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Cannabusiness and an observation on socialism

Part the first: Cannabiz

If I’ve been quiet the past few days (and continue to be quiet early next week) it’s because I’ve been lining up and conducting interviews for an article — something I rarely do nowadays.

When I was in corporate communications, I was forever interviewing somebody. Executives and project managers needed to talk about their latest work. Clients praised or critiqued products. I even had a gig for a long time where I (much more interestingly) interviewed employees of a big corporation about their hobbies, accomplishments, and good deeds. A millworker with a home blackmithing shop. A low-level manager who’d been the foster father to 37 children. A group of workers who saved people from a fire. Before that, I had a gig touring people’s fabulous homes and interviewing them about the designs and improvements.

Nowadays, my work requires few interviews and what little interviewing I do is by email. It’s far easier than traveling to in-person interviews or playing phone tag for weeks with busy execs, but it’s not adventurous and doesn’t usually lead to the entertaining or revealing digressions that in-person talks and tours can.

This month, though, I’m visiting growers, processors, and retailers in Washington state’s newly legal recreational cannabusinesses. And wow. Is that ever fun. Tiring because there’s a lot of work involved and all this chatting hurts my hermit heart. But fun.

These new entrepreneurs are loving what they’re doing — and the fact that they’re able to do it legally. Many of them were pot entrepreneurs long, long before the law permitted them to come into the open. In fact, one of the things that make this project so fun is that many of these people were “criminals” — and they’re some of the nicest, brightest, most respectable people you’d ever want to meet. Others (some retailers, for example) had no previous connection with cannabis at all, but just saw a business opportunity when i502 was passed. But they are just as excited as their grower friends.

And friends is the right word here. The easiest way to meet growers and processors is simply to hang out in the retail stores for a while. In these friendly rural parts, there’s always a grower or two sitting down with the retailer, comparing notes, talking about the latest regulatory changes, and just shooting the breeze. Walk in and soon you’ll be shooting the breeze with them. And learning a lot. You’ll know who’s about to do their first harvest and whose progress got sabotaged by regulation or falling prices. You’ll hear about new strains and best growers and new edibles. You’ll shake your head over the poor guy who didn’t know what he was doing and ended up with a moldy, unsellable crop.

(I hear it’s different in big cities, where, one processor told me, they may have to take a number to get a five-minute appointment to peddle their wares. But my article is about one rural area, where everything is more down home.)

It’s funny because while some of the customers still seem to have trouble getting past the old, furtive days (I ran into a long-time, normally talkative acquaintance at one of the stores and he seemed disconcerted when I greeted him by name and pointed out an interesting new strain the store was carrying), the business people are thrilled to talk. They’re thrilled that they can talk.

Writing about this is a great project. My editor has ordered me not to be overly positive in the article. And I won’t be. There are plenty of negatives to report and I’ll include them. But overall, it’s tremendously exciting to be involved, even in a peripheral way, in the birth of a pioneering industry. There’s risk. There’s love. There’s joy. There’s promise. There’s fear. And there’s a creative energy that’s a thrill to experience, even second-hand.

Part the second: Bernie!

You won’t be surprised to learn that both casual talks and formal interviews in this field often turn to politics. Questions include how long will the feds keep their hands off state-legal operations? How and how much will they interfere? How are they interfering, despite Obama promises? And is there a chance the fedgov will ever just back off, bow to the growing legalization movement, and (at the very least) remove pot from Schedule 1?

And which presidential candidate is most likely to achieve that end? With Rand Paul having proved such a disappointing candidate, and with many cannabusiness entrepreneurs coming from liberal backgrounds, the answer is often, “Bernie!”

Not just “Bernie,” but “Bernie!” with an exclamation point.

One of the entrepreneurs I interviewed yesterday was an enthusiastic Bernie supporter. In fact, he went so far as to identify himself as a socialist. Which a lot of people are doing, these days — and not only in blue states. Even in socially conservative (albeit politically populist) Iowa 43% of Democrats in a recent poll identified as “socialist.” Now, granted, the poll appears to have been flawed in a way that pushed respondents into limited choices. But given that socialism has always been a dirty word in U.S. politics, it’s still interesting.

