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Interview of Tony Silvaggio ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Tony Silvaggio. Tony Silvaggio is an assistant professor of sociology at Humboldt State University. He is also a founding faculty member of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research, and is on the faculty of the Environmental and Community Masters Program, and is on the board of directors for Environmental Protection Information Center, and has decades of experience in grassroots environmental and social justice activism.

So first off, Tony, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

TS: Thanks, Derrick. I’m glad to join you. It’s an important topic right now. Glad to be here.

DJ: So before we start, just so people don’t get the idea that we are fanatical Christians who hate anything weed-associated, let’s just get on the record that both of us have advocated for medical marijuana and find that it is useful for many things, and then from there, let’s step up to also say that we recognize that there are problems in industrial marijuana production that need to be discussed.

TS: I agree. Yes.

DJ: So would you like to talk about some of those, especially environmental problems associated with industrial marijuana? And you mentioned before we started that you have a new paper out, and perhaps that would be, discussing some of the issues in that paper would be helpful too.

TS: The piece is “Cannabis agriculture in California” and I talk about the environmental consequences of prohibition. But maybe before that, I’ll just give you a little bit of background on how I got onto studying this topic. I’m an environmental sociologist whose research, early research was focused primarily on issues around forestry and the timber industry. And when I moved back to Humboldt County, California – for those who don’t know about Humboldt County , we are the center of the universe, if you will, for cannabis culture and cannabis agriculture. The cannabis industry has been around since the 1960’s and early 70’s and it sort of dominates the landscape, culturally as well as economically.

When I returned here, I got my master’s degree here in the 90’s, and this was right around the time of Proposition 215, sort of medical cannabis legislation that was passed, the first medical cannabis law passed in the States. And what we saw there was sort of this explosion of production, if you will, because now folks had sort of a legal justification for growing it, and we’d see an increase in indoor production. But when I came back here in 2005, I was visiting farms out in the hills and I was just amazed at the amount of not only habitat destruction that was going on in the hills, but also sort of a toxic mix of chemicals and fertilizers that people were using to grow cannabis. And I started to do research on this around 2010, 2011, to investigate this particular issue.

And the environmental consequences of unregulated cannabis agriculture are really extensive. The damages range from things like habitat loss, fragmentation from illegal logging. You have illegal water diversion, dewatering of streams, you have illegal road-building, grading, as well as fertilizer, pesticide, fungicide, and fossil fuel runoff into waterways, and into creeks. So the consequences of unregulated cannabis agriculture are extensive here.

And one of the things I guess I should point out too before we get into this any more, is that there are some distinctions that we need to make when we talk about cannabis agriculture. One of them is the difference between industrial cannabis production and then sort of the mom and pop, right? The industrial cannabis production is large-scale, sort of Big Ag, if you will, where there are thousands and thousands of plants, vs. the sort of small-scale farming that was the traditional model here in the 1970’s and 80’s.

And then the other dimension that is important, and the media always seems to conflate these, is we have public lands issues, and we have the private lands issues. So public lands, we’re talking about state and national forests. We have environmental impacts of cannabis on those lands and then we have the sort of private lands issues where people own the property, and those issues are somewhat different. So I guess we can unpack those, if you’d like, but I think each of these have to be understood in the context of a regulatory environment, which sort of makes it difficult for cannabis growers to actually do the right thing.

So I consider the environmental consequences of cannabis agriculture as almost an unintended consequence of prohibition, if you will.

DJ: So let’s get to them being the unintended consequence of prohibition. But for now, let’s back up and unpack some of those.

TS: Okay. Some of the environmental issues?

DJ: Yeah. Environmental issues, and also – some things to unpack might be the specific environmental issues, and the distinction between the mom and pop and the – at this point, we’re talking illegal industrial, right? In California? As opposed to regular industrial, which they’re certainly getting in Colorado and Oregon.

TS: Well, you know, right now everything’s federally illegal, of course. In California there’s nothing – what is legal now is medical. And medical industrial is legal at the present time. Recreational industrial is not. So there are folks that are, you know, in their warehouses they’re growing thousands of plants, indoor and outdoor, that are legal in California under the medical – the current medical legislation. Things won’t go into effect, the new legislation won’t go into effect until January of this coming year, and that piece is the, it’s a strange acronym, MAUCRSA, the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation Safety Act. And that’s going to be the law that is used for recreational.

