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!