Book Review: “Where There’s Smoke” Will Light a Fire in You

Book Review: “Where There’s Smoke” Will Light a Fire in You

[Editor’s Note: This is an excellent book review by John Veit. The book is a must read for anyone interested in the evolution and re-normalization of cannabis into our culture.]

“There is nothing inherently ecological about the cannabis plant. The environmental problems associated with cannabis are problems of social policy. The ecological impacts are the result of prohibitionist policy regimes that began in the early part of the 20th Century.” Dr. Anthony Silvaggio, author of two chapters in Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana, uses this quote to begin panel discussions.

And this book proves his point. It’s a must-have for any so-called cannabis expert, policy maker, academic, journalist, activist, or pot smoker. The environmental impacts, sociology, and modern political history of cannabis in the United States are covered in exhaustive and innovative detail that’s academically rigorous and accessible to civilian readers. Recurring throughout the book are pointed examples of how cannabis prohibition and regulation exacerbate environmental damage and magnify social inequity.

Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana is a truly cautionary tale, showing how well-intentioned proponents of cannabis legalization often provoke the very environmental and social injustices they hoped to ameliorate. Medical and recreational cannabis regulations invariably keep prices so high that unregulated growers will always have an incentive to continue their work.

Courtesy of University Press of Kansas

While decriminalization helps keep some people out of jail, penalties for causing environmental damage manifest slowly and require agents from environmental protection agencies to work in conjunction with law enforcement in dangerous, cumbersome conditions.

No matter how many states legalize, decriminalize, or medicalize cannabis, federal prohibition guarantees jobs for those bold enough to grow for illicit markets. Asset forfeiture laws further incentivize cannabis farming on public lands. The book’s chapter covering the complexities of Appalachian cannabis farms provides the most prescient and interesting examples of how difficult it’ll be to ever fully regulate cannabis. Overlapping and murky ownership of state, national, and private lands combine to make a perfect storm of vagaries that growers (from moonshiners to foreign “cartels”) have been taking advantage of for decades.

Chapters punctiliously detail how Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, and Washington D.C. created their current regulatory structures and provide valuable insights into potential pitfalls. Efforts designed to create access and regulate medical cannabis simultaneously criminalize those who can’t afford testing and licenses. Informal, sustainable collectives and distribution networks are destroyed while privileged (and mostly white) people get rich.

Environmental chapters focus primarily on the pollution left by trespass grows on public and tribal land in California. Exhaustive, Ph.D. level research describes how massive, unregulated cannabis farms in parks and on reservations deplete water sources relied upon by people, salmon, and steelhead trout. Fertilizers, herbicides, and rodenticides further conspire to kill bobcats, birds, fishers, and foxes.

Book Review: "Where There's Smoke" Will Light a Fire in You

A grey fox poisoned by a California trespass grow/ Courtesy of Lt. John Nores Jr.

The fact trespass grows leave ugly ecological scars is not newsworthy, but their increasing numbers and size in the wake of legalization is. The staggering amount of poisonous chemicals used in some of these operations, their ubiquity, and how difficult they are to clean up are all cause for serious concern. These issues are covered in the text by scientists, researchers, and even an officer from a marijuana task force. And they demonstrate how high taxes, fees, contradictory laws, and perpetually dropping prices incentivize farmers to cultivate in remote, unregulated areas.

Particularly compelling is the book’s coverage of undocumented laborers and how they are exploited by “cartels” and prosecutors. The typical narrative portraying Mexican criminal groups growing tens of thousands of plants in a state park or national forest is described from the perspective of the low-level workers who tend the plants and provide ancillary services. A Mexican defendant in a case involving 91,000 plants was a cook who hadn’t been told he was going to work on a pot farm. While other arrestees pled guilty, provided information, and received reduced sentences, the cook didn’t know anything of value to prosecutors. After serving more than ten years in federal prison, he will be deported. Like many undocumented workers, he was unable to successfully mount a duress defense because he couldn’t prove threats of violence made by his employers against family members living overseas.

Where There’s Smoke does not examine the environmental footprint caused by cannabis consumers, think: butane torches, lighters, and the obscene amounts of packaging used in regulated markets. It also does not address the solvents and chemicals used to produce concentrates. Further, it gives short shrift to estimates that 3 percent of California’s electricity is used to power lights and other equipment for indoor cannabis farms. Currently, few regulations exist that’ll help lessen cannabis’ unsustainable carbon footprint.