So let’s just talk a little bit about some of what we’re seeing on the ground in impacts. Folks for many years thought that cannabis was this sort of green eco-groovy product, and of course in the 1960’s it certainly was, with the cottage industry that emerged here. However, over the course of the last 20+ years of prohibition, we see an industry that has emerged where the practices are damaging. So in terms of the environmental impacts, as I said earlier; outdoor impacts, we see on public lands in particular, we see habitat destruction, we see poaching of critters, we see pollution and the dewatering of streams. We also see things like nutrient and soil and fertilizer loading into waterways, which affects aquatic habitats.

DJ: Can you give a sense of the scale of this? I think a lot of people, when they think about marijuana, they might just think, as you said, somebody growing 12-20 plants in their back yard. But this has a significant, for example dewatering. Can you talk – can you give a sense of scale on some of this, too, please?

TS: It depends on region. Right now, in my county and the Tri-County area, there’s an estimated 10,000 cannabis farms. 10,000 cannabis growers, outdoor cannabis cultivators right now. And most of these are in very remote places where cannabis agriculture is basically not good for the land. And in some situations we find that cannabis is actually dewatering salmon-bearing streams. Taking up to 75% of water from those creeks during the sort of dry period, basically dewatering salmon habitat for cannabis agriculture. And that’s on private lands.

On public lands we have similar sorts of things happening, where people are basically damming up creeks and waterways, diverting that water to cannabis crops. And you’re talking about some, at least on public lands, some eradications have been in the hundreds of thousands, 100,000 plants. Football field-sized areas, and just scattered throughout national parks and public lands, national forests and public lands.

And the scale is expanding every year. With the new legislation to legalize, and this is one of the things that I’ve uncovered in my research, which is that every attempt to legalize cannabis, every sort of political effort, leads to an increase in production statewide. So for example, a few years back there was an attempt in Canada or BC to legalize cannabis. So everybody in California, because this is our bread and butter, at least in my county, was freaking out, and people were thinking this is the last run, and what happens is they double production. And that was, I want to say eight years ago. And every year there’s another state that has something on the ballot, so the political environment really shapes the industry and the industry expansion. So every year there are more and more people coming to California to grow cannabis, right? And that’s both on public lands and private lands, and that scale has increased. Over the course of the last five years, the price has also dropped, which leads people to grow even more, to make their bottom line, their payments on their houses, on their land, or to pay their workers. So the scale has increased exponentially in terms of growth, on both public and private lands. Even with Google Earth. People are still expanding production.

So we have 10,000 – that’s huge. And it’s a billion dollar industry in California, and a multi-billion dollar industry nationwide.

DJ: So just a bit more on specifics of environmental degradation. I’ve heard, for example, about martens are one target that has been hit. Can you just give a couple quick stories on any sort of environmental degradation and then we’ll move on.

TS: So you’re talking sort of specifically about public lands issues of cannabis. And as I said earlier, there are some different impacts between public and private lands. So with public lands, these are what we call trespass grows, where people get together, we call them, law enforcement likes to use the term, this sort of culturally coded racist term “cartel.” But I just use, generally, “organized crime.” Just a bunch of people getting together and putting resources towards setting up a farm on public lands. And what happens is they go to the most remote places and those places are then deforested or cleared, if they haven’t been cleared already, and in order to water the plants and set up the whole scene, they dewater the area. But to protect their crop from critters; wood rats, mice, and other animals; these sort of organized crime networks have done is they’ve laid what some consider second-generation rodenticides. And they basically line their fields with these rodenticides in order to prevent critters from eating the cannabis.

