Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Half-Baked Proposal

Seeming reactionary mass hysteria to the contrary, some people out there are thinking. A short while ago someone in basket-case Detroit (suffering possibly as high as 50% unemployment now) suggested that those hundreds of former city and suburban blocks that are not only abandoned but have only one to three buildings still standing be razed and rezoned as agricultural. The idea is to draw back the physical boundaries of a financially unsupportable array of city services are still mandated in these areas, and encourage close-in food production. Less municipal cost, more microeconomy jobs. The few remaining residents would be given substantial help to relocate to functioning areas which may thus be revitalized.
Likewise, longtime activist John Sinclair plans to open the first marijuana collective in Detroit, to help turn the city around in a situation where no other growth industry is on the horizon (all that possible new cheap agricultural land could make this work). Fourteen states have already approved medical marijuana and fourteen others have legislation pending. Massachusetts has almost decriminalized personal use of the herb, and California has it on the November ballot now. The CA proposal would ban public use, smoking while minors are present, while driving or on school grounds, and leave it to local governments to decide on permitting and taxing sales.
It's estimated that $13 - $42 billion could be saved in prohibition costs (50% of drug arrests are pot-related) while raising $7 billion annually in taxes. The figures are only speculation at this point, but it seems like common sense to work with the only burgeoning domestic industry: the amount of the weed grown in the U.S. in a 25-year period ending in 2006 increased 10 times, and it is much higher quality than the Mexican competition (so I read -- I'm not personally interested and don't want any kind of smoke in my lungs). Most of Mendocino County's economy is cannabis right now. The availability of very few other jobs turns people into entrepreneurs who wouldn't be considered criminals if they were starting, for example, nonproductive sleazy rent-to-own or check-cashing businesses.
Another factoid about the size and potential of this crop: California's annual revenue from citrus is $1.2 billion; the weed industry brings in $14 billion. Untaxed, while we pay for helicopters and agents to destroy it. I guess it's a lot easier than confronting the gangs of L.A., where this law enforcement muscle should be.
Apple and Hewlett-Packard were started in garages by young visionaries. DeMille's first feature, at the beginning of one of our biggest industries, was filmed in a horse barn. In rigid, conservative cultures like late Imperial China, Russia and the Ottoman, Roman and Byzantine Empires innovation didn't happen and opportunities were not seized or even looked for. Tightened borders after 9/11 had the unexpected consequence of jump-starting a new, flexible, efficient web of small businesses with high standards in the United States. Why is a part-time job at WalMart the legal thing instead?
(Most of the facts came from Rolling Stone, issue 1101.)


  1. I read today insurance companies are holding back on insuring this type of business. To start and run a successful and thriving business (there is certainly a market for the product), it must have the infrastructure to maintain and grow. The legal and preconceived perceptions of "this" as an industry will hold it back. Instead, the "product" will cross the border at an alarming cost to health and safety of the suppliers and consumers. Also there is no regulation of the "product" so the consumer really doesn't know what quality is being purchased.

  2. It seems this is one of the few cases where the "market" has demanded quality and the producers have responded, possibly because with no regulation there are no minimum standards which the standard big business/near monopoly structure would adopt as the cheapest and most profitable. I'm impressed by the mechanical, agricultural and scientific knowledge and skills these pirate small business people have consistently demonstrated. They way outcompete the Mexican gangs in genetic improvements to the plant strains and potency of the product (about 20 to 1 in some cases).
    Just like border and pirate radio was superb and the huge media chains like Clear Channel are crap.