As the linked Time article notes, a lot of people identifying as socialist don’t understand that socialism is the system in which government owns all the means of production.

Pretty clearly, yesterday’s entrepreneur wouldn’t want that!

We didn’t stay on the topic long enough to get a full picture of his politics. He’s emphatically in favor of single-payer health insurance, which certainly leans socialist (or at least Social Democrat). But the position he most explicitly identified as “socialist” was believing that anyone working a full 40-hour week should receive a wage good enough to support a family. Not actually socialist.

With my Grandpa having run for office on the Socialist ticket during the Great Depression and Mom having been a crypto-socialist who worked lifelong in the Democratic party, I know how that goes.

It’s interesting, though, that Bernie Sanders (who has many times over the years cast votes to the “right” of some Republicans) now serves as the personification of socialism. A lot of the new “socialists” aren’t socialist at all; they just know that Bernie is and they really, really like Bernie!


  1. RustyGunner
    RustyGunner January 23, 2016 9:26 am

    Bernie is also a politician with votes to buy, and if you put a source of tax revenue or a place a bureaucracy can expand into in front of him he will be unable to resist.

    Your research sounds like fun. It’s always refreshing to be around people riding the wave. I still think they are at severe risk from the Feds and made a mistake coming out in the open. Every law has a constituency that develops around it, and the marijuana laws fill the rice bowls of many well-heeled, influential people. The final chapter in this story has not yet been written.

    Out of curiosity, I understand that in the places pot has been legalized it is still illegal to smoke it in public, how is that part of the law being observed, in areas you’ve travelled? How likely is somebody who, say, has to avoid pot for health reasons to walk into a cloud on the street or in businesses?

  2. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal January 23, 2016 10:35 am

    …avoid pot for health reasons…
    That made me remember something amusing. I used to know a girl who convinced her mom that she was deathly allergic to pot in any form. And, then would go out and smoke it enthusiastically with no ill effects. But, since she had to “avoid pot for health reasons”, her mom would never suspect or accuse her. I have my suspicions that a lot of those who cry “health reasons” might be in a similar situation.

  3. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty January 23, 2016 10:38 am

    The “cloud of smoke” is probably always going to be a problem in some places, for some people. I have asthma. When I was a nurse, visiting in people’s homes, I had lots of problems when the people there smoked. And it wasn’t always tobacco either.

    I remember going into a home where seven adults were chain smoking cigarettes, and two were smoking cannabis. I stood by the “weed” smokers as much as I could because that stuff was easier to tolerate, though I absolutely hate the smell of it myself.

    The only answer is freedom, of course. The liberty to associate, or not associate. The liberty to choose for oneself and never for others. This left handed legalization is a small start. We have a long way to go yet.

    But how fun that you, Claire, get to talk to these folks and, hopefully, earn something at it. Hope it can happen for you more often from now on. 🙂

  4. Claire
    Claire January 23, 2016 11:01 am

    “Out of curiosity, I understand that in the places pot has been legalized it is still illegal to smoke it in public, how is that part of the law being observed, in areas you’ve travelled?”

    Good question. I have personally never seen anybody breaking that part of the law. No doubt they do, of course, and there have been a few big, public parties in places like Seattle where celebrants broke the law en masse and police decided, just for the occasion, not to enforce. I’m sure young people or partiers continue to break that law. But casually, on the street? No.

    In the area I’m writing about, there could be a different problem for people who can’t abide the smell: the cannabis grows, themselves. There are definitely places where the aroma of the herb being grown and processed is vivid. I walked out of yesterday’s interview smelling like a marijuana farmer. I remained aromatic for a couple of hours, much to my delight. Once or twice I’ve run into that aroma on MJ workers shopping in stores. It’s not smoke; just herb. I love it. But I know Commentariat member Ellendra (who’s seriously allergic) would find that hard.

    No avoiding it, though. In these places, it’s the smell of money and it replaces the stink of economic death that’s hung over the area for decades.

  5. Claire
    Claire January 23, 2016 11:08 am

    “The final chapter in this story has not yet been written.”

