Funky Butte Ranch
While the Middle East dictators kept toppling (they always topple, don’t they? They’re like Weebles) and the bankers kept devising new kinds of financial instruments to circumvent whatever “regulation” they and their former colleagues (now in government) concocted, I was sleuthing in one of the first places in the United States to declare a Drug Peace. Why?
Bottom line: the War on Drugs had just celebrated its dubious fortieth anniversary, during which time it has cost you and me a trillion dollars without making a dent in supply or demand (actually both have increased). I wanted to know: is there a sustainable solution that can put billions back into the economy every year while decimating the murderous drug cartels and even helping the U.S. wean from foreign oil?
That’s what I’ve been looking into for the past year and that’s the topic of my new book, TOO HIGH TO FAIL: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution (Penguin/Gotham, August 2, 2012).
I essentially spent a growing season in domestic medical cannabis fields following a single flower from planting to patient. I shadowed a cadre of American farmers (some new, some third generation) looking at what a cannabis economy would be worth to the U.S. balance sheet if (perhaps we should say “when”) the Drug War ends. Just tryin’ to do my part to help the ol’ economy.
The folks who invited me in to learn the details of their once-secret industry sported tastefully framed permits from local law enforcement and were Chamber of Commerce members. Sustainability standards were written into local regulations. Quite the brainteaser for a fellow raised during Just Say No.
What I discovered amidst the Northern California redwoods is what both a majority of Americans and Pat Robertson already sense (according to a 2011 Gallup poll): beyond its obviously valuable medicinal properties, taxing cannabis like alcohol for adult use will bring a half-trillion dollars into the legitimate American economy in the first five years after prohibition ends and will thus play a significant role in balancing the U.S. budget, while jump-starting an American agricultural and manufacturing revival.
It’s already happening in Canada, where the cannabis industry is growing at 20% per year. That’s where the organic hemp seed oil in my morning shake comes from, and the plant’s per-acre biofuel efficiency is ten times that of corn. It’d be a federal felony to grow it here. But we can buy it from other nations. Or from cartel criminals (to the tune of tens of billions of as yet-untaxed dollars every year). At a time of massive national debt. Don’t you love good policy? Go BP. “It’s magnitudes more productive than corn- or soy-based ethanol,” a USDA biologist told me. “But it’s not even on our blackboard because it’s a federal crime.” Thus were the farmers I followed practicing a kind of patriotic civil disobedience. One day they’ll be teaching university courses to students dubious that their crop was ever really illegal.
And on the sustainability front, I learned during the research for TOO HIGH TO FAIL that the cannabis plant, thanks to its aerating, foot-long taproots that grow in a month, can even help ravaged soil worldwide adjust to climate change and recover from a century of monoculture. So the topic passed quite easily my “yes, but is this important enough to spend a year researching?” test. As I put it in the book, ‘One tries not to sound like one of those “cannabis can do anything including bring about world peace and an end to Ring Around the Collar” people, but from my Omega-balanced breakfast shake alone I felt I deserved some kind of Canadian tax rebate.”
As the highly decorated (and very popular) local Sheriff in the community where I did my primary research likes to say, “The plant isn’t going away. We can tax it, or we can let the drug lords make the profits. If a law enforcement professional or a politician doesn’t realize after forty years [of Drug Warring] that the sun still rises and there’s still an America with cannabis on the convenience store shelf, it might be time for him to retire.”
It was, perhaps needless to say, a fun book to research. Hope it proves that way to read. Click on the cover image (or book title) below to head to the pre-order page or to see the short film about the whole season-long, seed-to-patient adventure. Please also feel free to forward this note far and wide. And thanks as always for your support. I never forget that it’s you who allow me to keep writing about the topics that feel important and amusing to cover.
Funky Butte Ranch
Note: for those of you blessed humans who ordered signed copies of my previous books directly from me, this time please first use one of the options you’ll see on the pre-order page: it’s part of my agreement with the publisher that we’ll do it through stores this time, whether independent local bookstores or the Amazons/Barnes and Nobles/Apples of the world. As in the past, if you want your copies signed, I’m happy to do it. The best way is probably to come to the live events as they line up in the second half of the year. There you’ll also see the unintentional comedy performance known as my show. Hope to see you on the tour.