They’re also referred to as pesticide fences, where they’ll drop a foot square strip around the crop so that anything that crosses into this area gets exposed to this pesticide or rodenticide. And the rodenticide, there’s a very important researcher named Mourad Gabriel who worked to help to highlight the impact on one particular critter, the marten.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0040163

(Ed note: also this, Jan 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28898942 )

What’s interesting about the rodenticides is that the second generation that they put in flavonoids, the company put in flavonoids. And to give you an indication of how damaging these things are to critters, is like think of like walking through maybe a tailgate party at an event or at a concert and you smell a barbecue. You smell that barbecue and you get hungry and you want to go towards that barbecue. And these rodenticides, they’ve added these flavonoids so that it smells like a barbecue to critters, and then critters are attracted to them. So first there’s the primary kill of a rat or a mouse, and that primary kill then, you know, pine martens, that’s their food source, so they then eat that critter, birds of prey eat that critter, and we see that bioaccumulation. It’s had a devastating effect on the marten. Mourad Gabriel’s research points to some locations in the Sierras where over 3/4 of the martens that he’s tested have this rodenticide in them. Martens that are literally miles from human habitation. So the only real explanation for how these critters got poisoned is cannabis farmers on public lands, trespass grows. So he’s been working over the last decade on really sort of highlighting these impacts, and it’s a really important work.

So that’s one impact on a critter that’s very, that’s a threatened species in California, that this industry has. And again, I think a lot of this we need to connect to, sort of, what I try to connect it to is prohibition. It’s not simply these unscrupulous cannabis growers, but the drug war policies themselves that have exacerbated environmental devastation of public and private lands.

DJ: I think that this makes a good transition into that. So please explain why this is not just a bunch of greedy jerks.

TS: Well, not to say that there aren’t those out there. Because there certainly are those out there.

DJ: It’s all capitalism.

TS: Yeah, industrial capitalism. Taking a sort of socio-historical context, looking at the socio-historical context of cannabis industry, looking at how it emerged; in the 1960’s we had, as I said earlier, this sort of production of cannabis emerged here in the 70’s, with the back-to-the-land movement up here in northern California. We had, you know, homesteaders growing weed, it was part of the culture, and they basically gave it away and sold a little bit in the cities. The domestic cannabis industry emerged when the federal government – this was during the Nixon administration in the 70’s – declared the War on Drugs. This was like the first War on Drugs, in the 1970’s. And this led to the creation of the DEA, and also classifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

At the time, we were getting most of our cannabis from Mexico, and Nixon increased eradication efforts in Mexico, specifically spraying paraquat on cannabis in Mexico. And rather than eliminate the production, what happened is sort of like a balloon effect, my friend Dominic Corva, a geographer, talks about this balloon effect. It simply shifted production from Mexico to northern California.

I don’t know if you remember, but in the 70’s there was this sort of movement among cannabis smokers around this issue of pesticide spraying. The paraquat pot, right? There were protests I remember reading about, in New York City, where people were protesting paraquat, saying “We don’t want paraquat pot.” So what’s interesting about this sort of cannabis policing in the 70’s is that it appears to have inadvertently prompted adaptions in the cannabis industry domestically. So the paraquat program acted like a Farm Aid program to California. It stimulated domestic production in places like the Emerald Triangle; Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties.

And people in the US wanted paraquat-free cannabis. So it’s an interesting unintended consequence of the War on Drugs. We have this emergence of an industry in this particular region during the 70’s. And outside the paraquat spraying in Mexico, there were few environmental consequences in the industry that we saw. But it was in the 80’s that we had the militarization of eradication that really facilitated the growth of cannabis agriculture in this region and public lands trespass grows in this region.

You have to think, too, back then it’s like $2000 a pound people were getting for cannabis, as a result of the inflated prices, as it was illegal. Nixon’s War on Drugs was accelerated by Reagan. We had harsh criminal sentences that were laid out for cannabis growers. And also we had the creation of CAMP, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, and that was a federally funded crusade to eradicate cannabis agriculture in my region of northern California. So as a result of these new enforcement efforts by the feds, folks started to do more guerrilla growing, they moved to go and grow on public land, where in the past they were growing on their own land, they were then moving onto public land.

In addition, you had people moving towards more indoor, off the grid, industrial cannabis production, with people growing off generators in the hills. They were growing inside; build a shack out there and throw in an industrial generator and they’d grow indoor weed outside off the grid, to avoid the helicopters that were flying all over the region. So we see this influence, or the impact of the drug war on practices of cannabis agriculture in the 1980’s. And when 1996 rolls around with the passage of Prop 215, the medical marijuana law in California, we see even more shifts in production, and what we see is a movement towards indoor production on a scale that was unheard of prior to that.