    That’s certainly true. And one of the fears of the entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to is that someday, when they’ve taken all the risks, ridden all the regulatory waves, and built the industry, and when more states have followed suit, some Big Tobacco or Big Ag company will come in and either buy or pressure all of the pioneers out. Definitely this is only an early chapter.

  6. RustyGunner
    RustyGunner January 23, 2016 11:16 am

    Thank you, Claire. It actually is a concern for me, Kent’s insinuations aside, and the situation is still new enough that I am unsure how to adjust some travel plans.

  7. MJR
    MJR January 23, 2016 11:42 am

    It is going to be interesting looking back on all this hoopla in a decade or so when it all gets sorted out especial up here in Canada.

    Right now the Canadian Feds are looking at all sorts of regulations and taxes for grass. The most ironic part, the designated guy to oversee all the changes is Bill Blair former Toronto Police chief and record holder for having the most people jailed at a Canadian political event (G-20 protests) while he was the Chief.

  8. capn
    capn January 23, 2016 11:48 am

    My take on Bernie is (as you pointed out above) that an overwhelming majority of those who favor him have No Clue as to the actual precepts of Socialism. Most are only attracted to the “Govt. will take care of you” part. They realy like that part about “to each according to his needs.” and completely ignore the part about “From each according to his ability”.
    I am not in a position to do so but it would be interesting to ask some of these “new socialists” If they are planning on giving the title to their businesses to Bernie?
    Most won’t have a clue as to what is meant.

    my two cents on Bernie (spit)

  9. capn
    capn January 23, 2016 11:49 am

    they really like … Oops

  10. Claire
    Claire January 23, 2016 12:22 pm

    RG — The place I’m working in is aromatic because it’s becoming a major (for a rural berg) producer-processor zone. I’d say that, as far as everyday experience goes, you probably wouldn’t notice anything different about Washington, Colorado, or Oregon now than before pot was legalized.

  11. Claire
    Claire January 23, 2016 12:31 pm

    Shel — Yep. I’ve seen several articles this week on conservative establishment types leaning toward Trump (holding their noses) simply because they so loathe Ted Cruz. Very interesting. I was about to blog some of them when I got carried away with today’s cannabiz piece. But I agree Trump is either a) an enigma (certainly not a conservative), b) a liberal, or c) an opportunist with scary fascist leanings who just wants to stand on the big stage.

  12. mary in Texas
    mary in Texas January 23, 2016 1:11 pm

    An officer brought some weed to a teachers meeting and lite it so that we could recognize the smell. I had a violent attach of sneezing. A year or two later two students came to my class after lunch and provoked another sneezing attack. Somehow I wasn’t really surprised when a few years afterward I learned that one of them was the biggest dealer in the area.

  13. Fred
    Fred January 23, 2016 2:01 pm

    That job sounds like so much fun. If I lived around there I would check it out just to feel the excitement.
    He is a gentleman, friendly, knowledgeable and thoughtful so I don’t think Rand Paul is a “disappointing candidate”. I think he falls about where he should when considering the electorate.
    How can the entrepreneurs feel the buzz (sorry, couldn’t help myself) of excitement about the animating contest of the open market and call themselves socialists. That excitement is freedom. They should call themselves ignorant.
    And anybody who wants a minimum living wage should (or will) come to grips with the immutable, unassailable, fact that the minimum wage is zero. Socialists would be cute if they didn’t always want to hire men with guns to (dis)prove how great it works.

  14. LBS
    LBS January 23, 2016 3:34 pm

    I suspect that Trump is an opportunist who wants power no matter what he has to say or do to get it. Bernie is nicer, but he’s willing to do all kinds of things to us “for our own good.”

  15. jed
    jed January 23, 2016 3:34 pm

    I assume the WA cannabiz concerns are having the same trouble with banking as those in CO. Sigh. Yet another way the feds just get in the way. Must be a real PITA. Down here, you can pay your power bill, and phone too, I think, at the grocery store. So I have this mental image of someone with large electricity usage strolling into Kroger’s smelling of weed, with a pile of cash to pay for utilities.

