiding fold.” In other words, millions of Americans break no laws except exhibiting friendliness to one of humanity’s longest utilized plants.
But Sheriff Tom, as Allman is known locally, couldn’t and wouldn’t have implemented the Zip-tie program if cannabis wasn’t just widely used, but also relatively benign. The biggest problems in Mendocino County, he told me in our first, second, and third interviews, are “meth, poverty and domestic violence. Marijuana isn’t in the top ten.”
Study after study indicates that cannabis is (especially compared to alcohol and America’s real epidemic: prescription pill abuse) safe when used responsibly. It’s not meth. It’s not alcohol. It doesn’t make people violent. It’s thus not a problem to Sheriff Tom, who told me at a Fourth of July picnic that his view of cannabis is “Smoke it till your head caves in. I don’t care. I just wish I could get it off the front pages so I could have more time to deal with the real problems in this county. This is my biggest dream.” 
It’s also one shared by many of Allman’s constituents: While it’s by no means unanimous, I met no shortage of local cannabis in the Emerald Triangle activists who want to be a test case. They’re ready for legitimacy. 
Allman, in his words, was “simply obeying county nuisance regulations” by implementing the nation’s first cannabis permitting ordinance. The Zip-tie program cost about $8,500 per farmer for ninety-nine plants with a final cannabis dispensary value of around half a million dollars.
In its second full year following a 2010 revamping, the Zip-tie program was so successful that at least two neighboring (and similarly economically struggling) California counties were considering a similar job-creating, public safety-increasing program – that is, until the U.S. Attorney’s Office for California’s Northern District threatened the program’s farmers and administrators. This outrageous action (hopefully for a short time and for the last time) once again sent America’s number one crop underground. At one point during the federal harassment Sheriff Tom even send me an email jokingly asking if I’d bail him out if necessary.
Of other law enforcement or prosecutorial minds not open to his “the sun still rose” realization, Allman said, “Maybe it’s time for them to retire. My dad ran a liquor store. He raised me to believe the damn hippies were ruining the county. I see now that they’re helping save it. My dream is to be able to stop talking about cannabis—get it off the headlines—so I can fight the real problems in this county. I care about this even more than raising my own kids right.”
Doug Fine's weekly Drug Peace Bumblebee columns first appear on the  National Cannabis Coalition. Reprinted with permission.

How Hemp Legalization Would Benefit My Family and Country

How can a decision be both astonishing and a no-brainer? On June 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed (as the rest of the world long ago did) an industrial cannabis (hemp) cultivation provision in the massive five-year Farm Bill. The vote was 225-200. Of course, the whole Farm Bill was subsequently voted down, but that was just the usual nation’s political process falling apart – it had nothing to do with humanity’s longest utilized plant.

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21st Century Paperwork Marks New Era for Ancient Medicine

New Mexico naturopath and traditional curandera (healer) Esmerelda Martinez was 19 before she realized that her grandmother’s famous tinctures were cannabis based. “When I was a girl and we visited the family ranch down in Sinaloa (Mexico), I knew she was a healer: we’d see ranchers ride in from hundreds of miles in all directions for her medicine, which she cooked up in the kitchen. She just called her main tincture ingredient ‘la hierba buena’: the good herb. Once I realized what it was and she saw that I was going to be a healer too, she began teaching me her recipes.”

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Meet the Denver Man Cruising Colorado in a Limo, Passing Out Free Pot

As he prepared to distribute the first of 100,000 specialized cannabis seedlings in a limo once owned by Ferdinand Marcos, the last thing Denver’s Bill Althouse was worried about was money. This is important, since the debut of his “Free For All” cannabis delivery project, which he invited me to witness on a recent early spring afternoon, hinged on gratis distribution.

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Making Sure the End of Cannabis Prohibition Benefits the Small Farmer

At the Willits, California Food Bank, a 31-year-old cannabis farmer we’ll call Mark was energetically ticking off the community service hours he’d earned for growing our nation’s number-one cash crop. I watched for a few minutes as he passed bags full of apples, cheese and surplus generic sponge cake to a Mendocino County mom. I asked Mark what he thought about the approaching end of federal cannabis prohibition. He acknowledged that it was imminent, but was deeply wary of it. “It’ll be the end of the small farmer,” he told me. “Foks’ll be buying packages of joints made by Coors or Marlboro.”

Why does Mark, like many if not most of today’s American black-market cannabis farmers, dread the aboveground acceptance of his industry? Why did the voters in the Emerald Triangle cannabis farming counties of Mendocino (by 6%) and Humboldt (8%) vote against California’s Proposition 19 in 2010, which would have legalized cannabis?

The answer has as much to do with simple accounting as the more common outsider assumption: that farmers fear the price drops that come when a prohibitionary economy dissolves (though this is certainly part of the story). When, in three generations of farming, your family has never had to pay taxes, record payroll or meet building code, let alone meet a customer (the Emerald Triangle has an entire caste of middlemen and women who broker wholesale deals, so the farmer doesn’t have to leave the farm), the prospect of coming aboveground -- and dealing with the same red tape every other industry does -- can be terrifying.

