Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marijuana Cultivation Is Agriculture, too. No?

In the four years since I founded Legal Ruralism and started requiring students in my Law and Rural Livelihoods course to blog with me, they have written a lot about marijuana, its production, and its legal regulation in the context of Northern California. Read some of their posts here, here, here, here and here. I more often write about pot in relation to my home county in Arkansas, in my "Law and Order in the Ozarks" series, when the local newspaper reports the drug/plant's seizure in the Sheriff's Report. Some examples are here and here. (Such stories were previously much more common, before meth came to town).

I have typically thought of these marijuana stories in relation to crime and law enforcement, including this story in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle. The gist of it is that the Mendocino County, California Board of Supervisors voted last week to stop issuing permits for collectives that grow medical marijuana. Doing so will cut revenue at least $500,000, and that money is going to come out of the Mendocino County Sheriff's budget.
That sure sounds like a criminal law/drug policy story, but when you think about it, it's also a an ag law story. After all, the Agricultural Law Blog is chock full of stories about the legal regulation of agriculture--especially federal regulation--and that's exactly what's happening in California as the U.S. Attorneys here declare that regulations like those promulgated by Mendocino County regulations are at odds with federal law.
Further, if my students and their sources are to be believed, pot growing is big business in northern California's more rural counties, including Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties in particular. Marijuana--like corn, beans, oats, cotton--is cultivated and sold for cash (albeit often illegally). Indeed, pot is presumably the most significant cash crop in these California counties (and perhaps some others around the nation). In short, it is a serious economic engine of an agricultural variety. This 2009 CNBC story asserts that marijuana accounts for two-thirds of the Mendocino County economy; CNBC's source is a Mendocino County study. Here's a quote from a Mendocino County resident included in that story--a quote that makes the ag law link:
This is as natural as growing corn to me. This is the lifeblood of the county. And it has been for more than 30 years.
In light of the economic impact of pot cultivation, what should we expect from the federal crackdown on medical marijuana and California county governments' responses to it? Probably not a lot. I suppose the federal crackdown is unlikely to have much impact because most marijuana growers will continue to produce--whether or not there is the possibility of distributing their product legally. It may be that the only resulting change is the reduction of funds in county coffers associated with licensing its production.

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