  16. Claire
    Claire January 23, 2016 4:11 pm

    jed — You hit that nail on the head. I’ll have more in the article about how the local businesses cope, but indeed it’s a challenge, what with the DoJ threatening any bank that even leans toward dealing with the industry (even though the Treasury Dept. has given a limited OK).

    On this, though, the trends are all against the feds. Nationwide this is going to be far too lucrative a business for the banks to continue to allow themselves to be sidelined.

  17. LarryA
    LarryA January 23, 2016 9:56 pm

    They really like that part about “to each according to his needs.” and completely ignore the part about “From each according to his ability”.

    Well, not really.

    What actually happens is that people vote for socialism thinking the government is going to provide whatever they think they need, and in return the government will be satisfied if they work at whatever job they want to.

    Then they find out that the government thinks they have the ability to clean toilets for a living, and thinks that no one really needs toilet paper.

  18. Larry
    Larry January 24, 2016 4:51 am

    a full 40-hour week should receive a wage good enough to support a family.

    40-hour week is a political concept. Successful people work whatever hours they need to in order to support the lifestyle they desire.

  19. TXCOMT
    TXCOMT January 24, 2016 8:01 pm

    Wait a sec, Claire…you’re a former corp comm scribbler like me? Wow…I never woulda thunk it!


  20. Claire
    Claire January 25, 2016 5:05 am

    TXCOMT — Yup. Freelanced for years to some of the country’s biggest corporations, IBM and AT&T among them. I liked my clients but used to jokingly call myself a professional liar. Then I realized it wasn’t a joke.

    I wanted to do something more meaningful and 20 years later I still can’t decide whether I have. But life’s more satisfying, even if more difficult, now.

    So are you “former,” too? What made you leave the corporate scribbling game?

  21. Mark Call
    Mark Call January 25, 2016 7:39 am

    My biggest concern (or worse) is “licensing”.

    I have no problem with the idea of free people growing, trading, and selling ANYTHING they or potential customers would want. But I recognize that ANY kind of a license means the peons aren’t REALLY free, just availing themselves of a bit of leniency, at least for the time being, on the part of the slave master.

    (And I’m more familiar with the Colorado situation than in your neck of the woods…)

    I’d be curious, Claire, how many of the “Bernie!” fans even begin to understand a concept like Rights vs privilege.

  22. Claire
    Claire January 25, 2016 7:53 am

    “But I recognize that ANY kind of a license means the peons aren’t REALLY free, just availing themselves of a bit of leniency,”

    A lot of truth to that, of course. But then, that also means that every doctor or hairdresser, every business that has to get a city license to operate, even every “legal” dog owner is just a slave. “Legal” vehicle owners and drivers, too. And while they and we are certainly less free for those licenses, the term slave is going a bit far.

    I agree with your sentiments, but it’s a matter of picking battles. And the joy of people who are finally able to come out in the open and no longer fear being branded as criminals and losing their citizenship rights is palpable.

    I am personally no longer willing to turn everyday living into a perpetual fight, so I understand their sentiments. I still can’t imagine ever getting a license to own a dog, earn a living, or carry a firearm. But I still have those tabs on my car and (after a long time without government ID), I carry a drivers license in my wallet. Just a matter of picking battles.

    And although we-the-customers walk into cannabis shops that are nearly hog-tied by regulations, nobody requires us to get licenses to buy.

  23. Mark Call
    Mark Call January 25, 2016 8:19 am

    We’re very much in agreement, Claire — especially when it comes to ‘picking battles’. I know and respect a number of folks who fight the “license plate” (et al) battle with Big Brother’s Ministry of Travel. I’d rather just not attract attention in the form of “asking for it”…

    Transport Sexual Abuse bothers me far more, and I choose to fly myself in a Cessna. (Where I recognize that a “certificate of competency” in the form of an ASEL/Inst rating is not QUITE the same as ‘permission’. But I’m careful to avoid ceding ‘jurisdiction’ to “another master”, all the same.)

    But if I were to choose to grow a bit of high-quality rope or parchment material, for example, I’d still do it without asking permission. That probably won’t happen at all until I conclude that THAT would be a battle worth picking. And, as I’ve said for many years now, “I’ll get down on my knees and beg for permission to protect my family with a gun the same day I beg to be allowed to speak freely or worship my God.”