Some of these farmers, like all successful small-business owners in any industry, resist change in knee-jerk fashion by distributing worst-case scenarios the way some people pass around business cards. “Look at tobacco," Mark told me at the Food Bank. "They’ve made the paperwork crazy complicated so only giant corporate farmers can afford to grow it commercially.”

He’s actually correct. Section 40 of Title 27 of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s regulations has 534 subsections. You need a corporate lawyer on call to endure this document without a migraine. The system favors big producers, and Big Tobacco is at least paying attention to federal drug law: NPR has reported that Philip Morris trademarked the brand “Marley” at the height of Just Say No in 1983 (though this doesn’t turn up at the United States Patent and Trademark site, and the company is mum). And Dan Mitchell reported in Fortune that tobacco company Brown & Williamson “enthusiastically” advised, in a 1970s internal report, that the company start viewing marijuana as "an alternative product line.”

Regardless of corporate boardroom strategy, the stacked deck at the mass production level is explicitly why the cultivators of the Emerald Growers Association (EGA), a cannabis farmer trade group based in Northern California, prefer describing the “craft brew” model for the post-prohibition cannabis economy. In a world of Coors, these farmers plan to provide Fat Tire Ale. “We’re not afraid of what might be stocked next to cheap beer and cigarettes at the corner store,” says Tomas Balogh, EGA board member. “Let’s remember that American craft beer was nearly an $8 billion market in the U.S. last year.”

So when people ask him if globalized corporate models or small farming community-based models will emerge when the drug war ends here in a few years, Balogh says, “Both.”

His point is that of course major players are going to enter the fray when we’re talking about what is already a $35-billion-a-year crop in the U.S., greater than the combined value of corn and wheat. Although the end of cannabis prohibition will almost certainly cause short-term wholesale price drops, what Balogh says to jittery farmers like Mark is, “even if your worst, most paranoid fears about modern corporate ethics are correct, there is still a lucrative (and expanding) niche for top-shelf, organically grown cannabis like the Emerald Triangle provides.”

If it’s done right. The same shopper who today looks for local broccoli at her food co-op is going to demand organic techniques in her morning cannabis health shake. If a black-market farmer is simply churning out quick turnaround, pesticide-heavy, indoor-grown popcorn buds to pay the mortgage, that farmer is going to lose out to Coors-style mass-produced cannabis, because he’s essentially growing a Coors-quality product already. But if the three-generation knowledge base that caused Michael Pollan to call cannabis cultivators “the best farmers of my generation” is put to use in the cause of long-term product quality and local community health, small-scale (maybe we can call it “microbud”) cultivators will help the region become an internationally recognized paragon of consistent top-shelf production. That is called a brand.

“The best part is farmers can keep the industry benefiting their local economy,” Balogh told me from his own Mendocino County farm in 2011.

Indeed, local farmers already hold meetings (I’ve attended several) in which they discuss the fact that the economy of cannabis cultivation communities can expand beyond the already considerable value of the psychoactive flower. To give one example, the Bavarian community of Feldheim, Germany has become entirely energy independent (while nearly eliminating local unemployment) by generating municipal power generated from the unused stalks from the rural community’s farms.

When cannabis comes aboveground, its cultivators are likewise in prime position to benefit from fermenting or gasifying stalks that would otherwise be compost. Where would funding for such planet-saving entrepreneurialism come from? Perhaps from the 21st-century Homesteading Act that fifth-generation Colorado rancher Michael Bowman and others are proposing: these would be micro-grants for micro-intensive, local community-enriching farming projects. (Social/medicinal cannabis is a specialty crop requiring a great deal of farmer attention to every plant. For industrial cannabis in places like North Dakota and Kentucky, the grants might be on a larger scale, reflecting larger farming operations.)

Such plans are very much in the blackboard stage. After all, cannabis isn’t legal yet. That can throw up roadblocks in the federal grant application process. Yet the discussions continue. In the Emerald Triangle, farmers have brainstormed about cost-saving techniques for the local industry that include centralized bud-trimming facilities, warehousing and quality testing services. These will bring local employment, as will “bud-and-breakfast” value-added tourism. You can’t talk to an EGA farmer without hearing how Mendocino and Humboldt counties are going to do for cannabis “what Napa did for wine.” (Napa did $11 billion just in tourism business in 2011.)

Get ready for cannabis tincture massages and reggae-accompanied tasting tours. And not just in California: Colorado and Washington, having already legalized adult use of cannabis, have obvious headstarts in the tourism arena (it helps when guests aren’t going to get arrested in their bungalows, and operators don’t need raid insurance) and regional cannabis heavies like Kentucky and Hawaii are sure to see bud-and-breakfasts before the decade is out.

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Is the Marijuana Industry Green Enough?

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

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Marijuana Prohibition Is Hanging on by Its Final Thread -- There's a Bright Future on the Horizon

Even though I’ve lived west of the Mississippi for half my life, the native New Yorker in me has always been dismissive of reports that my tax dollars are being used to fund black helicopters that are hassling Americans in defense of foreigners, or the UN, or something.

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