Book Review: "Where There's Smoke" Will Light a Fire in You

Plastic packaging surrounds tiny amounts of cannabis at Washington shop/ John Veit

The book offers some solutions to the marijuana morass. Most important among them is the need for federal action to remove cannabis from Schedule I enforcement. The ripple effects of its current classification—asset forfeiture, inflated prices, the inability of public institutions to grow and study cannabis—have set in motion the cacophony of chaotic, stop-gap measures that contribute to cannabis’ bizarre array of contradictory regulations.

Other solutions are touted, including extensive tax breaks for farmers who use sustainable methods and limits on the size of regulated farms. Currently, California’s Proposition 64 is scheduled to allow unlimited, Type 5 farms in 2020 that will resemble the massive, unsustainable, water-intensive almond and citrus groves that cover California’s Central Valley.

Among the most valuable assets in this book are the extensive bibliographies that conclude each chapter and will undoubtedly serve students and journalists for decades. Where There’s Smoke has only scratched the surface in describing cannabis’ remarkably complex political history and environmental impacts. Hopefully, the University of Kansas Press will produce more volumes as states and countries continue to legalize. Similarly, thorough academic review is needed in countries where cannabis was never stigmatized in the first place, like Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Canada, Jamaica, Uruguay, Israel, and states like Nevada and Massachusetts that are struggling to implement new marijuana regulations, could benefit from their examples.

Book Review: “Where There’s Smoke” Will Light a Fire in You was posted on High Times.

South Africa’s Dagga Couple Remind Us What’s Important About Cannabis

South Africa’s Dagga Couple Remind Us What’s Important About Cannabis

[Editor’s Note: This important read relays the truly great ground-breaking work being done in South Africa by Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs and others.]

Remember the days when cannabis wasn’t about stock shares?

Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs’ home was raided by South African police in 2010. They were charged with cannabis possession and distribution and faced some choices: plead guilty, pay bribes, or sue the government. They chose the latter, combining their case with Ras Garreth Prince, a Rastafarian who had been denied access to law school because he was a cannabis user. Defying government opposition, South Africa’s highest court ruled in their favor in September 2018 and decriminalized cannabis use and possession in private spaces. While a step forward for the thousands who were arrested daily across the country, the Dagga Couple believe the ruling does not go far enough.

We had the chance to catch up with Clarke and Stobbs after the UN failed to reschedule cannabis last month in Vienna, Austria, and talked to them about legalization in their home country, the efficacy of CBD, the days of humility in the cannabis community, corporate marijuana companies, and the future of global cannabis.

High Times: What is the state of cannabis legalization in South Africa?

Myrtle Clarke: Effectively, de facto decriminalized. The Constitutional Court ordered the government to change the laws. They have two years to change them, but they are now allowing personal use and cultivation in private spaces. But in South Africa, we have a lot of homeless people and lots of people live communally. You can’t always distinguish one person’s home from another. We sued the South African government in 2011 for enacting unlawful laws. Our case is still ongoing because we were arrested and charged with possession and dealing. So we still have those dealing charges because we only got decriminalization and trade is not allowed yet. They have two years to change the laws. We are going to postpone our case and book a date for six months after the deadline. We intend to write the legislation and present the government with it. If they don’t give us what we want, we will strike back in court.

You said you are glad South Africa didn’t go medical?

Julian Stobbs: Medical cannabis does work for some conditions. If it is one of the greatest placebos, that is cool as well. Everybody is going on about CBD. Secretly, I look at CBD from another point of view. If you get CBD in your system you can quickly build a tolerance, and you can’t take more because it doesn’t bind to anything. People are coming off CBD really quickly because it is ineffective over time. But nobody talks about that in here. They’re just trying to get market share. I stay focused on the fact that it’s a human rights issue, not a medical issue.

MC: Lesotho is touted as the first country in Africa to legalize cannabis, but they haven’t. They gave out nine medical licenses to mainly white people from outside Lesotho. There are people still being arrested there despite the medical licenses. I just hope they find the strength to not get stuck in medicine for the next 40 years. I am not sick, I just want to make socks and get high.


Myrtle Clarke (John Veit)

I covered an event at the UN event in 1999. Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela’s second wife) got an award from UNICEF. She refused it and gave it to a group of kids from Colombia who held elections and formed their own government.

JS: Ah, the days of being humble. Now you look and see what is happening here. It is award time. Humans respond well to awards, affirmations. These big companies, they’re pitching to get the (FAAAT International Cannabusiness) awards because it makes their stocks go up. They can pump and dump that shit endlessly on Twitter. “We won a competition!” But none of them smoke weed. Most of them wouldn’t know a bong from a blunt if it hit them. But now they’re getting lifetime achievement awards for their…


MC: I know we are talking about sustainable development goals and whatever, but sustainability has to be one of the most overused words in the 21st-century.

The companies are going through sustainability checklists. “I’m sustainable because of my gender thing. We give to epileptic kids. We are ecologically sustainable.”

