What are the other effects of full legalization that we may not be considering?

By DF Douglas

It is possible, just possible, that marijuana may be legalized in the near future in California as Prop 19 approaches in November. And as key components and industries come to consider the profits to be had in an emerging new market, what does the future hold for the agricultural industry and North American farmers? Marijuana is expected to be heavily taxed, like alcohol and tobacco. In fact, the revenues generated by the taxation of cannabis and related products are most likely to be the main reason it will be passed into law in the first place. When that day arrives, cannabis will be the next big cash crop, with the current world food shortages and the continuous loss of farm land to urban and industrial sprawl, could we be headed for an unforeseen crisis?

First, we have to determine what type of land is suitable for the production of cannabis. Some may think that almost anywhere would be fine, given that marijuana is a weed, but for large scale production on a modern farm the area will have to have certain conditions in order to produce sufficient high quality cannabis. For one, it will need a good sand/soil ratio. So, what areas of Canada would be suitable for the production of high grade cannabis?

“Well let’s compare it to grapes since grapes are used to produce another product that gets you intoxicated,” says horticulturist Bob High. “They require the same soil type for the best yields, so your looking at places like the Niagara region of southern Ontario; anywhere along the southern prairies, where there is sufficient water; the interior of B.C., because of the micro-climates that the mountains create; and the Frasier Valley delta. These are probably the most ideal places.”

The agricultural industry has seen some devastating events unfold when the influence of profits move the markets. With the recent use of corn in the bio-fuel industry, its effect on food prices has created massive shortages of available food for the poor. We’ve seen India close its borders to all exports of its rice production—fearing famine or shortages that may cause civil unrest—and other countries in South America where governments are being forced into rationing measures to feed their people. How much food production land will Canada lose with an end to prohibition?

Considering that it will be actual food production lands effected, just how many farms could be expected to switch to take advantage of the new industry and a market that will undoubtedly be very lucrative. First, it is highly unlikely that the end to prohibition will give way to a totally open market. If we look to other cash crops in history such as the sugar industry in the 1800s and the effects of the raping of Haiti and the enslavement of its people, (1) we can guess that no government will allow any new, highly priced product on the market without it being severely regulated. The cannabis community may even end up waiting for years after the end of the prohibition as governments and agricultural interests battle on how marijuana is to be regulated for growing.

Farmers can not just plant a field of cannabis. Farmers must register what the intended land use will be with Agriculture Canada, permits and licenses may be required for use of any fertilizers or chemicals in production, and then there’s the seeds. Three regulatory bodies control the use of seeds in Canada, Agriculture Canada, Industry Canada, and the Canadian Seed Institute. (2) The first is responsible for the certification of seeds, the second oversees the regulations, and the Seed Institute aids those in the industry with the massive details and testing required to register a seed.

This could be a Pandora’s Box. It is possible that the end of prohibition and the delays that maybe created from the lack of prior regulation, could result in growers who don’t want to wait for regulations to be worked out facing charges under the Federal Agricultural Act. When a farmer is found guilty of infractions, the fines can be huge—as much as half a million dollars. Over the last few years, there have been several moves towards the establishment of new environmental protection standards specifically related to farming operations in various provinces, which will change existing standards and add a litany of new proposed regulations regarding nutrient management and environmental farm standards. (3) Public attention to the impact of farming operations, and effects on the natural environment and the health of humans, has received a great deal of attention. These new policies may also be used to hold up the commercial production of consumable marijuana.

There is one more possible event, and the most likely, that the end of prohibition will result in a huge rush to grow cannabis, much similar to the social upheaval created by a gold rush. This all out hemp feast could create a whiplash effect, and cause heavy-handed laws to be imposed retarding the progress so much as to have cannabis even more restrictive than it is today. It would be wise for the academics involved within the movement to start forming relationships with members of the agricultural and farming communities, to circumvent a majority of the obvious problems that a cannabis gold rush could create. We must ensure that the introduction of safe, reliable marijuana is foremost in mind, and that the cannabis industry doesn’t cause any undo changes in the food industry or any other community. Or, worse yet, cause the cannabis industry to be so over regulated that a new prohibition is created.

(1)Mintz, Sidney Sweetness and Power Penguin Paperbacks, 1985
(2)www.agriculturecanada.gov; www. industrycanada.gov; www.canadianseedinstitute.ca
(3)Brethour, MacGowan, Mussell and Mayer.
Proposed New Environmental Legislation Af- fecting Canadian Agriculture: A Special Report— January 2002. http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/ bitstream/18104/1/mi02br03.pdf