So we have these sort of pressures by the feds to actually encourage bad practices. When you have a chopper flying over your house in October when you’re ready to harvest, you lose your income, what sort of thing do you do? Well, let’s go in the woods. Let’s go in the public lands. Because I don’t want to lose my property and I don’t want to get arrested. And let’s also grow indoor with a generator, which is environmentally destructive, because I don’t want to be seen from the sky.

So you have this sort of interaction between federal prohibition and the practices of cannabis agriculture. And this continues throughout every administration. It’s not something that’s Republican or Democratic. Obama also had inconsistent policies throughout, around cannabis production and cannabis agriculture. So moving into the 90’s, we saw this indoor production boom, and with indoor production, as you know when you grow anything indoors, it’s a monoculture, and you’re going to need pesticides and other sorts of toxins to grow it, and so what we saw in that era is a shift from outdoor agriculture to indoor agriculture, and reliance on nasty chemicals. And I could get into some of the lists of some of those impacts. The pesticides are things like Furadan (carbofuran), Metaphos (methyl parathion), Avid (abamectin), Floramite (bifenazate). All of these things are highly toxic to humans and have never been tested for folks who are smoking. These are really problematic pesticides that are used primarily for indoor agriculture.

So you saw that sort of stuff take off in the 90’s. And, again, the price in the 90’s, you’re looking at upwards of $3600/lb. for cannabis at that time. Now they’re selling outdoor pounds for as low as $500 right now. So it was literally advantageous to grow as much cannabis as possible, and when you have thousands of dollars invested in your crop, folks just jump to the pesticides as an easy way to deal with some of these issues with growing monocultures indoors.

DJ: Everything you’re saying is making sense to me so far. I’m a little confused, though. If prohibition has been one of the things pushing increased environmental degradation, it seems to me that the sort of legalization or semi-legalization that’s happening across the country is not – well, two things. One is that it also is creating environmental problems, and also, I think of a conversation I had – and I’ve had several of these with different growers, but I was thinking about one I specifically had with a grower who’s been growing since the 70’s, who said he’d been dreaming his whole adult life – he’s from Oregon. He’s been dreaming his whole adult life about legalization, but now that legalization has happened, he regrets that dream and wishes, and thinks it’s not working well.

And then also –

TS: Not working well because federal prohibition is still in place. I mean, that’s one of the reasons, but we’ll get back to that. Sorry to interrupt.

DJ: No no no, that’s great.

And then also, along those lines, the first time that California went for, put something on the ballot for legalization of recreational, that – I guess there are three things. The second thing is the thing I’m saying now about – Humboldt County voted against legalization, and that I find also interesting. And then the third thing I want to mention is that even if we talk about the full legalization of marijuana, industrial agriculture in general is a complete nightmare.

TS. Horrible. Horrible.

DJ: Lettuce is legal and the Central Valley has been devastated by lettuce, almonds, oranges. And the Great Plains have been devastated by wheat and that’s legal. So, anyway I’m throwing those three things out and take any of them any direction you want.

TS: Well, I should say one thing. The prohibition efforts of the 80’s and the 90’s, for the most part, really led to what we consider to be like this geographical dispersion of cannabis agriculture. So rather than just concentrate those environmental impacts of the industry in Humboldt County, it spread throughout other communities in California and then onto public lands. So we have federal legislation sparking the growth of cannabis throughout California. So when we talk about legalization, we have to remember that the prohibitionist model encourages expansion of this particular industry in states where it’s currently a gray area. Currently it’s that kind of legal. So people have an out, if you will, with the medical.

And I don’t know if I’ve answered the question. I got distracted a little bit. But in terms of the problem your friend talks about in Oregon, “I wish it was not – I wish it had stayed illegal,” that’s part of the problem. We have a quasi-regulated industry. There was this belief that people would, once we get it legal, we can regulate it, everybody would go in line. But with the federal sort of uncertainty, about the feds, you know they have a schizophrenic policy where they’ll enforce sometimes, and then they won’t. And that leads people to think we can’t trust the feds. And you have to remember, in the 90’s and the early 2000’s, the feds were saying “Okay, if you have a medical cannabis law in your state, we’re not going to come and enforce on you.” And we had communities like Mendocino put together the zip tie program. The zip tie program was a way to bring growers into compliance, both environmental compliance and also scale. The first year, the sheriff’s office got very few to sign up to that program. The second year after they didn’t get enforced on, the second year, more growers came and got those zip ties and helped to generate both tax revenue for Mendocino, and also bring growers into compliance where they were actually doing the right thing in terms of environmental sustainability, scale, and whatnot.

But a year after that the feds came and they threatened the Mendocino lawmakers and they said “If you don’t give us your list, who’s on this program, we’re going to arrest you all.” And of course the fears of the cannabis community at the time, that the feds were going to take this list, so let’s not sign up, then became a reality. Mendocino legislators then gave that list to the feds and it killed that program.

So any time there’s an attempt to create legislation that is going to address issues of environmental sustainability and also economic sustainability, which is a whole different question, can we do this, green capitalism, I won’t get into that right now. But the feds have come and they’ve made it impossible to even try. So your friend in Oregon, I understand where he’s coming from, because it’s becoming more and more problematic for people who have had a long history in cannabis agriculture, the small mom and pops, to actually make it.

DJ: That’s something that I – if you don’t mind me going off on a little rant here?

TS: Please, please.

DJ: That’s one of the things that I find most disturbing about the current legalization efforts, that this is something we’ve seen – this is almost a natural progression – an unnatural progression in capitalism in that it’s an inevitable progression in capitalism, that you move – it’s like the Luddites, we’re fighting against the conversion of the artisanal individual craftsperson into the servant of the large-scale, sort of corporate machine. And you’ve mentioned several times the transformation from Mom and Pop into larger scale. I know someone who knows someone who works as a trimmer at a legal grow up in Oregon that is basically a warehouse the size of a couple of football fields.

TS: Yeah. 100,000 square feet. And again you have to think too of this, Derrick, just to add. Years ago, I want to say 2012, Evan Mills from the Lawrence Berkeley Labs in Livermore estimated that in terms of electric consumption, one percent of electricity consumption is devoted to cannabis agriculture in the U.S.

http://evanmills.lbl.gov/pubs/pdf/cannabis-carbon-footprint.pdf

That’s around six billion dollars. In California alone it’s three percent. And that was 2012. That’s three percent of our electric grid. The demand for power, the greenhouse gases, one million, one percent is about 15 million tons of greenhouse gases. You’re looking at three million cars, and that’s 2012. Today it’s probably at least double that, in terms of greenhouse gases. And that’s sort of encouraged by the state. The indoor production model is encouraged by the state. Why? Because they can put a camera on it, and they can regulate it, and take control over the production style, production methods. So this is another unintended consequence of prohibition but also the problem that we have with industrial capitalism, that appetite for growth, that appetite for expansion, for capital accumulation. And one of those things is the appetite for energy. Power companies are now bending over backwards to offer cannabis farms a lower rate. And this whole notion of “we need to grow cannabis indoors” is one of the most ecologically insane notions of late. Think about the scale, going from a thousand square foot room to now you see hundreds of thousands of square feet in warehouses. Colorado’s pretty much entirely indoor agriculture. And what do you need for that? You need pesticides and other sorts of petrochemicals to control the mites and other things, funguses, that emerge in indoor agriculture. There is, sadly, really no environmental consciousness in this new regulatory regime.

I’ll give you a great example. There is a California advisory board for cannabis. They put out a request for people who wanted to sit on this California advisory board. And this is, this was a requirement for the cannabis bureau, they need an advisory board. So many academics that I know, who work on environmental issues, put in their application to be part of this advisory board to guide cannabis policy in California. And they just released it a couple of weeks ago, folks can go online at the California Portal for Cannabis, and they’ve released the names of the folks that they’ve chosen to sit on this advisory board, and not one, not a single person is there that represents the interests of nature. They’ve got someone from Trout Unlimited. Whatever. I have no idea how or why that person got there. But folks like Mourad Gabriel, he’s the worldwide expert in this stuff. He put his application in. Nope. So it shows the interests of these legislative efforts, especially California, it’s all about capital accumulation and tax dollars. We talk about, we’re protecting the environment, but in the end, really it’s about generating revenue, and the appointment of those folks on that board, with no representative to speak to environmental issues, is a great example.

DJ: I’m wondering, with the momentum pointing towards increased legalization, at least on state levels, and probably the feds are going to follow, I’m guessing, another concern I want to bring up, which is sort of the follow-up to my previous concern about the Luddites, and the turning of an artisanal to the corporate and industrial, is; if legalization were to take place, how would one – okay, I’m going to back up. We can presume that one of the reasons that Humboldt County voted against legalization the first time had to do with the destruction of the income of a lot of these mom and pop places.

TS: Yes. People were fearful of the economic impact, for one. Another factor was just a poorly written initiative. 215 was poorly written for a reason. They made it as open as possible so that it was basically Dennis Peron and their folks’ attempt at just legalizing it. It didn’t necessarily work to legalize it across the board but it certainly made it open for anybody to get a card and to grow cannabis. So the second time around, with the legalization effort, folks pointed out how poorly written that one was, so you had a lot of resistance, and you didn’t really have good campaigns. So for sure you have the locals here fearful of the economic impact, but also you have to consider it was a pretty crappy initiative.

DJ: So given that both you and I – people who listen to this interview don’t know this, but you and I have been friends for a decade or more. We both, our primary loyalty is to the natural world. Given that industrial capitalism is killing the planet, and given that industrial capitalism is going to stay for a little while, unfortunately; what would you do, given the momentum towards increasing legalization, what would you do to protect – they make you the U.S. Czar for Marijuana. What would you do to protect the environment and to attempt to protect mom and pop artisanal growers as much as possible?

TS: I would ban large industrial growers right off the bat. Limit the scale. Number 1: no 100,000 square foot growers anywhere. Is not gonna happen. That’s one of the things. They’re permitting places now, indoor and outdoor, that are huge amounts of space. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of square feet. So that would be one of the first things I would do. The second thing is I would release a list of best management practices for people to actually read. For years, growers have been seeking advice on pest control, water conservation, ad best management practices from not the industry but from county agencies. From ad agencies and university extension programs. But for years, all those folks, they had federal money, they were unable to actually give people advice. It’s only in the last year where federal and state agencies are now actually having those conversations about how to do it the right way. This is part of the educational process. We are behind in terms of best management practices. So certainly making a better effort of getting the MP’s out there for the industry. And then banning all indoor agriculture minus the medical. One of the concerns for medical folks is they need consistency and right now, at least from folks that I’ve talked to, having an indoor sort of environment for the production, people are arguing that they still sort of need that. I don’t pretend to be a biologist or a scientist of that, so I take the advice of people who really use it for medicine and want to protect their crops from other sorts of pesticides that are floating in the air from other farms.

So I certainly think ban all of indoor agriculture minus those for medical. And I could go on and on, Derrick.

DJ: Sorry to laugh, but if you were the Czar for all things marijuana at the federal level, and you banned indoor agriculture, I would strongly suggest that you not take a walk on a street in Colorado, or one of the people there who is making a million dollars a day will shoot you.

TS: Here is the problem with how government policy impedes sensible ecological policy. And that is the failure of folks to really pursue alternative sources of energy. I’m not an ecological modernization theorist, saying that technology will save us for everything. But there are ways, if we need to use energy for indoor production, there are things, solar panels, and we can limit, minimize some of that impact. There are LED lights and technologies that if we put those resources into developing, we may be able to say that a certain percentage could be devoted or used with this form of agriculture, indoor agriculture. But the government is consistently, the feds, impeding any advancement in the development of these technologies that can be much more ecologically sane and soft.

Yeah. So, I won’t go to Colorado.

DJ: I hear what you’re saying on all this, and I want to come back to – okay, so now you’re no longer Czar. You’ve been kicked out by the people in Colorado. So let’s go back to the sort of reality of modern capitalism and how everything gets centralized and turns into – this is the movement, the sociological movement of capitalism is the turning of the entire world into a company town. And what sort of – I mean, that is my concern about this legalization is that Philip Morris buys up 10,000 acres in Humboldt County and Humboldt County gets turned even more – instead of having 10,000 illegal grows, you have one huge grow by Philip Morris. I’m not sure how much better that is. And so how does one – this is probably way too big a question to ask for this because it has not just to do with cannabis, but this has to do with Walmart, it has to do with any sort of agriculture where, what is it, five companies now control most of the world’s beef supply, and seven control the world rice supply, whatever the numbers are. That’s the thing, frankly, that has horrified me about the legalization in Colorado, Oregon and everywhere, that basically it’s just a bunch of rich people who are throwing a bunch of money in and making money hand over fist and destroying, once again, the cottage industries. This is a larger problem than cannabis, but what the hell do we do?

TS: Yeah. That’s what we’re struggling with in this community. There’s lots of infighting within the cannabis community here about the direction forward, and how to really address this sort of corporatization of the industry. One of my friends and colleagues, Dr. Fred Crisman in anthropology, describes this movement of the destruction of cannabis culture, its movement towards corporatization. He’s actually up in the hills right now doing some work trimming and he’s going to be going down and working on some farms. He may be someone also that you may be interested in talking to about this issue.

But I think part of it is organizing in our communities, cooperatives, we have folks like the CGA, the California Grower’s Association, which is a collection of cannabis cultivators, who have sort of pooled their energy and their political capital (I hate to use that word “capital,” Jesus). But they’re trying their best to help influence the policies at the state level, with some success, and other times not. I wish, Derrick, if I had an answer to that – what’s happening on the ground here is that folks are not coming into compliance. I’ll just be straight up. We have 10,000 growers, we have maybe 2500 people who actually apply for permits. So you’re looking at 75% of outdoor growers or cannabis cultivators in my region are going unregulated.

And that is what happens when you have this sort of environment where the regulatory environment is uncertain, the licensing is, it prices out the mom and pop. Just to get a permit, you’re talking 10, 12 grand, just to get the process rolling to get a permit. To get into the permitting loop. And some folks simply don’t have that stashed away. They go season to season. So I don’t know if I’m answering your question, but right now there is uncertainty in the direction of this industry in our region. People are basically packing things up and moving out. And when that happens, they do it in a way that’s ecologically devastating. So with the fear of the Philip Morrising of cannabis, right? People are out there trying to just go as big as they possibly can and hope that their neighbor gets busted before they get busted, and the result is, of course, devastation for critters, for wildlife, nature, water.

DJ: We’re pretty close to out of time. Is there anything that you’ve wanted to say about this, that I haven’t given you the opportunity for?

TS: The big issue, again, comes back to what are we doing when we try to regulate cannabis, right? What is our goal? If our goal is for tax revenue, let’s just be blatant about it, right? Let’s just do it. Let’s talk about it, and not give this facade of protecting the environment. It shocks me how little ecology is taken into consideration with this industry. There’s lots of lip service around environmental sustainability, but very few states have anything in place, other than protecting the consumer. Which is important. There are pesticides, let’s protect the consumer. But what about birds? What about salmon? What about forests? They’re not even there, right, in many of these states that have legalized it.

I talked to somebody just the other day and they were commenting, because there’s this trend in concentrating cannabis into dabs and oils, of late, and when you concentrate it, the pesticides people use are in a way enhanced. They test positive. So many of the products are testing positive for pesticides and not being able to be sold on the medical or recreational market in different states. So what is disturbing is they’re now creating techniques to remove those pesticides in the processing of the cannabis plant. I think it’s great for the consumer but it doesn’t address the root problem here. You’re still using pesticides. So you’re still going to see this damage happen. So you have this great joy; “hey, we’re going to remove pesticides and everything’s going to test clean.” And it’s like, great, you’ve just given the industry a magic bullet to get around doing things ecologically minded. It’s really problematic, and this is the trend. This initiative, here in California, is written by big money people. They have no interest at all in social justice, getting people out of prison, or environmental impacts. There was nothing there in this initiative to address that. It was all about money. We really have to shift that mentality, somehow.

DJ: Well, it seems like this conversation is going to end the same way that all of our conversations about what we need to do end, which is that we need to organize, organize, organize, and agitate, agitate, agitate.

TS: Yes. Consistently and aggressively, for sure. And we can’t put our faith in these – again, the political system here, it’s basically a mouthpiece for capital. So I don’t necessarily have much, put much faith in that.

DJ: Well this is great. And I’d like to thank you for being on the program. I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Tony Silvaggio. This is Derrick Jensen, for Resistance Radio, on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on December 17th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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