MC: And I give sandwiches to the homeless.

I still think it’s progress, at least in the pot world.

JS: It is a dialogue that is happening here. For me, being nearly 60, it’s not happening fast enough. We’ve won the intellectual argument. How many studies do you want? Yet, you cannot convince the inconvincible. They made their minds up when they were young white men and now they are fucking old white men and they’re sticking to their paradigm because they don’t know anything else. They’re too scared.

Kids should leave primary school with the ability to grow carrots, opium poppies, coca leaves, cannabis. Kids never have a say at these pot conferences.

MC: My picture on the resources page of our law documents is of a young child carrying a big bushel of cannabis. He is going to go feed the goats. Cannabis is such a fantastic thing to grow. It can teach you about growing plants in so many ways. It is not necessarily about the cannabis. It’s about learning how to reconnect with the Earth, and watching it grow. We always say that the most addictive part about cannabis is growing it.

South Africa’s Dagga Couple Remind Us What's Important About Cannabis

Julian Stobbs (John Veit)

You were talking about Rastafarians in your presentation.

JS: They have been our allies all along because religious rights in our constitution are sacrosanct. They got through on this religious and cultural ticket, which helped us enormously. It is not my religion or my culture. It might be my tradition because I’ve been doing it for 40 years. Traditionally, I wake up in the morning and I get blazed, but I’m English.

MC: Wherever we go on tour, there are always some Rastas. One community way out in a mining district sold enough ganja to send one of their cleverest guys to the University of the Western Cape to study. He now has a bachelor’s in social development and came back to help the community. It is a little mining town that is dying — empty houses, empty shops. They don’t even grow. They get it from Swaziland and Lesotho or buy it from the brothers up in the mountains and transport it back on public transport. They get arrested all the time. They had a community meeting with their leaders; the head of correctional services, the clinic’s nurse, all the leaders in the town, the youth. We told our story, put up our little shop, sold out of every t-shirt, sticker. When we left they gave us a 2,000 rand ($140) donation for petrol. That is humbling. You don’t even want to take it.

JS: As a ratio of how much they actually have, 2,000 rand is an incredible gift. But we don’t see any of that from the likes of Canopy or Tilray.

South Africa’s Dagga Couple Remind Us What’s Important About Cannabis was posted on High Times.

UN Drug Commission Delays THC Rescheduling at 61 Session in Vienna, Austria

UN Drug Commission Delays THC Rescheduling at 61 Session in Vienna, Austria

[Editor’s Note: While disappointing news, read this fascinating article to keep current on international policies and trends.]

We went to Europe to report from the CND meeting and the FAAAT sustainable cannabis tradeshow. This is what happened.

The UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) failed to reschedule cannabis at the 61st Session in Vienna, Austria, last month, bucking the expectations of activists. Per an anticipated recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO), many believed the CND would remove tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from Schedules I and IV, and make the cannabinoid a Schedule II, or perhaps deschedule it all together. Fentanyl, tramadol, and synthetic cannabinoids were castigated by all, but cannabis containing more than one percent THC will remain a topic of debate until March 2019. That’s when the CND reconvenes to update UN narcotics conventions from 1961, 1971, and 1988 that guide drug policies for member states.

UN narcotic conventions recognize that cannabis, opium poppy, and coca leaf can be used for medical purposes, but mandate that signatories work to eliminate illicit cultivation. The WHO serves as an advisor to the CND by assessing the dangers “of prevalent and harmful psychoactive substances” on an annual basis. Representing the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Gilles Forte broke the news.

“As far as cannabis is concerned, the necessary clearance process is ongoing,” Forte said. “I regret that I must inform you that the necessary clearance process to communicate this information could not be conducted in time for this meeting.”

Julian Stobbs, of the South African advocacy group Fields of Green for All, typified the general feeling of disappointment. “On Thursday we went to the UN to listen to the WHO say, ‘Cut to the chase, THC isn’t as bad as you think, reschedule.’ And I thought I was going to see some history being made. Instead, it was, ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t sign it, we haven’t got the time.”

After a 2011 bust, Stobbs and his partner Myrtle Clarke (also known as the Dagga Couple) sued the South African government—who criminalized cannabis in 1878—for enacting unconstitutional cannabis laws, opening the door to personal use and cultivation in private spaces.


CBD Flowers at Mr. Nice (John Veit)

Last June, the WHO recommended that cannabidiol (CBD) be descheduled. A report released in November 2018, however, makes it difficult to understand why activists were hopeful THC would be next. The WHO report acknowledged some of cannabis’ therapeutic effects while providing academic and scientific data on its toxicology, association with respiratory problems, impairment to motor vehicle use, brain damage suffered by young people, and an array of other problems.

