Author and NPR Contributor Doug Fine on the Economic Future of Marijuana
Photo credit: Doug Fine. http://www.dougfine.com/
Doug Fine wrote the book on marijuana.
The book Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution delves into a cannabis-based economic plan and its leaders, "ganjapreneurs." It chronicles the journey of a single flower from farm to patient in Mendocino County, California. Just north of the San Francisco Bay Area, the county has developed a system to legalize, regulate, and tax the growth of ganja. The zip-tie program, where plants wore yellow zip-ties bearing a permit number allowing them to be grown without legal repercussion, was formally shut down after pressure from the federal government at the end of the 2011 farming season.
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Pot is an unregulated industry generating $35 billion dollars a year in unrecoupable, underground funds. A 2010 study from the Cato Institute in Washington claims that legalizing weed could generate tax revenue upward of $8.7 billion annually -- and would save the government roughly the same amount in enforcement spending. Over half of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, and if Mendocino County is any indication, the federal government is starting to notice.
Fine, whose résumé includes backpacking across five continents, contributing to National Public Radio, and goat farming, comes to Changing Hands Bookstore on Friday, July 19, for a conversation about these numbers and their impact on Arizona. We caught up with him on his book tour to talk pot, the War on Drugs, and whether he's been known to "puff, puff, pass."
What was your process going into writing and researching Too High to Fail?
A retiring neighbor of mine got arrested for a very small amount of [marijuana] plants. There was a huge aerial raid that terrified me and my family, and it didn't seem like the Drug War was in sync with American ideals of freedom and civil liberties.
[But] I was conscious to write a book about not just why America is better off ending the Drug War, because 80 percent of Americans already know that. I chose to study this one program called the Zip-tie program in Mendocino County, California. I followed this one cannabis flower from farm to patient. It was a terrible success.
How did you come to that conclusion? What might a cannabis economy look like in that sense?
The model is just awesome! It's farmer-centric. In other words, it puts small farmers back to work in a way where they can support themselves. It mandates sustainable practices, it increases public safety, it creates local jobs -- not just on the farms but inspectors, flower trimmers, et cetera. And it was really win-win for everybody and something that can be replicated everywhere. They were even talking about later-stage, once the Drug War ends, using the unusable stocks to create ethanol and local energy.
Why a cannabis-based economy as opposed to something like narcotics or one incorporating all drugs? What makes pot different in terms of readiness for taxation?
Cannabis is considerably safer than alcohol and safer than America's real epidemic, which is prescription drug use -- and any cop will tell you that. The sheriff in Mendocino County doesn't even think cannabis is in the top 10 problems for the county.
Arizona is going to see a lot safer state with cannabis legalized, because the criminal cartels south of the border make the majority of their profits from cannabis. Use rates go down in every place that's legalized cannabis so far. There's even a study out of Rhode Island -- a university study -- that when medical cannabis got going there youth use rates went down as well, and that's due to the fact that criminals don't ask for ID. Legalizing actually decreases the rate of youth use, which I care about as a father. Banning it doesn't work. Now, I don't want to say anything has zero risk, but we can reduce 90 percent of our drug war spending and focus the rest on real education and treatments to prevent abuse. So, what I'm focusing on here is taxing and regulating responsible adult use. I still believe we should go after the really dangerous things like cocaine, meth and, really, prescription pills, too. [But] I think ending the war on cannabis really ends the Drug War.