If there is one constant in life, it is change. As the cannabis industry, ummm, grows, the people who’ve been involved with weed since “the old days” (by that, I mean before 2012) have a range of beliefs concerning whether the overall effects of legalization are positive or negative. The spaces between these opinions are the battleground where a war is being fought for the soul of Mary Jane.
There are those that believe that marijuana legalization is, by and large, unnecessary, and they may have a point. The legal take from cannabis-related products in 2015 was around $5.4 billion according to CNBC, mostly from a small group of states: Colorado, Washington, and Oregon with their legal programs and California with its tolerant medical arrangement; the profits from illegal operations nationwide are estimated to be on the order of $40 billion.
The idea that this shadow industry has grown organically over the past several decades without any governmental oversight or regulation is an indicator that small, local networks run by folks with real skin in the game is a tried-and-true system (and let’s be real for a minute here: Though growers and distributors of cannabis have been branded as criminals up until a few years ago, one would be hard pressed to find another illegal enterprise in this country that has brought so much to so many with so few negative side effects).
The old school weed “business” was a word-of-mouth enterprise; friends told friends about the best strains or the best prices available; maybe we grabbed a little extra to show around. Real excitement existed when somebody grew something different. In about 30 years of smoking, I bought from four different people. It was always a good day when it was time to re-up and go see “my guy.” It was more than just business. We’d hang out, talk about friends and family, smoke a bit, then realize it was time to get back to the rest of our lives, parting with hugs and best wishes. When good things happened on our lives we shared and smiled. When things got tough or that inevitable summer bud “drought” rolled around, we commiserated and scraped our bowls together to catch a little buzz. When I started growing, I tried to maintain that family vibe with the few people I sold to.
Legalization, on the other hand, certainly has its charms. There’s a wide range of choices available to any adult consumer, little to no worry of interference with law enforcement, and the great benefit of new revenue available to fund positive programs statewide. Another benefit over the next several years will likely come in advances in the scientific understanding of the cannabis plant. Most of the hard science directed at Cannabis sativa L. has taken place outside of the United States as a result of the federal government’s classification as a Schedule I drug. The incredible work done by cannabis breeders and growers may soon be open to nationwide laboratory testing and analysis in an effort to push the quality and utility of the products produced by the plant even further.
There was an underground system in place for cannabis before 2012; it was imperfect and illegal, but it had soul. Everyone was in it together, to a degree. If you wanted to grow, sell, or smoke, you branded yourself an outlaw. But I haven’t met many for whom there wasn’t an element of actual love for marijuana and the effects it’s had on our lives.
That era is passing quickly (though there are still plenty of growers and connoisseurs out there who stay under the radar and operate as they always have), replaced by slick money people, out-of-state investors, branding, and many of the other methods symptomatic of the insanity of the modern market. I know you can’t fight the future, but I, for one, am sad to watch this piece of the past fade.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]