Moreover the riches of the earth are for all ...
- Ecclesiastes 5:9, the Peshitta (Aramaic Bible), circa 2nd century BCE
That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor ...
- Gerrard Winstanley, The True Levellers Standard Advanced, April 20, 1649
There is a debate in the cannabis activist community.
Yeah, so what else is new?
It's an old debate. It harkens back to the fight between ordinary people and medical monopolists back in the time of King Henry the VIII. Back then, the king sided with the people. In his Herbalist's Charter of 1512, he promised that "every person" would have the power to provide "any herb or herbs" for the rest of time, in "any" of "the King's domains". (1)
The last time I checked, Canada still had the English monarchy on our money, so I think we still qualify as one of their "domains".
Today, that old debate – who gets to provide the herbs – has evolved into one over Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations – the MMPR. (2)
The Pro-LP Side
On one side of this debate are the "pro-LP" activists, who say that Licensed Producers (LPs) are good – or have the potential to be good – for the cannabis community.
According to the pro-LP side, the LPs are offering services such as mail order, "standardized" cannabis, and quality control significantly superior to what the black market – and dispensaries – can provide. These arguments mirror those found in the Flexner report of 1910, that put all the herbalist schools out of business citing similar quality control concerns over "filthy" and "unhygienic" institutions. (3) They argue that many users want the legitimacy of fully-legal cannabis – and that dispensaries do not qualify as "fully" legal.
The pro-LP side argues that the LPs intentions are not to harm poor growers who can't afford to meet the expensive security and accounting criteria – estimated at about $200,000 dollars minimum, according to Health Canada (4) – even if putting these growers out of business is the predictable consequences of accepting such criteria. They argue that the cost of opening a winery in Ontario seems to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, and thus growing cannabis should just be for rich people too.
The pro-LP side argues that activists should focus on assuming the intentions are good and ignore the predictable consequences completely when evaluating the ethical elements of the new program. The pro-LP side argues that LPs can "do good" with their newfound riches.
The pro-LP side argues that the role of the activist should be limited to making sure there is a safe supply of cannabis available for users – making sure that harmless growers and dealers get to keep their jobs is not as important.
The pro-LP side argues that the current black market isn't really all that inclusive, as any benefit derived from there being very few economic hurdles to overcome is more than outweighed by the problems posed by organized crime limiting entry into the growing or dealing market.
The Anti-LP Side
The anti-LP side – or significant segments of it – thinks all of this is rationalization by those wishing to become, or be employed by, the LPs. The anti-LP side feels that the MMPR is a form of "state monopoly capitalism", meant to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. (5) The anti-LP side says that "no grower or dealer should be left behind". In case you haven't guessed by now, I consider myself "anti-LP".
In an article entitled "Corporate pot profiteers don't care about patients", long-time cannabis activist Dana Larsen states:
You would think that even just for PR purposes, one of these companies would at least pretend to care about protecting the rights of the people to whom they want to sell medicine. Instead, we get companies like MediJean, saying they will be putting their profits towards the anti-marijuana DARE program, and lauding Health Canada's attack on patients as "well-designed to help Law Enforcement." If I was a medical cannabis user looking for a company to buy my medical cannabis from, I would not pick the one which had gleefully announced their support for the crackdown that took away my home garden! Especially when that company says they're going to be putting their profits towards anti-marijuana campaigns!" (6)
Larsen's arguments point to the fatal flaw of Harper's new program – in order to keep poor people from becoming licensed producers, they need to create some expensive criteria – in this case for accounting and security – which would put becoming a legal grower out of the price range of most of those currently growing. But if the current legal injunction that freezes Harper's planned phase-out of personal growing leads to a successful victory for home-growers, and if dispensaries are able to defend themselves successfully, patients will still be able to grow at home. If this happens, the LPs likely won't be able to recoup their investments in accountants, guards and security cameras and won't be able to compete with the dispensaries that have no such absurd requirements – and will be forced to go out of business.
Activists With Nuanced Positions
I realize that I'm the type of activist who thinks that "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
Other activists are more comfortable in the "work with everyone, regardless" role or may hold a more nuanced position.
I'm comfortable with that. Some activists need to work with everyone, and there are advantages to being the "approachable" type of activist. I just don't want to encourage everyone to take that role, because we need hardliners as much as we need moderates. Too many moderates and we never improve the situation. Too many hardliners and we dissolve into infighting and madness. I will continue to work with the "tolerate the monopolist" activists so long as they don't expect me to work with the monopolists directly. We all have our roles to play.
