Too High to Fail: A “Fine” Book on the Cannabis Conundrum

CANNABIS CULTURE – Doug Fine went looking for answers. A “sustainability journalist” whose last book, Farewell My Subaru documents his divorce from Big Oil, Fine walks his talk on an off-the-grid goat ranch in New Mexico. One day, he found dozens of gun-toting thugs along with helicopters in his neighborhood: DEA agents who were after his retired neighbor’s 11-plant marijuana garden.

“When you’re used to hearing your goats braying for breakfast and instead, one Thursday, you find yourself in the climactic scene to Goodfellas, you start asking how much longer this forty-year-long Drug War farce is going to continue,” Fine writes. “That’ll make any journalist worth his salt investigate the alternatives.”

And so he did, traveling to Mendocino County, California to investigate and document their avant garde licensing program for commercial medical marijuana farmers. The program brought in $600,000 in licensing fees to the county in its first year, and was poised to make much more when the feds moved in to shut it down, which one Mendocino county supervisor called, “A victory for the cartels.”

“You know you’ve got a hot button issue when Bill Maher writes your book review in the New York Times,” said the manager of The Booksmith on Haight Street in SF when she introduced Fine for a book signing last week. Maher highlighted the economic arguments in the book, and Fine reminded the audience that they were wasting $30 billion yearly for the failed War on Drugs. “I’m not a Pollyanna, but this is the most black and white issue I’ve ever covered,” he said.

Too High to Fail profiles two Mendocino farmers, one of whom canvassed for Obama in Florida because of his Drug War stance. The book follows a CBD-rich strain called Cashmere Kush down to the patients who needed it, but almost didn’t get it when the feds raided Northstone Organics farmer Matt Cohen. A cancer patient named Bill weighed 118 lbs. when his doctor insisted he try medical cannabis. He was able to regain weight, back up to 155 lbs., with the aid of cannabis. Another patient, Diane, didn’t like a CBD strain so much for her arthritis pain, but recommended it to her doctor for his glaucoma.

Fine watched as Mendocino’s medical cannabis was laboratory tested, and observed that the county weights and measures department verified the scales used in the program. He had a first-hand experience with the gauntlet farmers must run driving their crops down to the city when Sonoma county police profiled him as a hippie courier and demanded he show them where he was hiding the pot.

Fine had some interesting answers to questions about the “non-medical” use of medical marijuana. “During alcohol prohibition, the Jewish population in LA skyrocketed,” he noted, since rabbis were permitted to share wine with their congregations. He asked, even if many are using cannabis for non-acute medical conditions, isn’t it serving the public good if some are using it preventively, as others use red wine? He prefers sun-grown to indoor, but thinks, wisely, now isn’t the time to have that debate.

Six months into his research, a US mayor in a New Mexico town near Fine’s ranch was convicted of aiding Mexican cartels. Nineteen people were killed at a wedding in the Mexican border town he and his family had visited over the Drug War. He takes the subject seriously and doesn’t hide his advocacy.

“One hundred million Americans and the last three presidents have used cannabis,” Fine noted.

As an environmentalist he’s particularly enthused about the potential for industrial hemp, and although he’d prefer organic fertilizers, he sees it as a victory of sorts that the marketing chief for Miracle Grow recently said the company was targeting marijuana farmers.

One of biggest surprises in his research, Fine said, is that the War on Drugs is mostly aimed at marijuana, not other drugs. And estimated 70% of cartel profits are from marijuana. Noting that the US just authorized the use of drones for use in the domestic Drug War in 2013, he made a strong case for immediate action. He happily reported that Arkansas has just qualified a medical marijuana initiative for their November ballot.

As part of his book tour, Fine has been interviewed on Conan O’Brien and CNBC, and in Uruguay and Brazil, two places that are calling for a truce in the War on Drugs. He reports universal acceptance of the idea of legalization: One radio host in Maryland begged callers who opposed legalization to call in and balance the show.

Check out Fine’s fine book and see him on tour if you can.

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website and blogs at Tokin Woman.