More than half of the US now allows cannabis for either medical or adult use purposes. It seems like America is trending in the right direction, but are things changing for better or for worse? The answer is ambivalent, according to the recent television special National Geographic Investigates: Legal Marijuana In America.
California’s monumental passing of Proposition 64 in 2016 legalized adult-use cannabis, becoming just the fifth state to do so at the time. The landmark vote paved the way for more to follow; Ohio became the 24th state to legalize adult use on November 7, while 38 states allow for medical use only. As legalization continues to spread throughout the nation, National Geographic’s investigation finds that reform comes with a challenging set of growing pains affecting the legal cannabis industry, from business-minded venture capitalists and corporations, down to cultivators and users themselves.
NatGeo’s special episode features several segments with cannabis activist and Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake, who says legalization has been devastating for California farmers and brands: “The almost criminal over-taxation, regulations and continuous roadblocks have wiped out the majority of the legacy folks who built this industry over the past 50 years.”
Despite the rapid sea change in state legalization, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, and that poses several major problems for everyone mentioned. The documentary points out that the federal rift doesn’t permit most banks to do business in the cannabis space. The lack of banking, in addition to states calling their own regulations and tax percentages, has effectively cut out a good number of smaller legacy growers and businesses. Meanwhile, larger corporations can easily deal with higher taxes, or simply operate out of state.
“We want to be treated like traditional farmers. No more draconian regulations or cannabis taxes,” Blake says. “Direct-to-consumer interaction and engagement is critical. Getting the chance to sell directly to consumers through farmer’s markets or other events is imperative.”
The documentary also touches on reform dealing with law and prison. Former Harborside Health Center CEO turned full-on cannabis activist Steve DeAngelo is shown supporting incarcerated individuals with cannabis-related offenses through his organization, The Last Prisoner Project. Throughout the remarkable growth of legalization, several prison inmates remain behind bars for crimes that would be considered legal under current state laws.
While DeAngelo directs his efforts towards prison reform, Blake is seen working personally with local law enforcement in the Emerald Triangle, and in a light-hearted and amicable manner. Task force raids and police overreach may have been an issue in the era of strictly medicinal use, although tensions seem to have melted over. “I don’t think the issue moving forward is going to be with law enforcement. There’s nothing in it for them anymore,” Blake says. “The challenge for not only farmers but brands as well is the countless state and local agencies that all want a piece of the pie and who also hold companies back by making it nearly impossible to satisfy their endless demands.”
Only 13 states remain that have yet to allow either medical or adult use. There are several challenges presented by National Geographic, but the hope is that these states learn a lot from the laboratories of democracy laid before them. “They should learn from California and treat cannabis like every other traditional agricultural product. They should allow cannabis to be sold at farmer’s markets and other events immediately,” Blake says. “We need cannabis to be allowed into mainstream events in every city and state in this country. We need cannabis lounges to be as plentiful as bars.”
Legalization has been far from perfect. But those with skin in the game, such as Blake, remain thoroughly optimistic looking towards the future of cannabis reform. “Federal legalization will take place within two years,” Blake boldly predicts. “Things will open up nationwide as well as globally, seemingly overnight. We’re just getting started.”
If Tim Blake is indeed right, NatGeo may want to fire up a follow-up to this can’t-miss, worthy documentary. (Full Story)