MediJean: Sicking the Cops on Their Competitors
Larsen also points to another problem with the LPs – at least one of them (MediJean) is announcing it is using it's high profile position as a major LP to goad the police into eliminating MediJean's black-market pot growing competition. MediJean attempts to scare people away from black-market dispensaries on their website:
By underlining the clear difference between the quality control associated with real medical marijuana, and the unknown content offered by the illegal marketplace, it creates an obvious boundary. One is designed to be completely focused on helping people with their ailments, while the other is simply an illicit drug being sold for illegal profit." (7)
Of course MediJean doesn't mention the excellent work done by medical cannabis dispensaries over the last 19 years of being "completely focused on helping people with their ailments," unlike most of the current set of LPs. Those working at dispensaries even risked arrest to do so, thus proving they were focused on helping people rather than focused on their own safety. These medical cannabis dispensaries have even gone to the trouble of creating high standards for all dispensaries to follow, (8) and, unlike the LPs, these dispensaries took the trouble to offer constructive criticism of Harper's first draft of his MMPR program, (9) thus putting helping people ahead of risking ruffling the feathers of regulators.
MediJean goes on to promise to give "a percentage of our profits" to the US-based, fact-free, abstinence-obsessed, reefer-madness "Drug Abuse Resistance Education" DARE program. (10) This program has been proven ineffective in meeting its questionable goals of preventing drug use (rather than a more reasonable goal of preventing drug abuse) time and time again. (11)
MediJean – Giving Yet Another Soap-box to Cops and Lawyers
MediJean's website also features quotes from a lawyer and some cops claiming that "people normally don't produce their own medicine", (12) that "three pounds of dope" is way too much cannabis to be for a legitimate medical need, (13) and that "there's a lot of over-growing" from "organized crime" in the old program (14) – without citing any evidence to support these opinions.
On the surface, these claims appear to be fear-mongering and bunk. People do normally produce their own medicine: herbs are a form of medicine, and people have been producing their own herbs (including cannabis) for thousands of years. Three pounds of "dope" is about a month and a half worth of supply for those cancer-sufferers such as med pot activist Steve Kubby – who chain-smoked an ounce per day – and just enough time to get another crop off.
If the police were really serious about stopping organized crime, they would challenge – rather than silently accept – security and accounting criteria that only Al Capone could afford. If every adult could grow five plants with no problems (as is the case in Holland), with no unreasonable barriers to becoming a commercial grower, that would hurt greedy individuals more than any "rich grower only" legalization model.
Organized crime and monopoly capitalists would both be forced to look elsewhere to make their millions; only honest business people looking to make an honest living would be interested in an inclusive cannabis market.
MediJean: Turning 1000 Small Businesses Into 1000 Employees
Apparently MediJean also promises to "create as many as 1,000 jobs if they receive a licensed producer permit from Health Canada." (15)
The problem with using the word "create" is that it doesn't tell the whole story. What they really plan to do is to put 1000 growers out of work, and then hire the ones that were lucky enough not to have criminal records to work for them for less money than they would be getting working for themselves. This is called "consolidation of the market".
Tweed – Using Mandatory Minimums to Interest Investors
Another affront to human decency is Tweed, a company who recently received $15 million dollars by investment bankers to allow them to own "a major part of the market". (16) They are the first LP to be available on the stock exchange, and recently lauded the Canadian federal government's strategy to push customers towards them:
… if you're growing six or more plants in an area you're responsible for, they've set some notion of a minimum sentence of approximately six months for doing so. So I'm not saying everybody's going to change, but I think what the government's doing is taking a bunch of things and weaving them together. (17)
The heads of Tweed are not publicly rubbing their hands together and salivating at the consolidation (cartelization) of the market brought about through Harper's exorbitant security and accounting costs, but they basically admitted that this is the strategy:
…you'll end up with some large-ish companies over a not too terribly distant future because the compliance costs and the upfront costs for producing the product is pretty material." (18)
In the same interview, they re-define organic as "no pesticides or herbicides", making consumers wonder what they are fertilizing their plants with. It's all fine and good to brag about your high standards for quality, but at least on the black market there's a chance of not ingesting radioactive chemical fertilizers into one's lungs.
Consolidation of The Market
Privately, some pro-LP cannabis activists argue that anyone who really wants to become an LP will be able to afford to be one. But they aren't saying this publicly, as I suspect they know this probably won't happen. Academics certainly think the MMPR will be for the rich only, and have stated so publicly:
Mulvey thinks as the market grows international competitors will likely enter the field and said he expects to see some consolidation as the industry matures. (19)
In other words, the people lucky enough to have a couple hundred thousand dollars to get in the game will be swallowed up by those who have millions and can afford to conduct price wars until only millionaires are left in business.
