Big or Small: Who Will Grow Washington’s Cannabis Crop?
by: Keep It Cottage Posted on: April 01, 2013
Editor’s Note: Washington State recently legalized cannabis. We hear from a man who urges us to recognize this opportunity to create a market of small independent cannabis producers.
In the minds of many voters in Washington State, a yes vote for I-502 represented a chance to make a statement about the failed drug war, the overburdened judicial system and the faltering state of our economy. Along with voters in Colorado, these messages have been heard around the world. However, it is less known to voters that I-502 also provides an opportunity for small-scale agriculture to assert itself as the primary source of Washington State’s cannabis in this post-prohibition marketplace.
Before discussing the important decisions facing Washingtonians regarding the implementation of I-502 it is extremely important to point out that the I-502 marketplace has no guarantee for success. The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) is currently presiding over the future of I-502 while taking public comments into consideration. The big question is, when they build it, will they come? Most of the people that would really like to see the I-502 experiment fail are those who are currently profiting off the black market or the medical market. For those of us who would like to see the I-502 economy thrive there are many significant choices to make over the next few weeks and months.
The wording of I-502 is much like that of a driver’s manual who’s only instructions read: get a car and drive it safely. Basically, the law states that cannabis must be grown, processed, tested, taxed and sold to adults with very little detail of how to accomplish any of this. Left to conventional thinking, big-business and its vast capital resources could industrialize, homogenize, out-produce and out-compete all other producers. The folks at KeepItCottage.org believe that I-502 can instead be used to limit the advantages of big business and prove that cannabis demand can be supplied by a network of small to medium-sized horticulturalists.
This is where I-502 becomes interesting for those in the agricultural community that are not interested in cannabis per se. As there was no formal marijuana market before its prohibition in 1937, the methods of cannabis production have remained largely unaffected by the tendency of large-scale agriculture to homogenize crop diversity and diminish product quality. In the 76-years since marijuana’s prohibition, nearly all other agricultural sectors have experienced radical changes through mechanization, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. On the other hand, cannabis production has developed in a clandestine manner by people willing to risk their freedoms, motivated by profits and/or a passion for the cannabis plant itself. Since beer and cannabis both have the distinction of being recreational intoxicants, it is interesting to note the effects that both industrialization and prohibition had on the quality and quantity of beer sold in the U.S. The recent history of domestic beer production illustrates a set of circumstances that can be avoided when establishing rules for the newly legalized cannabis market.
Prior to alcohol’s prohibition in 1920, there were more than 4,000 beer breweries in the United States, each producing an average of over 2,100 barrels a year. Within a year of repealing prohibition in 1933, there were more than 750 breweries back in operation, which dropped to around 400 following World War II. By the 1960’s there were 230 breweries in operation with only 60% of those being independently owned and operated. Homebrewing wasn’t made federally legal until 1978, with the first brew pub since prohibition opening its doors in 1982. The low point for beer quality and diversity in the 20th century was in 1983 when 51 brewing companies operated a total of 80 breweries nationwide. This industrial homogeneity has sparked an upsurge in the number of micro-breweries where there are now more than 1,500 such breweries supplying almost 6% of the total U.S. beer market. The product diversity and quality of the emerging cannabis market doesn’t have to experience this cycle of events.
Currently it seems that the WSLCB is considering the recommendations presented in the Office of Fiscal Management’s impact statement, where the OFM suggests that 100 licensees can be expected to produce an estimated 190,000 pounds of dried cannabis annually. That means that each producer will have to grow at least 2,000 plants annually through the use of large-scale production methods. Regardless of whether Washington’s cannabis is grown indoors or outdoors (decisions yet-to-be-made), industrial-scale production would certainly create a race to the bottom where those who can afford to produce a consistent product which meets minimum safety and quality standards will exclude all small business opportunities from even entering this new agricultural sector. This is why we want the rules to be written so big producers are excluded by having plant counts limited to 200.
If you are interested in showing the world that Washington State’s cannabis demand can be supplied through a network of small artisan cannabis growers rather than an exclusive conglomerate of industrial cannabis factories please join others at www.keepitcottage.org. Since I-502 is an experiment on many levels it would be naive to think that the WSLCB will get everything right initially but at least we can persuade them to codify into law a situation that evens the playing field between those who would sacrifice quality for quantity and those small to medium-sized growers who are already prioritizing quality. Developing a system of small producers rather than a highly mechanized industrial system will undoubtedly employ more Washingtonians and improve local economies, not only in the form of jobs growing and processing cannabis, but also in the form of WSLCB jobs, and the potential to improve business at horticulture and related supply shops. Please sign the online petition that is being submitted to the WSLCB prior to the closing of public comments sometime in April. The petition calls for the issuance of at least 2,000 producer/processor licenses while limiting the number of plants any one licensee can grow at one time to 200. These two simple regulations would exclude all industrial-scale agriculture from the I-502 marketplace.
Photo: Keep it Cottage
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