In a May 11 press release, the newly assembled Humboldt County Growers Alliance announced its mission as a trade association of local cannabis farmers and business owners who have pledged "to work in a responsibly regulated industry." Later in the release, the group states its desire to support the values of Humboldt communities, maintain a healthy environment and include folks from all over our "diverse county."
OK, good stuff. But in the second paragraph, things get a little Braveheart: "We are the seed hunters, carriers of the torch, next-generation extract artists, innovators, and the pioneers who have sacrificed at times, their freedom, to protect and nourish a plant that is so deeply woven into the story of Humboldt County."
Really? I'll give you seed hunting and even the loose use of "artist," but slow your roll on marijuana martyrdom. Might not some of the alliance members have gotten into the industry specifically because illegality made it lucrative? Because if it wasn't for the money, there are some less risky things you can do to "protect and nourish" local flora, like volunteering with the Native Plant Society.
This sanctimonious, pre-battle-hype tone isn't new. When California Cannabis Voice Humboldt unveiled its proposed land use ordinance on the Humboldt County courthouse steps ("Draft Day," July 7, 2015), co-founder Luke Bruner drew applause telling growers, "You have nothing to lose but your chains and your shame." The quote is a nod to The Communist Manifesto but you'd be excused for thinking he was drawing parallels between moving pounds out of a greenhouse and keeping money in mattresses instead of banks to being enslaved.
The hypocrisy and untenable laws of cannabis prohibition need to change, and it's good to see people trying to pay taxes and get right with regulation, especially as it concerns environmental impacts. But growers with deep, sticky pockets playing up their self sacrifice against a backdrop of the disproportionately high arrest and imprisonment rates of people of color — a history that results in blocking those same people from starting newly legal cannabis businesses — smacks of clueless privilege. It's a bad look that the overwhelmingly white upper echelons of the industry can't afford if its members are as serious about increasing diversity in its ranks as its panel discussions on inclusion would suggest.
In a recent New Yorker article, Vice contributor and former editor of High Times David Bienenstock said, "Cannabis was my gateway to social justice and to the idea of the government as an oppressive, illegitimate force." So after what one presumes was an adequate high school education with some mention of segregation, to say nothing of Native genocide and slavery, weed was his a-ha moment. Must be nice. Then again, if realizations about the criminalization of pot got him woke to state oppression, to which our War on Drugs has been an essential tool — I'm desperate enough to call it a win. By any means necessary, right?
Speaking of those oppressive laws, last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions — not exactly a booster for cannabis or people of color — announced plans to make the War on Drugs great again. The Washington Post reported that Sessions "has directed his federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties possible, including mandatory minimum sentences, in his first step toward a return to the war on drugs of the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in long sentences for many minority defendants and packed U.S. prisons."
So does this mean Sessions is going to roll up to the woods like it's 1995? That's still unclear. But Sessions did say, "These are drug dealers, and you drug dealers are going to prison." So now might be a good time for the cannabis industry to cut the self-righteousness and get down to some serious solidarity. After all, Sessions is drawing battle lines and growers may soon need all the allies they can find.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the North Coast Journal. Reach her at 442-1400 extension 320 or Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.