    BTW – same thing goes for asking permission to “vote” for which Tyrant can run my life better’n I can, too. (The moral issue, to my mind, seems to boil down to “if you agree to play the game, you ‘cede authority and jurisdiction for the outcome, and the ‘referees’ “.)

    I just tend to speculate that few, if any, of the “Bernie!-phyles” have even given the matter a moment’s consideration.

  24. Mark Call
    Mark Call January 25, 2016 9:30 am

    And I guess I should’ve started with this:
    “…nobody requires us to get licenses to buy.”


    But if the peons can be required to have a license and permission to buy OR sell the ONE kind of property explicitly enumerated in the Constitution that “shall not be infringed,”
    what CAN’T they mandate from the slaves?

    (Yeah, I know. I said it again. But slaves don’t have Rights.)

  25. TXCOMT
    TXCOMT January 25, 2016 2:56 pm

    I was laid off at EDS after three years; it was my first job out of college, too! Oh, well…I don’t think I was truly cut out for that racket anyway. Cube farms are quite stifling, in more ways that one!


  26. Eric Oppen
    Eric Oppen January 26, 2016 9:13 am

    I can understand the objections some people have to smoking cannabis. Being a home-brewer myself, I’d be intrigued by the possibilities of making cannabis beer or wine. From what I’ve read, the big advantage of doing it that way is that you get more “bang for the buck” and can utilize parts of the plant that normally now get thrown away. And no wimpersnits and oogies whining about “second-hand smoke!”

  27. winston
    winston January 26, 2016 11:37 am

    Really looking forward to reading what you’ve got to say about the whole thing, the whole situation seems a little bit confusing and hush-hush from far away.

    Seems super important for folks to vote smart with their dollar here. Unlike buying USA-made tools or cars or fair trade food, the impact of which seems marginal, choosing early on who to support and who frankly deserves to flop in a brand new economy created from a vacuum is what determines the future. Your >$100 purchases actually matter a whole lot to a new business.

    Then again, I’m not really a believer in human nature leading the majority of folks to make good choices…thus, not a big believer in “the magic of the market”, much to the dismay and horror of my more die-hard libertarian friends.

    That said though, the states participating are sitting on a gold mine that grows on a stalk…even without taking a cent of taxes. It’d be asinine to give anything but full support.

  28. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty January 26, 2016 2:11 pm

    Hmmm, winston…. so the free market would only be valid if everyone made “good choices?” Who decides what is “good?” Do you think there must be some mechanism in place to ensure that everyone makes “good choices?”

    The magic of the market is that each person is free to make mistakes, even as they are free to make good decisions. All of their choices will be driven by their perception of their own best interest, as it should be.

    I don’t understand your position here… and I suspect you don’t understand the free market or the foundation of individual liberty. Freedom means being left alone to make mistakes, to fail, or to prosper and grow, without coercion or anyone else deciding what “good choices” might be.

  29. winston
    winston January 26, 2016 5:13 pm

    Well, I never said it wouldn’t be valid, nor did I say that I support a planned economy.

    I assure you that I understand the market (even though I frankly despise the subject of economics) and individual liberty. I’m no stranger to the concept, I’m probably just the odd one out here that doesn’t like Ayn Rand or something.

    Who decides what is “good”? Well, anybody can have an opinion. Mine is that while planned economies are obviously undesirable, there’s nothing magic about an unchecked one either. Freedom to make mistakes is a wonderful thing, but if it’s all so wonderful and free then who gets to collect on those mistakes when someone gets ripped off by some huckster? Sounds like a breeding ground for coercion to me. A better option? Maybe. I’d rather have a fair chance against that sort of a thing than have a massive government stacked against me. But I refuse to consider it a magic world where the good guys always win.

  30. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal January 26, 2016 5:50 pm

    But I refuse to consider it a magic world where the good guys always win.

    I’ve never seen anyone pretend it would be that. There is no Utopia. There will always be bad guys out to violate you. I’d just rather they not have “government” to hide under and pretend it gives their violations a veil of legitimacy.

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