During the session, a representative from China expressed the most vociferous objections to de/rescheduling. Globally cannabis is not used as a frontline clinical drug and it can be completely replaced by other drugs. We are worried that if we relax the control on cannabis, we most likely would send the wrong signal to the international community and mislead the public, especially the youth.”

Russia, Pakistan, and ASEAN (Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam) all backed China’s objections.

As the CND’s meeting came to a congenial close, US Ambassador Jackie Wolcott poisoned the atmosphere by objecting to the election of Iran’s Kazem Gharibabadi as CND Vice-Chair. She complained that Iran was “a state-sponsor of terrorism” and regurgitated a litany of gripes about Iran and Syria that had nothing to do with drug policy.

While the Iranian and Syrian delegates voiced their objections, Wolcott bee-lined to the bathroom. When she emerged she refused to answer any of High Times questions and rushed off “to get to another meeting.”

In a brief interview, Syria’s delegate Monia Al Saleh described Wolcott’s performance. “CND is a technical forum where we only negotiate issues relative to drugs and crime. We already know their position with regard to Iran. Mentioning Syria in her statement is not acceptable.”

Toni Straka, director of Austria’s Hanf Institute, explained why Vienna was an ideal setting for a cannabis conference. “Austria is the only EU country where the sale of seeds and seedlings are allowed,” she told High Times. “There are a lot of home grows, guaranteeing the highest quality weed all over Europe, because it is all growers who don’t grow for any kind of black market. It is like when you make tomatoes in your garden, you just want to have the best for yourself.”

Hanf and Hanf is a large grow shop across the Danube from the UN. While forbidden from selling flowers or oils containing more than one percent THC, their greenhouse is well stocked with clones and seedlings that do. Mr. Nice Guy across the street sold a wider variety of CBD flowers that, in our opinion, smelled and tasted better than Hanf and Hanf’s. The employees attributed the higher quality to the fact they grow their flowers themselves instead of relying on outside sources.

The CND meeting was followed by a weekend-long conference and trade show dedicated to sustainable cannabis production sponsored by FAAAT (For Alternative Approaches to Addiction Think and Do Tank. Panels covered human rights, environmental issues, gender disparities, medical use, hemp technologies, cooperative business models, and youth. Missing, however, were the voices of young people and representatives from developing countries. Unlike any other cannabis conference/trade show, FAAAT provided awards for cannabis businesses based on sustainability.

UN Drug Commission Delays THC Rescheduling at 61 Session in Vienna, Austria

Konopex’s Hemp Beer (John Veit)

Tony Silvaggio, a Humboldt State University sociology professor and contributor to Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana, began the conference with a bit of a downer. He explained that California’s registration fees and regressive taxes have incentivized large-scale grows while putting smaller, sustainable cultivators out of business. Like many panelists, Silvaggio’s conception of sustainability goes beyond environmental concerns. “There are sustainable communities, sustainable economies, sustainable agriculture,” he said. “It is a very expensive term.”

While he didn’t win any awards, the most innovative and potentially impactful hemp product was presented by Canada’s Carl Martel, who invented batteries made from carbonized hemp waste that can potentially be used to power vape pens, eliminating a major source of cannabis-related toxic waste.

While not on the ballot, Italy’s Serena Caserio and Virgilio Catanzano from Nonna Canapa should have received some votes for their comic book about a grandmother recounting the history of cannabis. Each book comes with a hemp seed stuck to a bookmark. After presentations in schools, children are then to take the book home, read it with their parents, and plant the seed in their gardens.

It was the general consensus that too much plastic packaging surrounds cannabis products. Konopex, a Czech company, supplied free hemp beer all weekend and vowed to stop using single-use plastic cups.

Myrtle Clarke, the other half of South Africa’s Dagga Couple, was glad her country didn’t medicalize marijuana. “With the medical thing you are wanting a bottle of medication with a barcode and standardization, thousands of rules, and a three-meter-high electric fence.”

She further lamented about the lack of younger voices at the conference. “Children in our rural areas are very much brought up with the cannabis economy because they need to help the old people out because there is no middle ground, everyone else has gone to the city,” Clarke said. “I met those people from Nonna Canapa yesterday and they gave me the comic book with the bookmark that you stick in the ground. You know, isn’t that the way to go? And all we ever hear is, ‘It’s going to make you schizophrenic!’ or ‘What about the children!?’ Yes, what about the children? This is also for the future of the children.”

For now, the adults are still in charge.

UN Drug Commission Delays THC Rescheduling at 61 Session in Vienna, Austria was posted on High Times.

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