Activists Taking Sides
Pot activists who have publicly announced their support of LPs include Alan Young (20) and Philippe Lucas (21) – but they have not publicly supported the funding of the DARE program by LPs, or encouraged the police to arrest black-market growers and dispensaries.
I agree with condition #2 of Marc Emery's "5 Conditions for Peace", which clearly states,
NO regulatory controls on who may cultivate and distribute cannabis: marijuana, hashish, hemp and all their by-products. No government controls on the economic aspect of our culture is to be permitted. (No provincial marijuana control boards, or quotas in cultivation, no discriminatory licensing requirements for vending, etc.). (24)
The LPs claim to reporters to have a more "superior product" than the black market:
In black market (pot), if you see a bug looking right at you, who wants to smoke a carcass never mind powdered mildew that gets into your lungs," Chiasson added of his superior product." (25)
MediJean has outlined their own quality standards on their website:
MediJean has adopted the World Health Organization's "specifications for Herbal Medicine which may be ingested orally without using boiling water" guidelines, i.e. ready to ingest guidelines.
· These specifications consist of:
• Total plate count, less than 500,000 Colony Forming Units (CFU)
• Yeast and Mould together, less than 50,000 CFU
• Enteric Bacteria, less than 5,000 CFU
• Zero detected for E. coli (including E. coli 0157), and pathogens such as Salmonella, Shigella, Listeria sp., Champyobacter and Staphylococcus "a".
Aflotoxins are produced by several types of moulds. Since MediJean will be testing throughout the growing cycles, they will be able to identify and eradicate any moulds if they were to appear. They will also test the finished product to ensure that it meets the strict safety threshold of less than 20 PPB."(26)
Similar promises of high quality were made by Prairie Plant Systems – Health Canada's original producer. But independent studies revealed that PPS was producing a far more contaminated product than they claimed. (27) When Dr. Grinspoon, then on the scientific advisory board of Cannasat – the corporation that owned a significant chunk of PPS – wanted to see the toxicology reports on the PPS product, he was given the run-around for a year and quit in disgust. (28)
It is not apparent that MediJean has published – or will be publishing – any of it's own laboratory findings on its website, or what sort of oversight (if any) their testing will be subject to. According to the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, medical cannabis dispensaries are not allowed the same legal access to reputable laboratories as LPs, making testing more difficult for the dispensaries. (29)
In the only known comparative study of its kind, it was found that Health Canada's "PPS cannabis has had up to 1000 times more potentially pathogenic bacteria" than "black market" dispensary cannabis. (30) In all likelihood, some of the LPs refusing to adopt organic fertilization standards will result in higher bacterial counts, as the dispensary's low count was from an organic sample.
Underestimating the Size of the Gardening Community
Lawyer John Conroy, representing those who grew their own cannabis under the old MMAR program, (31) recently won an injunction against the government's plans to shut down personal cultivation in order to (according to the government's lawyer in the case) help the LPs grow their business more easily. The government's lawyer claimed – in court – that the LPs would "need a captive market to get established". (32)
Of course they didn't call it a "captive market" in the press when they first rolled out their new program – they called it a "free market" (33) – the opposite of a "captive market".
Once told of the government's loss in court, the LPs put on a brave face and downplayed the effect that continued home-growing would have on their business plans:
Mattadeen, the strategy officer at MediJean, says he isn't worried. He insists the market will be healthy, even with the injunction.
"You're talking about a pretty small number of people who are comfortable and want to be able to grow their own product," he says." (34)
Contrary to Mattadeen's statement, the CBC says it's not a "pretty small" number at all:
Under the current regime, just over 30,000 people have a license from Health Canada to grow marijuana for themselves or for another person. More than half of them are in B.C. (35)
That "over 30,000 authorized to grow" number was calculated on February 18, 2014. A year and a half earlier, there weren't even that many people who were "authorized to possess":
As of August 13, 2012, there were 21,986 persons with Authorizations to Possess. The exponential growth of MMAP over time is shown in Figure 1.1, which documents a nine year cumulative growth rate of 43%. (36)
According to an April 4th, 2014 report from the Canadian Aids Society, a vast majority of those who use cannabis preferred the black market or dispensaries to Health Canada's PPS cannabis. (37)
According to a 2011 report by CAMCD, dispensaries provide cannabis to over 30,000 users. (38)
It is clearly in the interests of LPs to do whatever they can to encourage the Harper government to shut down dispensaries and the black market growers in order to get access to those thousands of medical marijuana users as customers. This rapidly growing customer base is one the LPs could turn into a "captive market" so their businesses won't fail.
