08
May
10

The Difference between Outlaws and Villains

Are the arguments getting shrill or is that just the sound of an engaged public?

My conversations about legalization have turned into arguments, but even as the volume goes up, the “arguments” against legalization remain entirely uncompelling.  Is the Emerald Triangle getting a bad rap in the press?  Are they unfairly portraying us as a greedy, hypocritical community by shining a national spotlight on a cynical few growers  coming out against the legalization of marijuana just because it’ll hurt their bottom line?  I dunno, maybe you all are just having to face the prospect that capitalism isn’t as discriminating as its most vocal advocates.

If there’s a moral argument to be made in favor of the status quo, I’ve yet to hear it.   In fact, if there’s an argument against legalization that isn’t either outright immoral or based upon easily-disproveable misinformation, I’ve yet to hear it.   At least the people foolish enough to believe that pot is a social danger are acting out of good faith when they oppose legalization.  You really can’t say the same about the people sporting those nifty “Keep pot illegal” bumperstickers.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of arguments, though.   The socialist government is infringing, the soulless corporations are encroaching, big Pharma is funding the proposition.  Bah.  Teabags full of weed is all I see.

Sift through all of the anti-legalization arguments that have been sprouting up in the past few months, and here’s what you’re left with:  There’s money to be made, and soon there might not be.   Boom, meet bust.  Again.

I empathize, but I don’t sympathize.   Sure, this area has suffered this sort of thing more than many areas of the country, but we haven’t exactly cornered the market on unemployment.  There might be a powerful curse up here, but it sure isn’t as powerful as the one the Cherokees left in Appalachia or the one the Ford family left in Michigan.  Still, I like the community.  I’m not eager to see what happens when yet another keystone industry shuts down and lots of people living up here lose their primary sources of revenue.  Again.

That said, there’s a thin line between living as an outlaw and living as a villain.  I’m not sure the rebel growers I’ve been talking with lately recognize that line, but they’re in danger of crossing it all the same.

I’ve always been an outlaw at heart, so even if I’m not making my living as an outlaw, I want to remain open to what is good about the outlaws I live amongst.  I’ve never really believed the bad things that people say about you weed growers – you’re not all spilling diesel fuel into the forest, you’re not all kidnapping poor campesinos from Mexico and forcing them to guard your guerrilla patches in the national forests, you’re not all spraying Raid on your spider-mite infested product and passing it off as organic.  The few bad apples shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the whole barrel, and certainly the growers I’ve met up here resemble nothing so much as pretty much every other working man or woman I’ve ever known, doing just about anything else just to get by.   You’re “us,” not “them.”   Regardless of how you’re portrayed in the popular media.

So, outlaw weed-growers supporting the continued criminalization of marijuana, I’m about as sympathetic an opponent as you could hope for.  Unlike your natural opponents, I don’t automatically hold it against you for operating outside this particular law, because this particular law has been stupid, ill-conceived and vindictive in its application from the start.   And most of the arguments coming from your natural enemies are as stupid as the law you break.  Beside the diesel-spilling, forest-ruining, campesino-running tropes that have been circulating in the mass media for years, the one I’ve heard most often in the context of legalization focuses squarely on the money.  Specifically, I’ve heard some critics whine about the fact that you growers don’t pay taxes.   That’s a disingenuous argument at best, and it’s even a little misleading.  Because you do pay some taxes – sales tax, gas tax, cigarette tax, property tax, telephone tax, etc.; you just don’t pay income tax, but that’s because you derive your income from a source that the government won’t let you pay taxes on.  (Well, they will, they’ll just arrest you as soon as you do.)  So I’m not holding that against you.

In fact, there’s lots I’m not holding against you.  But that doesn’t mean I buy your cynical justification to continue the stupid, ill-conceived, vindictive law in question, just because you can make a good living off of it.  When some people go to jail to keep your profit margins high, that’s valuing money over people.   And it’s morally indefensible, especially when legalization is in reach.

Sure, there are legitimate concerns to be worked out.  Legalization as an end in and of itself doesn’t necessarily represent the best of all possible worlds, depending upon its eventual implementation.  But the criminalization of weed is an outright bad thing, and it should be ended as quickly as possible.  I’ll concede that if legalization turns marijuana into the next alcohol/tobacco/pharmaceutical industry, that might not be a good thing (though I still think it would be better than what we have now), but that future isn’t yet written.

In fact, even a worst case scenario sounds exponentially better, for vast numbers of people, than the status quo:  You say that big Pharma will just create a whole slew of unnecessary and expensive weed products to sell to the masses, and that’s a bad thing.  Okay, but at the same time, altruistic medical researchers finally get the opportunity to apply modern science to something that already looks a little like a miracle drug in its raw form, one that’s been off-limits to them for a century.

