The legalization of marijuana for recreational use has gained significant traction in the United States. With Colorado and Washington already enacting laws making it legal for persons over the age of 21, many are expecting more states to follow suit, and some even feel that federal laws regarding marijuana could soon come off the books. In theory, weed legalization should be beneficial to all. States can make money by taxing recreational pot while at the same time saving money previously spent on prosecuting drug offenders. Those who simply want to enjoy marijuana without fear of arrest are free to do so.
There is one group of people, however, who have a very good reason to oppose potential legalization, and they may be the most important people involved: the farmers who make a living growing marijuana.
In Northern California, Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties comprise what is known as the “Emerald Triangle.” This rural, sparsely populated region is the largest marijuana-producing region in the U.S.
Thousands of farmers earn hearty profits plying their trade in the Emerald Triangle. Before medicinal marijuana was legalized in certain states, growers set their own prices, which allowed them to recoup the heavy expenditures required for a large-scale growing operation.
According to journalist Emily Brady, who spent a year researching the Emerald Triangle, “A friend of mine made $6,000 a pound in the early ‘90s and now earns about $1,200 a pound. If the black market that Humboldt relies upon disappears, there is speculation that pot could go as low as $500 a pound.”
Legalizing marijuana would obviously necessitate subsidies to keep farms like the ones in California operational. For many, however, the do-it-yourself aesthetic of marijuana growing was what drew them to the profession in the first place. Involving the government would fundamentally alter the lifestyle that the Emerald Triangle’s pot farmers enjoy.
Also, the full legalization of marijuana could allow industrial biotech firms with powerful Washington lobbies to reap the benefits of government subsidies, making it even more difficult for independent farmers to keep up.
Of course, legalization would benefit marijuana farmers in other ways. These grow operations are still subject to raids by the federal government, which occur with varying frequency. A single raid can seize hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pot. Full legalization would allay this anxiety, which must loom heavily in the minds of growers.
As Brady also points out, legalization raises the opportunity for the Emerald Triangle to rebrand itself as the pot capital of the U.S. as a ploy for tourism. The influx of tourism money could help make up for lost marijuana revenue.
With increasing public support behind it, marijuana legalization will undoubtedly continue to spread throughout the rest of the nation. Before it does, though, there needs to be serious thought given to the concerns of those who grow it. A system must be put in place that fairly compensates farmers and protects them from being run out of business by larger firms they cannot possibly compete with.
If done correctly, the legalization of marijuana can be beneficial for all involved. Rushing into it is not the proper course of action. Thoughtlessly ushering in legalization could fundamentally destroy the entire multi-billion-dollar marijuana market as we know it.