Is the Wine Industry Really Only for Rich Growers?
According to research I did for the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Initiative in California a few years back, I stumbled upon some interesting statistics and facts about small producers of wine:
The average size of a California farm is 374 acres. The average size of one of the 275 vineyards in Mendocino County is 50 acres. The average size of a wine grape growing farm in Japan – a wine economy that stresses quality over quantity – is only one acre. There are advantages to small family farms and many scattered wineries all over the place when it comes to winemaking. According to one source, "A corporation requires quarterly results. A family can afford to take a long-term view." According to another source, "Generally, the closer a wine is bottled to the vineyard where it was produced, the better it is likely to be." (39)
A legal medical cannabis market with thousands of suppliers instead of a tiny handful would increase quality and selection while decreasing price – everything the "free market" the Conservatives pretended to create is supposed to do. A captive market will do the opposite. A captive market is bad for the consumer, and genocide for ma and pa grower and dealer.
Considering it's possible to buy five acres of BC property for approximately $35,000 dollars (40) or much less than that for property not in BC (41) it's apparent to me that land – and not security and accounting – should be the major expense in starting up a legal commercial grow option, and you shouldn't have to be a millionaire to get into the business. In fact, if the Conservatives were truthful when they claimed to be in support of small business and getting people off of social assistance, they would be looking to expand the market, not consolidate it. I guess with all those years of keeping the rich rich and the poor poor, creating and defending cartels is a hard habit to break.
Options for Medical Marijuana Consumers
Let's review the options for medical marijuana consumers:
1) Give the LPs your business. The advantage is that it's fully legal. The disadvantages are that – by not supporting dispensaries and/or the black market – variety will be lost, quality will most likely suffer and poverty will increase due to all the pot money being funnelled into the hands of the rich.
2) Continue to grow your own. If you were one of the lucky ones to have been growing since Sept. 30, 2013, you are most likely still legally allowed to grow. This is by far the best option in terms of price, for those who are physically able to do so.
3) Buy from dispensaries. It's hard to determine the legality of dispensaries as their over-all existence has never been challenged/defended in court, as far as I am able to determine (which is why they have not been endorsed by the government or, for the most part, shut down by the police). Apparently some dispensaries do deliver by mail all over Canada (42) and their prices are similar to, if not better than, the LPs. And given that some have years of experience, no doubt the early dispensaries have stood the test of time, quality-wise.
4) Grow illegally. People have been doing it for decades. Before 1997, all gardens were illegal, and there were tens of thousands of them in Canada alone. Given how difficult it is to afford LP pot, perhaps the police or the judge will go easy on you if they catch you and you have a letter of diagnosis from a doctor and proof that you're not swimming in money.
5) Buy from the black market. Admittedly, the black market can be a crap shoot. Some of it is shwag, and some of it is the killer kind bud sticky icky dank chron bud. Sometimes it's expensive, and sometimes it's cheap as dirt. If all you can find is shitty weed, think about ordering some cannabis from a dispensary. If your dealer is treating you well, don't throw him or her under the bus of Harper's "captive market". Keep working with them, as they no doubt deserve to remain employed.
A Message to LPs That Want Endorsements from Activists
No doubt there are some LPs out there with good intentions. Rather than simply tell activists to trust you, why not do the opposite of MediJean and Tweed and come out with public statements condemning the harming of harmless home growers and dealers and dispensary growers and dealers?
Why not condemn mandatory minimums rather than use them to sell your stock on the TSX?
Why not pledge a significant percentage of your profits to fight for personal cultivation rights and a removal of the absurd security and accounting criteria (that do not exist in the coffee bean market)?
Why not work to build a legal market where anyone who wishes to grow can grow, and anyone who wishes to deal can deal?
It may be counter-intuitive to actually attempt to help your competitors continue to exist rather than help the Harper Government destroy them, but if you wish to appeal to a sophisticated consumer base, one that has a strong dislike of the cultural genocide of the cannabis community, that would actually help you stand apart from all the other LPs.
It may even be advantageous from a business stand-point to have independent associates who you can do business with as equals over a long period of time rather than using the power of the police to extort the genetics from the black-market breeders at desperation mark-down prices. I've talked to many growers, and most of them are content to keep their strains or even let them go extinct rather than hand them over to greedy, rich, privileged, connected "legal" growers.
