Pubdate: Thu, 25 Aug 2016
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Column: Weed Between the Lines
Copyright: 2016 Boulder Weekly
Author: Ryan Stoa
Note: Ryan Stoa is Senior Scholar, Environmental and Natural 
Resources Law, Florida International University. This article was 
originally published on The Conversation see Read the original article at


In November, voters in as many as 12 states will see a marijuana 
legalization initiative on their ballots.

Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, 
Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. Another 25 states have 
legalized medical marijuana, including Hawaii. The era of marijuana 
prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

Unfortunately, lawmakers lack easy answers to tough questions facing 
the marijuana industry. Legalization presents challenges on a number 
of fronts, including distribution, taxation, consumption, security 
and public health.

Recently, I have argued that the agricultural sector of the marijuana 
industry also presents a number of challenges. One paramount question 
looms over the rest: Will marijuana agriculture become consolidated, 
with "Big Marijuana" companies producing vast quantities of 
indistinct marijuana? Or, will small-scale farmers thrive by 
producing unique and local marijuana strains?

My research shows that Big Marijuana is not inevitable. On the 
contrary, a local, sustainable, small-scale farming future is 
entirely within reach.

Marijuana agriculture in the United States is currently dominated by 
small-scale farmers. Staying small allows farmers to stay under the 
radar of federal officials. When the federal prohibition is lifted, 
however, many people assume the free market will push these farmers 
out of business. As large farms producing cheap marijuana drive 
prices down, small-scale farming may no longer be profitable.

As one recent study put it, "legalizing marijuana opens the market to 
major corporations, including tobacco companies, which have the 
financial resources, product design technology ... marketing muscle, 
and political clout to transform the marijuana market."

Some states have already taken measures to protect small-scale 
farmers, and prevent a Big Marijuana takeover.

But there is reason to doubt the inevitability of Big Marijuana. To 
begin with, it's not clear the marijuana plant is capable of 
large-scale cultivation. "Marijuana" is a catch-all term for the 
hundreds of individual strains of the Cannabis sativa plant species. 
Each strain has unique cultivation needs, and yields a product with 
unique characteristics. Marijuana farmers have told me that many of 
these strains are notoriously high maintenance. It would be difficult 
to mass-produce these strains without a noticeable drop in quality.

There's little reason to believe marijuana agriculture will operate 
in a completely free-market environment, either. Many states are wary 
of letting big corporations take over the marijuana industry. 
California's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy recommends "a 
highly regulated market ... not an unregulated free market; this 
industry should not be California's next Gold Rush."

And, "the goal should be to prevent the growth of a large, corporate 
marijuana industry dominated by a small number of players." Some 
states have already taken measures to protect small-scale farmers, 
and prevent a Big Marijuana takeover. California, for example, limits 
the maximum canopy size of a marijuana farm to 1 acre, which is 
minuscule compared to most American farm crops. Many people might be 
uncomfortable with the mainstreaming of marijuana, but spreading the 
opportunities and benefits to many, rather than a powerful few, might 
make it easier for politicians and their constituents to make peace 
with legalization.

If a local, sustainable, small-scale vision of marijuana agriculture 
is possible, how can it be made a reality?

I argue that farmers, regulators and consumers may benefit from 
adopting the wine industry's organizational model, known as the 
appellation system. An appellation is a legally protected designation 
that is applied to a product to indicate the geographic region where 
it was created.

For example, when a wine label says the wine comes from Napa County, 
you can be confident it actually did. Some appellations - in Europe, 
for example - also enforce quality standards or cultivation methods. 
Under U.S. law, wine appellations typically speak only to the place 
of origin, but in theory an appellation system can do much more. In 
the U.S., appellations can take the form of a micro-region, county, 
state or group of states. There are 236 active wine appellations in 
the United States today

Appellations can add value to the marijuana industry in several ways. 
Appellations provide a legally protected designation of origin, 
differentiating local products from generic products. That helps 
protect local farmers and farming communities from the threat of 
cheap marijuana flooding the market, because the products are no 
longer the same. Some appellations, like those in Europe, can also 
encourage farmers in each region to work out issues together by 
setting rules and standards for cultivation that maintain the 
product's quality and reputation. Also, as in the wine industry, 
appellations may promote agrotourism in marijuana farming communities.

For example, micro-regions of Mendocino County, California, have been 
proposed as cannabis cultivation appellations. Farmers hope these 
designations will promote tourism and enhance their brand.

For the consumer, designations of origin provide transparency and 
protection. In the prohibition era, most marijuana transactions took 
place on the street. Consumers typically had no idea where their 
marijuana came from. Chances were good it came from Mexican cartels.

But now that American farmers are supplying consumers with quality 
marijuana, a certified designation of origin would provide some 
measure of transparency by relaying important information to the 
consumer. By keeping unique products in the marketplace, appellations 
also provide consumers with more options to suit their medicinal or 
recreational needs.

Marijuana appellations are not a panacea, and it will be challenging 
to implement and enforce "cannabicultural" designations of origin 
nationwide as long as a federal marijuana prohibition is in place. 
But at a time when lawmakers are scrambling to put regulations in 
place, appellations may provide the organizational structure needed 
to make sure marijuana agriculture remains safe and sustainable.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom