It's a frantic couple of days, but in the end, Tobias and his connection end up getting most of the weed for a great price — an average of $2,000 a pound. Some comes from very small growers, just a pound or two; others from larger operators. One of the sellers laughs about all the talk of "medicine" in the dispensary world. Showing off his massive grow, he says with a grin, "As you can see, I'm a very sick fucker."
Tobias doesn't seem relaxed, though. He needs to check his "genny shed" — one of his diesel generators is either out of fuel or dead — and then there's the next five pounds to dry and process. We take a break to meet his girlfriend at a bar; she used to have her own grow in a remote spot several miles away. She doesn't want to talk to me about it, though. Nor does she think much of Prop 215 or the November ballot initiative. "It's all cool and almost legal," she mutters skeptically, taking a sip of her IPA, "until it's not."
In 1999, when Gary Johnson was still governor of New Mexico, he spent some time examining drug-policy reports, found the evidence for decriminalization compelling and publicly announced his support for legalization — and immediately saw his approval rating plunge from 58 percent to 28 percent, almost overnight.
"I wasn't blind — I knew that was going to happen," Johnson says today. "But actually having it happen was something else." Rather than backtrack or waffle, Johnson took a novel tack: He continued to speak out on the subject. "I vowed to myself to make it to every nook and cranny in New Mexico to explain to people what I was talking about," he says. "And I ended up leaving office with a 58 percent approval rating. I really see this issue as one of education." Later, he adds, "There is one segment of the population that is 100 percent against legalizing pot. And that's elected officials. What I've been telling anyone who'll listen is that legalization is a good issue. By good issue, I mean it makes sense. I really believe that, literally, one day all politicians are going to go to bed and get up the next morning and say, 'Yeah, OK.' I always say it's a litmus test for having a brain."
Ethan Nadelmann feels confident about the changes in the air. "The first thing we're going to see is a continued proliferation of tax-and-regulate and decriminalization bills around the country," he predicts. "And the medical-marijuana stuff is going to continue. We're getting close in Illinois, Connecticut, New York. The third thing is, ballot initiatives will begin to pop up. If Oaksterdam" — the legalization ballot initiative in California, largely funded by Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee — "does not win in 2010, there's a commitment to come back four years later. Any state where legalization polling is above 50 percent, you'll start seeing initiatives. And eventually, some of those will win."
There are legitimate concerns about the social ramifications of such a major policy shift — a reduction in social stigma and street price, for instance, might spur a significant increase in usage. Others express principled reservations about certain of the claims being pushed by proponents of legalization, wondering whether the economic boon has been overhyped. "There are a lot of numbers being thrown around out there based on some very shaky assumptions," cautions Beau Kilmer, the RAND researcher. "We don't really know what will happen to prices after legalization, and it's unclear what the appropriate tax rate would be."
Of course, in a more positive economic telling, there would be numerous other new revenue streams, beyond just the sale of marijuana itself. The Emerald Triangle could market pot tourism, much as Napa Valley does with its wineries. And naturally, there will also be elaborate new types of vaporizers and pipes and rolling papers to serve the growing market. Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals, for instance, has been developing an asthma-type inhaler to regulate the exact amount of medical marijuana one might inhale. (One of the problems with writing prescriptions, even if weed is eventually taken off the controlled-substance list, is the difficulty of prescribing specific doses.) Another grower I talk to claims his friend was approached by a major agrichemical company that is developing a cannabis seed that can produce a yield in 40 days with only eight glasses of water.
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