These days it seems inevitable we’ll soon be living in a weed-legal country. While in the U.S. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, recreational legalization appears to be nothing but an economic success story–at least so far–in states which have introduced it. And we have yet to see the onset of social anarchy or evidence of the health and addiction concerns or any of the other bullsh*t levied by so many of pot’s opponents.
But Federal Legalization Means More Than Country-Wide Cotton Mouth
Still, I’ve got major problems with the prospect of federal pot legalization. And if you care about the quality of your herb and the people and the earth that grows it, you should to. The prospect of federal legalization doesn’t sound to me like the ganja utopia everyone’s saying it would be. Don’t get me wrong, federal legalization would have scores of benefits, not least of which is that a lot fewer people will be going to prison. But if we want to make marijuana legalization a real, long-term positive for the U.S., we have to get real with ourselves about the messed-up consequences of the large-scale industrial commodification of cannabis.
For most post smokers, the experience of dry mouth—or “cottonmouth”—is a common side effect of a wicked high. But if we let multinationals monopolize our marijuana, it’s the earth itself that’ll be choking for water.
Big Tobacco, Get Your Hands off My Herb!
There’s plenty of talk out there forecasting the end of excellent weed should Big Tobacco companies like Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds take over the market in a future, weed-legal America. The story is pretty predictable: with the industrial agriculture and processing infrastructure already in place, so the story goes, Big Tobacco multi-nationals will start flooding the shelves with the “Bud” Light of marijuana, all the while squeezing out the smaller grow-ops dedicated to the cultivation of really otherworldly strains of bud.
Russ Belville of High Times has a “Radical Rant” trying to snuff out these fears by painting them as half-baked theories. He writes, let’s pretend Big Tobacco buys up acres of land and starts producing the “Bud Light” of weed. It’s cheap and easily accessible, maybe not the worst weed you’ve ever smoked but far from the best. It’s got god-knows-what sprayed on it from seedling to harvest, but they assure you it is perfectly safe. Are you going to smoke that shit? Do you know anybody who would smoke that shit? I’m not smoking that shit!”
Russ believe’s it simply won’t be possible for Big Tobacco “to manufacture demand for a shitty product.” Of course tobacco companies manufacture demand for shitty cigarettes all the time, but they’ve got the powerfully addictive effect of nicotine on their side. Since marijuana flowers don’t hook its users like tobacco leaves, there might be some truth to Russ’s argument.
But he doesn’t even believe Big Tobacco will get in the game. “Yes, they have the facilities to roll, package, market and sell tobacco cigarettes, but marijuana will force them to invest in research and development of new large-scale processing for pot. Tobacco’s a leaf; marijuana’s a flower. There will be some differences to account for in processing.” Ultimately, Belville argues, mary’s true followers “will overgrow corporate attempts to monopolize marijuana.”
It’s Not About Weed Quality, It’s About Water Quality
My beef is that Belville misses the entire damn point: one very important argument against corporatizing cannabis cultivation is that its industrial-scale agriculture can be extremely water-intensive. We’re already facing serious water challenges in the U.S. California, for example, has the largest and longest drought it history.
Here’s some real talk: industrial tobacco agriculture has been one of the most environmentally destructive operations in American history. Deforestation, pesticides and fertilizers contaminating water and soil… these are just a few of the effects of Big Tobacco’s activities. These companies are also extremely wasteful. “In 1995, the global tobacco industry produced an estimated 2.3 billion kilograms of manufacturing waste and 209 million kilograms of chemical waste.” This does not include the enormous amount of litter caused by cigarette butts, which are not bio-degradable.
Big Tobacco doesn’t give two shits what it does to your soil or your water; and that’s not likely to change if they incorporate marijuana cultivation into their industrial agriculture scheme. Already in places where marijuana grow-ops have reached a large scale, water shortages are a continual problem.
So let’s keep on fighting for federal legalization of weed. But let’s make sure we employ the lessons of Big Tobacco when the Weed Revolution hits the U.S.