You say RJR Reynolds is going to plant acres of corporate weed and undersell you out of business.  I feel for you, but at the same time the police lose their easiest excuse to funnel the disadvantaged into the prison industrial complex while at the same time getting the drug cartels out of the marijuana trade.   It might be true that good people who operate in the shadows will lose money, but you can’t deny that there’s some nasty shit in those shadows, and that goes too.  No more diesel spills or forest grows or mexican mafia stories circulating in the news.  At least, not for cannabis growing.

The proposition currently on the ballot is deliberately vague about how the new legal industry would work, and the fact that the Feds would still put anyone who reports marijuana income in jail probably makes this round of legalization moot.  I would hope that small farmers would be protected and supported by local laws, but who’s to say.  Maybe instead of opposing legalization, all you decent hardworking growers should be working to convince your local representatives to support your livelihood.

Regardless of how much money a few good people might lose if California legalizes, opposing legalization in one place while it goes through in others makes the opposition look idiotic.  Legalization will probably become a reality in more states than just ours, so I don’t see the upside in dragging our feet.  If legalization doesn’t pass in California, but it does pass in Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, etc. – local growers will still be out of a job.  There’s a new economic reality coming one way or another, and I think it’s better to be in on the discussion of how that new economy is shaped than to sit on the sidelines and watch what happens.  The past might have been nice for some, but it’s not coming back.

Here’s why I don’t have much sympathy for those who want to vote no strictly to protect their own way of life.  Sure, some of my neighbors have put together a nice life based upon the high prices that come with illegality.  How many people have ended up in jail to ensure those high prices?  I don’t know, but I know that people have ended up in jail to protect those high prices.  That’s why I find the position ethically indefensible.  On a strictly utilitarian basis, the suffering of those who have been persecuted outwieghs the pleasure enjoyed by those not yet caught by the police or the feds.

Here’s the other thing that has my goat recently.  I keep hearing growers complaining that they won’t pay taxes, even if it becomes legal and safe to do so.  And why?  Because they feel like they’re on their own – they make money from their own hard labor and risk everything to keep what they earn.  They don’t feel like they have to give back, because they don’t feel like anyone in the community has helped them.  But of course, that’s just what every ignorant anti-tax crusader says, and they say it because they’re either tragically ignorant or willfully ignorant.  Because we all benefit from the tax base – roads, electrical grids, the availability of social services, hospitals, safe drinking water, fire protection, schools, etc., etc., etc.  Only Americans who have never been to a third world country have the balls to say that they do it all on their own, and only because they can’t conceive of what life would look like if they really had to do it all on their own.

So, anyway, now growers have the possibility of going legit in reach, and actually pulling their own weight as members of the community that they’ve always belonged to, but haven’t fully contributed to.  And they want to vote no.  Because they won’t make as much money.  Yeah – no sympathy.

Maybe this proposed legalization isn’t as good as some, utopian version of legalization that might turn up in the future. Might…Maybe…but that works both ways.  There’s no way of knowing what might happen if California rejects the current proposition.  But like I said, I haven’t heard a good argument for why anyone who knows how harmless marijuana is would reject the benefits of legalization being offered, other than simple greed, and that’s nothing to organize a rebellion around.

And in case anyone isn’t clear about what’s really at stake here, watch how the seven-year-old child in this video reacts to the SWAT team shooting her pet corgi, all because her dad had a couple of ounces of weed in his house.   If you had the opportunity to prevent that, and you decided not to because you could make some money off of the law allowing that, how could you call it anything but indefensible?

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7 Responses to “The Difference between Outlaws and Villains”


  1. 1 Kym
    May 9, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I loved this post. You said everything I thought extremely well. The only caveat I have is that it does make it sound like most growers are against legalization. I don’t think that is true. In my experience, the more vocal ones are pro legalization. The quieter ones are anti (probably because it is hard to justify that stance.) The split is about 50/50 where I am. Especially once the grower pops out of his cocoon and realizes how many states are likely to legalize marijuana soon.

  2. May 9, 2010 at 11:05 am

    It’s true. Most of the advocates now are pro marijuana legalization. This will prevent us from growing our pots indoors that will cost us much. Please legalize marijuana..please..

  3. May 9, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    And with the realization that prices are being driven down for the outdoor produce of the small family hill farmers, not by legalization but by competition from large indoor industrial size grows. Legalization is almost irrelevant to this local economic problem.

    We have to market the sunshine, it shouldn’t be all that hard.

    have a peaceful day,
    Bill

  4. 4 Liz
    May 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you so much for this. That link is devastating. Well argued and right on.

  5. 5 Goldie
    May 10, 2010 at 9:01 am

    While thinking about the Devil I know and the Devil I don’t know, I came across this quote: “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

  6. May 10, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Well thought out post. There’s so many aspects to consider when weed is legalized. Only those growers willing to adapt will be able to stay in their chosen profession.

  7. May 12, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Thanks, all. I had been expecting arguments, but maybe the support for legalization is stronger than I had assumed. I hope.


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