Back in 1995 when I first got to Vancouver from Edmonton, there was a small marketplace of cannabis outside the old Hemp BC. The young men who sold pot there were organized by a very bright young musician named Charles, who always told everyone not to fight, as "there's enough weed, and enough customers for everyone".
These are wise words, as the business was never better than when there was a cooperative vibe in the air. The same holds true for the 420 and Cannabis Day rallies at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Instead of creating a situation where a few dealers make all the money and everyone else remains poor, everyone makes a bit of money and everyone gets to eat.
The thing I love most about the black market/dispensary pot economy is that you don't need to spend $200,000 dollars on tuition to become a part of it – it's open to all, rich or poor. I will fight to the death to make sure this continues upon "legalization" and I will work with anyone, dispensary or LP, who fights with me.
(1) Be it ordained, established, and enacted by Authority of this present Parliament, That at all Time from henceforth it shall be lawful to every Person being the King's subject. Having Knowledge and Experience of the Nature of Herbs, Roots, and Waters, or of the Operation of the same, by Speculation or Practice, within any part of the Realm of England, or within any other the King's Dominions, to practice, use, and minister in and to any outward Sore, Uncome Wound, Apostemations, outward Swelling or Disease, any Herb or Herbs, Ointments, Baths, Pultess, and Emplaisters, according to their Cunning, Experience, and Knowledge in any of the Diseases, Sores, and Maladies beforesaid, and all other like to the same, or Drinks for the Stone, Strangury, or Agues, without suit, vexation, trouble, penalty, or loss of their goods...
- Herbalists Charter of Henry the VIII, 1512, (author's emphasis)
(3) "Flexner especially disapproved that such treatments were experimentally unproven nor statistically assessed. Following to his reasoning, these treatments did not adhere to the "gold standard" of modern medical education in biomedicine, that is, the laboratory-based and bedside-oriented Johns Hopkins model of medical research. He particularly criticized that many of the teaching programs in the traditional medical colleges and psychiatric hospitals had no experimental physiological, experimental physiological laboratories, calling them "filthy" and "unhygienic" institutions ."
The Flexner Report of 1910 and Its Impact on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Psychiatry in North America in the 20th Century
Frank W. Stahnisch and Marja Verhoef, 28 November 2012
(5) State-Monopoly Capitalism:
The term refers to an environment where the state intervenes in the economy to protect large monopolistic or oligopolistic businesses from competition by smaller firms. "Ever since monopoly capital took over the world, it has kept the greater part of humanity in povery, dividing all the profits among the group of the most powerful countries. The standard of living in those countries is based on the extreme poverty of our countries." – Che Guevara, 1965
(12) "I agree with the aspect of the new, revamped program allowing licensed producers to be the sole providers of medical marijuana to Canadians – people normally don't produce their own medicine."
(13) "Just the fact that somebody could be allowed to have 75 plants and store three pounds of dope at home proves that the people giving out those licences haven't got a flippin' clue what they're doing."
(14) "From a policing perspective, though, it's a lot better to move medical marijuana away from home growers. Organized crime has infiltrated a lot of home-grows and bought up licences, and there's a lot of overgrowing: a person may say, 'Well, I've got this extra two pounds of marijuana, so I'm gonna sell it.'"
(15) MediJean builds strong relationship with Richmond - Posted on February 6, 2014
(22) "What we know for certain is that nobody should have a monopoly on the emerging herbal health-care economy,
- "Patented Pot vs. the Herbal Gold Standard - By Lester Grinspoon and David Malmo-Levine, Sept. 23, 2009
(36) Cost-Benefit Analysis of Regulatory Changes for Access to Marihuana for Medical Purposes, December 2012, David Stambrook Senior Economist, Delsys Research Group Inc., Derek Ireland, Ph.D. Senior Economist, Delsys Research Group Inc., Wei Xie Senior Policy Analyst, Delsys Research Group Inc.
(37) "…more than three quarters of respondents who had access to authorized sources also accessed cannabis for medical purposes from unauthorized sources (i.e. dispensary, friend, street, unlicensed self-production, unlicensed designated producer)…"
Barriers to Access for Canadians Who Use Cannabis for Medical Purposes
Friday, April 4, 2014, The Canadian Aids Society
(38) "Dispensaries across Canada currently provide medical cannabis to over 30,000 people at no cost to taxpayers."
Inclusion of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries in the Regulatory Framework
Submission of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries on the Amendments to Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, July 30, 2011
Editor's note: The views of David Malmo-Levine are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the owners or staff of Cannabis Culture.
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